von Moltke on Strategy

Moltke famously viewed strategy as a "system of expedients." He was suspicious of rigid, inflexible, and totalizing grand strategies and theories, instead advocating strategy as a series of plug-in points that could be fashioned and molded to fit the situation. He coined the oft-repeated saying that "no plan survives first contact with the enemy" and also designed the first real systemized wargames. The practice of Blue and Red teams (and especially red as the opposing force) was Moltke's doing.

The celebrated German system of "mission orders" was also something that Moltke pushed hard for. He correctly saw that talented subordinates, if properly trained and possessed of the right ethos, could achieve greater results if left to their own devices. Mission orders allowed them to carry out the objective in the manner they saw fit. This stands in stark opposition to the extreme micromanagement that often prevails in the modern era, the worst example of which was President Johnson selecting bombing targets from the Oval Office during the Vietnam war.

above from blog called Rethinking Security

Clausewitz died without completing On War, but despite this his ideas have been widely influential in military theory and have had a strong influence on German military thought specifically. Later Prussian and German generals such as Helmuth Graf von Moltke were clearly influenced by Clausewitz: Moltke's notable statement that "No campaign plan survives first contact with the enemy" is a classic reflection of Clausewitz's insistence on the roles of chance, friction, "fog," uncertainty, and interactivity in war.

above from wikipedia

below from army...


Mission Command

"Victory or defeat in battle changes the situation to such a degree that no human acumen is able to see beyond the first battle. Therefore no plan of operation extends with any certainty beyond the first contact with the main hostile force… The advantage of the situation will never be fully utilized if subordinate commanders wait for orders, it will be generally more advisable to proceed actively and keep the initiative than to wait to the law of the opponent" 

-Helmuth von Moltke the Elder

The Army's philosophy of command is Mission Command; it is the exercise of authority and direction by the commander using mission orders to enable disciplined initiative within the commander's intent to empower agile and adaptive leaders in the conduct of Unified Land Operations.[i] Mission Command was born out of necessity in the 19th Century. The advent of more lethal weapons and the mobilization of large societies, required Prussian corps, division, and brigades to disperse their troops in battle, leaving the senior commanders unable to fully view or control their troops during battle.[ii] As a result, junior leaders were required to use judgment and initiative to act decisively in the absence of detailed orders from commanders. Today, the philosophy of Mission Command is guided by six principles: Build cohesive teams through mutual trust, create shared understanding, provide a clear commander's intent, exercise disciplined initiative, use mission orders, and accept prudent risk. In addition to being a philosophy, Mission Command also refers to the war-fighting function, which encompasses the tasks and systems that enable a commander to practice the art of command. Leading consistently with the philosophy of Mission Command allows units to take advantage of fleeting opportunities to seize, retain, and exploit the initiative in combat.

The most admired Prussian-German soldier of the late nineteenth century, Field Marshal Helmuth Graf von Moltke, the victor of the wars against Austria in 1866 and France in 1867–71, praised Clausewitz even as he resolutely misunderstood him. Moltke, the true father of the mature General Staff system, set the German Army firmly on the path of tactical and operational excellence, although at the expense of strategy. In his own revealing words:

“In fact, strategy affords tactics the means for fighting and the probability of winning by the direction of armies and their meeting at the place of combat. On the other hand, strategy appropriates the success of every engagement and builds upon it: The demands of strategy grow silent in the face of tactical victory and adapt themselves to the newly created situation. Strategy is a system of expedients.”ix -- this is from http://www.eurasiareview.com/02072012-strategic-perspectives-clausewitz-sun-tzu-and-thucydides-analysis/ --- this is called EurAsia View - News & Analysis.

Commanders should ordedr as little as possible - leaving details to subordinate officers

they shoudl take care to limit thier orders to what i spracticable

Moltke was the "incarnation of Clausewitzian theory" - says Hermann Teske

believed in strategy as a "pattern of thought" rather than a series of procedures

Moltke writes in book to left --- "Strategy is a system of expedients... It is the art of acting under pressure of the most difficult conditions. 

Strategy governs the movements of the army for the planned battle; the manner of execution is the province of tactics. The former orders directives, the latter orders. 

"Strategy must keep the means that tactics require in readiness at the proper time and place. 

Strategy reaps the fruits of success of each battle and makes new arrangements based thereon. 

Strategy furnishes tactics with the means for battle... 

Wikipedia:  The General Staff reformed by Moltke was the most effective in Europe, an autonomous institution dedicated solely to the efficient execution of war, unlike in other countries, whose staffs were often fettered by meddling courtiers, parliaments and government officials. On the contrary, the General Staff itself had a powerful effect on Prussian, and later German, politics.[11]


Although these officers subsequently alternated between regimental and staff duties, they could be relied upon to think and act exactly as Moltke had taught them when they became the Chiefs of Staff of major formations. Moltke himself referred to them as the "nervous system" of the Prussian Army. In the victories which the Prussian Army was to gain against Austrian Empire and France, Moltke needed only to issue brief directives to the main formations, leaving the staffs at the subordinate headquarters to implement the details according to the doctrines and methods he had laid down,

. A renewed emphasis was placed on maintaining contact with subordinate and superior commands, so that commanders always were informed of units' locations on the battlefield, reducing the "fog of war" effect. 


following analysis in 1865:

The attack of a position is becoming notably more difficult than its defense. The defensive during the first phase of battle offers a decisive superiority. The task of a skillful offensive will consist of forcing our foe to attack a position chosen by us, and only when casualties, demoralization, and exhaustion have drained his strength will we ourselves take up the tactical offensive.... Our strategy must be offensive, our tactics defensive.

"A favorable situation will never be exploited if commanders wait for orders. The highest commander and the youngest soldier must always be conscious of the fact that omission and inactivity are worse than resorting to the wrong expedient."



Each year, the Prussian Army's top 120 junior officers were selected by competitive examination to attend the Kriegsakademie. The academic standards at this institution were so high that fewer than half the entrants graduated successfully. From this elite, Moltke selected the best twelve for his personal training as General Staff officers. They attended theoretical studies, annual manoeuvres, "war rides" (a system of tactical exercises without troops in the field) under Moltke himself, and war games and map exercises known as Kriegsspiele.[7][8]

Although these officers subsequently alternated between regimental and staff duties, they could be relied upon to think and act exactly as Moltke had taught them when they became the Chiefs of Staff of major formations. Moltke himself referred to them as the "nervous system"