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Staff Officer Training


PhilB
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The only units I`ve come across with excessive numbers of officers (usually subalterns) have been holding & feeder units like reserve battalions.

Quote:- "908 psc Officers at the start of the war - so what percentage of Officers on the Active list and Captain or above did this represent?"

A rough count of the Old Contemptibles Army List gives about 35,300 officers. That means about 1 in 40 psc. That`s less than 1 per battalion. If my figures are reasonable, that sounds too low?

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'I have found numbers of officers significantly above the 30 mark. Unfortunately I am away from books so cannot give specifics (what an excuse!) but shall chase up.'

I have got one - I know there are more examples, but this one will do as a starter: the Newfoundland Regiment WD on June 30th 1916 notes that 26 officers and 776 men moved up to the forming up trenches. 14 officers and 83 OR were left behind as 'Reserve and Special Duties'. That gives a figure of 40; there would have been 43, presumably, but for a raid two nights previously in which three officers were wounded (one of whom was captured).

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Phil,

sounds about right for a peace time Army.

Which raises the question - was the army`s job simply to run a peace time army or to run it partly as a cadre for expansion into a continental army? With benefit of hindsight (yet again!) one can say it should have been the latter. However, one might ask "Do today`s army chiefs treat the army as a cadre for ten or twenty fold expansion?" and the answer seems clearly to be "No". Much depends on whether the army or political chiefs could reasonably be expected to foresee a continental war as early as, say 1905-10 and therefore to plan for it. They did have the advantage of not having any serious commitments at home or abroad to divert their attention.

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Even if there was an intention to use the Army as a sort of "cadre" on which to build for a war with Germany, you have to take in to account the financial constraints put on them.

Doing anything with regard to training, re equipping, re arming etc all cost money and the budget wasn't there pre war.

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There was no plan anywhere, in 1905, for a 4 year war, so no call for Britain to field a large army. None of the great powers foresaw the length of the war. Conventional wisdom was that no modern country could finance a war of more than a year. There is no worthwhile comparison to be made between the Army of today and the Army then. Any democratic country will juggle expenditure as best it can. In time of war, we expect resources to be diverted to the armed forces which would not be, in time of peace. The decision had been made to send an army of 6 divisions as an expeditionary force. That is what happened and the first 4 divisions landed in France very much on schedule where they proceeded to their allotted position.

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Prior to the Great War Secretary of State for War Richard Haldane foresaw the possibility of an upcoming conflict and his many reforms of the army were in anticipation of just such an event.

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I do not believe what I am about to describe occurred pre-1914.

In the several years before WW II, the armed forces attempted, with some success, to train every man to be fit for a rank/task two above his substantive one. Some men were untrainable to that level, but this worthy ambition was attempted.

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Actually this is a complicated subject and demands considerable understanding of the British way and the internal politics of defence. I'm definitely not an expert but recommend the first chapters of Bidwell & Grahams 'Fire-power - The British army Weapons of War 1904-1945'. There are doubteless more comprehensive sources but this one gives the flavour.

Interestingly both the German and Brit staff systems originated in Wellington's creation. The French one dates back to 1687.

However, the historian Brian Bond (usually reliable) states that at the outbreak of war there were only 447 psc officers serving in the Brit Army, I'm not sure wherther or not this includes the Indian establishment. The problem was exacerbated by shadow postings. Many staff officers in the War Office and Command HQs were posted to field formations on mobilisation, one of the most demanding transitions that an army has to make, and when followed by rapid expansion even more critical. You can see the challenge when expanding the notional 3 corps HQ org into 5 armies, 20 plus corps and some 70 divisions (excluding the Indian establishment). There are also sorts of other complications notably responsibilities for training and its interaction with doctrine.

The official estb of an inf bn in 1914 was about 30 officers, 6 per coy in the new 4 company organisation, and basically the same in the old 8 coy one that the TA mobilised with. Whether or not a bn had any staff trained officers is basically irrelevant in this context.

