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Thursday, March 02, 2006

A failure of command

Kasserine Pass

Lloyd Fredendall

The judgment of historians has not been kind. Charles MacDonald described him as a "man of bombast and bravado in speech and manner [who] failed to live up to the image he tried to create." Carlo D'Este is even more critical, calling him "one of the most inept senior officers to hold a high command during World War II." Personal assessment so long after the fact, however, is not as important as answering the question: what can we learn from his failures?

First, a commander must understand the mission. Fredendall failed to realize that his job was not only to wage war, but also to fight as part of a coalition of nations. His commander was obsessed with inter-allied cooperation and Fredendall's open disdain was a direct challenge. This was probably the most important factor in the decision to relieve him.

Second, he violated several basic principles of command embodied in American doctrine, the most important of which is that once the commander has assigned a mission, he does not interfere with his subordinates and allows them full authority-and responsibility-to complete it. On a number of occasions, Fredendall issued orders to subordinates of his division commanders and instructed them to report back directly to him.

Third, he ignored the profound benefit that comes from the leader's appearance of personal bravery. Since Caesar walked the battlefield in a red cloak so all could see him risking death with his men, every great leader has understood this moral imperative. The scandal of his command post fundamentally diminished Fredendall's stature in the eyes of every man who saw or heard about it.

Fourth, he forgot that self-control is an absolute prerequisite for command. Allowing personal feelings to dictate behavior in a situation where many diverse personalities are thrown together in a situation of intense stress is a prescription for disaster. This is especially crucial when dealing with subordinates. Fredendall's relationship with Orlando Ward, a man who continued to serve him loyally and honorably in spite of his awful treatment, should be examined carefully by every student of war.

Finally, a commander cannot make fundamental tactical mistakes in the field and expect to survive. The list of violations is long. Fredendall ordered the deployment of units unable to support each other; he dispersed his armored forces, leaving him without a mobile reserve which he had been ordered to maintain; he failed to control the high ground and exerted almost no control over his tactical air support; he rarely visited the front to see the ground and setting for himself. Any one of these could have led to a painful result; together they established the preconditions for an ignominious defeat.

There is an apocryphal story that German General Staff Chief von Moltke once said that it takes the loss of a full division to train a major general. As brutal and cynical as this sounds, if there is any truth at all in it-and without in any way diminishing respect for and gratitude to those who fell-then Kasserine Pass might be considered a "bargain." At a cost of just 6,000 casualties, one clearly incompetent general unworthy of further "training" was relieved, and the Supreme Allied Commander learned one of the most important lessons in war-the absolute requirement for ruthlessness in command. From that point on, Ike dealt severely with those who failed in leadership or on the battlefield.

Oddly enough, this seems to descibe our president.

posted by Steve @ 1:22:00 AM

1:22:00 AM

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