Air University Review, September-October 1983

Of Saber Charges, Escort Fighters, and Spacecraft

the search of doctrine

Major General I. B. Holley, Jr.
Air Force Reserve (Ret)

An aphorism of Frederick the Great, "Good fortune is often more fatal than adversity," offers a lesson for us to ponder. The teachings of failure, which subvert old ideas and established facts, serve the military institutions of the future better than do successes. Failures teach humility and are the nurse of progress. Successes stimulate blind pride and complacent self-confidence, which invite failure in future battles. So let us turn to some historical failures and learn from them.1

To begin with, suppose we look to our horses. By the end of the Napoleonic era, there were four rather clearly defined functions of cavalry: the charge, galloping knee to knee, boot to boot, with lance or saber in shock actions akin to modern armor; reconnaissance, where horsemen served as the eyes of the army, probing out ahead of the main force to locate the enemy; screening, where small elements of rapidly moving horsemen could cover exposed flanks and serve as a trip wire against surprise moves by the enemy; and strategic cavalry, where large forces of horsemen deliberately avoided the enemy’s main forces and penetrated deeply into the rear areas to disrupt his communications, burn his bridges, destroy his supply dumps and production centers, while at the same time dislocating enemy plans and calculations.

All of these cavalry missions depended on two critical factors. First was the relative speed differential between a mounted horseman and the footsoldier, roughly 3 to 1. Second, the success of cavalry was in varying degrees dependent on the inferior qualities of the muzzleloading musket with its slow fire and short range. Unfortunately for the horsemen, scarcely a decade after Waterloo the development of the conoidal bullet (better known as the Minié ball) drastically altered the military equation.2 Rifled weapons with ranges of up to a thousand yards strongly suggested, at least to the observant, that the day of the cavalry charge was over. Even before the Civil War in the United States, some regular cavalrymen urged the elimination of the saber. Sabers, one wrote, are "simply a nuisance; they jingle abominably and are of no earthly use." The Surgeon General’s Civil War wound statistics certainly confirmed this view. After months of operation in which the Union forces suffered tens of thousands of bullet wounds, only 18 authenticated cases of sword injury could be indentified.3

Probably the most successful cavalry action of the Civil War was strategic raid by General James Wilson, who incidentally, became a major general at the age of 27. Leading a force of 14,000 cavalrymen armed with Spencer repeating rifles, Wilson set out from Tennessee. He cut a swath clear across Alabama, destroying arsenals, foundries, and supply dumps and tearing up rails lines. On the few occasions when this fast-moving force was unable to evade Confederate concentrations , it fought dismounted.4

One would think that the experience of the Civil War in the United States would have drastically altered the conception of cavalry thoughout the Western world. But the social prestige of crack cavalry regiments and their brave showing on parade made it difficult to read the historical record realistically. European military writers--one cannot say military thinkers, were inclined to blame poor leadership rather that faulty doctrine for the failures of cavalry in the face of rapid-fire infantry weapons.5

In Britain, toward the end of the nineteenth century, Lord Roberts, the beloved commander in chief who was popularly known as "Sir Bob," saw the facts with a clear eye and directed the cavalry to abolish the lance and be prepared generally to act dismounted. But horsemen in a foxhunting country were not so easily dislodged.6 The Cavalry Journal had been founded in 1904 in Britain for the express purpose of defending the notion that, even under modern conditions with rapid-fire weapons, cavalry was still extremely important in war. One observer, reviewing the first issue of the Cavalry Journal summed up the whole tone and temper of the enterprise succinctly:

It is evident form the number of articles devoted to . . . the subject that the editors have deliberately elected to commence with an exposure of the ridiculous contention of the mistaken school of thought by whom it is fatuously asserted that the days of the Cavalry, . . . are over; and at the same time to illuminate, if possible, the dense intellects of others who have merely failed to comprehend the true functions of cavalry in modern war. 7

The strength of the cavalry lobby in Britain is evident when one notes that despite the commander in chief’s directive, the 1907 Cavalry Manual continued to espouse the traditional doctrine:

The essence of the cavalry spirit lies in holding the balance correctly between firepower and shock action. It must be accepted in principle that the rifle, effective as it is, cannot replace the effect produced by the speed of the horse, the magnetism of the charge, and the terror of cold steel. 8

