Reference Information

Some Useful Military Definitions: Strategy, Tactics and Logistics

The military profession, like other professions, has developed its own language to make for easy communication. So it is useful for students of military history to become familiar with some of the terms commonly encountered in the literature. In the theory of warfare, strategy and tactics have usually been put into separate categories. Strategy deals with both preparation for and the waging of war and has often been described as the art of projecting and directing campaigns. Tactics, its close partner, simply means the art of executing plans and handling troops in battle. Strategy is usually regarded as the prelude to the battlefield; tactics the action on the battlefield itself. As society and warfare have grown more complex, the term strategy has been generally broadened from its eighteenth century connotation as the art of the general, far beyond its original, narrow meaning. In the 19th, and even more in the 20th, distinctions began to be blurred between strategy as a purely military phenomenon and national strategy, which involves a combination of political, economic, technological, and psychological factors (along with the military elements), in the management of national policy. As a result, the term grand strategy (or higher strategy) has come to connote the art of employing all the resources of a nation, or coalition of nations, to achieve the objects of war (and peace). The broad policy decisions governing the over-all conduct of war, or its deterrence, are the prerogative of the chief of state and his principal advisers. The strategist, whether in the narrower or the broader sense, deals in many uncertainties and his art is the art of the calculated risk. At the opposite end of the scale are minor tactics, the term used to describe the maneuver of small units on the battlefield.

Linking strategy and tactics and attracting more and more attention among theorists and analysts is a third field, logistics. Simply defined as the art of planning and carrying out the movements and maintenance of forces. This field too has been greatly broadened as warfare has expanded and grown more technological and complex. Logistics deals with the deployment of military forces and their equipment to the area of war, and with innumerable services, such as feeding, clothing, supplying, transporting and housing troops. The connecting links, the networks of railways, waterways, roads, and air routes by which an armed force in the filed are reinforced and supplied from its base of operations in the home or friendly area, are called lines of communications. The theater of operations comprises the combat zone as well as the supply and administration area directly connected with military operations.

Naval Vessels of World War II

Within each class of warship, the size of the ships themselves vary; among Cruisers, for example, there were "heavy" and "light" varieties, distinguished by the size and speed of the vessel, and the power of the main armament. This was also true of Destroyers and Aircraft Carriers as well. Ship armament is denominated in inches, meaning the number of inches of diameter of the barrel of the cannon; thus a 12" cannon has a barrel with that dimension as a diameter. The largest cannons ever mounted on any ship were 18" on two Japanese battleships.

Battleships had traditionally been regarded as the main elements of naval power and had crews of about 1,500 to as many as 2,500 officers and men. They were 600'-700' long (two and a half football fields). The 16" cannon of America's largest battleships could hurl explosive projectiles weighing well over a ton some 25 miles, but most of the battleship-against-battleship actions in the war were fought at distances of 9 to 12 miles. Aircraft and aircraft carriers ended the era of battleship dominance in naval warfare and for much of the war the battleship was relegated to the role of protecting the carriers and engaging in shore bombardment.

Aircraft carriers: From the moment that five battleships of the US Pacific Fleet were put out of action at Pearl Harbor in December of 1941, the aircraft carrier with all the mobility, range and striking power implicit in its air weapon, became the queen of the seas. Carriers, like other ship classes, came in different sizes, depending on specific roles. Although Great Britain did operate carriers during the war, Japan and the US placed greater emphasis on these ships, realizing their utility in a transpacific war fought over great distances. The American Essex-class carrier (of which the USS Intrepid in New York is an example) was the largest of its type. It was 870' long (almost three football fields) and embarked 3,450 men including flight crews and aircraft maintenance personnel. Its air compliment comprised almost 100 aircraft: scout planes, torpedo bombers, dive bombers and fighter planes. Given its size, it was quite fast at 32.7 knots, but this speed was achieved at the expense of an armored flight deck, a feature on all British carriers. One hundred and fifteen light carriers, called escort carriers, were built by the US for convoy escort duty and support of amphibious landings; they embarked between 16 and 36 aircraft. For much of the war Japanese naval aircraft had a distinct advantage over their adversaries, due to their exceptionally long range and high maneuverability. Later development of US aircraft produced some superior naval fighter planes.

