Small Wars Journal

The Exigency for Mission Command: A Comparison of World War II Command Cultures

Tue, 11/04/2014 - 8:32am

The Exigency for Mission Command: A Comparison of World War II Command Cultures

John Case

“Too often commanders of all echelons waited for orders. The rapid advance made the maintenance of communications difficult and resulted in instructions being issued and received based on out of date information. Under such conditions commanders must act on their own responsibility, initiative and judgment. Inactivity is inexcusable.”[i]

MG Geoffrey Keyes, Commander, II Corps

Italy, 1944


The United States Army is working hard to instill the mission command philosophy across the force. Mission command is “critical to our future success in defending the nation in an increasingly complex and uncertain operating environment,”[ii] notes General Martin Dempsey, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. The Army defines mission command as the “exercise of authority and direction by the commander using mission orders to enable disciplined initiative within the commander’s intent to empower agile and adaptive leaders in the conduct of unified land operations.”[iii]

A comparison of World War II German and United States Army command cultures will reveal a chasm in the creativity, leadership, and execution capabilities of the officers involved. It will show that the U.S. Army did not practice mission command holistically in World War II. The culture comparison and cited examples will help underscore the need for rapid adoption of this command philosophy today to better adapt to a world full of conventional and asymmetrical threats, and complex problems. In addition, the author will present recommendations on cultural, educational, and system reforms needed to inculcate mission command into the force and eliminate counterproductive practices.

A Brief History of Mission Command

Mission command traces its roots to the Napoleonic Era. The Prussians, still licking their wounds from twin defeats at Jena and Auerstedt in 1806 by Napoleon’s Grand Armée, observed that the French achieved high operations tempo through the rapid communication of Napoleon’s intent and supporting rationale to junior officers who were free to use their initiative to act in the absence of detailed orders.

Learning from this, the Prussians reformed their army by abolishing the set-piece conduct of battle and replacing it with the notion of “directive command.”[iv] Directive command allowed the commander to issue only general orders outlining his intent, leaving his subordinates to formulate the how.

In 1832, Carl von Clausewitz published his seminal work, On War, a collection of ideas heavily influenced by his experience in the Napoleonic campaigns, notably the idea that war is full of chaos and friction that will undercut previous plans and preparations. This observation was essential in an era where military forces were transitioning from large, singular formations with a solitary purpose to separate formations with different purposes that could maneuver independently and be brought to bear where most needed on the battlefield. As operations became more complex, units were divided, and command became decentralized to accommodate such tactics as double envelopments and flanking attacks. Under these new conditions, forces were too big and geographically dispersed to manage centrally. This required the empowerment of the formation commander to use his own initiative to form a plan of action based on a general order and a thorough understanding of the commander’s intent.

The Prussian army fostered a culture that enabled officers to exercise “independence of mind” and “thinking obedience” all within the context of “bounded initiative,” the later used to prevent an utter free-for-all on the battlefield.[v] We would term this as disciplined initiative today. Interestingly, the Prussian military culture supported initiative on the part of subordinate officers believing that mistakes were preferable to hesitancy in the heat of battle.

Auftragstaktik became the new command philosophy and military historians recognize Field Marshal Helmuth von Moltke as its father.[vi] Originally a derogatory term, auftragstaktik or mission-type tactics, was a direct response to the inability of communications and information technology to match the rapid advances in other areas of warfighting; specifically, maneuver warfare over great expanses of territory.

Von Moltke recognized that he had to steer the concept of bounded initiative in the right direction. To achieve decentralization, von Moltke realized that it would require investing in not only financial and material resources, but in time – time to develop both individuals and organizations. Von Moltke acknowledged that for a junior officer to exercise initiative on the battlefield, he had to understand the commander’s intent, the organization and his role in it, his own capabilities, and the commander and his peers.

