Commanding Military Adaptation: Explaining Operational-Tactical Change in Combined Arms Warfare



Journal Title

Journal ISSN

Volume Title



Militaries are frequently required to adapt if they are to fight effectively. Many militaries fail to meet this requirement. This dissertation proposes a theory to explain this variation in military adaptation. Command Climate Theory posits that open command climates—consisting of a shared knowledge base, integrated feedback mechanisms, and high levels of trust among a military’s senior commanders—positively influence the likelihood that a military will adapt. The theory stems from the puzzling divergence in battlefield conduction between the U.S. and British armies in the Normandy Campaign of the Second World War. Despite similarities in the two Allied armies’ objectives, size, and local resource base—as well as their identical enemy and the comparable terrain in which they fought—the U.S. Army adapted combined arms tactics and operational methods during the campaign, while the British Army pursued a maladapted, firepower-centric approach. The case studies provide a controlled comparison for theory development. Conceptualizing adaptation as an evolutionary response to the environmental demands of a military campaign, this dissertation builds a typology to facilitate the controlled comparison. As such, it assesses changes in a military’s force employment in terms of its fit with the environment. Evidence from the Normandy cases suggests that variation in each army’s command climate explains why the U.S. Army made changes to its force employment that were adaptive when faced with an environmental mismatch, while the British Army maladaptive changes as the campaign progressed.



Combined arms warfare, Military adaptation, Military effectiveness, Military operations, Military tactics, Normandy