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Opis ebooka The Brain of an Army - Spenser Wilkinson

On the afternoon of Monday, the 2nd of July, 1866, King William of Prussia with his retinue drove into the little town of Gitschin, in the hilly region of Northern Bohemia, on the southern side of the Giant Mountains. His upright bearing scarcely showed the burden of his sixty-nine years, nor did his frank expression reveal the weight of care that pressed upon him. After months of weary diplomacy, the political crisis had been brought to a head by a resolution of the Diet of the Germanic Confederation to the effect that Prussia had violated "the peace of the Confederation," and that the armies of the confederated States were to be called out. This resolution, not three weeks old, meant that Prussia was at war with Saxony, Hanover, Hesse, Bavaria and Würtemberg, and with the Austrian Empire. Besides this long array of enemies there were friends of various degrees of good and ill will to be considered. Russia was a benevolent onlooker; Italy an active ally, not indeed very formidable in the field, but able to occupy a portion of the Austrian forces. France was the ambiguous busybody, waiting to take a side according to the prospect of advantage, and the French ambassador was on his way to pay his unwelcome respects to the Prussian king. Even at home there were grave difficulties. The Prussian Parliament, representing at that time a liberal electorate, was directly opposed to the whole policy of which the war was a part. The king had left Berlin to join the army only on Saturday morning, after a fortnight of constant anxiety over the complicated operations which had resulted in the capture of the Hanoverian army and the occupation without fighting of the kingdom of Saxony.

