Scottish Soldiers in the Eighteenth Century British Army

The original quota of other ranks for the Royal Scots at its embodiment in 1633 was drawn from men who had served under its colonel in Swedish and French service or were recruited from Scotland. The officers were drawn from among those Scottish officers in French service. As the eighteenth century progressed, this nominally Scottish regiment became increasingly integrated as a British regiment. By 1757, the Royal Scots was made up of 1,124 men of whom 462 were Scottish, the equivalent of forty-one per cent, 444 were Irish – thirty-nine per cent – and the remaining 218 were of unknown origin, but presumably a large proportion were English. Highlanders became a target for recruitment to regiments of the line after 1739 when the first exclusively Highland regiment, the 43rd, was raised. This marked a watershed, as although Highlanders had long been raised for service, as the presence of kilts in Swedish and Dutch regiments attests, the 43rd became a precedent for an increasing number of Highland regiments. Though the next specifically Highland regiment, Loudoun’s Highlanders, was not raised until 1745, between 1739, the establishment of the first Highland Regiment, and 1799, when the last regiment, the 93rd Sutherland Highlanders, was raised, fifty-nine Highland regiments (most of short duration) were raised by the British army, representing around 70,000 men.

The creation of so many Highland Regiments speaks of the change that had occurred in public and political opinions regarding the Scottish soldier by the mid- to end of the eighteenth century. Britain’s fear of standing armies inherited by the religious and political turmoil and violence of the seventeenth century had faded. This, with increasing involvement in continental and colonial wars, meant Britain needed a larger army, in turn providing greater opportunities for officers and privates. The effective end of the Jacobite movement and the need to use the Scots as a source of manpower in this expanding army meant that Scots were more tolerated in the other ranks and commissioned grades of regiments. These changes coincided with changes in the European balance of power. The power of Austria, Sweden, Spain and France was transferring to Britain, Prussia and Russia, which changed the demand for mercenaries in European conflicts. It was therefore natural that Scots seeking military service would change from continental to British masters.

Raised in 1633, the Royal Scots were intended for service in France. Charles I’s royal warrant to Sir John Hepburn, its first colonel, took advantage of his military experience. Between 1634 and 1678 Hepburn’s served with the French and Swedes, absorbing other Scottish regiments in Swedish service. 147 At the Restoration the regiment was given the distinction of maintaining a Second Battalion even in peace. 148 Recalled to face the Covenanter threat in 1678, they were deployed to Flanders for the Nine Years War and the War of the Spanish Succession, where they were present at all major battles. Service in Ireland and the West Indies followed. In August 1745, two supernumerary companies, raised the previous summer, were ambushed and captured at Highbridge while marching to reinforce Fort William. This was the first engagement of the ’45 and triggered the recall of the Second Battalion from Ireland. After fighting at Falkirk on 17th January 1746, the Royal Scots joined Cumberland’s army marching north and fought at Culloden. By June 1746, they were encamped at Perth and remained in Scotland until 1749 when they were deployed to Ireland.

The Scots Fusiliers was raised in 1677 or 1678 (depending on the source) by the 5th Earl Mar for domestic security. When ordered south to defend James II’s hold on England in 1688, they declared for William III. They served in Flanders from early 1689 to 1697 and from 1702 or 1708 – sources disagree – to 1714. During the ’15, the Scots Fusiliers fought at Sheriffmuir and remained in Britain until 1742. After three years fighting in the continent, the Scots Fusiliers returned with the majority of the British army under Cumberland to assist in the suppression of the ’45. They formed part of the force that re-took Carlisle, fought at Culloden and provided a garrison for Blair Castle. After a year of service on the continent in 1747, they returned to Britain for garrison duty for the next three years.

By royal warrant of 25th November 1681, two troops of dragoons created in 1678 with the addition of an extra troop were raised onto the establishment as the Royal Regiment of Scots Dragoons, here known as the Scots Greys. Its commander until his death in 1685 was Lieutenant-General Thomas Dalyell (also spelt Dalzell) of The Binns. They had an early history of facing rebellions, first against Argyll’s Rebellion in Scotland in 1685, demonstrating that, pre-Union at least, there was no difficulty feared in sending Scots to fight Scots. They also deployed to England to prevent the invasion of 1688, but joined William III and were sent to Scotland to face the 1689 Jacobite Rebellion under Viscount Dundee and saw action at Cromdale in April 1690. From 1694 to 1697, 1702 to 1713, and 1742 to 1749, the Scots Greys formed part of the army on the continent in the Nine Years War, the War of the Spanish Succession and the War of the Austrian Succession. During peace they were recalled to Britain and were part of the domestic force that faced the Jacobites in skirmishes at Kinross and Dunfermline, and fought at Sheriffmuir in 1715, and again at Glenshiel in 1719.

The 1609 Statutes of Icolmkill made chiefs responsible for the actions of their clans and encouraged them to take control of policing and punishing lawlessness. This was reiterated in the royal warrant of 1667 that charged the 1st Marquess of Atholl to create the first companies to keep “a watch upon the braes.” The Independent Highland Company that fought the Jacobites at Killiecrankie in 1689 so impressed the Commander-in-Chief of the forces in Scotland, General Mackay that he caused five companies to be added to the Scottish Establishment. Between 1690 and 1717, the number of companies fluctuated as more were added at times of unrest, such as in 1701 after poor harvests and rumours of invasion, or removed, as in 1690 as an economising measure. The three companies extant during the ’15 were not involved in the Battle of Sheriffmuir, but assisted escorting arms for the militias and were responsible for persuading clans not to join the rebellion and tracked fleeing rebels in its aftermath.

Though recognised as useful for their hardiness, by 1717 the level of petty corruption and suspicions regarding many chiefs’ loyalties meant that the Independent Highland Companies were disbanded. The creation of six new companies was one of General Wade’s many proposals for increasing the security of Scotland in his 1725 report. In 1739, these companies and ten new ones were raised onto the British Establishment as the 43rd Regiment of Foot or Crawford’s Regiment named for its first colonel. After the necessary training at Aberfeldy in May 1740 and three years home service, the 43rd was ordered to march south for deployment abroad. Suspecting deployment to the diseased West Indies, insulted at the lack of a royal review and believing that they had been raised for home service only, 120 men deserted to return to Scotland. After being re-captured and tried, three were chosen by drawn straws to be shot and the rest transported to regiments in Gibraltar, Minorca, the Leeward Isles and Georgia. The remainder of the regiment was deployed to Flanders. In 1745 the `43rd returned to Britain under Cumberland when the rebellion began but did not join the army in Scotland. Three supernumerary companies were recruiting in Scotland but were only partly assembled when two were captured at the fall of Fort George on 20th February 1746. After Culloden, the 43rd returned to Flanders and then saw service in America and Ireland, and did not return to Scotland for another thirty years. The Regiment became the 42nd in 1749 and added `Royal’ to its title marking its bravery at Ticonderoga in 1758. It did not gain the official epithet `The Black Watch’ until 1861.

The period of the Seven Years War, between 1756 (or 1754 in North America) and 1763, witnessed a transformation in the scale of the British Empire and of Scottish activity in it. Coupled with major changes at home, this period, and far more so than 1707, ought to be regarded as a pivotal moment in the history of Scotland and the Empire. The scale of this global conflict, and the resulting extension of the Empire, demanded an expansion of the armed forces.

The East India Company army grew from three thousand regular troops in 1749 to twenty-six thousand at the end of the Seven Years War, and by 1778 it numbered sixty-seven thousand. The vast majority were sepoy troops, complemented by around four thousand European soldiers and officers. It was in the officer corps that Scots were especially prominent, with as many as one in three Europeans being Scots, compared to one in eleven among the European ranks.

In North America and the Caribbean the threat from French and Indian forces required the stationing of British Army regulars. Scottish regiments played prominent roles in many of the major set-piece battles on American soil. Scots were also prominent as military commanders, in both the British Army and Navy, in the American and Caribbean theatres of war.

The real significance of high-ranking Scots in an imperial context lies in their assumption of the civilian commands in colonial territories once peace returned. Across the Empire, civilian authority was increasingly vested in the hands of military commanders. In 1763 the new governments in Quebec, East and West Florida, and the Ceded Islands were handed to four Scottish governors, all of whom had recently held military commands. These particular posts relied in part on the patronage of Lord Bute, but they also represented a general trend in British thinking about the role of military men in the civilian governance of empire.

Officers were mobile throughout the Empire and it was common for them to serve in different parts of the Empire. The trajectory of Sir Archibald Campbell of Inverneil’s career serves to illustrate the point. Inverneil is perhaps best known as the Governor of Madras between 1786 and 1789. But he began his career in the Caribbean when he served on the captured French island of Guadeloupe under another Scottish commander, Robert Melville, during the Seven Years War, before being stationed in Bengal in 1768. He then went back to the Americas, this time at the head of a 3,500-strong expedition to Georgia during the American War, before being promoted to Lieutenant Governor then Governor of Jamaica between 1781 and 1784. For Scots officers military service brought a global sense of their empire.

For most regular troops and especially those drafted to serve, any overseas posting was unpopular: financial considerations, separation from families, capture, and the risk of death from disease as well as war, all acted as significant demoralizing elements. There is evidence that highlanders signed up for the army believing that they would not be forced to serve overseas. In January 1783, just as the American War ended, the 77th Regiment, the Athol Highlanders, were told they were going to India. They mutinied at Portsmouth, refusing to be ‘like bullocks to be sold’ to the East India Company. When it transpired that another highland regiment, the 78th Seaforths, had been sent to India and then disbanded there in 1784, rather than in Scotland, it fostered a deep distrust towards military service. By the 1790s, when recruitment drives were made across Scotland, recruiters were at pains to explain that military service would be confined to Scotland, unless England was invaded. But the experience of the Athols and Seaforths remained in the popular memory. When Lord Seaforth tried to raise a new fencible regiment in the Western Isles in spring 1793, he faced serious popular opposition. In 1797, after the introduction of the Scottish Militia Act, there was widespread civil disobedience and rumours circulated in Perthshire and Stirlingshire that recruits were to be drafted into regiments for the East and West Indies, or even to be sold into slavery.

This general anxiety was heightened by the very real dangers of military service overseas. If death and disease were constant threats, then the risk of capture by enemy forces and the accounts of it that filtered back represented both personal trauma and the continued insecurity of the Empire. Robert Gordon, a Scottish ensign, wrote of his maltreatment after being captured by the forces of Mysore in India: ‘they tore off our clothes and behaved in a most indecent manner’. Meanwhile in North America, captivity narratives by Scots officers tended to highlight the brutality of their captors in ways that were likely to frighten further potential recruits. Accusations of cannibalism—‘While they were feasting on poor Capt Robson’s body’—intentionally marked non-Europeans as ‘savage’.

In India, the Scottish military relationship with empire was not straightforward or a wholly successful one. The growing number of Scottish officers and troops, for example, did not always cover themselves in glory. At Pollilur in September 1780, Colonel William Baillie of Dunain and his men presided over a defeat so ignominious that Indians disparaged them and Britons feared for their empire in the East. In the Americas, the defeats inflicted during the early years of the Seven Years War and then in the American Revolutionary War, with the loss at Yorktown in 1781 coming hard on the heels of the reverse at Pollilur, likewise resulted in heavy casualties among the disproportionately large Scottish contingents among British forces.

To the rank and file, then, imperial endeavour was not something to be welcomed uncritically by the century’s end. But for officers, imperial service in India, North America, or the Caribbean remained attractive as long as it held out the prospect of advancement. In this sense, for them the Empire was a means to an end, and in this officers had much in common with other Scots in the expanding British Empire.

The gradual emergence of Britain’s overseas empire in the second half of the eighteenth century and the growing need for soldiers to fight in colonial wars diverted Scottish eyes from Europe to territories further afield. With this trend came a gradual forgetting of what had gone before – that, in the seventeenth century, the Scots had a reputation in Europe as fighting men. It is not a reputation that is entirely enviable, although it has persisted in slightly different contexts to create a pride with a dark side. It is fine to be known as men to be relied on in a crisis but it also means the Scot became a man to be exploited when soldiers were needed and in the long run ‘no great mischief if they fall’, the words used of Highland soldiers by Major James Wolfe when clansmen were recruited to the British army after Culloden. Fortunately, we also thrived in other walks of life – as merchants and scholars – and that aspect of our history also deserves to be remembered and celebrated. We have always crossed the North Sea to share in the common history of Europe, and by no means only as swordsmen for hire.



Warsaw Pact Deployment on the Central Front Redux

T-64 MBT

The T-62’s larger cousin, the T-64, appeared in the mid-1960s, but only about 8,000 were built and none were ever exported. The first prototype was finished in 1960 with the second three years later. The first production run was completed in 1966 with about 600 tanks that were all armed with the 115mm smoothbore gun. These suffered problems with the automatic loader, power pack (particularly the transmission) and the suspension. As the T-64 featured an automatic loading system, the crew could be reduced to three men, helping to keep the size and weight of the tank down.

Another innovation on the T-64 that was less successful was the suspension. All Soviet medium tanks from the T-34 on had used five road wheels without any return rollers, so why the change was made to six very small road wheels and four return rollers on the T-64 is not readily apparent, though it was known that the T-62 had a habit of losing its tracks. The T-64’s design features appear to have failed, as the T-72 employed a completely different system, while modified T-62s were seen with the T-72-style suspension, not that of the T-64.

Confusingly the T-64 was very similar in appearance and layout to the T-72. The suspension consisted of six small dual road wheels (though these were notably smaller than the six used on the T-72) and four track return rollers (the T-72 only has three), with the idler at the front and the drive sprocket at the rear. The tracks were narrower than the T-72’s and the turret was slightly different. The driver sat at the front in the centre, while the other two crew were located in the turret, with the commander on the right of the gun and the gunner to the left.

