WWII German Tactical Leadership

By | August 20, 2017

[August 20, 2017]  It has been said that the German Army during World War II was tactically superior to all Allied forces.  Therefore, it is worth the study of how those tactics were taught and how leaders reinforced good tactical decision-making.  Insight into WWII German tactical procedures is a worthwhile endeavor.

However, it has also been said one of the main reasons that the WWII German Army failed was that their military strategically was wrong; tactically better, but strategically worse, compared to the Allies.  Sun Tsu gives some insight into the importance between the two when he wrote that “strategy without tactics is the slowest route to victory but tactics without strategy is the noise before defeat.”

In April 1944 the U.S. War Department issued a bulletin that addressed the training program for German Army tactics and training.  The Intelligence Bulletin was issued to military personnel with the intention of providing helpful information concerning the enemy.  Understanding the German “military mind and character” was essential for victory.  We can learn from this today.

“Aside from experience gained in previous wars, training programs in the German Army are determined only by the requirements of this present war.  Theoretical peacetime experiences are always misleading.  The goal of training is absolute knowledge of essential subject matter.  The result of such training should be the ability of the student to apply, on his own initiative, the knowledge he has been taught.” – U.S. War Department Intelligence Bulletin, April 1944

The principles contained in the bulletin – extracted from original German Army field manuals – play an important role in the development of the German soldier.  We are fortunate to have access to the translated version of the German field manuals for their comments were a major factor that established a training philosophy that only U.S. and Allied special forces units had adopted.

“Every commander is responsible for training the unit entrusted to him, but the company commander’s responsibility is the greatest of all.  His work creates the basis for the preparedness and striking power of the German Army.  It is the duty of all superior officers to support him in this difficult task without limiting his field of action.”  – U.S. War Department Intelligence Bulletin, April 1944

This, in part, explains the application of a training program that developed individual soldiers of the German Army.  Today, most Western armies have a training philosophy that is similar to what is outlined here.

“It is more essential that a German soldier be thorough than that he be versatile.  Commanders and subordinates alike must remember that exactness in the performance of all duties is a most important requirement.” – U.S. War Department Intelligence Bulletin, April 1944

This is where we see a variation from Allied armies where flexibility was at the core of our training efforts.  I recommend reading the short list of the WWII German Army field manual extracts as translated by the U.S. War Department.  It is a rare opportunity to gain some insight into the success of the German’s at the tactical level.

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Note: See complete list here: http://www.dererstezug.com/TrainingPrinciples.htm



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Author: Douglas R. Satterfield

Hello. I'm Doug and I provide at least one article everyday on some leadership topic. I welcome comments and also guests who would like to write an article. Thanks for reading my blog.