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Prussian Army - 1866 Seven Weeks War

King William I, while still Regent, introduced in 1859 and 1860 a re-organization of the army, which up to 1865 formed a bone of contention between the Prussian Ministry and the Radical party in the Lower House, but the success of which in the war of 1866 completely silenced, if not thoroughly convinced, even its tax-paying opponents of its wonderful excellence and elasticity.

Prussia was required every year to grant 40,000 recruits, each of whom served for three years under the standards and for two years in the reserve; so the standing army amounted to 120,000 men, and by calling in the reserves could be raised immediately to 200,000 men. But, to complete the requisite number of 500,000 soldiers, 300,000 more were necessary, and in time of peace the kingdom could afford to maintain only very small depots for these additional troops. The war of independence had shown that the Landwehr system, by which men were allowed to retire from service, but still remained liable to be called up for duty, was capable of effecting good service, and in case of need of supplying the men who could not be kept in time of peace in the regular army.

Therefore this system was retained, and by the decree of the 3rd of September, 1814, the Prussian army was organized definitively on the Landwehr system. By this system every Prussian capable of bearing arms was without exception liable to military duty, and to serve from his 20th to his 23rd year in the standing army, from his 23rd to 25th in the reserve, from his 25th to 32nd in the first levy of the Landwehr, and from his 32nd to 39th in the second levy. The Landsturm was to consist of all men capable of bearing arms between seventeen and forty-nine years of age who did not belong either to the standing armyorto the Landwehr. From the Landwehr battalions and squadrons were raised which formed Landwehr regiments, and these were united for annual exercise or service in brigades and divisions with regiments of the Line. Landwehr men who had belonged to Jager battalions, to the artillery, or to the engineer service.

The existing system had brought about a great injustice in the distribution of military service, as in 1815 only 40,000 recruits were yearly called for to support the standing army of 140,000 men, while in the meantime the population had increased from 10,000,000 to 18,000,000; so that about one-third of the lads who should proportionately have entered the service were entirely free of duty, and those who did enter were liable to be recalled to the ranks for a longer period of their life than was really necessary; for if, instead of 40,000 recruits, 63,000 were, as easily could be, called up every year, men, instead of being liable to be put into the standing army on the outbreak of war for twelve years (from twenty to thirty-two), need only be liable for seven years (from twenty to twenty-seven). In direct ratio with the increase of population the national revenues had also increased from 50,000,000 to 93,000,000 thalers, and so admitted of an increase of the standing army and of the military expenses.

By the re-organization of 1859, as it is usually called, the first levy of the Landwehr was no longer, as a rule, to be sent into the field; and to attain this object the standing army, including the reserves, was to be increased by as many men as the first levy of the Landwehr formerly providedin fact, to be nearly doubled. The time of service in the Landwehr was diminished by two years, and that in the reserve in return to be lengthened by two years.

The Landwehr still remained in two levies, but composed only of men from twenty-seven to thirty-eight years old, was, as a rule, with its first levy alone to perform the duty which had hitherto been performed by the second levy,namely, to garrison the fortresses. In case of necessity the Government still, however, retained the power of calling up the second levy to aid in this duty. By this organization a recruit who joined the Prussian service served for three years (from nineteen to twenty-two) in the regular army; for five years (from twenty-two to twentyseven) in the reserve; and for eleven years (from twenty-seven to thirty-eight) was liable to be called up for duty as a Landwehr man.

The process of the mobilization may be classed under the following five heads :i, The filling in of the field troops to their war strength; 2, the formation of depot troops; 3, the formation of garrison troops and the arming of the fortresses; 4, the mobilization of the field administration; 5, the formation of the head-quarter staffs, &c., who were to remain in the different districts to supply the places of those who march to the seat of war.

The completion of the rank and file of the field troops to war strength was effected by drawing in some of the reserve soldiers, who supply half the total war strength of the infantry, one-third of that of the artillery, and one twenty-fifth of that of the cavalry. The cavalry has, of course, on account of being maintained in such force during peace, a superabundance of reserve soldiers available on a mobilization; these, after the men required for the cavalry itself have been drawn from them, were handed over to the artillery and military train, so that these services thus obtain many valuable soldiers, well accustomed to mounted duties.

