Auftragstaktik

INTRODUCTION

The German army lost two consecutive wars. The conclusion is often drawn that the German army simply could not cope with its opponents, with as result that they got the worst of it. This image is constantly reinforced in literature and in the media, where seemingly brainless operating German units led by fanatically screaming officers predominate the battle field. Nothing was less true.

[The] record shows that the Germans consistently outfeed the far more numerous Allied armies that eventually defeated them ... On a man for man basis the German ground soldiers consistently inflicted casualties at least 50 percent higher rate than they incurred from the opposing British and American troops under all circumstances. This was true when they were attacking and when they were defending, when they had a local numerical superiority and when, as was the case, they were outnumbered, when they had air superiority and when they did not, when they won and when they dissolves. - Colonel Trevor Dupuy

After all, if we look at the relative battlefield performance of the German army, we discover the performance of the German Army was at least 150% (Second World War) and in sometimes as much as 300% (First World War) higher than that of the western Allies: 1 killed or wounded German soldier counted for at least 1.5 to 3.0 killed or wounded Allied soldier.

The central question to be answered is why the German army had a much higher relative battlefield performance than all its opponents. We will analyze the Prussian/German army and the opponents from the point of view of management and organization, sociology and psychology to answer this question.

 

Auftragstaktik

We wil discover that a central element in the success of the Prussian/German army is Auftragstaktik, a tactical command concept that dates from the middle of the 19th century. In terms of management and organization it is still a very advanced management concept, with as characteristisc  quick and independent decisions making on the lowest levels, resulting in a very flexibile and resilient organisation.

 

In this context the Germans paid particular attention to the psychological and sociological dimensions of army organizations. This should not suprise us as Germany is the cradle of these sciences. They attached great importance to elements such as group cohesion and had a clear picture of the leadership role of officers and noncommissioned officers in creating group cohesion and in the personal and professional development of the individual soldier. If we put everything together, the picture emerges of an organization that has achieved an optimal mix of the above and many other elements that we will describe on this site. This made the Prussian/German army an unprecedented powerful organization that in today's terms was extremely resilient and agile. It also makes clear why the German Amy in many ways was a real high performance organization. 

Contrary to the widely-held hero clichés about 'blind obedience', Kadavergehorsamkeit and Prussian discipline, the German Army had, from the time of Moltke the Elder at the latest, always emphasized the crucial importance of individual initiative and responsibility, even at the lowest levels. - Martin van Creveld

 

This does not mean that other armies could not reach the same level of battfefield performance. Examples of these are Evans Fordyce Carlson and his Raiders battalion in China and the 88th Infantry Division, fighting in Italy. The key to the succes of this division might be that its commander, John Emmitt Sloan, was educated at the U.S. Naval Academy (!). His style of leadership complied with all the elements of the German command concept of Auftragstaktik. Food for thought. 

 

If you want to learn more and read the whole story, the Dutch readers can order my book 'Auftragstaktik en het Pruisische/Duitse leger 1850 - 1945', with as co author Ruud Veen, via Managementboek.

The English version will be published by Pen & Sword publishers, release date early 2021, pre order possible from november 2020.