Opinie o ebooku The Brain of an Army - Spenser Wilkinson

Fragment ebooka The Brain of an Army - Spenser Wilkinson

Spenser Wilkinson

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Table of contents

PREFACE TO THE SECOND EDITION

PREFACE TO THE FIRST EDITION

PART I

THE GENERAL STAFF IN THE MANAGEMENT OF A CAMPAIGN

CHAPTER I

CHAPTER II

CHAPTER III

CHAPTER IV

CHAPTER V

PART II

THE GENERAL STAFF AND THE ARMY

CHAPTER I

CHAPTER II

CHAPTER III

CHAPTER IV

CHAPTER V

CHAPTER VI

PART III

THE GREAT GENERAL STAFF

CHAPTER I

CHAPTER II

CHAPTER III

CHAPTER IV

PREFACE TO THE SECOND EDITION

Six years ago a Royal Commission, under the presidency of Lord Hartington, was known to be inquiring into the administration of the national defence. There was much talk in the newspapers about the Prussian staff, and many were the advocates of its imitation in this country. Very few of those who took part in the discussions seemed to know what the Prussian staff was, and I thought it might be useful to the Royal Commission and to the public to have a true account of that institution, written in plain English, so that any one could understand it. The essay was published on the 11th of February, 1890, the day on which the Report of Lord Hartington's Commission was signed.The essential feature of the Prussian staff system consists in the classification of duties out of which it has arisen. Every general in the field requires a number of assistants, collectively forming his staff, to relieve him of matters of detail, to act as his confidential secretaries, and to represent him at places where he cannot be himself. The duties of command are so multifarious that some consistent distribution of functions among the officers of a large staff is indispensable. In Prussia this distribution is based on a thoroughly rational and practical principle. The general's work is subdivided into classes, according as it is concerned with administration and discipline or with the direction of the operations against the enemy. All that belongs to administration and discipline is put upon one side of a dividing line, and upon the other side all that directly affects the preparation for or the management of the fighting—in technical language, all that falls within the domain of strategy and tactics. The officers entrusted with the personal assistance of the general in this latter group of duties are in Prussia called his "general staff." They are specially trained in the art of conducting operations against an enemy, that is in the specific function of generalship, which has thus in the Prussian army received more systematic attention than in any other. In the British army the assistants of a general are also grouped into classes for the performance of specific functions in his relief. But the grouping of duties is accidental, and follows no principle. It has arisen by chance, and been stereotyped by usage. The officers of a staff belong to the adjutant-general's branch or to the quartermaster-general's branch, but no rational criterion exists by which to discover whether a particular function falls to one branch or to the other. That this is an evil is evident, because it is manifest that there can be no scientific training for a group of duties which have no inherent affinity with one another. The evil has long been felt, for the attempt has been made to remedy it by amalgamating the two branches in order to sever them again upon a rational plane of cleavage.But while the essence of the Prussian general staff lies deeply embedded in the organization of the Prussian army, the interest of the general public has been attracted by the fact that the great strategist to whom the victories of 1866 and 1870 are ascribed was not the commander of the Prussian army, but merely the chief of the general staff of a royal commander-in-chief. It may well be doubted whether this feature of the Prussian system is suitable for imitation elsewhere. The Germans themselves evidently regard it as accidental rather than essential, for in organizing their navy they have, after much experiment and deliberation, adopted a different plan. They have appointed their chosen admiral to be, not chief of the staff to an Emperor who in war, as he takes the field with the army, cannot undertake the command of the navy, but to be "the commanding admiral."I refrained in the first edition of this essay from drawing from the German institution which it describes a moral to be applied to the British army, and was content with a warning against overhasty imitation. At that time the nature of the relation between Moltke and the King was still to some extent veiled in official language, and nothing so far as I am aware had been published which allowed the facts to rest upon well authenticated, direct evidence as distinguished from inference. Since then the posthumous publication of Moltke's private correspondence,[ 1 ] and of the first instalment of his military correspondence,[ 2 ] has thrown a flood of light upon the whole subject. I had the good fortune to be furnished with an earlier clue. As soon as my essay was ready for the press I ventured to send a proof to Count Moltke, with a request that he would allow me in a dedication to couple his name with studies of which his work had been the subject. He was good enough to reply in a letter of which the following is a translation:—BERLIN, January 20, 1890.DEAR SIR,—I have read your essay on the German general staff with great interest.I am glad that on p. 63 you dispose of the ever-recurring legend according to which before every important decision a council of war is assembled. I can assure you that in 1866 and in 1870-71 a council of war was never called.If the commander after consultation with his authorized adviser feels the need of asking others what he ought to do, the command is in weak hands.If King William I. ever really used the expression attributed to him on p. 58, he did himself a great injustice. The king judged the perpetually changing military situation with an uncommonly clear eye. He was much more than "a great strategist." It was he who took upon himself an immeasurable responsibility, and for the conduct of an army character weighs more than knowledge and science. I think your excellent work would lose