Fast-forward to the outset of World War II and we begin to see how the Germans harnessed auftragstaktik to great effect. Restarting after World War I with a 100,000-man army, the Germans were at a crossroads. With auftragstaktik as a foundation, the Germans debated building a series of fortresses to defend Germany or adopting guerrilla tactics, but chose instead to conduct an exhaustive examination of their failed Spring Offensive of 1918 in search of clues. The answer was to mechanize the part of the army tasked with breakthrough and provide it with mobile artillery.[vii] Borrowing on Napoleon’s and Clausewitz’s ideas, schwerpunkt, or center of gravity – the focusing of energy at a decisive point – became the central point of the doctrine known as Blitzkrieg.

In 1933, the German Army produced a new guide to its leadership philosophy called Truppenführung (Troop Leadership) representing the next stage in the maturity of auftragstaktik. Alike Clausewitz, it accepts complexity, uncertainty, rapid change, and stress as the battlefield norm. It defines the qualities demanded of an officer: social competence, integrity, and task competence. With this advancement, the German command and control system reached a new level of refinement.[viii]

In contrast, the U.S. Army did not possess the auftragstaktik-centric command culture of the Germans during World War II. To demonstrate this disparity, the instructions for the invasion of North Africa were the size of a Sears catalog.[ix] In contrast, when the Germans attacked France, the Chief of Staff of Panzergruppe Kleist told his subordinate commanders: "Gentlemen, I demand that your divisions completely cross the German borders, completely cross the Belgian borders and completely cross the River Meuse. I don't care how you do it, that's completely up to you."[x]

The logical question to ask is why, after such early success, did the Wehrmacht ultimately lose the war? A contributing factor to the German defeat was Hitler’s contempt for the principles of auftragstaktik and his attempts to reverse it in practice, particularly on the Eastern Front from 1942 onwards.[xi] The success of auftragstaktik revolves around the principle of trust and Hitler never trusted his generals. As his paranoia grew, so did his interference and micromanagement. Despite this, the main body of the Army continued to use auftragstaktik. It is also important to understand that auftragstaktik is largely tactical and therefore does not guarantee strategic success. Germany’s loss ultimately came down to a war of attrition that took two super powers, the British Empire, and five years of global warfare to achieve.

After the defeat of the German Army, the vanquishing forces came to the realization that the Germans were on to something. As these lessons learned crossed the English Channel and the Atlantic Ocean, the term auftragstaktik slipped into English as mission command.[xii]

Experts have demonstrated that essential principles of mission command – disciplined initiative and clear commander’s intent – appeared in the Army-published Field Service Regulations (FSR) as early as 1905 and were published verbatim in every FSR through to 1949.[xiii] As the FSR morphed into FM 100-5, Operations, significant entries on mission command appear in the 1962 and 1968 versions, but begin to be supplanted in the 1976 manual.

The 1976 version, written after Vietnam and the 1973 Arab-Israeli War, reflected a focus on technology and the concept of “Active Defense.” Active Defense called for a much tighter control of operations and the requirement for commanders to be forward, “where they can see, feel, and control the battle.”[xiv] Overall, the 1976 manual is recognized as a step backwards for mission command.[xv]

The 1982 FM 100-5 is a major milestone forward for mission command with all of the essential elements in place. The central focus of the manual was “AirLand Battle.” AirLand Battle’s four major canons – initiative, commander’s intent, decentralization, and mission orders – are clearly the essence of mission command. Mission command became formal Army doctrine with the 2003 publication of FM 6-0, Mission Command: Command and Control of Army Forces.

U.S. Army adoption of mission command started in earnest after the Cold War. Vietnam proved to be the Army’s modern day version of the Prussians’ Jena and Auerstedt causing some serious soul-searching. To adopt mission command would require important decisions. Would the Army sacrifice certainty for speed, specify minimum objectives, grant freedom of action to junior officers, and be a hands-off headquarters?[xvi]

As the Cold War ebbed, it became clear that NATO would not have to ward off an attack by the Soviet Union across the North German Plain; it had to prepare for something else. Unfortunately, no one could say what that was. Legacy command and control methods were clearly no longer useful and mission command would ultimately replace them.[xvii] NATO has since codified mission command into their doctrine.

