In the vision of the German army as laid down in the concept of Auftragstaktik, officers and their men had to develop a maximum amount of their own initiative in order to be able to respond to the fast moving battlefield. This made the necessary demands on the leadershipstyle and the officers' corps.


Criteria for officers

Officers and non-commissioned officers alike were expected that they

  • could motivate their men
  • create a sense of trust and security in the unit
  • were able to make / socialize the men to a team (to form a Kampfgemeinschaft), to enter into a dialogue with and get connected with their entrusted men
  • were authentic in their attitude and showed authentic interest in their men
  • were responsible for the personal and professional development of the individual soldier
  • could connect their men on the 'why' (the mission), not just on the 'what' and 'how' 
  • explore in person the battlefield and enemy positions
  • had the ability to quickly analyze complex situations, formulate answeres and act accordingly
  • had the discipline to go through subjects from start to finish
  • take the initiative
  • could communicate efficiently
  • could make their team think and act unambiguously.

These requirements played a important role during recruitment and training and were the criteria for promotion. Personal qualities - a good character and strong will - were one of the most important criteria for becoming an officer.



Officers were trained at the Kriegsakademie and the Kriegsakademie did not provide 'school solutions', everyone could contribute his idea for the solution of a specific tactical situation, creativity was stimulated. This connected to the reality of the battlefield where nothing goes conform the plan and sudden shifts or incidents are likely to occur. Playing wargames, students were tested for flexibility in thinking and leadership, a free exchange of ideas was key. The cadets were also taught not to follow orders 'when justified by honor and circumstances'.


The Germans found good personal relationships and an atmosphere of openness and trust within the vertical hierarchy of great importance. An important reason was that through open communication the higher echelons could keep an eye on the functioning of the various units and their commanders down the line. 


The attention given to the position of (non commissioned) officers and the relationship with their men, made that a American study in which more than 10,000 prisioners of war were interviewd, concluded that "almost all non-commissioned officers and officiers at the level of the company during the campaign in West- Europe were considered brave, efficient and compassionate by the German soldier". A better compliment is hardly conceivable.


You can read more about this subject in the cases Rommel (on leadership)  and Guderian (a day in the life of).


American Army

  • The American army had no common view of the role of officers and the way in which they had to be trained or what the 'end product' should ultimately be, each institute (Westpoint. Fort Leavenworth et cetera) filled in its curriculum in its own way
  • The Americans were insprired by the German system but there were serious misinterpretations, especially of the training system: the Americans supposed that the German created a officers caste (a lasting misinterpretation: see movies and documentaries)
  • The American officers' caste system thus created caused serious problems between officers and men, described by social studies after the war as 'a yawning social chasm'
  • Cadets had to learn the theory and the formulated answers for tactical problems by heart, they had been taught that the solution of a tactical problem could be found in the manual of the training, the school solution was the norm, there was no room for discussion or own ideas

British Army

  • In general: the British army had 'an excess of bravery and a shortage of brains' (Air Marshall Tedder)
  • The British class system was clearly recognizable reproduced in the structure and culture of the army and the position of officers
  • The British command concept (if any) was strictly hierarchical, rigidity was the guideline
  • British officers were  less wll trained than their German counterparts, the British officer generally functioned at the level of the German non-commissioned officer (!)
  • The loss of their officer decaptitated units, stopped them in their tracks, because the men did not know what to do and waited for fresh orders
  • The lack of adequate training meant that the  British were  forced to fall back on rigid, linear formations, which attacked enemy positions in consecutive waves not only in the First, but also often in the Second World War

Beeing up front and leading up front was the norm in het Prussian/German army. Here we see Rommel with the men of  2. Abteilung Flakregiment 33 in 1942, Generalleutnant Walther Hörnlein following the advance of his forward units standing on the hood of his Sd.Kfz 251 during one of the first days of Fall Blau, the German summer offensive of 1942 and Guderian in France in 1940. In the words of Patton: "For a commander there is no substitute to his own eyes”.