This romantic eyewash appeared in the official British Army cavalry doctrinal manual. Instead of providing a whetstone for contradictory opinion, the Cavalry Journal only reinforced the romanticism, asserting grandiloquently, in 1909, "The charge will always remain. . . it will be the cavalryman’s pride to die sword in hand."9

Again, one would think that the experience of World War I would have spelled the virtual demise of cavalry. To be sure, horsemen did prove useful in certain peripheral theaters: Allenby in Palestine and the czarists in those vast areas of Russia where the nature of the terrain precluded vehicular traffic. But in the main theater on the Western Front, British cavalry divisions ate tons of costly fodder waiting for the day that never came when they hoped to exploit a breakthrough; 10,000 horses consume as much weight in fodder as the food for 60,000 infantrymen, so the logistical cost was high. None of this experience seems to have made much impression.

The Superior Board of GHQ American Expeditionary Force, assembled after the Armistice to cull out the important doctrinal lessons of the war, concluded that there were few reasons to change the prevailing cavalry doctrine.10 True, some advances had been made. U.S. Army cavalrymen had substituted the Colt .45 for the saber. As one wag somewhat sardonically commented, this was a case of mounting "the inaccurate on the unstable."11 The same spirit prevailed in Britain. What, fumed one irate cavalry officer, "replace the horse with a tank? Why you might as well attempt to replace our railway system by lines of airships!"12

But J. F. C. Fuller, the military historian and close student of doctrine, was more perceptive. The cavalry is doomed, he said, and must give way to the tank. With his broad knowledge of history, however, he foresaw difficulties in replacing the horse with armored forces. "To establish a new invention," he cautioned, "is like establishing a new religion—it usually demands the conversion or destruction of an entire priesthood."13

In the United States, the cavalry priesthood proved remarkably persistent. As late as 1938 General Walter Krueger, the Chief of the U.S. Army War Plans Division, was still opposing the formation of a mechanized cavalry division. The Chief of Cavalry, Major General J. K. Herr, was more broad-minded. He favored the creation of mechanized cavalry provided this were done not by converting existing horse units. It was this kind of thinking that led to the presence of two regular horse cavalry divisions at the Army maneuvers in Louisiana in 1940, long after courageous but futile Polish cavalry lancers had been decimated when charging invading Nazi panzer columns.14

What can we learn from this cavalry story? By virtue of hindsight we can perceive many of the horsemen’s failures with considerable clarity. Clearly, cavalry doctrine was not kept abreast of technological advance. Armies of the time lacked appropriate organizations and procedures to perfect suitable doctrines. Too often those who thought about the problem at all were swayed by romantic or emotional considerations and failed to assess the problem objectively.

Surely a rational, scientific approach would suggest the desirability and the necessity of a patient and exhaustive search for data from operational experience, at home and abroad, experience in wartime and in peacetime maneuvers. Logica1ly, this data gathering should be followed by a careful assessment of the evidence to screen out opinion and ensure a high degree of objectivity in the evidence from which one attempts to formulate doctrine.

What is doctrine? Simply this: doctrine is officially approved prescriptions of the best way to do a job. Doctrine is, or should be, the product of experience. Doctrine is what experience has shown usually works best.

Doctrine is not the same thing as dogma. Where dogma is frozen, fixed, unchanging, and arbitrary, based on authority, akin to "revealed truth," doctrine is open-ended. Doctrine is subject to continual change as new developments, new experience, technological innovations, and the like, require us to reconsider and impel us toward a revised statement of official doctrine.15

In the abstract, it is not very difficult to describe what is needed to decide how best to apply the horse, the airplane, the spacecraft, or any other asset as a military weapon. We simply proceed in a truly scientific spirit in search of objective evidence on which to build our decisions. Unfortunately, what seems simple and straightforward when described in so many words turns out to be exceedingly difficult in practice.

