German General Staff

The German General Staff was an institution whose rise and development gave the German armed forces a decided advantage over its adversaries. The Staff amounted to a decisive strategic advantage for nearly a century and a half.

In a narrow sense, the General Staff (Großer Generalstab, literally "Great General Staff") was a full-time body at the head of the Prussian Army and later, the German Army, responsible for the continuous study of all aspects of war, and for drawing up and reviewing plans for mobilization or campaign. It existed unofficially from 1806, and was formally established by law in 1814, the first General Staff in existence. It was distinguished by the formal selection of its officers by intelligence and proven merit rather than patronage or wealth, and by the exhaustive and rigorously structured training which its staff officers undertook.

The Prussian General Staff also enjoyed greater freedom from political control than its contemporaries, and this autonomy was enshrined in law on the establishment of the German Empire in 1871. It came to be regarded as the home of German militarism in the aftermath of the First World War, and the victors attempted to suppress the institution. It nevertheless survived to play its accustomed part in the rearmament of Germany and the Second World War.

In a broader sense, the Prussian General Staff corps consisted of those officers qualified to perform staff duties, and formed a unique military fraternity. Their exhaustive training was designed not only to weed out the less motivated or less able candidates, but also to produce a body of professional military experts with common methods and outlook, and an almost monastic dedication to their profession. General Staff–qualified officers would alternate between line and staff duties but would remain lifelong members of this special organization. As staff officers, their uniform featured distinctive double-wide carmine trouser stripes (German: Lampasse(n).).

Until the end of the German Empire, social and political convention often placed members of noble or royal households in command of its armies or corps but the actual responsibility for the planning and conduct of operations lay with the formation's staff officers. For other European armies which lacked this professionally trained Staff Corps, the same conventions were often a recipe for disaster. Even the Army of the French Second Empire, whose senior officers had supposedly reached high rank as a result of bravery and success on the battlefield, was crushed by the Prussian and other German armies in a campaign which highlighted their poor administration and planning, and lack of professional education.

The Chief of Staff of a Prussian formation in the field had the right to disagree, in writing, with the plans or orders of the commander of the formation, and appeal to the commander of the next highest formation (which might ultimately be the King, or Emperor, who would be guided by the Head of the Great General Staff). This served as a check on incompetence and also served for the objecting officer to officially disassociate himself with a flawed plan. Only the most stubborn commanders would not give way before this threat.

For these reasons, Prussian and German military victories would often be credited professionally to the Chief of Staff, rather than to the nominal commander of an army. Often the commander of an army was himself a member of the General Staff, but it was now institutionally recognized that not only was command leadership important, but effective staff work was a significant key to success in both pre-war planning and in wartime operations.

Read more about German General Staff:  Bundeswehr, Chiefs of The Prussian General Staff (1808–1871), Chiefs of The German General Staff (1871–1919), Chiefs of Troop Office (1919–1933), Chiefs of Staff of The Army High Command (OKH) (1933–1945)

Famous quotes containing the words german, general and/or staff:

    How much atonement is enough? The bombing must be allowed as at least part-payment: those of our young people who are concerned about the moral problem posed by the Allied air offensive should at least consider the moral problem that would have been posed if the German civilian population had not suffered at all.
    Clive James (b. 1939)

    The following general definition of an animal: a system of different organic molecules that have combined with one another, under the impulsion of a sensation similar to an obtuse and muffled sense of touch given to them by the creator of matter as a whole, until each one of them has found the most suitable position for its shape and comfort.
    Denis Diderot (1713–1784)

    In the far South the sun of autumn is passing
    Like Walt Whitman walking along a ruddy shore.
    He is singing and chanting the things that are part of him,
    The worlds that were and will be, death and day.
    Nothing is final, he chants. No man shall see the end.
    His beard is of fire and his staff is a leaping flame.
    Wallace Stevens (1879–1955)