The follow-on T-64A sought to iron out the early design faults and included the 125mm 2A26M2 smoothbore gun fed by an automatic loader. This went into service in 1969 and was first seen publicly the following year during the Moscow Parade. The 125mm gun was stabilised in both elevation and traverse with the barrel fitted with a thermal sleeve and flume extractor. It could fire up to eight rounds a minute and had a sighted range out to 4,000m employing the day sight and 800m employing the night sight. The 2A26 gun had vertical ammunition stowage, while the T-72 and T-80 are armed with a 125mm 2A46 gun with a horizontal ammunition feed system. The gunner selected the type of ammunition he wished to fire by simply pushing a button. This was the separate loading type, in that the projectile is loaded first followed by the semi-combustible cartridge case; all that remains after firing is the stub base of the cartridge which is ejected. The 125mm ammunition is common to the T-64, T-72, T-80 and T-90 tanks.

Whereas the Soviets had gone for ease of mass-production with the T-54/55 and T-62, the latter’s counterpart was much more advanced. As a result, the T-62 was assigned to the motor rifle divisions while the newer T-64 only served with the armoured divisions. Somewhat ironically, the T-64 entered production only slightly earlier than the T-72, which was intended to replace the T-54/55 and T-62. The T-64, while being a superior tank, suffered numerous teething problems that eventually consigned it to the scrap heap.

Although the T-64 served with the Soviet Groups of Forces stationed in the Warsaw Pact countries, it only ever saw combat against Chechen separatists. Only the Soviet Army employed it and with the break-up of the Soviet Union, the Russian Federation kept 4,000 of them while Ukraine ended up with 2,000. By 2013 Russia had scrapped all its T-64s, although Ukraine modernised some and kept them in service. None seem to have ever been exported.


Lessons learned from the BMP-1 inevitably led to a BMP-2. This first appeared in November 1982 in the Red Square parade, though it is believed to have already been in service for a number of years before that. While visually the BMP-2 is almost identical to its predecessor, a clear difference is the long thin barrel of the main armament that consists of the 30mm Model 2A42 cannon. This is housed in a two-man all-welded steel turret with the commander seated on the right and the gunner on the left. The gunner has a single rectangular hatch, which opens to the front with an integral rear-facing periscope and three fixed periscopes, with two to the front and one to the left side. A total of 500 rounds are carried for the main gun.

From the late 1980s onwards a number of enhancements were carried out to production BMP-2, most of which were retrofitted to earlier BMP-1 and BMP-2. The latter was supplied to the Iraqi Army and was manufactured in India as the Sarath and in Czechoslovakia as the OT-90. The BMP-3, which features redesigned road wheels and a higher hull profile, appeared just as the Soviet Union was collapsing. This is an upgunned BMP that has a turret-mounted 2K23 weapon system that comprises a 100mm 2A70 gun, a coaxial 30mm 2A72 cannon and a coaxial 7.62mm machine gun.

In addition the BMP-2 has an AT-5 ‘Spandrel’ anti-tank missile launch tube mounted on the turret roof between the gunner and commander’s hatches. As well as the infantrymen’s small arms, the BMP-2 also normally carried an anti-tank grenade launcher and two surface-to-air missiles. The infantry compartment at the rear only has two roof hatches compared with the four fitted on the BMP-1, though access is normally via the two rear doors. It only carries six infantrymen compared to eight in the BMP-1.

Like its predecessor, the BMP-2 is fully amphibious. Just before entering the water a trim vane stowed on top of the glacis plate is erected, the bilge pumps are switched on and the driver’s centre periscope is replaced by the TNPO-350B. The upper part of the tracks has a sheet metal covering that is deeper than that on the BMP-1 as it is filled with a buoyancy aid.

At the height of the Cold War the Soviet Union exported billions of dollars worth of arms to numerous developing countries. Intelligence analysts watched with a mixture of alarm and awe as cargo ship after cargo ship sailed from Nikolayev in Ukraine stacked to the gunnels to ports such as Assab in Ethiopia, Luanda in Angola, Tartus in Syria and Tripoli in Libya. Much of this equipment came from strategic reserves and was very old or had been superseded by newer models, as in the case of the T-55 and T-62 MBTs, which were all but obsolete by then. Soviet armoured vehicle exports also included the 4×4 wheeled BTR-60 APC and the tracked BMP-1 IFV.

In many cases Soviet weapon shipments were funded through generous loans, barter-deals or simply gifted, and Moscow’s arms industries rarely saw a penny in return. The net result was that during the Cold War Moscow fuelled a series of long-running regional conflicts that lasted for decades. Ultimately the West was to spend the Soviet Union into oblivion, but the legacy of the Cold War was one of global misery.

SA-4 Ganef Tracked Mobile Surface-to-Air Missile System

This self-propelled anti-aircraft missile system, bearing the NATO codename SA-4 Ganef, appeared publicly in the Moscow Red Square parade in 1964. It was a medium-to long-range air defence weapon that could reach targets up to 75km. It comprised two large missiles on a launcher mounted over the hull of a specially designed tracked carrier. Unlike the normal redesign and conversion of existing armoured vehicles, this vehicle had its engine and transmission at the front, thereby freeing the rear of the hull for the launching equipment. This was also air portable. The launch platform could be rotated through 360 degrees with a maximum elevation of 70 degrees.

The missile itself was about 9 metres long and, after being lifted off by four solid propellant boosters mounted externally, was propelled by an internal kerosene-fuelled ram jet. The Ganef operated with a scanning radar and with what NATO called the Pat Hand target acquisition and fire control radar carried in separate vehicles. The SA-4 was deployed at army level in SAM brigades consisting of three battalions each with nine launchers.

As with that of the Americans, British and French, the long-term Soviet deployment on the Central Front was, in the main, a direct result of where the Red Army stopped in 1945, although there were some minor adjustments during the forty years of the Cold War. The forces permanently stationed in East Germany were designated Group of Soviet Forces Germany (GSFG), with their headquarters at Zossen-Wünstorf, 30 km south of Berlin, and comprised five armies, most of which were approximately equivalent to a NATO corps in size.

The Soviet army believed that the basic form of military strategy was the offensive, and all its (and the Warsaw Pact’s) planning, organizations and exercises were devoted to this end. The 1945 organizations lasted for only a short time, and from 1947 infantry regiments began to be mechanized, using BTR-40P wheeled trucks. This process gathered pace in the 1950s, until 1957, when a major re-equipment programme began to bear fruit and new-style tank and motor-rifle divisions were introduced, which were smaller, easier to control and much harder hitting than their predecessors. These were organized into two types of army: a ‘tank army’, in which tank divisions normally predominated, and a ‘combined-arms army’, in which motor-rifle divisions predominated, the number and type of divisions depending upon the army’s combat mission.

The history of GSFG included some major equipment milestones, which marked a significant increase in tactical capability. The first of these was the fielding of T-62 tanks and BTR-60 eight-wheeled armoured personnel carriers in the early 1960s, while in the early 1970s the Mi-24 (NATO = ‘Hind’) helicopter gave a totally new capability to the Soviet air force’s Frontal Aviation command. The changeover in artillery from wheeled to tracked self-propelled guns, which came in the late 1970s, was also of major significance, although it was made considerably later than in NATO. The final stage was marked by the fielding of the new T-80 tank, which joined the front line facing NATO in the mid-1980s.


In war the Warsaw Pact forces in central Europe would have come under the Western Teatr Voyennykh Destiviy (Theatre of Military Operations (TVD)), which would have been subdivided into fronts, each composed of a number of armies, and an air army. The commander-in-chief Western TVD controlled all Soviet and Warsaw Pact forces in Czechoslovakia, East Germany, Hungary and Poland, as well as the second-echelon armies which would have been generated by the western military districts in the USSR.


In 1945 East Germany was occupied by six armies: the 1st, 2nd, 3rd and 4th Guards Tank Armies; the 3rd Shock Army; and the 8th Guards Army. Of these, the 4th Guards Tank Army was gradually withdrawn to the USSR in the 1950s, followed by the 3rd Guards Tank Army in 1960–61. This appears to have overstretched the headquarters that remained, since, in the aftermath of the 1961 Berlin crisis, a new headquarters unit, the 20th Guards Tank Army, was formed. The other army was Frontal Aviation’s 16th Air Army, which remained in East Germany from 1945 to the end of the Cold War.

From the 1960s onwards, GSFG comprised the following.

  • The 2nd Guards Tank Army, the northernmost formation, occupied an area near the Baltic south of Rostock, with its peacetime headquarters at Fürstenberg–Havel, 60 km north of Berlin. Despite its title of ‘Tank Army’, it actually consisted of just one tank division, plus two motor-rifle divisions.
  • The 3rd Shock Army was located in the centre and, in view of its intended role of thrusting across the North German Plain, it consisted of four tank divisions and a single motor-rifle division, making it, at least on paper, the most formidable fighting formation in any army. The title ‘Shock’ was conferred in 1945, but the name changed to 3rd Mechanized Army in 1947, before reverting to 3rd Shock Army in 1957–8. The headquarters was at Magdeburg, conveniently close to the IGB and just off the E8 autobahn, which would have been the main axis of the army’s advance into West Germany in the event of war.
  • The 8th Guards Army was located in the south and, as its intended role would take it through primarily infantry country, it consisted of one tank division and three motor-rifle divisions. Its headquarters was at Nohra, 10 km south-west of Weimar.
  • The 20th Guards Army was located just west of Berlin, effectively in the rear of the 3rd Shock Army. It consisted of three motor-rifle divisions, and did not have an integral tank division. Its headquarters was at Eberswalde-Finow, some 40 km north-east of Berlin.
  • The 1st Guards Tank Army was virtually identical to the 3rd Shock Army, with four tank divisions and one motor-rifle division. Its headquarters was at Dresden, in the south-east corner of the GDR.

GSFG also included considerably more supporting units (artillery, engineers, aviation, communications and logistic services) than other similar organizations in the Soviet armed forces. Thus, for example, GSFG was supported by 34 Guards Artillery Division, which was three times the size of a normal artillery division.

The offensive nature of GSFG’s wartime missions was underlined by a further six reinforced bridging regiments and six amphibious river-crossing battalions, whose wartime mission was to ensure that the many rivers in West Germany and Denmark were crossed quickly. There were also two assault-engineer regiments, specially trained in urban clearance tasks, whose wartime missions would have been in cities such as Braunschweig and Hanover and in the Ruhr. Two aviation regiments were equipped with Hind attack helicopters, which established such a fearsome reputation in Afghanistan. There were also eight spetsnaz battalions for employment in NATO’s rear areas, and one integral airborne regiment, although GSFG had priority call on one or more of the airborne divisions back in the USSR, which were normally under centralized Ministry of Defence control.

The peacetime strength of GSFG amounted to some 380,000 men, with 7,000 tanks, 3,000 infantry fighting vehicles, 300 helicopters and a vast amount of artillery. All were manned at Category-A levels, which was usually well in excess of 90 per cent of their wartime figure.


Situated in Poland was the Soviet Northern Group of Forces (NGF), with its headquarters at Legnica. In peacetime its troops consisted of two motor rifle divisions and an air army. In war its position astride the lines of communication from the homeland would have been absolutely vital to the success of the offensive, and it would have been reinforced by units from the USSR.

The third element, in addition to GSFG and NGF, was the Central Group of Forces (CGF), which was formed in 1968, in the wake of the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia. The headquarters was located at Milovice, Czechoslovakia, some 30 km north-west of Hradec Králové, and after a rapid build-up in 1968–71 the CGF was composed of two tank and three motor-rifle divisions.



Czechoslovakia had two armies: the 1st (Czech) Army (comprising one tank and three motor-rifle divisions), with its headquarters at Příbram, and the 4th (Czech) Army (two tank, two motor-rifle divisions) at Písek. Each of these Czech armies had a larger than normal engineer component, with one engineer brigade, one bridging brigade and one construction brigade in each army, with more under central control. Total strength of the Czechoslovak army (1984) was 148,000, of which approximately 100,000 were conscripts.

East Germany

The German Democratic Republic’s Nationale Volksarmee (NVA) was considered to be both the most efficient and the most loyal of the satellite armies, and fielded two armies: the 3rd (NVA) Army, with its headquarters at Leipzig, and the 5th (NVA) Army at Neubrandenburg. Both consisted of one tank and two motor-rifle divisions, all of which were maintained at Category A (90–100 per cent strength) in peacetime and were backed by a very efficient mobilization system. The total peacetime strength of the NVA was some 120,000 (1984), of which 71,500 were conscripts.


Poland provided three armies, which in peacetime were based in each of the three military districts, and virtually all of which were scheduled to come under direct Soviet command in war:

  • Silesian Military District – one army of three tank and two motor-rifle divisions;
  • Pomeranian Military District – one army of two tank and two motor-rifle divisions;
  • Warsaw Military District – one army of three motor-rifle divisions but no tank divisions.

The 6th Airborne Brigade was stationed in the Pomeranian Military District, and the 7th Sea Landing Brigade was stationed on the Baltic coast, from where it would have taken part in amphibious operations against Denmark in war. The Polish army did not have the specialist engineer brigades found in the Czech and East German armies. The total strength of the Polish army in 1984 was 210,000, of which 153,000 were conscripts.

Unlike their opponents in NATO, where commonality ceased at corps level, the non-Soviet Warsaw Pact forces were all organized on Soviet lines and used mainly Soviet equipment, some of which, such as tanks, was manufactured locally under licence. The equipment was not, however, exclusively Soviet, and Czechoslovakia, for example, produced armoured personnel carriers and self-propelled guns to its own designs, some of which were also used by Poland.