The reserve soldiers enrolled had orders sent to them through the commanding officer of the Landwehr of the district in which they live, who can avail himself of the services of the provincial and parochial civil authorities to facilitate the delivery of these orders. The men were, immediately on the receipt of their orders, required to proceed to the head-quarters of the Landwehr of the district, where they were received, medically inspected, and forwarded to their regiment, by an officer and some non-commissioned officers of the regiment which draws its recruits from the district. Officers who were required to fill up vacancies in the regular army in a mobilization were obtained by promoting some of the senior non-commissioned officers.

Landwehr officers obtain their commissions much in the same way as did military officers in England, but no Landwehr officer could be promoted to the rank of captain unless he has been attached to a regular regiment for two months' duty; and no Landwehr officer could be a field officer unless he has before served for some considerable time in the regular army. Many of the officers of the Landwehr were officers still on the strength of the regular army, who were detached to the Landwehr on its mobilization. On a mobilization, the whole army required in 1866 about 88,000 horses more than it had in time of peace; in order to obtain these quickly the Government has the power, if it cannot buy them readily from regular dealers, to take a certain number from every district, paying for them a price which is fixed by a mixed commission of military officers and of persons appointed by the civil authorities of the district.

The Prussian army could in 1866 enter the field with 342,000 men in its ranks; but, as is well known, no army, nor any collection of men, can maintain its normal strength for a single day; in such a host, even of young healthy men, ordinary illness would immediately cause a few absentees from duty, much more so do the marches, the hardships, and the fatigues to which a soldier is exposed on active service before the first shot is fired. Then as soon as an action takes place, a single day adds a long list to the hospital roll, and the evening sees in the ranks many gaps which in the morning were filled by strong soldiers, who are now lying torn and mangled or dead on the field of battle. The dead are gone for ever; they are so much power lost out of the hand of the general; nor can an army wait till the wounded are cured and are again able to draw a trigger or to wield a sabre.

During the campaign of 1866 the elasticity of this organization was clearly manifested. In a wonderfully short time the large armies which fought at Koniggratz were placed on a war footing, and brought about 260,000 combatants into the very field of battle, besides the necessary detachments which must be made by a large army to cover communications, mask fortresses, and so on; but the detachments made from the Prussian army were very small compared to those which would have to be separated from an army organized on a different system; for as the field army advanced the depot troops moved up in rear, and formed both depots and reserves for the first line, while some of the garrison troops of Landwehr came up from Prussia, and formed the garrisons of Saxony, Prague, Pardubitz, and all the other points on the lines of communication. At the same time General Miilbe's corps, formed for the most part of reserve and depot soldiers, pushed up to Briinn, and was hastening to take its place in the first line, when its march was stopped by the conclusion of the long armistice.

When the army was re-organized, it was foreseen that this amount of depot troops would never be sufficient in case of a war of any duration or severity. Between the re-organization of 1859 and the war of 1866, the number of depot troops kept up during a war was quite doubled; formerly every two infantry regiments had one depot battalion, and every two cavalry regiments one depot squadron.

The rapidity with which the Prussian army was placed on a war footing may be due to the excellence of the system, but the fact that the supplies of all kinds required were ready to hand goes far to prove that the policy pursued by Prussia had been determined upon long before, and the probability of a war arising out of it foreseen. But the accumulation of supplies would not have enabled the army to move from victory to victory with the rapidity which distinguished it, though the want of them would have preventedit. Everything appeared to have been planned beforehand; there were electric batteries in store, long coils of wire, and every requisite for laying down the most complete system of held telegraphs ever seen ; beside numerous smaller matters which, though they appear insignificant in themselves, contribute so largely to the successful conduct of a campaign. No doubt much of this material was got together just previous to the outhreak of hostilities, and the consideration of what would or might be wanted, must have cost the organizers of the war many a sleepless night.

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Page last modified: 05-06-2016 20:47:29 ZULU