Notes on the War. Engels 1870-71.

The German Position in France

Source: The Pall Mall Gazette, December 24, 1870;
Transcribed: by Tony Brown.

The wear and tear of this war is beginning to tell upon Germany. The first army of invasion, comprising the whole of the line troops of both North and South, was of the strength of about 640,000 men. Two months of campaigning had reduced that army so much that the first batch of men from the depôt battalions and squadrons — about one-third of the original strength — had to be ordered forward. They arrived towards the end of September and beginning of October, and though they must have amounted to some 200,000 men, yet the field battalions were far from being again raised to their original strength of 1,000 men each. Those before Paris counted from 700 to 800 men, while those before Metz were weaker still. Sickness and fighting soon made further inroads, and when Prince Frederick Charles reached the Loire, his three corps were reduced to less than half their normal strength, averaging 450 men per battalion. The fighting of this month and the severe and changeable weather must have told severely upon the troops both before Paris and in the armies covering the investment; so that the battalions must now certainly average below 400 men. Early in January the recruits of the levy of 1870 will be ready to be sent into the field, after three months’ drill. These would number about 110,000, and give rather less than 300 men per battalion. We now hear that part of these have already passed Nancy, and that new bodies are arriving daily; thus the battalions may soon be again raised to about 650 men. If, indeed, as is probable from several indications, the disposable remainder of the younger undrilled men of the depôt-reserve (Ersatz Reserve) have been drilled along with the recruits of the regular levy, this reinforcement would be increased by some 100 men per battalion more, making in all 750 men per battalion. This would be about three-fourths of the original strength, giving an army of 480,000 effectives, out of one million of men sent out from Germany to the front. Thus, rather more than one-half of the men who left Germany with the line regiments or joined them since, have been killed or invalided in less than four months. If this should appear incredible to any one, let him compare the wear and tear of former campaigns, that of 1813 and 1814 for instance, and consider that the continued long and rapid marches of the Prussians during this war must have told terribly upon their troops.

So far we have dealt with the line only. Besides them, nearly the whole of the landwehr has been marched off into France. The landwehr battalions had originally 800 men for the Guards and 500 men for the other battalions; but they were gradually raised to the strength of 1,000 men all round. This would make a grand total of 240,000 men, including cavalry and artillery. By far the greater part of these have been in France for some time, keeping up the communications, blockading fortresses, &c. And even for this they are not numerous enough; for there are at present in process of organization four more landwehr divisions (probably by forming a third battalion to every landwehr regiment), comprising at least fifty battalions, or 50,000 men more. All these are now to be sent into France; those that were still in Germany, guarding the French prisoners, are to be relieved in that duty by newly formed “garrison battalions.” What these may be composed of we cannot positively tell before we receive the full text of the order creating them, the of which, so far, are by a telegraphic summary only. But if, as we know to be the fact, the above four new landwehr divisions cannot be raised without calling out men of forty and even above, then what remains for the garrison battalions of drilled soldiers but men from forty to fifty years of age? There is no doubt the reserve of drilled men in Germany is by this measure fully exhausted, arid, beyond that, a whole year’s levy of recruits.

The landwehr force In France has had far less marching, bivouacking, and fighting than the line. It has mostly had decent quarters, fair feeding, and moderate duty; so that the whole of its losses may be put down at about 40,000 men, dead or invalided.

This would leave, including the new battalions now forming, 250,000 men; but it is very uncertain how soon, even if ever, the whole of these can be set free for service abroad. For the next two months we should say 200,000 would be a high estimate of the effective landwehr force in France.

Line and landwehr together, we shall thus have in the second half of January a force of some 650,000 to 680,000 Germans under arms in France, of which from 150,000 to 200,000 are now on the road or preparing for it. But this force will be of a far different character from that which has hitherto been employed there. Fully one-half of the line battalions will consist of young men of twenty or twenty-one years — untried men of an age at which the hardships of a winter campaign tell most fearfully upon the constitution. These men will soon fill the hospitals, while the battalions will again melt down in strength. On the other hand, the landwehr will consist more and more of men above thirty-two, married men and fathers of families almost without exception, and of an age at which open-air camping in cold or wet weather is almost sure to produce rheumatism rapidly and by wholesale. And there can be no doubt that the greater portion of this landwehr will have to do a deal more marching and fighting than hitherto, in consequence of the extension of the territory which is to be given into its keeping. The line is getting considerably younger, the landwehr considerably older than hitherto; the recruits sent to the line have barely had time to learn their drill and discipline, the new reinforcements for the landwehr have had plenty of time to forget both. Thus the German army is receiving elements which bring its character much nearer than heretofore to the new French levies opposed to it; with this advantage, however, on the side of the Germans that. these elements are being incorporated into the strong and solid cadres of the old army.

After these, what resources in men remain to Prussia? The recruits attaining their twentieth year in 1871, and the older men of the Ersatz Reserve, the latter all undrilled, almost all of them married, and at an age when people have little inclination or ability to begin soldiering. To call these out, men who have been induced by long precedent to consider their relation to the army an all but nominal one, would be very unpopular. Still more unpopular would it be if those able-bodied men were called out who for one reason or another have escaped the liability to service altogether. In a purely defensive war all these would march unhesitatingly; but in a war of conquest, and at a time when the success of that policy of conquest is becoming doubtful, they cannot be expected to do so. A war of conquest, with anything like varying fortunes, cannot be carried out, in the long run, by an army consisting chiefly of married men; one or two great reverses must demoralize such troops on such an errand. The more the Prussian army, by the lengthening out of the war, becomes in reality a “nation in arms,” the more incapable does it become for conquest. Let the Gerinan Philistine shout ever so boisterously about Alsace and Lorraine, it still remains certain that Germany cannot for the sake of their conquest undergo the same privations, the same social disorganization, the same suspension of national production, that France willingly suffers in her own self-defence. That same German Philistine, once put in uniform and marched off, may come to his cool senses again on some French battlefield or in some frozen bivouac. And thus it may be, in the end, for the best if both nations are, in reality, placed face to face with each other in full armour.