Mission Command Today

Mission command is the one of foundations of Unified Land Operations. Military operations are human operations characterized by continuous and shared adapting by all involved. The environment in which the Army conducts these operations is complex, uncertain, and subject to constant change. As such, the Army exercises mission command, which they do through the Mission Command Warfighting Function.

The Mission Command Warfighting Function is a series of mutually supported commander and staff tasks. The commander leads; the staff supports. Mission command systems such as personnel, networks, and other tools, enable the warfighting function leading to an integrated and synchronized Army force. [xviii]

Trust, understanding, clear commander’s intent, disciplined initiative, mission orders, and prudent risk guide mission command. These principles assist the commander and staff in applying creative and skillful exercise of authority through timely decision-making and leadership using systems and procedures to improve the commander’s understanding.

The commander is the central figure in mission command simply because he receives the mission and has the authority and responsibility to act and lead in accomplishing that mission. Successful exercise of mission command depends on the mission command trinity: mutual trust, shared understanding, and purpose. Commanders know that subordinate leaders need to make quick decisions at the point of action. Therefore, they concentrate on the objectives of an operation, the what, and not the how. Just like in auftragstaktik, commanders provide subordinates with their intent, the purpose of the operation, the key tasks, the desired end state, and resources. Subordinates then exercise disciplined initiative to respond to unexpected problems. This creates soldiers prepared to assume missions in the absence of leaders and orders.

The Tenets of Mission Command

Mutual trust is the underpinning of mission command. Commanders who exercise leadership within the guidelines of Army values and leadership principles earn trust over time. Commanders gain trust by what they do on a daily basis, how they make decisions, and how they conduct themselves. Troops will see through staged or occasional displays quickly. Leaders earn trust through shared sacrifice, training, and taking care of soldiers. Subordinates gain trust the same way and by showing competence and loyalty. Trust rids the operations process of micromanagement.[xix]

The biggest challenge in mission command is achieving shared understanding. Leaders must comprehend their operational environment, their operation’s purpose, its problems, and approaches to solving them, and be able to convey this to all through constant collaboration and communication. Shared understanding and purpose form the basis for trust and unity of effort.[xx]

Commanders convey purpose through their intent – a clear and concise statement of the operation’s purpose, key tasks, and a desired military end state. This enables staffs to focus and provides subordinate and supporting commanders latitude in achieving the commander’s intent even in the absence of orders or in disarray. The commander’s intent is nested in his higher commander’s intent and explains the broader reasons for an operation than expressed in the mission statement giving subordinates insight, visibility on constraints, and a sense of why.[xxi]

World War II U.S. Army Command Culture

American officers in World War II were generally the products of three institutions: United States Military Academy at West Point, the Command and General Staff School, and the often-overlooked Infantry School. Only a minority of American World War II officers, about 1.5%, graduated from West Point, but they later constituted the majority (74%) in the highest ranks and most important positions.[xxii]

The West Point student spent on average 75% of his time studying engineering, mathematics, and the sciences. The curriculum had changed little from the time of West Point’s conception in 1802, when the Army designed it to create engineering officers skilled in the construction of gun emplacements and fortresses. The program of study made sense at the time, but as warfare changed requiring different types of officers, West Point faculty and administration held firm in refusing to modify the syllabus. Such notables as Douglas MacArthur and Theodore Roosevelt attempted change, but the academic program remained virtually untouched until 1946 when the faculty finally added military history.

The engineering-based curriculum made it very difficult for students not adept in math and science. West Point turned away many good potential officers because they struggled in these subjects. Further weakening the program was a lack of leadership, tactics, and weapons training. Antiquated courses in horsemanship and training on outdated weapons were the norm. Faculty used summer camps to teach dancing, parading, and swimming, graduating students with no discernible ability to meet Army standards for weapons qualification in small arms and having no exposure to larger weaponry and equipment.[xxiii]

It is little wonder that complaints arose during World War I as West Point graduates had “difficulties” with “resourcefulness, initiative, and adaptability to new ideas.”[xxiv] There was also a chorus of complaints around graduates’ “leadership capabilities and humane treatment of men.”[xxv] The latter a direct result of the brutal, senseless hazing and humiliation bestowed upon the cadets by upperclassmen and condoned by the administration.

