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Posted on Aug 17, 2011 in Tactics101, War College

Tactics 101 063 – The Concept of Operations

By Rick Baillergeon and John Sutherland


Getting it Wrong. When MG Henry Heth’s division was passing west of Gettysburg, he sent a brigade under BG James Pettigrew into town looking for supplies—particularly shoes. What he found was BG John Buford’s Cavalry, south of town. General Lee’s orders to the Army were to ‘avoid a general engagement’. Heth decided that a two brigade ‘recon in force’ was not a general engagement. Heth’s recon resulted in the commitment of the Army of Northern Virginia to a three day battle that turned the tide of the Civil War against the southerners.



Getting it Right. When COL Strong Vincent was assigned the defense of the southern flank of the Army of the Potomac, he didn’t have time to write operations orders for his regimental commanders. Vincent’s brigade was to defend from Little Round Top. He placed the 20th Maine under COL Joshua Chamberlain on his southern flank. His verbal orders weren’t precise, but his intent was clear. He told Chamberlain that he was ‘the end of the line’ and that he must ‘defend to the last’. Vincent was clear in stressing that if the 20th Maine folded the entire Union southern flank would be exposed. Chamberlain’s subsequent defense, may have been the decisive point of the second day, if not of the entire Battle of Gettysburg.

In the above examples; Lee did not give bad orders and Vincent did not give great orders. Lee needed more clarity, while Vincent provided just enough given the situation. Orders are communication tools. Garble the message and you put the effort and the results in jeopardy.


As we all know, there is nothing better to understanding something than to do it yourself. With that in mind, let’s get our hands dirty and exercise those brain cells. We want you to craft up your own concept of operation. As a refresher, below you will find last month’s discussion on the concept.

In this paragraph, you describe to your subordinates in concise language how the unit will achieve its’ mission. This explains the mission from start to mission accomplishment. Do not get into a long diatribe in this section. Also stick to the base plan. Do not address all the what-ifs that could occur. Whatever you determined as your course of action for the mission during planning should be roughly your concept. With all that, one to two paragraphs should be sufficient in crafting a useable concept of operation. Too little here generates more questions than answers. Too much here tends to confuse subordinates. Obviously, there is an art to writing the concept!

So now – it’s your turn. Below you will find a brief scenario that will allow you to understand yourself, the enemy, and the terrain. We can hear the comments now. “I don’t have enough information.” “How do they expect me to work with this stuff?” “Out in the real world, Commanders have much more to work with.”

Well, stop your complaining! You got what you got! This will be a challenge for some and others may find this a trivial task (If this is the case, we probably don’t have much to offer you!). Let’s begin – your most important asset (time) is ticking away.

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