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  • Fingerspitzengefuehl

    It is generally recognized that the German military leaders were uniformly better in battlefield tactics. In looking at this individual excellence in performance, a graphic and important German term is Fingerspitzengefuehl. Translated literally, it means "fingertip-feeling." The idea it conveys is that of an instinctive sixth sense for terrain and tactics--a masterful touch in the art of war.

    In a panel discussion[in December 1980] on the German WWII experiences in Russia and their implications for NATO military doctrine, U.S. General William DePuy, who had been commander of the US Army Training and Doctrine Command and principle author of FM 100-5, asked General Hermann Balck, who had commanded the 11th PzD, XLVIII Pz Korps, and Fourth Panzer Army on the eastern front,
    "Out of every one hundred German generals, how many had Fingerspitzengefuehl?

    Balck, in his typical laconic manner, replied, "Three or four, but they were unrecognized."

    I think Balck, as well as Rommel, Guderian, and Heinrici, had that talent. It would be interesting to see how many other German generals we could 'recognize' with that talent. And, it would be interesting to see which commanders we could identify in the Allied armies that possessed that talent.

    rna
    Leadership is the ability to rise above conventional wisdom.

  • #2
    Model and Manstein come to mind. Model for his masterly defenses, starting with ninth army when he siad "Who m9th Armee, mein Ferhur, you or me?"

    Manstein's backhanded blow and his Pz.corps drive in 1941 both come to mind.

    Other possible nominees:

    Patton for recognizing the Bulge as a major German offense and for usually knowing where and when to attack.

    Yamashita for the Japanese

    For Britain: O'Connor? Slim? Not Monty, he wouldn't know a pursuit opportunity if God gave him a direct revelation.

    I don't have enough feel for any of the Soviet Generals to be probable, but Konev and a couple of the tank army are possibilities. Chuikov? Zhukov just slugged ahead IIRC, so I don't nominate him.

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    • #3
      I'm inclined to believe that the old adagio about excellence is true in military spheres as well.
      I'd like to start making my point with a comparison. A really good concert pianist will tell you that his excellence comes 90% from hard work, turning out solid, competent work and 10% from genius/the masterful touch/Fingerspitzengefuehl (pun intended).

      I have no reason to believe that the same would not hold true of military excellence. That German military excellence comes for 90% from hard training (difficult to get a better military education at all levels than in Germany) and performing (non-stop joint warfare from '39 till '45) and 10% from Fingerspitzengefuehl.
      Of course it is entirely possible to be a hard working, competent general, turning out impeccable work, but lacking this Gefuehl. The other way round, to be an excellent amateur, gifted with this Fingerpitzengefuehl but not trained and experienced will be much rarer. Fingerspitzengefuehl may be present in an amateur but likely it hasn't had the chance to develop and when needed may not have developed enough to make itself felt.

      So, to answer the questions: IMO quite some German generals had it, certainly at the tactical level. Perhaps the laconic Balck in his answer applies a very high standard and/or displays a German sense of humour.
      To take the answer along these lines to the Allied side; it would be those generals who consistently fought the enemy: Slim comes to mind (fighting Japanese from 1942 till 1945, though he is more operational) and I can imagine a case could be made for Patton. Obviously many Russian generals qualify: Zhukov, Rokossovsky, Konev, Malinovsky, Vatutin at the operational level. I think in order to find Russian tactical commanders with this Fingerspitzengefuehl through the 'Communist smoke' in military literature, you could do worse than see which commanders, battle hardened on the European battlefields, were able to display their talents and give their excellence free reign in Manchuria. So one could add Meretsov.
      Last edited by Colonel Sennef; 02 Sep 07, 16:52.
      BoRG

      You may not be interested in War, but War is interested in You - Leon Trotski, June 1919.

      Comment


      • #4
        The German generals,quite frankly were severly hindered by the "no defence"rule that Hitler mandated.There was much talent on the field,but with offense only rules it severely hindered that talent.
        i yam what i yam and thats what i yam!

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        • #5
          Originally posted by grognard View Post
          Model and Manstein come to mind. Model for his masterly defenses, starting with ninth army when he siad "Who m9th Armee, mein Ferhur, you or me?"

          Manstein's backhanded blow and his Pz.corps drive in 1941 both come to mind.

          Other possible nominees:

          Patton for recognizing the Bulge as a major German offense and for usually knowing where and when to attack.

          Yamashita for the Japanese

          For Britain: O'Connor? Slim? Not Monty, he wouldn't know a pursuit opportunity if God gave him a direct revelation.
          Hmm. I was under the impression that Monty thought that HE was God.
          "Profanity is but a linguistic crutch for illiterate motherbleepers"

          Comment


          • #6
            I agree with CS's 90% perspiration and 10% inspiration. It's the 10% that moves beyond the boundaries of military science with the great imaginative leaps. Mellenthin in the same conversation remarked, "We found that leaders at any level grow with their experience. Their initiative should be fostered in the case of a division commander just as much as in the case of a platoon leader...." But, we are really not talking about initiative, however experience is a honing factor.

