“The personality of the general is indispensable. He is the head, he is the all of an army. The Gaul’s were not conquered by the Roman Legions but by Caesar. It was not before the Carthaginian soldier that Rome was made to tremble, but before Hannibal. It was not the Macedonian phalanx which penetrated India but Alexander. Prussia was not defended for seven years against the three most formidable European powers by Prussian soldiers but by Frederick the Great”. – Napoleon
History has proved again and again that no matter how large and supposedly powerful any armed forces may be, they can accomplish little without accomplished leaders. Babar defeated the hordes of Ibrahim Lodi at Panipat. Frederick the Great repeatedly defeated forces having twice his strength. General O’Conner defeated numerically superior Italian forces in North Mrica in the First Libyan Campaign and General McArthur turned defeat into victory at Inchon.
The role of any commander in battle is to defeat his enemy.
General Omar Bradley said “Man for man, one division is as good as another, they vary on the skill and leadership of their commanders”. The same is true for any brigade or battalion. The essential traits and character qualities of senior commanders thus merit detailed study so that selection and development of potential commanders can be more effective.
Military life and work, by its nature, is full of contradictions. On. one hand, the fact that a large number of men have to live and work together requires imposition of strict discipline under which they have to conform to well defined codes of conduct and function in a particular manner. On the other hand. the fluid nature of mechanised warfare, counter insurgency operations or air jiand battle calls for initiative, understanding and critical judgment, all these being the antithesis of conformity and authoritarianism.
The peacetime environment in the armed forces encourage the breeding of senior commanders who stick to rules, always conform to the wishes of their superiors and sacrifice their independence of action by first ascertaining the preference of his superiors on which to base his conduct. Peace time tends to produce anti intellectualism for intellectualism is seen as anti establishment. Thus Colonel (later Major General) F C Fuller of the British Army was denied the permission to write a book. Apt B H Little Hart, the well known author of military science was forced to retire. So was General Percy Hobart, one of the earliest authorities on tank warfare.
It is also necessary to guard against this syndrome by which officers like Lieutenant General B M Kaul rise to the top. This can only be achieved if the authorities have a clear understanding as to what goes into the making of a great general.
Role of a Commander
The role of any commander in battle is to defeat his enemy. To achieve victory in war, the commander has to be able to do the following:
- Motivate his command to give their best.
- Integrate all elements of his command into a homogeneous and effective force.
- Train his command to a fine pitch so that they can out perform the enemy.
- Out think, out wit and out manoeuvre his enemy so that he can bring to bear the full potential of his force into battle while preventing the enemy from doing so.
Motivating the Command
The will to fight is perhaps the most important battle-winning factor. General G S Patton has aptly summed this by saying, “Wars are fought with weapons, but they are won by men. It is the spirit of the men who follow and the man who leads that gains victory”. In this book we have seen the effect of the leadership of Major R S Dayal, Lt Col Tarapore, Major Hoshiar Singh, to name a few on the outcome of battle.
George Washington said, “War must be carried out systematically and to do it you must have men of character activated by the principles of honour”.
There are many factors that motivate men like good weapon systems, numerical and technological superiority and adequacy of resources. But the most important factor is the leader himself. Napoleon, Slim, McArthur led defeated troops to victory. The traits and character qualities which enable a commander to motivate his command are honour, courage, confidence, benevolence, sincerity, own morale and determination.
Integrating the Command
The importance of integrating all elements of one’s command on the modern battlefield with its plethora of weapon systems and support systems is a challenging task. General Guderian was a master of the art and his Panzer forces highlighted the effectiveness of combined arms operations. We have also seen how the ability of 54 Infantry Division to integrate trawls with their Engineers enabled them to use them effectively to breach the minefield at Basantar, whereas 39 Infantry Division failed and lost their trawls. The concept is nothing new. Cooperation is one of the principles of war. The character qualities which enable a commander to integrate his forces are knowledge, vision, wisdom, objectivity, listening capability, perspective and patience.
