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French General Staff

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French General Staff

Postby Senarmont198 » October 20th, 2017, 1:16 pm

Paul Thiebault's staff manual of 1800 is an interesting publication. The introduction of the English translation which was done and published in 1801 in London initially reads:

'The great advantages which must manifestly result from a well-conducted Etat-major or staff, are acknowledged in every military country. France, however, seems alone to have to have entered fully into the system, and to have added the experiment of practice to the suggestion of theory.'

Thiebault's 1800 manual was expanded it, beginning in 1810, into the Manuel General du Service des Etats-Majors which was a detailed staff manual that the French Army used for over twenty years.

The development of general staffs is an interesting and sometimes confusing study. Bourcet was directed by Minister Choiseul to establish a staff college in 1764. Bourcet's work on staff organization and planning was fully developed by Berthier when he was chief of staff to numerous commanders during the Revolutionary Wars, and his work as chief of staff of the Army of the Alps in 1795 and the Army of Italy in 1796. His detailed work on the organization, functioning, and operations of general staffs was emulated by France's enemies, just as Thiebault's staff manual was translated and used at least by the British, and perhaps the Austrians and Prussians. Much of Berthier's work was emulated by the Prussians when forming their general staff after Jena. And it should be noted that the Prussian general staff was still in the embryonic stage in 1815.

French Minister of War de Segur formed a Corps d'Etat Major in 1783 and the training the officers picked for this duty included topography, history, geography, preparation of unit histories, reconnaissance, and the science of the art of war. This organization was abolished by the Revolution, but was recreated by a decree of 29 October 1790, a law of the French National Assembly, by establishing 'the general Etat-major of the army' composed of thirty staff officers, seventeen colonels and thirteen lieutenant colonels, which were named as adjutants generals, later changed to adjutant commandants, with the rank of staff colonel. This number was later increased as necessary by decree. A provisional staff instruction was published on 21 June 1791.

'a general Etat-major is, as we have already observed, the central point of the grand operation of armies.' The researching and reading of Thiebault's two staff manuals is an essential part of understanding staff work, what a chief of staff does and what the staff is for.
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Re: French General Staff

Postby DaveH » October 20th, 2017, 5:22 pm

Bit surprised this isn't on the Staff Manuals thread, but there are several relevant threads which could perhaps be merged into this one! :roll:

It is unfortunate that much of so-called research is advanced by a secondary quotation, which happens to suit the initial argument, but in this case, it seems worse: " The introduction of the English translation which was done and published in 1801 in London initially reads: 'The great advantages which must manifestly result from a well-conducted Etat-major or staff, are acknowledged in every military country. France, however, seems alone to have to have entered fully into the system, and to have added the experiment of practice to the suggestion of theory". That is what we know today as "publisher's blurb", he accuracy of which is often inversely proportionate to the value of the work. But okay, the British are pretty impressed with Napoleon's French after the 1796 and 1800 campaigns - French propagandists also getting a "report" on Marengo into the Sept 1800 edition of the quarterly journal, British Military Library.

However, in contrast in 1809, we have General de Division Phillipe Grimoad's 'Traité sur le service de l'état-major général des armées' He starts by talking about Thiebault's 1800 manual and then says on p.vi https://books.google.co.uk/books?id=FQ0 ... ux&f=false that it only gives the most basic details of service on the staff and so cannot be useful to the adjutants-genereaux and adjoints embarking on their time on the staff. So, Grimoad sets out his own manual between p9 and p.356 as a handbook for such officers (French staff were rotated out of the line as French had no permanent staff - in comparison with Austria's which started in 1759 and the 1764 Prussian staff college). The index for Grimoard is at the end of the book. Although he does talk about spies and reconnoitering the areas ahead, he makes no mention staff involvement in operational planning.

Thiebault's original 1800 work is at https://books.google.co.uk/books?id=OHR ... ux&f=false and its contents are between pp5 and 157 with his index at the end, which from p.82 concerns itself merely with the
reports system. In particular, there are no references to the key functions of operational planning and intelligence gathering.

Grimoard is only mentioned once by de Phillip in his 1900 work 'Le service d'état-major pendant les guerres du premier empire', which along with Wilkinson and Hittle is used by recent authors to advance arguments about the workings and originality of the French staff.

Although there are refs to Thiebault's revision being 1810, the Google books version says 1813 https://books.google.co.uk/books?id=Bmc ... text#c_top Indeed, can we calla work four times the size of its predecessor a 2nd edition or is it really a new one? It is best vfiewed as a PDF at https://books.googleusercontent.com/boo ... 2h23S18Gmo

and there is an interesting comment on p.ix that the 1800 version was "not confined to our army", but was translated into German without his knowledge and into Spanish by General Pardo. Strangely he seems to think it was only translated into English in 1808 by a British general after a copy was obtained after the French evacuation of Portugal. This rather muddled claim seems to be the origin of claims that his manual was widely translated and thus had extensive influence.

Between pp.23 and 583, Thiebault sets out his manual (the index is at the end), but beyond sections on the ingenieiurs topographique and spies, there is nothing about operational planning or intelligence gathering. There is no evidence that the latter volume was translated.

So, what of the other claims?

1) Bourcet was directed by Minister Choiseul to establish a staff college in 1764. Bourcet's work on staff organization and planning was fully developed by Berthier when he was chief of staff to numerous commanders during the Revolutionary Wars, and his work as chief of staff of the Army of the Alps in 1795 and the Army of Italy in 1796.

Strange that I bothered to show why this was all nonsense in this thread viewtopic.php?f=22&t=3195 Bourcet was an engineer and there was no staff college - it is myth invented a century later. His book is about separate columns in mountain operations and says almost nothing about staffs. Berthier, who was among those doing some topographical engineering in Grenoble, did write his manual and it could be said that the latter half of Thiebault's first book was related to it - as explained in this thread viewtopic.php?f=22&t=3192 it is simply a reporting system of the type much beloved of chief clerks and Beamte.

2) His detailed work on the organization, functioning, and operations of general staffs was emulated by France's enemies, just as Thiebault's staff manual was translated and used at least by the British, and perhaps the Austrians and Prussians. Much of Berthier's work was emulated by the Prussians when forming their general staff after Jena. And it should be noted that the Prussian general staff was still in the embryonic stage in 1815.

Consequent to the above and the doubts over translation claims, this is quite simply baseless nonsense. There is no evidence the British used it (whether it was translated in 1801 or 1808!) and Austria had her own staff manuals from 1759 (I have explained how that system developed across the period in ed. Fremont Barnes 'Armies of the Napoleonic Wars'). Prussia began her own reforms in the mid-1760s and the contacts between Austria and Prussia in the 1806-09 period followed by operational working together under Austrian direction in 1813-14 formed the basis of the Prussian system with its powerful Chiefs of Staff. There is no printed German edition anywhere on the web and the 1813 version (which Grimoard would have found useful!) was way too late to have any influence on Prussia in 1807.

3) The researching and reading of Thiebault's two staff manuals is an essential part of understanding staff work, what a chief of staff does and what the staff is for.

In the French army certainly, but Grimoard confirms there was no effective manual until his own work of 1808 although it would require more research to see if his work was used prior to Thiebault II, which seems in fact to date from 1813. It will tell you nothing about other armies and Prussia in particular, despite the later claims of Wilkinson and Hittle.
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