General Staff

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In German military history , the general staff is often referred to as the entirety of all specially trained general staff officers who work for the highest military command. On the other hand, it is also used to designate a specific agency , the highest military command authority of many armed forces. Its chief is the chief of staff . The General Staff is now subordinate to the Ministry of Defense in most countries . The corresponding command authority for naval forces in many countries is the admiralty staff or the admiralty .


The General Staff translates the orders of the political leadership into military measures. The tasks of a general staff can include:

  • Force planning
  • Mobilization and deployment planning
  • Resource planning
  • Operations management
  • logistics
  • education
  • Personnel planning

Origin and importance of the general staff in Germany


The modern Prussian general staff was not only a result of the Prussian army reform after 1806. In essence, the forerunners of the general staff developed as early as the 18th century, but specifically as early as 1803 through Christian von Massenbach and Levin von Geusau . In particular, Massenbach, much maligned after the defeat by Napoleon in 1806, had campaigned for the establishment of a military body that no longer only performed auxiliary tasks like the old Prussian quartermaster staff. With success: the loose crowd of adjutants and engineering officers, who had operated as Quartermaster General since 1787, had become, at least on paper, a bureaucratic organization, responsible for land surveying , military science and operational planning.

Under Gerhard von Scharnhorst , the General Staff was then institutionally linked from 1808 as a central body in the newly established War Ministry with the General Staff officers in the newly formed troop brigades. With that it became a kind of nervous system into the troops.

The Prussian General Staff did an excellent job in the Wars of Liberation against France and in the Wars of Unification . His military plans were based on military science. The expression general staff is still a popular term in everyday language for thorough planning that leaves nothing to chance. At that time he was considered exemplary by all armies. Many states sent officers to Berlin to study the work of the Great General Staff or asked for German General Staff to be sent as instructors.

However, the history of the development of this General Staff did not originate in Prussia. At the end of the 17th century , the Great Elector organized his general quartermaster staff along the lines of the then highly regarded Swedish army. The task of the staff was to supervise the engineering service of the army, to monitor the marching routes and to select camps and fortified positions. At the same time similar institutions were established in England under Richard Cromwell , in Austria and other southern German states.

The armies had become so strong in the course of time, the theaters of war so expanded, that it was difficult for the sovereign to command alone during the war. The picture finally changed when, with the French Revolution, the war of princes and kings turned into a people's war and mass armies fought in various, often widely spaced, arenas. Now it had become impossible for a general to command alone, and now a campaign in which millions of soldiers had to be mobilized could no longer be organized on the fly.

In Prussia, in view of the successes of Frederick the Great, the change in the situation and the associated need for adjustment went unnoticed, whereas France was the first nation to assemble a staff of experts that could be called a general staff in the modern sense. Not least, he owed Napoleon his triumphal march through Europe. Only through the Napoleonic successes did Prussia rethink. The young reformers, who had previously not been able to assert themselves against the conservative forces, felt their views confirmed by the course of events, and finally they were also able to convince the king. Scharnhorst's plans, with which he intended to make up for what had been neglected in decades within a short time, went far:

  • Abolition of the mercenary army
  • Introduction of general conscription (as in France)
  • Abolition of dishonorable punishments in the army in order to restore the soldier's self-esteem
  • Abolition of the privileges of the nobility , even the common man should be able to become an officer if he was qualified.

Scharnhorst did not succeed in enforcing all of the demands, and he had to take a number of detours in order to achieve his goal. But he implemented one plan: the old quartermaster's staff was dissolved, a war ministry was formed, and within it the general staff. And Scharnhorst also founded the War Academy as an entrance school . At this academy the officers should not be trained to be stubborn recipients of orders, but to be educated, independently thinking and acting leaders.

