Jump to content

Remembered Today:

Books on British Staff Work in WWI?


simonharley
 Share

Recommended Posts

A lot of my research is focused on Admiralty administration, and the evolution of naval staffs afloat and ashore leading up to and during the First World War. The formal creation of a staff at the Admiralty in 1912 was in part due to the claim that the Navy compared poorly in relation to the Army in this respect. But from what I've gathered over the years Army staff work seems to have left a lot to be desired, from strategic planning in Whitehall all the way down to operations in the field.

Are there any works which specifically cover the British army staff work, both at home and abroad, in London and in the field? Structures, training, and so on. No one's really done it for the Navy (especially not the training or the staffs afloat), but one would assume that someone must have done it for the Army.

Thanks in advance,

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Hi

A few books that may be of interest are:

'The British General Staff - Reform and Inovation, 1890-1939', Edited by David French and Brian Holden Reid, Cass 2002. Has some chapters that cover WW1.

'British Generalship on the Western front 1914-18 - Defeat into Victory', by Simon Robbins, Routledge 2005.

'Command and Control on the Western Front - The British Army's Experience 1914-18', Edited by Gary Sheffield and Dan Todman, Spellmount 2004.

'Directing Operations - British Corps Command on the Western Front 1914-18', by Andy Simpson, Spellmount 2006.

There will be others that cover 'staff work' depending what detail you want to go into, I am sure others can add titles.

Mike

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Brian Bond's The Victorian Army and the Staff College 1954 - 1914 is probably your best background reading.

Actually I do not think that it (the staff work) was all that bad, given the size of the army - very much the poor relation in terms of money, the tasks that the government had assigned to it pre war and the extremely limited field exercises for formations that were either financially possible or practically feasible (when compared to continental armies). It did not help that so many psc officers were killed/incapacitated early in the war nor that the staff college was closed at the outbreak of hostilities.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

"Behind the Lines" by Col W N Nicholson has some useful information about the early service of the Highland Division, and in particular the staff work involved.

Ron

Link to comment
Share on other sites

In 1914 there were not a lot of trained staff officers, rapid expansion stretched the talent pool still further. However, there is nothing particularly 'magic' about staff work in field HQs, an eye for detail is perhaps the most important trait, and a good understanding of the capabilities and constraints affecting all the different elements of the field army. A more interesting question is the availability of German speaking officers. Lots of French speakers, but German speakers seems to have been a bit short in WW2 (don't mention Japanese!), hence the post-war program of immersion Russian courses for selected national servicemen.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Whilst I take the point, I do remember reading (possibly the Memoirs of Lord Moyne?) a comment that when it came to a meeting of formation staffs for orders that the non psc were taking voluminous notes whilst those who had been just jotted down a few crucial details.

I wonder if the fairly common custom of officers doing stints in foreign countries as observers or whatever continued much after the First World War? One thinks of Capper in Japan, Haig in Germany, Wilson in France ...

Link to comment
Share on other sites

A more interesting question is the availability of German speaking officers.

Nigel - curious to know why you sense there was a shortage of German speaking Officers in the British Army. Over the years trawling through the Amy List I have always been surprised over the number of Officers with [L] and (l) after their names - denoting 1st and 2nd class interpreters in a modern foreign language. It would seem odd for the Army to not diversify its language skill-base. The British Army often sent observers to German Army manoeuvres and studied German tactical doctrine in some detail. Added to this the surprising number of Officers made POW who could speak German when they were captured - on occasion this saved lives. I don't have hard numbers but anecdotally they seem to appear more frequently than one might expect. Given the sheer size and diversity of the Officer class and the Reserve of Officers and the heavy reliance on public school educated men in the Army of 1914, I don't imagine there was a shortage of men with language skills or indeed German language skills. Curious to better understand why you think there was a shortage as it is something I never really sensed. Is there any recorded evidence of this shortage? MG

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Thanks to all for the suggestions - it would seem that there's no shortage of literature. Robbins and Bond I already have (although I recall Bond, which I can't find right now, being rather outdated).