After graduating from West Point and becoming commissioned as second lieutenants, junior officers went off to their first and subsequent assignments hoping for the chance to “punch their tickets” at the Command and General Staff School (CGSS) at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas. Oddly, the army designed CGSS to teach staff skills for higher-level units, yet the bulk of its students were first lieutenants who should have been off commanding platoons. The school’s low-level instruction, which included reading aloud, recitations, and memorization requirements, soon earned it the moniker “kindergarten.”[xxvi]

Senior American officers visited German military schools occasionally under the auspices of the 1919 Versailles Treaty. One of the many techniques adopted by these schools was the use of war-gaming. Eben Smith, an early visionary instructor at CGSS, allowed his students to use war-gaming, albeit a watered down version. German students “fought” their problems fully to include changes of assignments and tactical surprises. American students usually war-gamed to the point when main forces made contact. The mindset created by this practice would have serious repercussions later.

The Infantry School at Fort Benning, Georgia, was a different matter altogether. Originally designed as a steppingstone to CGSS, the Infantry School soon outpaced it. Young officers leaving West Point without tactical knowledge and weapons competency would go on to lead platoons, and in some cases companies, excelling in spit-and-polish exercises, but failing elsewhere. Labeled the “heart and the brain of the infantry,”[xxvii] the Infantry School provided the desperately needed weapons and tactics training for company, battalion, and regimental units.

Initially encumbered with excessive paperwork, map exercises instead of field problems, and an overly structured environment, George C. Marshall would soon transform the school based on the Army’s experience in World War I. Former students praised the school in their papers and words. Even with this however, American officers found themselves four to eight years behind their German counterparts.

The majority of World War II senior U.S. Army commanders graduated from West Point and attended GCSS. One-hundred-and-fifty attended the Infantry School and another fifty were on staff.[xxviii] These experiences undoubtedly shaped their abilities and ultimately determined their performance in World War II.

World War II Germany Army Command Culture

To be a German officer, you first had to be from the Offizier fähigen Schichten – the officer-capable class. These were the sons of the nobility and the upper classes. Others not in these social strata could fulfill their military dream in one of the technical arms such as artillery. As the demand for officers grew after World War I, more young officers came from the ranks of the “commoners.” About half of the German officers on the eve of World War II were from the officer-capable class.

Serious military education for young officer aspirants began at the Kadettenschulen, or cadet schools. German boys as early as ten could attend preparatory schools known as Voranstalten to determine if the military life was right for them. After three years, students from the Voranstalten, or other equivalent civilian schools, could attend the Hauptkadettenanstalt, or HKA, where they could earn the rank of ensign and on rare occasion, be commissioned as a lieutenant. For most, it was not until they reached their units after graduation that senior leaders decided on who was commissioned.

Class notwithstanding, the German student had a superior education at this point in his life compared to his American counterpart. The German student needed a general university entrance degree to attend officer training, which far outweighed the American student with his high school education. Furthermore, many of the topics offered at West Point were on the entrance exam to the HKA.[xxix]

Contrary to American military instructors, the Germans took an active role in modernizing the curriculum at these schools. Memorization and antiquated subjects such as Greek and Latin where superseded by modern languages and geography. World War II French and American soldiers were often astonished when their enemy spoke their languages fluently.

Instructors treated youngsters at the Kadettenschulen like young adults and addressed them in a respectful tone. When some got in trouble, faculty was lenient and dealt with them appropriately for their age. In addition, the school assigned advisors to help them navigate their new environment. Importantly, faculty discouraged hazing and organized students into moral classes where exemplary behavior far outweighed one’s age or class. Superintendents and senior officers chose to read and interact with their charges rather than remaining aloof, and trusted their students with leaves and vacations unlike their West Point counterparts.

