Conference Program

85th Annual Meeting of the Society for Military History

 Landscapes of War and Peace

April 5 - 8, 2018, Louisville, Kentucky

Title: Wartime Adaptation and Innovation in the 20th Century
Abstract: As long as armies have clashed, innovation and adaptation have played crucial roles on the battlefield. So often in war, a military organization's ability to learn, adjust, and evolve has spelled the difference between victory and defeat. But despite its unquestionable significance, the topic has remained largely unstudied by scholars. Only in recent years have academics begun to anoint the subject with significant consideration. This conference panel will analyze wartime innovation and adaptation in the twentieth century. Bound by the harsh consequences of combat, military institutions are most pressured?and accordingly most rewarded?for their ability to learn during conflict. The panel will use three distinct cases of military innovation and adaptation to help answer valuable topical questions like what causes military forces to change? Is change fueled by top-down or bottom-up energy? What impedes transformation?

One study will consider how the United States Marine Corps adapted its counterinsurgency tactics and philosophy in South Vietnam during the advisory years of American involvement. Replacing French forces in the country, U.S. Marines quickly evolved their training methods, doctrine, and organization to suit the unique conditions of combat in South Vietnam. Another paper will focus on the development of supporting firepower during the amphibious campaigns of the Pacific War, uncovering how Marine units learned to orchestrate supporting fires with devastating effect. A final project will consider the evolution of American antiaircraft artillery in World War II. In this instance, the American Army learned to stop shooting at its own airplanes and start killing Japanese and German pilots with impressive aptitude. Together, these studies will investigate the catalysts of military transformation and converse on how armed forces evolve their conventional methods and outlooks under the daunting conditions of combat.
Chris Hemler, Texas A&M University
Participant's Paper Title: Conductors of Amphibious War: Joint Assault Signal Companies in World War II
Participant's Paper Abstract: On 19 February 1945, U.S. Marines of the Fifth Amphibious Corps waded through the sand and surf of the Japanese-held island of Iwo Jima. As the determined Marines fought their way across the battlefield, American Joint Assault Signal Companies (JASCOs) coordinated air, sea, and land firepower to aid the Marines in their formidable task. Marine Corps historians Jeter Isely and Philip Crowl later acknowledged the key role played by JASCOs when they proclaimed that "coordination among the three supporting arms was superb throughout the operation."

This paper will explore the evolution of supporting arms coordination in the Pacific War and the manifestation of that evolution, the Joint Assault Signal Company. Non-existent at the outbreak of the Pacific War, the JASCOs that directed such overwhelming firepower at Iwo Jima were the result of nearly two years of wartime adaptation. Based on lessons learned in the war's early campaigns, the Marines acknowledged?among other concerns?a need for improved coordination of supporting fires. Created in direct response to these early combat lessons, Joint Assault Signal Companies were an example of war-induced military adaptation in doctrine, training, organization, and operational tactics. By studying this process of innovation and adaptation during war, the project reveals how a small, specialized service applied lessons learned in combat to produce a hybrid solution that spanned the wartime realms of organization, training, and tactics. So often in war, victory belongs to the unit that can successfully adjust to its environment and enemy before the opponent. In their crucial role coordinating American amphibious combat power during the Second World War, the Joint Assault Signal Companies did just that.
Andrew Wiest, University of Southern Mississippi
Bryon Greenwald, Joint Advanced Warfighting School, Joint Forces Staff College
Participant's Paper Title: Learning to Fight from the Ground Up: American Antiaircraft Artillery in World War II
Participant's Paper Abstract: In combat, no one really cares who gets credit for the changes the unit makes to survive and win. The paternity of victory does not matter; learning while fighting is key, getting better is good, and living beats dying.

This paper highlights how the American Army of WWII learned to stop shooting at its own airplanes and start killing Axis pilots by the thousands. It traces the emerging Antiaircraft Artillery (AAA) force from the failure of its first battles at Pearl Harbor, Clark Field, and Kasserine Pass through the process of wartime learning and adaptation to its ultimate success in air and ground battles across the Pacific and Northwest Europe. Much like the larger Army it supported, the AAA force made several mistakes in the rapid transition from peace to war. Frequently untrained and ill-equipped, antiaircraft units initially lost out to German and Japanese pilots who flew higher and faster than expected. As antiaircraft units transitioned from defending static assets to protecting mobile forces, learning and positive change occurred at all levels. Stateside training became more realistic. In-theater coordination between air and antiaircraft units reflected a growing appreciation for the importance of a synchronized air defense scheme. Finally, work with combined arms forces in training paid off in combat as antiaircraft units not only enforced local air superiority over their divisions and corps, but also provided them with deadly accurate direct and indirect ground fire, in many cases saving ground units from complete destruction. In the end, the history of American AAA in WWII suggests that no single theory?top down, bottom up, middle out, single or double loop learning, inter or intra-service rivalry?is sufficient to understand how innovation and adaptation occurs in combat. In this case, change, like combat, often occurs on multiple fronts.
Ron Milam, Texas Tech University
John Aylesworth, Texas Tech University
Participant's Paper Title: The Training of the Vietnamese Marine Corps: 1954-1964
Participant's Paper Abstract: The Marine advisory program began in 1954 and lasted throughout the American involvement in Viet Nam. The effort shifted after the landing of U.S. combat troops in 1965. There were two distinctly different methods to the advisory mission: the first was from 1954 to 1965, and the second was highlighted by Civil Action Platoon, ending with the withdrawal of all U.S. combat forces. In mid-1950 President Truman authorized the formation of the Military Assistance Advisory Group (MAAG) to French Indochina. The MAAG worked with both the French and their Vietnamese allies to train and support military operations against the Viet Minh. After the 1954 Geneva Agreement, the conflict shifted to a political and limited military insurgency in the south. The United States Marine Corps (USMC) sent Lieutenant Colonel Victor J. Croizat to help establish the Vietnamese Marine Corps (VNMC). Part of the training regimen was the use of the USMC's Small Wars Manual. The American advisory effort focused on a military solution to the insurgency, while the Marine advisors worked to develop the Vietnamese Marines using the manual as a training guide in developing small unit tactics and methods. While the Army was focused on building a conventional force to combat an invasion from the separated North Viet Nam, the Marines were focused on the tactics and methods of building a force that could both combat an insurgency and perform conventional operations.