Napoleonic Era: Austrian Army Reform I


A triumphant Archduke Charles of Austria-Teschen led the Austrians to victory at the Battle of Aspern-Essling.


The army had fought well but it had been out-generalled. After Ulm and Austerlitz, it was clear to the dynasty that two things were needed to offer the chance of success in any future struggle against Napoleon. First the Archduke Charles must be put in charge; and then the army had to be given time to train to adapt to modern warfare.

The Peace of Pressburg signed on Boxing Day 1805 did not impose a Carthaginian settlement on Vienna – that was almost to come in four years’ time – but the conditions were certainly onerous. As usual the Emperor Francis coolly summed it up in a letter to Tsar Alexander. The treaty, he wrote, ‘turned out to be capitulation before an enemy who pressed home his advantages to the full’.1 With that detachment and low-key logic which marked so many of Francis’s utterances, the Kaiser dispassionately concluded: ‘I have been forced to abandon part of my provinces so that I may preserve the rest.’ Amputation always signified life for the dynasty.

The ‘part’ that had to be sacrificed was significant: Venetia, Friuli, Dalmatia and Istria were all either rich agricultural lands or strategically important, although none of them formed part of the hereditary crown lands. The ceding of the Tyrol to Bavaria was another matter. The proud and tough men (and women) of the Tyrolean valleys spoke their own dialect and were fiercely contemptuous of outsiders. They only needed to hear a Bavarian accent for their hackles to rise. Heavy-handed Bavarian rule fuelled the embers of national revolt. The surrender of Lindau and the surviving Habsburg possessions close to Breisgau confirmed the anti-Habsburg arrangements in Germany.

These arrangements meant establishing the tapestry of German mini-states as dependencies of France. Baden and Württemberg had already been rewarded for their support of the Napoleonic cause. On 16 July 1806, the Napoleonic protectorate of the ‘Rheinbund’ confirmed the allegiance of sixteen princes of southern and western Germany who were now obliged, in the event of hostilities, to supply 65,000 soldiers to serve France. Amid great celebrations these little German princes, mediatised and much reduced, declared their wish to be forever separated from the German Empire. The Holy Roman Empire, which had been a Habsburg prerogative, had become an empty shell; its prestige diminished, its utility dismantled. Faced with the choice of the crown of Charlemagne or the guns of Napoleon, the leaders of these Lilliputian states had embraced collaboration.

Five days later, Emperor Francis laid aside the sacred regalia of the Holy Roman Empire and the magnificent crown of Charlemagne and never wore them again. Two years earlier, prompted by the defection of the German princes, the Emperor had been crowned Emperor of Austria. From now on the old Austrian crown lands were to be the engine of Habsburg power and, because many of the inhabitants were German-speaking, the dynasty saw clearly the need to ignite the flames of German nationhood, to ‘fight fire with fire’.

With the tenacity of purpose which characterised Austria throughout this period, the Emperor supported this policy with a new programme of military reform. The keystone of this reform was, at last, the elevation of the Archduke Charles. Putting aside the petty intrigues and jealousies of the court, Francis appointed his brother ‘Generalissimus’, supreme commander, as well as President of the Aulic Council.

With his usual energy, Charles immersed himself in turning the Austrian army into a modern force, capable of holding its own against the French. This was no easy task. After Austerlitz, Napoleon stood at the zenith of his powers. He was a warlord who seemingly had never known defeat. Charles worked away at his reforms: new units of reserves, new tactics and drills, new formations and more cost-effective uniforms. Napoleon continued to wage war. A year after Austerlitz, the Prussians were wiped out in a single afternoon on the fields of Jena and Auerstädt. For once Napoleon was not exaggerating when, in his dispatch of 16 November 1806, he noted: ‘Of the Saxon-Prussian army we have found nothing left. All of 145,000 men have been either killed or wounded or taken prisoner. The King, Queen, General Kalkreuth and 10 or 12 officers are all that have escaped.’

The Archdukes create a Landwehr and a Reserve

The experience of the Napoleonic Levée en masse and the scale of the armies now waging war had left the Archduke Charles in no doubt that the Imperial forces needed to be recalibrated to incorporate a flexible and reliable reserve drawn from a wider base. The creation of the Landwehr (militia) and Reserveanstalt (reserve depot) went a long way to achieving this, providing a source of manpower that could release regular soldiers for the front line once hostilities broke out. Charles did not expect too much of the Landwehr at first, convinced as he was that Napoleon’s army could only be defeated by highly trained regular troops. It was left to his brother the Archduke John, whose travels around Alpine Austria had left him impressed by the calibre and patriotism of the local population, to pursue the Landwehr idea to its logical conclusion. A shattered Prussia and a demoralised mediatised constellation of princes created a vacuum that could only be filled by Austria. The Archduke John knew well how to exploit this and Charles was happy to let his brother get to work on the new It helped that the news of Prussia’s annihilation at Jena encouraged many German writers to place their hopes for liberation not in Berlin but in Vienna. Thus the great Prussian writer Heinrich Kleist (1777–1811) turned his creative talents to praising the Archduke Charles while his Austrian contemporary Heinrich Collin (1771–1811), whose Coriolan inspired Beethoven, composed a poem with a refrain that became the hymn of the newly established Landwehr:

Auf, ihr Völker, bildet Heere!

An die Grenzen fort zur Wehre!

(Awake you peoples: form your armies!

To the frontiers: grab your weaponry!)

To Collin’s cries were added those of the younger Ludwig Uhland: ‘Awake powerful Austria!’ and Ernst Moritz Arndt: ‘Awake Friends! Franz is our Emperor not Bonaparte!’ and finally, striking a note of almost Prussian vengefulness, Max von Schenkendorf: ‘German Kaiser! German Kaiser! Come to Avenge! Come to Save!’ (‘Komm zu rächen! komm zu retten!’). These sentiments were not entirely welcome to Emperor Francis, who was always suspicious of populism. When told that someone at his court was a patriot, he waspishly and famously enquired: ‘But is he a patriot for me?’ a phrase later transposed and immortalised by John Osborne’s 1966 play of the same name.

Napoleonic Era: Austrian Army Reform II


The Archduke John was so engaged with the Landwehr that he devoted most of the winter of 1808 to the organisation of the force and its training. Typical of the Archduke John’s devotion to the new unit was his insistence that orders and training were inescapably bound up with the idea of a ‘comprehensive defence of the land’ (umfassenden Landesverteidigung). Uniforms and weapons had to reflect local traditions. John fought many battles with the rigid Austrian military hierarchy to ensure that the militia were not forced to adopt weapons that were alien to them or drill that was adapted for more formal manoeuvres.

As John noted: ‘The utter concept of this method of waging war rests on movement and speed, cunning and courage, calm in critical moments: this is what we must encourage.’ The officers were urged to speak frequently with their men and involve themselves even with their domestic issues (häuslichen Angelegenheiten). At all times the officers of the Landwehr must demonstrate their ‘support and paternal comfort’. To help encourage these instincts of solidarity among the other inhabitants of the crown lands, the songs of Collin were translated into Polish, Czech, Slovene and Hungarian.

While John worked ceaselessly on perfecting the Landwehr into a credible force, instilled with a Befreiungshoffnungsrausch (the intoxicating hope of liberty), Charles worked away at the regular forces in an attempt to raise not only morale and discipline but initiative and prestige.

The period of service in the regular army was reformed. Instead of a lifelong commitment to ‘the colours’, service was now limited to men between the ages of 18 and 40. Fourteen years was the envisaged length of service in the artillery arm; twelve years in the cavalry and ten years in the infantry. Recruitment was by ballot and the prescribed term of service could, on expiry, be extended for a further six years through agreeing a ‘Kapitulation’. (This automatically offered a bonus and the right to marry while in service.)