Cadets graduating from the Kadettenschulen got their grades based on a complicated system that measured their character, leadership capability, and academic performance. Cadets struggling with foreign language, but excelling in leadership, would still be eligible for, or in some case promoted above, contemporaries because the school was graduating military officers not academics. Most importantly, officers had to display kämpferisches Wesen – a fighting spirit, an offensive carriage, and the passion of leading from the front with little fear of dying.

Pre-war American observers failed to understand the importance of this upfront leadership attribute. German units when provided with this kind of leadership often succeeded at great odds. It was too late in the war when American intelligence officers finally recognize this fact. One report characterized German small unit leadership as “a father and son relationship” between the officers and men in the Wehrmacht highlighting the strong leadership capabilities of the junior officers. Often, the report noted in 1944, the only remaining company-level officer still managed to fight his unit with efficiency and ferocity.[xxx] This mindset resulted in catastrophic losses of German junior officers and additionally, ten times the number of German general officers died in battle than their American complements.[xxxi]

Examples from World War II

One of the three key elements of mission command is shared understanding. The 1943 Battle of Kasserine Pass is a classic example. MG Lloyd Fredendall was the II Corps commander in charge of the U.S. advance into Tunisia. Fredendall was inclined to make up his own code words using puerile phrases such a “walking boys” to mean infantry and “pop guns” to mean artillery.[xxxii] Instead of using standard military map grid-based locations, he would use slang such as “move north from the place that begins with C.” His messages to subordinate commanders in the field, designed to confuse potential enemy listeners, had the same unfortunate effect on his commanders.

Fredendall’s failure to understand the operational environment, his remoteness from the front (some 70 miles away buried in a subterranean headquarters), and general mistrust of reports from the field lead to a disaster at Kasserine Pass in the first major U.S. confrontation with Rommel’s Afrika Korps. Fredendall violated all of the mission command trinity tenets with his actions in North Africa.

The Battle of the Huertgen Forest was one of the bloodiest and most disastrous campaigns the U. S. Army conducted in the Second World War. Coming out of a four-week rest camp, MG Norman Cota, Commanding General of the 28th Infantry Division, began moving his forces north to relieve the 9th Infantry Division. Shortly thereafter, MG Cota received an operations order for a three-prong attack: an entire regiment would assault Huertgen to the north; a second regiment would attack and capture Schmidt in the center; and a third regiment would attack south towards Rafflesbrand. Cota was shocked. The order was far too directive and detailed and was basically the same failed plan that had been given to the 9th Infantry Division earlier.[xxxiii]

Many things conspired to make this operation a disaster – poor weather, inexperienced junior officers, poor use of armor – but the fundamental problem was the operations order and its restrictive nature that robbed the division commander and his subordinate commanders the ability to use discipline initiative. Generals Hodges and Gerow, the Army and Corps commanders respectively, refused to listen to Cota’s objections and trust in him. Their actions in ordering the three regiment attack (which ultimately isolated the regiments) robbed Cota of unity of command and violated no less than five of the nine principles of war.

In contrast, the German Army used mission command to great effect witnessed by these straightforward orders issued by Field Marshal Kesselring in June 1944 during the Italian Campaign. Kesselring was ordering the withdrawal to the north of Rome of the Fourteenth and Tenth Armies, which had fought along the Gustav Line and were out of balance, tired, and in some cases, too far forward. There was also the imminent danger of the Allies exploiting their recent breakout successes at Anzio and Cassino.

To reorganize the Fourteenth Army in order to close a gap created by the withdrawal of the German Tenth Army, Kesselring gave this order: “Withdrawal fighting, bring into the line of battle from the rear and from the flanks the reserves already on the march southwards, close gaps between the various units, and build up the internal flanks of the units themselves…this phase, however, should not go on until the Line of the Apennines (the Gothic Line) has been reached but, after the major formations in crisis have been re-ordered, halt and concentrate in defensive positions, as far south as possible…”[xxxiv]

German commanders using this well-designed order and the tents of auftragstaktik were able to withdraw in orderly fashion north of Rome to form the Trasimene Line, thus closing off their exposed flanks and eliminating the danger of encirclement. This was a difficult operation made easier by mutual trust and clear understanding of the commander’s intent. With this, the Fourteenth Army Commander General Joachim Lemelsen, was able to withdraw his troops and close the gap.


