Chapter 18

The Relative Value of Improvisations

The preceding chapters give a fairly detailed account of German military improvisations and indicate their relative value in a variety of situations. By presenting numerous examples, an attempt has been made to demonstrate why certain improvisations served their purpose whereas others failed. This presentation should enable the reader to draw a number of conclusions that have general validity. The most obvious conclusion is that, because of their always-present inherent defects, improvisations should be avoided altogether whenever possible. On the other hand, some of the improvisations presented in this study were absolutely essential and proved effective. For instance, it would have been absolutely impossible to conduct operations in the arctic or to control the supply situation in the Russian theater, had not improvisations been introduced. That many of them were eventually accepted as standing operating procedures simply indicates that they should never have been improvisations. Their success was based on the fact that they were initiated and carried out by experts and that the essential prerequisites for putting them into effect existed in these specific cases.

The failure of any improvisation could be attributed either to the lack of proper planning or to the fact that it had been introduced at a time when the necessary means to implement it were no longer available. In many instances its failure could be traced to the laymen who were charged with the responsibility for its execution. All these factors predominated during the last stage of the war when a great number of improvisations failed to meet expectations.

In general, however, improvisations proved effective provided the right men were selected for their implementation and provided they were enforced with the best available materiel and the firm determination to achieve the intended military purpose.

An observer who looks at the Russian campaign in retrospect will come to the conclusion that the multitude of improvisations which were employed far exceeded what Moltke once designated as a "system of expedients" in the tactical sense. Actually, the Germans were forced to introduce the first improvisations as soon as they crossed the eastern border. The farther they advanced into Russia the more expedients they had to devise. The number rose by leaps and bounds when operations began to be hampered first by mud and swamps and later by snow and ice. During the


last stage of the war, improvisations permeated every compart­ment of the war effort both within Germany and at the front. At the culminating point expedients assumed the proportion of an avalanche, the momentum of which eventually buried the entire military machine. Improvisations could never be expected to compensate for the lack of vision and the fundamental blunders of German leadership. It is no exaggeration to state that the entire Russian campaign will go down in history as one gigantic improvisation.


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