German Army officer selection

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When the Germans needed to train a huge number of officers very quickly for the Werhmacht, Luftwaffe, Kriegsmarine and Waffen-SS, the leisurely pre-war method of selection and training (entailing up to two years at the equivalent of Sandhurst or Dartmouth)had to be condensed into six months or less.

The question also arose of the best and most intelligent way to deploy somebody who had shown indications of being a good Prussian officer. Where could the new officer best be posted to maximise his talents and work most effectively for Germany?

To answer this, a simple categorisation system was involved placing the candidate into one of four groupings. These can best be seen as a grid:-







And does this system have anything to teach us in the early part of the 21st Century? Does this make sense when looking at the sort of clot who gets a manager's position in British business, leading their gifted subordinates to wonder why, and on whose choosing?


A leader rated as both competent and energetic was the most desirable of the four personality profiles. A man who had assimilated his lessons and who had the drive and ability to make what he had learnt go a long way in combat. This was viewed as the very best person to take command of a front-line combat unit, be it armoured, infantry or artillery. In other arms of service, as a fighter pilot, bomber crew, or a fighting ship's officer.

It can be seen here that the emphasis is on highly evolved physical qualities, along with intangible qualities such as mental toughness and determination. Intellect would have its value, but would be a subordinate quality coming in a fairly close second behind toughness, resolve and determination.

Asked to name a typical Competent/Energetic type from Germany's genuine WW2 heroes: where to begin? I'd nominate Willy Steinhoff as the exemplar: a Luftwaffe fighter ace whose reward for surviving from 1939 was command of the first jet fighter wing of ME262's. Steinhoff has the distinction of becoming the first jet fighter ace - he shot down seven USAF bombers - and his personal resilience is proven by the fact he survived a flamer, just before the end of hostilities, with 85% burns, and recovered to become the Commanding General of West Germany's post-war Luftwaffe.


A competent but lazy officer - ie, one with the intellectual ability to sail through training without sweating too much, or one with an aversion to too much physical labour - might find his profile in demand for miltary administration, or a rear-echelon command involving planning and logistics, or in a front-line capacity as the sort of artilleryman who makes precise "time-on-target" calculations about when and where and upon whom the shells are going to land. Conversely, a pilot of supply and transport aircraft rather than front-line fighters, or a junior officer best suited to the naval reserve, commmanding a supply vessel or a harbour tug.

It can be seen here that the emphasis is on intellectual ability, with physical fitness, and perhaps even full physical health, coming in a fairly close second. (Colonel von Stauffenberg, the staff officer who planted the bomb that nearly killed Hitler in August 1944, would have rated Competent/Lazy: only bad luck on the day, from his point of view, saved Hitler's life)


This was the dreaded combination: an officer not only inept but with the energy to make misplaced zeal go a long way, with incalculable results.

An incompetent/energetic officer might well be the Luftwaffe bomber pilot who thought he recognised a British destroyer off the German coast, didn't stop to wonder why a British ship was so near Germany in daylight, and pursued his attack so effectively that what turned out to be a German fleet destroyer could barely limp into harbour, and was still being repaired two years later... Then there was the U-boat captain who fired a salvo of torpedoes at a British destroyer without recalibrating their guidance systems for Arctic waters. Without that retrueing, the torpedoes failed to run straight, and instead described a great big semi-circle, which re-united them with their parent vessel a few minutes later. Survivors were taken aboard the British destroyer, whose captain and crew were amazed to witness a U-boat effectively sinking itself with kamikaze torpedoes.

Perhaps a higher-functioning I/E type would have been the last captain of the Tirpitz. All that was required of him was to be a caretaker/manager and just look after the ship, (which would have stayed perpetually in port owing to fuel and other shortages), to keep it clean, and look after the routine administration of the ship and crew.

Alas, he took it into his head that he had a fighting role too, so he wore down his crew by frequent and un-necessary air-raid alarms designed to keep them at a pitch of perfection, sometimes two or three a day, and often at night, denying them a full night's sleep.

So when the Day came, the tired, demoralised, and over-worked crew largely thought "Yet another bloody practice. Why bother? Just go through the motions"... and only glanced at the sky in a cursory fashion. Ten minutes later, RAF Bomber Command visited in lethal force, and ten minutes after that the Tirpitz became Germany's latest ex-naval asset.