Some say the U.S. Army will never be able to use Auftragstaktik as a basis for its system of command. Robert Citano in, The German Way of War, claims that, “…the Prussian system of subordinates who possessed a high degree, if not absolute, operational independence grew out of a different social and historical milieu. Soldiers in the U.S. Army are citizens, with the same rights as the officer, and he will never have the right to use them independently in the manner of the Prussian field marshal.”[xxxv] He continues by saying, ”Moreover, the contemporary state of the U.S. Army, with its interplay of highly complex weapons systems and communications technology, offers little opportunity for the independence of division, corps, or army commanders.”[xxxvi]

Although clearly German and American World War II officers were from different cultures and class orderings, there are ways to adopt mission command for contemporary junior officers that will pay benefits over time. First, we need to stop treating junior officers as liabilities. Senior officers should embrace the responsibility for training and developing junior officers. Yet too often, Army culture gives junior leaders short shrift and makes them the butt of jokes. To expect platoon sergeants to train them is unfair as sergeants have enough to do training their own soldiers plus maintaining their own ever-increasing educational demands.

Second, treat junior officers with respect. Throughout a German student’s military education, instructors treated them with respect and dignity. Banned in German schools, officials should ban hazing as pointless and denigrating in all U.S. military schools, public or private. Enabling bullies and substandard officer candidates to abuse younger students simply based on class standing and tradition is ludicrous. Hazing almost cost the U.S. Army two of its greatest generals: Matthew Ridgeway and George C. Marshall.[xxxvii] This act has done untold damage and certainly has lost the Army other potential greats due to this arcane practice.

Third, clearly separate people-centric mission command philosophy from mission command enablers such as Command Post of the Future and the Network, that is the technology used to connect and enhance human networks to achieve a desired objective.[xxxviii] According to the Army Mission Command Strategy, “People, rather than technology, systems or processes, are the center of MC [Mission Command].”[xxxix] As Dr. Stephen Bungay says, “Mission command is a conception of command which unsentimentally places human beings at its centre. It does so because the most sophisticatedly over-engineered product of natural selection, the human mind, is still the best instrument for maintaining rationality in chaotic conditions.  The main threat to mission command is the belief that technology will render it redundant by allowing command to be supplanted by control.”[xl] BG Charles Flynn states it clearly as well, “As war is an inherently human endeavor, imbued with all the confusion and complexity these actions entail, we cannot allow an overly technical focus to pervade how we conduct mission command – let alone how we provide leadership to our units in the field.”[xli]

Fourth, we need to further the use of Outcomes-Based Training and Education (OBT&E). OBT&E can best be described as the intersection of education and training. The area at which they overlap is known as development – thinking to determine what to do and how to do it based on new and changing situations.[xlii] OBT&E looks for results. Like mission orders or mission tactics executed with minimal oversight from higher headquarters, it puts a greater burden of professionalism on the shoulders of the student, with guidance from the instructor.

Traditional “input-based” educational approaches concentrate on tasks, conditions, and standards with performance measures usually in the form of a “go/no go” checklist. OBT&E is outcomes-based and would not restrict the student in terms of the methods or techniques used to achieve success other than their appropriateness to the current situation and the higher commander’s intent. This technique supports complex problem solving and encourages critical thinking, just the mindset needed for successful mission command.

Fifth, the Army needs to resolutely and permanently move away from the managerial approach as it pertains to operations. The managerial approach is characterized by centralization, standardization, and detailed planning aspiring for maximum efficiency and certainty.[xliii] These principles clearly contradict mission command.

