The Battle of Bastogne in WWII

Introduction

The siege of Bastogne is, perhaps, one of the most famous battles that occurred during the WWII since it had crucial implications for the forces of the Allied Forces. The battle began in Bastogne, Belgium, and defined the outcomes of the war to a considerable extent. Particularly, it implied that the planned use of the road network of Bastogne by German troops was impossible.1 Therefore, the Allied Forces deprived the German military of an important chance at improving their strategic position and, thus, affected the balance of forces within the specified geographical area significantly.

The drive to Bastogne began as the logical continuation of the steps that the Allied Forces took in order to reinforce their positions in the west and expand even further.2 The specified attempts at creating the environment in which the Allied Forces would gain an opportunity to gain a strategic advantage turned out to be successful. The outcome was primarily due to the execution of six crucial mission command principles. Particularly, four mission command principles became the driving force behind the success of the troops. Mutual trust, shared understanding of the situation, the intent of the commander and the acceptance of risk shown by Eisenhower helped the troops attain victory in the Battle of Bastogne.

Mission Command Principles

Mutual Trust

The principle of mutual trust is, perhaps, one of the primary concepts of mission command that predetermined the outcome of the battle. The notion of mutual trust created the environment in which the Allied Forces could not only resist the siege but also build an elaborate plan of attacking the enemy. Thus, the basis for the reinforcement of the Allied Forces’ position at Bastogne emerged. Particularly, one must point to the fact that mutual trust led to improved communication. However, the siege of Bastogne was somewhat controversial. Particularly, the issues regarding trust became one of the most problematic aspects of the attack of the Allied Forces’ troops. According to the existing records, when executing the essential elements of the operation, Dwight Eisenhower had serious doubts about Patton and his ability to carry out the mission.3 Nevertheless, by encouraging the ideas of comradely, Eisenhower encouraged mutual trust in soldiers, thus leading to the successful accomplishment of the operation.

However, one could argue that it was not the amount of trust but the ability to introduce participants to the specified concept that made the outcomes of the battle successful. Conflicts in the context of military actions are not only unavoidable, but also necessary to locate available options and see the strengths and weaknesses of particular decisions.4 Therefore, the fact that Eisenhower managed the problem and sustained the environment of mutual trust in the context of the battle shows that the specified construct led to the further triumph of the Allied Forces. The battle took place with the German forces attempting at taking a strategic position in the harbor of Antwerp. After a week of fighting, the Allied Forces repelled the attack and freed Bastogne. Therefore, even though the Allied Forces suffered significant losses at Bastogne, the foundation for reinforcing their positions in the specified area rose. Because of the trust that the soldiers of the Allied Forces had in each other and the commander, they could act coherently and produce the effect that led to the further improvement of the situation. Minor issues occurred between the leaders of the operation. Nevertheless, the battle resulted in the massive defeat of the German troops. The Allied Forces owed their victory to the emphasis on mutual trust as one of indispensable elements of a military strategy.

Shared Understanding

The principle of shared understanding was a crucial component of mission commands as well, and it served its purpose effectively. Shared understanding supported the phenomenon of mutual trust and, thus, helped implement the goals of the operation. Shared understanding implies the ability of every single participant to identify the goal of a particular operation and be able to locate one’s own role and responsibilities respectively.

Furthermore, the principle of shared understanding implies the ability to collaborate successfully and focus on the active communication between the troops.5 The issue of communication is especially important in the identified scenario. Particularly, it implies the opportunity to clarify any misconceptions and get essential messages across to team members within the shortest amount of time possible. By enhancing the efficacy of communication in the environment of the Battle of Bastogne, Eisenhower lead the Third Army to victory. He managed to do it by using the available technology (particularly, the radio) and building a communication center.

Moreover, one must emphasize the importance of communication during the siege as one of the most problematic areas that existed at the time. Poor visibility, weather factors and other obstacles posed significant challenges to the members of the Third Army. As a result, the process of managing communication became extraordinarily difficult in the operation. Thus, it was the promotion of shared understanding that helped the third Army use the available resources to build a strategic advantage. In addition, the shared understanding principle provided the foundation for the reinforcement of trust. By placing a powerful emphasis on the necessity of information management, Patton and Eisenhower created the environment in which they could share the vision and mission of the campaign with the soldiers. Consequently, the commanders could promote corresponding values to troops. As a result, they built the platform on which the troops could not possibly doubt their commands and, thus, were motivated and willing to accomplish the set tasks. The resulting effects demonstrated the incredible efficacy of the specified mission command principles. While the chances for the troops to fight the German army were quite low, the resulting victory showed that shared understanding was crucial to the overall efficacy of the battle. Particularly, shared understanding helped implement Patton and Eisenhower’s strategic and tactical decisions.

Clear Commander’s Intent

The clarity of the commander’s intent also affected the outcome of the battle greatly. The outcome serves as the platform for fostering the principles of responsibility and resourcefulness in troops.6 Indeed, a clear intent of the commander provides a chance to identify the roles that they play in an operation and the goals that soldiers must attain. Because of the clarity of Eisenhower’s intent, namely, the focus on the mission and the integration of the soldiers, the management of the operation became a success. His intent of the siege, in turn, included defeating the enemy’s army and relieving Bastogne. The commander’s intent served as the tool for introducing soldiers to their roles and responsibilities. Thus, the mechanism of cooperation was set in motion. Therefore, the intent of the commander helped improve the continuity of planning that led to the successful implementation of the strategies.