As I understand it Staff College Camberley closed for the duration and reopened in 1919. I think that short courses were run somewhere. Most staff offrs seemed to have learnt on the job, including Montgomery as GSO 1 in a division (of course he had the benefit of serving Maxse, probably the most able imperial divisional comd on the W Front, he just didn't get on with Haig), there was a lot of formal catching up from 1919 on!

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Good Afternoon Everyone,

As I understand it there was only one formed and manned Corps HQ and that was Haig's HQ I Corps at Aldershot. Grierson's HQ II Corps had to be extensively 'back-filled' by officers from places such as the War Office, which then left that organization critically short. A good book which illustrates this at a lower level is John Terraine's 'General Jack's Diary' in which Capt James Jack describes how he was plucked from RD with 1/Cameronians on 22 Aug 14 and posted as a Staff Captain to the brand new HQ 19 Inf Bde. They created a viable formation from scratch within 48 hours, such that it was able to take a significant and decisive part at Le Cateau on 26 Aug 14, under OPCOM of the Cav Div. This is all the more remarkeable when you consider that 19 Inf Bde was an independent brigade without a parent division to support it. Jack relates how he spent 23 Aug 14 at Valenciennes trying to obtain a brigade's worth of equipment over and above that held by its four constituent units. 'The basis of British organisation is the Division, and as we are an Independent Brigade and not part of any division we are short of a full Supply Train, Ammunition Column and Field Ambulance, besides clerks, stationery and other requisites. Along hunt ensues for these with indifferent success ... (Most of the deficiencies were made good that night.)' Truly outstanding and sticks it up the 'lions led by donkeys' brigade.

Kind Regards

Woolly

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As Capt J L Jack was not staff college trained and was able to equip and organize a brigade almost overnight, it suggests that many of the staff skills may have been common sense and that long years of training were not essential?

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Phil

Not so. I suspect that Jack was given a laundry list and told who to go and see. Remember that the BEF's first few weeks in France did producea fair amount of chaos and I suspect that it was Jack's personality that got him what he wanted.

However, a capable staff officer needs to have a good knowledge of the workings of all arms and services and the various staff chains so as to know the right person to approach on a particular subject and to prevent the woool being pulled over his eyes. He also needs to know the correct way to write orders and frame correspondence. There are, too, things like the art of constructing a movement table so that a brigade or division can be moved from A to B with the minimum of fuss. These skills cannot be acquired overnight just by the application of commonsense. Having been a staff officer myself in a number of guises my experience was that I was constantly learning and never felt that I knew it all.

Many junior staff officers in WW1 started as Staff Learners, understudying a staff officer and doing short attachments to arms and services other than their own so that they could learn about them.

Charles M

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However, the historian Brian Bond (usually reliable) states that at the outbreak of war there were only 447 psc officers serving in the Brit Army, I'm not sure wherther or not this includes the Indian establishment.

This figure has been found wanting. The figure is around 908, not sure if this is including Quetta passed staff as well.

regards

Arm

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Phil, really, you exasperate me at times. Not long ago you were saying there weren't enough staff officers.

QUOTE (Phil_B @ May 30 2008, 01:04 PM) <{POST_SNAPBACK}>
From what you say, gents, it seems that shortage of staff officers was bound to be a critical problem in an army having to expand as did the British. Since a continental war with Germany was on the cards for some years before 1914, should this not have been foreseen and steps taken to increase the pre-war supply & conserve qualified staff officers when war started? Ironically, wouldn`t predicting such a shortage be a staff function?

Now, a few days later, you say who needs staff officers. Apparently in their absence public school pluck and common sense would prevail.

QUOTE (Phil_B @ Jun 7 2008, 11:57 AM) <{POST_SNAPBACK}>
As Capt J L Jack was not staff college trained and was able to equip and organize a brigade almost overnight, it suggests that many of the staff skills may have been common sense and that long years of training were not essential?

I would respectfully submit that in 1914 few battalions in the British army had much experience being part of brigades, divisions or corps. They may have temporarily served as such during training exercises at Salisbury or colonial-bashing campaigns overseas, but those occasions were temporary and fleeting in nature.

