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Siege of Bastogne and Mission Command Principles Research Paper

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Updated: Dec 1st, 2020

Introduction

The Siege of Bastogne was a part of the Battle of the Bulge in 1944.1 The former was significant for the outcome of the latter. Indeed, Bastogne was associated with important communications.2 The German forces decided to attack the Belgian town in the middle of December. In turn, the Allies chose to defend the strategically important location. They were outnumbered, and their forces were initially spread thinly, resulting in a crisis. The town and its defenders were encircled. However, the small groups managed to persevere as more troops were directed to help.

Some of the key forces that should be mentioned include the 10th Armored Division.3 It was led by Major General Troy Middleton. It was also among the first troops sent to help to defend Bastogne. Additionally, 82nd and 101st Airborne Divisions were important for the outcome of the battle.4 They were quickly directed to assist Middleton. Eventually, the Siege was ended by General George Patton’s Third Army.5

The relief of Bastogne took place on the evening of December 26.6 The encirclement was broken. This outcome was the result of the actions of some commanders. However, General George Patton’s Third Army was the one to end the Siege. Furthermore, General Dwight D. Eisenhower was effectively coordinating the forces engaged in the operation.7 The present paper will focus on the two commanders. It will analyze their actions with the help of the principles of mission command.

General Dwight D. Eisenhower and Mission Command Principles

According to the Department of Army, six principles of mission command can be listed.8 They will be applied to the events of the Siege of Bastogne. At least four of them can help to understand the actions of Eisenhower. The first one is a disciplined initiative. It consists of taking the lead when existing orders are not applicable. The second one is the calculated risks. Good mission command can require taking risks as long as they are prudent. Risks can be described as prudent if the costs are worth the outcomes. Furthermore, the teamwork exhibited by the commander was notable. As a result, the third principle is the development of cohesive teams. Eventually, Eisenhower’s contribution to the development of a shared understanding is important.

One of the most applicable principles exhibited by Eisenhower was the disciplined initiative. It is noteworthy that during the Siege, Eisenhower essentially took group command. He did it because of the problematic leadership executed by General Omar Bradley.9 In the situation of a crisis, weak leadership was likely to make success unattainable. Consequently, Eisenhower decided to take the lead. His decisions proved to be effective. For example, he chose to rush additional forces to Bastogne. This action proved to be the solution to the crisis. As a result, Eisenhower proceeded to exert a disciplined initiative after the Siege.10 There were disagreements between Commanders at the time. Based on this knowledge, Eisenhower’s leadership can be described as a contribution to success. It was a sign of a good mission command on Eisenhower’s part.

Additionally, the decision to take calculated risks can be applied to Eisenhower’s actions. Reportedly, Eisenhower’s suggestions were sometimes not appreciated by commanders because they required quick decisions.11 In particular, they were not in line with the vision of General Bernard Montgomery.12 The latter was more in favor of delays. Admittedly, stalling for improved circumstances and better preparation has its merit. However, according to Eisenhower, a crisis demanded a different approach. This perspective was also supported by other commanders.13 Eisenhower’s actions during the Siege of Bastogne admittedly paid off despite being quick. Therefore, it can be suggested that Eisenhower was ready to take the required risks. His possibly risky but timely decisions were significant for the outcomes of the Siege. Thus, they can be viewed as an example of good mission command.

In connection with the above-described conflict, Eisenhower’s teamwork should be noted. The disagreement between the commanders prompted Eisenhower to find a compromise.14 This approach to conflict management illustrates Eisenhower’s interpersonal skills. In turn, interpersonal skills assist in building teams.15 Therefore, this example could be used to show Eisenhower’s application of this principle. His decision to find a compromise helped to build trust between the commanders.

Finally, the creation of shared understanding is also applicable to Eisenhower’s actions. The development of trust and human connections assists in this respect. The management of the conflicts that were mentioned is of importance to this principle. Eisenhower’s interpersonal skills must have been useful during the development of a shared understanding. Thus, Eisenhower applied multiple principles of mission command, including the four named ones. Their use seems to have contributed to the Allies’ success during the Siege. Consequently, they can be used to argue that Eisenhower’s command was good.

