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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


Remember, gentlemen, an order that can be misunderstood will be misunderstood.”

Field Marshal Helmuth Graf von Moltke (The Elder)

In our last article, we dissected the remaining three paragraphs of the Operations Order – Execution, Sustainment, and Command and Signal. We discussed the importance of each of these paragraphs, the objectives of the specific paragraph, and what should be included in the paragraph. We emphasized that even though the Execution paragraph gets all the attention; the Sustainment and Command and Signal paragraphs are critical to mission accomplishment. Ignoring them or paying little attention to them is a recipe for disaster. With this article, we completed our analysis of each paragraph of the Operations Order.


We will get a little more specific this month by concentrating on one portion of the Operations Order – The Concept of Operation. Obviously, this is a critical portion of the Operations Order. It is a concise snapshot on how we will execute our mission. In our article, we will provide the following: 1) Some historical examples in which orders were effectively utilized and times when they were not. 2) A Tactical Decision Game where we give you an opportunity to craft your own concept of operation. 3) Utilizing the same scenario, we will provide you some potential concept of operations for the mission. These will fall into the categories of the good, the bad, and the ugly.

BG Lew Wallace

Wallace’s Lost Division. BG Lew Wallace was General Ulysses S. Grant’s reserve commander during the Battle of Shiloh. His role and his unit’s actions were critical to Grants eventual razor thin victory—and yet, he very nearly failed to even get into the battle. Wallace’s division, the ‘lost division’, was lost due to the confusing and imprecise orders Wallace received from Grant during the height of the battle. Wallace’s account of the garbled orders was disputed by Grant and, to be fair, Grant was under pressure when he composed his order but, it is clear that there was much confusion. The Union came amazingly close to losing the battle at Shiloh. A loss would almost surely have cost Lincoln his future overall commander since Grant would have probably been sacked. If there were no Grant; would there also be no Sherman? Would the Union have won without Grant? What would have been the fate of Vicksburg and the battle to control the Mississippi River? If so, how many more men, on both sides, would have died. Who would have been the eventual commander? All interesting questions!

A well written order can’t ‘win’ a battle independently, but it can sure lose one. As with any form of communication; clarity, precision, and economy are key to the reader’s ability to comprehend the writers intent in a single, rapid, read. You can’t simply put a unit in place and tell them to ‘defend here’ or point out a spot on the ground and say ‘attack there’. You might get away with it on occasion, but when it goes wrong, it will be a catastrophe.

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