Feral Jundi [Arabic: draftee or private], who has commented on posts here from time to time, has a great piece on Hermann Balck.
Balck was undoubtedly Boyd’s favorite among the field commanders of WWII, ranking this relatively junior commander in such company as Stonewall Jackson, U.S. Grant, Field Marshals von Manstein and Rommel, and the US Generals Patton and MacArthur (Patterns 111).
For more information on the Truppenführung and the “Prussian” system generally, I strongly recommend Fighting Power by the Israeli historian Martin van Creveld (Greenwood Press, 1982).
Thanks for putting this out there Chet. I was only able to scratch the surface with Boyd and Balck and it would be cool if anyone else had more information to add to this post. It sounds like Lind was part of that crew that interviewed Balck as well, and that would have been a cool deal to listen in on. It would make for an awesome MP3 or podcast if it was recorded. Were you in on that?
Thanks for the comment. I wasn’t in the sessions, and I don’t think Lind was, either. As Gary Hart’s military affairs person, Lind may have sat in on some of the other interviews Balck gave on that trip. The first interview starts with “In previous conversations …”
A recording of those interviews would indeed be a find. I’ve never heard Pierre or anybody else talk about a tape — it’s been 33 years and it may have been lost.
Interesting, and that would be a cool interview to listen too.
You know, now I am focused on this ‘Prussian military tradition’ that Balck was talking about. I think it might center around Helmuth von Moltke and his ideas, but I am not sure about that. What I am getting at is this idea of expressing yourself bluntly to superiors.
Do you have any ideas about the source of this tradition or if this was common in the German military at the time? Or is this something that only Balck did? Here is Balck’s quote:
“Model listened to everything I said. We both expressed our opinions, shook hands and returned home. He never came to see me again. But every time I got a new assignment, he was one of the first to congratulate me.
That was one of the great Prussian military traditions: you expressed yourself bluntly but you were expected to never resent such blunt criticism.”
It was well established in the Germany Army, but people differ over how deeply. I’ve heard it suggested that only those who were in during the inter-war period really understood it. You can find evidence, for example, in van Manstein’s Lost Victories. One of the reasons often cited for Germany’s losing the war was Hitler’s interference in day-to-day operations, that is, his not using Auftragstaktik later in the war.
The source I like best is the one I mentioned, van Creveld’s Fighting Power. Incidentally, van Creveld, in The Changing Face of War, doesn’t buy the Hitler excuse. He says that Germany was too small and Europe too large for Germany to have kept their empire for very long, that is, that insurgency would have defeated the Wehrmacht in the end. According to Boyd, it’s a position that Balck also held.
Thanks Chet. So I guess Balck was just speaking generally in regards to Auftragstaktik?
I looked and looked for any specific references to the ‘express yourself bluntly but you were expected to never resent such blunt criticism’ type concept. I was kind of hoping for some specific German phrase and/or incident that encompasses that concept, and I guess Auftragstaktik will do.
Or I could call it Balcking or Unter Kritik. lol
Auftragstaktik is a fantastic concept though and I am thinking of adding it to my Jundism list. It definitely makes a lot of sense.
I know I’ve come across the expressing yourself bluntly idea in literature before WWI. I’d have to go back and look but I think it shows up in Samuel’s Command or Control (http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/3990972-command-or-control) and a kernel of the idea I think can be traced somewhat back to Scharnhorst ( http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/2467215.The_Enlightened_Soldier).
Part of the schooling for General Staff candidates included them discussing how they would handle different scenarios.. Instructors would challenge them by insisting a different approach was better, and the students would be downgraded if they changed their mind to match moreso than giving a bad solution.
I also remember coming across the idea that the Prussians operated on the assumption that if you were in a position of command you were already competent, so criticism didn’t mean you were bad at your job and going to get fired. Can’t remember where that bit came from though.
I’m pretty sure that example and others pointing to open communication being institutionalized in the Prussian Military run from mid-Napoleon on (with some push back after Napoleon was gone once and for all). If anything the dismantling and rapid reassembly of the German Army post WWI would have diluted the idea. At least that’s my take on it.