To begin with, actual battle experience is elusive; oftentimes, it turns out that even the participants are not sure what happened. It is difficult to be objective, to rise above the din, to attain true perspective. Further, by no means all who participate record their experiences. Even those who do record them incompletely or inaccurately. Consequently, the so-called evidence that becomes available for analysis is all too often partial, fragmentary, and not infrequently a vital portion of evidence is missing. One of the drawbacks of history is that we cannot rerun the episode or the battle in the same way we can rerun a scientific experiment in the laboratory to pick up the observation we missed the first time around. In the long intervals between wars, we must rely on tests, exercises, simulations, and maneuvers, bloodless battles, which only imperfectly provide the kind of evidence we need. As if these inherent drawbacks were not enough, there are other obstacles in our path which make the search for objective data difficult and sometimes seemingly impossible.

Military organizations are not ideal instruments for use in the search for truth. Military organizations are hierarchical: two stars outrank two bars. But what does this really mean? Where matters of opinion are concerned, rank certainly has its privileges. Greater rank presumes greater experience and therefore greater respect for its opinions. Let us never forget, however, that this applies only to opinion. As Secretary of Defense James R. Schlesinger used to say, "You’re entitled to your opinion but not to your own exclusive set of facts." Where we are dealing with questions of fact, two stars do not outrank two bars. Sometimes stars forget that bit of truth. One is reminded of that perceptive nineteenth-century soldier General Sir Edward Hamley, who cynically defined tactics as "the opinion of the senior officer present."16

Caricatured in this fashion, we all instantly recognize the absurdity of all attempts to impose the authority of rank on what are or should be matters of objective fact. Yet, absurd or not, the record of how technological innovations have been integrated into the armed forces as weapons is strewn with examples of wishful thinking and failures to distinguish fact from opinion. Our past is littered with examples of failures in mustering objective evidence for orderly, systematic, and dispassionate evaluation.

And why has this been so? Largely, it appears, because military men have been slow to devise organizations and procedures explicitly directed to the perfection of doctrine. Traditionally, armed forces have attracted activists, men generally better at "doing" than "reflecting." This is understandable; philosophers do not make good shock troops. What is more, philosophers and military intellectuals tend to give Delphic responses. They tend to speak ambiguously. They do not give clear-cut answers or easy-to-follow lessons learned; they speak only of insights. Military historians are exasperating fellows; they profess to help the decision-maker, the activist military commander, to see more deeply into his problem. They are exasperating because instead of simplifying the commander’s problem they only show him how much more difficult it is than it appeared at first.

To illustrate the trouble commanders have with intellectuals, I must digress a moment to recall Napoleon’s dilemma in Russia. He had led the Grand Army deep into the enemy country and occupied Moscow, the symbolic heart of the nation. Winter was threatening, but the emperor wanted to remain in Moscow as long as he could for the advantage it gave him when negotiating the peace proposals he hoped the Russians would offer him. On the other hand, Napoleon knew he must extricate his army from its dangerously extended position before the Russian winter closed in. So he turned to his chief scientist, Pierre Simon Laplace, and asked him to determine how long the French troops might safely linger in Moscow. On the available meteorological data from past seasons, Laplace calculated that there was a l00-to-l probability that extreme cold would not set in before 25 November. Napoleon acted on this advice and stayed. On the sixth of November the thermometer dropped precipitately, winter swept in with more than usual severity, and the French Army was virtually destroyed.17

Napoleon was clearly on the right track when he employed a leading scientist on his staff. But in this pioneering effort at operational research, he learned the hard way that even when one tries to be objective in looking for evidence from past experience, the process is fraught with difficulties.

Why this exasperating historical mucking around with horses when the discussion here is to address the problem of space? Because this tale of cavalry can teach us much about the problem of doctrine.

The airplane that the Wright brothers brought to the Army in 1903 was a rather flimsy contraption. After looking it over, General Ferdinand Foch, who later became the Supreme Commander of the Allied Forces in France, dismissed it out of hand by stating: "That’s good sport, but for the Army it is of no value."18 Foch was no bonehead; he was a thoughtful student of warfare whose volume of Principles was widely used in war colleges. His spurning of the airplane was, however, a classic example of throwing out the baby with the bathwater. To be sure, the Wright brothers’ aircraft was just a flimsy box kite with only the slenderest margin of weight-lifting capacity. If military intellectuals such as Foch failed to perceive the latent powers of the airplane, it is easy to see why officials in the United States had some difficulty in soundly conceptualizing the potential of this innovation at a time when the Army was still a horse-drawn institution.

