Herren des großen Hauptquartiers nach Verlegung desselben von Spa/Belgien nach Kassel-Wilhelmshöhe Nov. 1918

Herren des großen Hauptquartiers nach Verlegung desselben von Spa/Belgien nach Kassel-Wilhelmshöhe Nov. 1918

Großer Generalstab 1918

1. Feldmarschall Paul v. Hindenburg; 2. General Wilhelm Groener (Gröner); 3. Generalleutnant Hahndorff; 4. Oberst Heune; 5. Oberst v. Thaer; 6. Oberst v. Tischowitz; 7. Major v. Bockelberg; 8. Oberstleutnant Faupel; 9. ? ; 10. Ordonanz (Soldat); 11. Oberstleutnant Frhr. v. Oldershausen; 12. Major Kretschmann (Eisenbahn); 13. Hauptmann Grf. v. Finckenstein; 14. ? ; 15. Oberstleutnant v. Stülpnagel; 16. Major Ludwiger (Eisenbahnabtg.); 17. Major Kappen (Eisenbahnabtg.); 18. – 19. ? ; 20. Major Kurt v. Schleicher; 21. Major Frhr. v.d. Bussche; 22. Major Franz v. Papen; 23.-24. ?; 25. Hauptmann v. Santen ?; 26. Hauptmann v. Schwarzenecke; 27. Hauptmann v. Tippelskirch; 28. ?; 29. Hauptmann v. Gossler; 30. ? ; 31. Hauptmann v. Wederkop (Personalabtg.); 32. – 33. ? ; 34. Hauptmann v. Poseck; 35. – 36. ? ; 37 Hauptmann v. Ploetz; 38. ?

The army’s general staff concept originated in Prussia and was carried forward vigorously into the wider German army in the mid-nineteenth century. Although staff systems in their earliest forms could be traced back to the Prussian army of the early eighteenth century, Generalfeldmarschall Helmuth Karl Bernhard Graf von Moltke had perfected the general staff model in 1857. Members of the general staff were the most competent and intellectually astute officers of the army, and appointment to the general staff was a highly competitive, selective and continuing process. The general staff dealt with all matters concerned with ‘the movement, quartering, engagement and mobilizing of the troops, and to warfare in general’. This last area of responsibility effectively provided a right and duty to be involved in all aspects of the conduct of operations. Despite this wide remit, the actual number of general staff officers was relatively small. There were just 200 in 1870, rising to no more than 250 by the end of the war with France in 1871, a total figure that hardly changed during the years leading up to 1914.

In 1914 the general staff (see table, overleaf) comprised two elements: the Great General Staff (Großer Generalstab) and the General Staff (Generalstab), which incorporated the Administrative Staff (Adjutantur). The Großer Generalstab comprised an elite core grouping of between 40 and 50 specially selected and particularly able general staff officers who were employed at the army general headquarters in Berlin, near to the Tiergarten and within two kilometres of the war ministry building. They worked directly under the chief of the general staff (Chef des Generalstabes) and his five senior general staff officers (Oberquartiermeisters), who served as department or section heads, dealing primarily with operations, movements and intelligence matters. These officers were in turn supported by a staff of up to about 260 permanently assigned, suitably qualified and specialist attached officers, not all of whom were necessarily general staff officers.

An example of the general staff’s consideration of future combat in the light of earlier conflicts was produced by Military History Section I (Abteilung I) of the Großer Generalstab in 1903. Developed under von Schlieffen’s auspices, the study Success in Battle and How Do We Strive for It (Der Schlachterfolg: mit welchen Mitteln wurde er erstrebt?) provided a detailed analysis of the conduct of these past campaigns and was accompanied by a companion volume of some 65 maps showing their course and development in considerable detail. Not surprisingly, particular attention was accorded to the Prussian and German successes against Austria and France in the nineteenth century, as well as the campaigns fought by Prussia’s Friedrich II (Frederick the Great) during the eighteenth century, in which the destruction of the enemy was paramount and of much greater importance than merely holding or seizing ground. This historical analysis resulted in deductions that reconfirmed the importance of the offensive, the need to concentrate force for maximum impact, the desirability of the indirect or oblique attack – and the vital importance of manoeuvre to achieve this last but potentially decisive tactical and operational goal. Such well-considered thought processes and studies typified the wider general staff’s approach to war planning and by this means it continually sought to prepare the army for its next great conflict.

The Generalstab provided fully qualified general staff officers throughout the army for employment mainly at army, corps and division-level. As part of their training these officers would also have successfully completed an attachment to the Großer Generalstab. At army-level their duties focused primarily on operations, orders of battle, tactics, training, deployment and allocation of operational areas, movements and traffic control, air service matters, signal communications, intelligence and the supply of ammunition to the artillery and infantry. The Generalstab staff was organized into sub-branches designated I(a) to I(d). Although the Generalstab areas of responsibility were clearly defined and focused upon planning for and conducting war-fighting rather than on more routine staffing matters – and were therefore distinct from those of the Adjutantur – aspects of both parts of the staff organization inevitably overlapped and involved varying degrees of interdependence, although the work and status of the Generalstab always took precedence over that of the Adjutantur.

