Best Defense

Mission command, circa 1805

I see the Spanish seem to be contemplating a replay of the battle of Trafalgar. That reminds me of something I read the other day, that Lord Nelson’s form of mission command was very intensive conversation before the fight, very hands off once it began, observed A.B.C. Whipple: Nelson believed in sharing tactical options with ...

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I see the Spanish seem to be contemplating a replay of the battle of Trafalgar.

That reminds me of something I read the other day, that Lord Nelson’s form of mission command was very intensive conversation before the fight, very hands off once it began, observed A.B.C. Whipple:

Nelson believed in sharing tactical options with his captains, discussing every possible situation and emphasizing that when battle was in progress, every captain would be on his own. If a captain saw an opportunity to do damage to the enemy, he was free to attack without awaiting signals from the flagship’s masthead. The old line-ahead dogmas of each ship’s blindly following the leader was not only dead, it was replaced by something previously unheard-of in the Royal Navy: delegation of authority.

Thomas E. Ricks covered the U.S. military from 1991 to 2008 for the Wall Street Journal and then the Washington Post. He can be reached at ricksblogcomment@gmail.com.

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