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Prussian Army

After Prussia had regained her position as a great Power it was necessary that she should have an army of a strength similar to that of the armies of other great Powers, and therefore with a muster-roll of about half a million of men. At this time the other great Powers kept the greater part of their soldiery in peace, as in war, in the ranks, and only allowed a few trained veterans, who together amounted to about onefourth of the total strength of the army, to be absent on furlough. But Prussia was then the smallest of the great Powers, and had neither such a large population nor revenue as the others. Thus, she had, in the first place, not sufficient men; in the second place, not enough money to maintain an army on a similar system, and could in peace keep together only a much smaller portion of her soldiery than her possible enemies could.

Only France was determinately hostile to German unity, so France was the declared enemy of the German people. It mattered little how the rupture was to come. Nothing was better understood on the continent than that Europe was too small for the pretensions of the two great rivals, and that sooner or later there must be war between them. They were both preparing for the inevitable shock.

The Prussian military system was, and had long been, superior to that of the French, but they were to be regarded only as the inevitable results of great differences in principles. Prussia was poor, but her people, the greater number of whom had to wring a scanty subsistence from an infertile soil, were frugal, temperate, and not given to the softer vices. They were more hardy than the French on an average, their Royal House and aristocracy had been taught in the school of adversity. From the time when Frederick bribed and even kidnapped giants to make grenadiers and husbands withal, the main design of Prussian economy had been to breed men with bodies and brains ; then, having got them, to make the best use of them for the benefit of the country.

The military organization of Prussia, and all North Germany had to constitute itself on the same model, was that which has bcen often called arming the nation. In one sense the expression is true, but it would be very apt to lead one astray, unless one marked how very different was the armament of North Germany for war from that of Switzerland, America, or the curious condition of helplessness in which some writers and speakers would have placed England at the time when the Volunteer movement was most popular. What these gentlemen wished to do was to substitute armed masses for an army. What the Prussians had been doing since 1807 was to bring the whole nation into the Army.

By the terms of the peace of Tilsit in 1807, Prussia was reduced to half her former proportions, and less than half her population, while she was bound to diminish her army, and never keep under her standards more than 42,000 men, her reduced population being only about 4,000,000 souls. The King entrusted the re-organization of the military forces to Scharnhorst and Gneiseau, who commenced by abolishing the old slave-like system of "discipline," falsely so-called. The penal laws were altered; flogging abolished for all men who had not sunk into a second-class; a feeling of personal honour was inculcated among the soldiers. No man could become an Officer until he had learned the duties of the private soldiers, passed two examinations, and been elected by the corps of Officers to take his place among them. All allowances for birth were abolished, and every encouragement was given to those who would cultivate scientific pursuits.

Since Prussia was poor, and even after the restoration of territory consequent on the general peace, had a population hardly reaching ten and a-half millions, it was decided to base her military system on this principle, that the standing Army should be only a school through which all men capable of bearing arms should pass, but that the Landwehr should form the bulk of the troops brought out for service in case of war. Called to the standards at the ago of 20, each Prussian had to serve three years in the standing Army, two in the reserve, seven in the first ban of the Landwehr, and seven in the second ban. Even then he was liable for a further period of ten years, to be called out as a member of the Landsturm, in case of emergency. The standing Army with its reserves held the Prussian only five years. He remained in the Landwehr 14, aad in the Landsturm 10 years. The standing Army was considered only as a sort of training school, and the first ban ot the Landwehr was just as mnch a part of the field Army in war as the standing Army itself, though intended to form the depots from which the troops in first line were supplied.

The military consisted, in 1829, of 165,000 regular troops (of which 17,908 were guards, 19,132 cavalry, 15,718 artillery, and 104,712 infantry of the line), and of 359,248 Landiothr, of which 179,624 were of the first class, and 179,624 of the second class: the whole military force, therefore, comprised 524,248 men.

The wars of 1848 and 1849, and the mobilizations of 1850 and 1859, showed that the spirit of the Landwehr was not to be trusted. Trusted it might probably have been in a war against the natural enemy - France, but not for the grand struggle for supremacy in Germany. Besides this, the population had increased so as to be able to furnish an annual contingent of 63,000 men, instead of the usual number taken, namely 40,000.

The Emperor of Germany, while regent in 1859-60, ordered that a re-organization of the Army should take place, adding to the numbers drawn every year into the standing Army, and shortening the term of service in the Landwehr, while lengthening that in the reserves. The recruits were therefore increased by one-half, and had to serve seven years before they wore clear of the standing Army. The landwehr were to serve for seven years only, and the first ban was no longer to form part of the field Army, but to be placed in garrisons, together with some of the reserves. By such means the standing Army would become about 500,000 men, and the temper of the Landwehr might be disregarded.

Step by step the standing Army was increased by 36 infantry regiments, 9 fusilier battalions, 10 cavalry regiments, 9 companies of garrison artillery, 18 pioneer companies, and 9 battalions of military train. Henceforth the Landwehr was no longer the great institution of Prussia, and only the younger men belonging to it were called out at all in 1866.

In the war against Austria the Prussian Parliament forgave King William all that he had done contrary to the law, because he had given them military glory. No sooner was the question of Prussia's supremacy in Germany settled, than her rulers set themselves to the task of Army fieform, strange as it may appear that reform should be necessary after such great achievements. But the new provinces had to be organized, and, besides, the increase of the standing Army of Prussia and the reduction of the Landwehr, had introduced some confusion in the relation of the Line regiments to their Landwehr battalions, and their districts for recruiting. The increase of population had not been the same in all the districts. Railways, too, had revolutionized the system of communications, and it was necessary to bring the whole machine into a condition for harmonious action.

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Page last modified: 05-06-2016 20:47:28 ZULU