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In warfare, a theater or theatre is defined as a specific geographical area of conduct of armed conflict, bordered by areas where no combat is taking place.

A theatre is defined by the need for separate planning to be occurring at the highest command echelon of the participating armed forces, including where separate services are concerned. The delineation occurs along regional boundaries or maritime areas that require distinctly separate approach to planning from other regions bordering it. A single conflict may be waged in multiple theaters, and a single nation or an alliance may be participating in multiple theaters. Alternatively a nation may be participating in multiple but unrelated conflicts waged in separate theatres of war.

The most recent multi-theatre conflict was the Second World War. This war was waged in two continental war zones, the European Theater and the Pacific Theater, and multiple inter- and intra-connected theaters, often dominated by naval, and sometimes air forces.

Theater of war

The term seems to have been coined by Carl von Clausewitz in his book "On War".

Specifically in his book Clausewitz defines the term as one that:
"Denotes properly such a portion of the space over which war prevails as has its boundaries protected, and thus possesses a kind of independence.
This protection may consist in fortresses, or important natural obstacles presented by the country, or even in its being separated by a considerable distance from the rest of the space embraced in the war.
Such a portion is not a mere piece of the whole, but a small whole complete in itself; and consequently it is more or less in such a condition that changes which take place at other points in the seat of war have only an indirect and no direct influence upon it.

To give an adequate idea of this, we may suppose that on this portion an advance is made, whilst in another quarter a retreat is taking place, or that upon the one an army is acting defensively, whilst an offensive is being carried on upon the other.
Such a clearly defined idea as this is not capable of universal application; it is here used merely to indicate the line of distinction."

Soviet and Russian Armed Forces

A theatre of military operations is a large geographic subdivision used by the Soviet and Russian Armed Forces to classify the continental geographic territories with their bordering maritime areas, islands, adjacent coasts and airspace. The division of large continental and maritime areas assists in determining the limits within which the plans for operation of strategic military groups of forces are developed, allowing conduct of military operations on specific significant strategic directions.

The Russian term is , teatr voennykh deistvii, abbreviated , TVD.

Strategic parameters

A TVD at once describes a geographic strategic area of operations (AO), and an echelon of command within a national military command structure, which control Geographic Military Commands, Strategic Directions, Military Districts, Fronts or independent Army Groups or Armies.

Each TVD has specific military-political, military, economic, geophysical and ethnographic conditions that influence decision making during its operational planning and execution of operations, and often special engineering equipment that influence preparation and conduct of military operations.

Often the land and naval TVDs are commanded by specific Service of the Armed Forces depending on the predominant conditions and forces deployed in them, although it is not unusual for substantial naval forces such as Fleets and Flotillas to be subordinated to land-based TVDs.

In addition to the land TVDs, there are also Oceanic TVD and Sea TVD that cover large ocean and sea areas with their adjacent coasts and airspace. The Russian VMF bases its plans, and conducts its large-scale strategic naval operations forces within these areas using its in coordination with ground forces and VVS.

The size of continental Theater of Military Operation during the Second World War (1939-45) usually reached 300 – 600 km along its front, and 800–1000 km or more in depth. Depending on the specific prevailing strategic or military-political situation the role and value the Theater of Military Operations can change rapidly and significantly.

United States

Chart 12.- Typical organization of a theater of operations as envisaged by War Department Doctrine, 1940

An American theater of operations was an administrative term for a theater which had both an operational and an administrative command. For example, in the European Theater of Operations, U.S. forces were under the joint allied operation command of Supreme Headquarters Allied Expeditionary Force (SHAEF) and the administrative command of the "European Theater of Operations, United States Army" (ETOUSA); but in the China Burma India Theater, American forces only had an administrative command as the operational command of ground troops was (theoretically) through the British 11th Army Group which reported to the joint allied command Southeast Asia Command (SEAC).

The term "theater of operations" was defined in the [American] field manuals as the land and sea areas to be invaded or defended, including areas necessary for administrative activities incident to the military operations (chart 12). In accordance with the experience of World War I, it was usually conceived of as a large land mass over which continuous operations would take place and was divided into two chief areas-the combat zone, or the area of active fighting, and the communications zone, or area required for administration of the theater. As the armies advanced, both these zones and the areas into which they were divided would shift forward to new geographic areas of control.

Usage and significance

The concept of theater warfare has been used in several wars, and often serves as a linchpin of strategy for one or more sides.

Wars of the empires throughout history often involved conflicts waged in widely-separated regions, as the imperialist powers acquired colonial territories. These imperial expansions could also be considered multi-theater wars.

The first multi-theatre war of the modern era was the series of Napoleonic wars, referred by the contemporaries as the World War, and fought in Western, Eastern and Northern Europe, the Mediterranean coastal regions, including north Africa and the Levant, as well as the Atlantic ocean, the South African region, and the Indian sub-continent. In addition, for the last three years of the war, Great Britain was fighting a side war with the United Statesmarker in North America.

In another example, during the American Civil War, one key strategy of the North was to attack the South in both the Western and Eastern theaters, in order to use the North's greater resources to force the South to over-extend its forces. Thus, Ulysses Grant's capture of Vicksburg, which split the South in half by capturing the Mississippi River, had a major effect on General Robert E. Lee's eastern operations, by reducing the supplies Lee received.

When Grant became commander of the entire Union Army, he ordered generals in widespread theaters to coordinate their operations in order to impede the South from transferring troops to various places.

During the First World War, several British leaders including Winston Churchill suggested that Great Britainmarker and the Allied Powers expand their operations in the Middle Eastern theater, to place increased pressure on the Ottoman Empire and other Central Powers.

See also

Further reading


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