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The Value of Military Manuals

In General

Military manuals are a great resource, one which people, even people in the military, don’t generally appreciate. The common complaints include they are hard to read, boring, poorly written, etc.. But as they are not great literature and they were not intended to be, they are working instructions and notes.

They are loaded with a vast amount of information, accumulated with great difficultly, often at the cost of many peoples lives. A lot of effort, a vast amount of experience, time and thinking, not to mention money, went into making them.

New military manuals are useful explanations of what is the current doctrine. Old manuals are sources of historical doctrine, procedures and techniques. They are often repositories of lost knowledge which can be reapplied, often saving people from having to ‘reinvent the wheel’. Manuals in general are useful for many different types of people when properly read and used.

Lost Knowledge

Military manuals have short working life spans. Field manuals are usually replaced every ten years. Technical manuals are in print as long as the army has the piece of equipment in inventory. Then they are thrown away. The military like the rest of the modern world has a tendency to believe that new is always better. In my experience, after paying attention to them for over thirty-five years, this is not often true.

Reinventing the Wheel

Often when a new manual is written, it conforms more to the current fashions and fads of the time when it is written. Many pieces of information are declared not necessary, because they do not fit in current doctrine and are deleted. Many techniques and ideas are lost in this way. Then several cycles of manuals later the wheel has to be reinvented because the military has forgotten what it has learned.

Warfare has a tendency to recycle old techniques because they become new again when reapplied in a different fashion. The old often becomes useful when everyone has forgotten about it, because on the battlefield, forgotten techniques become a surprise. The old, when reapplied, is a surprise because the old ways of coping with the forgotten technique have also been lost and needs to be rediscovered again.

Examples of this happening can be found in many places in Military History. For example old fashion sapping tactics, which were successfully used at the battle of Dien Bien Phu (1954) during the French Indochina War, were out of fashion at the time. In 1900 rockets were considered obsolete just to be rediscovered again in World War Two. Often fortifications, particularly of old massive designs, are found to be almost immune to current weapons, because the weapons were designed to fight ‘modern’ war.


Many people can find a military manual useful. This includes military personnel, military historians, law enforcement people, collectors, museum curators, scientists, survivalists and wargamers.
For military personnel they are a repository of information which can often prove to be useful in many circumstances; manuals are their guidelines, which coordinate them with other soldiers and old manuals, can supply them many useful miscellaneous techniques which are not commonly used. For the historian military manuals are an invaluable statement of the doctrine of the time they were written, a record of the capabilities of equipment, and a record of how everything was suppose to work. To law enforcement people, military manuals are sources of useful military techniques which can be selectively applied. For the collector and museum curator, old manuals are often the only record left on how their relics work, to be maintained and repaired. Scientists can find them to be useful for starting points in research, to document what is already known, or once known. To the researcher and scholar they are massive pools of knowledge to be used to fill in many of the missing pieces of the puzzles which are missing in the subject they are studying. For survivalists, they are sources of hard to find information. For wargamers, military manuals are over all guides on how things are suppose to work.

How to Read and Use Military Manuals

Manuals were never intended to be read like a pulp novels. They are meant be to used when needed, not read for pleasure. What is important is knowing where to find something in them. Memorizing them is silly. They where either meant to be guidelines or to give specific instructions.

For example, Field manuals are meant to be guidelines on how to do something, and meant to be tailored to a situation, not to be quoted as gospel. They are also designed to keep everyone working together, so everyone has some idea of what to expect of people on their own side. Technical manuals were meant to be specific instructions and should be followed exactly, especially the ones which have a lot of changes attached to them to correct earlier mistakes found in them.

So remember what manuals are and make use out of them, they are valuable resources.

1  The above has been brought to you by Military/Info Publishing (Home page).
2. Military/Info Publishing specializes in the last 200 years of historical military technology. We are sort of the lost and found department of military manuals and articles on the web.
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