Theater (warfare)

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Military organization
Latvian platoon at Camp Lejune.jpg
Typical units Typical numbers Typical commander
fireteam 3–4 corporal
8–12 sergeant
platoon 15–30 lieutenant
company 80–150 captain/major
300–800 lieutenant colonel
3,000–5,000 colonel/
brigadier general
division 10,000–30,000 major general
corps 30,000–50,000 lieutenant general
field army 100,000–300k general
army group
2+ field armies field marshal/
five-star general
4+ army groups Six-star rank/

In warfare, a theater or theatre (see spelling differences) is an area or place in which important military events occur or are progressing.[1][2] A theater can include the entirety of the air space, land and sea area that is or that may potentially become involved in war operations.[3]

Theater of war[edit]

In his book On War, Carl von 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 of 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."[4]

Theater of operations[edit]

Theater of operations (TO) is a sub-area within a theater of war. The boundary of a TO is defined by the commander who is orchestrating or providing support for specific combat operations within the TO.[5]

Theater of operations is divided into strategic directions or military regions depending on whether it's a war or peacetime. The United States Armed Forces split into Unified Combatant Commands (regions) that are assigned to a particular theater of military operations. A strategic direction is a group of armies also known as a task (field) forces or battlegroups.

A strategic command or direction in general essence would combine a number of tactical military formations or operational command. In the modern military, a strategic command is better known as a combat command that may be a combination of groups.

Soviet and Russian Armed Forces[edit]

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[6] and airspace is classified as a theater. 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 military operations on specific significant strategic directions known as fronts which were named in accordance to their theater of operations; for example the Southwestern Front (Russian Empire), 1st Ukrainian Front, and Northern Front (Soviet Union). In peacetime, due to loss of a strategic direction, fronts were transformed into military regions (districts) responsible for an assigned section of operations.

The Russian term is театр военных действий, teatr voennykh deistvii, abbreviated ТВД, TVD.

United States[edit]

Unified Combatant Command of the United States.
Chart 12.- Typical organization of a theater of operations as envisaged by War Department Doctrine, 1940.

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.[7]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Definition of theatre noun (MILITARY) from Cambridge Dictionary Online: Free English Dictionary and Thesaurus". Retrieved 2011-08-31. 
  2. ^ "Theater (warfare) - definition of Theater (warfare) by the Free Online Dictionary, Thesaurus and Encyclopedia". Retrieved 2011-08-31. 
  3. ^ "theatre of war, theatres of war- WordWeb dictionary definition". 
  4. ^ "Carl Von Clausewitz, On War". Retrieved 2011-08-31. 
  5. ^ Cite error: The named reference the free dictionary was invoked but never defined (see the help page).
  6. ^ See Военный энциклопедический словарь (ВЭС), Москва (М.), Военное издательство (ВИ), 1984 год (г.), 863 страниц (стр). с иллюстрациями (ил.), 30 листов (ил.), стр. 732;
  7. ^ "Chapter VII: Prewar Army Doctrine for Theater". Retrieved 2011-08-31.