Training the Command
Training is a battle winning factor. Frederick the Great could defeat forces superior in number because his troops could shoot three times faster than the enemy and march quicker. The Romans could build their empire because of superior battle drills of the Roman Legions.
A leader whose actions are motivated by considerations of career advancement or personal gains are easily seen through by their command and thus never enjoy their trust.
Our own armoured regiments equipped with the out dated Sherman and Centurion tanks won handsome victories at AssaI Uttar, Phillora and Basantar over he superior Patton tanks mainly because of superior training. The character qualities which enable a commander to train his command effectively are vision, strictness, persuasion and determination.
Outwitting the Enemy
Surprise is one of the most fundamental principles of war which has been stressed from Sun Tsu to the most modern military thinker. Hannibal’s attack across the Alps, Mohammmed II’s ferrying of ships across land, the Normandy and Inchon landings have all highlighted the importance of surprise. Our own victories at Zoji La, Raj,auri Bayra, Dacca etc were largely due to our ability to surprise the enemy. Commanders who have successfully out thought, outwitted and out manoeuvred the enemy were all creative people. These great captains of war had character qualities like creativity, vision, conceptual ability, intuition, perspective and a high risk profile or boldness.
Essential Character Qualities and Traits
Having discussed the role of a commander and the character qualities necessary to carry out these roles,’ let us delve a little in the character qualities themselves.
George Washington said, “War must be carried out systematically and to do it you must have men of character activated by the principles of honour”. Senior commanders must be standard bearers and must abide by the highest standards of conduct and selfless service. The concept of honour is complex. However, in essence it prompts trust and professional commitment. Some essential qualities of honourable men are:
General Manekshaws offer to resign rather than launch offensive against East Pakistan in April 1971 is a shining example of moral courage and selflessness.
Honesty. Commanders have to be honest. Honesty is difficult to define. There is a fine line between perks of office and misappropriation of government funds. There is no need to forego the perks of office to be honest. At the same time, taking away mess or regimental property, use of regimental funds for purchase of private items or not paying mess bills will hardly enhance the image of commanders. Honesty is necessary not only in financial terms but also in dealings. Honesty in performance appraisal, examining merits and demerits of plans and problems is equally important. Favouritism must be consciously avoided.
Truthfulness. A man of deceit, who forgets his commitments as soon as he leaves the scene, who makes false promises and gains cheap popularity can never enjoy the trust of his command.
Selflessness. A leader whose actions are motivated by considerations of career advancement or personal gains are easily seen through by their command and thus never enjoy their trust. Alexander’s pouring a glass of water offered on to the sand in front of his thirsty soldiers did wonders for their morale. General Manekshaw’s offer to resign rather than launch offensive against East Pakistan in April 1971 is a shining example of moral courage and selflessness.
Dependability. Troops willingly follow a commander on whom they can depend, whom they can trust. It goes without saying that example is more important than precept.
Faith, trust and admiration are feelings that the command must feel for their commanders. The great captains of war were, without exception, honourable men.
Courage is of two types, physical courage or gallantry and moral courage to stand up for their beliefs and convictions. Both are essential for commanders.
Physical Courage. Physical courage to face danger alongside the troops is an essential trait in successful senior commanders. Napoleon, Ronunel, Patton and Slim to mention a few and our own Lieutenant Generals Sagat Singh, Ranjit Singh Dayal and Z A Bakshi displayed it in great measure. It is interesting to note what General LK Truscott, US Army, had to say about the defeat of American forces by Rommel at Kasserine Pass; “One contributing factor to American reverses was the command method of most of the American commanders, who conducted their battles from a command post which they seldom left. Ft’;w commanders in higher echelons ever spent much time in personal reconnaissance, visiting troops or inspecting dispositions.”
Moral Courage. This form of courage is perhaps the hardest to come by but is most important in senior commanders. It involves disagreement with superiors and at times disobedience of orders which are likely to be seen as a breach of discipline or disloyalty and result in death or dishonour. It requires supreme confidence, an iron will, fine judgement and perhaps a bit of luck for stands based on moral courage to succeed.
