Sunday, January 28, 2024

American Mission Command vs German Auftragstaktik

When considering the role that command philorophies played in the Battle of France, one must ask if our current concept of mission command matches Germany’s Auftragstaktik?

Taken at face value (commanders specify objective while leaving means up to individuals), mission command is brilliant for skirmishes as performed by the French Maquis and other insurgency forces. The mission goal and timeframe are set by de Gaulle or other distant allied commanders, the maquisards kill the bad guys and break their stuff, while semi-politicians like Jean Moulin endeavored to hold together the non-rural factions (the French Resistance, not the Maquis who operated primarily in rural areas). Given the perhaps romanticized psychology of the Maquis, as well as the necessity for decentralized organization and the faster OODA looping that comes from local control, mission command is a perfect match for them.

Vandergriff (2018) gives a more comprehensive description of Auftragstaktik – instead of focusing on command and control, he describes it primarily as a form of professionalism and cultural philosophy expected of all members of the German Army: “subordinates could be trusted to take the action he thought appropriate, rather than stopping and waiting until contact could be re-established. This aggressive attitude allowed units to take advantage of fleeting opportunities and local successes.”

Vandergriff (2018) goes on to identify three virtues that German officers required: “knowledge, independence, and the joy of taking responsibility.” These virtues are expressed in Innere Führung, which the German Major General Werner Widder (2002) describes as leadership and civic education and is the foundation of the relationship between the individual soldier and society.

Thus, Vandergriff’s virtues not only describe the character of German officers but makes Auftragstaktik a natural corollary instead of a forced doctrine: German professionalism implies mission command, but not necessarily the reverse.

It is interesting to note that while command and control has been official doctrine in the U.S. Army from 1980 (Kiser 2015), a set of corresponding virtues wasn’t released until 2023 in the Air Force’s doctrine on mission command. These virtues - character, competence, capability, cohesion, and capacity (U.S. Air Force, 2023) - show a maturation of U.S. doctrine to something closer to a complete version of Germany’s Auftragstaktik.


Kiser, A. J. (May 2015) “Mission command: The historical roots of mission command in the US Army.” Defense Technical Information Center. Last retrieved on 28 January 2024 from

U.S. Air Force. (14 August 2023). “Air Force doctrine publication 1-1: Mission Command” Retrieved on 28 January 2024 from

Vandergriff, D. E. (21 June 2018). “How the Germans defined Auftragstaktik: What mission command is – and – is not” Small Wars Journal. Retrieved 28 January 2024 from

Widder, W. (2002). “Auftragstaktik and Innere Führung: Trademarks of German leadership” Military Review, September-October 2002. Retrieved on 28 January 2024 from

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