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Unity of Command

Unity of Command

UNITY OF COMMAND. One principle of war on which strategists still disagree is the method whereby the essential "unity of effort" is to be achieved in military operations, particularly when one is dealing with a military force of different services (for example, army and navy) and of different nationalities. The American army feels that unity of command means that "for every task there should be unity of effort under one responsible commander." Other services contend that this "unity of effort" can be achieved by "cooperation" among commanders, and that there is no necessity to go so far as to put "one responsible commander" in overall charge. There was a time in the history of war when various "arms"—such as infantry, artillery, and cavalry—refused to serve under the overall command of one officer from one arm. As late as the American Revolution, there was some question as to whether a British artillery general had the authority to command a force that included other arms. During the Revolution, the British had separate army and navy commanders in chief in America: Gage, William Howe, and Clinton were commanders in chief of the British army in America; they could ask the commander in chief of the Royal Navy in American waters to cooperate, but they could not order him to follow a certain course of action. The objections to unity of command—in the early twenty-first century and in the eighteenth—are that one service does not want to surrender control of its forces to a commander of another service, who might misuse them; the navy, for example, does not trust an army general to take the proper care of an expensive fleet in the support of land operations. Thus, there was no unity of command in the allied operations at Newport in 1778 or at Leyte Gulf (Philippine Islands) in 1944. There was, rather, "cooperation."

SEE ALSO Newport, Rhode Island (29 July-31 August 1778).

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