Notes on the War. Engels 1870-71


Source: The Pall Mall Gazette, July 29, 1870;
Transcribed: by Tony Brown.

Scarcely a shot has been fired so far, and yet a the war has passed away, ending in disappointment to the Emperor. A few observations on the political and military situation will render this evident.

It is now admitted on all hands that Louis Napoleon expected to be able to isolate the North German Confederation from the Southern States, and to take advantage of the disaffection existing in the newly annexed Prussian provinces. A rapid dash upon the Rhine with as large a force as could be collected, a passage of that river somewhere between Germersheim and Mayence, an advance in the direction of Frankfort and Würzburg, might promise to effect this. The French would find themselves masters of the communications between North and South, and would compel Prussia to bring down to the Main, in hot haste, all available troops, whether ready or not, for a campaign. The whole process of mobilization in Prussia would be disturbed, and all the chances would be in favour of the invaders being able to defeat the Prussians in detail as they arrived from the various parts of the country. Not only political but also military reasons were in favour of such an attempt. The French cadre system admits of a far quicker concentration of say 120,000 to 150,000 men than the Prussian landwehr system. The French peace footing differs from the war footing merely by the number of men on furlough, and by the non-existence of depôts, which are formed on the eve of marching out. But the Prussian peace footing includes less than one-third of the men who compose the war footing; and moreover, not only the men, but the officers also of these remaining two-thirds are in time of peace civilians. The mobilization of these immense numbers of men takes time; it is, moreover, a complicated process, which would be thrown into complete disorder by the sudden irruption of a hostile army. This is the reason why the war was so much brusqué by the Emperor. Unless he intended some such unexpected surprise, the hot language of Gramont, and the precipitate declaration of war would have been absurd.

But the sudden, violent outburst of German feeling put an end to any such plan. Louis Napoleon found himself face to face, not with King William “Annexander,” but with the German nation. And, in that case, a dash across the Rhine, even with 120,000 to 150,000 men, was not to be thought of. Instead of a surprise, a regular campaign with all available forces had to be undertaken. The Guards, the armies of Paris and Lyons, and the corps of the camp at Châlons, which might have sufficed for the first purpose, were now barely sufficient to form the mere nucleus of the great army of invasion. And thus began the second phase of the war — that of preparation for a great campaign; and from that day the chances of ultimate success for the Emperor began to decline.

Let us now compare the forces that are being got ready for mutual destruction; and to simplify matters, we will take the infantry only. The infantry is the arm which decides battles; any trifling balance of strength in cavalry and artillery, including mitrailleurs and other miracle-working engines, will not count for much on either side.

France has 376 battalions of infantry (38 battalions of Guards, 20 Chasseurs, 300 line, 9 Zouaves, 9 Turcos, &c.) of eight companies each in time of peace. Each of the 300 line battalions, in time of war, leaves two companies behind to form a depôt, and marches out with six companies only. In the present instance, four of the six depôt companies of each line regiment (of three battalions) are intended to expand into a fourth battalion by being filled up with men on furlough and with reserves. The remaining two companies appear to be intended as a depôt, and may hereafter be formed into fifth battalions. But it will be certainly some time, at least six weeks, before these, fourth battalions will be so far organized as to be fit for the field; for the present they and the Garde Mobile can be counted as garrison troops only. Thus, for the first decisive battles, France has nothing available but the above 376 battalions.

Of these, the army of the Rhine, according to all we hear, comprises, in the six army corps No. 1 to 6 and the Guards, 299 battalions. Including the Seventh Corps (General Montauban), which is supposed to be intended for the Baltic, the figure is given as high as 340 battalions, which would leave but 36 battalions to guard Algiers, the colonies, and the interior of France. From this it appears that France has sent every available battalion against Germany, and cannot increase her force by new formations fit for the field before the beginning of September at the very earliest.

Now for the other side. The North German army consists of thirteen army corps, composed of 368 battalions of infantry, or, in round numbers, twenty-eight battalions per corps. Each battalion counts, on the peace footing, about 540, and on the war footing 1,000 men. On the order for the mobilization of the army being received, a few officers are told off in each regiment of three battalions for the formation of the fourth battalion. The reserve men are at once called in. They are men who have served two to three years in the regiment, and remain liable to be called out until they are twenty-seven years of age. There are plenty of them to fill up the three field battalions and furnish a good stock towards the fourth battalion, which is completed by men from the landwehr. Thus the field battalions are ready to march in a few days, and the fourth battalions can follow in four or five weeks afterwards. At the same time, for every line regiment a landwehr regiment of two battalions is formed out of the men between twenty-eight and thirty-six years of age, and as soon as they are ready the formation of the third landwehr battalions is taken in hand. The time required for all this, including the mobilization of cavalry and artillery, is exactly thirteen days; and the first day of mobilization having been fixed for the 16th, everything is or should be ready to-day. At this moment, probably, North Germany has in the field 358 battalions of the line, and in garrison 198 battalions of the landwehr; to be reinforced, certainly not later than the second half of August, by 114 fourth battalions of the line and 93 third battalions of the landwehr. In all these troops there will scarcely be a man who has not passed through his regular time of service in the army. To these we must add the troops of Hesse-Darmstadt, Baden, Württemberg, and Bavaria, 104 battalions of the line in all; but as the landwehr system in these States has not yet had time to fully develop itself. there may be riot more than seventy or eighty battalions available for the field.

The landwehr are principally intended for garrison duty, but in the war of 1866 a large portion marched out as a reserve army for the field. This will no doubt be done again.

Of the thirteen North German army corps ten are now on the Rhine, forming a total of 280 battalions; then the South Germans, say 70 battalions, grand total, 350 battalions. There remain available on the coast or as a reserve three army corps or 84 battalions, One corps, together with the landwehr, will be ample for the defence of the coast. The two remaining corps may be, for aught on the road to the Rhine too. These troops can be reinforced by the 20th of August by at least 100 fourth battalions and 40 to 50 landwehr battalions, men superior to the fourth battalions and Gardes Mobiles of the French, which mostly are composed of almost undrilled men. The fact is. France has not more than about drilled men at ber disposal, North Germany alone has 950,000. And this is in advantage for Germany, which tell more and more the longer decisive fighting is delayed. until it will reach its culminating point towards the end of September.

Under these circumstances, we reed not be astonished at the news from Berlin that the German commanders hope to save German soil from the sufferings of war; in other words, that unless they are attacked soon they will attack themselves. How that attack, unless anticipated by Louis Napoleon, will he conducted is another question