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Auftragstaktik

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Auftragstaktik

Noun. German. Lit Transl: Missiontactics.

Rendered more properly as "Tactics centred on the achievement of the mission" (as opposed to Befehlstaktik : Lit. transl. Orderstactics, in turn rendered more properly as "Tactics centred on precisely executing orders from a superior")

Commonly described as "Mission Command" or sometimes "Directive Control"

Brief History

Before WW1, the German Army operated under the principle of Weisungsführung (leadership by directive), which was similar to Auftragstaktik, but was extended to commanders no lower than army , or sometimes corps-level, giving them broad powers of discretion in executing their missions. Auftragstaktik, which was a post-World War I evolution, carried into the manual Truppenführung (Command), extended the principle down to squad leaders and even, to individual soldiers. In his 1925 Observations of the Chief of the Army Command, von Seeckt (the man who developed Germany's land forces between the two world wars)wrote that:

"The principal thing now is to increase the responsibilities of the individual man, particularly his independence of action, and thereby to increase the efficiency of the entire army. . . . The limitations imposed by exterior circumstances causes us to give the mind more freedom of activity, with the profitable result of increasing the ability of the individual."

Official adoption of the term

The term Auftragstaktik did not appear officially in German Army manuals until some time after the creation of the Bundeswehr.

This is significant because it indicates how even the German Army's approach to command is rooted in a set of assumptions, commonly held, rather than in a set of doctrinal documents which are subject to formal amendment. It is the implicit nature of these assumptions that makes them so powerful and difficult to change, and so difficult for outsiders to grasp.

The summary below is based on research conducted over 12 years, between 1989 and 2001.

Elements of Auftragstaktik

The basic elements of Auftragstaktik (as expounded to me by a number of German officers, including 2 instructors from the Fuhrungsakademie) can be summarised as follows:

1st Element

It is through the Main Effort (ME, or German: Schwerpunkt) that the commander will achieve the decisive result of his battle. Ergo;

If an activity cannot bring about the decision, it should not be the ME.

Decision is reached by crushing the will of the opponent: the ME is where effort is concentrated, by the regrouping of forces as appropriate, to deliver sustained hammer blows [physical: firepower; psychological : speed, noise etc] against the enemy's capacity to fight.

The ME must always be specified.

2nd Element

Because the ME is where the Comd aims to achieve his decision, then, naturally that is the place on the battlefield where he should be, in order to influence by his presence the decisive part of his battle. This may mean - as it did in the case of Div Comd Rommel (Inf Regt Balck) - taking personal command of subordinate units, thereby enabling their comds to make their presence felt lower down in the same way. More usually, the commander will direct and coordinate firepower and other resources in support of the achievement of the aim.

From this it follows that subordinate commanders who are not on the ME must be capable of functioning for prolonged periods with minimal supervision, and

The commander's staff must have the competence and the authority to act - in his absence - in close accordance with his overall intent.

3rd Element

The purpose of all other actions is to support the ME. Subordinates (not just commanders) must consider this requirement and act upon it, where opportunity or need arises, including the regrouping of resources, without further reference to higher authority.

From this it follows that commanders require clear understanding of both their commander's overall intent, and the battle going on around them, to allow them to make this kind of judgement but

Since under no circumstances will a true picture of the battle be available to anyone, all commanders must be educated and prepared to act judiciously and decisively in the face of incomplete information.

Further, since sudden regrouping - at all levels - will be characteristic of this way of fighting, it follows that a high degree of procedural commonality is essential. Commanders will exercise their creativity not by having SOPs that reflect personal preferences, but - having confidence that everyone knows how their part of the "machine" ought to function - by focussing on what is to be achieved, rather than on how to get it done; not an approach that Monty or Wellington would have been comfortable with.

4th Element

The collapse of the enemy's fighting power, when it occurs, will occur suddenly The opportunity - when it comes - must be seized and exploited swiftly and violently, in order to precipitate further collapse, otherwise, if sound enemy plans and leadership are in place, their troops may rally and the opportunity will be lost. Again, at all levels, immediate action without further reference to higher authority is the key.

From this it follows that concise, simple, orders, rapidly issued, and using a common vocabulary to ensure they are clearly understood, are essential.

Achievement of the common vocabulary is only possible through prolonged working together to a common set of themes - to which end Rommel, as Division Commander, personally wrote a tract published as Aufgabe für Zug und Kompagnie which contained a range of TEWTs and sand model exercises which all his subordinate units were to use as a basis from which to develop a way of thinking about battle that was, to all intents and purposes, seamless from GOC to the point man in the lead fire team, such that even junior commanders, seeing an opportunity to pursue their commander's intent, not only were able (in the sense of being trained) to, but also were encouraged to seize the opportuniy, issue quick orders, and act, rather than to refer a fleeting opportunity to a higher level of command, and lose the opportunity in doing so. Patton understood this better than any other Western Allied commander. As he put it - "a good plan, violently executed now, is better than a perfect plan next week."

5th Element

The Comd may switch his ME, in accordance with the circumstances, invariably to reinforce success. When this happens, the subordinate comd at the new ME will automatically find himself responsible for the coordination and employment of resources appropriate to a command up to two levels higher than their own [Pl Comd - Bn. Coy Comd - Regt /Bde]. The subordinate will now be required to operate at that level until his superior can move to a point where he can influence the situation at the ME. [See also 2nd Element].

Some Implications for training in this kind of thinking

The Reichswehr, and later the Wehrmacht, in common with the IDF, were or are at pains to prepare their leaders to make decisions based on minimal and uncertain information, to do it quickly, and to adjust their plans - often radically - in light of sudden changes of circumstance. This goes against the grain of "orderly" British soldiering. Until at least 1996, the promotion TEWT for Lts to Capt involved extensive enemy ORBATS, and a "sound grasp of Warsaw Pact or GENFOR doctrine“ - meaning a headful of template solutions - was regarded by the British Army as the criterion of competence.

The upshot was the plaintive complaint once heard from a surprised Brit infantry officer in an Intelligence Staff post on a 1992 NATO exercise that ". . .the enemy are not following the doctrine!". In point of fact, the German OPFOR COS had simply task-organised his forces in accordance with the habit of his own army, in the face of superior opposing forces.

Some Organisational Implications

It worth noting that throughout WW2, the German and British infantry battalion had roughly the same all up strength (approx 1000). In a German battalion, you would find 13 officers (of whom 4 were non-combatant - the Doctor, the Vet, the Chaplain and the Paymaster), whereas the British battalion had an officer complement of 30, (and no Vet).

Further Reading:

The Path to Blitzkrieg: Doctrine and Training in the German Army, 1920-1939. By Robert M. Citino

The Art Of Command by Colonel von Spohn (in British Army Review Edn 91, April 1989)

--Stonker 16:45, 25 September 2006 (BST)


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