Academic journal article Military Review

Command or Control? Command, Training and Tactics in the British and German Armies, 1888-1918

Academic journal article Military Review

Command or Control? Command, Training and Tactics in the British and German Armies, 1888-1918

Article excerpt

COMMAND OR CONTROL?

Command, Training and Tactics in the British and German Armies, 1888-1918 by Martin Samuels. 339 pages. Frank Cass Publishers, London. (Distributed by International Specialized Book Services Inc., Portland, OR.) 1996. $45.00 clothbound. $27.50 paperback.

Recent scholarship gives us considerable reason to look beyond the prevailing view of World War I's unremitting futility and incompetence. A powerful argument can be made that the Western Front of 1917 and 1918 was the birthplace of modem combined arms warfare as the challenge of stalemate forced armies to adapt and innovate. This adaptation's nature and innovation in the German and British armies is the subject of Martin Samuels, Command or Control?

Samuels posits that an army's tactics, training and, most important, command and control procedures are based on the army's conception of war. Beginning in the late 19th century, the Germans evolved a view of battle as essentially chaotic, while the British believed structure could be imposed on the battlefield. Seeing confusion as the normal combat state compelled the Germans to emphasize training, initiative and decentralized execution. Seeing combat as a phenomenon where order must be imposed, the British emphasized discipline, obedience and strict adherence to an established plan.

The effect of these opposing views is seen as Samuels traces their development, officer training and the evolution of tactics in the two decades leading up to World War 1. He calls the command. control and communications system developed by the Germans directive command. In this system, the commander gave only broad guidance, while the subordinate was expected to exercise initiative in adapting the plan to battlefield conditions. The higher commander intervened only when necessary to preserve mission accomplishment.

The British, by contrast, evolved a system the author calls restrictive control. Under restrictive control, battalion- and company-level subordinates were forbidden to adapt or even question the higher commander's plans. Paradoxically, when a British general officer gave another general a mission, the senior officer would under no circumstances intervene in a subordinate's actions. …

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