Soviet Airborne Forces

Throughout the Cold War the Soviets maintained by far the largest airborne forces in the world, and, as in most armies, these enjoyed an elite status, with special equipment and special uniforms (including a sky-blue beret). Their importance was further emphasized by the fact that they were not part of the normal army chain of command, but were subordinated direct to the Ministry of Defence. There were seven airborne divisions, all of which were maintained at Category A in peacetime, each consisting of three airborne regiments, an artillery regiment and an air-defence battalion, together with communications, engineers and logistic units – a total of some 8,500 men. In war they would have been tasked directly by the Ministry of Defence for a major strategic mission or allocated to lower headquarters for specific operations, possibly on a scale of one airborne division to each major front, or probably more than one in the case of the Western TVD.

Soviet airborne forces were equipped with a large range of lightweight equipment, which was specially designed for the airborne role. Such airborne items ranged from self-propelled guns and tracked personnel carriers to lightweight folding saws, and airborne troops were always the first to receive new standard weapons, such as 5.56 mm rifles.

Soviet airborne units were particularly intended for desantnyy missions – a Russian term denoting operations in enemy rear areas, carried out in co-ordination with the forward elements of the ground troops, and with the aim of maintaining the high momentum and continuity of the offensive. Such missions would almost certainly have included the traditional airborne task of seizing vital ground or crossings in advance of major thrusts by ground troops, possibly as the opening move in a war in western Europe. Probable missions would have included seizing bridgeheads across major rivers, such as the Elbe, Weser and Rhine; capturing forward airfields; and attacking nuclear-supply points, communications centres and major logistics concentrations. This was confirmed by Marshal Sokolovskiy:

In the last war, airborne troops were used chiefly for support of ground troops in defeating enemy groupings, while now they must also perform independently such missions as [the] capture and retention or destruction of nuclear missile, air force and naval bases, and other important objectives deep within the theatres of military operations.

The airborne troops had a flexible organization, being designed to conduct operations in divisional, regimental or battalion strengths, depending upon the requirement. The normal tactic was for pathfinders to form the first wave of the assault, arriving in the battle area by parachute, with the aim of securing the drop zone (DZ) and marking it for the main assault force, which arrived after a minimal interval and dropped together with its heavy equipment. In most larger operations securing an airfield or creating an airstrip would have been a high priority, to enable later troops and heavy equipment to be air-landed rather than air-dropped. Soviet airborne troops’ tactics were always very aggressive, and as soon as sufficient men were available they began a rapid expansion to link the DZs to each other, coupled with raids and assaults on any enemy units encountered.

The fixed-wing aircraft were provided by Voyenno-Transportnaya Aviatsiya (Military Transport Aviation (VTA)), which comprised some 1,700 aircraft, providing sufficient lift for the assault elements of two airborne divisions simultaneously. From the mid-1970s onwards three basic aircraft were used, the smallest being the four-turboprop Antonov An-12 (NATO = ‘Cub’), which carried eighty paratroops or an equivalent load of equipment and was equivalent to the USAF’s Lockheed C-130 Hercules. The second and larger aircraft was the Ilyushin Il–76 (NATO = ‘Candid’), powered by four turbojets, which carried 150 paratroops. Largest of all was the Antonov An-22 (NATO = ‘Cock’), which was capable of air-dropping either men or equipment, although it seems unlikely that this would have been done in any but the most benign environment, the aircraft depending instead upon the early capture of an airfield. The VTA was reinforced by further transport aircraft from the Soviet state airline, Aeroflot, which were intended to be used virtually straight away for air-landing operations, although they required lengthy preparations before undertaking parachute drops.

The VTA took part in all major exercises, but also obtained valuable operational experience in conducting the airlifts to Prague in 1968, to Egypt and Syria during the 1973 Middle East War, to Ethiopia in 1978 and in the invasion of Afghanistan in 1979.

Soviet airborne doctrine was that objectives should be a maximum of 400 km from the front line for a divisional operation and a maximum of 100 km for a battalion operation. Relief by ground troops was intended to take place between two and seven days after the landing, although experience by all armies in the Second World War suggested that such a meeting seldom went according to plan.

Unless there was a reasonable expectation of total surprise, an airborne assault would be preceded by intense air and artillery operations to destroy enemy air defences along the line of the proposed route. Following that, the transports would fly across friendly territory at medium height before descending to low level to cross the front line for the approach to the assault area. The aircraft formed into a stream for the actual drop, which took place at a height of between 400 m and 1,000 m and a speed of 330 km/h, with intervals between the waves. Divisional operations used between four and six DZs, each approximately 4 km long and 3 km wide.

Other Warsaw Pact Airborne Forces

The other Warsaw Pact countries all maintained a parachuting capability: East Germany, Poland and Romania each had a brigade-size force; Bulgaria and Czechoslovakia a regiment; while Hungary had one battalion. All were organized along Soviet lines and used Soviet equipment, methods and tactics.


According to NATO’s 1984 assessment,2 the Central Region (and the southern part of the Northern Region) was faced by some ninety-five divisions from the Soviet, East German, Polish and Czechoslovak armies. Of those, some sixty-one divisions (16,620 tanks and 10,270 artillery pieces and heavy mortars) were either deployed in the forward areas or held at a high state of readiness and could have attacked within a few days of mobilization. There were also seven airborne and two air-mobile divisions, based in the USSR, which could have been allocated specific missions within the Central Region, and a division-sized amphibious force in the Baltic. They were armed with some of the finest equipment in the world, and the three forward Soviet armies were positioned much closer to the IGB than were their opponents, adding to the Alliance’s fear of a ‘bolt from the blue’. But they never attacked.

Basil II alliance with Prince Vladimir I of Kiev in 988

Basil II, called “Bulgar-Slayer” (Bulgaroktonos), he reigned from 976-1025 as the greatest of the Macedonian emperors. This was not apparent at the beginning of his long reign. His first military expedition (in 986) against Samuel of Bulgaria, ended in total defeat at a narrow pass called Trajan’s Gate. This encouraged two rebellions, those of Bardas Skleros and Bardas Phokas.

The latter became the military aristocracy, the so-called dynatoi, of Asia Minor in the 10th century, powerful families that produced the likes of Bardas Skleros, Andronikos Doukas, and Bardas Phokas. The ability of these families to foment rebellion brought Basil II into armed conflict with them. After Basil II’s death in 1025, a struggle ensued between the military aristocracy and the civil aristocracy (which comprised the state bureaucracy).

Basil became effective ruler only in 976, on the death from typhoid fever of John I. But he was still very young, and there were members of the aristocracy related to the previous emperors, Nikephoros Phokas and John Tzimiskes, who felt that they had better claims to imperial power. Both Nikephoros and John had, in effect, seized the throne, and had been able to legitimate their position only through marriage to the widow of emperor Romanos II – father of Basil and his brother Constantine – who had died in 963. It was a leading member of one of these ambitious noble clans, Bardas Skleros, who rebelled against Basil II shortly after his succession in 976; and it was another leader of an even more prestigious family, Bardas Phokas, whom the emperor called to his assistance in 978. The rebellion was defeated and Skleros escaped to the Caliphate where he was imprisoned. On his release in 987, however, and with Arab support, he returned and raised an army once more. Bardas Phokas was sent against him, but betrayed the emperor, first coming to an agreement with Skleros, then imprisoning him and declaring against Basil II himself.

In 988, Basil was in desperate need of effective soldiers and was on the brink of losing his throne. Although of peerless lineage – he claimed descent from Constantine the Great – the thirty-year old Basil II was facing a massive revolt by Bardas Phokas, one of the empire’s most capable generals. Although he would eventually emerge as one of the empire’s most ferocious warriors, in 988 he was still new on the throne with an unreliable army and a skeptical court.

The rebel general marched through Asia Minor unopposed, sacking any town that displayed loyalty to the emperor. When he reached the shore of the Bosporus, the narrow strip of water that separates Asia from Europe, he had himself crowned emperor, complete with imitation diadem and the purple boots of the imperium. The population, sensing the way the wind was blowing, hurried to offer their congratulations and support. By one account, the rebel army was now twice the size it had been when it set out.

Basil, whose one previous military campaign had ended in an ambush, had only the few troops in Constantinople and a nearby field army of questionable loyalty. Things looked bleak, but the emperor kept his head. Even before the rebel army had reached the shore, his ambassadors were speeding towards Kiev. Prince Vladimir, was only too happy to receive them, and he made an audacious offer. In exchange for six thousand Viking recruits from Scandinavia, he wanted to marry Basil’s sister, Anna.

The ambassadors probably returned to Constantinople believing that they had failed. In the long history of the empire, a princess of the ruling dynasty had never been given to a barbarian. The proposition itself threw the court into an uproar. Not only was Vladimir a barbarian, but he was a staunch pagan to boot, who had slaughtered his own brother, raped his sister-in-law, and usurped the throne. He already had seven wives and over the years had collected some eight hundred concubines. Even in an emergency, he was not the type to be given a chaste Christian princess.

The court – and poor Basil’s sister – may have been outraged, but the emperor was determined to have the extra troops. He agreed to the deal, adding only the stipulation that Vladimir had to accept Christianity and give up some of his more scandalous behavior. Both sides were as good as their word. Vladimir was baptized, the protesting bride was shipped north, and six thousand hulking Vikings arrived at Constantinople.

Basil wasted no time. In 989 under the cover of darkness he slipped across the thin strip of water separating him from the rebel army, and landed a few hundred yards from the main enemy camp. At first light he charged, driving them toward the beaches.

The rebels didn’t stand a chance. Stumbling out of their tents half awake and undressed, they were confronted with a horde of screaming Vikings, swinging their massive battle-axes. So many were slaughtered that before long the Vikings were doing their work ankle-deep in gore. Those who managed to escape the carnage had the equally horrid fate of being burned alive. As they fled the ruins of their camp to the water’s edge, a squadron of imperial ships blanketed the beach with Greek Fire, immolating everyone. And although Skleros continued in rebellion for a while, a reconciliation was soon arranged and peace restored.

The victory both secured Basil on his throne, and convinced him – if there were any remaining doubts – that he had been right to sacrifice his sister. Another man would have thanked his mercenaries, paid them off, and dismissed them, but Basil had other ideas. The years of turmoil had convinced him of the necessity of overhauling the Byzantine army, and he intended to use these Vikings as a new core around which to build it.

Only with the help of 6,000 Varangians sent by Vladimir I of Kiev were the revolts suppressed. In return, Basil gave his sister Anna to Vladimir in marriage, requiring that he convert and be baptized, which he did. Basil II tried to curb the expansion of the landed estates of great landowners (including monasteries), the dynatoi, in an effort to preserve peasant land, especially military holdings. Among his decrees (the first in 996) was one forcing the great magnates to pay the unpaid taxes (allelengyon) of their poorer neighbors. Basil further reduced the power of the provincial armies, the themes (q. v.), which the military magnates controlled, by commuting army service into a money payment. The revenues he used to create a standing army, the elite forces of which were his Varangian Guard. With such troops, Basil II set out to subjugate the Bulgars while at the same time defending Antioch and Aleppo in Syria.

Basil II flanked by his royal guards.

Varangian Guard

The Varangian Guard, an elite unit of the Byzantine Army in the 10th to the 14th centuries, was one of the most famous mercenary corps of history and was certainly the most famous of all the Byzantine regiments. It is thought that the term “Varangian” comes from an archaic Norse word variously translated as “confidence,” “vow of fidelity,” or “ally,” and refers to a group of warriors and traders who had sworn allegiance to their leader and fellowship to each other. Interestingly, what is now the Baltic Sea was in earlier times known as the Varangian Sea.

The first clear glimpse of them comes in 988, when the Emperor Basil II (978–1025) asked Vladimir I of Kiev for military assistance to help defend his throne. Vladimir sent 6,000 warriors, known as “Rus,” to the Emperor. The word “Rus” may have come from an Old Norse term meaning “the men who row.” They were such excellent fighters that they soon became the Emperor’s personal bodyguard.

Under Basil II, the Byzantine Empire built up a largely mercenary army, generally abandoning the earlier system under which territorial forces defended the provinces and regulars from Constantinople reinforced them when needed. Because Basil II regarded mercenaries as politically more dependable than regular troops, his reliance on them would persist for a long time. The Varangian Guard greatly profited from his support and was paid very well indeed.

NATO’s Central Region Ground Forces I

Nowhere was the Cold War more intense, nowhere was it more likely to have broken out, and, provided it remained non-nuclear, nowhere was it more likely to have been decided than in Europe – NATO’s Central Region. In compliance with their wartime agreements, the Allies divided Europe into two, split by a line which was christened the ‘Iron Curtain’ by Winston Churchill, although where it ran north–south through Germany it later became known, rather more prosaically, as the ‘Inner German Border’ (IGB). Belgium, Denmark, Luxembourg, the Netherlands and the major part of Germany were in the Western camp, while Czechoslovakia, the remainder of Germany, Hungary and Poland lay in the East. Sweden and Switzerland were long-standing neutrals, while Austria, after a ten-year Allied occupation, became neutral in 1955.

On the Western side the dispositions on the Central Front were principally the outcome of wartime agreements between the UK and the USA, with a last-minute amendment to accommodate the French. Thus the British forces were in the north, with contingents from Belgium, Canada, the Netherlands and Norway all within the British zone. US forces were in the south, but with an enclave at Bremerhaven to ensure their supplies. The French were given a smaller zone in the south-west. Generally speaking, the victors occupied former Wehrmacht barracks and Luftwaffe airfields in accordance with where units came to a halt in 1945.

By the early 1950s some of the occupation forces had departed and those that remained did so under the terms of newly concluded treaties with the Federal Republic of Germany. In addition, the formation of the new German armed forces (Bundeswehr), and in particular of the army (Bundesheer), resulted in some reshuffling, the situation then remaining substantially unchanged for the remainder of the Cold War.


The great majority of nations depended upon conscription to man their armies, but Canada, the UK and the USA changed during the Cold War to all-regular armies. Among those that depended upon conscription, however, not only were there considerable differences between the systems, but, in addition, the terms decreased in severity and the length of service grew shorter as time passed. By the late 1980s, for example, Danish conscripts served for nine months, those in Belgium and France for twelve months, and the Germans for fifteen months, while the Dutch served for a nominal twenty-four months, although the final few months were spent on ‘short leave’. These reductions in service inevitably reduced efficiency, especially as equipment became more sophisticated and needed greater skills for its operation.