The Great War was a new ball game. Brigades, divisions, and corps had to work as harmonious wholes, something that could not be done without staff officers. Had the British army been better at functioning in formations larger than battalion level in 1914-1915 it might have been more successful than it was. In 1914 the British army and the American army were little more than colonial/frontier constabulary forces.

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Well, exasperated Pete, I`m getting conflicting messages from you experts. There were certainly strong indications from the posts that there weren`t enough staff officers to equip a large continental army and that their training took a necessarily long time. Then there`s a post that gives the example of a man who wasn`t a trained staff officer at all who appeared to do wonders of staff work at the drop of a hat. Most people might see an apparent inconsistency there which I make no apology for pointing out. I`m quite happy to take Charles` more urbane and reasoned explanation as accounting for much of it. :)

And, of course, this is a gross mirepresentation:-

"Now, a few days later, you say who needs staff officers. Apparently in their absence public school pluck and common sense would prevail." Where on earth did I ever say that ?

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This figure has been found wanting. The figure is around 908, not sure if this is including Quetta passed staff as well.

It's an easy figure to check, if a little time consuming. Just count all those with the relevant letters after their name in the last edition of the Army List before August 1914. However, you'd also have to do a bit of thinking about what ranks to count. Do you include all General Officers? What about the ranks/appointments above Lt Col and below Maj Gen? What about the Retired List who were reservists?

The gross error check is the number of psc officers qualifying each year.

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Back to your original question, Phil, and just drawing a comparison.

Would you trust a graduate of three years university eduction with being an architect or engineer? No. That is why the organisations of these professions require much more training and experience before a man/woman qualifies.

I don't see too much difference between that and a military staff officer who is required to plan supplies, organise movements and billeting of zillions of men and horses; construct and operate railways, ports, canals, dumps; oragnise recruitment and training; manage administration, etc etc etc. These were the domains of the staff, in addition to the operational staff work required by G Branch. You can't do these things just on gumption.

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The role of the PSC trained staff officer has been dealt with at length, but what about those who were SQ by on the job training. Many posts in the various policing actions before WW1 were filled by non PSC officers who happened to be in the right place at the right time. Staff qualification was recognised and many of those who reached one star rank and higher were graduates of experience.

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You can't do these things just on gumption.

Which is why I was surprised at the example of Capt Jack who appeared to have performed miracles of staff work without any formal training!

I understand that the beau ideal staff officer would be skilled in all those departmnents you itemize and that it would necessarily take a long time. I did think, however, that it would be possible to train staff officers to function within a speciality at lower level reasonably quickly? He might then perform adequately under the control and guidance of a fully trained man. You`ll realize that I`m posing these queries without the benefit of staff training or experience.

Incidentally, I wouldn`t be confident in letting a new 3 year graduate do anything!

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Regarding General Jack and his role in forming 19th Infy Bde in August 1914;

reading the various accounts of one of the four battalions of that Bde, 2nd RWF, together with the War Diary and personal accounts, does not inspire confidence in the functioning of the Bde HQ [and I am a General Jack fan]. Chaotic is the word that springs to mind.

The four battalions spent much of Mons, le Cateau and the withdrawal countermarching and abandoning positions and meals that they had just prepared. The staff and the battalions often had no idea where each other were, and the battalions often had no idea where the other battalions were, never mind other brigades.

19th Bde is not a good example of an efficient Bde staff created from non PSC men. It is a good example of the flexibility, stickability and gallantry of four fine old battalions, from the colonel down to the newest recruit and the most reluctant footsore reservist.

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. . . what about those who were SQ by on the job training. Many posts in the various policing actions before WW1 were filled by non PSC officers who happened to be in the right place at the right time. Staff qualification was recognised and many of those who reached one star rank and higher were graduates of experience.

Uzbashi

Are/were you on the sq ladder? You'd better explain the sq process for the benefit of the non cognescenti! Do you know when OJT was first recognized, formally, as an alternate route to attendance at Camberley?