A newly organised regular Reserve consisted of those who were eligible for military service but were superfluous to standing military requirements. Members of the Reserve were required to train each year but they retained their jobs and were not required to change location. During their annual training they would be paid for their military service as if they were regulars.

In addition to its permanent establishment, each Austrian line regiment came to have two Reserve battalions, members of which had to train for four weeks in their first year of service and three weeks in their second. By 1808, this ‘sedentary army’ had reached a strength of 60,000 men.

To ensure that the manpower once available to the Habsburgs in the German provinces of the Holy Roman Empire was not entirely lost through the supineness of their rulers, ‘Confinenwerbung’ (Frontier recruitment) replaced the old ‘Reichswerbung’ (Imperial recruitment). This enabled German volunteers to join the Austrian service.

The Archduke John’s Landwehr complemented this Reserve perfectly. Charged with the defence of the ‘Habsburg soil’ and including in its remit all men capable of bearing arms, not just those between 18 and 45, it drew on the experiences of the American War of Independence. For the first time in Habsburg history, the Landwehr developed the concept of a nation in arms. Uniforms were to be worn over civilian clothes and the individual companies that made up the Landwehr were divided between localities. The Landwehr enjoyed a strong local flavour not dissimilar to the Yeomanry regiments of the British Army, which had been raised a few years earlier (without the particular social structures of the English rural population which were perhaps only echoed by the feudal arrangements of the Hungarian lands).

Four Landwehr companies comprised a Landwehr battalion, which usually trained every Sunday. Each month, training in larger formations took place. In the event of one of the Imperial frontiers being threatened, the Landwehr would muster and take an oath of loyalty in front of the local commanding general of the area. As the Landwehr recruited locally, many middle-class professionals were automatically drawn to its commissioned and non-commissioned officer ranks. Those who had never wished to bear arms – teachers, professors, doctors and lawyers – were turned by the Archduke John into patriotic and well-drilled defenders of the dynasty. Only in Galicia and the Bukowina was the Landwehr not introduced, because the local population was still considered politically unreliable, due to the painful partition of Poland some fifteen years earlier. Elsewhere, the Landwehr slowly became a regular feature of the Imperial military landscape and would rise to the occasion in 1809 with singular heroism, bearing out John’s faith in the middle class he so greatly preferred to the aristocracy, whom he viewed as lethargic and gripped by a ‘longing for distraction’ (Zerstreuungssucht).

The creation of the Landwehr and its elevation to a well-trained force was an ambitious project which could not easily be perfected in the few years of peace between Austerlitz and the next round of hostilities. John was given the rank of Landwehrinspektor for Inner Austria (Styria, Carinthia and Carniola). He immediately set about imbuing the troops there with his ideals of a democratic defence of the regions along Spanish lines. From the summer of 1808, the uprisings of the Spanish militia and their successes had illuminated the Austrian military horizon like flashes of inspired lightning. But discipline in these newly formed units was still far from rock solid at home by the time hostilities began. Petrie notes how some units of the Landwehr had staged bayonet attacks against their officers and how two regiments refused to march at all.

As the news of these formations spread, Napoleon began to realise that Austria planned to challenge him yet again. In 1808 he had accepted assurances from Vienna that the Landwehr was not an aggressive force but in January 1809, while at Valladolid, he decided to leave Marshal Soult to pursue the defeated British from Corunna. By returning to Paris Napoleon hoped to discover in more detail the significance of the disquieting rumours reaching him from Vienna.

As the fateful year of 1809 began, war became increasingly certain. In March, the Archduke Charles hastily ordered the establishment of volunteer battalions. Thousands flocked to the Habsburg colours. In Bohemia alone, 6,000 men rushed to join the newly formed Legion Erzherzog Karl. In Vienna, six battalions of volunteers were recruited, mostly from among middle-class professionals. They would put up a formidable fight against some of Napoleon’s best troops.

Perhaps most important of all, the Archduke adopted a ‘corps’ system of army organisation which would be a key factor in the improved Austrian performance in the campaigns of 1809.

Mobility increased: The new Jaeger Corps and artillery reform

These developments were complemented by a strengthening of the Empire’s light infantry capabilities. In 1804 a ‘Jaegerregiment’ had been established from the different light infantry formations that had fought since the First Coalition War. This had been increased to become a ‘Jaeger Korps’, inspiring the Archduke Charles to establish eight full battalions of Jaeger by 1808. Crack elite troops drawn from the Alpine valleys and forests, these were soldiers noted for their strong mental and physical qualities, but their elevation reflected other political considerations.

The proven quality of Austrian Alpine troops had led to the Tyrolean ‘Landmiliz’ being established from the remnants of the century-old Tyrolean ‘Verteidigungsmiliz’ or defence militia. Though Tyrol was now nominally part of Bavaria, the Tyroleans secretly organised themselves with little encouragement into a formidable irregular force of some 20,000 insurgents ready to strike as soon as Vienna gave the word. The incorporation of all these Alpine units into the coming campaign imparted something new to the army the Archduke Charles was creating: these forces would be the Habsburgs’ first ever Volksheer (People’s army).

These developments were only part of the process of bringing the Imperial forces into the new century. They were accompanied by equally significant reforms in drill and tactics. Artillery was reorganised into a distinct and wholly independent tactical unit. The Archduke abolished the old reliance on tactical lines of batteries supporting infantry in favour of more mobile formations, drawing on the experience of Napoleon’s more inventive use of artillery. The brigade artillery was divided into batteries of eight guns while horse-artillery batteries would comprise smaller, more agile units of four guns and two howitzers, The so-called static artillery (Positionsbatterien) would be made up of four heavy guns and four howitzers. Garrison artillery was divided into fourteen districts to reduce the century-old exclusive dependence on Bohemia.

The Archduke John was appointed commandant of engineers and, in the short time available, he established a strong line of defensive forts along the French model. One of these, Komorn on the Danube, was fortified under Chasteler and would serve Austria well in the coming campaign.

Similar reforms awaited the infantry. Although the grenadier battalions were still denied regimental status, they were now formally grouped on a permanent basis into a ‘Grenadier Korps’, which was to serve as a tactical reserve directly under the command of the FZM or FM of any campaign (Feldzeugmeister or Feldmarschall).

In addition to the Grenadier Korps, the infantry now comprised 63 line regiments, one Jaeger regiment of eight battalions and 17 Grenz regiments (including the Czaikistenbattalion: boat crews on the Banat Military Frontier). Each regiment comprised five battalions, each of these made up of four companies. Cavalry was divided into eight Cuirassier, six Dragoon, six Chevauxleger, 12 Hussar and three Lancer regiments, each of eight squadrons. This gave a slight preponderance to light over heavy shock cavalry and again emphasised the need for greater mobility in the arm.

The new ‘Generalgeniedirektor’, the Archduke John, reorganised the structure of the Engineer corps, which was commanded by 145 officers, of whom nine were of general rank to reflect the corp’s importance. A Mineurkorps and Pontonier battalion (sappers) of six companies were also placed under Archduke John’s control.

Overhaul of staff and the Hofkriegsrat: New tactics: the Mass

After the fiasco of Weyrother’s staff work at Austerlitz, the Archduke Charles ordered a total overhaul of the Austrian staff system. The Generalquartiermeisterstab (General Quartermaster Staff) was organised into a logistics staff comprising one general, 24 staff and 36 senior officers. Military transport was divided into divisions based on the regional capitals.

No less important was the overhaul of the venerable Aulic Council or Hofkriegsrat whose lack of support Charles had so often experienced in the previous five years. This institution was now split into four subdivisions with responsibility for: (1) military affairs; (2) political-economic issues; (3) artillery and engineering issues; and (4) judicial and legal matters. (Subdivisions 1 and 2 were the critical parts of the Council because they dealt with the issues of uniforms, training, recruitment and equipment.)