Just a few years after its revitalization, in the wars of liberation 1813–1815, the new Prussian General Staff came into action for the first time. Scharnhorst, the chief of this general staff, had drawn up the operational plan for the Prussian army, and after his death Gneisenau continued his work. Paris was taken in 1814 according to Gneisenau's plan, and the Battle of Waterloo was also based on a design by the Prussian General Staff.

After the Wars of Liberation, the principles of the General Staff, recognized as correct, were further developed. The history of war was researched so that the young officers could learn from it, plans for possible wars were worked out, depending on the political situation, the maps were perfected, administrative and supply issues were studied, and the expansion of the road network was also monitored from a military point of view. The General Staff was given the task of dealing with all personnel questions of the army and preparing the mobilization that might one day be necessary . A general staff member was assigned to each infantry division as a liaison officer. One always followed the doctrine, also known as mission tactics, that every officer must be a personality who is ordered to reach the goal, but who decides for himself the path that leads to the goal.

In the Battle of Königgrätz in 1866, the then Chief of Staff Helmuth von Moltke knew how to bring his general staff work to full effect: Three Prussian armies advanced separately into Bohemia and met with the greatest precision on the battlefield to defeat the opposing army.

Chiefs of staff

Since the introduction of the official designation:

German Empire

The German Imperium

Kaiser Wilhelm (center) and his army leaders (postcard from 1915):
Kluck , Emmich (corners top left and right);
Bülow , Crown Prince Rupprecht , Crown Prince Wilhelm , Duke Albrecht , Heeringen (1st row);
François , Beseler , Hindenburg , Stein (2nd row);
Tirpitz , Prince Heinrich (3rd row);
Lochow , Haeseler , Woyrsch , Eine (4th row);
Mackensen , Ludendorff , Falkenhayn , Zwehl (5th row)

The Prussian "General Staff of the Army" carried out military planning in the Reich with assigned general staff officers from Saxony, Württemberg and Bavaria in the " Great General Staff ". The General Staff was subdivided into the central, the "Great General Staff" in Berlin and the General Staffs of the Corps or General Commands and the General Staff officers of the divisions. The Chief of the General Staff called himself "Chief of the General Staff" and was also the chief of all general staff officers. Even in Prussia , the General Staff had a special, also political significance since Moltke . He was extremely influential because since 1883 he, together with the commanding generals and the commanders-in-chief, Immediatrecht with the Kaiser as “Supreme Warlord” (German Empire) and “Chief of the Army” (Prussia) and thus had the de facto opportunity to bypass the Chancellor's military decisions and to meet the Reichstag. This is considered to be one of the germ cells of the catastrophe of the First World War , since military planning was not necessarily subject to political control (see also: Primacy of politics ). In this way, the Schlieffen Plan was able to develop into the only war plan and almost into a dogma, without any important politicians of the empire being even initiated. The leadership of the Imperial Navy was also not familiar with this army planning.

Inner structure

The "Great General Staff" was divided into several departments - which was responsible

  • 1st division with Russia
  • 2nd department as a "German" department, also known as the deployment department. It consisted of two sections.
    • The 1st section had to deal with all questions concerning the German army, insofar as they concerned its wartime development in peacetime. This includes his training, armament, equipment and organization. Her area of ​​work also extended to border protection and the deployment of the army in the event of mobilization .
    • 2. Section dealt with all questions relating to the defense capabilities and armament of German fortresses. The technical section was added later from around 1908. She had to deal with the increasingly important military technology.
  • Railway department
  • 3rd department dealt with France and England
  • 4. with the fortresses of these states
  • 5th with Italy and Austria-Hungary
  • 6. was the maneuver department for planning the imperial maneuvers

Further departments had to observe and evaluate the politics and the military of the other countries of the world from the press, diplomacy as well as military and agent reports .

Other departments in support were the

This had to measure the land trigonometrically and topographically, prepare maps and keep them up to date. She also had to collect and reproduce maps from abroad.

The responsibility lay in the Great General Staff except for the Chief of the General Staff himself, where all work came together, the Oberquartiermeister (OQ I). This was the superior of all department heads.

