War Instructions United States Navy 1944

Chapter 2. Command and Operations

Section I. General Comment

200. The Commander in Chief, U.S. Fleet, and Chief of Naval Operations prescribes the basic naval policies and exercises broad strategic direction of naval operating forces. As the naval executive agent of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, he assigns strategic tasks in broad terms to the Commanders in Chief and Commanders of Fleets in cases where the area or theater commander exercising unity of command is a naval officer. When, in accordance with the principle of unity of command, naval commanders are operating under the command of Army officers, assignment of strategic tasks is received from such officers. Both the planning and execution of all operations are distinctly the functions and responsibilities of the commanders designated.

201. To obtain the maximum efficiency and the most effective coordination, units assigned to task organizations are kept intact and trained together.

Section II. Command

202. Full authority and responsibility for conducting a campaign are vested in a single commander, who exercises his command through a chain of command, consisting of a limited number of subordinate commanders directly responsible to them. The immediate subordinate commanders of a common superior constitute an echelon of command.

203. In any echelon there may be several coordinate commanders, but each is responsible to but one immediate superior for the performance of the same duty. Coordination of effort among these commanders is obtained by cooperation and by loyalty to the task of their common superior.

204. Each commander in an echelon understands the command relationships existing between himself and his immediate superior, and between himself and his immediate subordinates. He also fully recognizes the cooperative relationship that exists between himself and other coordinate commanders of his echelon.

205. Command is normally exercised through the established chain of command prescribed or indicated in the plan or organization issued by competent authority.

206. The goal of command is unity of effort toward a common objective. The commander retains in his own person centralized control of all operations, while decentralizing his authority to the subordinates directly responsible to him. Such delegations of authority are appropriate when the subordinate is, by official status or by training, the logical officer to exercise the delegated function. No delegation of authority can relieve the senior of his inherent responsibility.

207. Unity of effort results when there exists, within and between the echelons, such mutual understanding that each subordinate commander, in the absence of specific instructions, acts instinctively as his immediate superior would have him act.

208. A commander desiring to accomplish a task normally issues a directive to the commanders of the next lower echelon, assigning each a task. He gives them authority commensurate with their responsibilities, and holds them immediately responsible for the execution of their assigned tasks. The accomplishment of all these tasks thus assigned to his immediate subordinates in the chain of command accomplishes his task. Similarly, if the organization is of sufficient size to require further decentralization, each of these immediate subordinates divides his assigned task


among the commanders of the next lower echelon. He retains full responsibility to see that these delegated tasks are completed and that they collectively accomplish the task assigned to him.

209. In the exercise of command, when it is impracticable to transmit orders or instructions via the normal chain of command, or when it is necessary to avoid delay in transmission of instructions or orders, or in emergencies, instructions or orders are communicated directly by higher authority to a unit. The intermediate commander or commanders are informed of such instructions or orders, if practicable or necessary. When an intermediate commander learns that such orders or instructions have been issued, he takes such action as is required on his part to insure that they are correctly executed by the units under his command. Adherence to the chain of command is enjoined unless departure therefrom is unavoidable.

210. The officer in chief command of a number of ships acting together tactically, exercises tactical command unless and until he delegates this function to some other officer. He, or the officer designated by him, is known as the "Officer in Tactical Command." A change in officers in chief command during a tactical situation does not involve a change in the officer in tactical command, unless so ordered by the officer in chief command.

211. When two or more units of separate organizations or of different chains of command are in the same locality, the senior commander exercises general command, unless an officer has been specifically designated by duly delegated authority.

212. Unless an officer has been specifically designated by duly delegated authority, the senior officer present initiates such measures and takes such action as may be necessary to provide adequately for a coordinated offense and a common defense, for the security of information, personnel, and material, for the coordination of effort, and for effective cooperation. When an officer has been specifically designated by duly delegated authority to be in command, he functions as, and has the responsibility of, the senior officer present in that command.

Section III. Initiative

213. Loyalty to the intentions of the officer in command, as expressed in his general plan, and to the spirit of the plan is essential to the success of any operation. Subordinate commanders exercise initiative within their respective spheres of action, but always in loyal support of the intentions and general plan of their senior commanders.

214. A subordinate commander may find himself confronted with a situation which has not been foreseen or has not been covered in his orders from higher authority and which necessitates action on his part before he can communicate with his superior and receive instructions. The subordinate then decides whether his assigned task will properly meet the new situation and thereby further the general plan of his superior. If not, he selects a new task which will do so.

215. If a subordinate commander receives an order evidently given without knowledge of the situation confronting him, and which, if rigidly obeyed, would not further the plan of his superior, he uses discretion in obeying this order. If time permits, he acquaints his superior with the situation and obtains new orders. If time does not permit, he selects a task which he believes the senior would assign were he cognizant of all the facts. There is no substitute for good common sense.

216. If a subordinate finds it necessary to depart from an order, he informs as soon as possible the officer who issued the order, and the echelons affected thereby of the change of his course of action, and of the situation which prompted it.

Section IV. Naval Directives

217. Before undertaking a task the commander makes an estimate of the situation and formulates a plan of action. The estimate follows in general the accepted form. In scope and thoroughness it is commensurate with the size and importance of the task and the time available.


Even when time is so short as to permit only a mental estimate, the same logical process is followed. The resulting plan of action is then issued as a naval directive, using the standard appropriate type and form. Types in common use include Basic War Plan, Campaign Plan, Letter of Instructions, Operation Plan, Operation Order, Battle Plan, and Battle Order. The directive, or excerpts therefrom, may be promulgated by dispatch, if necessary.

