As stated by this British Army Doctrine Publication, an clear chain of command
strengthens integration between formations and units and enhances
unity of effort. Subordinates must be in no doubt as to the command
state within which they are operating, to whom they are responsible
and for what.
The chain of command in the British army at the turn of the 20th century was far from ideal (on which more below), but first a few other key points on the benefits of an effective chain of command.
US Army Regulation 600–20, Army Command Policy (Headquarters, Dept. of the Army, Washington DC, 7 June 2006), Chapter 2.1 gives the 'official' view on Chain of Command:
Commanders are responsible for everything their command does or fails
to do. However, commanders subdivide responsibility and authority and
assign portions of both to various subordinate commanders and staff
members. In this way, a proper degree of responsibility becomes
inherent in each command echelon.
Proper use of the chain of command is vital to the overall
effectiveness of the Army....Effective communication between senior
and subordinate Soldiers within the chain of command is crucial to the
proper functioning of all units. Therefore, Soldiers will use the
chain of command when communicating issues and problems to their
leaders and commanders.
The article The Successful Lieutenant by Captain Christopher J. Courtney in the Military Intelligence Bulletin gives the following advice to Lieutenants, pointing out the need to let those below you in the chain learn how to command. If senior officers are the only ones giving orders, others are being denied the chance to develop as leaders.
Lead Through Your NCOs. You must do everything you can to empower,
support, and resource your platoon sergeant and squad leaders. Let
them execute your orders without excessive guidance and
interference....You should seldom, if ever, give an order directly to
an individual soldier. As a rule of thumb, you give orders to the
platoon sergeant and squad leaders who execute the mission. In
addition, do not let your soldiers jump their chains of command to see
you, except in rare cases, such as equal opportunity or sexual
harassment. Allowing soldiers to jump the chain of command cheats your
NCOs out of the chance to lead and weakens the overall leadership of
The chain of command in the British army up to and including World War I was undermined by social hierarchy, mistrust and a lack of meritocracy, despite the abolition of the Purchase of commissions in the British Army in 1871. On the British military,
For example, during World War I the army chain of command on the
western front was accused of being rigid and unresponsive, in part as
a result of an overweening deference to authority and hierarchy among
The command structure was based on obedience to superiors and
suspicion of subordinates. . . . Inhibitions existed at every level.
Orders were issued at the top and fed down the line; there was little
traffic in the other direction
Citing Niall Ferguson, 'The Pity of War: Explaining World War I'
In an effective chain of command, superiors must demonstrate their trust in subordinates. Breaking that chain by going directly to a subordinate of a subordinate - except in unavoidable circumstances - would be showing a lack of respect and / or confidence.