The staff of the 8th Army under Hindenburg

With the beginning of the First World War , the Supreme Army Command (OHL) was formed from the Prussian, Saxon , Württemberg and Bavarian General Staffs , i.e. an enlarged and expanded General Staff. The line lay with the Prussian "Chief of the General Staff of the Army". Helmuth von Moltke the Elder J. and Erich von Falkenhayn were the bosses of the first and second OHL. After the replacement of Falkenhayn, the third OHL was formed. These were Paul von Hindenburg , who was supported by Erich Ludendorff as an almost equal partner . Therefore the designation First Quartermaster General was introduced for Ludendorff. After Ludendorff's dismissal, Groener followed him into this position.

Chiefs of staff

Weimar Republic

According to the provisions of the Treaty of Versailles, the Reichswehr was not allowed to have a general staff. Article 160 of the treaty stipulated: "The German General Staff and all similar formations will be dissolved and may not be re-established under any form." The role of the General Staff was taken over by the Office of the Troops (a camouflage designation) in the Reichswehr Ministry .

In addition to the troop office, there was a general staff in the two group commands and in the ten divisional headquarters. The general staff officers, however, were no longer referred to as such, but were called "Führer staff officers". The general staff training was known as “ Führergehilfenausbildung ” and was carried out decentrally in the military districts .

In total, there were around 250-300 posts for general staff officers during the Weimar Republic, which was noticeable when the Wehrmacht was rearming from 1933 onwards.

Inner structure

The troop office consisted of the following four departments:

  • Department T 1 , also known as the “National Defense Department”, took over the tasks of the former deployment and operations department.
  • T 2 organization
  • T 3 , also "Army Statistics Department", dealt with the study of foreign armies
  • T 4 training

Parts of the war history department of the General Staff continued their work in the newly established Reichsarchiv .

Chiefs of the Troop Office

time of the nationalsocialism

Manual for General Staff Service in War (1939)

With effect from June 1, 1935, the troop office was renamed “General Staff of the Army ”.

Chief of the Army General Staff on July 1, 1935, Lieutenant General Ludwig Beck , who had been in charge of the troop office in the Reichswehr Ministry since October 1, 1933.

On March 1, 1935, Major General Walther Wever , who had also been Chief of the Air Force Command Office in the Reich Aviation Ministry since September 1, 1933, and thus chief of the disguised General Staff of the Air Force , became Chief of the General Staff of the Air Force .

At the same time, the naval command was renamed Oberkommando der Marine , the previous chief of the naval command, Admiral Erich Raeder , became Commander-in-Chief of the Navy (Ob.dM), which was henceforth referred to as the Navy . The navy had no admiralty staff, only the naval war command , which was introduced in 1938. The owner of this command post was initially called "Chief of the Naval War Command", from May 1944 "Chief of the Naval War Command".

In the course of the Blomberg-Fritsch crisis in February 1938, Hitler gained direct supreme command of the Wehrmacht and at the same time created his own military staff - the High Command of the Wehrmacht (OKW) with General Wilhelm Keitel as head of the High Command of the Wehrmacht . Since then, special staffs in the OKW and in the high commands of the Wehrmacht parts (General Staff of the Air Force and Admiral Staff) have acted as general staff.

The actual staff work was done by the Wehrmacht Leadership Office (WFA) in the Wehrmacht High Command with its various departments. The WFA (1940 renamed Wehrmacht Operations Staff (WFSt)) was, with a brief interruption in 1939, until the end of the war by Alfred Jodl as Chief of the Armed Forces Operations Staff of the High Command of the Armed Forces performed.

The structure and the distribution of tasks for the General Staff in the event of war were planned and laid down in the secret regulation "H.Dv.g 92 - Manual for General Staff Service in War - August 1, 1939".

