Warfare 2.0, 1940's Style

Summary:There's some great TalkBack comments on my previous post about WWII German strategy : Justin James for example believes:...The secret of the Wehrmacht's success in the field has much to do with the education of what can be described as their executive and middle management layers.

There's some great TalkBack comments on my previous post about WWII German strategy : Justin James for example believes:

...The secret of the Wehrmacht's success in the field has much to do with the education of what can be described as their executive and middle management layers. For example, sergeants in the German army performed the functions of low level officers in the US army. Those sergeants got their stripes by surviving under fire, not by going through the "right courses". In the business world, the equivalent would be the person promoted through the ranks as opposed to being hired as management fresh out of business school. It's like the movie "Aliens", who do you really want leading you, Sgt. Apone or Lt. Gorman? Another major difference between the leadership is the idea of "leading from the field". Many, many more German staff level officers died in WWII compared to the US army, because their generals and colonels led from the field. Rommel, for example, would typically be on the next hill observing with binoculars and strategizing on the spot, well within artillery range. This is why the timing of D-Day was so critical. Rommel (who was in charge of the coastal defense) was away from the scene due to a family event (his wife's birthday, or maybe she was sick, I forget the exact cause); it was very rare for him to not be there. The mere absense of Rommel was considered to be a major strategic advantage by the Allied forces, and rightfully so. He was a leader who lead his troops all over Africa, with no supply lines, no reinforcements, no supports, beating all winners for quite some time.

The real lesson to be learned here? With the right management, legacy can hold its own quite well.

Rommel, the brilliant German general, was arguably an example of 'invasion 2.0' in that era: widely disliked by the other more conservative generals, his units ran amok throughout the war before Rommel was killed or committed suicide for being associated with the Schwarze Kapelle plot against Hitler.

The Wikipedia entry about Rommel is well worth reading (and editing if you're an expert on this, which I'm not):

During the invasion of France....Rommel's technique of pushing forward boldly, ignoring risks to his flanks and rear and relying on the shock to enemy morale to hinder attacks on his vulnerable flanks, paid large dividends during his rapid march across France. When encountering resistance, Rommel would simply order his tanks forward, all guns blazing, relying on the shock of the sudden assault to force the enemy to surrender. This method offset the disadvantage the German tanks had in terms of armour and low-calibre guns, often causing large formations of enemy heavy tanks to simply give up a fight they would otherwise have had a good chance of winning...

...7. Panzer-Division was later nicknamed Gespenster-Division (the "Ghost Division"), due to the speed and surprise it was consistently able to achieve, to the point that even the German High Command at times lost track of where it was. It also set the record for the longest thrust in one day by tanks up to that point, covering nearly 200 miles (320 km).

As I previously noted, the vast majority of the German forces moved one step at a time with their equipment on a horse and cart; the legacy way of doing things.

Rommel empoyed innovative modern methods: he had written strategy books before the war - 'Infantry Attacks, and had started on 'The Tank in Attack' which are widely admired in military circles years later and were highly innovative and controversial at the time.

Employing lightweight, innovative ways of warfare, his command was able to outmanouver armies much larger than his command though tactical brilliance. This type of thinking began to propagate through the more conservative Heer (Nazi army) due to his success and arguably made WWII a lot tougher to win.

I previously made the analogy with legacy IT thinking and infrastructure as the horsedrawn component. How we employ modern thinking and technologies, as Justin points out in his comments about the German officers getting much more involved in practical experience, to put it in an anodyne way, made a big difference in their effectiveness.

For those horrified by these analogies, Rommel is widely considered to have been a chivalrous and humane military officer, in contrast with many other figures of Nazi Germany, and appears to have attempted to subvert the Nazis from within in the interests of peace.

Topics: CXO


With extensive senior management practical experience, Oliver consults with companies on international digital transformation strategy. Oliver previously ran HP's Global Digital Enterprise Transformation team, managed the Sony PlayStation 'WorldWide Studios' collaboration and workflow environment and has worked with the American Managemen... Full Bio

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