2011/03/21

More on horizontal cooperation

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This is a quote from chapter V.1 of the book "Blitzkrieg-Legende" about the France campaign 1940:

Am Morgen gelang der endgültige Durchbruch durch die Hügelkette westlich des Ardennenkanals, wo die Franzosen einen letzten Versuch unternommen hatten, den Brückenkopf von Sedan abzuriegeln. Von da an drangen die Panzerverbände fast ungehindert nach Western vor. Inzwischen war der sogenannten "operativen Führungsebene" längst das Heft des Handelns entglitten. Die Panzerwaffe führte sich vielmehr selbst. Bezeichnend hierfür ist eine Episode, die sich [...] an diesem Tag auf dem Marktplatz von Montcornet abspielte. Hier trafen General Guderian und Generalmajor Kempf aufeinander, dessen 6. Panzerdivision eigentlich dem Panzerkorps Reinhardt unterstand. Beide Generale beglückwünschten sich gegenseitig zu ihrem Erfolg, dann begannen sie, die durcheinander geratenen Kolonnen zu entwirren, und verteilten untereinander die Vormarschstraßen für den weiteren Angriff. Dies wäre eigentlich die Aufgabe des Generals v. Kleist gewesen.
Map of the first phase of the Westfeldzug
1940. Montcornet is in the southern part of the red area.

I have only the German edition,
so I guess my translation has to suffice:

The final breakthrough through the ridge-line west of the Ardennes canal succeeded, where the French had for a last time attempted to contain the bridgehead of Sedan. From there the armoured formations advanced almost without resistance westwards. In the meantime, the so-called "operational level of command" had long ago lost control. The armoured forces rather led themselves. Symptomatic for this was an episode which happened on this day on the market place of Montcornet. General Guderian and Major-General Kempf coincidentally met there. Kempf's 6th armoured division was assigned to the armoured corps Reinhardt. Both generals congratulated each other for their success, then they began to disentangle the marching columns and distributed among each other the further routes of advance. This was in actual fact the task of the General v. Kleist [Guderian's superior].

This is a historical example for what I attempted to push more into the spotlight in previous posts already: Less vertical control by superior, more horizontal cooperation. This is obviously totally opposed to the U.S. emphasis on "synchronization" that dominated military thinking in the 90's and helped a lot (together with Air-Land Battle thinking) to create the fetish about information superiority.

Officers with suitable training and thinking do cooperate instead of compete or even attempt a free ride in challenges. The horizontal cooperation happens between the best-informed minds available for coordination. There's no need to inform a higher staff in detail about a fluid situation as for coordination. Few if any plans agreed on in horizontal coordination will be outdated before implementation.

Let's have a theoretical example:
A1 and A2 have a common superior in A. Their opponent is B and the best chance for success is a joint attack at the same time from different directions on B.

Vertical coordination (synchronisation) would require A to know about the positions of A1, A2 and B and to guess the near-future movements of B correctly. It would order an attack at a given time from two given positions on B. B could ruin the whole plan by dodging the whole with movement because the process is slow.

Horizontal cooperation would only require A1 and A2 to understand the situation and to stay in contact till both have manoeuvred into a good position and are ready for attack at the same time. Then they agree to attack immediately to exploit the opportunity. This attack cannot happen too late or too early unless they misunderstood the situation - a circumstance that would affect vertical coordination in the same way.

It's similar to two men carrying heavy furniture up some stairs. A third man giving orders from a distance is rarely even useful. The two have a much better, more direct grasp of the situation and most of the coordination needs to be done by them anyway.


The same principle can be applied to indirect fire support. There's no need to pool long-range fire support under centralised command if it could as well be allocated to individual manoeuvre elements who support simply everyone in their range - including other elements of their own kind. They could have too few indirect fire support for their own needs, and this would force even the least social commanding officers into cooperation and giving support as much as they receive support.


This could be very important in a modern setting, where we lack the force density for establishing and maintaining front lines in most scenarios and could thus not expect that centralised indirect fire support would be protected against raiders by a screen such as a front line.

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No army anywhere seems to emphasise the importance and potential of horizontal cooperation. Even the German army (which is too content with its 19th century Auftragstaktik innovation) merely stresses the importance of staying in contact with neighbours for maintaining situational awareness and avoiding fratricide and gaps. I have read field manuals from eight countries plus many historical ones and none came even close to emphasise horizontal cooperation vs. vertical coordination or even give guidance about the relative strengths and weaknesses.


This is one of the reasons why I consider even the Western military forces to be way behind the potential, in other words: Outdated. This happened before (around 1890-1913) and led to the extreme suffering of the First World War.

S O
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1 comment:

  1. Oddly, I agree.
    I think the best level for "command" is the Brigade, although my view on Brigades is they should be significantly oversized compared to now.
    Anything higher should be a support role, not a command role, creating an intelligence picture, and the logistics framework, and if the situation warrents, creating a general "path" to objectives.

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