Contrary to what the name suggested, the OKW or the Wehrmacht command staff was not the highest military staff for the entire Wehrmacht. The respective main theater of war, i.e. from 1941 the conduct of the war against the Soviet Union , was in the hands of the Army High Command ; only the other theaters of war were the responsibility of the Wehrmacht Command Staff .

Chief of Staff of the Army
  • General of the Artillery Ludwig Beck - October 1, 1933 to October 31, 1938
  • Colonel General Franz Halder - October 31, 1938 to September 24, 1942
  • Colonel General Kurt Zeitzler - September 24, 1942 to July 10, 1944
  • Lieutenant General Adolf Heusinger - 10th to 20th July 1944 (entrusted with the deputizing for the business)
  • Colonel General Heinz Guderian - July 21, 1944 to March 28, 1945 ( entrusted with running the business )
  • General of the Infantry Hans Krebs - March 29 to May 1, 1945 (entrusted with running the business)
  • Field Marshal Wilhelm Keitel - May 1 to 13, 1945 (charged with running the business)
  • Colonel General Alfred Jodl - May 13-23, 1945 (entrusted with running the business)
Chiefs of Staff of the Air Force
Chiefs of the Staff of the Naval War Command (from 1944 Chief of the Naval War Command)

Federal Republic of Germany

After 1945, the Potsdam Agreement prohibited an independent German army and general staff. The term general staff was no longer used in the Bundeswehr when it came to rearmament . Nevertheless, the above-mentioned tasks of a general staff also exist in the Bundeswehr. Your highest command authority was until 2012 the command staff of the armed forces (Fü S) in the Federal Ministry of Defense (BMVg). At the head of the FüS was the Inspector General of the Bundeswehr as the highest soldier in the Bundeswehr. With the realignment of the Bundeswehr , the tasks of the FüS were taken over by the Army Command .

In the period up to 1990, the Federal Republic of Germany had completely entrusted the operational management of its forces in the event of war to NATO , which in part was subordinate to purely German headquarters such as B. the fleet command or the German army corps (I., II., III.). Today's missions abroad that are not under the command of NATO or another international organization are managed by the BMVg and the operational command or, in exceptional cases, the command of a branch of the armed forces. General staff tasks were and are also to be carried out in these offices. The other, non-operational tasks of a general staff were and are carried out in the FüS and in the management staff of the armed forces in the BMVg.

The designation G1, G2 etc. can still be found today in the divisional staffs of the army (in the air force as A1, A2 etc., in the navy as M1, M2 etc. and in the operational command of the Bundeswehr as J1, J2 etc. designated). It identifies the general staff responsible and its area of ​​responsibility. G1 stands z. B. for the General Staff Department, which is responsible for personnel management. The head of this department is usually an officer with the rank of colonel i. G. ("in the general staff service" (until 1945 i. G. meant "in the general staff")) or lieutenant colonels i. G. All subordinate ranks in a G department are therefore S (staff) officers, S sergeants, S NCOs or S soldiers. The S1 DVVerbOffz would therefore be the S1 DV liaison officer in the G1 department, responsible for the electronic administration of personal data within the division. In subordinate regiments and battalions, the post of personnel manager is represented by an S1 officer (staff officer for personnel management). An S1 officer usually holds the rank of first lieutenant or captain or staff captain.

General Staff Officers (i. G.)

For service in the General Staff, specially qualified officers were needed from the start . These general staff officers required training that went beyond the scope of their service category (initially infantry, cavalry, artillery) in order to understand the armed forces as a whole. The best officers of a given year were therefore always selected for general staff training and this is usually the prerequisite for promotion to general. There are only a few exceptions to this, such as B. the stage managers of the respective branches of service.