In the 1960s Belgium was supposed to provide two corps in West Germany, each of three divisions, giving a total of nine brigades. By 1970, however, the reality was that it fielded only one corps, composed of two divisions, each of two brigades, and then in 1977 there was a further retrenchment, which involved moving one brigade from each of those divisions back into Belgium. A yet further reorganization in the early 1980s resulted in the forces in West Germany being reduced to the corps headquarters plus one division of two brigades and an independent reconnaissance brigade. The second division, consisting of two brigades, was relocated in Belgium.


In proportion to its population and resources, during the Second World War Canada made a very large contribution to the Allied efforts; it then continued to maintain a force in western Europe throughout the Cold War. For many years the 4th Canadian Mechanized Brigade Group (4CMBG) was located in the north, forming an essential element of NATO’s NORTHAG (Northern Army Group) reserves, but in the 1970s it was moved south to Lahr, where it became a CENTAG (Central Army Group) reserve. The Canadians struggled manfully to maintain this as a viable force, and its troops were extremely professional, but 4CMBG’s combat equipment was always less than that of a normal brigade, both in quantity and, sometimes, in quality.


In the original NATO force goals Denmark was committed to field two full-strength divisions, but this was never achieved, partly because of financial difficulties, but also because of a high level of domestic opposition to heavy defence spending. As a result, there were military manpower cuts in 1973, 1985 and 1987. The main element of the field force was the Jutland Division of three mechanized brigades and one regimental combat group, which was located in peacetime in Denmark, but which deployed to Schleswig-Holstein in war; this deployment, however, would have taken place only some one to three weeks after mobilization, which was needed to round the division out to wartime strength. The second Danish division, which was even more dependent on reserves, defended the whole of the Jutland peninsula, although, as described below, it would have been assisted in this task by the UK Mobile Force.

West Germany

Following its admission to NATO, the FRG rapidly built up its forces, particularly the army (Bundesheer). The initial organization – Heerstruktur I – was tailored to meet NATO requirements and consisted of five divisions, which were completed by 1957 and manned principally by conscripts on a twelve-month engagement. This was subsequently changed in 1958 to Heerstruktur II, to comply with NATO’s new ‘tripwire’ strategy (MC 14/2), and concurrently the army reached its target of twelve divisions. In the aftermath of the 1961 Berlin crisis, conscription was extended to eighteen months. The 1967 NATO change to ‘flexible response’ (MC 14/3) resulted in Heerstruktur III, which included strengthening the panzer (armoured) divisions, increasing the ‘teeth-to-tail’ ratio, and creating a territorial army. Finally, Heerstruktur IV, introduced in 1981, strengthened the brigades in the regular army and restructured and strengthened the territorial army.

The Bundesheer produced three corps, whose composition varied according to their combat role, plus one division:


  • 1 (GE) Corps was part of NORTHAG, being positioned between the Dutch and British corps, and consisted of three panzer (armoured) divisions and one panzer grenadier (armoured infantry) division – a total of twelve brigades.
  • 2 (GE) Corps was in the south, facing the Czechoslovak border and essentially defending the hilly country of Bavaria. Its composition reflected the complexity of its role: one panzer, one panzer grenadier, one mountain and one airborne division – a total of twelve brigades.
  • 3 (GE) Corps was the northernmost corps in CENTAG, and on deployment would have been located between the Belgian and US corps. It consisted of two panzer divisions and one panzer grenadier division – a total of nine brigades.
  • The twelfth division was committed to NATO’s LANDJUT (Land Forces Jutland) and was located in Schleswig-Holstein.

An efficient conscription system maintained this force at a high degree of readiness. Combat units (i.e. brigades and below) normally required only an additional 5 per cent to bring them up to war strength, while divisional support units needed 25 per cent and corps support units 50 per cent.


In the early days of NATO tiny Luxembourg produced a regimental combat team of three battalions, but this commitment slowly decreased until by 1988 there was just one light-infantry battalion, whose war role was with the Allied Command Europe Mobile Force (Land) (AMF(L)).

The Netherlands

The Dutch provided 1 (NL) Corps, which was responsible for NORTHAG’s left flank, where it was located between LANDJUT and 1 (GE) Corps. One of the major problems for 1 (NL) Corps was that only the 41st Armoured Brigade, a reconnaissance battalion and some support units were stationed in the FRG in peacetime; the remaining units were in the Netherlands, and, from the time the Dutch government gave the order, would have required ninety-six hours to reach their combat positions.

The Dutch conscription system was known as ‘Direct Intake into Reserve’, and each regular unit had a reserve ‘shadow’ unit. Conscripts served for two years in a regular unit, of which the last six months, sometimes longer, were spent on ‘short leave’, which meant that they were liable to rapid recall, following which they were transferred as a group to their ‘shadow unit’, where they served for a further eighteen months. Efficient as this system was, it still took time to implement.

The UK

The main British contribution was 1 (BR) Corps, which was part of NORTHAG. During the Cold War few countries reorganized their army as frequently as the British; on some occasions the reorganization was due to changing national, political or economic circumstances, although on others the reasons baffled friend and foe alike.

In the 1950s 1 (BR) Corps consisted of three armoured divisions and one infantry division, but in the 1960s this was reduced to three all-arms divisions. Then, in 1976, it underwent a fundamental reorganization, in which the brigade level of command was eliminated and command over units was then exercised by four divisional headquarters. By 1982, however, these changes, which had been achieved at considerable expense, were seen to be fundamentally flawed and were totally reversed (at further expense), this time to three, much stronger, armoured divisions, two of them with three armoured brigades and one with two armoured brigades and an infantry brigade. (The infantry brigade was stationed in the UK in peacetime.)

To implement the 1976 changes a fourth divisional headquarters (HQ 3 Division) was taken over to Germany, while to implement the 1982 changes a different divisional headquarters (HQ 2 Division) was returned to the UK. In the UK this divisional headquarters retained its war role in Germany, being committed to the new task of rear-area security of 1 (BR) Corps, for which it fielded three motorized infantry brigades, one of which was regular and the other two from the Territorial Army.

As a quite separate commitment, the British provided the United Kingdom Mobile Force (UKMF), which consisted of the 1st (UK) Infantry Brigade (four motorized infantry battalions, one armoured reconnaissance battalion, one artillery battalion and an armoured squadron) and an air-force component of three fighter squadrons. In addition, since by NATO rules communications and logistics were a national responsibility, the force required a large logistics tail, bringing the UKMF total to well in excess of 15,000 men. This force was stationed in peacetime in the UK, and in war would have had to mobilize (approximately one-third was from the Territorial Army) and then move either to Jutland, where it came under command of the Danish Commander LANDJUT, or to northern Italy.


The United States made a major contribution to NATO land forces on the Central Front, with the US army undergoing a number of reorganizations during the years of the Cold War. In the military excitement of the 1950s, the post-Second World War army in Europe was converted into the ‘Pentomic Army’, equipped with battlefield nuclear weapons and organized on the basis of a ‘rule of five’ – i.e. five battalions to a brigade, fire brigades to a division, and so on. In the 1960s the Vietnam War, not surprisingly, took priority in all US military thinking and Europe was something of a backwater, regaining its precedence only in the early 1970s. Conscription ended in 1973, although legislation for the ‘draft’ remained for use in an emergency, but US manpower in Europe actually increased over the years, from 197,000 in 1975 to over 227,000 in 1988, of whom 204,700 were army personnel stationed in the FRG.

US ground forces were commanded by the Seventh (US) Army and organized into two corps, 5 (US) Corps in the north of the former US zone and 7 (US) Corps in the south, both of which came under CENTAG in wartime. Most US units were stationed in the FRG in peacetime; however, some elements were ‘dual-based’, which meant the manpower was stationed in the USA in peacetime but in war would make use of a full duplicate set of equipment located in Germany.fn1 Each corps also included an armoured cavalry regiment, which was permanently based in the FRG. In addition to these divisions, there were seven artillery brigades, four independent artillery groups and nine surface-to-surface-missile battalions (three with Pershing II, six with Lance), as well as numerous engineer, aviation, communications and logistics units permanently in Germany, with many more in the USA, earmarked for the Central Front in war.

The US goal was to have ten full divisions in western Europe within twenty-one days of a deployment order. This would have enabled them to field two full-strength corps in CENTAG, one full-strength corps (3 (US) Corps) in the north as CINCENT’s reserve, and one division (2 (US) Armoured Division) as part of NORTHAG.


In 1945 the French army occupied a zone in south-west Germany abutting on the French border, where it remained throughout the Cold War, first as an occupying power, then under a bilateral treaty with the Federal Republic on the admission of the latter to NATO, and finally under a new bilateral treaty following France’s withdrawal from the NATO integrated command structure. From that time, however, France’s forces in the FRG were no longer assigned to NATO, and their precise role in war was never totally clear, although, as described elsewhere in this book, while the French relationship with NATO underwent a number of changes, the relationship was always closer than was depicted in the media.

The major field formation was always the First French Army (FFA), but its internal organization underwent a number of reorganizations over the years. Once French nuclear weapons became operational, the ground forces were organized to serve as a ‘trigger’ for French nuclear intervention, but they were subsequently reorganized to enable them to play a more positive role in the land battle. The most significant factor on the ground was that, if NATO defences in West Germany failed to halt an attack, there was little likelihood that victorious Soviet forces would halt on the Franco-German border; it thus made sound sense for French ground forces not only to defend the border, but also to bolster NATO defences to the east of that border. For this reason detailed plans were made for French counter-attacks, particularly in the NORTHAG area.

By the 1980s the FFA consisted of three corps:

  • 1 (FR) Corps – three armoured and two light armoured divisions, of which one armoured division was stationed in the FRG;
  • 2 (FR) Corps – two armoured divisions and one infantry division, with the majority located in the FRG;
  • 3 (FR) Corps – two armoured divisions and one infantry division, all stationed in north-east France.

In addition, the Force Action Rapide (FAR) consisted of four divisions (one light armour, one marine, one airborne, one alpine) and the Foreign Legion Operational Group. These were designed to conduct intervention operations outside Europe in peacetime, but would have been available for national defence in time of war.


NATO ground forces in central Europe believed themselves to be facing an aggressive-minded enemy, which, if it attacked, would do so in a series of rapid drives, led by tanks and highly mobile infantry in armoured personnel carriers, with the aim of eliminating NATO forces as rapidly as possible. NATO also believed that the Warsaw Pact would attack along six main axes:

  • along the Baltic coast and north into Jutland;
  • towards Hamburg and then along the North Sea coast;
  • across the North German Plain, using the flat, rolling countryside with its abundance of roads, through the 1 (BR) Corps position and towards the Ruhr;
  • through the Fulda Gap in the direction of Mannheim;
  • from Zwickau through the so-called ‘Hof Corridor’ towards Nuremberg and Stuttgart;
  • from Czechoslovakia, with two pincer movements meeting west of Munich.

The defence of the Central Region against these threats was not an easy task. Western Germany stretched approximately 700 km from north to south and was some 300–400 km wide, which meant that, from a military point of view, it was seriously lacking in depth. The original strategy for the defence of the Central Region was based on a thin ‘crust’ of conventional forces, penetration of which would have resulted in the virtually automatic use of nuclear weapons.1 This was subsequently changed in December 1967 to the strategy of ‘flexible response’, which required a credible conventional defence, sufficiently strong to contain any attack as far forward (i.e. as near to the IGB) as possible. Both these strategies were, however, within the overall concept of ‘forward defence’, which, not surprisingly, was insisted upon by the West Germans and required that Warsaw Pact forces be held as far to the east as possible, even though this was not necessarily ideal from the operational point of view.

The task of defending central Europe fell to NATO’s Allied Forces Central Europe (AFCENT), which was originally located in France and commanded by a French general, but in 1967 it moved to Brunssum in the Netherlands, at which time a German general took command. The command was divided into two – Northern Army Group (NORTHAG) and Central Army Group (CENTAG) – commanded by a British and a US general respectively. The headquarters of AFCENT, NORTHAG and CENTAG were fully integrated NATO organizations, but below them were a number of corps, each of which was almost totally national in organization. This provided a certain degree of strength, but also caused NATO a number of difficulties, not least because nations retained the right to organize, equip and train their troops according to their national requirements, standards and traditions; nations were also, to a large degree, able to decide on their readiness and mobilization plans. As a result, there was no such thing as a standard NATO division in size, organization or tactics, and when more than one nation used the same equipment it was frequently as much by chance as by design.

There was a major anomaly in that, while Denmark and Schleswig-Holstein were the vital northern flank to the Central Region battle and overlooked the exits from the Baltic (also an area of vital interest to the Central Front), they came under CINCNORTH (in Norway) rather than under CINCENT. Two major threats faced Denmark, both of which emanated from areas of vital interest to the Central Region: a Soviet/East German overland thrust through Schleswig-Holstein, and an amphibious attack by East German, Polish and Soviet marines along the Baltic coastline.


NORTHAG headquarters was at Rheindahlen, just outside Mönchengladbach, Germany, and was a fully integrated NATO headquarters, commanded by a British four-star general. It was responsible for the defence of the Federal Republic from the southern border of Schleswig-Holstein in the north, to a line running approximately from Kassel to Bonn. Its area of responsibility thus included the North Sea coast with its vital ports of Bremerhaven and (in depth) Antwerp and Rotterdam, the North German Plain leading to the Ruhr, and the Harz mountains in the south.

