UNITED24 - Make a charitable donation in support of Ukraine!


Conditions of Service

By the constitution of the 16th of April 1871 every German was liable to service and no substitution is allowed. Liability began at the age of seventeen, and actual service, as a rule, from the age of twenty. The men served in the active army and army reserve for seven years, of which two years (three in the case of cavalry and horse artillery recruits) are spent with the colours. During his four or five years in the reserve, the soldier is called out for training with his corps twice, for a maximum of eight weeks (in practice usually for six).

The military organization of the monarchy dated from 1814 and provided that every man capable of bearing arms shall serve the the army for a certain number of years. The Prussian army, which formed the backbone of the Imperial German army, derived from the reconstruction of the old Prussian army, which, shattered by Napoleon in 1806, had gone to pieces. In order to free Prussia from the French yoke, General Scharnhorst conceived the idea of summoning to arms the entire population capable of bearing them. In 1813, this plan was put into operation. Only through this tremendous effort of Prussia, in conjunction with all the other Powers, was it possible to put an end to the menace of Napoleon's universal dominion. Napoleon's power was already so great that his mediate and immediate subjects amounted to seventy million; his opponents, taken all together, were scarcely more numerous. No one of them, therefore, could be spared for victory, neither England, nor Prussia, nor Austria; and Prussia, which did not yet number five millions, was forced to introduce universal military duty and carry it to complete adoption.

The system of the "nation in arms " owed its existence to the reforms in the Prussian army that followed Jena. The "nation in arms" itself was the product of the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic wars, but it was in Prussia that was seen the systematization and the economical and effective application of the immense forces of which the revolutionary period had demonstrated the existence. It was with an army and a military system that fully represented the idea of the "nation in arms" that Prussia created the powerful Germany of later days, and the same system was extended by degrees over all the other states of the new empire.

This universal duty of bearing arms proved such a brilliant success in the Wars of Liberation that it was retained in times of peace, although it was not alone a heavy burden for the Prussian people but was fraught with difficulties in execution. The standing army still showed great resemblance to the armies of the eighteenth century. A large proportion of the soldiers served twenty years, and even longer. As a result, there was in this army but little room for the recruits who were called by universal conscription, especially as these were to be retained with the colors for a period of three years. The great mass of the recruits, very superficially trained or not at all, were incorporated into the Landwehr.

These very successes contained in themselves the germ of new troubles. Increased prosperity, a still greater increase in population and the social and economic disturbances incidental to the conversion of an agricultural into a manufacturing community, led to the practical abandonment of the principle of universal service. More men came before the recruiting officer than there was money to train; and in 1895 the period of service with the colors was reduced from three to two years - a step since followed by other military powers, the idea being that with the same peace effective and financial grants half as many men again could be passed through the ranks as before.

Thus only half the men on whom the government had an effective hold go to the colors in the end. Moreover few of the men " put back, &c.," who figure on both sides of the account for any one year, and seem to average 660,000, are really " put back." They are in the main those who have failed or fail to present themselves, and whose names are retained on the liability tuts against the day of their return. Many of these had emigrated.

After quitting the reserve the soldier was drafted into the first ban of the Landwehr for five years more, in which (except in the cavalry, which is not called out in peace time) he undergoes two trainings of from eight to fourteen days. Thence he passes into the second ban and remains in it until he has completed his thirty-ninth year - i.e. from six to seven years more, the whole period of army and Landwehr service being thus nineteen years.

Finally, all soldiers are passed into the Landsturm, in the first ban of which they remain until the completion of their forty-fifth year. The second ban consists of untrained men between the ages of thirty-nine and forty-five. Young men who reach a certain standard of education, however, arc only obliged to serve for one year in the active army. They are called One- Year Volunteers {Einjahrig-Freiwilligen), defray their own expenses and are the chief source o supply of reserve and Landwehr officers.

That proportion of the annual contingents which is dismissed untrained goes either to the Ersatz-Reserve or to the ist ban of the Landsturm (the Landwehr, it will be observed, contained only men who have served with the colors). The Ersatz consists exclusively of young men, who would in war time be drafted to the regimental depots and thence sent, with what training circumstances had in the meantime allowed, to the front. Some men of the Ersatz receive a short preliminary training in peace time.

This Prussian Landwehr bore a great similarity to the British militia, and its military usefulness was slight. Only gradually, in the course of the nineteenth century, was this evil overcome. On the one hand, the class of soldiers serving for a long number of years dwindled, as the favorable development of economic life and industry brought about better wages than the slender pay in the army. After long hesitation, the time of service was reduced from three years to two years - with the exception of the cavalry and the mounted field artillery. This reduction, in 1893, aroused great apprehension in officers' circles and among many patriots. It was thought that the military spirit would suffer, and that the army would really be no army at all, but merely a Volkswehr, or militia, since only the first-year class would be under arms at the moment when the elder class was released and the new recruits were not yet trained. But subsequent success proved that the fears were groundless. Through continued and great efforts, and through the most careful use of the time, the two-year period of service was made to furnish excellent military material.

A much greater proportion of the country recruits were accepted as "fit" than of those coming from the towns. Voluntary enlistments of men who desired to become non-commissioned officers were most frequent in the provinces of the old Prussian monarchy, but in Berlin itself and in Westphalia the enlistments fell far short of the number of non-commissioned officers required for the territorial regiments of the respective districts. Above all, in Alsace-Lorraine one-eighth only of the required numbers were obtained. Peace and War Strengths. - German military policy was revised every five years; thus a law of April 1905 fixed the strength and establishments to be attained on March 31, 1910, the necessary augmentations, &c., being carried out gradually in the intervening years.

By the eve of the Great War the organization was very simple. The duty of military service extends from the twentieth to the forty-fifth year. The two youngest classes form the standing army. The next classes are made use of in the event of war, approximately to double the strength of the regiments, to form reserve regiments, and to create Ersatz or compensating battalions with Ersatz reserves. Landwehr regiments are formed from the elder Landwehr soldiers, and finally from the last classes up to the forty-fifth year are formed the Landsturm, or last reserve regiments, who are used principally for barracks service and as guards for prisoners, but who in this war have frequently fought at the front. Recourse is had only in the last event to the youngest class from the seventeenth to the twentieth year.

Join the GlobalSecurity.org mailing list

Page last modified: 11-07-2011 02:54:36 ZULU