Military Strategy Magazine - Volume 8, Issue 1

Volume 8, Issue 1, Summer 2022 32 the battle. The requirements of combat forced the British commander’s hand, as he himself noted: “the situation demanded the utmost care and watchfulness, as everything depended on the timing of [Entente] movements, the utmost measure of mutual support, and the most vigorous and continuous attacks.”[xvi] Sir John French’s subordination was temporary, however, and the British commander resumed his insistence on full command authority over his forces after the battle; in this, he was backed by Kitchener. [xvii] Ultimately, the Entente worked toward a solution for coordinating their battlefield coalition operations by adopting a split command authority. On 10 October, Joffre sent a message to Entente commanders noting “it is essential, forcoordinating theoperations, that all theEnglish troops be put under the sole command of Marshal French. For our part, all the French troops operating in this region have been put under the orders of General Foch who acts in conjunction with Marshal French.”[xviii] This dilution of command authority—anathema tomodernmilitary forces— was necessary to facilitate effective battlefield coalition operations executed by differently motivated partners. General Henry Wilson, the British second-in-command, described its effect at the First Battle of Ypres, noting “I am spending a good deal of time these days with Foch on this curious hill on the way between Ypres and St. Omer. We have got our troops so much mixed up with his that no order can be issued without the other’s approval etc. I think we are going to beat this attack with the aid the French have given us.”[xix] The hard-won experience in learning how to plan and coordinate combined operations on the Marne paid off for the Entente battlefield coalition at Ypres. The Future Case of Missing Experience Strategic success often requires military victory. Military victory, increasingly, requires multiple belligerentsworking together in combat to defeat a common foe. Whether or not those partners have had recent previous experience fighting together in combat had a significant impact on their chances of combat success throughout the twentieth century. The Entente’s travails in the fall of 1914 underscore the point—the partners held similar strategic preferences, had fought together relatively recently, had even more recently begun military coordination, and employed forces that were quite similar, but they still struggled to efficiently and effectively carry out combined operations until they had, through trial and error, identified the proper balance of authority and effort needed in the war. These findings should be unsettling for contemporary strategists. The United States, in particular, would benefit from considering the French experience in World War I when considering potential operations in the IndoPacific. Its partners there are likely to be similar to Britain in at least two ways: their strategic objectives are likely to diverge from American goals, at least in part, and they are likely to be especially concerned about the danger in which their forces are placed. They will also likely differ from Britain in important ways that introduce additional coordination complications insofar as they struggle with interoperability in personnel (skills, language capabilities), weapons, and communications. United States military doctrine governing multilateral doctrine exhibits a strong preference for unity of command, ideally under American leadership.[xx] As Joffre learned through experience, attempting to impose such arrangements on resistant, or incapable, partners may undermine combined efforts. That the system worked as well as it did during the First Battle of the Marne was a result of Sir John French’s willingness to subordinate himself completely during combat—a choice that no contemporary commander should assume a partner military officer will make. Deviating from doctrinal preferences may be necessary to make future battlefield coalitions work, especially when losses in early engagements may be strategically crippling. Multilateral exercises of the sort that are routinely carried out by American and partner forces are undoubtedly useful in helping to prepare combined forces for potential future engagements in which they will be required to coordinate combat operations. They cannot replicate true combat experience, however, especially for battlefield coalitions. In service of broader strategic interests, planners would accordingly be well-served to anticipate breakdowns in established coordination systems and prepare to operate through doctrinally uncomfortable alternatives. Practice Makes Perfect for Battlefield Coalitions Rosella Cappella Zielinski and Ryan Grauer