General Manekshaw refused the dictates of Mrs Indira Gandhi to launch the offensive into East Pakistan in April 1971 and offered to resign.
However, many battles have been won and many lives saved by creative disobedience or insubordination. It is interesting to note that Nelson’s victory at Trafalgar was achieved by violating the naval doctrines and for which other admirals had been shot. At the battle of Zondor. in 1758, Frederick the Great ordered his cavalry commander General Frederick von Seydlith to charge Russian guns. The order was thrice refused with the reply, “Mter the battle the king can do what he likes with my head, but during the battle he may please allow me to use it”. Nearer home, General Manekshaw refused the dictates of Mrs Indira Gandhi to launch the offensive into East Pakistan in April 1971 and offered to resign. The resignation of General Sardeshpande over the issue of authorisation of married accommodation to IPKF troops posted at Madras is another shining though less publicised example.
“A good military leader must dominate the events which encompass him; once events get the better of him, he will lose the confidence of his men and when that happens, he ceases to be of value as a leader”. Thus spoke Field Marshal Montgomery. A leader must always appear confident and in control of the situation. Confidence comes from his own competence, a thorough understanding of the capabilities of his men and weapon systems, foresight, decisiveness and courage. A commander must be unflappable and always cool. Lack of confidence is extremely contagious and can lead to a rout.
A senior leader must have the ability to visualise the enemy’s pattern of operations and formulate his own concept of operations.
The role of General Harbakhsh Singh, GOC in C Western Command, in restoring the morale of the officers and men of 4 Mountain Division after their disastrous performance at Khemkaran on September 6, 1965, turned defeat into victory in the Battle of Assal Uttar that followed. It is interesting to note that the Corps Commander had recommended that the formation be replaced and four of the six battalions be immediately disbanded. The confidence of General Sparrow (then Colonel) in the 7 Cavalry carried the day at Zoji La.
A senior commander must always have the well being of his men at heart. Frederick the Great cautioned all senior leaders and commanders to care for their soldiers. He said, “The commander should appear friendly to his soldiers, speak to them on the march, visit them while they are cooking, ask them if they are well cared for and alleviate their needs if they have any”. Lieutenant General P S Bhagat, Victoria Cross died in the early seventies. He is still remembered by many for the interest he took in making the lives of soldiers under his command and that of their families more bearable.
Vision or Perspective
All actions start with a vision, a clear cut idea or perspective of what we want to achieve. In simple words, a commander must know how to set and achieve goals. No coherent battle or campaign plan can be fought without a lucid vision of how it is to be fought or concluded. Vision or the ability to see the future, to be able to read the battle through the fog of war, to be able to identify the weaknesses of the enemy and how to exploit it, to be able to assess the effects of social, economic and technological changes on warfare is a senior officer’s source of effectiveness. A senior leader must have the ability to visualise the enemy’s pattern of operations and formulate his own concept of operations.
Clarity of thinking and intuitive sensing are important inputs into vision. Foresight is another complementary quality. It is this clarity of vision which enabled the Indian Army to relieve Leh in J948 and capture Dacca in 1971. Lack of the same resulted in disaster in 1962, failure to reinforce Zoji La in May 1948 and stalemate and needless casualties in IPKF operations in Sri Lanka.
Wisdom is the ability to do the right thing as against doing a thing right. It calls for great depth of knowledge not only about tactics and strategies of war but also about human nature and an awareness of the political, economic and environmental situation. It calls for the ability to see problems in their longterm and true perspective. It requires calmness of temper and serenity of mind.
A senior commander must always have the well being of his men at heart.
It requires a commander to rise above ego problems, regimental and other petty loyalties, and be elevoted to the nation, to the service and to the men. It calls for uprightness of character and objectivity in decision making.
