Military Review English Edition November-December 2015 - Page 43

MARNE solutions and contingencies for a specific military problem that politicians had given them—the high probability of a two-front war. Aggressive German foreign policy in the late nineteenth century had alienated several other powers, which had resulted in the creation of military alliances designed to counter potential German military adventurism. But in an ironic twist, by 1914 the German military, led by the younger Moltke, was so we dded to its high-risk plan to win a two-front war that even state political decisions dealing with nonmilitary issues were made based on the primacy of military considerations in anticipation of such a war. In this way, when simmering nationalist passions erupted on the continent, the two-front war became a reality—not because it was necessarily needed, but largely because it had been planned for. German senior leadership. Kaiser Wilhelm II had selected Moltke to lead the Imperial German Army primarily for his congeniality rather than for his military prowess. In 1914, the Kaiser, although technically the commander in chief of the armed forces, elected to let his highly trained military professionals do their jobs with minimum interference, offering only occasional common sense comments—that were generally ignored. For his part, Moltke also trusted decentralization of execution authority. As a result, his faith in the mission-command-type approach led him to plan by giving only minimal direction to the activities of his subordinate field army commanders, but he did not anticipate how minimal his control would become as the campaign progressed.3 A weak technological communications system, together with an unwieldy organization, were vulnerabilities that helped create a command and control environment that largely went out of his control. Communications technology. Organizationally, eight field armies reported directly to Moltke and his headquarters, the Oberste Heeresleitung, without any intervening army group headquarters. The great challenge of managing such a large span of control was exacerbated by poor communications technology as well as Moltke’s decision not to move his headquarters forward, closer to his subordinates, which would facilitate giving his personal guidance at critical times when the technical communication capabilities broke down. Communications technology in 1914 included the telephone, telegraph, and radio. In a pinch, aerial or MILITARY REVIEW  November-December 2015 ground couriers could also be used. Typically, many national armies in 1914 used the telephone for local communications and the telegraph for longer distances. However, the German army had abandoned the telegraph in 1910, planning instead to depend on a combination of the telephone and the radio. As a result, at the outset of war in 1914, the telephone was supposed to be the primary means of communication, with signal troops laying semipermanent lines to each field army headquarters; temporary lines and personal contact supported units below that level. However, peacetime maneuvers and planning had failed to provide an adequate appreciation for the extreme difficulties swiftly moving units in combat—advancing under fire from modern weapons across foreign territory—would encounter using the telephone in circumstances where existing civilian systems would not be available. Experience soon showed that the field-wire troops could not lay lines as quickly as the army advanced, and within six days, the radio had become the primary mode. However, the radio also proved to have significant shortcomings in actual use. The greatly expanded volume of radio transmissions that resulted from its having become the primary means of communication between echelons, combined with the need to encode and decode each transmission, resulted in a time delay of up to twenty-six hours for messages. Such delays meant that situation updates and directives passed each other in transmission, and both were obsolete by the time they reached the recipient.4 Additionally, contemporary radios were bulky, sensitive, and prone to breakdowns, and they were only issued in limited quantities down to the army level.5 As a backup to the electronic system, couriers were available, but using them was time consuming. In addition, a limited number of airplanes were available for carrying messages between headquarters, but the potential for using them in such a role was ignored.6 The technological vulnerabilities and limitations, frequent equipment failures, and failure to use alternate means to communicate vital instructions all combined to greatly disrupt the German field-command routine, which was based on nightly meetings where subordinates produced situation reports and commanders planned for the next day’s operations. The systemic breakdown particularly affected Moltke. 37