Theories of Force Projection and World War I

Bill Lescher

May 5, 2023

Theories of Force Projection

World War I was a time of immense change in warfare. It introduced the greatest changes in battlefield tactics and technologies of all time.

However, it also brought with it the biggest challenges in military operations. One of these challenges was the disconnect between firepower and maneuver that plagued World War I battles.

Mahanian Theory

The Mahanian Theory of force projection is an important theory of naval warfare. It suggests that a large naval force can win a war. This force consists of warships and their equipment, including weapons.

The United States Navy adopted this theory of force projection in the nineteenth century, and the USN used it to build an intimidating fleet. The aircraft carrier was the centerpiece of this force.

A key element of the Mahanian Theory was that it emphasized the importance of command of vital waters. In other words, it argued that a nation’s ability to control its access to international markets was crucial.

According to the Mahanian Theory, access to foreign trade, commerce, and natural resources was important for national prosperity. The nation’s ability to defend and keep this access from being denied by other nations was also a key component of the concept.

Concentration Theory

In the theory of force projection, the concentration of forces is a key element. It requires the synchronization of land, air and sea power to achieve overwhelming combat power at the decisive point.

This monograph examines the writings of Carl Von Clausewitz, Baron De Jomini and Sun Tzu and their application to concentration in joint operations involving air and sea power. It also compares the land-based theories of these writers with two World War II campaigns fought in the Pacific Theater.

The concentration of force concept is rooted in naval warfare. Still, it can be applied to other domains and dispersed forces tied to vital chokepoints for immediate response and active information gathering. Sir Julian Corbett outline this concept in 1911’s Some Principles of Maritime Strategy.

Creeping Barrage Theory

The Creeping Barrage Theory is one of the theories of force projection that explains why artillery fire was use to attack enemy lines in World War I. It was a method that attempted to solve some of the problems caused by artillery bombardment, which took a long time to reach the infantry.

The main problem was that the Germans had built strong bunkers and defended them well. This meant they could hide and defend their positions between the barrage and the actual assault by the infantry.

To solve this problem, the British and American troops adopted the “creeping barrage” technique. This worked by advancing the artillery fire in small increments, usually 50-100 yards every few minutes.

After reaching its next objective, the barrage would stop and become a standing barrage. This would protect the position while the infantry gained ground and prevent them from being counterattacke by the defenders.

Defensive Counterattack Theory

The Defensive Counterattack Theory is a theory of force projection that focuses on the tactics and strategies defenders use to prevent breakthroughs. The idea is that if a defender can prevent the opponent from breaking through their defense, they will have an advantage in terms of the amount of time it takes for the attacker to do so and thus create a more favorable positional environment for the defender to attack.

One way this can be done is by deploying a rest-defense structure. This typically involves keeping three defenders against two attackers when a team is attacking.

This approach allows for better prevention of breakthroughs behind the defense by blocking outlet passes in transition coming from a deeper and more defensive shape. However, it does not address that teams can still find a way out of the press. This was especially true for the dangerous counterattacking teams of World War I, who used a purposeful use of their wingers to gamble and get out of the initial counter-press.