Printer Friendly

Fuhren mit Auftrag: mission command from a German point of view.

Time and date: 0430, 10 May 1940.

Place: Cologne, Germany.

Objective: Fort Eben-Emael, Belgium.

Assault Group Granite, one of three assault groups led by First Lieutenant Rudolf Witzig and his airborne engineers, boarded nine glider aircraft. Their target was Fort Eben-Emael, Belgium, approximately 60 miles west. Their task--and the intent of the higher echelon--was to seize the fortress, which secured three vital bridges over the Meuse River and the Albert Canal. The action was a prerequisite to ensure the rapid advance of the Wehrmacht across the Meuse River, through Belgium, and into France.

A thoroughly planned attack was about to begin. The 493 German soldiers comprising the force had assembled 7 months earlier and begun a period of intensive training. A detailed study of the fort, the bridges, and the surroundings was made; and a replica of the area was constructed for training the airborne troops. Joint exercises between the parachutists and the glider pilots were carried out in the early spring of 1940, and a number of refinements were made to equipment and tactics.

Everything was set in the early morning hours in May 1940 when Clausewitzian friction began. Shortly after departure, the glider carrying First Lieutenant Witzig had to make an emergency landing in a field just outside Cologne. Immediately, Staff Sergeant Walter Meier assumed leadership, took decisive action by leading the force to the fortress, landed his glider on top of it, and successfully destroyed or disabled casemates and artillery pieces in time for First Lieutenant Witzig to join the fight hours later and destroy the primary targets. At 1230 the next day, the fortress surrendered. Sixty Belgian soldiers were killed, 40 were wounded, and more than 1,000 were taken captive. Assault Group Granite suffered six killed and 19 wounded.

This is just one historic example of Auftragstaktik, or "mission command," a leadership principle that German armed forces have practiced in an exemplary way for more than 200 years. (1) Interestingly, it took a long time for mission command to find its way into military doctrine. And it wasn't until 1953 that mission command was officially recognized as part of the even more complex concept of Innere Fuhrung, or inner leadership, and incorporated into the newly developing Bundeswehr doctrine. (2) But obviously, German armed forces practiced a leadership principle before it was institutionalized and subsequently taught and trained.

Was there a forerunner model from which mission command derives? What is the German Bundeswehr understanding of mission command in the context of Innere Fuhrung? And finally, where are the differences--from the German point of view--between the U.S. understanding of mission command as written in Army Doctrine Publication (ADP) 6-0, Mission Command, and the German doctrine? (3)

Mission command wasn't an idea that was introduced into German military thinking by decree. Its implementation was a difficult and long-running process that started in 1806, following a disastrous defeat of the Prussians by Napoleon's army at the Battle of Jena-Auerstedt. By 1812, the higher levels of leadership had learned that Clausewitzian friction in war leads to decisions based mostly on incomplete information. As a consequence, initiative and independent thought and action became important factors in German military thinking. Today, these are integral parts of mission command.

As it so often happens in military history, the next tier of mission command was dictated by technological progress in armament. The introduction of the breech-loading rifle in the middle of the 19 th century allowed much more flexible maneuvers. In the late 19th century, Field Marshal Helmuth von Moltke wrote that "it would be wrong if he [the officer] 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." (4) Another fundamental piece of mission command was born.

Auftragstaktik first surfaced in military doctrine in 1890, and it was disdained as a threat to military discipline. It wasn't until the early 20th century that the term found its way into military doctrine. All through the Great War and World War II, it had a firm place in German Army command and control philosophy.

What is the German understanding of mission command in the context of Innere Fuhrung? In 1950, Germany (in close coordination with the United States, Great Britain, and France) began to think about rearmament. For Germany and its population, however, the traumatic experience of two world wars raised the question of the legitimacy of the new German armed forces. These would have to be strictly controlled without any special status by the democratic parliament of the Federal Republic of Germany. At the same time, it was deemed sensible not to discard leadership principles proven to be valuable and successful. The concept that did the trick was Innere Fuhrung, which was developed between 1951 and 1953 and has been valid ever since. It consists of the following pillars:

* The integration of the military into the state and society.

* The guiding principle of the soldier being a "citizen in uniform."

* The ethical, legal, and political legitimacy of the military mission.

* The realization of fundamental constitutional and social values in the armed forces.

* The limits of order and obedience.

* The application of the principle of mission command.

* The observance of the statutory participation rights of soldiers.

* The observance of the freedom of association guaranteed in the constitution.

The takeaway here is that mission command may be the only principle taken over from previous German armed forces. And from a German point of view, mission command is not a stand-alone principle but a concept that is seen and always applied by German military leaders in combination with the other pillars of Innere Fuhrung.

What are the differences between the American understanding of mission command and the German parent concept? Comparing a foreign philosophy with one's own national concept is a difficult endeavor. People are culturally imprinted through the environment in which they were raised and the education and training that they received. This is even truer for soldiers since their environment influences them more than any civilian environment. And it is true for me and my 14 years of civilian education and 26 years of military training and education. Still, I will give it try.

When comparing ADP 6-0 with the German parent document, two things especially caught my eye. The first is the context or framework of U.S. mission command, which seems to be tightly linked to the concept of unified land operations. Therefore, mission command is one of the foundations that supports the U.S. Army's central aim to "seize, retain, and exploit the initiative to gain a position of relative advantage over the enemy. This is accomplished through decisive action." (5) German mission command is linked to Innere Fuhrung and thus, ultimately, to the German constitution. Mission command in Germany isn't a stand-alone concept but is just one of the eight pillars of Innere Fuhrung. Because of the challenging historical context in which the German concept was developed, it rests much more on ethical, legal, political, and social foundations than the U.S. approach.

