Military Review English Edition November-December 2015 - Page 41

MARNE were able to retreat in an orderly fashion and set up new positions on high ground overlooking the Aisne River and the city of Reims. When French and British troops caught up to what they expected to be dispirited and broken German soldiers in disarray, they ran into a buzz saw of prepared defensive positions that halted their advance (see figure 4). The defensive positions each side subsequently established facing each other were the harbinger of the coming years. The practical outcome of this series of engagements was a geographic front between the German and Allied forces that stayed essentially unchanged for the remaining four years of the war, as the conflict evolved into static trench warfare. With a few exceptions, the German and Allied forces maintained the defensive positions they had established at the end of that six-week period until the end of the war in 1918. Analysis of the Campaign’s Mission Command Aspects Since it is in vogue today to assert that mission command, with its emphasis on individual initiative by commanders at all levels, is, and historically has been, a panacea for succeeding in the chaos of the battlefield, one might conclude that prewar German indoctrination in mission-command-type operations should have guaranteed success. However, since success was not forthcoming, following this line of reasoning leads to the conclusion that German execution of mission command must have been badly flawed. This intriguing hypothesis invites detailed analysis using the six modern principles of mission command espoused by the U.S. Army today:1 1. Build cohesive teams based on mutual trust. 2. Create shared understanding. 3. Provide a clear commander’s intent. 4. Exercise disciplined initiative. 5. Use mission orders. 6. Accept prudent risk. Build Cohesive Teams Based on Mutual Trust At the start of the war, by any objective standard, the Germans were well trained and led—despite having not been in a major war for more than forty years. This was clearly evident in the resilience and discipline of the troops who were able to march great distances for MILITARY REVIEW  November-December 2015 long periods and, upon arriving at their destinations, fight and win consecutive engagements. In conjunction, there existed a high degree of mutual trust and shared understanding of the operational environment among German officers, made conspicuous by the use of mission-type orders as a matter of course. Thus, at both the tactical and operational levels, the Germans surely had built cohesive teams, sharing a high degree of mutual trust between various echelons of command that, together, had confidence in the doctrine developed by their General Staff in the prewar period. Such German operational and tactical doctrine, based on its appreciation of the effect of modern weapon ry on warfare—primarily heavy artillery, quick-firing field artillery, and machine guns—proved to be generally appropriate until trench warfare turned the western front into a massive siege. A high level of mutual trust and cohesion was also evident in the decentralized structure of the prewar German army, where corps commanders usually were free to train their troops as they saw fit. In such training, two schools of tactical thought were present. The first was the newer mission-command style of conducting operations, promoted by Moltke the Elder, that officially extended mission command to the tactical level, directing infantry to attack using advances by bounds and emphasizing “fire and movement.” The second was the “old Prussian” school—similar to the French concept of élan—that believed German infantry held an inherent moral superiority that could overcome the effects of modern weaponry by courage and audacity. This latter concept tended to emphasize the use of close formations, where the troops advanced shoulder-to-shoulder, in the belief doing so would enhance control. Therefore, at the tactical level in the campaign, German units sometimes used more open (spread-out) formations and fire-and-movement tactics, and at other times they used more closed formations, although most traditionalists soon turned to the decentralized approach after the older tactics proved to be very costly in terms of casualties when facing modern weapons such as machine guns. Ultimately, the German forces would universally adopt mission-command style at the tactical level, with the espousal of infiltration tactics and the creation of specially trained Sturmtruppen (Stormtrooper) units later in World War I. However, in either case, the Germans emphasized close coordination between infantry and field artillery. 35