One should mention, however, that, because of the difference in Patton’s and Eisenhower’s understanding of the battle goals, it was rather difficult to shape and implement the intent. Due to the inconsistencies between the vision of Eisenhower and the one of Patton, the process of introducing soldiers to the commander’s intent became rather convoluted and difficult. Therefore, the commanders had to create additional strategies for managing the levels of motivation among the troops. Afterward, the Allied Forces accomplished the operation successfully.

Nevertheless, Eisenhower and Patton reached an agreement, which affected the motivation and performance of the troops significantly. Eisenhower conveyed the commander’s intent successfully to the soldiers. Particularly, the mission and goals of the operation became clear to the participants of the campaign.7 As a result, the soldiers achieved impressive outcomes, therefore, providing the ground for the further reinforcement of the Allied Forces’ positions and the following triumph.

Prudent Risk Acceptance

In retrospect, the mission that the American Army had to accomplish was truly immense, and the chances for success were quite few. Therefore, when considering the reasons for the triumph in the Battle of Bastogne, one must mention the importance of the risk management strategy. Furthermore, the ability of the commander and the soldiers to embrace the said risks also affected the results of the siege. Despite certain disagreements in the choice of the military strategies and tactics, Patton and Eisenhower managed to accept the risks and create the management framework that led them to the ultimate success.

Accepting risk is crucial for a viable battle strategy. Without the ability to accept risks, the battle of Bastogne would have never been a success. Although the focus on the positive outcome is essential for keeping the troops motivated, delineating the framework for managing risks and handling the worst possible outcomes is also necessary. According to the Department of the Army,

Inculcating risk acceptance goes hand in hand with accepting errors. Commanders realize that subordinates may not accomplish all tasks initially and that errors may occur. With such acceptance in the command climate, subordinates gain the experience required to operate on their own.8

The opportunity for encouraging the army’s motivation made the chosen risk management approach successful. Much to the credit of Patton and Eisenhower, they identified, assessed and accepted the existing risks. Instead of placing an overly strong emphasis on the threats to the campaign, the commanders found a delicate balance between the two extremes. Eisenhower achieved the balance by introducing a realistic vision and at the same time delineating possible positive outcomes. As a result, Eisenhower and Patton created the premises for the battle to result in a victory.

Summary and Conclusion

The Battle of Bastogne was one of the most excruciating and challenging tasks that the American Army had to face during WWII since it helped improve soldiers’ morale across the Western Front. The troops succeeded due to the combination of shared understanding, a clear intent of the commander and the acceptance of prudent risk. The result of the battle was a stunning success, yet its prerequisites, such as the soldiers’ motivation, become evident after using the essential missions of commanding principles. Indeed, the exemplary communication strategy led to the design of the scenario in which the motivation levels of the troops remained high. Additionally, the emphasis on shared understanding contributed to maintaining the troops’ responsibility and a deeper understanding of their role in the battle. Thus, the drive to Bastogne resulted in the positive outcome that would affect the course of the WWII.

Bibliography

Axelrod, Alan. Patton: A Biography. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 2015.

Department of the Army, “ADRP 6-0 Mission Command.” ArmyPubs.us, 2012. Web.

Flowers, Major Jack D. Patton, Third Army and Operational Manuever. Fort Leavenworth: School of Advanced Military Studies, 1998.

Hymel, Kevin M. “’The Bravest and Best’: Patton and the Death of Capt. Richard Jensen in North Africa.” Army History 91 (2014): pp. 30-40.

Larson, Mark E. General George S. Patton Was Not an Operational Artist. Fort Leavenworth: School of Advanced Military Studies, 2015.

Marshall, Samuel Lyman Atwood. Bastogne: The Story of the First Eight Days. 3rd ed. Washington, DC: Center of Military History, 2004.

Sanderson, Jeffrey F. General George S. Patton, JR.: Master of Operational Battle Command. What Lasting Battle Command Lessons Can We Learn from Him? Fort Leavenworth: School of Advanced Military Studies, 1997.

Footnotes

  1. Major Jack D. Flowers, Patton, Third Army and Operational Manuever (Fort Leavenworth: School of Advanced Military Studies, 1998), 11.
  2. Samuel Lyman Atwood Marshall, Bastogne: The Story of the First Eight Days, 3rd ed. (Washington, DC: Center of Military History, 2004), 3.
  3. Ibid., 8.
  4. Jeffrey F. Sanderson, General George S. Patton, JR.: Master of Operational Battle Command. What Lasting Battle Command Lessons Can We Learn from Him? (Fort Leavenworth: School of Advanced Military Studies, 1997), 12.
  5. Mark E. Larson, General George S. Patton Was not an Operational Artist (Fort Leavenworth: School of Advanced Military Studies, 2015), 21.
  6. Alan Axelrod, Patton: A Biography (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 2015), 65.
  7. Kevin M. Hymel, “’The Bravest and Best’: Patton and the Death of Capt. Richard Jensen in North Africa,” Army History 91 (2014): 34.
  8. Department of the Army, “ADRP 6-0 Mission Command,” ArmyPubs.us, 2012. Web.