Charles was formally placed above the Council so that the chain of command was entirely unambiguous. At the same time the forces of the Empire were divided into corps formations which, in 1808, were assigned to the individual crown lands. Each corps had its own internal organisational structure, General Staff, artillery commander and quartermaster so that in the event of hostilities it could operate completely independently of any other military unit.

Changes were introduced to enable weapons drill to become simpler. On 1 September 1807, the new Reglement for infantry was introduced. Besides simplifying certain parts of musket drill, it reinforced marksmanship skills significantly. Every infantryman in the Austrian army now had to hit a certain number of targets, shooting from a distance of 300 paces, if he was to continue to serve. Fire discipline and formation drill were also strongly emphasised in training. A new quick-pace drill (120 paces a minute) was introduced to speed up movement and reactions. At the same time more complicated drills such as firing while marching in oblique formation, a relic of the Frederician wars, were dropped.

In their place came some of the Archduke’s own ideas of tactical formation, which his military theorising had evolved after careful study of Napoleonic techniques. Notable among these was the ‘Mass’, a formation that drew infantry into flexible lines, capable of withstanding (even in theory on occasions charging!) cavalry and column attack. The ‘Mass’ in its novel use of company front and support lines became a hallmark of the 1809 Austrian infantry tactics and generally served them well.

The 1806–7 regulations also humanised discipline: ‘All forms of maltreatment and heavy-handedness in the drilling of a soldier are firmly forbidden. Brutality is usually the evidence of some lack of knowledge and destroys that self-respect which must be at the very heart of a soldier.’

To save money, the expensive classical helmet that virtually every unit of the Austrian army wore was to be replaced by a cheaper black felt shako. By 1809, not all of the Hungarian infantry regiments had been equipped with these, so Austria went to war against Napoleon more or less attired as she had been at Austerlitz, though with an army which had digested many useful lessons in the art of war.

In the whirlwind of reforms, the Archduke Charles left no stone unturned: new cadet companies were established in Olmütz and Graz while the Wiener Neustadt Academy was reorganised to lengthen the time of study to eight years. Everywhere the Archduke did his utmost to ensure that, when it came to the next measuring of swords with Napoleon, the Austrians would be in better shape. It was a desperate race against time.

Another two years, perhaps even another eighteen months, and most of these reforms would certainly have borne fruit. However, fate dictated that Austria would wage war once again against the Archduke’s wishes and before she was ready. But that the campaign of 1809 was fought with such glory for Austrian arms is entirely due to the Archduke Charles. Europe stood at Napoleon’s feet; only the insurgency in parts of Spain and the refusal of London to treat prevented him dominating the entire Continent. With Prussia vanquished and Russia pacified, Austria was under no illusions that she stood alone. Neither England nor Spain could offer her a single soldier or gun. Prussia, broken and dismembered, with her armies ruined, could barely offer moral support, and when some officers urged support for the Austrians, their spineless and weak King would have none of it. England, her treasury at a low ebb, offered diversions but none of these came to pass until long after the campaign on the Danube was over.

Major Generals Three


William Howe. The senior-most of the three major generals sent from Britain to Boston in the spring of 1775, Howe was a skilled and innovative commander. But his heart was not in the war, and he would take much of the blame—unfairly, as it turned out—for the high British casualties at Bunker Hill.


Sir Henry Clinton. Contentious, shy, and difficult, Clinton was the most learned of the three newly sent British major generals. He would play an important part in the closing phases of the Battle of Bunker Hill. In later life, Sir Henry obsessed over his role in the battle, and was firmly convinced that the battle would have gone better for the British if Thomas Gage had listened to his advice. Portrait by Andrea Soldi.


Sir John Burgoyne. Burgoyne was by no means the equal of leaders like Howe and Clinton, but his boisterous presence in Boston after May 1775 helped to bolster sagging British morale. Portrait by Sir Joshua Reynolds.

The most anticipated arrival, though, came on Thursday, May 25, 1775. HMS Cerberus, a sixth-rater of twenty-eight guns, threaded its way into Boston harbor late that afternoon. As the crew brought the warship alongside the Long Wharf and secured it there, a crowd gathered to greet its distinguished guests. The first was a courier, bearing the welcome news—welcome to Admiral Graves, at least—that Graves had been promoted to Vice Admiral of the White, a considerable distinction, given his unimpressive performance thus far. Then came the real attraction: the three major generals. William Howe, Sir Henry Clinton, and Sir John Burgoyne stumbled clumsily down the gangplank and onto the wharf, where they were quickly whisked away to Gage’s headquarters at Province House.

They made a curious and unlikely trio. Not one of them had been eager to come to America, and in fact each of them had protested against his orders. But no one else was suitable. Jeffrey Amherst, the highest-ranking general in the service and a hero of the French and Indian War, had steadfastly refused to go; he knew, probably better than anyone save Gage, how quickly a tour of duty in America could wreck a career. Gage’s second-in-command, Major General Sir Frederick Haldimand, was an experienced soldier and had been a capable administrator in Canada. He had been in Boston since the previous fall—Gage had called him in after the Powder Alarm—and Gage had given him very little to do while he was there, but still Sir Frederick knew the situation on the ground intimately. Haldimand’s main failing, though, was that he was Swiss-born, and the feeling in London was that a foreigner couldn’t be fully trusted in a domestic squabble such as the American rebellion.

As major generals, Howe, Clinton, and Burgoyne each ranked below Gage. They had not been sent to replace him—not explicitly, and not yet—but their presence had a meaning that poor, frustrated Gage could not mistake: they were there to remind him that the king and Parliament expected action, immediate action, and that the rebellion must be crushed now.

William Howe was the senior of the three in rank. He was well acquainted both with Gage and with America. He and his two older brothers had made their careers in the king’s service. Their mother was half-sister to King George I, which assured them of rich opportunities and a good life, but all three proved themselves to be exceptional leaders. George Howe, one of the most capable British commanders in the French and Indian War, would almost certainly have risen to the very highest ranks had his life not been tragically cut short by a French musket ball during Abercrombie’s botched assault on Fort Carillon in 1758, gasping out his last breaths in the arms of his friend Israel Putnam. The provincials loved him—loved him so much that Massachusetts honored him with a memorial in Westminster Abbey. The third brother, Admiral Richard Howe, was already well on his way to a distinguished naval career.

And William shared their qualities. He had been an officer since the age of seventeen and had fought in Europe during the War of the Austrian Succession. It was in America, though, that Howe made his name. He was one of the younger, progressive officers—like Gage—who embraced the new tactics and the concept of specially trained light troops. In General Wolfe’s improbable assault on the fortress of Quebec, it was thirty-year-old Lieutenant Colonel Howe who led his light infantry up the Heights of Abraham, clambering up the sheer rock face as if he were a boy. After the war he was widely regarded in military circles as the foremost expert on light infantry and irregular warfare, and he spent much of 1774 training light troops on Salisbury Plain.

Like Tommy Gage, William Howe knew Americans, understood the American character, and though he found them wanting in some respects, he had a healthy regard for their abilities. Howe liked Americans and disliked the prospect of making war on them. One year earlier, as a solid Whig, he had been elected to Parliament from Nottingham on the solemn promise that he would never take up arms against the king’s subjects in America. He meant it. But the king had other ideas, appointing Howe to command under Gage. Howe had no choice; he obeyed his king. Many of his constituents, many of his fellow Whigs who sympathized with the colonials, were very disappointed in the general.

