There are some striking differences between the German army and the Allies in the way they tried to generate impact. 


The Germans used the following elements to generate impact:

  • They paid much attention to the preparation of the confrontation and they did this up front: as commander you should know the terrain, should know your men and the enemy positions
  • They also invested in the reconnaissance of the enemy line, trying to provoke counter actions so they could get a idea of the strength of the enemy
  • They alway focussed their strength on one particular point of the enemy line, the Schwerpunkt
  • They allocated their units to Kampfgruppen to get the optimal mix of power
  • They invested in speed, that is fast, decentralized decision making, because they knew that the more speed you had, the less mass you need. As they were almost always in a minority speed was a key succes factor
  • They made plans for the follow up, the exploration phase: if the attack is successfull, you should be well prepared for the next move.


The Allies had a different approach:

  • Preparation was mostly done by the staff, far from the frontline (Chateaux generals) and little or no attention in general was paid to reconnaissance
  • They had no focus and attacked on a broad front
  • The speed of the Allies was always slow because of their  centralized decision making

  • But they had more than enough mass: 3 : 1 superiority was accoording to Montgomery the key to success, and the basic reason for the Allied success

  • Continuation was not planned for, so after a break through the front stabilized, giving the Germans the opportunity to retake their positions.


A broad front and slow decesion making

The Allies almost always attacked on a broad front, starting with a massive artillery or aerial bombardment. But: “heavy bombers cannot make buildings simply disappear” and the Germans always left sniper teams behind in the ruins, causing delays for up to 48 hours. Even weak fronts (Ardennes 1944, Rijnland 1945) would hold because the Allied forces were not concentrating their forces. And even if there was a break through, there was no follow up, the German front did not collapse by itself. A good example of this are the cases of Sicily (1943) and Falaise (1944).


The Allies never mastered the German way of fighting battles and the Germans were never afraid of being encircled because of the Allied centralized decision making and long response times. The Allies qualified their own actions as ‘sluggish’ or ‘lacklustre’, and the level of their officers as ‘almost timid on the operational and tactical level’.


For instance in Italy 1944 “The pursuit between Rome and the Arno is misnamed… It was a rapid advance but ‘pursuit’ implies getting on the heels of the Germans. The Germans in this action controlled our pursuit, our rate of advance… The operations between Rome and the Arno were far from a rout. It was a calculated withdrawal”


Read more about these key success factors and German and Allied tactics in my book 'The German Way of War. A lesson in tactical management' published by Pen & Sword.


Unimpressed by the Allies’ lack of urgency, the Germans are able to retreat at a leisurely pace to the new, more northerly
positions of the Gothic line