Military Review English Edition November-December 2015 - Page 44

(Photo courtesy of the Library of Congress) Imperial German Army Gen. Karl von Bülow, 1915 Delayed reports meant Moltke issued directives that were already obsolete, compelling his subordinates to use their discretion and initiative in an attempt to divine the current operational situation and concept. Nevertheless, despite such obviously serious flaws in the system, Moltke steadfastly remained at his headquarters well distant from the battlefield. Presumably, this was to keep the Kaiser, who would have insisted on accompanying him to the field, out of harm’s way, but also it was because this was Moltke’s command style. Exercise Disciplined Initiative and Use Mission Orders As a consequence of technological and organizational impediments, and a senior leader with a highly detached command style, the fog of war was omnipresent in the German chain of command. Since Moltke could exercise control only in a very detached way, the commanders of the field armies on the German right wing were left 38 to their own devices to interpret Moltke’s intent from vague or outdated communiques. While such a situation allowed for the field army commanders to exercise initiative, that initiative was only disciplined within the scope of each separate army’s operations, and it lacked an overall current operational concept among the armies. As a result, the German forces as a whole were not synchronizing their activities with each other to achieve operational effectiveness. For example, while Kluck continued to advance ever y day, Bülow rested his troops, placing them a day’s march behind. Kluck’s reorienting of most of his army on the Ourcq River front while leaving a large gap screened only by cavalry lacked the prudence that disciplined synchronization with other armies (especially Bülow’s) would have mitigated. But in this situation, Kluck felt the risk was justified. Also, bad communications had adverse effects both ways. Frustrated by a lack of timely information coming to him, Moltke developed an overly pessimistic view of his operations in early September. From his perspective, the Allied forces were not being destroyed at an adequate level, as the few prisoners being sent to the rear seemed to indicate, and the defeated enemy forces as a whole still seemed to be retaining unit cohesion. What Moltke did not understand was that mass armies had changed operational conditions. It was now very difficult for an attacking marching army to destroy a defeated marching army except by encirclement because the lethality and effective standoff range of weaponry, as well as unit mobility, had become too great. Strategically, Moltke’s main objective was to completely envelop the Allied forces and push them back upon the German forces on Moltke’s left flank. While such a maneuver was probably beyond the capabilities of the German army, based on the number of troops available, Moltke lost sight of this and feared an enemy trap. The net result was that the German commander became very pessimistic and soon believed his right wing was in far greater danger than it actually was. In any case, by the end of the campaign the commander’s intent coming from Moltke was only reaching his commanders sporadically, based on days-old situation updates. Since events had generally overcome such directives by the time they were received, the field commanders, who were trained in a system that November-December 2015  MILITARY REVIEW