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Hermann Balck on Leading from the Front
An excerpt from an interview conducted in 1979
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The following paragraphs come from the transcript of an interview conducted with Lieutenant General Hermann Balck in 1979.
Interviewer: Wasn't there anybody on the German side in World War I who saw that leading from the rear was a serious mistake?
Hermann Balck: Yes, Ludendorff recognized the tremendous error of trying to command from the rear, and in fact, in the spring of 1918 he issued a very famous order that was part of the new infiltration tactics of 1918, and this was an order concerning command. He ordered all division commanders in the coming offensives to command from the front lines on horse- back. Where this was done, it had a tremendous success.
In fact, it had two effects: one tactical and one political. Naturally, the divisions that were led from the front had much greater tactical success than the others. But interestingly enough, those same divisions were the ones that suffered no mutinies during the upheavals of 1918.
Interviewer: I certainly agree on the value of commanding from the front, the tremendous effect of a commander who leads from the front has to be seen to be believed.
Hermann Balck: Sure. In World War II, at Sedan [in France, in May 1940], my combat leaders told me that they were finished, that they just simply couldn't advance anymore, and I said "Fine. Whoever wants to stay here can stay, here. I'm leading the attack on the next village," and of course, the entire regiment sprang up as one man to follow me.
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