There were two main types of duties to which officers in the Canadian Army could be assigned; command appointments, and staff appointments. Commanders were responsible for leading troops, units, or formations into battle while staff officers assisted commanders in the planning of those orders and the co-ordination of effort of multiple units and/or formations.
At the unit level (individual battalions of infantry, or regiments of cavalry, artillery, engineers, armour, etc.), headquarters were generally staffed by officers of the combat arms branch that the unit belonged to, very often (in Canadian practice) having been promoted/appointed from within the same regiment. They generally received special training in their duties.
At higher levels - "formation level" - staff officers would be specially prepared for their duties. Until the unification of the Canadian military, the terminology used to identify staff officers at formations and the division of work was based on the British system which was adapted from the Prussian system of the General Staff. (Prussia was one of the first nations to create a standing organization tasked solely for planning all aspects of warfare. German staff planning was responsible for unification of the German states as well as the creation of a Prussian empire in 1870, including their famous defeat of the French army that year.)
At the formation level, the work of any headquarters was divided into three cells. The British did have staff officers as far back as the Crimea War working in these three cells but staff work was looked at with great disdain in the British Army and only became acceptable after the terrible hardships of the Crimea war, brought on by disorganization.
The British and German Models
When the Prussian military invented the modern staff system, it created a separate career stream for prospective staff officers. Those selected as staff officers wore red stripes on their trousers as a sign of their status, and remained in staff positions throughout their careers. They also served in parallel to commanders, and bore equal responsibility as their counterparts for the success or failure of the formations or units they were assigned to. A staff officer unhappy with a decision made by a commander could take up his grievance with a staff officer of his branch at the next highest headquarters.
According to Gordon Corrigan, by contrast, the British Army "...was too small to have separate pools of commanders and staff officers, and such a system would in any case have been unacceptable to the British military ethos. The British staff would remain subordinate to command, and officers would not advance by merit in only one stream; they would alternate between the staff and command, needing recommendations in both spheres to gain promotion."1
The General Staff in Britain was formed in Nov 1905, from the growing understanding that throwing together higher headquarters in time of need from whomever was available was not a practice suited to modern warfare. A reorganization in 1908 identified three main branches:
Canada quickly adopted the British model for the Canadian Army, and utilized and developed it up until Unification in 1968, though as noted below, some Americanization did occur prior to Unification.
Staff Officers were appointed in three grades, General Staff Officer I (GSO I), GSO II, and GSO III. Corresponding ranks were Lieutenant Colonel for GSO I, Major for GSO II and Captain for GSO III.
The British System - 1900-1970
Staff appointments in a combat arms unit would include the following:
The term 'Quartermaster' came from the 19th Century when an officer in the General's staff was detailed to ride ahead of the main body of troops to find quartering and food for the troops each day of the march to battle. Always escorted by a troop or more of cavalry, he became a source of intelligence for his commander on roads, enemy sightings, attitudes of the civil population, etc.
"G" Branch (Operations) - was the section that plans and executes operations. The senior staff officer at a Brigade HQ was known as the Brigade Major (rank - Major) and he was responsible for coordinating the work of the HQ. In G branch, he had several staff officers working under him who were GSO III grade staff officers in the rank of Captain. The GSOs III were Operations (the senior Captain), Intelligence, Liaison, and when aviation arrived in the 1960s a GSO III Air. The Liaison section had two or more Lieutenants in it, often attached in from the combat units of the brigade to learn more of the operations and functions of the Bde HQ.
The Brigade Major co-ordinated the work of the entire headquarters, concentrating mainly on "G" matters, while the GSO III deputy generally dealt with all non-operational matters, such as courses, war diary, reports and returns, leaving the BM free to concentrate on operational matters. The GSO III acted in the Brigade Major’s capacity if the latter was unavailable. The GSO III position was added to the brigade headquarters staff in early 1944.