It will take time for the Army to cast off the vestiges of its managerial methodology. As the Army became professionalized after the 1898 Spanish-American War and Elihu Root’s reforms of 1903, military schools were encouraged to adopt contemporary industrial management ideas. The Army also adopted the French general staff system thus putting all staff sections (G1-G5) under the Chief of Staff – predominantly a manager – who coordinates and supervises the assistant chiefs of staff. Contrastingly, German staff structure subordinates all activities to operational planning making the operations officer first among equals, demonstrating the German emphasis on combat and operational planning.[xliv]

Marshall’s approach during World War II saw the patterning of many army practices after American business, as did Robert McNamara’s extreme application of corporate practices did to the Vietnam-era army. These trends dominated tactical and operational command and leadership driving the upsurge in communications units to deal with the massive amounts of information required.[xlv] And this focus on centralization and managerial command took the Army to an increasing dependency on superior firepower, which ultimately was used as a substitute for directing troops and using initiative.


Mission command has both procedural and cultural implications. Adopting procedural changes will be the easy part; it is the cultural dimension that will be more difficult to obtain. According to Alan Wilkins, organizations usually attempt to influence cultural change through one of the following: a piecemeal imitation of a successful organization; importation of a new culture; or fostering of a revolution.[xlvi] Ultimately, a revolution will be necessary that shakes up the old traditions and displaces them with new ideas practiced by new thinkers. If any organization can effect transformation, it is the U.S. Army as witnessed by cultural revolutions before World War II and after Vietnam.

After the analysis of the last thirteen years of war is complete, it may spawn the needed revolution to adopt mission command holistically. The Army needs to ensure that the mission command successes of that war are shared throughout the force. If successes are not touted, it gives the naysayers the opportunity to resist change.

End Notes

[i] Memorandum, Headquarters II Corps, 16 June 1944, subject: Lessons Learned.

[ii] Martin E. Dempsey, “Mission Command White Paper,” (Washington, DC: Joint Chiefs of Staff, 2012),, accessed August 9, 2013.

[iii] Department of the Army, ADP 6-0, C1 Mission Command, (Washington, DC: Army Publishing Directorate, 2012), 1.

[iv] Keith G. Stewart, “The Evolution of Command Approach,” (Toronto, Canada: Defence Research and Development Canada, 2010),, accessed August 8, 2013.

[v] Ibid.

[vi] Ibid.

[vii] Stephen Bungay, “The Road to Mission Command: The Genesis of a Command Philosophy,” British Army Review, 137, (Summer 2005): 6.

[viii] Ibid., 7.

[ix] Thomas E. Ricks, “An elusive command philosophy and a different command culture,” The Best Defense, September 9, 2011, accessed August 10, 2013,


[x] Ibid.

[xi] Bungay, “The Road to Mission Command,” 8.

[xii] Ibid.

[xiii] Clinton J. Ancker, III, “The Evolution of Mission Command in U.S. Army Doctrine 1905 to the Present,” Military Review XCIII, no. 2 (March-April 2013): 43.

[xiv] Department of the Army, FM 100-5, Operations, (Washington, DC: Army Publishing Directorate, 1976), 3-15.

[xv] Ancker, “The Evolution of Mission Command in U.S. Army Doctrine 1905 to the Present,” 47.

[xvi] Ibid., 9.

[xvii] Bungay, “The Road to Mission Command,” 10.

[xviii] Department of the Army, ADP 6-0, C1 Mission Command, iv.

[xix] Ibid., 2-3.

[xx] Ibid., 3.

[xxi] Ibid., 3-4

[xxii] Jörg Muth, Command Culture: Officer Education in the U.S. Army and the German Armed Forces, 1901-1940, and the Consequences for World War II, (Denton, TX: University of North Texas Press, 2011), 43.

[xxiii] Ibid., 77.

[xxiv] Ibid., 81.

[xxv] Ibid.

[xxvi] Ibid., 115.

[xxvii] Ibid., 138.

[xxviii] Ibid., 147.

[xxix] Ibid., 86.

[xxx] Ibid., 99.