Despite his distaste for the assignment that had fallen into his lap, Howe was a good choice. There was probably no one in the entire army who so thoroughly fit the mold of an ideal soldier than Howe. He had an obvious physical presence, much like his later adversary Washington: he was six feet tall, broad-shouldered, and full-lipped, with a dark complexion and a stormy demeanor. Introspective and thoughtful, an excellent tactician and a passable strategist, Howe was nonetheless possessed of a common touch that made him invariably popular with the men who served under him. Physical courage accounted for part of that popularity; he was one of those rare commanders who would not ask his boys to do anything he wouldn’t do himself. On the other hand, his considerable charm was partly his undoing: Howe loved the high life and although married was very much a ladies’ man. His soft life showed in his noticeably ample midriff, and his love for women would eventually distract him from his duties.

In nearly every way, Howe was a very different man from the next general of the trio, Sir Henry Clinton. Clinton was only a few months younger than Howe but little like him in experience or character. He was actually born in America, where his father, Admiral George Clinton, served as a naval commander, governor of Newfoundland, and then governor of New York. After a brief and uneventful tour of duty as a junior officer during King George’s War, Henry left the colonies for Britain at the age of twenty-one. Family influence advanced him rapidly. By age twenty-six he found an appointment as aide-de-camp to Sir John Ligonier, soon to be commander-in-chief of the army in Britain; by twenty-eight he was a lieutenant colonel. He never returned to America—not until now, that is—and his extensive service in the Seven Years’ War was entirely on European battlefields. That was no minor issue. There was a divide, subtle but wide and tangible, between high-ranking British officers who made their careers in America and those whose experience was primarily European. Officers trained in the “German school” held themselves to be more erudite, more experienced in the kind of warfare that truly mattered, than their comrades who had wasted their lives fighting against irregular Canadian militia and wild savages. Little surprise, then, that Clinton was as unwilling as Howe to risk his fortune in America. “I was not a volunteer in that war,” he noted plainly in his memoirs. “I was ordered by my Sovereign and I obeyed.”

To his credit, Clinton was as well read and thoughtful as Howe, but he was not a particularly likeable man. Short, stooped, and introverted—“a shy bitch,” he once described himself—he was ready to perceive slights where there were none, ready to bristle at any kind of criticism. He was outspoken, which was not in itself a bad trait . . . but he had great difficulty finding merit in the views of others when they conflicted with his own. He felt smugly superior in being a product of the “German school,” and since Howe and Gage were pupils of the “American school” Clinton would, from the very moment he crossed the threshold of Province House, feel that his two superiors dismissed his opinions out of hand. Brilliant but suspicious, brave but difficult, Clinton’s personality would hamper his command effectiveness for the remainder of his career.

And John Burgoyne—“Gentleman Johnny,” as he was often called, for his aristocratic air and his sartorial tastes—shared almost nothing in common with either Howe or Clinton other than rank and nationality. At fifty-three, he was the oldest of the bunch, though it was hard to tell from appearances. John Burgoyne had a dashing but unserious manner and a handsome face, and although soldiering was his career it was hardly his life. Like most general officers, he had purchased his commission while yet in his late teens; he unintentionally put his career on hold early on, though, eloping with a daughter of the influential Lord Derby and taking up a voluntary exile abroad. He returned to the good graces of his father-in-law, and to his vocation, at the beginning of the Seven Years’ War, rising to the rank of lieutenant colonel in 1758. He proved valuable in promoting the concept of light cavalry in the British service, and justly earned a reputation for his progressive notions of military discipline—notions that included such revolutionary ideas as that officers should refrain from verbally abusing their men, and that even enlisted men should be treated as thinking individuals. In this sense, at least, Burgoyne was truly ahead of his time. Otherwise—except in his own estimation—he never distinguished himself as a soldier, and never would. What he prided himself on most, though, was his literary ability. Burgoyne fancied himself a playwright, penning two plays before called to duty in America. One of them, a maudlin little piece titled Maid of the Oaks, was produced just before Burgoyne’s departure for Boston in 1775.

In politics, Gentleman Johnny was just as flamboyant, though not without substance. As a member of Parliament he led the crusade against corruption in the East India Company, never shrinking from ruffling feathers when he felt it necessary. His attitude toward America was ambivalent. He had no connection to the colonies or the colonials; he counseled against the use of force, yet thought of America as a “spoiled child.” Plainly, Burgoyne had the least to contribute of the three generals aboard the Cerberus, and he knew it. He suspected that, as junior to Gage, Howe, and Clinton, he would be little more than a useless cipher. Burgoyne hoped that, perhaps, his connections back home might be able to wangle him another appointment—maybe in New York?—one in which he would have at least a chance to shine on his own.

Though the three generals were indeed very different men, close quarters aboard the Cerberus forced them to spend a great deal of time together. Howe and Burgoyne were naturally extroverted and outgoing; not so Clinton. Yet even the “shy bitch” had to be sociable—he was tortured by seasickness for the duration of the voyage, made worse by the cramped quarters that he shared with six other men, and only above deck in the open air could he find a small measure of relief from his illness. Here he, Howe, and Burgoyne fell into easy and familiar conversation, leading to mutual admiration and even something approaching friendship. “I could not have named two people,” Clinton wrote in his memoirs, “I should sooner wish to serve with in every respect.” The three men found, too, that their ideas on strategy were not all that dissimilar. “We do not differ in a single sentiment upon the military conduct now to be pursued,” wrote Burgoyne. Undoubtedly they did agree on one central principle: Gage had been needlessly passive. Yet even with Howe’s extensive knowledge of America, they had very little idea of what lay ahead in Boston’s gilded cage.

They were optimistic and boisterous nonetheless, and none more so than the perpetual actor Burgoyne. As the Cerberus approached Boston harbor on May 25, she hailed another vessel, and their captains exchanged news. Boston, as the crew and passengers on the Cerberus found out, was surrounded by warlike, armed, insolent Yankees who by their very numbers were able to keep Gage’s army immobilized. Burgoyne couldn’t suppress his theatrical nature or his wont to brag. Like an overconfident adolescent, he shouted to the captain of the other ship, “Well, let us in, and we shall soon make elbow-room!”

The Army Phillip Built


Phillip and his Companions. Johnny Shumate


The Macedonian phalanx by A. Karashchuk

Phillip was himself fortunate to be operating in the comparatively permissive environment of a Hellenic world destabilized by 150 years of major warfare that began with the First Persian Invasion about 492.

The Persian threat forced sweeping economic and political change on the deeply conservative Greeks. Before they could adjust fully to the new social realities, internecine Greek warfare reached apotheosis in twenty-seven years of titanic and suicidal struggle for domination between Sparta and Athens known as the Peloponnesian War. These conflicts left the former great powers of Greece diminished and vulnerable. Weakened classical Greek power, however, modifies, but does not entirely explain Phillip’s accomplishments. He still had to subdue numerous Hellenic states for whom war had become a near constant occupation and who could avail themselves of the impressive military innovations and refinements which desperate conflict had driven. To accomplish that, Phillip imaginatively combined, refined, and improved on the best military practices of his age.

In forging the Macedonian military machine Phillip created the first truly professional army in the Western world and established the template upon which all current conventional armies are based. He standardized equipment within formations organized according to their intended tactical function. The rank and file (volunteers as well as conscripts) were issued their kit gratis from government-operated armories and manufactories. Pay and remuneration were standardized according to military rank and duty without excessive regard to private status. Command and administrative structures were rationalized and made permanent with reasonable opportunity for advancement and recognition based (in part) on merit and demonstrated ability. Institutionalized provision was made for the full range of support functions from commissary through medical services to disability and veterans’ pensions. Indirect command and control was exercised through a regular and consistent chain of command from army down to squad with orders relayed by an elaborate system of voice commands, visual signals, and music. In contrast to the rather xenophobic and ad hoc tendency of the Southern Greeks, Phillip adopted and institutionalized the best innovations from both Greek and barbarian military practice, recombining these elements into a singularly effective and synergistic whole.

