Mission-type Tactics - Origins

Origins

After the heavy defeat of the Prussians in the Battle of Jena-Auerstedt by Napoleon in 1806, the Prussians rethought their military approach and aimed to build a college of military capability, the General Staff, as a systemic counter to the individual genius that had so soundly beaten them. Napoleon fought a continual battle of manoeuvre or movement and throughout his career (at least until Spain) demonstrated his ability to defeat all comers by the greater flexibility of his formations and deployment. The fact that his troops were mainly conscripts showed that it was his organisation of them that must be superior. The institutionalization of excellence within the Prussian Army was to build this same flexibility as well as the other role of the General Staff Officer, which was to make sure each unit understood and performed their mission.

One of the earliest alleged uses of Auftragstaktik was at the Battle of Königgrätz in the Austro-Prussian War. Auftragstaktik is one of the tools often claimed to have given the Prussians their decisive victory. This claim is difficult to accept, since no appreciation of Augtragstaktik had been accepted officially. The Bohemian Campaign could only have been an example of its use if having subordinate commanders that ignore directives from superiors, that march southward when ordered to march east, and treat their senior commanders with barely concealed contempt, can truly be described as a form of "flexible command". Most of the Prussian Commanders, particularly Frederick Charles of the 1st Prussian Army, had no understanding of Moltke the Elder's strategy. He did not much like those parts he did understand. He was uncooperative when under Moltke's orders and disobeyed them several times. During the battle and without authorisation, he acted on his own initiative and launched a premature attack on the Austrian Army, which nearly ended in disaster. If the Crown Prince Frederick William had arrived only an hour later, the battle might have been decisively lost.

After the First World War, this monitoring, coaching and training role built a level of trust, competency and understanding across the whole 4000 strong German post-war officer corps which made a new level of excellence possible.

Excellence in this case is derived in part from the tradition of Gerhard von Scharnhorst, Carl von Clausewitz and Helmuth von Moltke and was based upon the premise that hard-and-fast rules had no place in the environment of war, which was the realm of human emotion, friction, chance and uncertainty. Moltke is considered one of the principal advocates of independent thinking and acting among his subordinates:

“Diverse are the situations under which an officer has to act on the basis of his own view of the situation. It would be wrong if he had to wait for orders at times when no orders can be given. But most productive are his actions when he acts within the framework of his senior commander's intent.”

Under the Auftragstaktik system the selection of combat formations, as well as their route and rate of advance, was based upon a unit's mission, the terrain and the enemy's disposition, something Napoleon was renowned for doing. Building a high level of trust, competency and understanding is crucial for the success of such a doctrine. The freedoms this might imply have challenged many armies' views of military discipline, including the Prussian army's.

Read more about this topic:  Mission-type Tactics

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