nothing if that passage were omitted.You touch on p. 112[ 3 ] upon the relation between the commander and the statesman. Neither of the two can set up for himself in advance a goal to be certainly reached. The plan of campaign modifies itself after the first great collision with the enemy. Success or failure in a battle occasions operations originally not intended. On the other hand the final claims of the statesman will be very different according as he has to reckon with defeats or with a series of uninterrupted victories. In the course of the campaign the balance between the military will and the considerations of diplomacy can be held only by the supreme authority.It has not escaped your penetration that a general staff cannot be improvised on the outbreak of war, that it must be prepared long beforehand in peace, and be in practical activity and in close intercourse with the troops. But even that is not enough. It must know who is to be its future commander, must be in communication with him and gain his confidence, without which its position is untenable.Great is the advantage if the head of the State is also the leader in war. He knows his general staff and his troops, and is known by them. In such armies there are no pronunciamentoes.The constitution, however, does not in every country admit of placing the head of the State at the head of the army. If the Government will and can select in advance the most qualified general for the post, that officer must also be given during peace the authority to influence the troops and their leaders and to create an understanding between himself and his general staff. This chosen general will seldom be the minister of war, who during the whole war is indispensable at home, where all the threads of administration come together.You have expressed the kind intention of dedicating your interesting essay to me, but I suggest that you should consider whether without such a dedication it would not still better preserve the character of perfectly independent judgment.With best thanks for your kind communication, I am, dear sir, yours very truly, COUNT MOLTKE, Field Marshal.It was hardly possible for Moltke, bound as he was by his own high position, to have expressed more plainly his opinion of the kind of reform needed in the British army, nor to have better illustrated than by that opinion the precise nature of his own work.[ 4 ]With Moltke's view that the peculiar position which he held was not necessarily the model best suited for the circumstances of the British army it is interesting to compare the judgment expressed quite independently by Lord Roberts, who kindly allows me to publish the following letter:—SIMLA, 11 th September , 1891.DEAR MR. WILKINSON,—I am much obliged to you for so kindly sending me The Brain of an Army and the other military works which reached me two or three mails ago. Some of the books I had seen before, and The Brain of an Army I had often heard of, and meant to study whenever sufficient leisure was vouchsafed to me, which, alas! is but seldom. I have now read it with great interest.One point that strikes me is the strong inclination evinced at present to assume that the German system of apportioning the duties of command and staff is deserving of universal adoption because under exceptional circumstances, and with quite an exceptional man to act as head of the Staff, it proved eminently successful in the wars between Prussia and Austria and Prussia and France.The idea of a Chief of the Staff who is to regulate the preparations for and the operations during a campaign, and who is to possess a predominant influence in determining the military policy of a nation, is quite opposed to the views of some of the ablest commanders and strategists, as summarized at pages 17 and 18 of Home's Précis of Modern Tactics , Edition 1882; and I doubt whether any really competent general or Commander-in-Chief would contentedly acquiesce in the dissociation of command and responsibility which the German procedure necessarily entails. That Von Moltke was the virtual Commander-in-Chief of the German forces during the wars in question, and that the nominal commanders had really very little to say to the movements they were called upon to execute, seems to be clearly proved by the third volume of the Field Marshal's writings, reviewed in The Times of the 21st August last. Von Moltke was a soldier of extraordinary ability, he acted in the Emperor's name, the orders he initiated were implicitly obeyed, and the military machine worked smoothly. But had the orders not been uniformly judicious, had a check or reverse been experienced, and had one or more of the subordinate commanders possessed greater capacity and resolution than the Chief of the Staff, the result might have been very different.In military nations a Chief of the Staff of the German type may perhaps be essential, more especially when, as in Germany, the Emperor is the head of the Army and its titular Commander-in-Chief. The reasons for this are that, in the first place, he may not possess the qualities required in a Commander-in-Chief who has to lead the Army in war; and in the second place, even if he does possess those qualities, there are so many other matters connected with the civil administration of his own country, and with its political relations towards other countries, that the time of a King or Emperor may be too fully occupied to admit of his devoting that exclusive attention to military matters which is so necessary in a Commander-in-Chief, if he desires to have an efficient Army. A Chief of the Staff then becomes essential; he is indeed the Commander-in-Chief.In a small army like ours, however, where the Commander-in-Chief is a soldier by profession, I am inclined to think that a Chief of the Staff is not required in the same way as he is in Germany. With us, the man of the stamp sketched in chapter iv. of The Brain of an Army should be the head of the Army—the Commander-in-Chief to whom every one in the Army looks up, and whom every one on service trusts implicitly. The note at page 12 [61] of your little book expresses my meaning exactly. Blucher required a Scharnhorst or a Gneisenau "to keep him straight," but would it not have been better, as suggested in your note, "to have given