The Macedonian tactical system was based on four fundamental elements: Heavy Infantry, Light Infantry, Light Cavalry and Heavy Cavalry, but it also made indispensible use of traditionally armed troops, artillery and engineers, naval forces and the specialized skills of local troops as they were available. Phillip modeled his Heavy Infantry after the concepts of the mercenary general, Iphicrates, who had extended the traditional hoplite seven-foot stabbing spear into an eighteen- to twenty-foot pike. In order to effectively manage this heavy and awkward weapon with two hands, individual body armor was greatly reduced or eliminated and the large hoplon shield, from which Greek infantrymen (“hoplites”) derived their name, shrunk to a light buckler that could be suspended from the neck. The members of these modified phalanxes gained protection from the standoff provided by the deep hedge of iron-tipped pikes. Groups of heavy infantrymen were organized into disciplined “syntagma” or companies composed of 256 pikemen arrayed in ranks and files of 16 men each. The heavy Macedonian phalanx had relatively little tactical flexibility and was slow moving, but it could generate enormous momentum in the attack and could establish a formidably intractable defensive base.

Also following the ideas of Iphicrates, The Macedonians fielded large formations of Light Infantry – primarily missile troops called “peltasts” – who rapidly deployed in amorphous, but regulated formations to shower enemy troops with barrages of arrows, javelins, and lead sling bullets, relying on their own agility and mobility for protection. Light Cavalry also relied primarily on missiles as their primary weapons; either short javelins or arrows launched from composite bows. They performed the same range of critical tasks – scouting, flank security, envelopment, and pursuit that modern armies rely upon mechanized cavalry to perform. Under the right tactical circumstances they could even join a general assault against disorganized or badly positioned infantry.

Heavy Cavalry, although perhaps inspired by the eccentric practice of some wealthy steppe warriors, was Phillip’s unique military innovation and was a key to the Macedonian approach to set-piece battle. These were relatively heavily armored horseman armed with a 12-foot lance and a heavy slashing saber. They were mounted on large powerful horses selected for their aggressive spirit and conditioned through patient training to be steady in the confusion of close-quarters combat. Phillip used his heavy horse in the then-non-traditional role of mounted shock troops. He is even credited with developing the remarkable mounted wedge formation designed to penetrate and disrupt enemy infantry and cavalry lines. Although these heavy horsemen were originally drawn from the sons of the aristocratic elite (hence their famous status as “Companions”), they were eventually expanded to include formations comprising the “able” from more modest backgrounds and designated “hetairoi.” The same regularity and consistent command and control Phillip had imposed on his infantry was extended to his cavalry, which were organized into squadrons of 200-300 riders each divided into troops of 50-60. These innovations gave Macedonian cavalry a high degree of flexibility in deployment. They were capable of rapid changes in direction of maneuver and attack with minimal disruption to their formation. In addition to his role as overall commander, Alexander generally led the senior squadron of heavy cavalry as “Hipparch” and placed himself at the very tip of the lead assault formation.

As well as these basic tactical elements, the Macedonian system also comprised significant formations of medium infantry equipped similarly to the traditional Greek hoplite, but under more uniform organization and training. These medium phalanxes provided greater flexibility and mobility than the heavy pikemen and provided the essential connective link to the cavalry formations. They were also indispensible for specialist tasks such as leading a breach assault or escalading a wall in a siege, serving as marines in a naval fight, or providing a rapid infantry reaction to an unexpected threat or opportunity. Phillip also created the first regularly organized corps of engineers whose technical prowess and creativity transformed the ancient practice of siege craft. Under assault from the formidable Macedonian machines directed by highly skilled specialists, Phillip and Alexander successfully concluded their sieges not in months or years, as had been the traditional norm, but often in weeks – sometimes days. The equipment and techniques they developed continued to define siege warfare for millennia until they were eclipsed by the introduction of gunpowder weapons in 13th Century AD. The engineers were also critical in sustaining mobility over difficult terrain and bridging obstacles, an essential element in Alexander’s scheme of relentless, all-season warfare.

While less frequently mentioned by historians, naval forces also represented a vitally important capability for power projection and sustainment. Although generally inferior to the largely Phoenician fleet which served the Persian Empire, the Macedonian and allied Greek fleet was nevertheless critical in securing Alexander’s supply lines and protecting the transport ships which were the most efficient and practical means of transporting the hundreds of tons of food and material required daily by the army in the field.

Under Phillip, the Macedonian nobility was, for all practical purposes, transformed into a professional officer corps. Alexander could and did rely on a large group of capable subordinate commanders and staff officers. As complement to his own remarkable skills, Alexander was well served by a group of highly competent subordinate generals many, such as Parmenion and Ptolemy, justly famous in their own right and some of whom went on to rule powerful successor empires themselves.

Together, these elements made a military machine of unprecedented agility, flexibility, and sustainability capable of adapting itself to dominate virtually any tactical situation, project power across enormous distances and maintain a high operational tempo in difficult, poorly resourced environments far from its strategic base. So sophisticated was the Macedonian system that it even had what approached an institutionalized tactical doctrine in which light forces deployed to create or to deny the enemy tactical opportunities, the heavy infantry formed a solid base of maneuver, and the heavy cavalry was used as a “hammer” to smash through the enemy line then wheel and crush the enemy force against the heavy infantry “anvil.” The medium infantry formed the flexible continuity connecting the different formations ready to provide immediate support to the cavalry and missile troops or act as a reserve. Alexander appreciated the utility of this doctrine, but never allowed himself to be rigidly bound by it. He always found his army able to adjust itself rapidly to his sudden creative insights or unconventional inspirations.

In addition to these impressive capabilities, the Macedonian Army possessed one final attribute that was equally important in explaining Alexander’s unprecedented record of achievement. The Macedonian Army was a fighting force of exceptional and terrifying ferocity. The average Macedonian soldier was, even by the standard of his time, ruthless, relentless, and remorseless. Collectively the Macedonians displayed a singular bloody-mindedness seldom exceeded by any military force in history. Terror and intimidation were primary weapons in their arsenal and they used them with unapologetic vigor. Perhaps the only fundamentally original innovation of Alexander was his technique of aggressively and relentlessly pursuing a defeated enemy. In divergence from traditional Greek warfare and in stark contrast to Asiatic practice, Alexander sought not simply to defeat his enemies, but to annihilate them lest they later discover the temerity to challenge him again. It was in pursuit operations that the inherent ferocity of the Macedonian military found its most terrifying outlet. It is not the least irony surrounding Alexander that in his campaigns – ostensibly undertaken to restore Greek honor, liberty, and fortune lost in persistent conflicts with Persia he killed more Asian and Greek soldiers than had died in the preceding 150 years combined.

For all of the Macedonian Army’s extraordinary potential, to be effective, any military force must be well-led and directed, and it was the gifts of military planning and leadership that Alexander possessed in greatest abundance. It was a legacy of traditional Greek warfare that the military commander should put himself at risk by participating personally in combat. Alexander, in this as in so much else, took the “heroic” leadership model to an extreme. He generally placed himself in the thick of the most desperate fighting and plunged into the attack with reckless disregard for his own safety in the process setting a powerful example for his men. Arrian relates that during a siege of an Indian fortress, Alexander, impatient with the progress of his men storming the enemy wall, impetuously seized a scaling ladder and clambered to the top accompanied by just two companions. In the mad rush to join their commander, the Macedonians over-crowded and broke the ladders, stranding Alexander among the enemy. His men implored him to jump back down into the many arms waiting to catch him, but, espying the enemy commander in the interior court, Alexander instead leaped inside and killed the Indian leader in personal combat. In the process, this tiny group of Macedonians became the focus of the defenders and they were showered with arrows one penetrating Alexander’s lung. Alarmed and enraged, the remaining Macedonians swarmed over the wall to secure what they assumed would be a corpse. That he survived this commonly mortal wound says much about Alexander’s physical stamina and toughness (as well as the modern tendency to underestimate the sophistication of ancient medicine). In all, the various sources record that Alexander received a total of eight major wounds in combat at least two of them very nearly fatal.