Indeed, the Adjutantur was not strictly speaking part of the general staff, as it was mainly populated by officers who had completed and passed the three-year staff training course at the Kriegsakademie (the war college for general staff training) but who had not achieved a sufficiently high final result to win selection for service as general staff officers. Subsequently, officers of the Adjutantur generally served in a wide range of lower-grade staff appointments within corps, divisions and brigades.108 At army level they dealt primarily with matters such as personnel, honours and awards, promotions, leave, military chaplains, supply, transport, clothing and personal equipment, unit newspapers and news sheets, disposal of and accounting for captured material, unit organizations and establishments, non-operational reports and returns, billeting, counter-espionage, railway services, graves registration, and the replacement of guns, ammunition and horses as required. The Adjutantur also oversaw and controlled internal accounting and costing and all sorts of day-to-day routine reports, returns and paperwork. Its staff was organized into sub-branches designated II(a) to II(c). Two other administrative staff branches or departments at army level came under the broad ambit of the Adjutantur (rather than that of the general staff) but were organized as staff branches in their own right. Military law staff (Feldjustizamt) – staff section or branch III – dealt with disciplinary matters, including military policing and courts martial, while intendance (Intendantur) staff – organized into sub-branches IV(a) to IV(d) – dealt with medical and veterinary services and their officers and military officials, pay and allowances, postal services, rations, clothing, requisitions, anti-gas protection, and issues affecting the local civilian population.

In peacetime, a well-established process was in place to produce and develop the army’s general staff officers and ultimately its highest ranked officers and commanders. Subject to being recommended for general staff training, officers who had completed three years’ service applied to sit an entrance examination that would admit them to the Kriegsakademie. Having passed the entrance exam and entered the Kriegsakademie, their next three years of concentrated staff training also included periods of service with units of the field army in order to ensure that their theoretical training and studies were balanced by practical experience. Rigorous assessment of the students continued throughout the course. This first step culminated in a very testing examination that determined the immediate future employment of the officer, either as an instructor at a military school, or as an adjutant (dealing with all aspects of the routine staff work and management of the army), or as a general staff officer. Of an annual Kriegsakademie intake of some 400 officers only 120 usually reached the final examination point, and of these at most about 25, but often no more than the top 10 or 12, were taken annually for general staff employment. No maximum or minimum quota for this was set, which allowed the selection process to be genuinely based upon merit.

These few outstanding officers next completed between two and three years attached to the Großer Generalstab in Berlin, where the training, education, assessment and selection process continued. Finally, those officers who successfully completed this period under the direct supervision of the chief of the general staff were assigned permanently to the general staff, although any subsequent decline in performance could result in an immediate return to regimental duty. Now qualified, these officers were employed in general staff appointments at all levels of command down to division; thereafter they progressed in rank and responsibility within the general staff system. Once fully qualified, more junior general staff officers still in the rank of Oberleutnant or Hauptmann could expect accelerated promotion to Major, achieving that rank at least six years before their non-general-staff officer contemporaries. For members of the general staff, theirs was a process of continuous personal professional development, which blended service with troops, staff work, travel and all forms of intellectual development to prepare them for the most important appointments and ultimately, where appropriate, for high command. Throughout their service, these officers enjoyed a deservedly privileged position and, when serving as the chief of staff of a formation, would invariably assume command of that division, corps or army in the absence of its commanding general. Their presence in every major headquarters, installation and organization also guaranteed the chief of the general staff a first-hand view of the activities and performance of every part of the army, together with an ability to influence these matters very directly.

Typically, the course of 1913 at the Berlin Kriegsakademie numbered just 168 officers. Their training schedule comprised 25 hours of formal instruction per week during the first and second years of the three-year course.109 Without the opportunity to revalidate it in the crucible of war, this system always had the potential to become inflexible or over-standardized, and a criticism levelled at the Kriegsakademie during the years leading up to 1914 was that it had increasingly concentrated upon operational and tactical matters to the detriment of more strategic studies, such as the correlation between military power, diplomacy and economic factors at a national and international level. This somewhat surprising weakness in the syllabus was despite the undoubted intellectual aptitude of general staff candidates and qualified general staff officers, all of whom were well capable of assimilating such instruction and analysing and discussing these issues. The emphasis upon operational matters at the Kriegsakademie was also at the expense of more time spent on intelligence, logistics and personnel issues, which reflected the long-standing Prussian preoccupation with what were still seen by many as the more glamorous or victory-winning aspects of war-fighting. The academic subject modules were either science-based, incorporating mathematics, physical geography and physics, or a combination of general geography and the French, English or Polish language. History also featured prominently in all subject mixes. Sport, private study and individual research were encouraged, and it was an officer’s individual responsibility to maintain a satisfactory standard of personal fitness.

Although the army became mired in the Stellungskrieg on the Western Front in France and Belgium for much of World War I, the general staff never wavered from its belief in the efficacy of manoeuvre in war-fighting together with the tenets and conclusions set out in documents such as the seminal study Der Schlachterfolg in 1903. The campaign against the Russians in 1914 served to reinforce the desirability of this sort of warfare and the success that the army could expect whenever it was applied. For the general staff, the Stellungskrieg was therefore an operational aberration, one that was unwelcome, temporary and forced upon the army by necessity but that was never allowed to supplant entirely the tradition of Bewegungskrieg (manoeuvre warfare), which lay at the heart of its operational doctrine. Nevertheless, by and large the high command and general staff adapted successfully to meet the new and unforeseen demands imposed upon it by trench warfare, adopting new tactics and technology to counter what was always viewed as a rather distasteful, unsought but unavoidable type of fighting. Consequently, throughout the years of Stellungskrieg in the west, the high command and the best minds in the general staff continually sought a means of returning to the oblique form of attack and achieving a breakthrough that would enable mobile offensive operations to resume, thereby restoring manoeuvrability to the army on the stagnated battlefields of western Europe. Not until 1918 did this at last become possible, but by that stage a range of strategic factors meant that it was already too late.


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