The army group comprised four corps and a reserve division:

  • 1 (NL) Corps was on NORTHAG’s left, and in the 1980s consisted of three armoured and six armoured infantry brigades, of which the 41st Armoured Brigade and a reconnaissance battalion were the only units stationed in the FRG in peacetime. There were also three divisional headquarters (1, 4 and 5 Divisions), but there were no permanent divisions, the corps commander allocating the divisional commander between two and five brigades, according to the tactical situation.fn2
  • 1 (GE) Corps consisted of three panzer divisions (1, 3 and 7) and one panzer grenadier (11) division, each division comprising three brigades. Each brigade was made up of four panzer or panzer grenadier battalions, of which three were fully active, while the fourth was at cadre strength only, requiring reservists to bring it up to strength on mobilization, which would have required ninety-six hours. 1 (GE) Corps’s position was to the right of 1 (NL) Corps, where it shared the responsibility for the North German Plain with 1 (BR) Corps. Alone among the national contributors to the central region, the Germans were split, 1 (GE) Corps in NORTHAG being located at a considerable distance from 2 and 3 (GE) Corps in CENTAG.
  • 1 (BR) Corps held the southern part of the plain, sitting astride the main east–west Hanover–Essen autobahn route, which would inevitably have been one of the Warsaw Pact’s main axes of advance. The corps consisted of 1 and 4 Armoured Divisions, each with three armoured brigades. 3 Armoured Division, however, consisted of two Germany-based brigades – one armoured brigade, with two armoured battalions and one mechanized infantry battalion, and one brigade which was termed ‘armoured’ but in fact consisted of one armoured and two mechanized infantry battalions – while a third brigade (the 19th Infantry Brigade) was stationed in the UK in peacetime. 2 Infantry Division (three motorized infantry brigades) was also stationed in the UK in peacetime. British plans involved the move of some 60,000 troops across the Channel to bring 1 (BR) Corps and its support elements to full strength of some 120,000.
  • 1 (BE) Corps was responsible for the high ground on the southern edge of the NORTHAG sector, which had the reputation of being ‘difficult tank country’, although whether the Warsaw Pact shared that opinion was a different matter. The Belgian corps consisted of one division (16 Mechanized) of two brigades (one armoured, one mechanized), plus the Groupement Reconnaissance (equivalent to a brigade) in Germany. The second division (1 Mechanized), with two brigades (both mechanized), was stationed in Belgium.
  • 2 (US) Armoured Division was tasked as NORTHAG reserve and would have deployed initially on the left, in the rear of 1 (NL) Corps. The division consisted of three brigades, of which one was located in West Germany in peacetime, while the remainder of the division was in the United States, but with duplicate equipment stockpiled in Germany.
  • There were also contingency plans to deploy an additional US-based corps to the NORTHAG area, where it would have served as the CINCENT reserve. This was 3 (US) Corps, for which two divisions-worth of equipment were stored in Belgium and the Netherlands.

NATO’s Central Region Ground Forces II


CENTAG headquarters was located at Heidelberg under the command of a US army four-star general, with four corps forward:

  • 3 (GE) Corps was the left (northernmost) corps in CENTAG, located between NORTHAG’s right-flank corps (1 (BE) Corps) and 5 (US) Corps. It consisted of two panzer divisions and one panzer grenadier division – a total of nine brigades.
  • 5 (US) Corps, immediately south of 3 (GE) Corps, was composed of 3 Armoured Division and 8 Mechanized Infantry Division, together with the 11th Armoured Cavalry Regiment, whose specific task lay in the Fulda Gap.
  • 7 (US) Corps deployed to the right of 5 (US) Corps and was composed of one armoured and one mechanized infantry division (of which one brigade was in the FRG, the remainder in the USA), plus an armoured cavalry regiment.
  • 2 (GE) Corps was in the far south, facing the Czechoslovak border and essentially defending the hilly country of Bavaria, although it inevitably also had to look over its right shoulder at the Austrian border, in case the Warsaw Pact failed to respect that country’s neutrality. 2 (GE) Corps was large, and its composition reflected the complexity of its role: four divisions – one panzer, one panzer grenadier, one mountain and one airborne – giving a total of twelve brigades.

Rear Areas

Since it was NATO policy that each nation was responsible for its own logistic support, each corps, plus 2 (US) Armoured Division in NORTHAG, had its own rear area, in which its logistic units were located. These required both control and protection, not least because the Warsaw Pact was known to give priority to attacking such facilities. Security of these rear areas was therefore of considerable concern to the corps commanders, although nations allocated differing priorities to the task.

Responsibility for the NATO Rear Combat Zone lay with the Bundeswehr’s Northern Territorial Command for NORTHAG and the Southern Territorial Command for CENTAG. These territorial commands were subdivided into a series of geographical areas, but they also included ten home-defence brigades, which were equipped with older types of tanks and artillery. There were also fifteen home-defence regiments, each with three motorized battalions, which had mainly security tasks.


A particular and sometimes controversial element of the Central Region’s ground forces was the paratroop units. Such units had been formed and used for the first time in the Second World War, and in all armies they immediately became a corps d’élite: they developed an extremely aggressive mode of fighting, and their special selection processes were coupled with very high standards of training and fitness. They also developed, not unintentionally, a mystique about their operations, which endured throughout the Cold War.

While the high reputation resulting from their performance in combat was fully deserved, other factors gradually came to the fore. Their capital costs were high, since they required a large, specially equipped air fleet to take them into battle, and they needed a great deal of specially designed lightweight equipment. Their operating costs were also high, as they required frequent exercises to maintain their standards, particularly in parachuting. On top of all these, one of the lessons of the Second World War was that parachute operations tended to be costly in lives, since, virtually by definition, units were placed in positions of great danger and this, coupled with their aggressive tactics, resulted in unusually high casualty rates.


The largest and most capable of NATO’s airborne forces was 82 (US) Airborne Division, whose main combat element was three airborne brigades, each of three parachute battalions. There were also three artillery battalions, a divisional anti-tank battalion and an aviation battalion. 82 Airborne Division was based at Fort Bragg in North Carolina, where one battalion was always at eighteen hours’ notice to deploy, with one company at two hours’ notice and the remainder of the brigade at twenty-four hours’ notice.

Some equipment was specially developed for the airborne role, such as the Sheridan light tank, but 82 Airborne Division had nothing like the range of specialist weapons and equipment developed for Soviet airborne forces. Its anti-tank defences, for example, depended upon the TOW crew-served system, and the Dragon and LAW (light anti-tank weapon), while air-defence weapons were Vulcans and Stingers, all of which were standard army weapons.

On the other hand, the division’s air-transport assets were unrivalled. In the 1980s USAF air-transport assets comprised 97 Lockheed C-5 Galaxies, 250 Lockheed C-141 Starlifters and 544 Lockheed C-130 Hercules. Not all of these would have been allocated to lifting 82 Airborne Division, but there was sufficient to deploy a brigade very rapidly, with the remainder of the division following close behind. Indeed, the C-141s regularly demonstrated their ability to take off from the USA with a full load of paratroops, fly across the Atlantic, and then drop them straight on to a tactical drop zone in West Germany. Once committed to such an operation the troops would have been able to sustain themselves for three days, but would have then needed air resupply.

Other NATO Countries

Most other NATO armies maintained a parachuting capability: the Germans and French both operated a complete division of three brigades, while Belgium, Canada, Greece, Italy, Portugal, Spain, Turkey and the UK each maintained between one and three battalions. All these forces had peacetime commitments to national defence, particularly in rapid-reaction operations, and not all the battalions were necessarily in the parachuting role at all times, but all were capable of parachute operations and would have been available to NATO in war.

The French airborne forces included the most experienced paratroop units in any army, most of the units having fought in Indo-China from 1949 to 1954 and in Algeria from 1955 to 1962. Thereafter they moved to France, but continued to take part in numerous operations, particularly in Africa. From the 1970s onwards 11 (FR) Parachute Division comprised two brigades of three battalions each, with a seventh battalion under divisional control in a ‘special forces’ role. They were capable of ‘rapid deployment’ in Africa and Asia, but in a general war would have fought in Europe, albeit under French rather than NATO command. Like most other airborne units, however, their deployment ability would have been limited by the availability of suitable aircraft.

The British had built up a sizeable parachute force during the Second World War, eventually fielding two divisions, but one division was cut immediately the war ended. The force was further reduced to two brigades in 1947–8, the 16th (BR) Parachute Brigade being all-regular (three battalions) and the 44th Parachute Brigade being found by the Territorial Army (six battalions). The parachute force continued to exist up to the end of the Cold War and frequently took part in limited war and peacekeeping operations, including Northern Ireland and the 1982 Falklands War. By 1990 three regular and two Territorial Army battalions remained, but limitations of equipment, particularly in the number of transport aircraft, meant that in general war not more than one battalion-group operation could have been undertaken at a time.

The provision of air transport for parachute operations was almost always a problem; the Belgians, for example, frequently looked to the US to provide suitable transport aircraft. In a war on the Central Front, air operations by large and slow transport aircraft, flying at low level, would have been especially hazardous both on the original fly-in and in subsequent resupply operations, unless major efforts were devoted to the suppression of enemy air defences. Thus, even though most NATO paratroops units would have been declared to SACEUR in a war in Europe, there was a lack of clarity over just how they might have been used. Indeed, the occasions on which a battalion-sized or larger force might have been used in the airborne role in a battle in the Central Region remain difficult to identify.


NATO’s defences depended upon a complicated series of preparations for war, ranging from essentially covert tasks, such as the activation of war headquarters and communications systems, to overt measures such as the deployment of troops, aircraft and ships to their war locations, culminating finally in the commencement of hostilities. The Alliance would, therefore have had to persuade fifteen member nations (sixteen, once Spain had joined) not only to transfer assigned units to NATO operational command, but also to mobilize the reserves necessary in all countries to bring front-line units up to full wartime strength. The former could have been done with little public knowledge, but the latter would have been only too obvious.

All national armies depended to a significant degree on the mobilization of reservists to bring both combat and logistic units up to wartime strengths. This mobilization process was a national responsibility, with marked differences between nations, resulting mainly from different traditions and legal systems. For all, however, it was an extremely complex operation.

To take just one European member as an example, in the 1980s the four-division-strong 1 (BR) Corps required substantial reinforcements to bring it up to war strength. First, there were four infantry brigades in the UK which had to be sent to Germany: 19th Infantry Brigade, which reinforced the Germany-based 3 Armoured Division, and the three brigades of 2 Infantry Division (two of them from the Territorial Army) which were responsible for rear-area security. Second, there were also the headquarters and support units of 2 Infantry Division, as well as two signals brigades to provide the rear-area communications systems and an engineer brigade for airfield repair. In addition to these, 1 (BR) Corps needed a vast number of individual reservists (former regulars with a reserve liability) to bring the regular units up to strength and to serve as battle-casualty replacements.

It should be noted that the UK would concurrently have been mobilizing other elements of its wartime forces. Most important of these was the United Kingdom Mobile Force, consisting of 1st (UK) Infantry Brigade, air-force elements and a large logistic ‘tail’, all of which was entirely UK-based. This required many reservists and Territorial Army troops to bring it to its war establishment before it moved to its most likely destination, Denmark. Mobilization was also required for the forces committed to tasks within the UK, principally for ‘home defence’ (i.e. the security of the UK base).

The numbers available to meet these requirements varied over the years, but in 1987 the UK had some 160,000 reservists, while the Territorial Army comprised some 85,000 men and women, most of whom were in formed units. The procedures involved in the mobilization and reinforcement of 1 (BR) Corps were given two full-scale rehearsals, the first in Exercise Crusader in 1980, the second in Exercise Lionheart in 1984. These involved moving some 15,000 troops in forty ships, and a further 15,000 by air (5,000 in air-force aircraft, 10,000 in civil aircraft); forty-nine trains were needed, as well as some 15,000 vehicles. All this involved a vast amount of road movement and large numbers of troops passing through civil and military airports, harbours and railway stations.

In a time of international tension, the calling-up of the individuals, the mobilization of the Territorial Army (both of which required parliamentary authority), and moving them all (plus, in the case of formed units, their vehicles and equipment) to Germany and Denmark would have been an even more massive operation, and could never have been hidden from the British public, the media or the Warsaw Pact.

There were numerous choke points which would have been vulnerable to hostile action, either from direct attack by Warsaw Pact forces or from sabotage and other interference by Warsaw Pact agents or anti-war protestors. Such vulnerable points included a relatively small number of ports and airports in south-east England, and in Germany and the Low Countries.

Crossing the Channel was a problem which did not affect other European countries, but their mobilization would have been as massive in scale and equally impossible to hide. The German Bundesheer, for example, required to mobilize approximately 1 million reservists for the regular army and a further 450,000 for the territorial army, all within the space of ninety-six hours.

The United States not only had a far wider water gap to cross, but was also committed to transporting much greater numbers to reinforce both the Central Front and the northern and southern flanks. This commitment included six divisions (some 90,000 troops), most of whom would have flown to Germany, where they would have picked up pre-positioned weapons and equipment (POMCUS), and approximately sixty air squadrons, for which the aircraft would have self-deployed, with the manpower moving by air transport. All these were scheduled to arrive over a ten-day period, with regular units arriving first, followed by army and air-force reserve units, then the Air National Guard and finally the National Guard (army). Also moving to Europe, but in this case by sea, would have been three Marine Amphibious Brigades.

The US mobilization system was based on flexibility. The president had the authority to mobilize up to 200,000 reservists for a maximum of ninety days (as was done in the 1961 Berlin crisis), or, if he declared a state of national emergency, up to 1 million reservists for twenty-four months. Congress could then have confirmed the national emergency and authorized the calling-up of all reserves. All reservists were obliged to report to their mobilization centres within forty-eight hours of receiving notification, but the majority would have needed some form of training before their onward move to Europe.

It was also planned that the draft would have been restarted to generate trained men after a gap of several months, although this would inevitably have caused short-term dislocation and required a number of trained and experienced officers and NCOs to set it in motion. The National Guard and Air National Guard would also have been mobilized and deployed as formed units, and it was estimated that all National Guard divisions scheduled to move to Europe would have arrived in less than thirty days after the mobilization order had been issued.

