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The databases

As I explain in the Introduction, I’ve based part of my analysis on statistics drawn from databases covering the prosopography of officers and military formations such as divisions.

To create the prosopographical database, I first assembled reliable CV information on officers of interest, principally commanders of formations from division upwards and general staff officers of all ranks. I then used this to populate the database, focusing on eight categories of officer – the commanders and most senior general staff officers of army groups, Armies, corps and divisions, since these are the levels of command covered in the book. Individual fields include the officer’s contingent – Prussian, Bavarian and so on – arm of service, attendance at Kriegsakademie [staff college] and general staff experience before and during the war, date into and out of specific posts, rank and length of service on entering post, next posting and participation in the spring 1917 battles. As far as possible, I’ve collected information on officers throughout the war.

This combination of data allows me to ask complex questions. An example from Chapter 2 is divisional command teams, which I define as the commander and his chief general staff officer. Questions include the composition of teams by arm of service; how August 1914 compared with April 1917; whether there were any differences in divisions engaged in the Entente spring offensive and in the army as a whole; the longevity of the partnership; and how long it had been in place by April 1917. Similar questions can be asked separately of commanders and general staff officers. The resulting statistics produce new insights on command teams’ suitability for combined arms battle; they also challenge arguments by senior officers during and after the war that the decreasing experience of general staff officers was a major factor limiting implementation of mission command.

These examples bring out the strengths and weaknesses of the sources used to create the database. You can find a full explanation of the sources here, but briefly they include official rank lists, Reichsarchiv working documents and semi-official publications, personal files where available as well as other authoritative sources such as the online Neue Deutsche Biographie [New German Biography]. For both databases, I’ve made a systematic effort over many years to improve the quality of information and breadth of coverage. As a result robust information is available for all officers in seven out of the eight categories during the whole war.

The eighth category, divisional chief general staff officers, is more complex. It’s possible to identify all the officers in post on the eve of mobilisation, but after that the information is incomplete. Nevertheless, by extensive and intensive trawling of sources, I’ve identified 86 per cent of these officers in divisions facing the Entente spring offensive and 74 per cent in the whole army in spring 1917. These figures are less than comprehensive but more than merely illustrative. Statistics derived from incomplete information like this are clearly indicated in the text.

The second database covers formations, particularly divisions since they were the main combat formation in 1917. Individual fields include the type of the division (active, reserve and so on), parent contingent, date formed, location at different periods, participation in various battles including in spring 1917, casualties and combat value at different dates. Information on most of these fields covers the whole war and comes from reliable sources such as ‘Weltkrieg’ and its derivatives as well as Reichsarchiv working documents and semi-official publications.

In particular, the movement of divisions between theatres and their employment in battle provide evidence on how German commanders saw the quality of different parts of the army and how this changed over time. Information on casualties and combat value is not complete. However, comprehensive information on combat value is available for Seventh Army in April-May 1917: a case study of the Army and one of its divisions illustrates the management of attrition. This in turn contributes to understanding how the German army survived the Entente spring offensive and how much damage it suffered in the process.[1]

There’s more on the database structure and sources here.

[1]                  See Chapter 8 of the book.