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Military service: Orders and intelligence

Military service

The collections of the Modern Records Centre include a small number of documents relating to the organisation and intelligence operations of the First World War, mostly included in the papers of Sir Guy Granet, Director-General of Military Railways / Movements and Railways during the latter part of the conflict. Some of the highlights from the hundred documents digitised to commemorate the First World War centenary are described below.

Confidential operational instructions from the Chief of the Imperial General Staff to "press [the] enemy in direction of Baghdad", with reply, February - March 1917

Subject to the security of your force, and to the capacity of your communications, it is the policy of His Majesty's Government to establish British influence in the Baghdad Vilayet

Copy of operational instructions regarding the movement of British forces towards Baghdad sent by Sir William Robertson, Chief of the Imperial General Staff, with reply from General Maude, the General Officer Commanding Force 'D', Mesopotamia. As well as the position and condition of the Turkish army, strategic considerations included it being "undesirable that the Russians should reach Baghdad before us" and the need to not be "misinterpreted by Arab tribesmen" as "it is by resolute methods that we can best control these numerous tribes along our very vulnerable communications".

[Included in the archive of Sir William Guy Granet; document reference: MSS.191/3/4/51-56]

Confidential summaries of intelligence, 27 and 29 August 1917

I am living at present with two comrades and half-a-dozen water rats in a clay pit on the bank of a dilapidated canal. Here the wind has a better whistle. Shells and shrapnel whistle just the same...

Daily summaries of intelligence circulated by General Staff (Intelligence) of the British Army. They include extracts from captured documents, including correspondence and diaries of German soldiers, together with information on the situations in the different "theatres" of war.

[Included in the archive of Sir William Guy Granet; document reference: MSS.191/5/1/14 and MSS.191/5/1/16]

'Manual of position warfare for all arms. Part 3, Weapons of close combat ("Nahkampfmittel")'

It is laid down that the best weapons for repelling an enemy are the machine gun and rifle, but that the hand grenade is specially suited to get him out of shell holes

Translation of captured German document "issued by the Chief of the General Staff of the Field Army, Berlin" in January 1917. It provides guidance to German soldiers on the use of "weapons of close combat" - particularly hand grenades.

[Included in the archive of Sir William Guy Granet; document reference: MSS.191/5/1/8]

Diagram showing the organization and defences of a divisional sector (from a German document captured in April 1917)

Diagram issued by British General Staff (Intelligence) in May 1917, showing an example of German defences - including trenches, machine gun emplacements and barbed wire.

[Included in the archive of Sir William Guy Granet; document reference: MSS.191/5/1/7]

Instructions for battle issued to commanders of all grades by the General Staff, May 1917

We are steadily progressing towards the time when the morale of the men opposing us will be broken. Then no system of defence, however sound, will suffice to check our advance

Instructions ("not to be taken into the trenches") summarising "the principles and methods on which the enemy’s defence is based, and which we have to meet and overcome" and "the general and normal method of procedure" that should be followed "in a battle on a great scale". The document includes information obtained from captured German documents.

[Included in the archive of Sir William Guy Granet; document reference: MSS.191/5/1/2]

Instructions on signal organisation for the Heavy Branch Machine Gun Corps (tanks), June 1917

It is therefore intended to rely chiefly on Wireless and Pigeons...

Instructions issued by the General Staff regarding the need to introduce a "properly organised system of communications for Tanks", to improve the effectiveness of the new weapon on the battlefield. Recommendations include the issuing of homing pigeons to each tank ("every Fighting Tank should be provided with at least two pigeons and the Signal Tank with four or more") and the use of wireless by signal tanks to communicate with infantry units.

[Included in the archive of Sir William Guy Granet; document reference: MSS.191/5/1/3]

German Signal-thrower: "Signalwerfer" or "Nachrichtenwerfer", August 1917

Diagrams and descriptions of German message and signal rockets, circulated by British Army General Staff (Intelligence).

[Included in the archive of Sir William Guy Granet; document reference: MSS.191/5/1/9]

Notes on co-operation between aircraft and artillery during recent operations on the second army front, June 1917

Stoppage of fire for photographing the results of bombardment is unnecessary. With careful pre-arrangement portions of the trenches on which a slow rate of fire is being maintained can be photographed while other portions are being more heavily bombarded and vice versa

Advice issued by the General Staff on the use of aerial observation by the Royal Flying Corps to provide information on enemy positions in order to improve the accuracy of artillery bombardment.

[Included in the archive of Sir William Guy Granet; document reference: MSS.191/5/1/4]

Instructions on the use of artillery barrages, August 1917

The barrage has two main properties:— (а) It is a man killing agent. (b) It acts as a screen to cover the movements of our infantry from view

Instructions issued by the General Council, including descriptions of the "four classes" of barrages ("Creeping, Standing, Back, Protective").

[Included in the archive of Sir William Guy Granet; document reference: MSS.191/5/1/6]