So like I discussed earlier, Battle Procedure is the means by which a commander creates a plan for a previous unseen situation in real time. A major part of this involves delegating portions of the plan to subordinates, and having them develop their parts concurrently to you so that a detailed plan can emerge in a much shorter period of time than would normally be possible. This normally culminates in a series of formal orders groups (‘O-Groups’) where each successive level of command lays out the plan for their subordinates.
There’s just one problem (well, actually there’s dozens of problems but we’re only going to talk about one today): While the plan’s being made, the war’s still raging. And the commander given the task in the beginning might not be around to complete the task later.
One of the keys to understanding this is the fact that Battle Procedure first developed in World War I where, even on a quiet day, the Western Front was exacting a steady toll of death via snipers, artillery bombardments, trench raids and even just basic illness. Because a major part of leadership involves moving around between HQs, the front, and neighbouring units, leaders were often under increased exposure to enemy attack in the lead up to major operations.
The solution to this was to drip feed key pieces of the plan downwards in the form of Warning Orders, followed by Fragment Orders (Frag-Os), to give the leader’s second in command a steady stream of insight as to the bosses’ line of thought. So if the word suddenly comes down that the Lt got hit two hours before the attack’s supposed to start, then the Sergeant won’t be completely in the dark when he takes over.
This ties in to what the CAF would eventually call ‘the command team relationship’ where the IC (‘in command’) and 2IC (‘second in command’) are essentially a matched set that work as mirror images to each other. The IC deals upwards. They receive the orders from higher, make the plan, harmonize it with neighbouring and supporting units, and lead the unit when the time comes. The 2IC deals downwards. They look after the troops, make sure they’re fed, equipped, and ready for the mission. They’re the ones who make sure the troops are re-stocked for ammo, that reinforcements and augmentees are integrated into the unit, and that any special equipment has been distributed and explained.
So what is the 2IC supposed to prepare the troops for? That’s where the Warning Order and Frag O come in. The idea is that, as soon as the IC has the basic outlines of the mission, the pull out a map, do a rough estimate of what’s going to be needed, and how long it will take to put together formal orders. This gets scrawled down on a sheet of paper (or relayed through a short verbal message) for the 2IC. This is the Warning Order.
Until this point, the 2IC knows that something is up (because the IC just took off for HQ) but not much else. Upon receiving the Warning Order, they can now start taking concrete steps to prepare. While the specifics aren’t known, there should be enough in that Order that a fair bit can be safely assumed. Suppose the mission is an assault on the enemy in sector X in approximately eight hours’ time. This isn’t much to go on, but it means that the 2IC can order the troops to assemble their packs and send extra kit to the rear, to stock up on extra ammo and grenades, to get some food into them (they can also time it so they’ll be going over the top with full stomachs) and maybe even get some rest before the mission begins.
The 2IC can begin making a few plans themselves. Knowing the probable mission means they can look at their own maps (or talk to those who know) in order to fill in some of the blanks. They can also send messages of their own to advise or request: ‘Sir, I’m hearing from guys who’ve seen X that the enemy has really built up their defences. What are we going to have for wire-cutting and obstacle-breaching?’ This is especially important in cases where the IC is an inexperienced officer who may have only just recently taken over command.
As Battle Procedure progresses and the plan begins to shape up, this back-and-forth of communication should allow the command team to work separately towards a common end. Most of the time this will be from the top down in the form of Fragment Orders (Frag O’s) as certain parts of the plan snap into place and the IC needs to update the 2IC about something new:
‘2IC, we’re going to have engineer support to breech enemy wire. They’re sending a Sergeant Smith to be our liaison. He should be linking up with you within the hour, and will brief you about what’s been planned. You are also authorized to draw four additional wire cutters from stores.’
‘2IC, we have aerial photography of the enemy positions taken just six hours ago. I have included a sketch of objective X. The highlighted part appears to be a new machine gun trench that will have to be supressed. I’m working on getting priority support from Battalion mortars.’
This will allow the 2IC to continue their concurrent activity and ready the unit for the attack, so that by the time the IC arrives to deliver orders, they will largely be ready to step off.
But even more important than this, the 2IC will already be halfway up to speed on the plan in the event something happens to the IC. This didn’t even have to be the death of the IC. The loss of somebody else in the chain of command could easily leave gaps that could require the IC to move up (or sideways), and force the 2IC to assume their boss’s role. More importantly, the larger operation of which the IC’s mission is a part of is not going to wait. The original timeframe may have been eight hours, but if the dreaded cry of ‘2IC take over!’ comes just two hours from the start time, the 2IC’s not going to have much leeway in asking for an extension.
If the 2IC can walk into the HQ bunker having spoken to the engineer representative, already knowing that there’s aerial photos, and knowing to ask about the availability of the battalion mortars, then that two hour time frame might just be enough.
In a perfect system, the IC and 2IC should be able to generate near-identical plans independently and concurrently. As the start time nears, the IC will have to brief the troops, but the 2IC should already know what’s coming.
This is why a healthy command team relationship is important, and why a steady stream of communication is vital. It’s also why the classic FMP (field message pad-see featured image) is a vital piece of kit for anyone who’s in charge (hell, issued note pads in the CAF still include carbon paper).
Obviously, in the real world, things are never this perfect. Command teams can be downright dysfunctional, with lack of experience and personality clashes derailing the planning process. It’s a complicated relationship to manage, and doing it in real time during the stress of an actual operation is even harder. It also doesn’t always get the emphasis it needs in leadership training where issuing the preliminary Warning Order usually amounts to one point on an evaluation form, and Frag Os are treated as optional.
For my money though, they’re essential, and something that young leadership should get used to doing. Don’t worry about format or timing outside of a course setting. A simple scrawled note or a two minute discussion can mean the difference between troops who are ready to go as soon as orders are completed vs troops who’ve been sitting around waiting for instructions. It can also make all the difference if you’re suddenly not there to deliver your final orders. Après moi, la déluge is no way to run an army.
Also, you really should trust the people serving beneath you. You’re all on the same side after all.
***Featured image is of a tactical FMP cover, from cpgear.com. Operating out of New Brunswick for decades now, cpgear has been the leading company receiving money from naive young soldiers fascinated by shiny kit. For what it’s worth, the nuke bag I bought back in 2005 still lives despite thirteen years of hard use so it’s not like I was robbed.***
 The grim term from that bleak period of time was ‘wastage’: Non-combat casualties that accomplished nothing of tactical value. World War II (at least for the western allies) was the first major conflict in recorded history in which the combat casualties finally outnumbered the wastage casualties.
 To give an idea of just how shattering this could be, on 2 June 1916 General Mercer (the commander of 3rd Canadian Infantry Division) and Brigadier Williams one of his Brigade commanders were caught at the front line in the opening barrage of the German attack on Mount Sorrel. They were literally there to survey the poor state of the trenches Canada had just taken over the week before. General Mercer would be killed in the opening minutes, while Williams would be wounded and eventually captured as the attack overran the Canadians’ forward positions.