Roman Auxilia


Warrior auxiliary cohort of Batavia , the second half of the 1st century AD.



Batavian auxiliary cavalry – Pablo Outeiral


The Roman Auxilia constituted the standing non-citizen corps of the Imperial Roman army during the Principate era (30 BC–284 AD), alongside the citizen legions. By the 2nd century, the Auxilia contained the same number of infantry as the legions and in addition provided almost all of the Roman army’s cavalry and more specialised troops, especially light cavalry and archers. The auxilia thus represented three-fifths of Rome’s regular land forces at that time. These soldiers were mainly recruited from the peregrini, i.e. free provincial subjects of the Roman Empire who did not hold Roman citizenship and constituted the vast majority of the empire’s population. The Auxilia also included some Roman citizens, and in times of great need, even freed slaves and barbarians from beyond the Empire’s borders. This was in contrast to the legions, which admitted Roman citizens only.

Roman auxiliary units developed from the varied contingents of non-Italian troops, especially cavalry, that the Roman Republic used in increasing numbers to support its legions after 200 BC. The Julio-Claudian period (30 BC–68 AD) saw the transformation of these motley temporary levies into a standing corps of regiments with standardised structure, equipment and conditions of service. By the end of this period, there were no significant differences between legionaries and most auxiliaries in terms of training, or thus combat capability.

At the start of Augustus’ sole rule (30 BC), the original core auxiliary units in the West were composed of warlike tribesmen from the Gallic provinces (especially Gallia Belgica, which then included the regions later separated to form the provinces Germania Inferior and Germania Superior), and from the Illyrian provinces (Dalmatia and Illyricum). By 19 BC, the Cantabrian and Asturian Wars were concluded, leading to the annexation of northern Hispania and Lusitania. Judging by the names of attested auxiliary regiments, these parts of the Iberian peninsula soon became a major source of recruits. Then the Danubian regions were annexed: Raetia (annexed 15 BC), Noricum (16 BC), Pannonia (9 BC) and Moesia (6 AD), becoming, with Illyricum, the Principate’s most important source of auxiliary recruits for its entire duration. In the East, where the Syrians already provided the bulk of the Roman army’s archers, Augustus annexed Galatia (25 BC) and Judaea: the former, a region in central Anatolia with a Celtic-speaking people, became an important source of recruits. In N. Africa, Egypt, Cyrene, and Numidia (25 BC) were added to the empire. Numidia (modern day Eastern Algeria) was home to the Mauri, the ancestors of today’s Berber people. Their light cavalry (equites Maurorum) was highly prized and had alternately fought and assisted the Romans for well over two centuries: they now started to be recruited into the regular auxilia. Even more Mauri units were formed after the annexation of Mauretania (NW Algeria, Morocco), the rest of the Berber homeland, in 44 AD by emperor Claudius. Additionally, independent auxiliary units were often the only Roman military force present in the inermes provinciae, or unarmed provinces, such as Mauretania.

Recruitment was thus heavy throughout the Augustan period, with a steady increase in the number of units formed. By 23 AD, the Roman historian Tacitus records that there were roughly the same numbers of auxiliaries in service as there were legionaries. Since at this time there were 25 legions of 5,000 men each, the auxilia thus amounted to 125,000 men.


The Batavi were accounted indisputably not merely as the best riders and swimmers of the army, but also as the model of true soldiers. In this case certainly the good pay of the bodyguard, as well as the privilege of the nobles to serve as officers, considerably confirmed their loyalty to the Empire.

The Batavians, according to Tacitus, were the most noble and brave of all the Germans. The Chatti, of whom they formed a portion, were a pre-eminently warlike race. “Others go to battle,” says the historian, “these go to war.” Their bodies were more hardy, their minds more vigorous, than those of other tribes. In times of war their young men cut neither hair nor beard till they had slain an enemy.

On the field of battle, in the midst of carnage and plunder, they, for the first time, bared their faces. The cowardly and sluggish, only, remained unshorn. They wore an iron ring upon their necks until they had performed the same achievement, a symbol that they then threw away, as the emblem of sloth. The Batavians were always spoken of by the Romans with entire respect. They conquered the Belgians, they forced the free Frisians to pay tribute, but they called the Batavi their friends. The tax-gatherer never invaded their island. Honorable alliance united them with the Romans.

“The barbarians thought the Romans would not be able to cross this [the River Medway] without a bridge, and as a result had pitched camp in a rather careless fashion on the opposite bank. Aulus Plautius, however, sent across some Celts who were practised in swimming with ease fully armed across even the fastest of rivers. These fell unexpectedly on the enemy”.

Cassius Dio ‘ The History of Rome’.

One of the Batavians most renowned skills was the method they employed to cross wide bodies of water en-masse, such as the Ems during Germanicus’ campaigns in Germany and the Po in the civil wars of A.D.69 where several foot soldiers would swim alongside a single cavalry soldier and his horse, presumably keeping their weapons above water by using the horse as a kind of living raft. Their tactics have been identified in use under Aulus Plautius during the Battle of the Medway in AD43 and also under the governor G. Suetonius Paulinus. The auxiliary troops who crossed the Menai Straits onto the Isle of Anglesey to destroy the Druid stronghold there were in all likelihood Batavian units. It is thought that in the army of Plautius there were eight Batavian units, each five hundred strong.

The historian Cornelius Tacitus (c.55-c.120) refers to the Batavians;

“He therefore prepared to attack the island of Mona which had a powerful population and was a refuge for fugitives. He built flat-bottomed vessels to cope with the shallows, and uncertain depths of the sea. Thus the infantry crossed, while the cavalry followed by fording, or, where the water was deep, swam by the side of their horses.”

Cornelius Tacitus ‘The Annals of Imperial Rome’..

”Depositis omnis sarcinis lectissimos auxiliarium quibus nota vada et patrius nandi usus, quo simul seque et arma et equos regunt, ita repente inmisit, ut obstupefacti hostes, qui classem, qui navis, qui mare expectabant, nihil arduum aut invictum crediderint sic ad bellum venientibus”.

”After dropping all baggage he quickly sent the most elite of the auxiliaries, who were familiar with shallows and traditionally used to swimming in such a manner that they kept control over arms and horses, to the effect that the flabbergasted barbarians, who expected a fleet, who expected a ship across the sea believed that nothing was hard or insurmountable to those who went to war in this fashion”.

Tacitus ‘Agricola’ 18.4

Vegetius gives us some insight as to how the Batavians achieved such a feat:

“Expediti vero equites fasces de cannis aridis vel facere consueverunt, super quos loricas et arma, ne udentur, inponunt; ipsi equique natando transeunt colligatosque secum fasces pertrahunt loris”.

“Battle ready horsemen though have been accustomed to make bundles from dry reeds or, on these they put the body armours and weapons, in order that they do not get wet; they themselves and their horses cross by swimming and they draw the packed bundles along with them with leather straps”.

Vegetius, Epitoma rei militaris 3.7

Dio Cassius Comments upon Hadrian and the rigorous training that he insisted his troops be tutored in. In one passage he refers to the Batavians (Presumably the emperor’s personal horse guards) and their river-crossing abilities.

“So excellently, indeed, had his soldiery been trained that the cavalry of the Batavians, as they were called, swam the Ister with their arms. Seeing all this, the barbarians stood in terror of the Romans, they employed Hadrian as an arbitrator of their differences”.

(Dio Cassius Liber LXIX 9.6)

The implication is that the Batavians possessed a unique skill. However, there is a gravestone of a certain Soranus, a Syrian trooper in a Batavian milliary cohort, again, possibly the emperor’s personal horseguard. Soranus’ epitaph records that in AD118 he, before the Emperor Hadrian, swam the Danube and performed the following feats..

