The Officer and Fighting Efficiency (1940)

Table of Contents - Chapter - I - II - III - IV - V - VI


The immediate responsibility for the care and preparation of men for battle rests on the shoulders of the junior commander - a responsibility that he must seize eagerly and tackle firmly in the knowledge that the British officer who measures up to his job has no more loyal supporters than his own men. The chapters that follow, reprinted from Army Training Memoranda, are designed to render him direct and practical assistance in his day to day work of training and administration.

The future of the Army lies with its officers, and, in particular, with its junior officers. It is their contribution that will determine the morale and fighting spirit of the troops in battle. The junior officer should also remember that his personal bearing will exercise a dominating and permeating influence not only with his own men but with the general public and that the tone of an army is set by its officers. In public, therefore, as on parade, he must conduct himself in such a fashion that the uniform he wears is regarded by the general public less as a uniform than as the hallmark of that great profession of arms to which he belongs; a profession whose prestige in time of war is vitally bound up with a nation's destiny.



The object of all training is to turn a man into a soldier. The observations that follow on the subject of the II care of men II are written solely and specifically to enable an officer to see that his men are fit and competent to play their part on a modern battlefield. There is here no question of "pampering the soldier." For the officer the only question at issue is, "How do I ensure that my men shall give of their best in battle?" No officer can afford to overlook the stark fact that at the end of all training is the battlefield. The final test of his work is only to be discovered on the battlefield.

"Care of Men"

"Care of men" is a necessary foundation of all successful training. The man who is discontented and unwilling to learn takes longer to train, and can never reach a satisfactory standard of training. A reasonable degree of receptivity on the part of the pupil is indispensable to every instructor; and this receptivity on the part of the man must be largely influenced by the personal factors affecting his private life. These personal factors thus become of basic importance in his military career; and an officer's responsibility begins at this foundational point. At no hour of the day or night is he absolved from this responsibility. Two thousand five hundred years ago one of the great commanders of history told his junior officers that their first duty was to see that their men were "happy": the rest would follow. The soldier of today may have been invested with weapons the ancients never knew; but he remains a man - and not merely an automaton in battle dress.

The Man's "Mental Background"

Thus the first responsibility of the officer is not merely to train and to lead his men, but to know them. Although he may know every training manual by heart, if he does not know his men he fails as an officer. He must therefore elucidate for himself their mental background. He must find out what they are thinking, and what are their worries. The officer who visits his men at meal times and calls out "Any complaints?" is merely asking for the almost inevitable response - a response as meaningless and automatic as the question itself. An officer who is really doing his job will look for himself, and check up. The intelligent officer will ask: “Are the dinners good to-day?" “Are the potatoes better than they were yesterday?" - and ring the obvious variations. If he puts parrot questions he must expect parrot answers.

If a complaint should be forthcoming on any topic whatsoever, he should never regard it as frivolous - unless it happens to be nothing more than an example of good-humoured grousing. No complaint can be entirely frivolous if it is put forward in all seriousness. If there is nothing in the complaint itself, the indication is that the man's mental background is at fault - and this is his officer's responsibility. It is perfectly we1l realized that an officer can only hope to penetrate this mental background through imaginative sympathy and an understanding of human nature, and that these qualities of the mind cannot be acquired as a result of some external injunction. Nevertheless they are likely to be developed unconsciously if the officer continually addresses his mind to the simple question. "What little thing more can I do for my men?"

There is no surer way for an officer to get to know his men than to take part in their games and to assist in their organization. His platoon or his company, instead of taking on the complexion of a solid wad of raw humanity, will become a collection of individuals, a knowledge of whose characters will stand him in good stead under the supreme test of battle. It may further be noted that one unquestioned lesson of the last war was that regular healthy recreation for all men, in camp and, when possible, in the field, was as essential a part of the soldier's profession as his routine training.

The Officer's "Military Background"

The complement to the man's "mental background" must be the officer's military background. It is a quality of the mind he can never hope to acquire until he stops thinking of himself as a civilian. Both on and off parade he must remember that the uniform he wears indicates an assumption of responsibility far in excess of his former civilian responsibilities - whatever their nature. In war he is responsible not only for the welfare but for the lives of his men. He must get to "know the Army" and to think in terms of the Army.