The massive planned move to Europe would have required a large force of aircraft and ships, for which an ‘Airlift Emergency’ would have been called. This would have enabled 171 commercial aircraft to have been available within twenty-four hours and a further 268 within forty-eight hours. The problem with the ships earmarked to transport heavy equipment was that they could have taken anything up to four weeks to reach the embarkation ports, and in most cases would also have needed to offload, before they could take on the Department of Defense passengers or cargoes. US mobilization and deployment plans were regularly practised in a series of exercises: air exercises were designated ‘Reforger’ (Reinforce Germany), while sea exercises were designated ‘Ocean Safari’.


The situation within Germany and the Low Countries would have been without precedent. First, mobilization within those countries would have been taking place on a massive scale, with some 2 million men and women travelling to their reporting depots. Second, 60,000 British and some 300,000 US troops would have been moving into Germany, landing at a variety of service and civil airfields and ports. In the Low Countries four British infantry brigades (plus signals brigades and an engineer brigade), with virtually all their equipment and vehicles, would have been disembarking to follow the Belgian and Dutch brigades en route to their wartime positions in Germany. Within West Germany these new arrivals would have joined hundreds of thousands of troops resident in the country (and their vehicles, tanks and guns) as they too deployed to their wartime positions.

There would also, without a doubt, have been a serious problem with refugees fleeing in a westerly direction, which could well have caused serious delays to the reinforcement forces endeavouring to move eastward and could also have interfered with plans to demolish bridges. The problem was (and remains) completely unquantifiable, but it seems reasonable to assume that it would have been on a massive scale. The most immediate fear of the civil population would have been of becoming involved in the fighting, especially as they would have assumed that nuclear and possibly chemical weapons would be used. On top of that, however, would have been German folk memories of the atrocities committed by Soviet troops following their conquest of eastern Germany in 1945.

The only possible precedents were the flow of refugees during the 1940 German invasion of France and the Low Countries, and the 1944–5 flight of ethnic Germans in front of the Soviet advance into Germany. The refugees of those days were, however, virtually all on foot (or, in the case of a proportion of the Germans along the Baltic coast, travelled by sea), while those in any war in Europe in the 1980s would have been predominantly in vehicles – at least until they had exhausted the fuel stocks along their routes.

Control of refugees was a national responsibility, which, as far as the Central Front was concerned, meant Belgium, the FRG and the Netherlands, but whether these countries would have been able to cope and to keep the routes clear for troops moving in the opposite direction is a matter for conjecture. There was also a NATO Refugee Agency, whose task was to provide a consultation forum and to co-ordinate actions in war, but it was certainly not an executive agency and could, at best, only have provided cross-border co-ordination.


Although NATO laid down guidelines, logistical support was a national responsibility, one major consequence of which was that national lines of communication (LOC) stretched rearwards from the operational corps to the home country. For the Danes, the West Germans and the French this presented few problems, but for the others it was a major headache. The Belgian and Dutch LOC were several hundred kilometres long, but at least they were all overland, whereas the British not only had much greater distances to cover, but also had to cross the English Channel from ports in south-east England to ports on the Belgian, Dutch and German coast.

Worst of all was the position of the United States. Not only had it to cross the Atlantic, but also, following the expulsion of NATO facilities from France, its maritime LOC terminated in ports on the German and Dutch North Sea coast (principally Bremerhaven) and thereafter its supplies had to be transported by road and rail down the length of Germany – along routes which ran parallel to the IGB and within easy reach of any Warsaw Pact thrust.

There were many logistical problems, but one merits mention: that of war stocks, and in particular of ammunition. The level of war stocks was not as glamorous and vote-catching a subject as the number or quality of tanks or artillery pieces, but in the event of an actual attack those weapons would have become useless without an adequate and timely supply of ammunition. Throughout the Cold War, artillery, tanks and small arms became capable of ever higher rates of fire. Indeed, the appetite of weapons such as the Multiple Rocket-Launcher System was so voracious that the cost and capacity of the resupply system became a major constraint in both their purchase and their use.

The NATO requirement was that nations should hold ammunition stocks based on the calculated requirement for thirty days of use, but there was always some doubt about the validity of the figure. Indeed, one of the major lessons of post-Second World War conflicts such as the Korean, Middle East, Vietnam, Falklands and Gulf wars was that ammunition expenditure was greatly in excess of peacetime predictions. For example, the British noted after the Falklands War that one of the lessons learned was that ‘rates of usage, particularly of ammunition, missiles and anti-submarine weapons, were higher than anticipated’.2 Many insiders consider this to have been a serious understatement, not least because, on the day the Argentine garrison surrendered, the British artillery had less than one day’s ammunition stocks in the theatre. During the Gulf War, the British land forces (essentially one armoured division of just two armoured brigades) required 104,000 tonnes of ammunition for initial stocks, while the total cargo which would have been required had fighting continued would have been 19,000 tonnes per week.3

The difficulty for NATO was that, with higher than expected ammunition expenditure, forward munitions depots would quickly have been stripped bare and national stocks would have been depleted to replenish them. But, owing to ever-reducing peacetime orders, many munitions factories had been closed and their plant sold off, and those that remained would have taken time to crank up production to meet the short-term requirements. Indeed, even if they had succeeded in doing so, their output could well then have choked the resupply system.

One solution adopted in the 1980s was a programme to build ammunition depots. These would have eased transportation problems in war, but, since they were difficult to disguise, they were vulnerable to sabotage and to air attack. A further difficulty was that, in order to be of any value, such depots needed to be relatively close to the projected deployment areas, which meant that in a surprise Warsaw Pact attack they might well have been overrun before the forward troops had deployed in sufficient strength to protect them.


As the Cold War progressed, it became clear that many formations and units in the Central Region were badly deployed in peacetime. In overall terms, the southern part of the FRG was hilly and heavily wooded, making it better country for defence than the north, which was much more open, less heavily wooded and in most places ‘good tank country’. Thus, in an ideal world, the US and West German forces, with their mass of armour and long-range anti-tank systems, should have been in the north. This would also have eased the US logistics problem. It would, however, have meant that the Belgians, British and Dutch, with further German support, would have been in the south. Not only would that have run in the face of history, but the exchange would have been extremely costly. In addition, the Belgians, the Dutch and in particular the British would have incurred severe logistic penalties, which they were much less able than the US to cope with.

Even within each nation’s forces, however, there were serious examples of bad deployment, where units required to deploy very rapidly to the front line in a crisis were located several hundred kilometres away in peacetime. This applied not only on a national scale, e.g. with the distance between Belgian and Dutch peacetime barracks in their home country and their deployment positions near the IGB, but also within national deployments in the FRG. Such problems were examined from time to time, but, though there were a few minor adjustments, a major reshuffle was always prevented by the huge costs that would be involved. Thus maldeployment simply came to be accepted as a fact of life.


It is clear that, in the ‘worst-case’ scenario of a sudden and unexpected Warsaw Pact attack, Central Region forces would have required substantial augmentation to bring them up to combat strength. In the first place, even the forward units in some armies would have needed individual reinforcements, which would have been found either by redeployment of regular soldiers (e.g. by closing down the training organization) or from reservists.

The increasing practice of locating major elements of the forward divisions and brigades in their home countries meant that, even if they were regular, they would take some time to arrive and would require valuable and scarce movement facilities, while reserve units would take even longer, having to mobilize and possibly also needing to carry out some training before deploying.

Despite all these difficulties, the NATO ground forces appeared impressive to the Soviets and they never once faced a major challenge.

United States Army before the Mexican War I



The United States Army had been in existence for nearly sixty years at the time of the Mexican War. During its history, the officers and soldiers had been called on to quell insurrection, repel invasion, and enforce the nation’s laws. Subjected to the whims of Congress, the regular army frequently underwent change. Crises always generated a flurry of legislation affecting the army, increasing or decreasing the number of officers and men to meet the needs of the moment. Once an emergency passed, the drive for economy and the fear of a standing army prompted Congress to slash the army’s budget, sometimes eliminating whole regiments at a time. In 1815, for example, Congress reduced the number of infantry regiments from forty-four to eight. If pressed for troops, the president could always call on the nation’s other military force, the militia.’

The basic structure of the American military was established during the early years of the Republic. The Constitution reserved the office of commander-in-chief for the president, a duty that President James K. Polk embraced during the Mexican War. Although his supporters called him “Young Hickory,” recalling his mentor Andrew Jackson, Polk lacked “Old Hickory’s” martial background. Despite his lack of experience in military affairs, Polk played an active role in planning the strategy of the Mexican War and in the war’s subsequent conduct.’

The nation’s founders placed the defense of the United States in the hands of the War Department. Officially created in 1789 as one of the three original executive departments, the department faced the immense task of overseeing all aspects of the nation’s military, both regular and militia. As secretary of war, the department’s chief occupied a seat in the president’s cabinet. William Learned Marcy filled the office from 1845 to 1849, consulting with Polk on departmental matters, the prosecution of the war in Mexico among them. Born in Massachusetts in 1786, Marcy had been admitted to the New York Bar in 1811. Active in state and national politics, he had held a number of governmental posts, including New York comptroller (1823- 29), New York associate supreme court justice (1829-31), U.S. senator (1831- 32), and governor of New York (1833-39), before joining Polk’s cabinet. Marcy is best remembered for his 1832 address regarding the spoils system, in which he remarked, “To the victor belong the spoils.” Such thinking would play an important role during the Mexican War.

Marcy could not exercise command in the field, as the War Department did not actually constitute part of the army; but through his office he issued the orders that implemented presidential directives and federal legislation that affected the mobilization, deployment, and maintenance of the U.S. Army. The War Department periodically issued guidelines, entitled General Regulations, that set forth the rules of organization and the operation of the military. The last prewar edition had appeared in 1841, but a new edition was published in 1847. In the preface to the new edition, Marcy states, “The General Regulations for the Army, revised and published in 1841, being exhausted, it is found necessary to publish a new edition, . . . so as to embrace alterations and amendments promulgated in orders, or taken from former Regulations, &c.” One major difference between the two editions of regulations is that the 1847 version omits many of the lengthy sections on the army’s staff department. In addition to the Army Regulations, troops were governed by another set of rules known as the Articles of War. Adopted by Congress in i8o6, the Articles of War laid down basic guidelines for behavior expected of officers and enlisted men. So important were these rules that the articles were supposed to be read to all enlisted men twice a year.

A specialized staff, divided into ten separate departments, assisted the secretary of war in managing the standing, or regular, army. The departments included the Adjutant-General’s Department, Inspector-General’s Department, Commissary Department, Medical Department, Ordnance Department, Pay Department, Quartermaster’s Department, Subsistence Department, Corps of Engineers, and Topographical Engineers. Each department oversaw some important aspect of arm’ life and was commanded by a career soldier. All the department chiefs had entered the service either prior to or during the War of 1812. In theory, the general-in-chief coordinated the activities of the departments; but in reality, the department heads often bypassed this link in the chain of command and communicated directly with the secretary of war.

Several categories of officers existed in the army: staff, field, and company. Staff officers planned and supervised strategic and logistical operations. Although the chief of each staff department held the rank of colonel, the ranks of other staff officers below him depended upon their level of responsibility. The second group of officers, called field officers because they were assigned to and commanded regiments in garrison and on campaign, consisted of colonels, lieutenant colonels, and majors. Company officers-captains and lieutenants-composed the third category and commanded the individual companies within each regiment. General officers, the highest ranking category of officers, exercised both staff and field duties.

The issue of rank caused much discord among the officer corps prior to the war and continued to be a sore spot when the army advanced against Mexico. One internal struggle within the corps was between officers of the line (those serving with regiments) and staff officers. Line officers often believed that staff officers received preferential treatment in such important matters as promotions and duty stations. Another equally contentious issue was that of brevet rank. Congress had the authority to bestow brevet, or honorary, rank upon an officer as a reward for good service or heroism in battle. Usually an officer with a brevet, although permitted to use the higher title, did not draw any more pay. However, he could receive the additional pay, as well as fulfill the duties commensurate with the higher rank, when an officer holding the actual rank was not present for duty. Brevet rank had been employed in the army since the War of 1812, and although not entitled to automatically assume the duties and privileges associated with the honor, many older officers had begun to claim that brevet rank actually superseded actual rank. When the army was at Corpus Christi, the debate became so rancorous that President Polk used his position as commander-in-chief to declare brevet rank inferior to actual rank. The decision reversed an early one made by the commanding general of the army, Maj. Gen. Winfield Scott. Outraged by the ruling that determined that Col. David E. Twiggs actually outranked him, Bvt. Brig. Gen. William J. Worth left the army just prior to the commencement of hostilities, thereby missing the battles of Palo Alto and Resaca de la Palma. Worth quickly withdrew his resignation and returned to duty, reportedly vowing to earn either a grade or a grave.

Noncommissioned officers (NCOs) formed an important level in the army’s hierarchy. The army’s many sergeants and corporals composed this extremely important class of enlisted men. Noncommissioned officers held their rank at the discretion of their colonels and captains and did not receive a commission from Congress. Each company had five sergeants and eight corporals who supervised the privates while the latter performed their duties. Men who were appointed sergeants or corporals had proven themselves knowledgeable both in the drill and in army regulations. Many had chosen to make the military their career. In accord with their rank, NCOs were entitled to certain privileges, such as a mess separate from that of the privates. The regulations warned officers not to reprimand a sergeant or a corporal in public, as this lessened the NCO’s authority. The senior sergeant, or first sergeant, kept the company’s records, conducted roll calls, and assigned men to various details. The first sergeant also was known as the “orderly sergeant.”‘

Managing the army in war and peace required the coordinated efforts of the army staff departments. These departments kept the army fed, clothed, armed, nursed, and paid, so that it could perform its duties when called upon by the commander-in-chief. Under the direction of the secretary of war and the general-in-chief, the staff departments quietly conducted their operations, engendering cohesion and standardization throughout the military. The officers and men of these departments played a crucial role, albeit one that was unglamorous and often overlooked.

