Notes on the War. Engels 1870-71.


Source: The Pall Mall Gazette, October 27, 1870;
Transcribed: by Tony Brown.

While the negotiations for an armistice are pending, it will be as well to make out the positions of the different corps of the German armies, which do not appear to be generally understood. We say the German armies, for of the French there is very little to be said. What is not shut up in Metz consists almost exclusively of new levies, the organization of which has never been made public, and cannot but vary from day to day. Moreover, the character of these troops, who prove themselves in a engagements more or less unfit for the field, takes away a most all interest in either their organization or their numbers.

As to the Germans, we know that they marched out with thirteen army corps of North Germany (including the Guards), one division of Hessians, one of Badeners, one of Württembergers, and two army corps of Bavarians. The 17th division of the 9th North German Corps (one brigade of which consists of Mecklenburgers) remained on the coast while the French fleet was in the Baltic. In its stead the 25th, or Hessian division, was attached to the 9th Corps, and remains so up to the present day. There remained at home, with the 17th division, nine divisions of landwehr (one of the Guards, and one for each of the eight old provinces of Prussia 86; the time elapsed since 1866, when the Prussian system was introduced all over North Germany, having been barely sufficient to form the necessary number of reserve men, but not as yet any landwehr). When the recall of the French fleet and the completion of the fourth battalions of the line rendered these forces disposable, fresh army corps were formed out of them and sent to France. We shall scarcely know, before the end of the war, the details of formation of all these corps, but what has leaked out in the meantime gives us a pretty clear insight into the general character of the plan. Before Metz we have, under Prince Frederick Charles, the 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 7th, 8th, 9th, and 10th corps, of which the 9th consists, for the time being, of the 18th and 25th divisions, besides two divisions of landwehr, one, the first (East Prussian), under General Kummer; the number of the other is not known — in all sixteen divisions of infantry.

Before Paris there are, under the Crown Prince, the 5th, 6th, and 11th North German, the two Bavarian corps, and the division of landwelir of the Guards; under the Crown Prince of Saxony, the 4th and 12th North German corps, and the Prussian Guards; under the Grand Duke of Mecklenburg, the 13th Corps and the Württemberg division. The 13th Corps is formed of the 17th division mentioned above, and of one division of landwelir. Of these troops, forming in all twenty divisions, there are four divisions sent on detached duty. Firstly, von der Tann with two Bavarian divisions and the 22nd North German division (of the 11th Corps) to the south and west, holding with the Bavarians Orleans and the line of the Loire; while the 22nd division (General Wittich’s) successively occupied Châteaudun and Chartres. Secondly, the 17th division is detached towards the north-east of Paris; it has occupied Laon, Soissons, Beauvais, St. Quentin, &c., while other troops — probably flying columns, chiefly composed of cavalry — have advanced almost to the gates of Rouen. If we set down these as equal to another division, we have in all five divisions detached from the army before Paris to scour the country, to collect cattle and provisions, to prevent the formation of armed bands, and to keep at a distance any new bodies of troops which the Government of Tours may be able to send up. This would leave for the actual investment fifteen divisions of infantry, or seven army corps and a half.

Besides the 13th Corps, the Grand Duke of Mecklenburg commands the whole of the detached troops in Champagne and the other occupied districts west of Lorraine, the garrisons of Sedan, Reims, Epernay, Châlons, Vitry, and the troops besieging Verdun. These consist of landwelir, principally of the 8th landwelir division. The garrisons in Alsace and Lorraine, almost all landwehr, are under the command of the respective military governors of these provinces. Moreover, there are the troops echeloned along the line of railway and the main roads whose exclusive duty it is to keep these in working order and open for army transport; these, formed by detachments of the various corps of the line, and amounting at least to the strength of a division, are under the “Etappen-Commandant.”

The Baden division and another landwehr division have been combined into the 14th Corps, which is now, under General von Werder, advancing upon Besançon, while General Schmeling, with the fourth reserve division, has just successfully besieged Schelestadt, and is now taking in hand Neu Breisach. Here for the first time we find the mention of a “reserve division,” which, in Prussian military language, is something essentially different from a landwehr division. In fact, we have so far accounted for six out of the nine landwehr divisions, and it may well be supposed that the garrisoning of Alsace and Lorraine, and in part of the Rhine fortresses, will account for the other three. The application of the term reserve division proves that the fourth battalions of the line regiments are now gradually arriving on French soil. There will be nine of them, or, in some cases, ten, to every army corps; these have been formed in as many reserve divisions, and probably bear the same number as the army corps to which they belong. Thus the fourth reserve division would be the one formed out of the fourth battalions of the Fourth Army Corps recruited in Prussian Saxony. This division forms part of the new 15th Army Corps. What the other division is we do not know — probably one of the three with which General Lowenfeld has just started from Silesia for Strasbourg; the other two would then form the 16th Corps. This would account for four but of thirteen reserve divisions, leaving nine still disposable in the interior of North Germany.

As to the numerical strength of these bodies of troops, the North German battalions before Paris have certainly been brought up again to a full average of 750 men; the Bavarians are reported to be weaker. The cavalry will scarcely average more than 100 sabres to the squadron instead of 150; and, upon the whole, an army corps before Paris will average 25,000 men, so that the whole army actually there will be nearly 190,000 men. The battalions before Metz must be weaker, on account of the greater amount of sickness, and will hardly average 700 men. Those of the landwehr will scarcely number 500.

The Polish press has lately begun to claim a rather large share in the glory of the Prussian arms. The truth of the matter is this: the whole number of the Polish-speaking population in Prussia is about two millions, or one-fifteenth of the whole North German population; in these we include both the Water-Polacks of Upper Silesia and the Masures of East Prussia, who would both be very much surprised to hear themselves called Poles. The 1st, 2nd, 5th, and 6th corps have an admixture of Polish soldiers, but the Polish element actually predominates in one division only of the 5th, and perhaps in one brigade of the 6th Corps. It has been the policy of the Prussian Government as much as possible to scatter the Polish element in the army over a great number of corps. Thus, the Poles of West Prussia are divided between the 1st and 2nd corps, and those of Posen between the 2nd and 5th, while in every case care has been taken that the majority of the men in each corps should be Germans.

The reduction of Verdun is now being energetically pushed on. The town and citadel are not very strongly fortified, but have deep wet ditches. On the 11th and 12th of October the garrison was driven from the villages surrounding the place, and the investment made close; on the 13th a bombardment was opened with forty-eight guns and mortars (French ones taken in Sedan), placed between 700 and 1,300 yards from the works. On the 14th some old French 24-pounders arrived from Sedan. and on the following day some of the new Prussian rifled 24-pounders which had reduced Toul. They were in full activity on the 18th. The town appeared to suffer severely, being very closely built.