218. The mission--that is, the task and its purpose--is normally defined in directives from higher authority. When not definitely stated in such directives, it can usually be derived from them. Care is exercised, however, to accept the task given in directives, and to derive a task only in the absence of one definitely assigned.

219. The execution of the plan accomplishes the task of the mission.

220. A general plan for the whole force is stated. Each task force is assigned a definite task, and the successful execution of the tasks of all task forces accomplishes the task of the general plan. The method of execution of the task of each task force is left to the discretion of its commander, subject to such instructions as are required to insure coordination of effort of the several task forces.

221. The directive contains all essential information so that subordinate commanders may plan their own operations and take intelligent action during the progress of the operation. If accurate information is lacking, or if the plan is drawn up to meet a probable situation, the assumptions on which the plan is based are stated. Generally, only those assumptions which vitally affect the plan are stated; that is, those which must be fulfilled if the plan is to be executed. Care is exercised on this point, as subordinate commanders may hesitate to execute their part of a plan when the assumptions on which it is based differ materially from the facts at the time of execution.

222. Naval forces are so organized as to provide for unity of command within each theater or area of operations, to insure unity of purpose and coordination of effort among all forces engaged in a common undertaking.

223. The available force is organized into the task forces required by the directive, keeping the number of task forces to the minimum necessary to accomplish the mission.

224. Each Task force Commander organizes the force under his command into such task groups as are necessary to accomplish the tasks assigned to his force.

225. Task forces and task groups may have to be re-formed as an operation or campaign progresses. When a new directive reassigning task forces is placed in effect, the chain of command changes in accordance with the Task Organization.

Section V. Information

226. The commander insures that commanders of subordinate echelons, including commanding officers of ships, have copies of such directives, instructions, special signals, and such other information as will enable each to understand fully their duty in action and at all other times.

227. Pertinent information received subsequent to the promulgation of a directive is disseminated to all commanders concerned, as promptly as circumstances permit.

228. As far as conditions permit, coordinate commanders keep one another informed of their positions, movements, and intentions, and of contacts with the enemy. It is not necessary to burden communications with frequent reports when operations are proceeding as planned or with reports of the enemy that contain no new information. It is essential to report new information of the enemy and delays or modifications in the execution of part of a directive.

229. Each subordinate commander is responsible to see that the lower echelons are kept informed of the situation.


Section VI. Cooperation With Army, With Allies and with Merchant Marine

230. The publication "Joint Action of the Army and Navy," and other approved instructions on unity of command in joint operations govern the action and relations of the commander with an Army commander.

231. If engaging in common tactical action with the forces of allies of the United States, unless there are specific instructions to the contrary, command is exercised by that officer of either power who is the senior in rank or, if of equal rank, of time in grade. When the rank of the commander of the ally is not known, the United States commander in such situations coordinates the action of all United States naval forces which are present or may join later. Or, if action is already in progress upon joining up, he supports the force of the other power in every way.

232. If the situation requires, the commander affords protection and convoy to merchant vessels of the United States and to those of allies to the maximum extent consistent with accomplishment of his own mission.

Section VII. Doctrines of Action

233. The following general doctrine of action governs the operations of our naval forces.
    (a) See that the lower echelons understand and concentrate on the objective. Decisive success is attained by selecting the proper objective for immediate action, and concentrating on it all moral and physical force available.

    (b) Provide every unit which can be made available at the time and place where the decision is sought, in order to gain overwhelming superiority. To provide the maximum force to attain his immediate objective, a commander may have to reduce his subordinate commands to the minimum required for local security and may have to take large risks in areas of lesser importance.

    (c) Never conduct a passive resistance, regardless of weakness, even though thrown temporarily on the defensive, but by activity and counterattack gain the initiative, conceal weakness, and retain the offensive spirit.

    (d) Seize and retain the initiative when acting on the offensive, strategically or tactically, thus disorganizing the plans of the enemy and forcing him to conform to our plan. Make every effort to gain the initiative when acting on the defensive.

    (e) Exploit immediately favorable situations resulting from well laid plans, or from chance. Exploit initial successes at once to accelerate their effect. Extend such victories to complete annihilation of the enemy. Speed of execution contributes to the retention of the initiative and the security of weak units. As the main concentration of any command is made at the expense of subordinate forces, the commander strikes at the earliest moment with maximum speed. Minutes may decide the victor.

    (f) Make every effort to surprise the enemy. Surprise is a most potent weapon and is a factor of superiority in itself. It is attainable not only in timing, but in methods of attack, weapons, materials, and even concepts of war. A force surprised is at least partially disorganized and demoralized and has difficulty in regaining the initiative and coordinating and concentrating its physical strength. It follows naturally that our own commanders must not be surprised.


234. The following specific tactical doctrine governs:

    (a) Plan and train carefully. Execute rapidly. Simple plans are the best plans.

    (b) Act quickly, even at the expense of a "perfect" decision. This is preferable to hesitation and possible loss of boldness and initiative.

    (c) Never remain inactive in the vicinity of the enemy.

    (d) Make the most of the few chances that arise to damage the enemy or destroy his ships without waiting for a better target, unless required by orders to do so.

    (e) Endeavor to bring a superior force to bear upon that portion of the enemy force which for the time being cannot be supported.

    (f) Go into action with your entire force and keep tactically concentrated until the enemy has become disorganized.

    (g) Deliver the attack from such direction as to gain the advantages of favorable wind, sea, and light conditions, if possible without delaying the engagement.

    (h) Sink enemy ships. It is usually better to sink one than to damage two.

    (i) Never surrender a vessel or aircraft to the enemy. Sink or destroy it if there is no other way to prevent its capture.

    (j) Use all weapons in effective range, with the maximum intensity, and continue the action until the enemy is annihilated.


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