Ludendorff on Clerking

Journal of the Royal United Service Institution, Vol. LXX, February to November, 1925

(The following is a translation of a document captured during the late war. It emanated from the office of the Chief of the General Staff of the Field Army and is dated at General Headquarters, 1917.)

The paper work of the Army is becoming more and more of a tactical danger. With ever widening scope, it is affecting independence, initiative, interest in the service, and even reliability and honour.

The conflict with the "Paper drum-fire from the rear," as the Front calls it, must be conducted more energetically than hitherto. The higher a staff is the more it must test every single instruction, every telephone message and every verbal direction in order to ascertain if and to what extent clerical work is thereby entailed in subordinate staffs.

It is, in the first place, the duty of all branches immediately connected with the Supreme Command to act in conformity with this. I lay great stress on the following points:—

(1)     The special service branches have as a rule a particularly extensive clerical system. Complaint is made that every new service authority immediately issues a quantity of instructions, requires numerous returns, messages and reports, and sends out the results of its experiences.

All this, of course, involves multiple copies, as all the offices through which the correspondence passes wish to retain one.

Many such returns, etc., serve only for completing the files or for statistical purposes, but have little practical value.

I therefore require that these branches should cut down paper work to the lowest limit possible.

(2)     No value is to be attached to the form used for a return, etc. Clearness is requisite, but it must not lead to waste of labour and material, so often noticed, for example, in the production of maps and sketches, or in aeroplane albums. I further direct that energetic steps shall be taken to prevent correspondence from being continued with superfluous questions asked merely for formal or unimportant technical reasons.

Reports of the execution of orders and nil returns are only to be required in important cases. References to former orders are if possible to be replaced by a short summary of their contents; this will save much office work.

(3)     The many incomprehensible abbreviations which have become a sort of joke appear to be a considerable handicap on official correspondence. "Regt." for "Regiment," "Genkdo " for "Generalkommando" (Corps Headquarters) are quite clear to everyone. On the other hand words such as "Lubia"—(Luftbildabtheilung) (Aerial photography section) "Indegar"—(Inspektion der Gasregimenter), (Inspector of Gas Regiments), "Fewa"—(Feldwetterwarte) (Field meteorological Observatory) and numerous others are unintelligible to the uninitiated. The more new organisations are formed and their personnel changed the greater are the difficulties created by these designations.

Consequently I expressly forbid the use of these abbreviations in my immediate sphere of command, and urgently request that corresponding action may be taken in other spheres.

(4)     Complaints that too short a period is allowed for the return of reports in circulation are general. Here it may be presumed that the highest staffs are not blameless. Doubtless these and other troubles are not new; but it is not enough to recognise them, they must be earnestly combatted.

This circular will be distributed to the staffs and branches of the Supreme Command which are in my Department; I have forwarded copies to all Army Headquarter Staffs with the request that they should act similarly in their own spheres, and, if necessary, report with a View to action being taken from here if required. The Departments of the Ministry of War will also receive copies with the request to limit the administrative correspondence so far as feasible.

By Order,

elipsis graphic

Copy for Action.

I would again impress the importance of simplifying tactical correspondence in so far as messages, maps, reports, written plans for all contingencies, results of experience, etc., are concerned.

The fighting troops often give utterance to the reproach that the higher staffs, and in particular the special services with a technique of their own, are too much concerned with statistics, meddle with too many details by paper correspondence and thereby lose touch of reality and the troops. This is a warning to all.

It is the spirit of the troops which brings the final decision, and that must suffer if the present state of affairs is not remedied.

By Order,