How should the airplane be exploited? A good case could be made for visualizing aircraft as the logical successor of the horse. The speed differential the airplane enjoyed over infantrymen would enable it to perform many traditional cavalry missions to great advantage. The ability to fly over obstacles and avoid enemy blocking forces on the ground held high promise of performing the deep penetration, independent strategic mission into the enemy’s heartland, a mission already well defined doctrinally by the cavalry. But the horsemen would have none of it. Already threatened by the appearance of the gasoline-powered truck and the scout car, the cavalrymen saw the airplane as just another challenge to their traditional perquisites. What is more, the noise and smell of internal combustion engines frightened their horses!

So the airplane was adopted by the U.S. Army Signal Corps. There was a good deal of logic in this decision. In 1903, Signalmen were the most scientifically inclined officers in the Army. Moreover, the decidedly limited lifting capacity of existing aircraft precluded any immediate application of airplanes to strategic missions requiring heavy bomb loads capable of significant destruction in the enemy’s rear areas. It followed naturally, then, that the Signal Corps would develop the airplane to provide yet another tool, along with the telephone and telegraph, in the service of information.

Although it may have seemed logical at the time, the decision to assign the airplane to the Signal Corps was to have profound consequences. The Signal Corps was a service, not a combat arm. Its officers saw themselves as ancillaries, assisting the three combat arms to carry out their tactical missions. In this context it was virtually inevitable that the airplane would be developed as an observation platform. Airplanes would be employed as the eyes of the Army rather than as offensive weapons geared to a strategic mission in emulation of the strategic role already well defined by traditional cavalry doctrine.

At least in part as a consequence of this accident of organizational or institutional sponsorship, the Army emerged from World War I with a genuine appreciation of the importance of the airplane as a useful adjunct to the ground forces. On the other hand, the case for the airplane as a weapon of strategic potential had not been adequately demonstrated to the satisfaction of those in command.

The story of how a small band of zealots, true believers in strategic air power, struggled for the next twenty-five years or more to implement their ideas is too well known to require repeating. General "Billy" Mitchell as prophet and idol and his younger disciples Arnold, Andrews, Spaatz, and Eaker—all contributed to the struggle in varying ways. They deserve their place in history. However, the emphasis here is not to celebrate success but instead to look behind the façade of success to analyze failures. For the purpose is to understand better how doctrine may be kept abreast of technological innovation and examine how the Air Corps developed doctrine for strategic air power.

The task of formulating doctrine fell largely to the faculty of the old Air Corps Tactical School. In many respects the problem confronting these men was not unlike the problem confronting those who are trying to devise suitable doctrine for space. With no more than an exceedingly slender base of actual combat experience with strategic bombardment in World War I, air arm officers had to extrapolate, making imaginative projections as to what bomber operations in the future would involve. The air arm officers were further handicapped by the usual and inevitable peacetime shortage of funds, which slowed the development of progressively better hardware.

Adversity, lack of funds, and limited numbers of men and aircraft put a premium on perfecting procedures to ensure that all experience was properly squeezed to produce its quota of information for use in concocting doctrine. Unfortunately, though, Air Corps officers too often seem to have been unaware of, or insensitive to, the need for developing rigorous standards of objectivity when assessing the meager shreds of available evidence. A brief look at a crucial episode at the Air Corps Tactical School will illustrate my point.

In the early years of the Tactical School when the memory of World War I was still fresh in everyone’s mind, the boys in the Bomber Branch displayed considerable realism in their thinking. When they projected long-range strategic bombardment missions, they visualized fighter escorts going along to fend off enemy attacks. This view persisted at least down to 1930, but thereafter the picture changed radically. The bomber enthusiasts began to move into positions of power and influence in the Air Corps, and they secured additional funds for the development of significantly superior bombers.