"A" Branch (Administration) - took care of all personnel matters including honours and awards, postings, promotions, medical, dental, auxiliary services (sports, recreation, canteens) chaplains, refugees, military police, to name a few. There was usually one or two GSOs III in this branch plus advice from the Commanding Officers of the 'A' units eg: the Field Ambulance, the Military Police Platoon, and the senior Chaplain. During the Second World War, the Auxiliary Services were those services provided by the Salvation Army, the Knights of Columbus and the Royal Canadian Legion, including sports and recreation, films and entertainment.
"Q" Branch (Logistics) - took care of all things logistics including supply, transportation, movements, clothing, equipment maintenance, ammunition, and paint at the general policy level. There was a GSO III staff officer and a Staff Learner (Captain or Lieutenant). To assist them were three advisors, all Captains, known as the BRASCO (Brigade Royal Army Service Corps Officer), BOO (Brigade Ordnance Officer), and BEME (Brigade Electrical and Mechanical Engineer Officer). These three worked together to provide the logistics input to operational plans as well as liaison with brigade units and the Brigade Transport Company RCASC, the Ordnance Field Park RCOC and the Field Workshop RCEME. Note these three advisors worked closely with the Commanding Officers of the three logistics units which were commanded by Majors.
A and Q work were under a DAA&QMG (Deputy Assistant Adjutant and Quartermaster General) in the rank of Major, who was the principal administrative and logistics staff officer. Under him were the Staff Captain A and Staff Captain Q as part of Brigade Headquarters, representing the two branches but reporting to a combined chief.
In each case the staff officers work with their counterparts at the next higher HQ in order to keep abreast of issues, future plans and operations, etc. The work was complex and required a unique kind of person with considerable attention to detail, ability to write clearly and lucidly, and the ability to work in a team and as an individual.
"G" Branch was under the Colonel GS (a Lieutenant-Colonel), who was responsible for policy, as directed by the Divisional Commander, and the co-ordination and general supervision of work of all branch of the Division Headquarters. A Colonel AQ was head of the combined "A" and "Q" staffs. An AA&QMG in the rank of Lieutenant Colonel was the assistant to the Colonel AQ.
Under him were:
A GSO II, acting as deputy to the GSO I. He was responsible for the preparation of orders and instructions as directed by the GSO I; the general organization and working of the "G" office; detailing of duty officers at the Div HQ; coordinating arrangements for moving the Main HQ; details of movement by road in consultation with the DAAG and DAQMG; and general policy regarding HQ defence and the preparation and promulgation of HQ standing orders. (In an Armoured Division Headquarters, the GSO II was responsible for the Division Tactical HQ and the above duties were done by the GSO III (Operations).)
The GSO III (Operations) was the understudy to the GSO II; he maintained the situation map; prepared situation reports; supervised the acknowledgment register; maintained the command matrix; prepared orders for the move of the Orders Group; and prepared orders for the move of the Division's Main HQ.
The GSO III (Operations)(Chemical Warfare) was responsible for all matters dealing with Chemical Warfare that affected the division; coordinated courses; was responsible for the camouflage policy; maintained the war diary; prepared and maintained location statements; received and distributed codes, call sign lists and other signals information from the divisional signals; coordinated traffic control and organization of routes in the divisional forward area under the GSO II and APM; was understudy to the GSO III (Operations) on all matters less CW.
The GSO III (Intelligence) coordinated all intelligence training and work in the division; coordinated the collection and collation of information about enemy dispositions, methods and intentions; prepared daily intelligence summaries; coordinated interpretation of air photographs with the Army Photographic Interpretation Section (APIS); effected liaison with the APIS, the field security office and the Intelligence Officer, Royal Artillery (at CRA); and was responsible for briefing and handling of press correspondents.
The GSO III (Liaison):coordinated the work of the Liaison Officers, was responsible for the division information room and served as an understudy to the GSO III (Operations).
"G" Branch at Corps HQ level was under the Brigadier General Staff (a Brigadier) abbreviated as "BGS". "A" and "Q" Branches were under two other brigadiers, the AAG (Assistant Adjutant General) and AQMG (Assistant Quartermaster General). Despite being ranked equally, the BGS generally was considered in practice superior to the AAG and AQMG. A Deputy Assistant Adjutant General (DAAG) was ranked Lieutenant Colonel.
