Friday, 13 November 2015

Instructions to Commanding Officers

Saturday 13th November 1915: The adjutant of the 8th Bedfords tells us there was no attack yesterday. In fact the Battalion has been relieved and gone back to A Camp.

The 2nd Battalion adjutant has wired us the following memorandum from Field Marshal French to the commanding officers of all units on the Western Front.

1. The Army in France is entering upon a winter campaign in circumstances very different from those of a year ago. Then we were in great inferiority, both as regards numbers and munitions. Our position was necessarily defensive and sometimes precarious. We emerged successfully from a critical period because of the fine fighting qualities of officers and men in the front line, and it was because of the high fighting value of units that the Germans never achieved the moral ascendancy for which they hoped and which seemed warranted by their superiority in resources.

The situation as regards resources is now reversed. Whereas the enemy reached high-water mark in the early part of this year and has since been slowly but surely declining, our army has expanded very largely in numbers and the increase in munition supply has been relatively greater still.

Final success is therefore assured, and it will come the sooner if we succeed in maintaining the highest standard of efficiency in units.

2. With the expansion of the Army there has been a necessary reduction in the number of experienced officers and men in every unit. The efficiency of units has therefore become more than ever dependent upon the unremitting personal effort of commanding officers.

It is because your work is of such paramount importance to our success that I address this Memorandum personally to you, not by way of criticism, but to assure you that the importance of your task is fully understood and to guide you in your future efforts.

3. I wish you to believe that I realise fully the difficulties you have to contend with and the dangers and hardships to which you are often subjected. I know your work is uphill and that its results are often not apparent to you.

The material on which you have to work is often uninstructed and inexperienced, but it is young, keen and impressionable. Therefore, if worked on rightly, the best results can be expected.

4. The fighting value of the units is derived from three interdependent sources - training, discipline and moral [sic].

As regards training, you have ample data and instructions for guidance, and staffs of formations are available to advise and assist; but as regards discipline and moral you have to rely upon your own personal efforts. Experience has shown that if these are to be maintained at a high level among young officers and soldiers, special attention must be given to the following points: -

(i) A proper chain of command must be established and responsibility definitely fixed, so as to develop initiative and power of command.

(ii) Discipline must be applied rigorously among officers, slackness and incapacity must never be condoned.

(iii) Grumbling and uninformed criticism must be eliminated.

(iv) All leaders and particularly company and platoon commanders should be made to understand the vital importance of their duties, and that it is on their leading that success in battle chiefly depends once the attack is launched. It should be explained that, in battle, control is rarely possible and confusion inevitable, and that their initiative, courage and skill largely determine the fortunes of the day.

(v) The disastrous consequences of retirements must be insisted on.

(vi) The history and traditions of the regiment and the achievements of its members in this and in previous campaigns should be systematically taught.

(vii) Every opportunity for fostering a fighting spirit should be taken, the enemy must be harassed and his life made a burden.

(viii) The reasons for the war and the cause for which we are fighting must be explained. The Army exists and works with one object and one only, and that is to beat the Germans. All other considerations are subordinate to this.

5. We are undertaking the great task of creating a large Army while fighting a powerful and inscrupulous [sic] enemy. In this task nothing is more important than the practice and inculcation of the highest soldierly qualities. I am confident that I may rely on you to devote yourselves whole-heartedly to the development of these qualities in the splendid troops whom you have the honour to command.

Sources: X550/3/wd; X550/9/1

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