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Learning to Win: The Evolution of U.S. Navy Tactical Doctrine During the Solomons Campaign

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Paper presented at the 2017 McMullen Naval History Symposium. Describes organizational learning in the U.S. Navy in early World War II.

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Learning to Win: The Evolution of U.S. Navy Tactical Doctrine During the Solomons Campaign

  1. 1. trenthone.com @Honer_CUT Learning to Win: The Evolution of U.S. Navy Tactical Doctrine During the Solomons Campaign Trent Hone
  2. 2. The Battle of Savo Island – 8-9 Aug 1942 1
  3. 3. Interwar Experimentation and Learning 2
  4. 4. • The Objective • The Offensive • Superiority • Security • Surprise • Simplicity • Movement • Economy of Force • Cooperation 1919 – Doctrinal Principles 3
  5. 5. • Aggressive Action to Seize the Initiative • Quick and Effective Gunfire (Attack Effectively First) • Decentralized Command and Control (and Doctrinal Development) 1930s – Tactical Heuristics 4
  6. 6. • Balanced Exploration and Exploitation • Fleet Problems and exercises • Variability within the fleet • No defined approach – little codified “doctrine” • Hindered by emphasis on “Major Action” U.S. Navy’s Learning System 5
  7. 7. Initial Adaptations (Oct-Nov 1942) 6
  8. 8. • Compact linear formations (“double header”) • Emphasis on gunnery • Individual heroics 7 Initial Adaptations (Oct-Nov 1942)
  9. 9. Experiments with Distributed Formations 8
  10. 10. Experiments with Distributed Formations 9
  11. 11. Distributed Formations (Nov 1942) 10 • Linear formations abandoned • Destroyers sent ahead • Reliance on gunfire from heavy ships • Coordination very difficult
  12. 12. • Commanders overwhelmed • Too much data • Too little actionable information • Formations need to be more stable • ”Minor Tactics” need more emphasis Lessons from Guadalcanal 11
  13. 13. Combat Information Center (CIC) 12
  14. 14. New Patterns, Old Doctrine (Jan-Jul 1943) 13
  15. 15. New Patterns, Old Doctrine (Jan-Jul 1943) 14 • Tassafaronga used as a model • Cruiser gunfire emphasized • Destroyer attacks subordinated • Imperial Japanese Navy counters with stealthy torpedo attacks
  16. 16. 15 Evolutionary Tactics (Aug-Oct 1943)
  17. 17. Evolutionary Tactics (Aug-Oct 1943) 16 • CIC comes into effective use • Destroyers attack aggressively • Torpedoes first, then guns • Burke’s Doctrine; Moosbrugger’s Plan
  18. 18. Revolutionary Tactics (Nov 1943) 17
  19. 19. 18 Revolutionary Tactics (Nov 1943)
  20. 20. 19 Revolutionary Tactics (Nov 1943) • CIC enables true coordination • Each captain has a shared picture • Destroyers make surprise torpedo attacks • Gunfire after torpedoes are launched
  21. 21. • “At no time was there confusion or lack of knowledge.” • “… better than most drills.” • “Track charts... superimposed one over the other.” 20 Results – According to Burke
  22. 22. • U.S. Navy surface warfare doctrine evolved • Two levels of learning (in theater & at fleet level) • Variability led to experimentation • Decentralized approach meant rapid exploitation • Pacific Fleet codified effective approaches Summary 21

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