            From a personal experience, Balck's 3/4 per 100 may be too generous. I have made the observation in other threads that I believe the great commanders of history have been "irrational" commanders. Irrational in the Jungian definition that their decisions were subjective--this 10% fingerspitzengefuehl. They sense a solution outside the rational, cookie-cutter solutions of the staff colleges. The solution is well grounded in understanding the capability of one's forces, Napoleon knew his troops' march rate (escaping at Austerlitz), how long it took to dig trenches, his artillery's capabilities.... The irrational commander estimates the immeasurable limits of his troops, the vulnerabilities of the enemy at a given point, given time. These men are few on the battlefield in any period. I find them technically knowledgable, aggressive, and, to the rational mind, great risk-takers.

            Generals Nikolai Vatutin and Issa Pliev came to mind quickly for the Red Army. That opinion was formed based on commentary from German commanders who faced them. They wrote that they never knew what to expect from Vatutin, and when Pliev's Cavalry-Mechanized Group showed up in their sector, they knew they were in for a "wild and woolly time".

            Of the six Red Army tank commanders who rose to the top tank commands, I would nominate Rybalko who drove tanks to understand his tankers' capabilities, had the reputation among his troops as a hammer or alligator=very aggressive, and he took risks, such as moving, at one point, his tank army in three different directions at the same time during the Lvov-Sandomir operation.

            I'm not as familiar with western allied commanders, but the irrationality of Wingate, I find intriquing because his WWII approach was consistent with brilliant, innovative solutions in Palestine and Ethiopia.

            Slim was successful and a good example of operational level command, but he is too conservative for this category.

            I would like to pick Patton from the American lot, but it's hard to read through his showmanship.

            Having just finished a short study(primarily from the British perspective) of the Malayan campaign, Yamashita impresses me.

            rna
            Last edited by R.N. Armstrong; 03 Sep 07, 04:36.
            Leadership is the ability to rise above conventional wisdom.

            Comment


            • #7
              I would like to add to the above post an experience when I worked next to one of these guys.

              He was an armored brigade commander--armored warfare was his forte. In conversations, meetings, discussions when he turned his head to listen or speak it was like watching a tank turret traverse with gun-steady eyes.

              At the National Training Center (NTC), the odds were stacked against commanders during a problem to ensure they received a good experience and learned some things. The NTC staff had to add extra requirements, such as additional lengths to the approach march to impact on timing and create a chance for greater breakdowns in the force, and burdens to challenge this guy, and he continued to win. He had this ability to devise a plan which I came to describe as "simplistic craftiness". The plan was simple and direct in its execution; it could be understood and executed by all in his command. Yet, it had enough of a surprise element to fool or catch the opposing force off guard. He was a killer on the battlefield. You would not want him after you, he would get you.

              This commander had the misfortune to have had his career at a time when there was no major war for armored forces. He retired a colonel--as Balck pointed out--unrecognized.

              rna
              Leadership is the ability to rise above conventional wisdom.

              Comment


              • #8
                Originally posted by johnbryan View Post
                Hmm. I was under the impression that Monty thought that HE was God.
                i sit corrected. But he didn't have "the touch"

                Comment


                • #9
                  Forgot about Wingate and Vatutin--and I'm a Vatutin admirer and have heard that quote recently--put it down to overtiredness.
                  Rybalko was the one tank commander I was thinking of.
                  I agree with everyone else's 90/10 combo, that's basically what "genius" is.

                  RN: are you saying that having the touch (I'm not going to keep spelling finger....) is the same as tactical/operational flexibility? Or is it a different level?

                  Many generals were flexible when hit with the unexpected--but isn't there another level for finger....?

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                  • #10
                    Originally posted by grognard View Post

                    RN: are you saying that having the touch (I'm not going to keep spelling finger....) is the same as tactical/operational flexibility? Or is it a different level?

                    Many generals were flexible when hit with the unexpected--but isn't there another level for finger....?
                    I suspect, that if one could translate the concept into tactical/operational terms, the war colleges could teach it to everyone.

                    But, we are talking about a character of thought that cuts right to the problem in artifical intelligence--where no one has been able to write the algorithm for how to judge reasonableness. These commanders have a "sensing" for the ebb and flow as well as the fluxion in combat. With this hieghtened sense, they move through the chaos, frictions, entropy and dissipation of combat aware of the need to adapt and self-organize to meet an oppsoing force that is also changing its conduct whether by choice or imposition.