The appearance of the Martin B-10 bomber, which could outfly the older fighters in the Air Corps inventory, ushered in a whole new attitude. If the bombers could outrun fighters, what could stop them? Fired with a new enthusiasm, some of the bomber boys began to suggest that there was no longer a need to invest funds in other types of aircraft. By 1934 the official Air Corps text on "Air Force" was asserting unequivocally that the bomber was the principal weapon, and its offensive role was the principal mission of the air arm. The Air Corps text asserted that all other forms of aircraft could be developed only by diverting funds which could be used to perfect the bomber. Not surprisingly, the pace of fighter development lagged.19

Gradually it became an article of faith with the enthusiasts that the bomber was invulnerable. "A determined attack, once launched," said a Tactical School instructor, "is most difficult if not impossible to stop." An official umpire after an elaborate air defense exercise at Wright Field declared, "it is impossible for fighters to intercept bombers."20 On the West Coast in 1933 Lieutenant Colonel Henry "Hap" Arnold decided to put the issue to a test, pitting P-26 pursuits against B-12 bombers, improved versions of the Martin B-10. On the basis of this trial, Colonel Arnold concluded that pursuit aircraft would rarely intercept bombers and then only accidentally. He envisioned pursuit aircraft in the future as limited to operations against other pursuit or observation planes. "It is doubtful," he concluded, "whether such operations justify their existence."21 This virtual dismissal of fighter aircraft was the conclusion of the man who would subsequently command the mighty Army Air Forces in World War II.

Not everyone was willing to swallow the results of Colonel Arnold’s test so readily. At the Tactical School, the head of the Pursuit Branch was Captain Claire Chennault. He subjected Arnold’s report to a thoroughgoing, objective analysis and observed that Arnold had stacked the deck, using an obsolescent fighter against the very latest model bomber. "Technical progress," Chennault observed, "within a very short time may make the estimates of time and place wholly obsolete. The principles involved, however, will remain constant. . . ." Then he proceeded to enumerate the factors that should enter into a determination of the ability of pursuit aircraft to intercept bombers: the type of airplanes on hand, the location of their airfields, the availability of a warning net to give timely information on the location of the attackers, weather conditions, and the relative firepower of the opposing forces.22

Chennault concluded, on the strength of his analysis, that what the Air Corps needed was a single-place fighter with substantially extended range. This would facilitate interception of attacking bombers and at the same time would permit fighters to serve as escorts for bombers on long-range strategic missions into enemy territory. Subsequent events were to confirm the validity of Chennault’s objective analysis. Unfortunately, Colonel Oscar Westover, the commander of the General Headquarters Air Force, the strategic air arm of that day, chose to ignore Captain Chennault’s findings while accepting Colonel Arnold’s highly subjective conclusions which rested more on opinion than on fact. Bombers, Westover asserted in his official report, can accomplish their mission "without support."23

The failure of those in command in the Air Corps to insist on the most rigorous analysis of the available evidence when developing bomber doctrine was to have the gravest consequences when World War II broke out. Bomber doctrine, when subjected to the brutal test of actual warfare, was found wanting. The Royal Air Force (RAF), while attempting daylight bombardment missions beyond the range of fighter escorts, suffered prohibitive losses. So appalling were these losses that the British authorities switched their doctrine and limited their deep penetrations to night raids when interception was infinitely more difficult. The survival rate went up at least temporarily, but there was a sharp decline in their ability to find and hit strategically significant targets; this decline went far to nullify the concept of strategic air power.

These facts were known to the Americans well before Pearl Harbor, but the knowledge did not bring about an alteration of the prevailing bomber doctrine. When General Carl Spaatz took the first elements of the Eighth Air Force to England in the summer of 1942, he faced a painful dilemma. On the one hand, RAF leaders with combat experience behind them asserted that daylight bombing could not be done without unacceptable loss. On the other hand, Air Force doctrine, as yet untested and resting largely on faith, held that daylight precision bombing would be successful. The bombers would get through to perform their strategic mission without escorting fighters if that mission required penetrations beyond fighter range. Which view was the right one? Only a test would decide.

So the Eighth Air Force began its tentative probing of Hitler’s Fortress Europa with the limited resources at its disposal. The first few missions were successful. Not until the tenth mission did the bombers suffer a loss. These were shallow penetrations close to the coast and within the range of escorts. In October 1942, a 38-bomber raid struck German targets in France accompanied by 400 escorting fighters. Not surprisingly, the raid was a success. But what did such raids prove? Did they warrant the optimistic report sent back to the United States that "day bombers in strong formation can be employed effectively and successfully without fighter escort"?24