The basic instrument of military creativity is creative decision making. The first characteristic of creativity is originality. General J C Fuller observes: “Originality, not conventionality is one of the main pillars of generalship. To do something that the enemy does not expect, is not prepared for, something that will surprise him and disarm him morally. To spy out the soul of one’s adversary, to act in a manner which will astonish and bewilder him, this is generalship.
This is the foundation of success”, The sure test of military creativity is the surprise it causes on the enemy. Classic Indian examples are the Battle of Shalateng, 1947, Battle of Zoji La, 1948 and the capture of Dacca.
Another characteristic of creativity is that it integrates ideas and technological advances into the concept of war. The British first introduced the tank to the battlefield in 1918 but it were the Germans who successfully integrated them into and effective fighting machine in the form of their Panzer Divisions. The concept of the air land battle, so successfully used in the Gulf War, is another example of military creativity. Bridging of Madhumati River in Bangladesh, by a combination of Folding Boat Equipment and Bailey Bridge Equipment, crossing of the Meghna without conventional river crossing equipment, use of assault lanes and selective mine breaching in the Battle of Basantar are excellent examples of mil,itary creativity of the Indian Army. The ingredients of military creativity are as under:
A problem can be tackled effectively provided it is understood in its true perspective. A creative commander must be able to see a problem in its correct perspective.
Intellectual Ability. The intellect operates through five faculties: cognition, memory, vertical or logical thinking and evaluation. Cognition is the action of knowing. It includes formation of ideas and perception. Lateral or non logical thinking is the faculty by which the mind can think in different directions in its attempt to find answers to problems which are capable of a variety of solutions. This is the ability which produces original ideas. Evaluation is the ability of the mind which after considering the relevant factors of the problem is able to corne to a decision as to correctness, suitability or workability of the solution.
ProbleiTI Sensitivity. A problem can be tackled effectively provided it is understood in its true perspective. The cadre review has been unable to solve the problem of stagnation but created a host of others like changing the primacy from command to staff. A creative commander must be able to see a problem in its correct perspective.
Fluency oj Ideas. A creative person has more ideas at a time than non creative persons. Memory and non logical thinking are the key to fluency of ideas.
Flexibility in Thinking. This trait enables the thinker to keep attacking problems with a variety of techniques and also redefining the problem or aim. General Sato, the Commander of Japanese forces lost a great opportunity of winning the war through inflexibility by wasting vital time in capturing Kohima when the route to Dimapur lay undefended in front his troops. Rommel said that no plan survives beyond the first day of battle. To win, commanders must have the flexibility to change plans as required to achieve the ultimate aim. Operations of 4 Corps in the Bangladesh War of 1971 is a good example of flexibility in battle.
Originality. Originality is a produce of non logical thinking and evaluation. A creative person is not afraid of being unconventional. As discussed earlier, originality is an essential quality of generalship. Unfortunately, most schools of instruction discourage originality.
It can be said without fear of contradiction that all great military leaders like Hannibal, Alexander, Rommel, Von Manstien, McArthur, Patton, Guderian and Frederick the Great were creative thinkers.
High Risk Taking Profile or Boldness
Risk taking means taking needed decisions in varied degrees of uncertainty. Risk taking does nor mean gamhling. Risks ‘are only justified when it will further the aim or goal. Risks are also necessary for ar! outnumbered force. An excellent example is General O’Conner’s attack on the Italian forces in North Africa, where, what started as a spoiling attack led to complete defeat of the Italians and capture of more prisoners than the attacking force.
The Battle of Shalateng, 1947, is another example. It is unrealistic to expect a clear and complete picture during war for decision making. Inaction and neglect of fleeting tactical opportunities are disastrous. Higher commanders must have offensive spirit and a high risk taking profile. This is not possible in an environment where mistakes are not acceptable and golf and mess functions need to be rehearsed.
Montgomery said, “The acid test of an officer who aspires to high command is his ability to grasp quickly the essentials of a military problem”. Conceptual ability enables a commander to do this and establish long term and short term goals. Conceptual skill requires common sense, vision, creativity, intuition, judgement, imagination and a clear understanding of the principles of war and basic considerations of the various operations of war. Those who lack conceptual skills typically pursue short term goals without regard to long term consequence.