General George Patton and Mission Command Principles

General Patton’s actions can be analyzed using the same four principles of mission command.16 It is noteworthy that Patton was initially unsure about holding Bastogne. He was disappointed with the encirclement of the 101st Airborne Division. However, with time, he came to appreciate the decision to defend the city.17 In general, there were notable disagreements during the crisis between important commanders. However, they managed to create a shared understanding eventually. This outcome must have depended on Patton’s contribution and collaboration at least partially. His growing appreciation of the decision to defend Bastogne may have been a factor. The development of shared understanding was crucial for the outcome of the Siege. Indeed, Patton’s cooperation was instrumental in defending the town. Therefore, Patton’s willingness to change his viewpoint was a sign of good command.

In connection with this finding, team-building should be noted. Patton contributed to the process. As it was mentioned, there were disagreements between commanders, which endangered the mission.18 However, the situation was dire. The Siege of Bastogne was a true crisis that demanded solutions. The ability of the commanders to reach consensus was important for their success. Patton’s contribution to building the commanders’ team is noteworthy.

It should also be mentioned that Patton was reportedly a loner. He was a rather conservative person with a hot temper.19 As a result, it may have been difficult for him to communicate with others. However, he has managed to build working relationships with other commanders. This fact makes Patton’s ability to collaborate with a team even more noteworthy. He made an effort to build relationships and ensure success through them.

For example, with Eisenhower, Patton had a mutual trust based on the few things that they had in common.20 Additionally, they complemented each other’s’ strengths and faults. For instance, Patton was known for his bravado and temper. They could be problematic at times, but they also resulted in optimism.21 The latter could help during dire events. On the other hand, Eisenhower was less optimistic and more restrained. He could prevent Patton from making rash decisions.22 Healthy interpersonal relationships are important for building trust.23 Thus, the interactions between commanders were based on trust and willingness to overcome differences.

Additionally, Patton’s interaction with his forces is noteworthy. He regularly visited his units. For example, he did so before the relief of Bastogne on Christmas Eve. The action was not safe. On the way, he had to hide in a ditch from a fighter plane.24 However, he found it important to visit his units in person. This way, he could communicate relevant messages and improve morale. This act could also be viewed as sharing danger with the team. The Department of Army suggests that it is good for inspiring trust.25 Thus, Patton appears to have had an understanding of the importance of team-building. Also, he seems to have had his approach to doing so. The ability of Patton to apply this principle was important for his success. It is a sign of good mission command.

The principle of the disciplined initiative was also important for Patton. The significance of discipline should be pointed out here. As it was mentioned, Patton did not initially appreciate the choice to hold Bastogne. 26 Still, he agreed with the arguments of other commanders, including Eisenhower. As a result, his introduction to the mission led to victory. However, his mission demanded some of Patton’s decisions as well. The resourcefulness of Patton and his forces27 ensured the breach of the encirclement. Thus, the disciplined initiative was also of significance to Patton’s success.28

As for prudent risks, Patton reportedly believed in “spontaneous” inspiration.29 Admittedly, he attempted to balance it out with preparation and knowledge, including military theory. However, it can be suggested that he viewed prudent risks as a possibility. As noted, the actions of the Allies during the Siege could be considered risky.30 The movement of Patton’s Third Army was also associated with risks. However, Patton prepared for varied eventualities and took weighted decisions.31 The risks and their management were prudent. As a result, Patton’s actions resulted in the breach of the encirclement.

It should be pointed out that not all of Patton’s decisions were successful. An example is his directive to Millikin to use columns of regiments.32 Millikin realized that the approach would not be effective. He changed the formation to a broad front. As a result, the attack was more successful than it could have been. However, it is noteworthy that Patton did not enforce his decision.33 Thus, his ability to form working teams can be cited here as well. Not all his initiatives were appropriate, but they could be rectified. The solution was him using another principle. In that case, it was his contribution to building teams.

In summary, the above-mentioned principles were important for Patton as well as for Eisenhower. Predominantly, they contributed to the positive outcome of the battle. However, some of them, especially initiatives, could also result in issues. Said issues could be resolved in some cases with the help of teamwork. This fact brings out the importance of building teams as a mission command principle. Still, based on the above-presented information, Patton’s command seems to be relatively good.