The Adjutant-General’s Department linked the various components of the army together by acting as a clearinghouse for all official correspondence. In addition, the members of the department kept track of the health and whereabouts of all army personnel. Official documents such as general and special orders, morning reports, and court-martial proceedings were deposited in the adjutant general’s office at Washington, D.C. Arms- recruiting also fell under this department’s jurisdiction. Col. Roger Jones, a distinguished veteran of the War of 1812, served as adjutant general.

The Inspector-General’s Department, the smallest of the staff departments, carried out the vital task of evaluating the army’s performance. Officers in this department were attached to the office of the general-in-chief. In peacetime, two permanent members traveled throughout the country inspecting forts and camps; checking on the condition of the buildings, personnel, and material; and evaluating the army’s overall state of readiness. The tasks made it necessary for field officers from permanent regiments (regimental officers with the rank of colonel, lieutenant colonel, and major) to be detached from their units periodically and sent on inspection tours. Although this helped the overworked inspector general, Col. George Croghan, the practice had a detrimental effect on regiments by causing their senior officers to be absent, a problem the army encountered when war broke out.

The Medical Department oversaw the army’s health. In addition to establishing hospitals and dispensing medicine to sick and wounded soldiers, the officers of the department supervised the selection of posts and camps, to insure salubrious settings. Medical officers periodically inspected army provisions for mold, weevils, and worms. Regulations also required army doctors to examine all recruits. The surgeon general, Col. Thomas Lawson, directed the efforts of the Medical Department. The army assigned one surgeon and two assistant surgeons to each regiment. Contract surgeons-civilian doctors hired by the army-sometimes filled vacant positions. The Medical Department consisted of personnel other than surgeons. Hospital stewards (enlisted men with the rank of sergeant) acted as apothecaries and supervised hospital wards in the surgeon’s absence. In times of medical crisis, such as during epidemics or following battles, soldiers were detailed from the ranks to serve as nurses. Women hospital workers, called matrons, cooked and washed for patients. U.S. Army hospitals in Mexico sometimes employed local Mexican women as matrons.”

The men and officers of the army eagerly looked forward to the arrival of the officers of the Pay Department. The paymaster general, Col. Nathan Townson, presided over eighteen paymasters. Although army paymasters held the rank of major, they were not entitled to field command. The department had jurisdiction over all sutlers, civilian shopkeepers whom the government licensed to accompany specific regiments. Although sutlers often inflated their prices, soldiers lined up to buy luxuries that the army did not supply. These government-licensed merchants, who extended credit to men without money, had the right to stand beside the paymaster on payday and collect payment from customers with tabs. Some sutlers followed their regiments to Mexico. Although payday was supposed to occur every two months, on the frontier or on campaign it was common for long interludes to pass between the paymaster’s visits. In such cases soldiers did without cash or had to find other forms of currency. In one instance, volunteers and New Mexican merchants employed buttons, needles, and tobacco as currency when a paymaster failed to visit Santa Fe.”

Soldiers relied upon the Quartermaster Department to fulfill basic needs for food, clothing, and shelter. A permanent staff of thirty-seven officers, headed by Brig. Gen. Thomas S. Jesup, strove to meet this monumental demand. The department’s duties included providing permanent and temporary shelter, as well as transporting and issuing provisions for man and beast. Civilian teamsters, hired to assist the overworked enlisted men assigned to the department, drove the caravans of wagons required to keep the army supplied. Besides American employees, the department hired hundreds of Mexican mule drivers to transport supplies into the Mexican interior. The Quartermaster Department contracted with private ship owners to carry equipment and provisions to Mexico, in addition to operating its own Net of sailing ships and steamboats along the Rio Grande and the Gulf coast. The department also supervised the government workshops and private manufacturers that produced uniforms, tents, knapsacks, haversacks, canteens, and other items for the army. Military storekeepers were quasi-military employees who kept stocks of army supplies, inventorying all goods received and issued at government storehouses. So important were the department’s duties that Quartermaster General Jesup spent several months in Mexico with the army inspecting its operations.”

Army procurement fell under the joint jurisdiction of the Quartermaster Department and the Subsistence Department. Quartermasters had the authority to make purchases in locations where troops were operating, in order to satisfy the army’s immediate needs. Quartermasters bought meat, vegetables, fodder, and draft animals at Mexican markets. Quartermaster funds also covered the cost of transportation and lodging. Bulk rations, such as hundred-pound barrels of beef, pork, flour, and hard bread, were purchased by the eight officers of the Subsistence Department, who tried to secure high-quality provisions at the lowest possible prices. Col. George Gibson, the commissary general of the army, supervised the activities of the Subsistence Department.

Arming the military was the responsibility of the Ordnance Department. In addition to issuing weapons to the army, the department also supervised the production of muskets, rifles, cannons, gunpowder, and accouterments. While the department contracted with some manufacturers to produce arms, it also operated its own arsenals turning out thousands of weapons complete with accessories. These important duties were the responsibility of Col. George Bomtord.”

Although their duties sometimes overlapped, two separate departments of army engineers existed. Officers and men attached to the United States Engineers established and maintained the nation’s permanent posts and fortifications. The corps numbered nearly forty-five officers and was commanded by the chief engineer, Col. James G. Totten. The military academy tell under the jurisdiction of the U.S. Engineers. Col. John J. Abort held the office of Chief Topographic Engineer and directed the Topographic Engineers. Officers of this department surveyed routes for new roads and recommended sites for new posts. Active on the western frontier, the Topographic Engineers conducted many mapping expeditions throughout the mid-nineteenth century. Members of both corps figured conspicuously in fighting in Mexico, reconnoitering, marking trails, and supervising the placement of guns.”

Infantry, artillery, and dragoons formed the combat elements of the U.S. Army. On the eve of hostilities with Mexico, the army consisted of only eight infantry regiments, four artillery regiments, and two dragoon regiments. The various companies of these fourteen regiments of infantry, artillery, and dragoons were spread out across the nation at more than one hundred military posts. The war reunited some regiments whose individual companies had not served together for ten or more years.

According to one former army officer-turned-historian, Fayette Robinson, each regiment comprised “a miniature army,” as it contained all the elements of command and staff that existed in the army as a whole. The senior officers of the regiment-colonel, lieutenant colonel, and major and an appointed staff were responsible for the management of the regiment. Officers assigned to the regimental staff helped the colonel carry out his duties. Brevet second lieutenants fresh from West Point were assigned to regimental staffs, a duty that familiarized them with army operations while they gained experience supervising small details. The regiment’s quartermaster and commissary (officers such as the ones just described) provided for the immediate needs of the regiment. Another regimental staff officer, the adjutant, acted as the colonel’s secretary, freeing his commander from mundane paperwork. Selected from among the regiment’s more experienced and promising lieutenants, this important officer helped to mark the regiment’s place on the line of battle and on the march. He also trained the regiment’s noncommissioned officers in their duties and helped manage the regimental band. One surgeon and two assistant surgeons looked after the regiment’s health.”

A noncommissioned staff also assisted the colonel in running his regiment. At large posts, an ordnance sergeant repaired and maintained weapons and munitions in good condition and in working order. The sergeant major, the regiment’s senior enlisted man, acted as the adjutant’s aide. The chief musician-a sergeant-led the twelve-man regimental band that provided entertainment as well as the music to which the army marched and fought. A quartermaster sergeant assisted the regimental quartermaster.'”

Women played important roles in regimental life. Whenever possible, officers’ wives joined their husbands at permanent posts, allowing officers to maintain regular households with their families. Army regulations permitted each company to employ four laundresses to wash and sew for the amen. Like sutlers, laundresses attended payday to collect from soldiers to whom they had extended credit. Most women and children stayed behind when the troops marched off to Mexico; however, American women occasionally are mentioned in the letters and diaries of Mexican War soldiers. Writing on the first day of 1846, Col. Ethan Allen Hitchcock noted the lack of females with the army then camped at Corpus Christi, commenting dryly, “There are no ladies here, and very few women.”

A few women, disguised as men, made their way into the ranks of the American Army during the Mexican War. A woman in the ranks, however, was a rarity and caused a commotion whenever her disguise was penetrated. All known cases of women in the ranks involved volunteers who, unlike regulars, often did not have to undergo physical examination upon enlistment. One Alabama Volunteer passed off a female companion as his frail younger brother until the ruse was discovered. Caroline Newcome took the name “Bill” and served as a private in the Missouri volunteers until pregnancy betrayed her. A similar case occurred in the Mississippi volunteers. Popular attitudes of the day prohibited women from serving as soldiers, and all known cases of females found in uniform ended in disgrace for them and their accomplices.’

To facilitate management and deployment, regiments were divided into smaller components called companies. Ten companies, each commanded by a captain, constituted a regiment. Besides the captain, other positions of command within each company included one first lieutenant, one second lieutenant, five sergeants, and eight corporals. Sergeants performed the functions of quartermaster and commissary on the company level. Each company was divided further into two equal parts called platoons; the platoon, in turn, was divided into two smaller parts called sections. In 1842, Congress had established the maximum strength of each infantry and artillery company at forty-two enlisted men; but sickness, desertion, and detached duty caused the enrollment in companies to fall far below the prescribed number. Wartime legislation prescribed one hundred privates per company. Soldiers considered their company “hone” because they worked, played, ate, slept, and sometimes died within its familial environment. Each member of a company wore a letter denoting his company’s designation: A, B, C, D, E, F, G, H, I, K. The letter J was omitted, as it was too easily confused with the letter I.

Companies, battalions, regiments, brigades, and divisions provided the army with a simple framework for both logistical and combat organization. The army’s basic building blocks-regiments and companies-could be arranged in various combinations. A military unit of more than one but less than ten companies was designated a battalion and usually was commanded by a lieutenant colonel or a major, depending upon the unit’s size. A battalion usually consisted of companies from the same regiment, but under special circumstances this custom was ignored. A unit larger than a regiment, called a brigade, could be produced by placing two or three regiments together under the command of a brigadier general. Two or more brigades could be placed together under the command of a major general and organized into a unit called a division. Both brigadier and major generals were aided by officers who performed the various duties of the army’s staff departments. Several divisions operating in one theater, commanded by the most senior officer present, comprised an army. The U.S. Army, however, did not retain organized brigades and divisions in peacetime and employed them only in time of war.

United States Army before the Mexican War II

Infantry composed the bulk of all nineteenth-century armies. Troops of this class sometimes bore the designation “toot.” Armed predominantly with flintlock muskets, infantry consisted of two categories. Heavy infantry, also called infantry-of-the-line, were trained to fight shoulder to shoulder in rigid lines of battle. Light infantry, the second class of infantry, operated as skirmishers and fought in open order. In theory, a regiment’s two flank companies-those on the right and Ieft of the regimental line of battle-served as light infantry. In practice, however, all infantry companies in the U.S. Army received the same training and functioned equally well in either role. Officers instructed infantry recruits using a drill manual prepared for the army by the commanding general, Winfield Scott, and bearing the imposing title Infantry Tactics; Or, Rules for the Exercise and Maneuvers of the United States Infantry. For brevity’s sake, officers commonly referred to the manual and its drill simply as Scott’s.

Artillery, too, was categorized as heavy and light. Heavy artillery garrisoned the nation’s permanent fortifications. Artillerists of this class also manned the heavy siege guns used in wartime. Light artillery had undergone revolutionary changes prior to the war. Equipped with new, lightweight, horse-drawn guns, these mobile artillerists could maneuver and deploy rapidly, going into action quicker than ever had been possible betore. Because of their speed, they were called “Flying Artillery.” Although highly effective in Mexico, only five companies-or batteries, as artillery companies also commonly were called-had been equipped as light artillery at the start of the war. Although light batteries rarely exceeded six guns, instances occurred when eight guns were placed together. Capt. Robert Anderson’s translation of a French manual, Instruction for Field Artillery, appeared in 1839 and was used to train soldiers in the methods of field artillery. In 1845, the War Department adopted Maj. Samuel Ringgold’s newer manual for light artillery, Instruction of Field Artillery, Horse and Foot, which was based on the British system. Ironically, in the Mexican War, the majority of U.S. artillerymen were organized into a unit designated the Artillery Battalion and served as infantry throughout the war.

Unlike European armies, which had several classes of cavalry, the U.S. Army used only a type of light cavalry called dragoons. Armed with pistols, carbines, and sabers, dragoons theoretically could fight equally well on horseback or on foot. As an economy measure, Congress in 1842 had ordered the 2nd U.S. Dragoons dismounted and converted into a rifle regiment, an act that Ieft only one mounted regiment to cover the entire United States and its western territories. Fortunately, Congress reversed its decision and the regiment again was outfitted as dragoons in 1844, just in time to perform valuable service in Mexico. Mounted troops were referred to as “horse.” Although organized as regiments, in the case of the dragoons, a slight difference in structure existed. Squadron, a term used only in the dragoons, referred to a unit composed of two companies; no unit of equal size existed in either the infantry or the artillery. Prior to the war, Congress had established fifty privates as the maximum number allowed for a company of horse, but on May 13, 1846, the number was raised to one hundred. A government publication, entitled simply Cavalry Tactics, served as the basis of instruction for the dragoons. In May, 1846, Congress authorized an additional regiment of horse, the U.S. Regiment of Mounted Rifles. Armed with the Model 1841 Rifle in addition to the usual dragoon equipment, the regiment saw action in central Mexico as both light cavalry and infantry.

Two training manuals specifically written for the militia, or state troops, were widely used. The first, an abridged version of the manual developed by Winfield Scott for the infantry, had been in use since the early 1820S. The other, A Concise System of Instruction and Regulations for the Militia and Volunteers of the United States, first appeared in 1836 and was referred to as Cooper’s after the book’s compiler, Bvt. Capt. Samuel Cooper. Most regulars, however, believed that the militia generally lacked the training needed to make them useful in an actual military campaign. Many militia officers viewed the organization as a springboard to political office and used days set aside for drill for stump speaking.’

