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The Great War (1914-1918) Forum

Remembered Today:

Staff Duties

Justin Moretti

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Just the other day, I tried to work out the mechanics and timing of two four-mile columns of men, marching at 2mph (for the sake of the simulation), starting out from two places, meeting at a crossroads, and deploying at a point further down the main road.

Just two.

I made lots of assumptions about the lack of trouble on the way, the lack of need to eat or sleep, etc.

Messed with my head.

A few years back, I got to visit the traffic light control room for the city of Adelaide. There were whirring machines everywhere.

The staff had no machines, no computers (slide rules only, if that), and more trouble in getting many such columns from A to B than we could shake a stick at. The work, under wartime conditions, must have been mind-boggling. And the stress - if you do your job RIGHT, lots of people are going to get smashed up, and if you don't even MORE are going to get smashed up.

Is there (yet) any book that goes into exactly what was involved? How much could be pre-planned? Did short-cuts exist? Or are we still waiting for all that?

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I think a good in depth study into the staff Officer and I mean the Lower end, Colonel of div GSO1 and below is as far as I am concerned well over due. This area needs study to truely understand the learning curve of the BEF.



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I agree that an unbiased examination of staff work would be of general interest. It must have been terribly easy for the subaltern just back from a bloody raid to throw brickbats at incompetent staff officers - much easier than to admit that the Germans were better dug in, more determined, more skillful and tenacious fighters! Of course there were poor staff officers (just like there were poor generals and poor private soldiers) and these were often sacked. Curiously, successful operations were rarely attributed to good staff-work. When you read books like 'The Diary of a World War 1 Cavalry Officer' by Brigadier General Sir Archibald Home or 'Armageddon Road' edited by Terry Norman from the diaries of Billy Congreve it is possible to see the immense strains that many staff officers were under. Many, of course, were elderly and the demands of working until the early hours must have been great.

'They were only playing leap-frog.....................' :rolleyes:


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An interesting topic which I have tried to research in a simple way as it has always seemed to me that while the 'New Armies' had a tremendous job to train volunteers of all ranks in their units, provision of commanders and staff for the many necessary headquarters was a much greater problem.

I have recently read 'The Victorian Army and the Staff College' by Brian Bond (a recommendation from the forum) and a few extracts from my notes may be of interest.

The Staff College closed when the war started and students took up junior staff posts. Staff training at Camberley did not start again until Sep 17.

The problem in the BEF was that in peace divisions were only allowed 2 staff offrs, the war estab was 6, hence on mobilisation the staff did not know one another and had not trained together.

Commanders in France had to select regt offrs to fill staff and some attached learners to HQs. Later a school was set up at Hesdin. In Apr 16 the War Office tried to define standards and set up schools in Britain for 6 week courses but these were too long to provide numbers needed.

As late as 1918 several divisional comanders in 1918 said they had to do their own staff work and then go round the bde comds to tell them.

There were 447 psc (staff qualified) officers, of all ranks, on the Army List in Aug 14 and 219 were killed or died of

I wonder to what extent Kitchener was to blame. I understand he had little or no staff experience and while he had commanded formations in the field they were smaller and campaigning under circumstances very different from those emerging in France. His great achievment was the rapid formation of a very large army almost from scratch rather than making more use of the Territorial Force organisation.

Old Tom

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In fact all that information was published in Chapter 2 of the Field Service pocket book under Time and Space, which also gives Road Space tables for a whole variety of units. The basic calculations must have been done pre-war and then added to.

With regard to the Staff in general (no pun intended) they are often much maligned because of their links with the major battles. However, behind that was a massive logistics organisation that supported the front line troops which had to be co-ordinated, often requiring co-operation and permission from various local French civilian and military organisations in the case of the BEF.

One of the things I have been looking at since the beginning of the year is just that, and the amount of work carried out by the Staff is staggering, and I don't use that word lightly. What has become quite clear to me, is that Staff officers of the British Army were largely flexible and adept at meeting changing situations. From 1915, civilian contractors from the UK were invited to tender to project manage the construction of the many and various types of camps and hospitals that comprised the Base along the Channel coast, all supervised by Staff officers and their subordinates. From approximately mid-1916, major changes were being planned in vital areas such as transportation and communications , again all promoted and supervised by the Staff at every level. These changes took sometime to implement and did not feed through the system until the following year, but there is little doubt in my mind, in broad brush at least, that it was competent staff work that played a major part in all this and enabled a successfull military conclusion to the war at least.

Terry Reeves

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