Major Problems Confronting a Theater Commander in Combined Operations

By Devers, Jacob L | Military Review, January/February 1997 | Go to article overview

Major Problems Confronting a Theater Commander in Combined Operations


Devers, Jacob L, Military Review


In this lead article for the October 1947 edition of Military Review, General Jacob L. Devers identifies the political, economic and military-doctrinal, logistic and human difficulties of combined command from the World War II experience and offers insights for resolving them. Because his candid observations are as relevant today as they were then, Military Review regularly receives requests for reprints of this article.

THE PROBLEMS presented a theater commander in combined operations, that is, those which involve unified employment of one or more armed services of two or more allied forces, are, in the main, no different in character from those presented a theater commander in joint operations; that is, those conducted on land and/or sea which involve employment of or more of the armed services of the United States.

However, their scope and detail are an entirely different matter, and they tax his native ability, professional skill, and patience to an unbelievable degree. For this reason alone, a theater commander charged with conducting combined operations must be possessed of unquestioned ingenuity, professional skill, tact, good judgment, and patience.

In listing only the principal major problems that will confront a theater commander in combined operations, I would arrange them in this order:

(1) Characteristic lack of clarity and firmness of directives received from the next superior combined headquarters or authority.

(2) The conflicting political, economic, and military problems and objectives of each of the allied powers.

(3) The logistical capabilities, organization, doctrines, and characteristics of each of the armed forces under command.

(4) The armament, training, and tactical doctrines of each of the armed forces under command.

(5) Personal intervention and exercise of a direct, personal influence to assure coordination and success in the initial phases of the mission assigned by the next higher combined authority.

Lastly, and in the final analysis probably the most important of all:

(6) Senior commander personalities of each of the armed services of the Allied powers under command, their capabilities, personal and professional habits, and their ambitions.

I will attempt to deal with each of these in order.

(1) Characteristic lack of clarity and firmness of directives received from the next superior combined headquarters or authority.

The first task of the theater commander upon receipt of a directive from the next higher commander or authority is, of course, to arrive at its correct, sound interpretation, in the light of the conditions under which the directive was issued, and in the light of the conditions existing in the theater at the time of its receipt. It must be remembered that the next higher command, which in the recent war was the Combined Chiefs of Staff, arrived at this directive after going through at least all the mental processes that the theater commander must now go through, and after taking into account matters of no personal concern to the theater. The theater commander must remember that this directive is the result of a prior complete analysis, at the Combined Chiefs of Staff level, of the peculiar problem which will confront both them and the theater commander in its execution.

Only in the exceptional case will a clear-cut, uncompromised directive be arrived at, at that level. Each member of the Combined Chiefs of Staff must, of necessity, look first to the political, economic, and military problems and welfare of his own nation.

Thus, from the outset, we find that there will be conflicting views, not only as regards the basic strategy of the war, but also to its implementation, even in its broadest aspects. Hence, the directive received by the theater commander will invariably be extremely broad in all of its aspects, except as to its ultimate objective. …

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