Posts Tagged WW 2

Building Snowmobiles: General Hermann Balck, The German That Inspired Boyd

The other day, Chet Richards posted his opening presentation to the Boyd And Beyond 2012 conference, and it was fascinating. It was pure building snowmobiles, and it was filled with the various bits and pieces of what and who inspired Boyd in regards to creating novelty or innovations during the fight. (unfortunately, I did not attend this conference)

What was cool is that an individual was identified as being the origin of Boyd’s thoughts on this stuff. That individual is General Hermann Balck, and he was considered to be one of Germany’s best during WW 2. Here is one quote that gives you an idea.

“Balck has strong claims to be regarded as our finest field commander,” declared Maj. Gen. Friedrich-Wilhelm von Mellenthin. And he was in a position to know: as a general staff officer during the war, Mellenthin had worked at one point or another for virtually all of Germany’s greatest commanders—including such legends as Rommel and Heinz Guderian.

So that gives you an idea as to why Boyd would be interested in such a man. The other quote that identifies Balck as a person of interest to Boyd is identified in this quote from Chet’s paper.

Boyd’s appreciation for novelty grew as he mulled over the ingredients for success in conflicts. Boyd’s close associate, Pierre Sprey, credits Boyd’s conversations with General Balck (1979a & 1979b) as planting the seeds that led to Boyd’s fascination with innovation, novelty, and the importance of rapid, intuitive decision-making (Personal communication, September 23, 2012). Thus the elements of maneuver conflict that appear in the September 1981 edition of Patterns, for example, do not include the concept of novelty, but by 1986 it was there (p. 115). Perhaps it was not until he began to compose Conceptual Spiral, though, that Boyd realized how the term “novelty” encapsulated so much of his strategy.

So can we boil it down even further?  Well below, Balck gave an interview and he talked about the secrets to his success on the last page. Chet quoted from this translation and I thought it would be prudent to post the entire thing here, just to give you the essence of what this guy was all about. Here is the quote.

Never do the same thing twice. Even if something works well for you once, by the second time the enemy will have adapted. So you have to think up something new. -Balck, pg. 42

Chet also added this quote to back up what Balck mentioned. Note that Boyd was equally inspired by Sun Tzu in his famous Patterns of Conflict.

So a military force has no constant formation, water has no constant shape: the ability to gain victory by changing and adapting according to the opponent is called genius. -Sun Tzu, Art of War

Of course you could expand upon all of this by reading Balck’s book he wrote, if you know German, but at least with this translated interview, you will get a good introduction to the man.

I think what is equally interesting is that Balck was totally a prime example of the kind of officer that the famous German field manual promoted, called the Truppenführung. Here is a snippet.

Truppenführung (“unit command”) served as the basic manual for the German Army from 1934 until the end of World War II and laid the doctrinal groundwork for blitzkrieg and the early victories of Hitler’s armies. Reading it is as close to getting inside the minds behind the Third Reich’s war machine as you are likely to get.

So what kind of results did this kind of thinking produce? Why would folks put him at the top. Here is a quote about one of his accomplishments when his panzer division took on the Soviet 5th Tank Army. Pretty impressive if you ask me.

Balck, who ended the war as a General der Panzertruppe (equivalent to a three-star general in the U.S. Army), is today virtually unknown except to the most serious students of World War II. Yet in three short weeks his lone panzer division virtually destroyed the entire Soviet Fifth Tank Army. The odds he faced were scarcely short of incredible: the Soviets commanded a local superiority of 7:1 in tanks, 11:1 in infantry, and 20:1 in a local superiority of 7:1 in tanks, 11:1 in infantry, and 20:1 in artillery. But Balck, leading from the front, reacting instantly to each enemy thrust, repeatedly parried, surprised, and wiped out superior Soviet detachments. Over the next few months his division would rack up an astonishing one thousand enemy tank kills. For this and other achievements Balck would be one of only twenty-seven officers in the entire war—Erwin Rommel was another—to receive the Knight’s Cross with Oak Leaves, Swords, and Diamonds, the equivalent of an American receiving two, or even three, Medals of Honor.

Check out the interview below and let me know what you think? I personally thought Balck’s focus on leadership and taking care of his men, and constantly trying to figure out the true health and status of his army was pretty cool. His focus on the enemy and his psychology was interesting too. That and all the lessons learned from when he fought in WW 1. I really liked the focus on the offense as well.

The other quote that perked me up is Balck’s mention of the Prussian military tradition of ‘expressing yourself bluntly’ to your superiors. lol I love it, and in the quote below, Model was his boss and Balck was telling him how much he sucked at commanding.

Model listened to everything I said. We both expressed our opinions, shook hands and returned home. He never came to see me again. But every time I got a new assignment, he was one of the first to congratulate me.
That was one of the great Prussian military traditions: you expressed yourself bluntly but you were expected to never resent such blunt criticism.

 Boy, imagine if we had such a tradition in the US military? Or even in private industry? It also shows how smart the Prussians were about feedback and questioning authority. To actually have a tradition that forces folks to sit there and take criticism like a man…. I might have to explore this Prussian military tradition at a later point. Pretty cool and check this thing out. –Matt

Edit: 02/26/2015  Found the answer to where this tradition of Prussian disobedience came from. A big hat tip to Jörg Muth and his book called Command Culture, and his personal help in researching this topic. Here is my post on the matter called Leadership: The Proud Prussian Tradition of ‘Disobedience’.



Translation Of Taped Conversation With General Hermann Balck, April 1979

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Legal News: A Check on Faint-hearted Presidents–Letters of Marque and Reprisal, by William Young

   This is an excellent treatment of the subject.  If you have the time to review the legal side of the LoM and all of it’s modern day implications, I highly recommend reading this. One note for the author though.  During World War Two, Congress issued a LoM, and that technically was the last one issued.  Eeben might be able to add some more corrections in reference to EO, but that was about it for corrections. I might have added some more relevant companies for the discussion of contractor capability, but that was about it. –Matt


A Check on Faint-Hearted Presidents: Letters of Marque and Reprisal

By William Young

Volume 66, Issue 2, Spring 2009

Washington and Lee University School of Law

VII.  Conclusion

Letters of marque and reprisal provide a method with which Congress can check a lack of presidential initiative in future military conflicts.  Within certain constraints, the Constitution allows Congress to issue letters of marque and reprisal to private contractors, allowing Congress to enlist private contractors to accomplish military objectives that the President refuses to support.  Congress’s decision to issue letters of marque and reprisal against the will of the President,

however, will be a balancing act of risk and reward.  The risks are many, substantial, and unpredictable, and may involve great injury and serious consequences both domestically and internationally.  The injury, or potential injury, to the United States must be so great that Congress feels it has no choice but to accept these risks in an attempt to prevent or redress that injury.


(A section talking about the Executive Outcomes example and funding for such a thing.)

     Second, the lack of funding requirements (other than the limitation that the U.S. government cannot fund the privateers) might give Congress greater operational latitude in issuing letters of marque and reprisal.  As noted in the

discussion of EO, private firms are capable of altering the military landscape on a regional level.170  One could envision a scenario in which Congress, against the President’s wishes, feels that a large scale military action is necessary.

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