After a mere fourteen heavily escorted shallow penetrations, the commander of the Eighth Air Force made an inferential leap, reaching the unwarranted conclusion that bombers could successfully perform strategic missions without fighter escorts. Clearly, this faulty inference was an act of faith, not logic, but the dreadful consequences were to be masked for several months by a number of circumstances. Throughout 1942 and during the early months of 1943, three-quarters of the German fighter force was tied up in Russia or in North Africa. Moreover, diversions of cadres to build up Allied air units in North Africa weakened the Eighth Air Force so seriously that it was unable to mount a large-scale assault for many months. As late as February 1943, an average of only 70 bombers was available for each Eighth Air Force attack on the Continent. So a true test of bomber doctrine was deferred.25

The Germans were, meanwhile, developing some formidable defenses. They improved their radar screen, arranged for a more appropriate positioning of fighter bases, and perfected the lethal tactic of nose attacks on incoming bombers whose frontal firepower was then deficient. These actions on the part of the Germans began to take their toll.

During the summer of 1943, loss rates for Eighth Air Force bombers soared sickeningly. The Schweinfurt raid suffered 28.2 percent losses with 50 percent of the survivors requiring extensive repairs, which delayed launching further attacks. Statistical studies quickly showed that unescorted raiders suffered losses seven times greater than those undertaken with escorts.26 That the Eighth Air Force continued to press its strategic assault in the face of these devastating losses is a tribute to the courage of the crews if not exactly a monument to the existing system for devising appropriate doctrine.27

As we know, the solution to the escort problem was the drop tank. The P-47 had an initial range of only 175 miles. By expanding internal tankage, this range was extended to 230 miles. During July 1943, by adding 75-gallon drop tanks, the maximum range was extended to 340 miles. By February 1944, hanging on two 150-gallon drop tanks gave the P-47 a range of 475 miles. By then, the P-51 with drop tanks was going 560 miles—all the way to Berlin.28

If the drop tank was such an obvious solution to the problem of providing long-range escorts, why was it so long in coming? Wasn’t it obvious at the time? Technically, there were many problems to solve. Someone had to design sturdy pylons and bracing to prevent buffeting by the tank in flight and to devise a valve to control the internal static pressure of. the tanks. Another problem was that of installing pumps which proved necessary when extracting fuel above 20,000 feet. One model drop tank involved 159 parts, including its mounts and external plumbing. This required the services of 43 different manufacturing firms.29 These, of course, were all perfectly normal developmental problems. Given time, each of the difficulties could be surmounted.

More serious, however, was the conceptual failure that lay behind the decision to use drop tanks. In February 1939, when a manufacturer came in with a scheme for developing drop tanks, the Chief of the Air Corps, Hap Arnold, decreed that "no tactical airplane will be equipped with droppable auxiliary fuel tanks." More curious still is the decision of the Chief of the Plans Division in the Office of Chief of the Air Corps, who in March of 1941 turned down a proposal to add drop tanks to extend the range of fighters. By this date the RAF had already abandoned daylight bombing in principle, and the challenge to existing Air Corps doctrine was evident.30

The officer who made this fateful decision in 1941 was none other than Carl Spaatz. The document which articulated his disapproval spelled out his reasoning: "It is believed that," he wrote, to permit carrying bombs or drop tanks would make for "unnecessary weight and operational complexities incompatible with the mission of pursuit." The document further noted that the accretion of "extraneous details" not only would give aircraft designers "confused ideas" regarding the essential requirements for fighter aircraft but would also provide opportunities for "improper tactical use" of these airplanes.31

Literally hundreds of crewmen lost their lives because escort fighters of suitable range were not ready when needed. The lack of escort fighters jeopardized the whole effort to prove the feasibility of strategic air power. What an irony that he who was to command the Eighth Air Force and suffer the brutal losses incurred in ramming home the Combined Bomber Offensive in 1943 and 1944 had it in his power in 1941 to provide the solution but did not.

I wondered who had done the staff work that lay behind this document signed by Spaatz. The working papers in the archives gave the answer— the initials were those of Hoyt S. Vandenberg, who would later become the second chief of staff of the newly formed postwar Air Force, following on the heels of General Carl Spaatz. Vandenberg, before coming to the Plans Staff, had been an instructor in the Pursuit Branch at the Air Corps Tactical School. Manifestly he had not inherited Captain Chennault’s gift for rigorous and objective analysis.