Disappointing the founding fathers’ hopes for a citizen army, the militia in the past had proven itself unreliable. During the War of 1812, for example, the New York militiamen had refused to leave the borders of the United States to take part in the invasion of Canada. In many cases, when the militia was called to active duty, a large portion of its members’ three-month term of enlistment already had elapsed; by the time they assembled and reached the front, the men clamored to go home. In many states, the militia had deteriorated into social clubs that met only a few times a year so that members could drill, eat, and drink. One other class of citizen-soldier existed within the framework of the U.S. military tradition: the volunteer. Troops of this class occupied a position between the enrolled militia and the regular army.”

Congress looked to Europe for models for the American military. A series of military disasters during the early years of the War for Independence convinced George Washington and others that the country needed a disciplined force for its defense, especially when the toe was a well-trained professional army like that of Great Britain. The legendary winter spent at Valley Forge under the tutelage of a self-proclaimed Prussian nobleman, Baron von Steuben, transformed Washington’s collection of troops into a disciplined army that began to match the British in their own kind of warfare. Von Steuben’s Regulations the Order and Discipline of the of the United States was adopted by the Continental Congress in 1779 and remained the standard drill for the American army until 1812. Manuals that replaced Steuben’s continued to be based upon European systems of drill.

More than any other, one man came to represent the European military tradition in America-Winfield Scott. Born in Petersburg, Virginia, on June 13, 1786, young Scott originally intended to practice law, but the growing tension between the U.S. and Great Britain caused him to change his plans. On May 3, i8o8, following a brief period as a volunteer, he accepted a commission as captain of light artillery in the U.S. Army. Recognized for his diligence and attention to duty, Scott saw his star rise steadily. He reached the rank of lieutenant colonel in 1812, at the age of twenty-six. Assigned to the 2nd U.S. Artillery, Scott in October of that year participated in the American attack on Queenstown. There he was forced to surrender, along with the other troops, when reinforcements of New York militia refused to cross into Canada and come to their aid. Paroled the following month, Scott was both promoted to colonel of his regiment and appointed adjutant general. Like von Steuben, Colonel Scott believed in strict discipline and rigorously exercised his troops at every opportunity. Congress promoted the twenty-nine-year-old Scott to the rank of brigadier general on March 9, 1814.

Scott soon gained a reputation for commanding one of the best-trained brigades in the army. At the Battle of Chippewa on July 5, 1814, Scott’s brigade-dressed in coats of militia gray instead of U.S. Army blue-met and drove British regulars from the field, causing the stunned redcoats to cry out, “Why, these are regulars!” Several weeks later, on July 25, the Americans again clashed with the British at Lundy’s Lane, near the Falls of the Niagara. Although both sides claimed victory, the American army had battled it out with British regulars, at last proving itself a worthy opponent. Severely wounded in the fight, Scott recovered and won a major general’s brevet for his actions at Chippewa and Lundy’s Lane. After only six years in the service, the thirty-year-old Scott was the fourth highest-ranking officer in the army, inferior only to Jacob Brown, Andrew Jackson, and Alexander Macomb.”

In his elevated position, Scott continued to model the U.S. Army after those of Europe. Appointed in 1815 to a military board charged with formulating a new system of discipline (also called tactics), Scott went to Europe, where he observed the armies of other nations. Already familiar with the French system (which had guided the training of his regiment and brigade during the recent war), Scott borrowed heavily from it when he produced a system of tactics for the U.S. Army. An edition of the new manual appeared in print in 1817; later versions were published and republished in 1836, 1840, 1846, 1847, 1848, 1852, 1857, 186o, and 1861. An abridged edition designed for use by the militia went to press in 1830, but it was not used as widely as the version designed for the regular army. In 1818, Scott began collecting English and French books and essays pertaining to the governance of armies in garrison and on campaign. Drawing on this research, he compiled a new book, General Regulations. In 1825, Congress adopted this work as the official guide for governing the army. Scott’s military writings greatly shaped the development of the U.S. Army in the years prior to the Mexican War.”

Appointed general-in-chief of the U.S. Army in 1841, Scott already had gained a reputation for skill in the fields of diplomacy and politics as well. During the Nullification Crisis of 1832, President Andrew Jackson sent Scott to Charleston, South Carolina, to calm passions and urge restraint. In 1838, President Martin Van Buren sent Scott to the Canadian border to try to calm hostilities aroused after pro-British Canadians seized and burned an American ship, the Caroline, killing a U.S. citizen. Returning to the Niagara frontier where he initially had made his reputation, Scott quashed attempts at retaliation while shoring up American interests in the area. Scott’s high visibility in matters such as these placed him in contact with influential persons, and by 1839 leading politicians in the Whig Party were eyeing hint as a possible presidential candidate. Scott, too, viewed himself a worthy candidate for the White House and stood ready to answer the call.

Scott’s meteoric rise caused resentment among his peers. One of them, Brig. Gen. Edmund Pendleton Gaines, developed an intense, open rivalry with Scott over the issue of seniority. Gaines, who had entered the army as an ensign in 1799, had won praise for his defense of Fort Eric in August 1814. Unfortunately for Scott and Gaines, their respective commissions as lieutenant colonel, colonel, and brigadier general had been awarded by Congress on exactly the same days: July 6, 1812; March 12, 1813; and March 9, 1814. Both men received brevets as major generals, Scott’s for the action of July 25, 1814, and Gaines’s for that of August 15, 1814. At the war’s conclusion, the War Department declared Scott’s rank higher than that of Gaines, and the feud began. Scott claimed that his brevet to major general entitled him to the top spot, while Gaines contended that his years of service prior to Scott’s entrance into the army made him senior to Scott. The two generals attacked each other in the press. As late as 1845, Gaines was still pushing his case, writing that Scott had “labored for more than a quarter of a century past with far more zeal to cover me with calumny, and defeat my efforts … than he has ever labored to provide for the national defense and to defeat the invading foe.” In the army, old grudges died hard.”

Some veterans of the fighting along the Niagara who had served in Scott’s command survived budget cuts and made careers in the army. In 1825, Congress appointed Roger Jones, who had been assistant adjutant general in Gen. Jacob Brown’s division at Lundy’s Lane, to head the AdjutantGeneral’s Department. Two regimental commanders under Scott also rose to positions of prominence within the army. Col. Hugh Brady was given command of the 2nd U.S. Infantry on May 17, 1815, and was breveted to brigadier general six weeks later. Thomas S. Jesup received both his commission as brigadier general and an appointment as quartermaster general on May 8, 1818. William Jenkins Worth, who as a young lieutenant had served as Scott’s aide during the Niagara campaign, took command of the 8th U.S. Infantry as colonel on July 7, 1838. Newman S. Clarke, who acted as brigade major to one of the brigade commanders under Scott, was the lieutenant colonel of the 6th U.S. Infantry when the hostilities between the U.S. and Mexico commenced.

The commander of the 6th U.S. Infantry, Col. Zachary Taylor, entered the army as lieutenant in 18o8, the same year Scott received his commission as captain. Both men were Virginians, but the similarity ended there. Taylor, who grew to maturity on his father’s estate outside Louisville, Kentucky, built a solid war record, although it seemed mediocre compared to Scott’s successes. Assigned to duty in the Old Northwest, Captain Taylor won a brevet to major for his September 5, 1812, defense of Fort Harrison in Indiana Territory. Promotion to major came on May 15, 1814, the highest rank Taylor achieved during the War of 1812. Although many surplus officers were sent home in the reduction in force that came with peace, Taylor was told he could stay on if he accepted the lower rank of captain. He declined the offer; left the service on June 15, 1815; and briefly tried his hand at farming. Less than a year later, however, Congress reinstated Taylor as a major. Climbing slowly but steadily, Taylor was promoted to colonel in command of the 1st U.S. Infantry on April 4, 1832. During the Seminole War, Taylor and his regiment were sent to Florida, where on Christmas Day, 1837, the colonel scored a victory against the elusive hostiles at Lake Okeechobee. For this action Congress rewarded Taylor with a brevet to brigadier general. It was Bvt. Brig. Gen. Zachary Taylor-the Hero of Okeechobee and then colonel of the 6th U.S. Infantry-whom President Polk placed in command of the Army of Occupation.

Other differences set Scott and Taylor apart. Scott spent much of his career in the East. Cultured and refined, he delighted in the 1815 trip across the Atlantic Ocean that allowed him to rub shoulders with the elite of Europe. But success eluded him on the frontier. Sent west at the head of a column during the Black Hawk War in 1832, Scott and his men were prevented from reaching their destination by a cholera epidemic that erupted on their transport ships while on the Great Lakes. Although Scott won praise for his humanitarian efforts to comfort his stricken troops, he missed the opportunity for new military laurels. His lackluster performance in Florida elicited a court of inquiry to determine whether or not he had acted with vigor to subdue the Seminoles.

Taylor, in contrast, thrived on frontier duty. During the War of 1812, he fought and won several encounters against British-backed Indians. His postwar stations included Fort Winnebago, Wisconsin Territory (1816); New Orleans, Louisiana (1819); Fort Jesup, Louisiana (i8zz); Louisville, Kentucky (1824); Fort Crawford, Michigan Territory (1832); Florida Territory (1837); Baton Rouge, Louisiana (1840); and Fort Gibson, Indian Territory (1841). Taylor’s performance during the Black Hawk War and in Florida brought him a measure of national recognition as an Indian fighter. Additionally, his purchase of Cyprus Grove plantation near Baton Rouge tied him to the land. In short, Taylor came to symbolize the rugged West and Scott the sophisticated East.”

The sobriquets of both men indicated the obvious differences between them. Scott, known to love fine food and fancy uniforms, early on came to be called “Young Fuss and Feathers.” As he aged, the title changed to “Old Fuss and Feathers,” indicating that his penchant for high living had not lessened over the years. One soldier who remembered seeing Scott’s camp during the Seminole War remarked that the general “required a band of music, with a company of professed cooks and servants to attend them.” These refinements, he continued, likely never had been seen before in the wilderness and included several large tents and enough furniture to fill three wagons. This “grand panoply of war,” the observer contended, was “quite unsuitable for Indian bush fighting.” Anyone who stumbled upon Scott’s camp, he concluded, “would imagine that it was the train of sonic Indian nabob rather than the requisites of a republic[an] general engaged in warfare with a wild foe in a desert country.

In his dress and mannerisms, Taylor was the exact opposite of the aristocratic Scott. An observer of Taylor’s camp on the Rio Grande described its Spartan appearance: “There was no pomp about his tent; a couple of rough blue chests served as his table.” No fancy mess gear was in sight, just a tin serving plate holding a collection of black bottles, glass tumblers, and an earthen water pitcher. Taylor spurned military finery, preferring a simple civilian coat and pantaloons. Such clothing often caused him to be mistaken for a servant, farmer, or teamster-anybody but a general officer of the U.S. Army. His troops affectionately called him “Old Rough and Ready,” a name the public soon learned as well. One officer who served under Taylor in Mexico summed up the prevailing opinion regarding the general’s common touch when he stated, “He is essentially democratic in his nature.”

As soldiers and commanders, the two leaders approached war differently. Taylor often relied on straightforward action, as when he informed his army the day before Palo Alto that the enemy held the road to Fort Texas, and he planned to “give him battle.” As further evidence of his philosophy of attack, Taylor told his infantry commanders that their “main dependence must be in the bayonet.” He demonstrated this style of comnmand again during the first day’s action at Monterey, when he ordered two divisions to fight their way into the fortified town. Taylor always seemed eager to find the enemy and bring him to battle. Scott, on the other hand, planned battles meticulously and avoided rushing into unknown danger. His battles in central Mexico were characterized by his ability to maneuver and turn the enemy’s flanks, forcing the Mexicans to withdraw to a safer position to keep from being surrounded. Ironically, the American public, who expected heroic reports from the battlefield, failed to realize that Scott’s victories were the result of military skill, while Taylor’s were bought with blood.”

For many Americans, including the men who served under them, the war’s two most illustrious generals came to represent two different military styles: Scott, the aristocrat; and Taylor, the democrat. Scott consistently praised West Point-trained officers who served in his command, remarking that the presence of these men increased the effectiveness of his army fourfold. “Old Fuss and Feathers” held lavish dinner parties for his officers, at which he lectured them on such topics as the art of wine tasting. His campaigns resembled those of European generals, incorporating movement to avoid bloodshed. Ironically, Taylor personally disliked most volunteers, but the press and the public linked him with the freer style associated with the volunteer service. Writing soon after the battle of Buena Vista, Col. William B. Campbell expressed his view of both generals: “Taylor is the people’s man,” contended the colonel, “and he makes an impression on the soldiery.” Campbell claimed that “Gen’l Scott,” on the other hand, “makes no such impression as Old Rough and Ready.” Scott’s main fault, thought Campbell, was that, although he was a man of “great acquirements and genius,” he was “vain and light.” Campbell hit upon the key to Taylor’s celebrity, stating, “Taylor’s fame is complete and his popularity will be as overwhelming as was Genl. Jackson’s.” Here was a hero cast from the mold of Old Hickory himself. Unfortunately for Polk and his party, this “democratic” general settled in the Whig camp.

By the advent of the Mexican War, Winfield Scott, through his administrative ability and battlefield victories, had helped shape America’s regulars into a European-style army. But the transition was not yet complete. Although the number of professionally trained officers had grown significantly, many top officers had learned their lessons of war from experience, not textbooks. The homespun style of Taylor-the “Hero of Okeechobee”-still appealed to many Americans who had been reared on tales of the frontier. While the war would bring defeat to Mexico, it also would strike a serious blow at “democrats” in the army and so further professionalize the military.