The operational role of British corps command on the Western Front, 1914-18
British corps command having been neglected in the literature, this thesis sets out to assess what British corps did, and how they did it, on the Western Front during the Great War. It attempts to avoid anecdotal sources as much as possible, drawing its evidence instead as much as possible from contemporary official documents. It is a central argument here that Field Service Regulations, Part 1 (1909), was found by commanders in the BEF to be applicable throughout the war, because it was designed to be as flexible as possible, its broad principles being supplemented by training and manuals. Corps began the war in a minor role, as an extra level of command to help the C-in-C control the divisions of the BEF. With the growth in numbers and importance of artillery in 1915, divisions could not cope with the quantity of artillery allotted them, and by early 1916, the corps BGRA became the corps artillery commander (GOCRA). In addition to its crucial role in artillery control, corps was important as the highest level of operational command, discussing attack plans with Armies and divisions and being responsible for putting Army schemes into practice. Though corps tended to be prescriptive towards divisions in 1916, and Armies towards corps, a more hands-off style of command was generally practised in 1917, within the framework of FSR and the pamphlet SS13S (and others - to be used with FSR). However, the vital role of artillery still led corps to control divisions more closely than in 1915. In 1918, once the BEF had recovered from the setbacks of March and April (caused mainly by low levels of manpower facing overwhelming German infantry and artillery forces), the BEF as much as possible devolved command - even of heavy artillery - to divisions. In the Hundred Days, acting flexibly, corps only assumed a co-ordinating role when set-piece attacks were required.