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Army Capstone Concept & the Genesis of German WW I...Tactics

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Army Capstone Concept & the Genesis

of German World War One Assault Squad & Infiltration Tactics 

The Historical Linkage

by Dave Shunk


the full article

How German Captain Willy Rohr changed infantry tactics, weapons and doctrine

within the World War One German Army is a remarkable story.  He succeeded in

his task as a result of the German Army's ideas of operational adaptability, mission

command and decentralized authority.  This paper presents by historical example

the basic ideas and inherent power in the Army Capstone Concept based on the German

model.  But first, a few Capstone Concept definitions as a baseline reference....

Operational adaptability requires a mindset based on flexibility of

thought calling for leaders at all levels who are comfortable with collaborative

planning and decentralized execution, have a tolerance for ambiguity, and possess

the ability and willingness to make rapid adjustments according to the situation.

Operational adaptability is essential to developing situational understanding

and seizing, retaining, and exploiting the initiative under a broad range of conditions.

Operational adaptability is also critical to developing the coercive and persuasive

skills the Army will need to assist friends, reassure and protect populations, and

to identify, isolate, and defeat enemies. 5

So how did the Germany Army of World War One use decentralization, mission command,

and operational adaptability to create infiltration tactics and revolutionize infantry

tactics in World War I? The story revolves around a Captain Willy Rohr.


the full article

Dave Shunk is a retired USAF colonel, B-52G pilot, and Desert Storm combat

veteran whose last military assignment was as the B-2 Vice Wing Commander of the

509th Bomb Wing, Whitman AFB, MO. Currently, he is a historical researcher and DA

civilian working in the Army Capabilities Integration Center (ARCIC), Fort Monroe,

Virginia. He has a National Security Strategy MS from the National War College.

About the Author(s)


oldpapajoe (not verified)

Fri, 08/06/2010 - 2:19pm

An interesting, but flawed paper.

The culture of the German army of that era did not attribute (nor would the individual officer of that era ever make claim to) a new tactic or technique to an individual. CPT Gehr was merely an action officer of the General Staff. His duty was to put together a paper of what the field had learned in the stalemate of the Western Front [not the Eastern front, by the way] and what the army might wish to adopt in order to break the situation on the Western Front. We must remember that the General Staff was "the brains" and institutional soul and memory of the army. Only the best and most capable were allowed entry into this agust body; a body whose informal motto was "be more than you seem". [The German General Staff was a higly respected institution within German Society--especially Prussian society--an instituion that we can't fathom in American society; the closest example might be the way we view our Supreme Court members, in the sense that the General Stafff were part of the government but of distinguished ability and training.] Additionally, the German army of that time did not have doctrine in the sense that we have it in the USMC or US Army today. The German army had field service regulations that laid out certain principles, concepts, guide lines, and procedures (some more specific than others). All action was taken based on the situation on the ground, in the spirit of these commonly understood regulations. Initiative was a most prized quality, as was positive action within the spirit of clear and decisively expressed orders from above. As a result, doing nothing was a court martial offense for any officer.

The so-called Storm Trooper tactics were merely a collection of procedures and techniques to help the German army break loose the static nature of the Western Front to enable a return to a war of movement that the German's preferred--nothing more. After the war, the German army kept many of the lessons of the Western Front, but not all. Why? Because Germany's primary threat was in the East--Poland. Yes, believe it or not. The lack of prepared defenses on Germany's eastern frontier mandated a war of movement vice a war of position--as was the case on the Western Front in the Great War. Hans von Seekt makes this point very clear. He stressed that the post-WWI army must take what was useful from the entire experience and not to be dominated by lessons learned from the unique (and probalby not repeated) conditions of the trenches. One idea, however, did come from both German theaters of war: combined arms task forces at the lowest level possible. With this came a cultural change where junior NCOs had to be trained to make independent decisions and to become tacticians; attributes that were expected only of officers in the pre-WWI army. By the late 1930s, American observers of the German army were most impressed by this fact. The senior American military attache found the German army to be extremely well led and flexible and "much dispersed with attachments of all kinds [heavy and light machine guns, light field howitzers, sappers, etc.].

slapout9 (not verified)

Wed, 08/04/2010 - 8:15pm

slapout9: I came away with the idea that the concept was based on decentralized operations and rapid adaptability by small unit leaders, faster than their enemy could react to.

That is the Maneuver Warfare Theory, at least according to the book.

Anonymous (not verified)

Wed, 08/04/2010 - 6:54pm

slapout9: I came away with the idea that the concept was based on decentralized operations and rapid adaptability by small unit leaders, faster than their enemy could react to.

slapout9 (not verified)

Wed, 08/04/2010 - 5:33pm

Sounds like the history of the Maneuver Warfare Theory to me.