A common misconception is that German officers were heel-clicking automatons shouting “Jawohl, Herr General!” and sending the soldiers into enemy gunfire. In countless movies, the officers and soldiers appear unimaginative and acting out orders to the letter. Nothing could be further from the truth. The German Army used (and still use) a doctrine called “Auftragstaktik” – mission-type tactics. It wasn’t something new; the concept had been around since the Napoleonic Wars, but the Germans took it to heart. Instead of having superior officers giving specific orders on how to execute a mission, the German commanders gave their subordinates a specific goal, the resources to achieve it with, and a time frame. “Captain, you are to take the three bunkers on Hill 213. You have a rifle company, a platoon of combat engineers, and support from the regimental mortars at your disposal. This mission is to be finished no later than 1400 hours. Questions?”
With the commanding officer planning and executing the mission, a greater degree of flexibility was achieved. If some unforeseen event occurred, the officer didn’t have to check back for updated orders, losing momentum in the process. He could modify his plan on the spot, living up to the German military proverb that “it’s better to do something, than to wait”, meaning that even if an immediate decision could turn out to be less than optimal in retrospect, it was better to act than to wait for orders and miss an opportunity. By acting on opportunities, the mission could turn into a greater success than originally planned. The US and British armies had a much more top-down chain of command, which made officers at lower levels less flexible. Coupled with the German ability to form Kampfgruppen, ad hoc combat commands made up from available troops, this made for an opponent that proved to be tougher than the Allies expected.
So, instead of having “Prussian” officers rigidly following orders, the Germans influenced post-war officer training in other armies. Mission-type tactics are pretty much the norm today, more than two centuries after the concept began to take root.