The opportunity arises from the play of dialectical actions between the opposing units. Opportunity is the tactical, even operational, weakness that arises in an enemy sector or is about to do so. We can act on it and even precipitate it with our combined weapons system in an «action interface» especially favorable to us. In opportunity always underlies an enemy error. If this was insurmountable for him, it would be due to the unforeseen, surprising circumstances that concurred. Opportunities are a useful and advantageous feature provided by the dialectic of actions in the chaos of war.
The intermediate objectives foreseen in the plans are not opportunities. They are forecasts derived from the planning and the well-founded resolution of the command. When contacts with the enemy begin, its achievement begins to be tested, as Moltke said, in the dialectics play.
Of this play in a chaotic environment, independently of the greater or smaller deviations from plans, will arise the opportunities and the dangers. The dangers would be the enemy opportunities on us. Both are unexpected, but accessible and exploitable during a certain time. The reason of the unpredictably of the opportunities in the time is in the number almost infinite of variables and individual and collective actions that concur to define a “situation” and the successive cycles of action in which it develops.
The opportunity arises when the enemy fails to use his forces and means of support. It can originate in differences in the qualities of enemy forces and in the transitability of a given terrain, that debilitates a defense or the momentum of an attack. It also appears in the negligence of the enemy in presenting an exposed flank, that is, an interface of action real or potential favorable with us, not properly taken care of by him to face our available combined arms system. The opportunity is an emptiness in combat capacity that arises in a cycle of action for a unit, or a sector, that is unprotected and neglected for long enough allowing it to be detected and exploited by the enemy.
It is necessary to take advantage of opportunities quickly. The dynamics of interaction in a chaotic environment makes opportunities unattainable after a short time. The succession of cycles of action continually modify circumstances.
To detect opportunities at any level of military activity, intelligence is necessary (elaborated the exploration and reconnaissance and converted into useful, continuous, sufficient knowledge) and the sufficient presence of the corresponding command. To take advantage of them, simple and vertical communication is necessary, supported by implicit communication between subordinate leaders and mobility, flexibility and combat capacity available in the units and commands involved. If the opportunity is transcendental, the tactical or operational center of gravity of the military means is transferred to it by the command. If it is important, their use must contribute concentrically to its creation and development.
The same characteristics just mentioned, but focused on ourselves, are the ones that, in turn, will protect us from enemy dangers or opportunities. This will prevent its appearance, compensate for the danger or mitigate its presence and reduce our time of vulnerability. If despite foresight and care, surprising or unexpected circumstances concur in its appearance, even due to a mistake on our part, the means to be used are the last two actions mentioned for its detection and use.
What is that sufficient presence of the commander? The one that allows him to take advantage of the opportunities that arise at his level of activity. All of this is directly related to the two different command styles or forms for carrying out the tasks of the different levels of command.
Tactical command must be exercised bySensing the “action interface” with the enemy, exchanging actions with him on the ground. The limit of tactical command is clearly in the brigade. And, in large operations or in the attack or in the armored forces, it probably reaches in greater or lesser degree to the division, whose commander must drive forward the march or the attack behind the first important marching force of the bulk of the unit.
The command of the army corps is clearly an corps’ operational management and must have a broader perspective of the whole. As well as a greater distance from direct contact with the enemy, which overcomes the interface of action and its immediate rear. This gives the command breadth, vision, serenity and security.
In the immense chaos that is created in a combat, the foresight of the command can impose and outline its evolution in a direction and sense.
Like the effective command, is capable of «searching» and «feeling» the enemy’s signs of weakness and discouragement. And then he prepares the forces that he will use in the persecution and the support that he will give them. Putting them under the command of an energetic, spirited, leading and lucid commander.
The command must prepare «rapidly available forces» in the units under its command. For example, a mixed company in the battalion; a combined arms battalion in the brigade. In such a way that the appearance of the opportunity, close and surprising, allows him to take advantage of it. Since the surprise will help the opportunity to be seized at first by a relatively small force of their own. And that may soon be reinforced by the bulk.
Example of the effective, non-physical presence of a High Command.
Erich von Manstein directed the counterattack operation of the German Armies Group Don, mainly against the Soviet Southwestern Front of General Vatutin, from his headquarters in Zaporiya. By mid-March1943, the Germans had eliminated six tank corps in the order of battle of Vatutin, recovered Kharkov and settled a resistant defense front from Tangarov to Belgorod, supported in the Mius and the Donetz. They also had enough mobile reserves in the south of Russia to reject possible soviet operational ruptures in the zone. And, after the setback of Stalingrad, they had recovered the strategic initiative, at least in the southern theater of operations.
An attack against the Kursk salient, completed its formation by von Manstein‘s advance on Belgorod, which would have begun in April, then had a chance of success due to the lack of Soviet preparation.
This same offensive, which began in July 1943, determined that no more mistakes by the German High Command (Hitler) were of any importance: then, the subjet of total strategy or state strategy was no longer who would win the war, but how long it would take to do so.
A Failure in the effective presence of command.
Let’s see an example of an inadequate presence of the commander, in relation to the echelon that he is supposed to command. It starred Rommel in North Africa in November 1941.
Mistakenly believing that the British armor was dispersed after some fighting, Rommel ordered to concentrate his Panzers on the Libyan-Egyptian border. Directly dedicated to it, acting as a regimental commander, he was involved in the repulse of a British attack. He was even isolated with his command vehicle, due to a mechanical problem, for half a day at the front.
This temporarily deprived him of control of operations in Tobruk. This was Rommel’s main operational objective, while resisting the German siege was the main objective of the English. Due to this unjustified distraction, Rommel had to abandon the attempt to take that fortified port, located in his operational rear, which he could have consolidated for his defense of his won territory.
In less than a month, the advances of the English tanks and infantry forced him into a long retreat towards Tunisia. He had to give up almost all the ground he had gained since March, when he arrived in Africa, until he recovered and was able to fight back, as British pressure lightened.