Conclusion

Eisenhower and Patton played different parts in the Siege of Bastogne. However, they were both very important for its outcome. Eisenhower took many of the most significant decisions. Patton led the Army that essentially breached the Siege. According to the analysis presented above, they followed several mission command principles. For instance, Eisenhower’s leadership was a good example of a disciplined initiative. Similarly, he took the risks that paid off. On the other hand, Patton put effort into achieving a shared understanding and teamwork. The commanders illustrate the significance of the principles of the Department of the Army.

It should be noted that Eisenhower and Patton are commonly associated with the Siege. However, the victory was not the result of their efforts only.34 Consequently, their ability to build teams despite the conflicts and individual differences is commendable. Without an agreement, the Allies would not be able to succeed. Therefore, the commanders’ work with their teams assisted in breaking the encirclement. Furthermore, the example of Patton shows that this principle could rectify important issues. The cooperation of the commanders was crucial for the outcomes of the Siege.

Thus, the mentioned principles helped the commanders to achieve the outcomes of the Siege. Different principles were significant to them to different extents. Still, the attention to the team shared understanding, initiative, and prudent risks were crucial. These principles were not the only ones used by the commanders. However, their analysis helps to gain insights into their actions and related consequences. The found features also determine the quality of the mission command during the Siege. Based on the above-presented analysis, it can be described as not flawless but good.

Bibliography

Ambrose, Stephen. Eisenhower. Riverside: Simon & Schuster, 2014.

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

Forty, George. Patton’s Third Army at War. Havertown: Casemate, 2015.

Jones, Grant. “Education of the Supreme Commander: The Theoretical Underpinnings of Eisenhower’s Strategy in Europe, 1944–45.” War & Society 30, no. 2 (2011): 108-133. Web.

Morelock, Jerry. Generals of the Bulge. Mechanicsburg: Stackpole Books, 2015.

Winton, Harold. “An Imperfect Jewel: Military Theory and the Military Profession.” Journal of Strategic Studies 34, no. 6 (2011): 853-877. Web.

Footnotes

  1. Jerry Morelock, Generals of the Bulge (Mechanicsburg: Stackpole Books, 2015), 153-160.
  2. Stephen Ambrose, Eisenhower (Riverside: Simon & Schuster, 2014), 172.
  3. Morelock, Generals of the Bulge, 154.
  4. Ibid., 157.
  5. George Forty, Patton’s Third Army at War (Havertown: Casemate, 2015), 163-165.
  6. Ibid., 164.
  7. Morelock, Generals of the Bulge, 75.
  8. Department of the Army, “ADRP 6-0 Mission Command,” ArmyPubs.us, Web.
  9. Morelock, Generals of the Bulge, 75.
  10. Ambrose, Eisenhower, 176-177.
  11. Ibid.
  12. Grant Jones, ” Education of the Supreme Commander: The Theoretical Underpinnings of Eisenhower’s Strategy in Europe, 1944–45,” War & Society 30, no. 2 (2011): 108, 130, Web.
  13. Ibid.
  14. Ibid.
  15. Department of the Army, “ADRP 6-0 Mission Command,” 2-3.
  16. Ibid., 2.
  17. Morelock, Generals of the Bulge, 160.
  18. Ibid.
  19. Ambrose, Eisenhower, 37.
  20. Ibid.
  21. Ibid., 176-177.
  22. Ibid., 37, 176-177.
  23. Department of the Army, “ADRP 6-0 Mission Command,” 2-3.
  24. Forty, Patton’s Third Army at War, 163.
  25. Department of the Army, “ADRP 6-0 Mission Command,” 3.
  26. Morelock, Generals of the Bulge, 160.
  27. Forty, Patton’s Third Army at War, 160.
  28. Harold Winton, “An Imperfect Jewel: Military Theory and the Military Profession,” Journal of Strategic Studies 34, no. 6 (2011): 853, 865, Web.
  29. Ibid., 862.
  30. Ambrose, Eisenhower, 176-177.
  31. Winton, “An Imperfect Jewel,” 865.
  32. Ibid.
  33. Ibid.
  34. Morelock, Generals of the Bulge, xvi.
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