Battle Command: Auftragstaktik and Innere Fuhrung: Trademarks of German Leadership

By Widder, Werner | Military Review, September/October 2002 | Go to article overview

Battle Command: Auftragstaktik and Innere Fuhrung: Trademarks of German Leadership


Widder, Werner, Military Review


Battle Command-the exercise of leadership in combat. Will technology lead military thinkers to reconsider existing notions of battle command? In this section, authors reflect on 21st-- century combat leadership. Major General Russel L. Honore examines two integrated leadership models under specific conditions of METT-TC. Lieutenant Colonel Marc LeGare explores how the Army's current digital command and control systems are creating new ways for commanders to visualize the status of units, to formulate courses of action, and to articulate intent and issue guidance. Colonel James K. Greer delivers an articulate discussion about emerging operational doctrine for the Objective Force. Lieutenant Colonel Scott R. McMichael concludes with a startlingly realistic picture of what technologically enhanced warfighting could look like.

Yet, despite technology's influence, war remains a particularly human endeavor. Major General Werner Widder argues that the critical ingredient for success on the tomorrow's battlefield remains the soldier exercising judgment at the critical time and place in accordance with the commander's intent. IN MAY 1940, the seizure of the Belgian fortress of Eben Emael was critically important to the successful conduct of the French campaign by the German Wehrmacht in World War II. And yet, preparation and conduct of this special operation were entrusted to a first lieutenant of the paratroopers, which at the time was a branch of the air force. At his disposal were just 77 paratroopers. At the very beginning of this operation the glider aircraft of the assault force leader, First Lieutenant Rudolf Witzig, was forced to make an emergency landing in a field near Cologne, which was approximately 100 kilometers from the objective. The remaining aircraft flew on and landed inside Eben Emael. The paratroopers completed their mission, but under the leadership of a staff sergeant.

During the landing approach to Eben Emael, another glider had to force-land approximately 60 kilometers from its objective. The assault section leader, Staff Sergeant Meier, took decisive action by appropriating two vehicles and then threading his way through the columns of the main attack divisions marshaled at the border. Reaching Maastricht, he crossed the Meuse River and advanced into the glacis of Eben Emael. He was prevented from storming the fortress by the canal surrounding it. So, he decided on his own initiative to attack the Belgian forces in the environs of the fortress. Wounded in the course of the fighting, Meier captured 121 Belgian prisoners of war, whom he turned in the following day against a receipt as proof that he had done everything in his power to complete his mission. In the meantime, Witzig had located another aircraft to tow his glider. Taking off again for Eben Emael, he landed inside the fortress, immediately assumed command of his assault force, and brought about the surrender of the Belgian fortress.

The successful completion of this operation was an absolute prerequisite to ensure the Wehrmacht's rapid advance across the Meuse River and, thus, was essential to the rapid conclusion of the French campaign. The initiative and battle command skills of a first lieutenant and a noncommissioned officer were put to the test, and both gave an excellent accounting of themselves, for which they received the Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross, at the time, Germany's highest decoration for bravery.1

The action at Eben Emael is a particularly good example of Auftragstaktik-a leadership principle the German Armed Forces have practiced for 200 years. Auftragstaktik is a command and control principle that evolved during the 19th and 20th centuries. The tactical and operational military manuals of the German Army repeatedly refer to Auftragstaktik and call it the "pre-eminent command and control principle of the Army."2 In 1998, Auftragstaktik was codified once again in German Army Regulation (AR) 100/100 (Restricted), Command and Control in Battle, the bible of the German Army. …

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