Battlefield Leadership

WebMaster's picture

Battlefield Leadership

by Lt Gen Harold G. Moore,
US Army (Retired)

These are some comments, based on my limited experience, on a leader's:
- Preparations for battlefield leadership
- My own philosophy on the conduct of a leader in battle







Preparations: Could fill a book. Only a few items:

  1. Read military history. Read small unit actions. Personality of a big battle is often formed by a small unit action
  2. Visit historic battlefields with maps, books in hand.
  3. Install the WILL TO WIN in your unit. No 2nd place trophies in trophy cases.
  4. Build unit discipline, teamwork. A team of fighters
  5. Prepare your unit for your death (or being gravely wounded and evacuated) and for your subordinate leader's loss also. A Squad Leader must be ready to command a platoon or the company. PRACTICE THIS!
  6. Squad leaders and Fire Team leaders must know how to adjust artillery/mortar fire. Live fire is not always necessary. You can do this with marbles and a sandtable; or golf balls and a small piece of ground.
  7. Prepare for wounded men yelling for "Medic" or screaming for "Mom". Practice reducing the enemy fire and neutralizing it BEFORE going out for the wounded. Train for this. It will happen.

Next, Conduct in battle, Four Principles:

  1. The first is "Three strikes and you're NOT out!". Two things a leader can do. Either contaminate his environment and his unit with his attitude and actions, or he can inspire confidence.

    • Must be visible on the battlefield. Must be in the battle. Battalion Commander on down - Brigade and Division Commander on occasion. Self confident. Positive attitude. Must exhibit his determination to prevail no matter what the odds or how desperate the situation. Must have and display the WILL TO WIN by his actions, his words, his tone of voice on the radio and face to face, his appearance, his demeanor, his countenance, the look in his eyes. He must remain calm and cool. NO fear. Must ignore the noise, dust, smoke, explosions, screams of the wounded, the yells, the dead lying around him. That is all NORMAL!
    • Must never give off any hint or evidence that he is uncertain about a positive outcome, even in the most desperate of situations.
    • Again, the principle which must be driven into your own head and the heads of your men is:

      Three strikes and you're NOT out!

  2. And the corollary principle which is inter-reactive with that one is:
    • There is always one more thing you can do to influence any situation in your favor - and after that one more thing - and after that one more thing, etc., etc.
    • In battle, I periodically detached myself mentally for a few seconds from the noise, the screams of the wounded, the explosions, the yelling, the smoke and dust, the intensity of it all and asked myself"

      "What am I doing that I SHOULD NOT be doing, and what am I not doing that I SHOULD BE DOING to influence the situation in my favor?"

  3. The third principle is: "When there is nothing wrong - there's nothing wrong except - THERE'S NOTHING WRONG! That's exactly when a leader must be most alert.
  4. And finally #4. "Trust your instincts." In critical, fast moving battlefield situations, instincts and intuition amount to an instant Estimate of the Situation. Your instincts are the product of your education, training, reading, personality, and experience.


    When seconds count, instincts and decisiveness come into play. In quick-developing situation, the leader must act fast, impart confidence to all around him, must not second guess a decision - MAKE IT HAPPEN! In the process, he cannot stand around slack-jawed when he's hit with the unexpected. He must face up to the facts, deal with them, and MOVE ON.

Picture: Brigade commander COL Hal Moore moves to LZ 4 to join the fight with his troopers in 1966.