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Mission Command - 1st Battle of the Marne

Autor:   •  July 16, 2017  •  Research Paper  •  986 Words (4 Pages)  •  279 Views

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Mission Command- 1st Battle of the Marne

CoS Helmuth von Moltke

The assassination Archduke Ferdinand would serve as the spark that ignited the First World War between Germany/Austria-Hungary and the allies consisting of France, Great Britain, Russia, and later the United States. The first Battle of the Marne was a bloody week of combat that resulted in a stalemate between France and Germany. The two countries would remain locked in a crippling battle of trench warfare for the next four years. CoS von Moltke’s failure to take Paris and crush the French forces as outlined in The Schlieffen Plan would cause the German military to wage war on two fronts for the duration of World War I. Von Moltke lacked the ability to be agile in thought and this ultimately led to his failure to lead, direct, and assess. Because he never had a clear understanding of the plan in which he was implementing, he was incapable of visualizing or describing effectively. His failure to use principles such as disciplined initiative and prudent risk kept him from striking that balance between the art of command and the science of control outlined in mission command.  

Helmuth von Moltke “the Younger” was the nephew of Count Moltke and served as his personal adjutant while his uncle was Chief of General Staff. Following this assignment, he would serve in several staff positions to high-ranking officials within the German military, including aide de camp to Kaiser Wilhelm II and Deputy to Chief of General Staff von Schlieffen. Kaiser Wilhelm II selected him to succeed von Schlieffen as CoS despite Moltke’s admission that he did not believe he was the best person for the job.1


The Schlieffen Plan was a military offensive plan where the German Army would take advantage of Russia not being able to mobilize their forces in a timely matter. It was dependent on French forces being so eager to take back the Alsace-Lorraine Region that they would over extend their supply lines and not push past the Rhine River. The German Armies would sweep behind the French by invading from the north through Belgium and the Netherlands taking Paris and cutting supplies and reserves off from the overextended French lines. This plan depended almost entirely on the audacity and tempo of the German Armies. Schlieffen knew that to be successful the commanders would have to accept prudent risk, “Such risks require iron nerve on the part of the Plans’ executor.”2 While Moltke was an intelligent man, his tentative demeanor caused him to revise the plan to err on the side of caution and his methodical thought process would spell certain doom during the critical days of the battle. Because Moltke never fully grasped the context of his situation, it was impossible for him to develop the understanding of the operational environment necessary to be successful in his campaign.

Because of the lack of understanding, it is easy to see where Moltke fails to visualize and describe. He simply lacked the combat experience to execute the original plan as intended. His desired end state is constantly changing due to indecisiveness and the incorrectly perceived weakness on the left side of his line. He shifts his forces left and fails to capture Paris and cut the French supply lines previously discussed as culminating points of the Schlieffen Plan. Moltke’s failure to understand his problem and visualize the original end state makes it impossible to describe the key elements such as decisive, shaping, and sustaining operations. His subordinate commanders simply exercised their own initiative in the absence of clear and concise commander’s intent.


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