To "know the Army" is a condition of spiritual awareness of a great comradeship that can come only as a result of intimacy and experience; but to "think in terms of the Army" is largely a matter of taking thought. In civilian life in an industrialized country the civilian is asked to do less and less thinking for himself; he is rarely flung back on his own qualities of initiative and resourcefulness; the conveniences and luxuries of life are "laid on": one turns a tap or puts the money on the counter. Life in the Army, under active service conditions, represents something in the nature of a reversion to a past age. The individual is largely thrown back upon his own resources; and although these resources may be forthcoming from the administrative services, it is still the responsibility of the individual to see that they are used to the best advantage. The rations may be the same along the length of the line: but the dinners will vary according to the trouble that has been taken over them; and the wise officer will recollect that, in the last war, a hot meal before going into action represented a reinforcement of morale out of all proportion to the trouble and the ingenuity its preparation demanded. In civilian life the art of improvisation is rarely imposed on the individual; in the Army the officer must regard it a matter of course. If his men are wet through and the billets destitute of any form of heating, and if there is coal or wood anywhere within transportable distance, he will not settle down to his own dinner until the men's clothes are being dried and the billets warmed: nor, if their stay in them is to be prolonged, will he be satisfied with these billets until he has contrived to introduce as many small comforts as possible. The art of improvisation needs to be exercised to the full under really difficult conditions; and in these days of air warfare, when communications and supplies are likely to be interrupted to a degree never experienced in the last war, the officer can never be certain that he will not suddenly be thrown back upon his own resources of ingenuity and determination. It will be apparent from these observations that an officer who moves about his work with this military background to his day by day activities is asked to assume a habit of thought that must become second nature to him.

Civilian Co-operation

When an officer is called upon to improvise the essential comforts of life for his men, he will almost certainly find it necessary to secure civilian co-operation. He need not doubt that this civilian co-operation will be readily available if he shows tact and consideration in his requests. He must not wait for his men to show the necessary initiative. It is unquestionable that the average soldier displays a curious diffidence about approaching local inhabitants for such assistance as they might easily render. His uniform puts him in a race apart from the general run of civilian life; and if he belongs to some isolated detachment he will sometimes prefer to go without a bath for weeks on end rather than knock at some civilian door. The officer must intervene on his behalf . In all such dealings with local inhabitants the officer must remember that his own attitude, and the behaviour of his troops, will directly influence the reception accorded his successors. This warning has special reference to the condition in which the billets are left. It should be a point of honour and decency to leave them clean.

Finally, when times are bad, and it is beyond the powers of improvisation of any officer to relieve them - if, for example, a detachment is stranded during a move or through some vagary of the weather - it must be understood that the officer sticks it out with his men.

Health of Troops

If his men keep going sick it is the duty of the officer to find out why. More often than not a man who goes sick represents a bad mark against his own administration. If there appears to be something fundamentally wrong with a man's health he should see that the M.O. takes appropriate action. A persistently sick man is merely a drag on the work of the battalion and a waste of his instructors' time. Even in an age of motorized and mechanized warfare a soldier must be prepared to use his feet; he must have teeth that will stand up to hard fare, and a body proof against hardship and spells of privation. If his men fail to take the strain, the trouble will have dated back to a period when the officer failed to look to the future. In the last war a certain Territorial battalion in Palestine marched every yard of the way from Gaza to Damascus over months of campaigning. During those months not a man fell out on the line of march for reasons of health. The men of this battalion were not in enjoyment of exceptional stamina by comparison with other battalions: it was merely that the officers watched the men's feet, the water they drank, the food they ate; and if any small luxuries were to be obtained within a hundred miles of that battalion's headquarters, the quartermaster chased them. This battalion never failed to come up to scratch in battle. The men went into action in the spirit of - "We have the finest lot of officers in this outfit - and nothing is going to stop us."