The story of how doctrine was devised for the airplane bears a painfully striking resemblance to the story of how doctrine was or was not developed for the horse cavalry. I conclude this foray into history by attempting to distill a few useful insights from the record of experience and hope that even a past on horseback may have a message of significance today.

We are on the verge of a great age in space when it will be of the utmost importance to exploit the spacecraft as a weapon to its fullest potential in our struggle for survival. On the analogy of the horse and the airplane, we must explore the full range of the offensive and defensive capabilities of spacecraft and study no less avidly their limitations. Again, on the analogy of the airplane, we must not delay our effort to conceptualize the eventual combatant role of spacecraft even if current treaty obligations defer the actual development of hardware.

If the record of the past tells us anything, it is almost certain that we shall make as many mistakes in formulating space doctrine as we did with cavalry doctrine and air power doctrine—if we do not first get our house in order. We must ensure that we build a truly effective organization for formulating doctrine and that it is staffed with the best possible personnel.

What is a sound organization? Ultimately, no organization is better than the procedures devised to make it function.32 Yet on every hand in the armed forces today, we see men in authority assigning missions and appointing leaders to fill boxes on the wiring diagram while seriously scanting the always vital matter of internal procedures. It is the traditional role of command to tell subordinates what to do but not how to do it; nonetheless, it is still the obligation of those in authority to ensure that the internal procedure devised by their subordinates meet the test of adequacy.

And what do we mean by the best people? We must have officers who habitually and routinely insist on objectivity in their own thinking and in that of their subordinates. This does not rule out imagination and speculation by any means. But we must have officers who insist on hard evidence based on experience or experiment in support of every inference they draw and every conclusion they reach.

We need officers who will go out of their way to seek and welcome evidence that seems to confute or contradict the received wisdom of their own most cherished beliefs. In short, we need officers who understand that the brash and barely respectful subordinate who is forever making waves by challenging the prevailing posture may prove to be the most valuable man in the organization—if he is listened to and providing his imagination and creativity can be disciplined by the mandate that he present his views dispassionately and objectively.

As wise old General Sir John Burnett-Stuart put it to Liddell Hart shortly after being given command of the British experimental armored force in 1926: "It’s no use just handing over to an ordinary Division commander like myself. You must [assign]. . . as many experts and visionaries as you can; it doesn’t matter how wild their views are if only they have a touch of the divine fire. I will supply the common sense of advanced middle age."33

Duke University
Durham, North Carolina

This article is based on an address delivered to the first Annual Military Space Symposium at the Air Force Academy on 2 April 1981.

The Editor


1. Jay Luvaas, The Education of an Army (Chicago, 1964), p. 3. See also Major General W. B. Hazen, The School and the Army in Germany and France (New York, 1872), p. 189.

2. Encyclopaedia Britannica (Chicago, 1946) V, 70ff.

3. J. T. Hubbell, editor, Battles Lost and Won (Westport, Connecticut, 1975), pp. 107, 139.

4. J. K. Herr and Edmond S. Wallace, The Story of the U.S. Cavalry (Boston, 1953), pp. 138-40, and Jay Luvaas, The Military Legacy of the Civil War (Chicago, 1959), pp. 237-44.

5. Dennis E. Showalter, "Prussian Cavalry, 1806-1871: The Search for Roles," 19 Militärgeschichte Mitteilungen (1976), p. 14.

6. Luvaas, Education of an Army, p. 316.

7. Ibid., pp. 198-99.

8. Ibid., p. 316.

9. Quoted in John Ellis, Cavalry: The History of Mounted Warfare (New York, 1976), p. 173.

10. George T. Hoffman, "Tactics vs Technology: The U.S. Cavalry Experience" 82 Armor, September 1973, p. 11.

11. Edward L. Katzenbach, "The Horse Cavalry in the Twentieth Century: A Case Study in Policy Response," 8 Public Policy, 1958, p. 127.

12. Luvaas, Education of an Army, p. 355.

13. Ibid.

14. Hoffman, p. 14; and Herr and Wallace, p. 256.

15. For a detailed discussion, see I. B. Holley, Jr., "The Doctrinal Process," Military Review, April 1979, pp. 2-13.

16. Luvaas, Education of an Army, p. 153.

17. Ibid., pp. 45-46.

18. B. H. Liddell Hart, Foch (London, 1931), p. 47. For a parallel view by a U.S. Army officer as late as 1911, see Aaron Norman, The Great Air War (New York, 1968), pp. 21-22.