                    So, they are flexible in dealing with the unexpected, but it is more internalized than that because they are expecting the unexpected and looking for it. While the staff school will admit that no plan survives the first bullet, many still cling to the plan and try to make it work. The sensing commanders percieves the changes taking place and take its cue for adaptations and changes during the course of combat. Reading those cues in the noise of combat takes the technical expertise and experience to understand those complications.

                    A past example might be, that during Napoleonic warfare, the 'patter' sound of musket fire would indicate either skirmishing fire or weak, uncoordinated line fire, based on where it was on the battlefield. A greater, single ripping sheet fire would indicate strong, disciplined volley fire. I would say most experienced commanders understood that aspect of fire. The sensing commander would also read the absence or presence of the different fires and during what phases of the battle as an indicator of maneuver or control problems or ammunition supply strength or weaknesses. And, the sensing commander of that period could probably add to this paragraph other such indicators/cues.

                    One of the things that came up in my study of Red Army tank commanders was where they liked to be on the battlefield (forward, rushing to the point of action, or in the command post), how they liked to receive their battlefield information (observation, from subordinate commanders, from staff), and how they related to other officers (subordinate commanders or staff, contemporaries, and senior leadership). [You'll have to read my conclusion for specific examples with specific commanders in the book.]

                    The sensing commanders like to be forward at the critical point at that time in the operation, reading the battle from their sensings, wanting subordinates who could execute their guidance (Balck made a point if his suborinate commanders knew their job they didnot need to be told what to do; if they were 'stupid' it took more time to explain things to them), had staff work sustaining efforts, and did not need senior leadership telling them how to do it.

                    I've also come to the conclusion that the points of reference for the sensing commanders is different at the tactical and operational levels because the indices of scope, scale, distance, time are different.

                    rna
                    Last edited by R.N. Armstrong; 03 Sep 07, 11:48.
                    Leadership is the ability to rise above conventional wisdom.

                    Comment


                    • #11
                      guerrilla kingfisher

                      Gentlemen, at this point I would like to refer to a military thinker we have discussed a lot in the past at ACG's and who also covered our present subject, namely TE Lawrence of Arabia. It seems we haven't been so far off the mark so far:

                      "The ‘felt’ element in troops, not expressible in figures, had to be guessed at by the equivalent of Plato’s 'doksa', and the greatest commander of men was he whose intuitions most nearly happened. Nine-tenths of tactics were certain enough to be teachable in schools; but the irrational tenth was like the kingfisher flashing across the pool, and in it lay the test of generals. It could be ensued only by instinct (sharpened by thought practising the stroke) until at the crisis it came naturally, a reflex. There had been men whose 'doksa' so nearly approached perfection that by its road they reached the certainty of 'episteme'. The Greeks might have called such genius for command 'noesis'; had they bothered to rationalize revolt."

                      Interesting though not surprising than to note that the 'Fingerspitzengefuehl' without the training and/or the experience most often comes to guerrilla of guerrilla like leaders. I'm tempted to think that this is caused because in guerrilla warfare there is most room for originality and that it is in this sort of warfare that originality is most rewarded. Being highly rewarding it is a small step which leads to excellence.
                      As excelling guerilla's I'm thinking of Mao or TE Lawrence himself, of Colonel von Lettow-Vorbeck in German East Africa or indeed of Orde Wingate. Re the latter I like to stick to his Palestine and Abyssynia ventures and not to his (second) Chindit exploits which IMO were operations behind enemy lines supportive of the traditional warfare.
                      BoRG

                      You may not be interested in War, but War is interested in You - Leon Trotski, June 1919.

                      Comment


                      • #12
                        psychic warfare between psychic minds!

                        Captainsennef hit upon a brilliant point, that the phenomenon of Fingerspitzengefuehl minus any rigorous training and/or experience came more naturally and automatically to those who engaged in guerrilla warfare. That's mainly because the practice and execution of hit-and-run guerrilla warfare often deviated from the various conventional norms of open terrain, tactical warfare that demanded more conventional battlefield applications and thinking to the task at hand, and as Captainsennef made clear, such hit-and-run tactics often led to greater originality, which in turn could better lead to more certifiable excellence down the road (both Robert the Bruce and Michael Collins come to mind!).

                        For more open, flexible, unconventional and irregular tactics that are always open to change and adaptation would more often than not precipitate many moments of super quick, split-second decisions from any leader immersed in such assymetrical warfare, therefore sharpening his instincts, psychic ability and intuition to the point that they could be on the same level of someone else with far more extensive, conventional training. As Captainsennef made clear such heightened awareness, brilliant anticipation and spur of the moment decision making could eventually come in handy down the road if that particular guerrilla leader found himself engaged in conventional warfare on this more wide-ranging tactical level.

