You are on page 1of 4

R.R. Palmer. Frederick the Great, Guibert, Bulow: From Dynastic to National War.

in Makers of

Modern Strategy from Machiavelli to the Nuclear Age ed. by Peter Paret, Princeton, Princeton
University Press, 1986.
Frederick the Great deserves a special place in military history and historiography he is
cited as an influence on virtually every major European military leader of the 18th and 19th
century and in some ways, his style of warfare inspires todays leaders in the realm of military
organization, discipline, character, and battlefield adaptability.1 Perhaps the most glaring ideal
imposed by Frederick the Great still in use today is Army modularity. The later years of the 17th
century saw the rise of improved fortifications which in return needed garrisons to man the fort.
The general rule stated that armies must stay within a five day march of their base of supply, a
policy that understandably kept large-scale expeditionary fighting to a minimum.2 Frederick
understood that the larger an Army, the larger and more important their supply effort.
Additionally, the command and control (C2) of large and immobile armies suffered due to size.
Officers and NCOs found it difficult to carry out orders from field commanders who made
decisions in combat based on the most recent reports from the front when the orders finally
came down through the lengthy chain of command, the situation may have changed,
necessitating a different strategy from the one devised on old information. For this reason, heat
of the moment ingenuity in combat became very important.3 Clausewitz would later call this the
fog of war and emphasized quick and accurate decision making on the ground by intuitive
commanders as a key component to victory.

R.R. Palmer. Frederick the Great, Guibert, Bulow: From Dynastic to National War. in
Makers of
Modern Strategy from Machiavelli to the Nuclear Age ed. by Peter Paret, Princeton,
University Press, 1986, 91
Ibid., 94
Ibid., 95

Frederick the Great viewed the men in his Army with strictly defined roles; the officer
ranks were made up of nobles who held rights to lands and title.4 The purpose said Frederick
was to preserve the class structure within the Army for which officers could portray themselves
in battle as a brave colonel would be followed into battle by a battalion who viewed him as an
example of courage in which they could respect and emulate.5 Enlistedmen were culled from all
parts of the Prussian kingdom to include serfs, foreign prisoners of war and deserters, and even
land-owning peasants of the non-serf variety.6 He believed in the force generation system in
which common soldiers were recruited locally and placed into regiments and held together by a
common Prussian patriotism.7
Frederick saw the military as an extension of his own mind, developing tactics suited to
quick combat which sought to force an enemy from a given position. To make his Army work as
a cohesive unit, Frederick employed strict discipline among the troops, going as far as ordering
hesitant Soldiers in combat to be bayoneted if they turned from battle.8 Drill was also vigorously
conducted in a way which replicated combat scenarios as well as marching to battle movements.9
With drill and discipline, Frederick programmed his troops to react coolly under fire to any
potential enemy maneuver. Flanking and column march strategies found great use under
Frederick as he employed an oblique order in combat whereas one column marched almost
perpendicular to another so that they could envelope an enemy if successful in attack or cover
retreat in defeat.10 Fredericks Armies proved widely successful in combat employing what is
later to be known as a blitzkrieg style of fighting. Frederick wrote down his experiences and

Ibid., 97
Ibid., 97
Ibid., 97-98
Ibid., 98
Ibid., 100
Ibid., 99
Ibid., 101

theories in several manuals and letters meant for the eyes of his commanders only in most cases.
These writings offer insight on why and how Frederick built the Prussian Army and led it to
victory time and again.
The count de Guibert admired Frederick and even included many examples of his
leadership in his writings, and agreed on some key points such as the role of artillery, the citizen
army, and the lack of valor in paid Soldiers.11 Guibert disagreed with Frederick outright on other
points such as the necessity of fortifications, magazines, and the use of plug and play divisions.
Guibert envisioned a new army that could sustain itself by living off the land and marched and
fought in pre-arranged divisions capable of independent movement from the main body and heat
of the moment decision making among its leaders.12 The division did indeed catch on in warfare.
The United States Army made a conscious shift from the weighty Divisional elements in use
from the Revolution, the Civil War, World War I, World War II, Korea, Vietnam, and the Gulf
War to the modular Brigade Combat Team (BCT) which can easily and quickly deploy as a
package with artillery, scout, infantry, and supply assets combined under one Brigade
commander. Before, these elements were organized as a much larger division and confused
deployment efforts to remote areas of Afghanistan and Iraq. Even in modern times leaders seek
new ways to streamline the look and operation capacity of the force.
Freiherr Heinrich Dietrich von Bulow espoused the modern system which professed
the importance of base operations in combat.13 This theory contested that successful armies must
stay close to supplies and forts in order to defend territory and win battles against marching and
weary enemies. Napoleon proved this to be wholly inaccurate as his troops marched over the
Alps into Italy with little supplies and only biscuits as rations. Bulow painfully back peddled,

Ibid., 108
Ibid., 110
Ibid., 115

but only slightly and even offered that Napoleons success despite Bulows insight on the
contrary proved his original thesis.14 Fredericks ideal of modular force movement and attack
was seized upon by Napoleon who routinely modified Frederick the Greats quick movement
model.15 Bulow wrote after Frederick and Guiberts death with the hindsight and developments
available in the start of the 19th century. Revolutionary ideals of equality and patriotism echoed
in Bulows writings. Most important of his attacks on Frederick was the assertion that Frederick
had the forge generation concept all wrong. France conscripted troops from within France, a
method that ensured patriotism in the formation as French Soldiers would inherently choose to
fight for French ideals and homeland.16
The military revolution of the 17th century brought with it campaigning armies and
ambitious foreign policy among its leaders. Frederick the Great learned that by combining unity
of command (under Frederick himself), modern technology, discipline, drill, and rigid chains of
command, he could dominate enemies on the battlefield. His writings, translated into French
showed his own brand of warfare and when applied to individual situations, proved successful.
Following his lead, Guibert and Bulow wrote to further Fredericks model of modular warfare
and in the case of Bulow, criticism of Fredericks perceived incorrect application of the right
military and social strategies in war put Bulow in a bad light to his contemporaries who thought
him mad.17 Without Frederick, Napoleon and the effects of his campaigns and studies of his
strategies would have likely not occurred. The latter was simply an extension of the former
wearing his emperor hat at one moment while acting as military commander at another.