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The Army General Staff Office

The Army General Staff Office

A great mission: preparing for war

The Army's General Staff Office was still in its infancy in 1874, when the Chief of Staff headed up only six offices. It slowly evolved, despite those who thought that the Chiefs of Staff "needed only obedience, perceptiveness and order", and that they should be neutral with officers who where "silent and unspeaking, [preparing] the action of the republican army far from the noise of this world."

Two years after his arrival at the War Ministry, Charles de Freycinet, who lamented the string of a dozen Chiefs of Staff who had served between 1874 and 1888, set out the mission of the General Chief of Staff in a decree dated 7 May 1890. The Chief of Staff would direct what became the system for preparing for war, but also had to be able "to provide the commander in chief, as well as the various armed forces, with the necessary elements to ensure the direction of operations in peacetime."

The heart of the chain of command

The General Staff Office was defined as "a delimited, autonomous and essentially technical department, which must remain apart from ministerial fluctuations [to reach the essential goal of] preparing military operations and the practical study of every means for making them successful." In wartime, it formed the heart of the chain of command, but was also the center of preparations in terms of troop mobilization and concentration, transport, and the organization of the Army. In order to have access to the top recruits, from 1891, the General Staff Office took the top twelve graduates of the École Supérieure de Guerre, who spent six months in each of its four offices.

Insofar as political power was shifting and military authority was split between departments, technical committees and the General Staff Office-with some power being held by citadels where one entered by cooptation-and General Bach observed that this "background of insidious struggles" contributed to the loss of control by the instigators of the Dreyfus Affair over what they had started.


The authors of Dreyfus's conviction

Bertillon's camera