19. T. H. Greer, The Development of Air Doctrine in the Army Air Arm, 1917-1944, Air University Research Studies Institute, 1955, USAF Historical Study No. 89, p. 55.

20. Ibid., pp. 55-56.

21. Lieutenant Colonel H. H. Arnold to Chief of Air Corps, Major General Benjamin D. Foulois, 26 November 1934, Pursuit Aviation, 4686-35 A and B, Simpson Historical Research Center (SHRC), Maxwell AFB, Alabama. See especially paragraph 13.

22. Captain Claire L. Chennault to Commandant, Air Corps Tactical School, 7 March 1935, SHRC 4686-35 A and B. See also Chennault’s undated notes: Interceptors: Pursuit Aviation, SHRC 4647-97, and his mimeographed text, "The Role of Defensive Pursuit," 1933, SHRC 4773-10.

23. Greer, pp. 59, 65. See also Robert F. Futrell, Ideas, Concepts, Doctrine:A History of Basic Thinking in the United States Air Force, 1907-1964 (Maxwell AFB, Alabama: Air University, 1971), 1974 edition, p. 35.

24. Wesley Frank Craven and James Lee Cate, The Army Air Forces in World War II, Volume II, Europe: Torch to Pointblank (Chicago, 1949), pp. 219, 222.

25. Ibid., pp. 233, 237. 308.

26. William Emerson, "Doctrine and Dogma: Operation Pointblank as Case History," Army, June 1963, pp. 55-56.

27. Craven and Cate, Vol. II, p. 635. As late as May 1943, the AAF Policy Group was still contemplating strategic attacks on Germany "usually unsupported by fighters because of their deficiency in range."

28. Spaatz Report, Vol. II, 1947, pp. 2-4. Simpson Historical Research Center, Maxwell AFB, Alabama, SHRC 106-90. These figures differ in some particulars with those found, in Report of Lieutenant General Ira Eaker, Eighth Air Force, 20 February 1942 to 31 December 1943, p. 6, SHRC 168, pp. 61-63. See also Emerson, "Doctrine and Dogma," p. 60.

29. History of Air Service Command, Eighth Air Force, Vol. 3, chapter 5, pp. 60-63, SHRC 519,01: 1942-45.

30. Air Technical Service Command (ATSC) Case History "Droppable Fuel Tanks: 1939-1943." Summary narrative and Document #11 Chief of Air Corps TWC, 16 May 1939; Document #20 Lockheed Report, 19 September 1941; and Document #21 K. B. Wolfe, Production Engineering Section, 9 December 1941. SHRC 202.6-6. For subsequent developments, see ATSC Case History "Fighter Aircraft Range Extension Program," Parts I & II, SHRC 202.2-11. See also Brigadier General H. S. Hansell, Jr., Oral History Interview, 19 April 1967, pp. 22-26. SHRC K 239.0512-629.

31. Chief, Plans Division to Executive, 10 March 1941. SHRC Microfilm reel A1422, frame 1386-7.

32. For an extended discussion of the procedures involved in formulating doctrine, see I. B. Holley, Jr., "The Doctrinal Process," Military Review, April 1979, pp. 2-13.

33. B. H. Liddell Hart, The Liddell Hart Memoirs (London, 1965), Vol. I, p. 112.


I. B. Holley, Jr., Major General, USAFR (Ret) (B.A., Amherst; M.A., Ph.D., Yale), is Professor of History at Duke University. He has been a visiting professor at the National Defense University and in the Department of History, U.S. Military Academy, and has taught at the Industrial College of the Armed Forces. Professor Holley served as chairman of the advisory committee on history to the Secretary of the Air Force and as mobilization assistant to the Commander, Air University. He is author of Ideas and Weapons (l953) and Buying Aircraft: Air Material Procurement for the Army Air Forces (1963) and a previous contributor to the Review.


The conclusions and opinions expressed in this document are those of the author cultivated in the freedom of expression, academic environment of Air University. They do not reflect the official position of the U.S. Government, Department of Defense, the United States Air Force or the Air University.

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