CIL 03, 03676 (AE 1958, 0151).

Ille ego Pannoniis quondam notissimus orisinter mille viros fortis primusq(ue) BatavosHadriano potui qui iudice vasta profundiaequora Danuvii cunctis transnare sub armisemissumq(ue) arcu dum pendet in aere telumac redit ex alia fixi fregique sagittaquem neque Romanus potuit nec barbarus unquamnon iaculo miles non arcu vincere Parthushic situs hic memori saxo mea facta sacravividerit an ne aliquis post me mea facta sequ[a]turexemplo mihi sum primus qui talia gessi

“I am the man who, once very well known to the ranks in Pannonia, brave and foremost among one thousand Batavians, was able, with Hadrian as judge, to swim the wide waters of the deep Danube in full battle kit. From my bow I fired an arrow, and while it quivered still in the air and was falling back, with a second arrow I hit and broke it. No Roman or foreigner has ever managed to better this feat, no soldier with a javelin, no Parthian with a bow. Here I lie, here I have immortalised my deeds on an ever-mindful stone which will see if anyone after me will rival my deeds. I set a precedent for myself in being the first to achieve such feats”.

The Batavians were a notable addition to the forces of the Roman army from the reign of Caesar, until the reign of Romulus Augustulus. They played an important role in the successes of – and supplementation to – the Legions of the Roman army. Our Batavian unit honours these men and perpetuates their fine tradition.

Russian Army 1915 Part I


Constant talk of shell-shortage, and the blaming of everything upon it, concealed a much more important factor: the increasing crisis of authority in the Russian army. Shell-shortage, lack of officers, and the increasing restiveness of the men were the three factors that most influenced the shape of affairs in 1915, and it is not surprising that Stavka, with respectable public opinion in general, concentrated its attention on shell-shortage which at least had an obvious, material remedy, and one moreover that could profit respectable public opinion. But the shell-shortage had itself been greatly complicated by the nature of the army, which in the long run mattered much more than shell-shortage.

Officer and man began to draw apart, almost as soon as the initial patriotic euphoria had vanished. Revolutionary urges began to affect the men: not yet in the form of mutiny, but certainly in the form of je m’enfoutisme—malingering, passive resistance, dumb insolence, overstaying of leave. To measure such things is of course difficult. There are several collections, in print, of soldiers letters home in this period, but both they and the censors’ comments on them present the historian with a well-known trap, since much depends on the methods of sampling. Some of the printed collections have the reader wondering why revolution failed to break out in December 1914, and others equally have him wondering why it broke out at all. Just the same, there are clear indications that, in 1915, ‘incidents’ multiplied. Sick-lists lengthened, with 85,000 men evacuated to the rear in 1914, and 420,000 in 1915. More revealing still, the Germans and Austro-Hungarians captured, in 1915, over a million prisoners, so many that the Russian authorities lost track of them. There was a widespread demoralisation of the army, that had inevitable effects on the commanders’ strategy. In some ways, ‘shell-shortage’ was a mere technical translation of the great social convulsion within Russia.

The difficulties were blamed on ‘agitators’, and at the generals’ conference in Cholm, just before the evacuation of Lwów, arrangements were made for construction of barracks in provincial towns, ‘so that reserve-battalions can be kept away from the populace’. Hitherto the troops had been kept mainly in Moscow, Petrograd, Kiev, because these alone had housing and supply-facilities, and the bulk of troops continued to be placed there, for lack of anything else. Naturally, their contact with the populace, particularly in Petrograd, and particularly with the women, who were more uncompromising revolutionaries than the men, caused trouble for officers. Still, at this time the soldiers were still overwhelmingly ‘patriotic’ in their orientation, and though they resented their officers’ behaviour, they shrank from full-scale mutiny. There were riots, drunken outbreaks; there was some desertion. But, just as in this period there were not many strikes, so these outbreaks were confined to a sort of continual revolutionary murmur.

It was not agitators, but the collapse of the old army’s structure, that produced trouble. The army’s numbers went up, beyond the capacity of the administrative machinery even to count. The standing army, the first class of the reserve, the recruit-years (by anticipated conscription) of 1914–18 were called up. Beyond these, there was the enormous mass of territorial troops, the opolcheniye, who had little or no training, but who found themselves bearing arms—of a sort—as the man-power crisis bit deep. Altogether, nine million men seem to have been called up by July 1915. On the other hand, the number of officers, inadequate even for the peacetime army at its full strength of two million men, went down because of officer-casualties, of which there were 60,000 by July 1915. The 40,000 officers of 1914 were more or less completely wiped out. Replacements from the officers’ schools could proceed only at a rate of 35,000 per annum. Wide recourse was had to ‘‘warrant-officers’, men with little fitness to become officers, promoted straight from their high schools. But by September 1915, it was rare for front-line regiments—of 3,000 men—to have more than a dozen officers. The training-troops of the rear were similarly few in number, because officers were not enough for the purpose. The whole of Russia supported 162 training-battalions, which would take in between one and two thousand men for a training-period supposed to last six weeks. It is therefore understandable that a large number of the hundreds of thousands of troops arriving every month in army depots had nothing to do for most of the day. Moreover, the army leaders would not, until the turn of 1915–16, promote men from the ranks on a sufficiently lavish scale to make up; and even when men were promoted in this way, they never attained substantial posts. It is sometimes astonishing to see how many men, sometimes due for brilliant careers in the Red Army two years later, failed to rise above a non-commissioned post in the Tsarist Army. Zhukovs, Frunzes, Tukhachevskis were available to the Tsarist army, but they never rated more than a subaltern’s job, much as Napoleon’s marshals had done in the days of the ancien régime.

But the problem with officers was only part of the structural problem. There was also a problem, perhaps more serious, with N.C.O.s. As Dragomirov said, ‘this vital link in the chain of command was missing’. N.C.O.s were appointed ad hoc, shared the men’s facilities—there was no sergeants’ mess, certainly none of its ethos—and usually were among the first to go Bolshevik, unless they were in the privileged cavalry or artillery. It was partly the blindness of the old régime that was responsible for this, for officers could not imagine that an N.C.O. could appear in less than ten years of service. It was also a consequence of the social development of Russia, where the N.C.O.-type had not emerged to nearly the same extent as in western countries. France and Germany had a whole range of artisans: men, certainly not of officer-status, who none the less had their own parcel of responsibility, over a counter-help, a Polish maid-servant or seasonal labourer. In the German army, artisans made up two-fifths of the N.C.O. corps and in some regiments even more; independent peasants made up most of the rest. The State offered its support for this process, because it guaranteed a man who served for seven years, and became a Reserve-N.C.O., a job in the Prussian postal or railway-services, which suited many men of artisan-background at a time when excessive competition was eating away their livelihoods. What the Prussian bureaucracy had done for the economically-pressed Junker, it also achieved for the artisan or small farmer in difficulties, and it acquired thereby the most solid N.C.O.-corps in Europe. Russia was a different case. Only three per cent of her peasant population was in the habit of hiring labour, and the village commune indeed existed to dismantle properties that looked as if they would proceed on western lines. Moreover, where Russia had the egalitarian commune, western Europe had a plethora of trade-unions, churches, schools, boy-scout organisations where men could learn discipline and also learn how to transmit it. At N.C.O.-level, there was a smudgy copy of the officer-class, which did excellent service in turning a mass-army into a serviceable military unit. In Russia, this caste was much weaker: in 1903 there existed only 12,109 long-serving soldiers in the army, in place of the 23,943 there should have been—two per company, where the Germans had twelve.