"Brains on the Job"

If a man is fit and contented an officer should have, little difficulty with the problems of training; but behind all the regular routine of training he should remember that he has the general duty of seeing that his men bring their brains to bear on the work to which he puts them. It is not enough that they should not be bored - and the first yawn should be regarded by the officer as a devastating criticism of his powers of exposition. He must train them to use their eyes by constantly questioning them on any points of detail with which they should have become acquainted during an exercise; he must crack down on those who dawdle on a skyline; he must deliver fearful warnings to those who meander across an imaginary battleground. He will do well to remember that, in the last war, the constant cry of "Get down, get down!" was in itself an indictment of the officers who uttered it; and if any of his men show a reluctance to move on their bellies during training he should make them realize that their chances of survival on a modem battlefield will be so slight that their presence will merely serve to encumber the work of the medical and burial services. He should also remind himself that, in this war, every soldier is likely to be called upon to acquire something of the deftness and the adaptability of a night bird, and that a townsman will find himself at a serious disadvantage if his training is not modified accordingly. In particular be should ensure that. his men are given all possible information to take an intelligent interest in the general situation - whether on an imaginary battlefield or under actual war conditions. The man who, in war, is utterly taken by surprise and rendered incapable of instant action is subject to the worst of all fears - fear of the unknown. A man who recognizes a bomb attack before the bomb bursts has already half mastered the situation.

Thus it may be said that it is an officer's responsibility during training not merely to fit his men for their work on the battlefield, but to ensure that they shall stand a chance of survival, and live to fight another day. In the average battle with imperfectly trained troops only a small proportion of the casualties can be directly credited to the enemy.

Discipline and Punishments

"Care of men" must not be confused with loving- kindness. The officer must discover for himself the border line between considerate treatment and iron discipline. No man can succeed as an officer unless his men jump to his least word of command. It must be admitted that such power of command is largely a matter of personality. Nevertheless, any officer who endeavours to put into practice the precepts contained in the foregoing paragraphs will have established between himself and his men a subtle bond that will hold even under the strain of battle: he will be able to count upon them to respond to his will. Will power is a quality of the mind that an officer can cultivate only by a stern resolve to do his job and to keep his head in an emergency; but the test will be immeasurably less severe if he is conscious that his men are all Out to help him.

Nor is it only during battle itself that the qualities of discipline and of leadership will be subjected to their severest strain. The greatest test will often come during periods of reaction after battle, and of boredom and dull routine when the unit is employed on guard duties and routine work and the stimulation of excitement is absent. At such times a high standard of discipline must still be maintained; the men must be exercised both mentally and physically, and all officers must be particularly energetic in ensuring the comfort of their men and in arranging for their recreation.

It should further be noted that discipline which depends for its maintenance on punishments is not discipline-that is, the training of the mental, moral, and physical powers by instruction and. exercise - but a cowed state of submission to authority. Such "discipline" will assuredly crack under the test of battle. The first rate officer will have but little recourse to punishments. The cause of any punishment must inevitably be a symptom of something wrong in the body of troops under his command; and if he is ceaselessly investigating the men's "mental background," no symptom is likely to take him unawares. In particular the first rate officer will avoid petty punishments. If he has to punish, he should punish hard - after fair warning.

The one crime at home for which he will take no excuse and visit with the severest retribution is that of a sentry who is found asleep at his post. Unless men realize at home the enormity of this crime they will be equally careless in the line. It should be pointed out that it is not the fate of the individual that matters, but the fact that he is responsible for the safety of the lives of his comrades.


Every point of conduct discussed in the preceding paragraphs is ultimately directed to the question of morale. Good morale is the first of the soldierly qualities-as it has always proved to be the final arbitrament in war. To the extent that the points discussed can be reduced to a simple everyday routine on the part of the officer, and the constant and patient exercise of quite ordinary virtues, morale can be instilled into fighting troops; and any officer whose work helps to sustain morale makes a direct contribution to fighting efficiency. Alternatively, any lack or failure of morale is equally his responsibility. The essential characteristics of the British race have suffered neither diminution nor change during the past twenty years; and every officer may take it that, if things go wrong, whether it be in a platoon or in some high formation, the fault is with the officers of that platoon or formation, and not with the men.

The officer has all the advantages of education and environment; even in the heart of a campaign he is enabled to enjoy more than a few of the amenities of civilized life: by comparison the private soldier has to rough it and just stick it out, whatever the minor amenities his officers have been able to secure for him. The officer who is worthy of his rank will never blame his men for any deficiencies in his command.

Finally it may be observed that inadequacy of equipment provides no excuse for any failure to implement the advice urgently offered in these paragraphs to those junior officers who to-day find themselves immediately responsible for the well-being, the training, and the fortunes in war of the Empire's armies.

Next - Chapter II

Table of Contents - Chapter - I - II - III - IV - V - VI

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