Scharnhorst and Gneisenau the actual command"?I think, too, that an Emperor or King would be more likely than a man of inferior social standing to take the advice of a Chief of the Staff. The former would be so immeasurably above all those about him that he could afford to listen to advice—as the Emperor of Germany undoubtedly did to that of Von Moltke on the occasion mentioned in the note at page 14 [64]. But the Commander of about much the same standing socially as his Chief of the Staff, and possibly not much the latter's senior in the Army, would be apt to resent what he might consider uncalled-for interference; and this would be specially the case if he were of a narrow-minded, obstinate disposition. Indeed, I think that such a feeling would be almost sure to arise, unless the Commander-in-Chief were one of those easy-going, soft natures which ought never to be placed in such a high position.My personal experience is, of course, very slight, but I have been a Commander with a Chief of the Staff, and I have been (in a very small way) the Chief of the Staff to a Commander, with whom I was sent "to keep him straight." It was not a pleasant position, and one which I should not like to fill a second time. In my own Chief of the Staff (the late Sir Charles Macgregor) I was particularly fortunate; he was of the greatest possible assistance to me; but without thinking myself narrow-minded and obstinate, I should have objected if he had acted as if he were "at the head of the Army."I have been referring hitherto more to war than peace, but even in peace time I doubt if a Chief of the Staff of the German type is suitable to our organization, and to the comparative smallness of our army. In war time it might easily lead to disaster. The less capacity possessed by the nominal Commander-in-Chief the greater might be his obstinacy, and the more capacity he possessed the more he would resent anything which might savour of interference. Altogether I think that the office of Chief of the Staff, as understood in Germany, might easily be made impossible under the conditions of our service. My opinion is that the Army Head-Quarters Staff are capable of doing exactly the same work as the Grand General Staff of the German Army perform, and that there is no need to upset our present system. We have only to bring the Intelligence and Mobilization Departments more closely into communication with, and into subordination to, the Adjutant-General and Quarter-Master-General, as is now being done in India with the best results.You will understand that the foregoing remarks are based on the assumption that in the British Service the office of Commander-in-Chief is held by the soldier who, from his abilities and experience, has commended himself to the Government as being best qualified to organize the Army for war, and if requisite to take command in the field. If, however, for reasons of State it is thought desirable to approximate our system to the German system in the selection of the head of the Army, it might become necessary to appoint a Chief of the Staff of the German type to act as the responsible military adviser of the Commander-in-Chief and the Cabinet. But in this case the responsibility of the Officer in question should be fully recognised and clearly defined.Believe me, Yours very truly, FRED ROBERTS.To SPENSER WILKINSON, Esq.The Report of Lord Hartington's Commission, which appeared in the spring of 1890, seemed to justify the apprehension which had caused me to write, for it recommended the creation, under the name of a general staff, of a department bearing little resemblance to the model which it professed to copy. The Commission, however, was in a most awkward dilemma. It was confronted in regard to the command of the army with two problems, one of which was administrative, the other constitutional. The public was anxious to have an army efficient for its purpose of fighting the enemies of Great Britain. The statesmen on the Commission were intent upon having an army obedient to the Government. The tradition that the command of the army being a royal prerogative could be exercised otherwise than through the constituted advisers of the Crown was not in practice altogether extinct. It can hardly be doubted that the Commission was right in wishing to establish the principle that the army is a branch of the public service, administered and governed under the authority of the Cabinet in precisely the same way as the post office. No other theory is possible in the England of our day. But the attempt to make the theory into the practice touched certain susceptibilities which it was felt ought to be respected, and the Commission perhaps attached more importance to this kind of consideration than to the necessity of preparing the war office for war.It was no doubt of the first importance to guard against the recurrence of a state of things in which all attempts to bring the army into harmony with the needs of the time and of the nation were frustrated by an authority not entirely amenable to the control of the Secretary of State. Not less important, however, was the requirement that any change by which this result, in itself so desirable, might be attained should at the same time contribute to the supreme end of readiness for conflict with any of the Great Powers whose rivalry with Great Britain has in recent times become so acute.In the war of which a part is examined in the following pages a chief of the staff is seen drafting the orders by which the whole army is guided. He has no authority; the orders are issued in the name of the commander,—that is in Prussia, of the king. When, as was the case in 1866 and in 1870-1, the king shows his entire confidence in the chief of the staff by invariably accepting his drafts, the direction of the army, the generalship of the campaign, is really the work of the chief of the staff, though that officer has never had a command, and has been sheltered throughout under the authority of another. The generalship or strategy of the campaigns of 1866 and 1870-1 was Moltke's, and Moltke's alone, and no one has borne more explicit testimony to this fact than the king. At the same time no one has more emphasized the other fact, that he was covered by the king's responsibility, than Moltke himself.