Chris

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QUOTE (Phil_B @ May 26 2008, 08:30 PM) <{POST_SNAPBACK}>
A member recently posted:- "It has been pointed out that men can be trained to a tolerable level in weeks and NCOs and junior officers in months but a staff officer needs years to learn his job." ... Bearing in mind that staff officers tended to operate in one staff speciality, is there evidence that their training was necessarily years long? What is it that requires so long to absorb?

Phil,

The basic assumption upon which the question is based is incorrect. What constitutes a "tolerable level" one might ask? The elementary use of weapons and some basic field work - enough to be dangerous to themselves and the rest of the team - but not enough to be effective on operations? Your question also infers the complexity of the work of a staff officer is not all that different from a private or an NCO. I feel sure you know the differences.

In our time soldiers undertook three months recruit training, followed by their specialist Corps training which varied from Corps to Corps but ranged from two and a half to four additional months to bring them up to a level of a basically trained soldier. They were then posted to their units where they undertook additional field training to bring them up to the accepted operational standard. A soldier with less than 8 months training (that is from the time he entered the recruit training system) was not deemed ready for operational service. And this was through a highly organized and standard training system used to prepare soldier for operations in Borneo and Vietnam. So I don't know what standard the member regards as tolerable but it must be pretty low.

NCO's? Depends on what rank you are talking about - remembering they have to go through this level of training, plus serve for a couple of years as privates'/ LCPL before being considered for promotion. They then undertook three specialised training courses running from two to four months each before being qualified in rank. They did this for every rank they went through. Of course, NCO's were promoted to temporary rank before being qualified but they had already served several years and had demonstrated their potential for higher responsibilities - so they were not trained "in months" per se.

The Staff College course prior to the Great War was two years and not only addressed staff work - it also addressed operational studies (tactics and strategy) and prepared officers for higher command appointments not just staff work. The course is now 10 months. Also staff officers did not always work in one staff speciality, they had to be able to undertake a variety of staff appointments whether it be" Q", "A", "G" or "Int".

In the Great War all of these courses were very much reduced in time, including the staff courses. Thus the times taken in training for staff officers during the war suggested in the quote above are well off the mark.

Anyway, I think you knew all this before you posed the question. But at least it achieved its purpose - people responded and it has ignited another debate. :lol:

Regards

Chris

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Well, let`s say I had my suspicions! I do fully appreciate the importance of staff work and the training involved. It is a little discussed subject and little written about. I did wonder if a junior staff officer might be trained relatively quickly in just one speciality for use in times of emergency like the great expansion of 1914/15. There seems little enthusiasm for that idea above!

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I don't think sq as a formal qulaification (requiring a staff tour at grade 3 level then a tour at grade 2) was introduced until the 1960s if not later. Obviously in WW1 etc, staff captains and the like were not psc.

Re training, the inquiry into the disaster suffered by the 1/103 Mahratta LI in Dec 1919 (Waziristan) generally described as the worst defeat ever suffered by a unit on the NW Frontier found that the bn was adequately trained for the Western Front but not for the rigours of Frontier Warfare. (The were attacked by the Mahsuds, CO's mutilated body was recovered some months later, something like 250 cas).

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QUOTE (Phil_B @ Jun 10 2008, 07:06 PM) <{POST_SNAPBACK}>
I do fully appreciate the importance of staff work and the training involved. It is a little discussed subject and little written about. I did wonder if for use in times of emergency like the great expansion of 1914/15. There seems little enthusiasm for that idea above!

Phil,

That's probably because of the complexity of the subject and the difficulty in explaining just what staff work entails. It covers a wide range of sins and issues. Some officers have difficulty in adjusting to the environment, the complexity of the detail involved and the frustrations in trying to make a silk purse out of a sow's ear. The reason why there may be little enthusiasm for a junior staff officer to be trained relatively quickly in just one speciality is that effective staff work really cannot be compartmentalized, requires a good understanding of the other staff "specialties" and is dependent upon the integration and consideration of the other staff factors and input. It is not just a simple matter of knowing your own speciality. It is the integration of all staff inputs that leads to sound staff work and planning. It also requires a good understanding and experience in the basics of operations and tactics.

Regards

Chris

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