With regards to German speakers, it may or may not be relevant to quote a memorandum written by a Navy Captain in 1909 to the First Sea Lord:

"Lastly there is, to the best of my belief, no system at present of making use of interpreters, registering those who speak and read Foreign languages (I may note that when I was Commander of the “Duncan” careful enquiry elicited that I had 13 languages at command in the ship) or noting those in the fleet who are experts in International Law, History and Geography and the numerous other subjects which might be urgently required by an Admiral in his occasional employment as a Diplomatist or an Interpreter of International Law."

A future First Sea Lord, Rosslyn Wemyss, was quite fluent in French but never bothered passing for interpreter. How many officers and men never bothered letting their linguistic talents be known?

Link to comment
Share on other sites

'Looking Back' by Tim Harrington is well worth reading. Amongst many other things, and from memory since I am away from home, he was GSO1 to Plumer. It's a damn good read by a very fine soldier. Hope it helps.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Hindi and Urdu (especially) would have been up there as useful languages for officers, admittedly with the Indian army in mind.

Brian Bond's book, albeit over forty years old, is important as no one else has really looked in an overarching way at the early days of Camberley and Quetta and the sort of instruction that went on, nor the thinking behind it, taking the story through to the outbreak of war with an analysis of the historiography of published attitudes to staff officers during it. The book concentrates on Camberley, of course, It does examine the role/thinking of various of the commandants - notably Robertson, Rawlinson and Wilson; and some of the students who became significant commanders during the war and beyond - the influential Fuller, Ironside and Wavell, for example.

Perhaps a major recommendation is that it is readable!

Link to comment
Share on other sites

In 1914 there were not a lot of trained staff officers, rapid expansion stretched the talent pool still further. However, there is nothing particularly 'magic' about staff work in field HQs, an eye for detail is perhaps the most important trait, and a good understanding of the capabilities and constraints affecting all the different elements of the field army. A more interesting question is the availability of German speaking officers. Lots of French speakers, but German speakers seems to have been a bit short in WW2 (don't mention Japanese!), hence the post-war program of immersion Russian courses for selected national servicemen.

Hi

French would have always been more important than German for the British as there would have had to been more contact with the French during the conduct of 'normal' duties. Rather as during the Cold War more British troops and airmen learnt German than those that learnt Russian.

However that is not to say that knowing German was considered unimportant as the authorities did recommend it as a useful skill. For example it was recommended to RFC Officers as one of the many items they could involve themselves with during the winter months when no flying was possible because of the weather. In AIR 1/997/204/5/1241, 'Training of Pilots and Observers, October 1915 - February 1917', a 1916 document of 1 Brigade RFC (originally from HQRFC) states, as No. 6 in a list of training, that:

"A knowledge of German will prove of the greatest utility in the future, and Officers should be encouraged as much as possible to take it up."

If it was of the "greatest utility" for RFC Officers, one could expect that GHQ would have thought it useful for Infantry etc. Officers as well! The document above does not state if there were German language instructors available or that the Officers had to 'teach themselves' from books?

Mike

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Sir James Edmonds' memoirs should provide a fascinating insight. According to Andrew Green in "Writing the Great War" Edmonds was proficient in French, German, Russian and Italian.

Allegedly his father ensured both his sons could speak German because he believed that the Germans were a threat. MG

Link to comment
Share on other sites

All young officers assigned to the Indian Army spent their first 6 months or so learning Urdu or Gurkhali (Hindi was not a language of the Indian Army), depending on their regiment.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Oops - I knew that. My father was a Gurkha in WWII and has both languages still (albeit rusty), at the age of 91, though having not much need of either of them since c.1947, when he transferred to the Leicesters.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Create an account or sign in to comment

You need to be a member in order to leave a comment

Create an account

Sign up for a new account in our community. It's easy!

Register a new account

Sign in

Already have an account? Sign in here.

Sign In Now
 Share

×
×
  • Create New...