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QPME: Warfighting: History of the MCDP, Roots of Maneuver Warfare, and the Doctrine in Action

Warfighting: History of the MCDP, Roots of Maneuver Warfare, and the Doctrine in Action explores the development of the Marine Corps capstone publication MCDP 1 - Warfighting.


“Like war itself, our approach to warfighting must evolve. If we cease to refine, expand, and improve our profession, we risk becoming outdated, stagnant, and defeated.”

General Alfred Gray, 29th Commandant of the Marine Corps
MCDP 1, Warfighting

 The quote above is a mandate for all Marines to be “creative, thinking leaders.” [ii]  If we, all Marines – officer and enlisted – are military professionals we must continuously assess our “philosophy for action that, in war, in crisis, and in peace, dictates our approach to duty.” [iii] Our assessment must include examples from history and the present.         

One of most difficult aspects of assessing any military doctrine – or “philosophy” as General Gray would call it in the video clip Warfighting as a Philosophy, is assessing the application and evaluation of doctrine while “preparing for war” [v] and “conducting war.” [vi]  “Maneuver Warfare,” with its strong emphasis on gaining a position of advantage in multiple dimensions – psychological, technological, temporal and spatial [vii] – poses some unique challenges in both application and evaluation. 

One challenge to assessing the Marine Corps’ doctrine of “Maneuver Warfare,” is that “…maneuver warfare does not exist in its theoretically pure form.” [viii]  According to MCDP 1, Warfighting, warfare exists on a spectrum; with “attrition warfare” at one end of the spectrum and “maneuver warfare” at the other end.  Attrition warfare seeks victory systematically by “…the cumulative destruction of every component in the enemy arsenal…” and maneuver warfare seeks victory by attacking the enemy ‘“system”—to incapacitate the enemy systemically.” [ix]

To help evaluate “attrition warfare” and “maneuver warfare,” Marine Corps doctrinal publications provide us with several historic examples:   

Historic Examples of "Attrition Warfare" Reference Pages
 Western Front of the First World War MCDP 1-2, Campaigning 105
 French defensive tactics and operations against the Germans in May 1940 MCDP 1-2, Campaigning 67
 Allied campaign in Italy in 1943-44  --  
 Eisenhower’s broad-front offensive in Europe after Normandy MCDP 1-2, Campaigning 53-55
 U.S. operations in Korea after 1950  --  
 Most U.S. Operations in the Vietnam War MCDP 1-2, Campaigning 6-8, 106
Historic Examples of “Maneuver Warfare”    
 Allenby’s decisive campaign against the Turks in Palestine in 1918  MCDP 5, Planning 54-59
 German Blitzkrieg operations of 1939-1941 and the  invasion of France in   1940 MCDP 1-2, Campaigning 105
 Failed allied landing at Anzio in 1944 MCDP 1-3, Tactics 16-19
 Patton’s breakout from the Normandy beachhead in late 1944 --  
 MacArthur’s Inchon campaign in 1950  MCDP 1-2, Campaigning 78-79
 III Marine Amphibious Force’s Combined Action Program in Vietnam --  

Recent Campaigns

Attrition Warfare or Maneuver Warfare?

Due to the wealth of details associated with these historic examples it can seem easier to place these campaigns on the spectrum of attrition warfare and maneuver warfare.  Where more recent military campaigns belong on the spectrum can be less clear.  MCDP 1, Warfighting defines “maneuver warfare”:

“Maneuver warfare is a warfighting philosophy that seeks to shatter the enemy’s cohesion through a variety of rapid, focused, and unexpected actions which create a turbulent and rapidly deteriorating situation with which the enemy cannot cope.” [xviii]

Using the definition above – and Gen Gray’s mandate to “to refine, expand, and improve our profession” – assess the more “recent campaigns” and concepts listed below in order to ensure our Corps does not become “…outdated, stagnant, and defeated.” [xix] 

“Recent” Development of Theory, Concepts and Doctrine

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