                        For the utilization of greater originality not influenced by conventional norms and combat ideals could very well lead to the unconscious (or conscious) development and refinement of psychic ability, or the seemingly supernatural gift of Fingerspitzengefuehl, therefore helping to form and enhance any mental and psychic characteristics that any tactical leader of conventional troops would need to become highly effective and thoroughly capable if such a situation ever arose where he found himself leading such forces.

                        Furthermore, it seems that during WW2 both Rommel and Patton had such Fingerspitzengefuehl to this great degree, for otherwise General Rommel would not have become known and feared as "The Desert Fox" and Patton would not have been able to have anticipated the last German offensive that sliced through the Ardennes during mid December of 1944! For there can be no doubt that they were both lavishly blessed with that psychic ability coined as Fingerspitzengefuehl which allowed them both to anticipate and predict the actions, reactions and silent maneuvers of their adversaries on more than one occasion and on more than one battlefield!

                        I also believe that the Confederate General Stonewall Jackson was also endowed with Fingerspitzengefuehl, for his role in planning and executing the surprise offensive against the complacent Union forces at Chancellorsville in May of 1863---(when the mainly Scottish and Scots-Irish Rebels fiercely emerged and sprang out from within the woods and attacked, with their gleaming bayonets, the resting Yankees like madmen!)---worked wonders for the Southern cause and sent the Yankees flying off in much disorder, panic and this shared sense of terror. It's as though he actually anticipated every aspect of that Battle except his own untimely and accidental death at night at the hands of his own troops. For if Jackson had survived that Battle Lee's most brilliant battlefield innovator and tactician might have been responsible for tipping the scales at Gettysburg in favor of the South (I believe it was his idea to invade the North!), thus bringing the cause for which he and his fearsome men fought that much closer to victory (was it God's will that he perished before Gettysburg?).

                        Moreover, on the Basketball court back in the 80's that immortal Boston Celtic Larry Bird also seemed to be blessed with Fingerspitzengefuehl---(he had this uncanny ability to anticipate where and when his teammate's and opponent's rebounds were going to land, thus enabling him to race and manuever to the exact spot where the ball was going to land!)---and to him the great game of Basketball was war!!!

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                        • #13
                          Among American generals, I agree that Patton was the standout for battlefield tactics. Since 1905, he had lived, thought, wrote and mediated on war, and engaged in very competitive sports when not at war. He has a huge body of writings for Cavalry Journal and other Army publications that indicate a tremendous amount of time devoted to military tactics, and he had to explain to Eisenhower more than once that what came across to others as an immediate "snap" decision (in which others had little confidence) was the result of a lot of previous thinking. When he was stranded in Palermo after the Sicilian campaign wound up, he spent his time reading about the Norman conquests of that region and talking about lessons to be learned.

                          Before AVALANCHE, when Gen. Wedemeyer (or it may have been Gruenther, I forget - Clark's deputy) showed Patton the plan for landing the US VI Corps and the British X Corps on opposite sides of the Sele River with a 16-mile gap, Patton told him, "As sure as God lives, the Germans are going to attack you down that river." They did, and nearly forced Clark into the sea (planned withdrawal, not a wipe-out, though). His pre-planning to move Third Army towards Bastogne is probably his best known example.

                          Patton's weaknesses are legendary and have been thoroughly discussed elsewhere, but in this area, I can't think of a better example.

                          I need to read more about Lightning Joe Collins, but he may have had that touch as well, based on his reputation with contemporaries and historians - not sure yet.
                          "There are only two professions in the world in which the amateur excels the professional. One, military strategy, and, two, prostitution."
                          -- Maj. Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower

                          (Avatar: Commodore Edwin Ward Moore, Republic of Texas Navy)

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                          • #14
                            Since others mentioned generals from other wars, I would add, Bedford Forrest, Napoleon(at least through 1809) and Wellington to the list. Probably Alexander the Great and maybe Julius Ceasar.

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                            • #15
                              I think it's easy to slide this kind of discussion to the greats in history (and I did makes such a general reference). The emphasis on unconventional leaders may be somewhat unique and too limiting; I suspect that for every one guerilla leader highlighted there have been 100's, if not 1000's, whose insurgency or rebellion failed, barely making footnotes in history. An interesting example is General Percival who cut his teeth on insurgency operations against Sinn Fein, but proved later a miserable conventional commander in the defense of Malaya.

                              While I proposed Wingate, I can agree with CS and Slim on Wingate's second Chindit operation, and I believe Wingate crossed a river too far in his first operation. Wingate raises the issue of a fine line, if there is a line, between exceptional irrational commanders and eccentric ones.

                              We are in the WWII forum, and it may prove challenging, but interesting, to see if such 'sensing' commanders were in the other armies of the war. Although I am weak in these areas, this could also apply to air and naval commanders--Nimitz?
                              Last edited by R.N. Armstrong; 04 Sep 07, 06:40.
                              Leadership is the ability to rise above conventional wisdom.

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