Senior commanders can only succeed if their armies are well trained. Commanders must therefore demand and accept the highest standards of training.
The emphasis is on form over substance, minor staff duties over major staff duties, on the cover instead of the contents. 4 Mountain Division’s involvement in Khustia, 9 Intantry Division’s pursuit of enemy to Khulna and 1 Corps operations in the Shakargarh Bulge in 1971 illustrates the point.
Senior commanders must be men of iron will. They must not give up but pursue the objective relentlessly. Battles are always lost in the hearts and minds before they are actually lost. The debacle at Sela and the fall of Fortress Singapore are some examples of military disasters brought on by lack of determination in commanders.
Senior commanders can only succeed if their armies are well trained. Commanders must therefore demand and accept the highest standards of training. Training is only possible if resources and time is provided. Unrealistic training instructions and training on paper can lead to disaster.
A senior commander has to integrate diverse personalities and forces into a well knit fighting team. To achieve this he needs patience and tact, firmness and persuasiveness and good powers of listening. He must patiently listen to his subordinates and encourage them to speak up and come out with suggestions.
Many commanders avoid decision making. They are forever asking for comments and views and trying to ascertain what reply or action the superiors would like to be taken.
Having said much about the desirable qualities and traits of senior commanders, it would be appropriate to touch upon a few undesirable traits which need to be eradicated. These are careerism, egoism. indecisiveness and hypocrisy.
Careerism. This is a trait which puts self before service. To the careerist, the honour and welfare of the boss comes first, always and every time; his own honour and welfare comes next and all else comes last always and every time. A careerist does not believe in long-term objectives. He concentrates on what he can achieve during his tenure’ and what will please his boss. He believes in bull and golf as important props to career advancement. Careerism is the antithesis of professionalism.
Egoism. Egoism is the trait in a commander which makes him feel that he is the know all and be all of everything. He cannot tolerate contrary views which in other words means professionalism. He enjoys flattery, sycophancy and the five star cu1ttlre. He cannot stand any moralistic or professional stand. When his ego is hurt, he becomes angry and becomes vindictive. Egoism is the antithesis of wisdom.
Indecisiveness. Many commanders avoid decision making. They are forever asking for comments and views and trying to ascertain what reply or action the superiors would like to be taken. They have no convictions. They are afraid to make a mistake or to offend superiors. Indecisiveness can be fatal in a battle. Fleeting tactical opportunities can only be exploited by bold commanders. Delay in decision making gives the enemy time to reorganise and regroup. Indecisiveness is the antithesis of courage and confidence.
Hypocrisy. The hypocrite preaches morality, high ideals and impeccable conduct but practices the opposite. He insists on a mess bill but blows his top if the bill exceeds Rs 10 per meal or some such paltry sum. He talks of economy in use of transport but uses the staff car to go for golf. He talks of austerity but expects Scotch whisky, lavish food and silver mementoes. Hypocrisy is the antithesis of honour and sincerity.
Napoleon said, “It is exceptional and difficult to find in one man all the qualities of a great general. That which is most desirable and which instantly sets a man apart is that his intelligence is balanced by his character and courage”. General On Sukt said, “Intellect without will is worthless, will without intellect is dangerous”. Rommel said, “A commander’s drive and energy counts for more than his personal power”. It is also a fact that without creative thinking, no victory is possible.
It is a truism that no matter how large or powerful any armed forces may be, they can accomplish little without competent leaders. Different great captains of war had different dominating traits. Genghis Khan relied on speed of manoeuvre and ruthlessness, Nelson on audacity, Rommel on speed and opportunism, Hannibal on audacity and deception, Montgomery on methodical preparation. The list can go on. But certain qualities they had in common. They were all men of character and honour. They were men of vision. They were creative men who were able to train and integrate their armies into well knit, effective fighting machines which would follow their leaders unto death. These are the character qualities and traits that all senior commanders must acquire.