Battle of Jena/Auerstadt

In 1806, the Prussians suffered a painful defeat against Napoleon's armies at the battle of Jena (there were in fact two battles, one at Jena and one at Auerstadt). To give an impression of the magnitude of the battle and the effects of the ensuing defeat: the French deployed 121,000 men, the Prussians 117,000, the losses sufferd by the parties involved were 12,000 men and 38,000 men respectively. The consequences of this defeat had a profound impact: Prussia lost large parts of its territory and its inhabitants to the French. But perhaps much more important, the loss stressed the need for reforms of both the Prussian army and the the feudal state Prussia.

 

A decentralized command concept

Contrary to what was common in other armies, the Prussians evaluated their defeat in detail. They came to the conclusion that the battlefield was "a chaos."and  every attempt of centralized command & control was doomed: the 'lag time' between messages from the front to the commanders and back again was so great that it actually concerned the war fought a couple of hours earlier. As a commander you actually want your soldiers to react to unexpected situations in real time adequatilly, you don’t want them to wait for orders when an unexpected situation occurs. So your men must learn to deal with these unexepected situations and the chaos of the battle field. And chaos is just the ideal situation if your men have been trained to take the initiative and respond to it. . This analysis formed the basis for Auftragstaktik, a command concept with highly decentralized decision making and ample room for own initiative.

 

Helmut von Moltke
Helmut von Moltke, Chief of Staff of the General Stab from 1857 to 1888, played a decisive role in the development of Auftragstaktik and can be seen as the spiritual father of this new comMand concept. From him are the words: "No plan survives the first contact with the enemy". The commander should clearly state 'what' he wants to be reached, 'how' this should be done can be decided by the commanders up front. So no detailed plans were needed and all things must be left to the commander on the spot. This was (and is for most) military organisations a completely new way of managing an army, they fight their wars by the book and by using detailed plans,  making them sluggish, lackluster and killing any form of initiative. But for this command concept you need a complete new set of checks & balances.

Auftragstaktik was the command concept of the Kaiser Heer, the Reichswehr and the Wehrmacht and fully explains the much higher battlefieldperformance of the Prussian/ German army. Against any of their opponents under any circumstances.