[xxxi] Ibid., 100.

[xxxii] Rick Atkinson, An Army at Dawn: The War in North Africa, 1942-1943 (New York: Henry Holt and Company, 2002), 304.

[xxxiii] Thomas G. Bradbeer, “Major General Cota and the Battle of the Huertgen Forest: A Failure of Battle Command?” accessed January 16, 2014,

[xxxiv] Gerhard Muhm, “German Tactics  in the Italian Campaign,” L’,

gerhardmuhm2.htm (accessed January 12, 2014).

[xxxv] Robert M. Citino, The German Way of War: From the Thirty Years’ War to the Third Reich (Lawrence, KS: University Press of Kansas, 2005), 310.

[xxxvi] Ibid.

[xxxvii] Muth, Command Culture, 56.

[xxxviii] Charles A. Flynn, “Setting an Expeditionary Posture Through Mission Command,” Small Wars Journal Blog, April 25, 2012, accessed January 12, 2014,

[xxxix] Mission Command Center of Excellence, “U.S. Army Mission Command Strategy FY 13-19,” (Fort Leavenworth, KS: U.S. Army Combined Arms Center, 2013), 9.

[xl] Bungay, “The Road to Mission Command,” 10.

[xli] Flynn, “Setting an Expeditionary Posture Through Mission Command.”

[xlii] Chad R. Foster, “The Case for Outcomes-Based Training and Education,” Armor CXVIII, no. 6, (November-December 2009): 22, accessed January 13, 2014,

[xliii] Eitan Shamir, “The Long and Winding Road: The U.S. Army Managerial Approach to Command and the Adoption of Mission Command (Auftragstaktik),” The Journal of Strategic Studies 33, no. 5 (October 2010): 1.

[xliv] Ibid., 5.

[xlv] Ibid., 7.

[xlvi] Alan L. Wilkins, Developing Corporate Character: How to Successfully Change an Organization Without Destroying It (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 1989), 7 - 19.


About the Author(s)

Colonel John Case is an Army Reservist who currently commands 1st Brigade, Gulf Division, 75th Training Command at Fort Jackson, SC. Case previously served as Functional Team Chief with the 353d Civil Affairs Command, JCMOTF Liaison Officer with Special Operations Command-Joint Forces Command, and as Commander of the 415th Civil Affairs Battalion. In his civilian life, he is the North America Support Manager for AVEVA Inc., Wilmington, DE.


Scott Kinner

Tue, 11/04/2014 - 11:15am

I have to say, "yes, but..."

The importance of mission command is solid, and the recommendations are almost timeliness in their centrality to what all militaries should strive to achieve. But I think the historical record provides a more mixed bag regarding German and American performance in World War least one that defies easy categorization into "the Germans did mission command well" and "the Americans did mission command by exception."

The history of the European Theater is far more nuanced, especially at the tactical level. Examples demonstrate that the Wehrmacht was hardly a scion of mission command effectiveness, while American draftees proved far more innovative and adaptable than popular lore gives them credit.

Further, the mistakes the American Army's first forays in North Africa can not be perfectly extrapolated across the rest of the war against Germany. It also must be acknowledged that German strategic and operational decisions did not face the limitations of coalition warfare. The Allied march across Europe had far more to do with the sensitivities of countries than they did with the most efficient use of combat power.

One cannot overstate the importance of mission command (a recent brief from the IDF about Operation Protective Edge demonstrated that leaders at all levels are still expected to be forward, at the point of friction). But we ought to be careful about juxtapositions that posit a Position A or a Position B.


Tue, 11/04/2014 - 10:27am

I found the paper from Col. Case to be excellent. It seems to sum up the dissatisfaction that has festered since The Vietnam/McNamara disaster. It offers hope that more lessons can yet be learned. However, note that the current civilian leadership in the US has again abandoned the learned lessons. Targets are again being selected and approved at the White House With days or weeks of delay inserted. Again, military leadership is ignored and decisions based more on election politics or ideology than those old lessons.

Thank you Col. Case