Semi-Daily Journal Archive

The Blogspot archive of the weblog of J. Bradford DeLong, Professor of Economics and Chair of the PEIS major at U.C. Berkeley, a Research Associate of the National Bureau of Economic Research, and former Deputy Assistant Secretary of the U.S. Treasury.

Friday, June 09, 2006

The Prussian Way of War

Here is something thought provoking:

Consider, if you will, this practically forgotten scene from the pages of German military history:

They came up out of the dark forests, mounted and mobile, driving deep into the flank and rear of their enemy. The shock and surprise of their sudden assault carried all before them. So rapid was the advance that it overtook every attempt by their defenders to form a cohesive position. The attackers were not simply faster than their opponents. Moving in a compact, mobile column, they were also more agile, more flexible, and far more responsive to the commands of their officers.

This great mobile column chopped the bewildered enemy force in front of it into uncoordinated segments, each with little more on its mind than flight. It was a near-perfect marriage between the best available technology, a flexible system of command and control, and officers who understood the possibilities of both. It was war in a new, faster tempo.

And now, a quiz: from whence comes this scene?... the Tannenberg campaign of 1914?... the invasion of France in 1940?... Operation Barbarossa?...

Any of the three would certainly be a good guess, but each would be wrong.... Friedrich Wilhelm I, the "Great Elector" of Brandenburg... winter campaign of 1678-9.... The routed enemy was Swedish, and the mounted force launching the devastating mobile assault and pursuit was actually riding sleighs...

[...]

[T]here is indeed a German way of war and... it had its origins within the Kingdom of Prussia.... Prussian, and later German commanders, sought to maneuver their operational units... in a rapid and daring fashion. The Germans called it Bewegungskreig... the war of movement on the operational level.... Such a vigorous operational posture [required]... an army with an extremely high level of battlefield aggression, an officer corps that tended to launch attacks no matter what the odds, and a flexible system of command that left a great deal of initiative, sometimes too much, in the hands of lower ranking commanders.

Thus the Germans evolved a certain pattern of war making.... Other nations... evolved different patterns. Need to land a larg amphibious force on foreign shores? Call the Americans. Interested in deep strikes and consecutive operations on a vast scale of men and materiel? Study the Red Army in its prime. War as a means of colonial aggrandizement? Look to the British. Levels of firepower large enough to turn the enemy homeland into a parking lot? It's back to the Americans...

This is the beginning of Robert Citino (2005), The German Way of War: From the Thirty Years' War to the Third Reich (Lawrence, KS: University Press of Kansas: 0700614109).

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