General staff training in Germany was always lengthy and complex. In the past it consisted partly of several phases at the General Staff Academy, scientific studies and interim service in the troops. In the Bundeswehr, the general staff officers of the army and the air force and the admiral staff officers of the navy have been trained since 1957 in a two-year course (National General Staff / Admiral Staff Service, LGAN) at the command academy of the Bundeswehr (FüAkBw) in Hamburg. It has been shown that the new tasks of the Federal Armed Forces in the context of their foreign missions entail joint operations of all branches of the armed forces (joint) to an ever greater extent. For this reason, traditional training with partial armed forces-related courses and joint (joint) training components no longer meet the requirements. Since October 1, 2004, the army, air force and navy officers have been trained in a joint course.

Certain posts are referred to as general staff posts. In higher military staffs - in the army from the brigade level upwards - general staff officers support the troop leader as assistant leaders. They also serve in many other leading positions at the BMVg, at academies and schools or as military attachés . Army and air force officers who serve on general staff posts have the addition “i. G. ” with the meaning“ in the general staff service ”(until 1945 i. G. meant“ in the general staff ”) and are recognizable by external signs on the uniform ( crimson collar tabs, crimson underlay of the shoulder flap). Most of them - but not all - took part in general staff training. The navy knows neither rank additions nor markings of admiralty officers.

German Democratic Republic

In contrast to all other Warsaw Pact armies, the GDR's National People's Army (NVA) had no general staff during its entire existence and there was neither general staff service nor independent general staff training. Instead one was content with a main staff. Later efforts to rename the main staff to the general staff failed due to the veto of the Soviet Union .


The Chief of the General Staff in Austria is the highest advisor to the Federal Minister for National Defense in all military matters and represents the military leadership of the Federal Army at home and abroad. He is an advisory member of the National Security Council and Chairman of the Working Committee "M" within the framework of the Comprehensive National Defense and military advisor to the Armed Forces Complaints Commission as well as a representative of the Armed Forces in the EU Military Committee , in the Coordinating Committee of the Euro-Atlantic Partnership and in relevant multinational bodies. He is responsible for the service and technical supervision of the armed forces and the intelligence services as well as the academies, the weapons and technical schools, the military mission, the military advisory services and the offices of the defense attachés. The chief of the general staff uses his general staff, which currently consists of the deployment, planning and deployment sections. Until 2002 the title of this post was General Troop Inspector . In the Austrian Armed Forces, officers with general staff training use the suffix "dG" (of the general staff service, e.g. MjrdG). All troop officers are subjected to a multi-stage selection process at the earliest five years after being retired as lieutenant. The general staff course lasts six semesters. General staff training for militia officers is not planned.

See also


The General Staff was under different names to the army reform XXI responsible for planning and top management organizational unit of the Swiss army and was headed by the Chief of Staff with the rank of lieutenant general . Even after the army reform, there is a corps of general staff officers who are trained in the general staff school to become senior management assistants.

Other countries

United States

The United States has a chairman of the United Joint Chiefs of Staff , the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (CJCS), who is appointed by the President on October 1 of the odd years with the approval of the Senate . Since 2015 this has been General Joseph F. Dunford , United States Marine Corps . In addition, each of the four branches of the armed forces has a general staff whose chiefs, Commandant of the Marine Corps , Chief of Naval Operations , Chief of Staff of the Army and Chief of Staff of the Air Force , are members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.


The Israeli armed forces (Tzahal) have a general staff (Hebrew מטה הכללי), which is led by the highest ranking officer (Hebrew: ראש המטה הכללי), currently (2016) this is Rav Aluf (lieutenant general) Gadi Eizenkot .


Japan had several general staffs, which were disbanded by the US occupation in 1945. The Army's Sambō Hombu was created in 1878 based on the Prussian model. In 1884 the Gunreibu followed for the Navy. The Daihon'ei , also known as the Imperial General Staff, was founded in 1893 to coordinate both .

