William S. Lind
The debate in this country about maneuver warfare has centered on the Army and the Marine Corps, not the Navy. (It influenced the Air Force through John Boyd and Pierre Sprey, especially in the development and procurement of the A-10; for a recent look at air power and maneuver warfare, see the K.u.K. Marine Corps Air Cooperation Field Manual, available here. That traces to the origin of the debate, in my critique of the 1976 version of the Army’s basic Field Manual, FM 100-5. The fact that, of all the U.S. armed services, it was the Marine Corps that showed most interest in the concept kept the focus on land warfare. History also played a role: maneuver warfare as we now know it was developed by and institutionalized in the Prussian/German Army between 1807 and 1945.
But it did not start there. It started in the Royal Navy in the second half of the eighteenth century. Years ago, I asked John Lehman when he thought it began, and his answer was when George Anson became First Lord of the Admiralty in 1751. Anson, who led a round-the-world raid on the Spanish in 1740-1744, taking the Manila Galleon, certainly had the characteristics maneuver warfare seeks in a leader.
Another British admiral, I think, did more than Anson to promote the outward focus maneuver warfare demands. That Admiral was the Hon. John Byng, who, on March 17, 1757, following his court martial, was shot by a firing squad on the quarterdeck of H.M.S. Monarch. Of critical importance, Byng was executed not for what he did, but what he didn’t do. The charge against him was that, in action in command of a British fleet fighting the French off the Mediterranean island of Minorca, Byng had not done his utmost. By punishing with death a sin of omission, not commission, the Royal Navy created a bias for action in its officers that, by the time of the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic wars, had largely institutionalized what we know as maneuver warfare: outward focus on decisive results rather than inward focus on rules, orders, etc.; valuing initiative over obedience; decentralizing decision-making and depending on self more than imposed discipline. As Voltaire famously wrote, “Sometimes the British shoot an admiral to encourage the others.”