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Command or Control?: Command, Training and Tactics in the British and German Armies, 1888-1918 / Edition 1

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Statistical analysis in the 1970s by Colonel Trevor Dupuy of battles in the First World War demonstrated that the German Army enjoyed a consistent 20 per cent superiority in combat effectiveness over the British Army during that war, a superiority that had been asserted in the 1930s by Captain Graeme Wynne. In attempting to explain that advantage, this book follows the theory that such combat superiority can be understood best by means of a comparative study of the armies concerned, proposing that the German Army's superiority was due as much to poor performance by the British Army as to its own high performance. The book also suggests that the key difference between the two armies at this time was one of philosophy. The German Army saw combat as inherently chaotic: to achieve high combat effectiveness it was necessary to decentralise command, ensure a high standard of individual combat skill and adopt flexible tactical systems. The British Army, however, believed combat to be inherently structured: combat effectiveness was deemed to lie in the maintenance of order and symmetry, through centralised decision-making, training focused on developing unthinking obedience and the use of rigid tactics. An examination of the General Staff systems, the development of minor tactics and the evolution of defensive doctrines in both armies tests these hypotheses, while case studies of the battles of Thiepval and St Quentin reveal that both forces contained elements that supported the contrary philosophy to the majority. In the German Army, there was continual rear-guard action against flexibility, with the General Staff itself becoming increasingly narrow in outlook. In the British Army, several attempts were made to adopt German practices, but misunderstanding and opposition distorted these, as when the system of directive control itself was converted into that of umpiring.
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Editorial Reviews

Investigates why the German army was consistently 20% more combat effective than the British during World War I, and finds the reason in a key difference in philosophy. The Germans considered combat essentially chaotic and so decentralized command, counted on high individual combat skill, and adopted flexible tactical systems. The British saw combat as structured and so tried to maintain order and symmetry through centralized decision making, and counted on mindless obedience from the troops and rigid tactics. Concludes that the British army was weak rather than the German being strong. Distributed by ISBS. Annotation c. Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780714642147
  • Publisher: Taylor & Francis
  • Publication date: 2/28/1996
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 340
  • Sales rank: 566,994
  • Product dimensions: 5.90 (w) x 8.90 (h) x 1.00 (d)

Table of Contents

List of Maps
Introduction 1
1 Directive Command and the German General Staff 7
2 The British General Staff and Umpiring 34
3 From Stosstaktik to Stosstrupptaktik 61
4 Restrictive Control and Timetable Tactics 94
5 The Battle of Thiepval, 1 July 1916 124
6 The Evolution of Elastic Defence 158
7 'Blob' Defence 198
8 The Battle of St Quentin, 21 March 1918 230
9 Conclusion 270
Notes 286
Bibliography 316
Index 334
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