It was with the intention of identifying and eliminating the Incompetent/Energetic type of officer candidate that this system was devised. Officers such as these had slipped through the checks and balances and had got into responsible positions where they could cause damage: it was essential in the rushed, hurried and very much expanded officer schools of 1942 and on, that the Incompetent/Energetic be identified, and not allowed to rise much past the rank of sergeant. (The Incompetent-Energetic personality was discovered to make a very good Drill Sergeant or Sergeant-Major, as parade drill calls for the eternal repetition of movements learned by rote which do not require too much intellect to carry out successfully. In the case of the Goose Step - more physical brute force is needed than brainpower.)


On the face of it, an officer graded as incompetent and lazy would be undesirable in any Army: but even stores depots need their commanding officers, where there isn't really a great deal of command or directing to do and this combination of talents could cause the German war machine least damage. The officer might be incompetent, but does not have the drive or the brains or more importantly the opportunity to push it too far. His scope for incompetence is strictly limited to the narrow environment around him and only a few peope can be inconvenienced by his lack of talent. Officers such as this might also serve the Reich, by ensuring more capable or intelligent men are freed up from necessary dead-end jobs, and can do more useful things nearer to the front line.

And what can this system tell us today about its application for the modern civilian workplace?

Well, the reader is invited to play a mind-game here. Observe your own immediate superiors. Or even, perhaps, try to view yourself from the point of view of your subordinates, should you have any. Which category fits best?

The COMPETENT/ENERGETIC will not always be a delight to work with. While they will undoubtedly be the very best at their trade, whatever it is, there will always be a price to pay which may be too much for the emotionally sensitive. Any individual working with a C/E type will learn and will learn fast (the alternative is a quick sacking) but they need to be robust to withstand the rollercoaster. A classic C/E boss would be the chef Gordon Ramsey or the political spinner Alaistar Campbell. Could YOU stand this?

The COMPETENT/LAZY boss will know which of her subordinates is best to receive a particular delegated task. Being Lazy, the boss will not want to do it herself and will seek to delegate. Being Competent, she will know EXACTLY who will make the best job of a delegated task. A C/L boss will be more laid-back than the C/E and will not provoke angry or unseemly scenes. In fact, these people win prizes for their affability, their ability to soothe and soft-talk people, and for their general charm and persuasive ability. C/L's make very good salespeople. Any subordinate will let themselves be charmed into doing her work for her, knowing it isn't really letting yourself be taken advantage of, as the C/L may be relied upon to spread the rewards around, after successful completion of an asignment. (As the C/L knows that sharing the rewards always ensures future co-operation.) An example of the C/L in action might be Body Shop foundress Anita Ruddock.

the INCOMPETENT/LAZY boss will be a trial to work with. Fortunately she can be sidelined easily, as she will be too lazy to work out what is really going on in her office, and a half-competent subordinate may get away with just about anything in her name. In fact, this will be essential for the smooth running of any enterprise with an I/L type at its head. Quoting any real-life example of an I/L might risk incurring libel actions. Instead, ponder on the particular management skills expressed by David Brent in "The Office"

And if you are sorely unlucky, the INCOMPETENT/ENERGETIC boss will behave exactly like the woman who inspired this entry.

At least the experience of working for an I/E boss, in this case, produced a Guide entry!

The I/E will also be easily seduced by expensive consultants offering worthless snake-oil remedies like Six Sigma. Rather than search out the real reasons for decline in performance, staff morale, et c, the I/E always finds it easiest to listen to outside voices and seek soothing quack nostrums from snake-oil merchants called Consultants. This is inevitably to the detriment of long-term permanent staff.

As with the military example of the drill-sergeant, if placed in a position where she can hector and shout within a limited remit, based on principles learnt by rote and needing no particular intelligence to grasp, and where no actual damage may be caused, then she may thrive and prosper within her limited ability to do so. A work-based educator role, doing nothing higher than an NVQ 2? (NVQ = Not Very Qualifed)Think of Pauline with the pen collection who ran the job club in Royston Vasey...

Another cartoon archetype for the I/E boss is the Pointy Headed Boss in Scott Addams' "Dilbert" cartoons. Reccommended....

(Researcher AgProv is hereby graded Competent/Lazy)

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