While in a conversation, my friend claimed that German soldiers were given greater flexibility at defying the orders given by the superiors than other armies around the world in both World War, hence their success at many of the battles.

Were they given this flexibility, and if they were, how could one measure the effectiveness of these kinds of tactics? I find it hard to be able to believe one could conclude that flexibility in defying the orders is one of the major reasons for victories.

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    Can we get a source for this claim? Where did your friend see this? A reference would really help. Oct 22, 2017 at 2:20
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    @LarsBosteen Well it was a claim from my friend in a casual conversation, so no notable claim here. But I'm guessing he was referring to what Tom Au has mentioned in his answer (though it isn't quite dramatic as 'defying' the orders of the superior).
    – Hosea
    Oct 22, 2017 at 2:31

2 Answers 2


Yes. The Germans developed the concept of "Auftragstaktik", or "mission tactics", whereby officers and even non-coms were given their missions and objectives, but left to their own devices as to how to achieve those goals, based on their reading of local field conditions. This was in contrast to "top down" Allied tactics, which relied more on logistics and the concentration of man- and fire-power at critical points.

The Allies never did achieve that superiority of force in France, even locally. Meanwhile, the German "opportunism" against basically equal forces, at Sedan and later in the race to the English Channel stood them well, and later led to their having superior forces.

German flexibility also reflected itself in "combined arms," of airpower, armor, artillery, and infantry, with each arm having its own specialized functions; airpower for disrupting, armor for encircling, artillery and infantry for reducing enemy forces, instead of the (early war) Allied model of every arm for every task. This served the Germans well in France, and particularly at the start of the war in Russia. This is what the Allies called the "Blitzkrieg," because it allowed the faster-moving air and armored units to operate deeper inside enemy lines.

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    Important to note that these flexibilities in tactics slowed down before Moscow. And while the allies adapted these tactics partially over time AH himself imposed a kind of reversal in increased micromanagement from the top. Oct 22, 2017 at 12:12

I'm not to sure about both world wars. Certainly not for the better part of the first one. In documentaries I've watched, German military leadership after WW1 did give much flexibility to all ranks, including the lower ones. Given the very small size of the Reichswehr between the wars and using the during WW1 developed storm trooper tactics it was a necessity and an innovation.

This was unique for the German army, as far as I know no other army did it in this time period.

Between the wars only the very best veterans and later most promising recruits were allowed in the Reichswehr. (A certain lance corporal Adolf H. wasn't, for example.) All ranks were trained to replace their immediate commander and the rank above him. For several reasons:

  1. Flexibility on the battlefield
  2. Building up a new cadre for when the Reichswehr would expand

Be aware that the German army from the armistice onwards planned to regain its old size, stature and position. The German army trained (secretly) officers and tactics in the USSR between the wars. The German navy developed (illegally) submarines in Holland and Sweden. Long before this lance corporal H. comes into play. All he actually did was turn the switch from 'covert' to 'full production'.

When that happened, it paid off. Germany reintroduced the draft again in 1935. All existing ranks were bumped up one level. Corporals became sergeants, lieutenants captains, colonels brigadiers, etc. It's very difficult to grow a force of 100.000 man into a force of 3 million, but the Germans did it almost overnight. Not without problems, though. Enough and capable non commissioned officers was always a big problem during WW2.

Over all, the flexibility of the German army was far superior to that of the allies. The Allies won because they out produced Germany in every field. They had far more tanks. More, not better. With the exception of the T 34. Much higher mechanization (most German divisions had horse drawn supply carts), and from mid 1944 total air supremacy. Even so, it took them almost 3 months to fight from the beaches of Normandy to Paris. At a huge cost of life (on both sides). Despite being commanded by a lance corporal making not very sensible decisions, the flexibility of the German army was what it kept going.

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    "Certainly yes" for the first WW also: since Königgrätz this flexibility was employed, since 1870 widely adopted and since 1906 called Auftragstaktik (Führen mit Auftrag). Look at how von Kluck blundered in front of Paris in 1914. Oct 22, 2017 at 18:33
  • The N.V.Ingenieurskantoor voor Scheepsbouv (IvS) is well documented in "Geschichte des deutschen Ubootbaus", by Eberhard Rössler. However, unless I have missed something, Rössler, an authority of the highest caliber, makes no reference to any Swedish connection. While of secondary importance to your point, do you have a reference for this Swedish connection? Nov 14, 2017 at 20:45

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