For the self-defense forces founded in 1954 , the Army Staff Department ( 陸上 幕僚 監 部 , Rikujō Bakuryō Kambu , English Ground Staff Office ), the Navy Staff Department ( 海上 幕僚 監 部 , Kaijō Bakuryō Kambu , English Maritime Staff Office ) and the air forces -Staff Department ( 航空 幕僚 監 部 , Kōkū Bakuryō Kambu , English Air Staff Office ), as well as the coordinating Joint Staff Department ( 統 合 幕僚 監 部 , Tōgō Bakuryō Kambu , English Joint Staff Office ) set up in the Ministry of Defense .

United Kingdom

The United Kingdom has a United General Staff (Chiefs of Staff Committee) , which is composed primarily of the chiefs of staff of the armed forces and is chaired by a joint chair (the Chief of the Defense Staff ). The first holder of this position, created in 1965, was Grand Admiral Louis Mountbatten, 1st Earl Mountbatten of Burma , currently General Sir Nick Houghton . In addition, each of the armed forces has its own general staff. The Chief of Staff of the Royal Navy is referred to as the First Sea Lord , the Chief of Staff of the British Army as the Chief of the General Staff, and the Chief of Staff of the Royal Air Force as the Chief of the Air Staff . Before 1965, the duties of the Chief of Staff of the entire British Armed Forces were performed by the respective Chief of Staff of the British Army, who was designated from 1904-1909 as Chief of the General Staff and then until 1964 as Chief of the Imperial General Staff . Since the creation of the United General Staff in 1965, the title of Chief of Staff of the Army has returned to Chief of the General Staff .

Russia / Soviet Union

In the Soviet Union there was an All-Russian Main Staff since 1918 (called the Staff since 1921 and the General Staff of the Red Workers 'and Peasants' Army since 1935 ). After a few other name changes, he was called the General Staff of the Armed Forces of the USSR from 1955 until the end of the Soviet Union . The Russian Armed Forces continued it after 1991.

The headquarters of the Commander-in-Chief ( Russian : Ставка Верховного Главнокомандующего , transcription : Stavka Verkhovno Glawnokomandujuschtschewo , Stavka for short) was a facility similar to a general staff in the Russian Empire . It was directly subordinate to the Tsar and was established in 1914. In the Soviet Union , the Stawka was dissolved in 1918 and after the German invasion of the Soviet Union in 1941 it was run parallel to the General Staff.

See also


  • Trevor N. Dupuy : The Genius of War. The German Army and the General Staff 1807–1945. Ares-Verlag, Graz 2009, ISBN 978-3-902475-51-0 .
  • Waldemar Erfurth : The history of the German general staff from 1918 to 1945. Muster-Schmidt, Göttingen 1957, ISBN 978-3-941960-20-6 .
  • Gerhard Förster / Heinz Helmert / Helmut Otto / Helmut Schnitter: The Prussian-German General Staff 1640–1965 , Dietz, Berlin (East) 1966.
  • Othmar Hackl : General Staff, General Staff Service and General Staff training in the Reichswehr and Wehrmacht 1919–1945. Studies of German generals and general staff officers in the Historical Division of the US Army in Europe 1946–1961. Biblio-Verlag, Osnabrück 1999, ISBN 3-7648-2551-0 .
  • Walter Görlitz : Small history of the German general staff. 2nd Edition. Haude & Spener, Berlin 1977.
  • Heinz Helmert: War Policy and Strategy - Political and Military Goals of Warfare by the Prussian General Staff before the founding of the Reich (1859–1869) . German military publisher , East Berlin 1970.
  • secret regulation H.Dv.g. 92, Handbook for General Staff Service in War, 1939.

Web links

Wiktionary: General Staff  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations

Individual evidence

  1. See Görlitz, p. 244 f.
  2. See Görlitz, p. 244 f.
  3. See Görlitz, p. 302.
  4. Klaus Froh and Rüdiger Wenzke : The generals and admirals of the NVA: a biographical manual. Ch. Links Verlag, 2007. p. 11.
  5. Gadi Eizenkot new Chief of Staff of Israel. , February 16, 2015, accessed on March 8, 2015 .