Operations and Staff Duties:
"G" Branch at Army HQ level was under the Colonel General Staff (a Colonel))
Armoured Corps:(under the Brigadier, Royal Armoured Corps)
Arty:(under the Brigadier, Royal Artillery)
General Staff - Adjutant General's Staff - Quartermaster General's Staff
At the highest level, the Canadian Army's staff was divided into three. The General Staff ("G" Staff) was headed by the Vice Chief of the General Staff. Reporting to him was the head of the "A" Branch, the Adjutant General, and the head of the "Q" Branch, the Quartermaster General.
The Continental System - 1970-1999
Beginning in about 1970, following Unification of the armed forces, Canada began to transition towards the US staff system.
After unification, American designations for staff officers at the unit level were adopted, including
S1 Adjutant S2 Intelligence officer S3 Operations and Training Officer S4 Logistics Officer
And as the need for them grew, additional designations were added such as
S5 Civil affairs S6 Information Technology
In the 1970s, the number of staff officers in a Brigade HQ expanded considerably. The Brigade Major became known as the SSO Operations and he had an SO2 Operations plus several SOs3. A and Q were under an SO2 Administration with one or more staff officers for Admin and one or more for logistics support.
Even further on, American staff appointment designations were adopted (with a G prefix differentiating them from unit level officers) including:
G1 Manpower or Personnel G2 Intelligence G3 Operations and Plans G4 Logistics G5 Civil Affairs G6 Command, Control, Communications, and Computer Systems
The American version of the Continental system uses a letter/number system. The letters are
J - Joint N- Navy A - Air G - Army (division and higher) S - Army (brigade and lower)
Staff branches would continue to be added into the 21st Century; as of 2005, branches were
G1 - Personnel G2 - Intelligence G3 - Operations G4 - Logistics (Service Support) G5 - Future Plans G6 - Communications G7 - Training, Validation and Lessons Learned G8 - Financial, Comptroller and "business" planning G9 - CIMIC (Civil-Military Co-operation).
In addition to these staff positions at division level and higher are advisors, with medical, legal, engineering and public affairs being typical. These advisors routinely report directly to the commander. All of the staff officers, and advisors, will have their activities coordinated by the Chief of Staff.
Operations staff generally consists of G2, G3 and G5 (sometimes reporting to an A/COS Ops), while G1 and G4 remain the Administration staff (again sometimes under an A/COS Adm) also referred to as PANDA staff (Personnel and Administration). The remainder are special staff branches.
Comparisons Between the Two Systems
In Canada, similar to the British system, "staff" is outranked by "command" officers. The staff cannot, in theory (and largely in practice) say "no" to a subordinate unit; only the Commander has that ability.
In the British system the principle staff officers at any HQ were always outranked by the subordinate commanders, but this is not the case in the US system.
This principle ensured a clear chain of command, and the proposition that staff do not command, they exercise control on behalf of their commander.
In the American system, commanders are frequently outranked by staff officers. Within a battalion the S3 is a major while company commanders in the US are captains. There is no doubt that staff officers and deputy (and assistant) commanders can, and do, give orders – their own orders – to subordinate commanders.
Canada began to switch in about 1969 when CF troops in West Germany prepared to move from Soest (under the British) to Lahr (in the US zone). As stated above, the Brigade Major became the SSO Operations instead, and was ranked as a Lieutenant Colonel to conform to the US system.
As well, in the British (and uniquely Canadian) systems, the specialists were placed differently. The G2, G5 etc. in US headquarters are staff branches comme les autres while Intelligence and Signals staffs in the British system are specialist staffs, with direct access to the commander, reporting through the operations staff chief.
Thanks to Mark W. Tonner, Doug Townend and Edward Campbell for their research
1. Corrigan, Gordon. Mud, Blood and Poppycock: Britain and the First World War (Cassell, London, UK, 2003) ISBN: 0304366595