Russian Army 1915 Part II


Russia lacked officers, and lacked still more N.C.O.s who could link them with the men. The gap between the Russia of the officer-class and the Russia of the private soldiers widened throughout 1915. ‘The officers have lost all faith in their men’, wrote a well-informed staff captain in autumn, 1915. Officers were often appalled at the ignorance and savagery they encountered. Telegraphs would suddenly stop working; and investigation of the lines to the rear would reveal a party of soldiers cooking their tea with pieces of telegraph-pole. The chief of staff of 2. Corps said, in September 1915, that ‘when we sent the opolcheniye yesterday to take station near Leipuni, they burst into tears; a senior officer reckoned that, with a single heavy shell, the whole lot would run away’. Prince Kochubey thought ‘they hold their rifles like peasants with a rake’; and a host of orders from the various army commands reveals what officers thought of their men, who were told, for instance, to make sure that they cleared vegetation before trying to fire their rifles from a field-position, and to make sure that their rifles were clean. Artillery-officers thought the infantry not worth expensive shell; again and again, when the Germans attacked second-line divisions, there would be thousands of prisoners, but no guns in the Germans’ hands, a clear indication that artillery was leaving the ‘cattle’ in the lurch. The phenomenon was noted at the Wroclawek engagements of 11th–13th November 1914, and again in Yepanchin’s corps on the right of X Army in the battle of the Masurian winter, where the two second-line divisions were abandoned, not only by their own guns, but by Leontovitch’s cavalry as well. The officers very frequently remarked, not only on the number of prisoners taken by the Germans, but on the fact that these prisoners made no effort to escape, even when they might have done. They worked happily enough in kitchens and labour-camps behind the German lines. When the three divisions of Scheffer and Litzmann were almost surrounded by the Russian army east of Lódz in November 1915, one reason for their escape was that Russian cavalry supposed the Germans twice as strong as they were—mistaking for Germans the 16,000 Russian prisoners carried by the three divisions, who made no attempt to escape. The disintegration of IΙI Army in Galicia was similarly written down by its chief of staff, and corps commanders, to the opolcheniye’s surrendering in droves.

The officers over-reacted. This was a situation that called for the utmost finesse, sympathy and sense; men should have been promoted to high posts who understood what the front-line feelings were. The generals reacted, instead, by applying force, more and more viciously, and, in the short run, this did produce results of a sort. ‘His Majesty ordains that there should be no hesitation before the harshest punishments in order that discipline should be restored.’ Leave was cancelled, although there were too many soldiers as it was for the existing rifle-stock. General Smirnov, octogenarian commander of II Army, issued a general warning that sanctions would be taken against the families of prisoners, who would also be court-martialled on their return to Russia. Guns took to bombarding their own side. At Opatów in June 1915, a battalion, ordered to attack, fell into uncut wire and enemy machine-gun fire. The survivors fell into shell-holes, and were bombarded by enemy artillery. A few white flags then appeared above the shell-holes; and Russian officers, in the rear, ordered Russian guns to fire on the troops, as well as the German ones.


Treatment of wounded remained primitive: men were bundled into filthy sanitation-trains and dumped on straw when they arrived at the Warsaw station in Petrograd—though maybe with the comfort that a Grand Duchess would look after them. Zemgor, the union of municipalities and county councils, was supposed to look after the wounded as a voluntary operation. It took lavish government subsidies, despite its voluntary claims, and exempted from military service a large number of liable young men who worked with Zemgor. The wounded would have clean clothes put on them as they arrived in Zemgor hospitals, but they would be given their rags back, uncleaned, when the time came to shift them to an army hospital. Leave was always ungenerous, and the wounded would be taken back into service even if their case had been quite severe. Not surprisingly, hospitals were places of low morale. Sandetski, chief of staff of the Kazan military district, reported that spies he had placed among the wounded came back with endless tales of woe: ‘the absence of real capacity on the part of commanders is felt more strongly than lack of shell’. Alexeyev wrote at length to Brusilov on the state of morale, as reported by his own son: commanders were thought imbecilic, ‘and there is hardly a single general you can name who has become popular with the men’. There was a similar want of understanding between the men and the censors who read their letters. The Moscow Board, covering selected letters, soon saw that the men were appalled at their losses. The censors wrote off the figures given by the men as obvious examples of wartime hysteria. Then they examined the affairs of a single regiment, to see what bearing these figures had on the reality. They discovered that this regiment—the 226th Gryazovetski—had contained 2,389 men on 19th August 1915; on 27th August, 665.

For army morale, supply-considerations were often the decisive ones. Men might put up, as they did in other armies, with the brutality and inefficiency of their officers, provided they at least had something to eat and something to wear. By 1917, the overall economic crisis of the country had made survival even in the army questionable, since food and clothes did not arrive. By 1915, the problem had emerged, though not in the dimensions of 1917. It arose partly because the army authorities treated their men on a lavish scale: they supposed that each soldier must have 4,000 calories a day, twice the standard diet of today, and therefore arranged for soldiers to have one and a half lbs. of meat every day, and a pound of sugar, as well as exaggerated quantities of other food-stuffs, though only one ounce of soap per week. There was not much sense in these quantities, which were meant for a soldier marching and fighting in the manner of the past century. Yet they required 15,000 head of cattle per day to be sent, where the authorities could not really supply more than 5,000 per day, and armies lurched around eastern Europe with huge herds of cattle clogging their lines of retreat. Supply-attempts broke down in the face of exorbitant demand, and the men would be fed extremely badly for days on end, after which they would have a feast of food already going bad. The supply-depots, with huge stocks, often sold them off before they went bad: indeed, ‘they had a whole mechanism for robbing’. For similar reasons, an army group indented for 2,500,000 pairs of underpants in spring 1916, regardless of its casualties’ having made a great number of these superfluous. Supply-officers then made a profit out of this particularly ghoulish version of Dead Souls.

All of this went together with an insistence that, if things went wrong, it was the men’s fault. ‘The officers look on us as soul-less lumps, without any feelings at all’; there were savage beatings, ‘sometimes of old men with long beards’; ‘We throw our rifles away and give up, because things are dreadful in our army, and so are the officers’. The diary of one soldier, Shtukaturov, shows what life must have been in the Russian army in 1915. Shtukaturov was the type of man who usually made an excellent soldier—honest, intelligent, patriotic, enterprising. He had risen from his village to become a skilled workman of the Putilov factory, of which he was proud. He happily went off to do his duty in war. But his diary for the second half of 1915 shows what obstacles he met while doing so. After a stay in his village, he went back to the front in June, going through Moscow, where, thanks to an error in his railway-pass, he was stranded. He took the problem to a railway-official ‘who looked at me with majestic contempt’ and ignored him. Thanks to the kindness of a guard, he managed to go on without too much delay, after a night in the station. He arrived in Novocherkassk, meaning to pray in the cathedral, but found it closed. The supply-command in Kiev behaved brutally towards soldiers who grumbled; that in Podwoloczysk, near the front, made him pay forty-one kopecks for a meal that ought to have been free. In July he went to Vilna, where he witnessed the beating of a cretinous soldier, noted that even the N.C.O.s rifles were dirty, and heard from his wife in Smolensk a rumour that she, with the rest of the village, was to be evacuated to Siberia. In October he moved from Molodechno to Kherson—third-class, because someone had again blundered over his railway-ticket. He was then given a medal, but the wrong one was sent to him, and was taken back without replacement. He was finally killed in December 1915, in the offensive of the Strypa, one of Ivanov’s perfect little jewels of ineptitude. Maybe Shtukaturov’s case was merely one case of misfortune, but the authorities’ comments at the time suggest otherwise. Men began shooting themselves in the finger, as Brusilov complained, and were then ‘helped’ off the field by other men, there being (characteristically) no field ambulances

Running away already perturbed Yanushkevitch sufficiently for him to put to the Council of Ministers a suggestion that soldiers should be guaranteed twenty-five acres of land if they fought well—a proposal received with ribaldry.