The View From Olympus: Resources for Maneuver Warfare

Now and then it happens that a commander at some level in the U.S. military wants to move whatever he is in charge of toward Third Generation maneuver warfare.  The results are usually meager, because the military personnel system moves him after a year or two and his replacement invariably neither understands nor has any interest in what he was trying to accomplish. 

However, those leaders making the attempt will accomplish more if they draw on work that has already been done rather than trying to reinvent the tank tread.  A number of publications offer the “Cliff Notes” on maneuver warfare, i.e., they boil the general literature down and offer the basics without requiring too much reading.  The most important such works are:

  • The Marine Corp’s foundational doctrinal manual, MCDP-1, Warfighting.  An updated version is now being written, but the existing one is excellent (and maybe better; I haven’t seen the new one yet).  Published when General Al Grey was Commandant, Warfighting is probably the best summary of maneuver warfare in print anywhere. 
  • Other capstone Marine Corps manuals issued during the Al Grey years, including Tactics, Campaigning, which is devoted to operational art, and Command and Control.  Make sure you use the original version of FMFM 1-3 Tactics, as the Marine Corps subsequently ruined it.
  • My own Maneuver Warfare Handbook, which is still in print and available from Westview Press.  It is also in print in several other languages, including Spanish, Swedish, and Estonian.
  • The Marine Corps’ five-volume Warfighting Skills Program, MCI 7400-7404, which is designed for self-study.  The only maneuverist MCI self-study course the Corps ever produced, the Warfighting Skills Program may now be hard to find as it is no longer offered.  It is worth the search.

For those commanders who want to look beyond Third Generation war to Fourth, Cliff Notes are scantier.  The best is the Fourth Generation Warfare Handbook, which I co-authored with Marine Lt. Col. Greg Thiele and is published by Castalia House.  Also see the series of Imperial and Royal Austro-Hungarian Marine Corps field manuals on 4GW.  The Marine Corps still has not officially recognized Fourth Generation War (nor successfully institutionalized Third), so it has nothing to offer here.  The other American armed services are stuck in the Second Generation and their doctrinal publications are useful only as fire-starters.  I’ve heard the Taliban regularly roasts goats over piles of them.

 For those who want to get more depth on either maneuver warfare or 4GW, you should start reading “the canon” in the stipulated order.  You will find an annotated bibliography discussing each book as an appendix to the 4GW Handbook.  The list is:

  • C.E. White, The Enlightened Soldier
  • Robert Doughty, The Seeds of Disaster
  • Bruce Gudmundsson, Stormtroop Tactics
  • Martin Samuels, Command or Control
  • Robert Doughty, The Breaking Point
  • Martin van Creveld, Fighting Power
  • Martin van Creveld, The Transformation of War

As a Marine infantry captain who was then the instructor development officer at The Basic School at Quantico said, “Unless he’s a rock, no one can read these books in the right order and not get it.”


Interested in what Fourth Generation war in America might look like?  Read Thomas Hobbes’ new future history, Victoria.

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