Cruisers ranged from "light" to "heavy" and fulfilled so many functions in the war that it is difficult to summarize their specific role. Smaller than battleships, they helped protect aircraft carriers and battleships, escorted convoys, engaged in shore bombardment, as well as in independent cruiser/destroyer operations. Their main armament was typically 8" cannons, but there were types of cruisers which were intended as specialized antiaircraft ships and which bristled with 5" cannon instead of fewer of the larger calibers. Crews ranged in numbers from 700 to 1200 men.

Destroyers: A versatile class of warship which was capable of a multiplicity of roles appropriate to its small size: escorting larger warships, convoy protection, anti-submarine operations, mine laying, mine sweeping, shore bombardment, even transporting troops. Its crews ranged from 200 on small "Destroyer Escorts" to 350 on the standard US Destroyer. At one point in the war the US had over 600 large destroyers in operation of which 71 were lost. Britain lost 148.

Submarines: Vessels capable of operating underwater although they spent most of their time on the surface, submerging only when necessary. Air became foul after about 24 hours. Most submarines were designed primarily for good surface speed. The surface range of a submarine was many times that of a destroyer: the bigger the boat, the further and faster it could go - hence the large Japanese, American and some classes of German boats. The relatively comfortable crew quarters (called "habitability") of American submarines permitted Pacific patrols of up to 75 days. Submarines were primarily used for attacking enemy warships and merchant vessels but were effective for scouting and observation as well. In some cases they were employed for mine laying/ Crews averaged 60-80. The US submarine effort was hampered by defective torpedoes, a deficiency not corrected until mid-1943; the subsequent performance of US subs in the Pacific was outstanding and made a major contribution to the war effort. The German U-boats were effective during the early part of the war, but the introduction of various anti-sub techniques after 1942 severely curtailed their significance in the Battle of the Atlantic. By the end of the war 80% of the U-boats had been sunk.

An Explanation of Military Ranks and Types of Organizations

What is a battalion or a brigade, a squadron or a wing, a flotilla or a fleet? Obviously they are the parts of a whole. They are the various subordinate parts into which an army, a navy or an air force must be subdivided in order to solve the problem of command. First of all, examine the following table of comparative ranks:

2nd lieutenant ensign
1st lieutenant lieutenant junior grade (jg)
captain lieutenant
major lieutenant commander
lieutenant colonel commander
colonel captain
brigadier general rear admiral
major general rear admiral
lieutenant general vice admiral
general admiral
general of the army (only in wartime) fleet admiral (only in wartime)

Note that a naval captain is a much higher rank than an army captain. Also, the commanding officer of any vessel is always referred to as "the captain," regardless of his actual rank. For example, one could say: "The captain of that destroyer is Commander Jones." Note further that the naval rank of rear admiral covers two grades of army general, both brigadier and major general.

The division is the key army unit, probably because it is the smallest unit in modern warfare combining all arms: infantry, artillery, armor and engineers, together with the service and supply units like transport, quartermaster, medicine and intelligence. A division is usually organized as follows:

squad 12 or 14 men sergeant
platoon 40 or more men lieutenant
company 150 or more men captain
battalion 800-1000 men major or lieutenant colonel
regiment 3,000 or more men colonel
division 15,500 + major general

The key fighting force of a division is the battalion, usually a force of from 800 to 1000 men. A battalion is generally composed of three companies, plus a headquarters company; and three battalions form an infantry regiment, while three infantry regiments, together with a regiment of artillery and attached engineers, tanks and service and supply troops and other specialists, combine to make a U.S. Army division. But these numbers are provisional because the army is always experimenting in making them bigger or smaller for one reason or another. In World War I the U.S. divisions were huge, 28,000 men, about twice the size of all other armies. In World War II they were approximately 15,000 men.

In very large operations, units larger than a divisions are required. Thus, two or more divisions make a corps, which, with its own special troops such as heavy artillery and headquarters, usually numbers 40,000 or more men and is commanded by a major general. Two or more corps form an army of about 100,000 men and is commanded by a lieutenant general, and two or more armies make an army group customarily commanded by a full general. An expeditionary force like the one commanded by Pershing in World War I or Eisenhower in World War II rates a five-star General of the Army.

Don't worry too much about naval designations. Remember that the largest ship is commanded only by a captain, never an admiral. Admirals command only units comprising more than one ship. So an admiral who happens to be aboard a particular ship, doesn't actually command that ship; that is left to the captain of the ship. Also, don't spend time worrying about air force or marine unit formations. They change according to mission.