The Officer and Fighting Efficiency (1940)

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


The task of every British officer and N .C.O. is to play his part in making his sub-unit, unit, and the army as a whole, into a formidable fighting machine. To carry out this task he must appreciate the distinction between an army and a mob. It is not by its arms - for mobs have arms - but by its discipline and esprit de corps that an army is to be distinguished from a mob. These two qualities are essential to secure co-ordinated action by a body of men, and to ensure that singleness of purpose which can alone enable them to achieve the intention of their commander. They are not less essential if a unit is to retain its cohesion under the conditions of modern war. Fear is the enemy of morale; fear unchecked will lead to panic; and a unit that panics is no longer a unit, but a mob. There is no man who is altogether without fear, but, with high morale, men will face danger, if not willingly, at least stoically, because of their sentiments of duty, of courage, and of loyalty, and because of their sense of pride in their country, in their regiment, and in themselves. In other words, because of their esprit de corps. As the stress of battle increases and their resistance is lowered by fear, fatigue, and other circumstances, their esprit de corps will be maintained by discipline - the ingrained habit of cheerful and unhesitating obedience, and the backbone of a unit in moments of crisis.


Outward bearing is. the first index of discipline and esprit de corps. Officers and men must realize that they carry the badge of their regiment, and that those who see them look on them not as individuals but as representatives of the regiment whose mark they bear. If they appear smart, alert, and efficient, the comment will be not so much "That man looks a good soldier" as "That looks a good regiment."

Every officer must therefore carry himself erect, and see that his uniform is clean and in good condition, and that it is worn correctly. Until he is satisfied that his own turn out is correct he cannot expect a high standard from those under his command.

Men can look smart in battle dress if it is worn correctly and the necessary trouble is taken; alternatively, a slovenly man can carry it in such fashion that he looks little better than a tramp. Here again the responsibility lies with the officer and the N.C.O. If they themselves are smartly turned out, the mere enterprising men will take their cue from them and the rest will need little encouragement to follow their example.


Saluting is reputed to date from the days of armour , the salute representing the motions of a knight raising the vizor of his helmet with the open hand to the front, showing that, though raised, it contained no missile. The practice of giving "eyes right" originated from medieval days when it was the privilege of men at arms to look their superiors in the face, while others must pass with downcast eyes. The salute therefore is no sign of subservience: it is a recognition of comradeship and mutual trust between men at arms. It is, at the same time, an acknowledgment of discipline, and a visible indication of the common obedience that all ranks owe to the Crown and its service. Saluting is thus another indication of the esprit de corps and discipline of a unit.

The officer saluted must understand that it is his duty not only to acknowledge the salute but to return it in a proper manner. He does so by saluting in the same way as the soldier, and not with the flick of a finger or the wave of his stick; nor will he return a salute with a cigarette in his mouth. When returning a salute he should look the man in the face so that the man gains the impression that his quality as a soldier is being appraised. He should also take a deliberate note of the badge the man is wearing.

It is the duty of every officer not only to return salutes but also to see that he is properly saluted by those who should do so. Failure to salute is often due to shyness; or a man may think that he has not been noticed. An officer who salutes others, who is confident of being saluted himself, and who intends to return salutes properly, will rarely find it necessary to check a man.

Drill and Physical Fitness

The above comments largely have reference to the development of esprit de corps by example. In this aspect esprit de corps is hardly to be distinguished from the spirit of good discipline, and for its direct development there is no surer method than regular spells of steady drill. Drill in this context is not meant to imply tedious parade ground movements carried out in a perfunctory manner, but the physical satisfaction to be derived from sinking one's individuality in the perfect timing of a mass movement, in which every individual is keyed up to the maximum personal tension. Thus, this form of discipline is something more than blind and unquestioning obedience to orders: it is a rhythmic and automatic surging of the cohesive spirit of a body of men in times of crisis, so that all can draw on the common fund of courage and endurance. Experience in France bears out that the simple quality of good discipline is the mainstay of an army in the field., Any deterioration, however temporary , in the bonds of discipline that hold an army together must lead to risk of disaster in face of a determined enemy. Only the exceptional individual can face alone the onslaught of a numerous enemy; but a man of even less than average courage can be counted on not to let down his stouter comrades if he has been trained in the discipline of mind and body. Such powers of endurance will be assisted by a high standard of physical fitness. In the earliest stages of their training, troops must be hardened by imposing severe tests on their physical stamina. They must be made to march hard and far, in correct fashion, and, over short periods, to live hard. Too much reliance should not be placed on troop - carrying transport. Other training is wasted on a man who crumples under the first test of physical endurance. No matter what the degree of an army's mechanization or motorization, it will never win its battles it its soldiers are "soft." Nor do these demands for the highest possible standard of discipline and physical fitness apply exclusively to the fighting arms. In modem war any unit of any arm is likely to be called upon, at any moment, to assume a fighting role.

Finally it may be observed that the disappearance of the old "front line" style of warfare has resulted in the intermingling of the troops with the civil population, whether or not active operations are in progress. The question of a unit's general behaviour therefore takes on an altogether exceptional significance. If its esprit de corps is always in evidence, its good bearing in public will contribute to the good reputation of the Army as a whole.

Next - Chapter III

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