The second thing is the difference between the U.S. and German principles and elements of mission command. The principles of mission command in ADP 6-0 are (6)--

* Build cohesive teams through mutual trust.

* Create shared understanding.

* Provide a clear commander's intent.

* Exercise disciplined initiative.

* Use mission orders.

* Accept prudent risk.

As a German officer, I would happily sign them all without any hesitation. However, the question of how to implement the principles is the tricky part. Being complementary and similar in meaning, the five German elements of mission command are--

* Main effort. It is through the main effort that the commander will achieve the decisive result in battle. The main effort must always be specified.

* Commander's place. Because the main effort is where the leadership aims to achieve the decisive result, that is where the commander should be on the battlefield. This may mean taking personal command of subordinate units, thereby making the effect of commands felt lower down. Usually, the commander will direct and coordinate firepower and other resources to support the achievement of the aim. From this, it follows that subordinate commanders who are not on the main effort must be capable of functioning for prolonged periods with minimal supervision. And the commander's staff must have the competence and authority to act in the absence of the commander, in close accordance with his or her overall intent.

* Commander's intent. To properly support the main effort, military leaders require a clear understanding of their commander's overall intent and of the battle going on around them. But since a true picture of the battle will never be available to anyone, all commanders must be educated and prepared to act judiciously and decisively in the face of incomplete information. Also, commanders must exercise their creativity by focusing on what is to be achieved rather than on how it is to be achieved.

* Immediate initiative. Opportunities to take decisive actions must be seized and exploited swiftly and violently. At all levels, immediate action without further reference to higher authority is the key. From this, it follows that concise, simple orders--rapidly issued using a common vocabulary to ensure that they are clearly understood--are essential. The motto for this would be that "a good plan, violently executed now, is better than a perfect plan next week." (7)

* Higher-level thinking. Depending on circumstances, the commander may switch the main effort to reinforce success. When this happens, the subordinate commander at the new main effort will automatically be responsible for the coordination and employment of resources appropriate to a command up to two levels higher than his or her own. The subordinate will need to operate at that level until the commander can move to a position to influence the situation at the main effort.

To summarize, mission command ultimately relies on superiors who (8)--

* Formulate their intent and the desired end state briefly and clearly.

* Provide the necessary resources to allow success.

* Trust their subordinates to act independently toward the given end state

* Feel comfortable delegating and controlling tasks.

* Accept a certain amount of mistakes and provide as much flexibility as possible for their subordinates to allow effective, efficient, and innovative problem solving.

Mission command relies on subordinates who know their trade, understand the intent of their commander, feel comfortable taking on responsibility (frequently, above their rank and pay grade), and can see and exploit opportunities for decisive action without being able to check with higher echelons.

As the historical example shows, mission command is far from being free play and it poses no threat to military discipline. Nor does it fill in or substitute for poor planning. The contrary is true: mission command demands a high degree of discipline from commanders and subordinates and probably requires an even higher degree of trust and initiative. Good mission command is only possible after a thorough planning process conducted before execution.

In conclusion, mission command will add value, especially in a diversified branch like the engineers. Within the engineer branch--with its multiple fields of expertise, its many trades, and myriad related tasks--leaders must give a clear intent (and the resources to attain it), delegate tasks, and trust that their subordinates know their profession very thoroughly. This was true in 1940 and will be even truer in a more constrained, future environment where empowered initiative, flexibility, and out-of-the-box thinking will gain importance.

Anker, Wirf!, or "Throw anchor!" (9)


(1) Historically, and in this text, the terms Fuhren mit Auftrag (literally, "leading by tasks"), Auftragstaktik (literally, "mission type tactics"), and mission command are used interchangeably. Fuhren mit Auftrag is the correct term in German Army doctrine. Auftragstaktik is the more commonly known (but misleading) term since it incorrectly implies that this principle is a tactic. Mission command is the common and well-known translation used in English-speaking nations and in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, used here for practical purposes.

(2) Innere Fuhrung (literally, "inner leadership") is officially translated as "leadership development and civic education," German Joint Service Regulation 10/1, Innere Fuhrung, 28 January 2008.

(3) ADP6-0, Mission Command, 17 May 2012.

(4) Werner Widder, "Battle Command: Augtragstaktik and Innere Fuhrung: Trademarks of German Leadership," Military Review, Vol. 82, No. 5, September/October 2002, p. 4.

(5) ADP 6-0, p. 1.

(6) Ibid., p. 2.

(7) General George S. Patton, Jr., <http://www.generalpatton .com/quotes/>, accessed on 7 October 2014.

(8) Although stating the obvious, it is worth mentioning that in a military hierarchy, superiors are at the same time subordinates and vice versa.

(9) Anker, Wirf! is the order given to assemble a floating bridge; it is the motto of the German Army engineers.

Lieutenant Colonel Kuster is the German Army liaison officer at the Maneuver Support Center of Excellence, Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri.

Caption: Bundeswehr Colonel Rudolf Witzig in 1970
COPYRIGHT 2015 U.S. Army Maneuver Support Center
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 2015 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

Article Details
Printer friendly Cite/link Email Feedback
Author:Kuster, Jens
Publication:Engineer: The Professional Bulletin for Army Engineers
Geographic Code:4EUGE
Date:Jan 1, 2015
Previous Article:Tribal knowledge II: back to basics.
Next Article:The Engineer Regiment's resource menu: a tool to facilitate lifelong learning.

Terms of use | Privacy policy | Copyright © 2020 Farlex, Inc. | Feedback | For webmasters