The Army of Meiji 2 of 3 Parts

Reception by the Meiji Emperor of the second French Military Mission to Japan, 1872

The Conversion to Divisions

In January 1880 Yamagata had warned the emperor of the dangers posed by Russia’s remorseless advance into East Asia and China’s military modernization. Japan’s lengthy coastlines left it especially vulnerable to attack from multiple directions or to a naval blockade and isolation. Yamagata would neutralize such threats by fortifying small off-shore islands as the nation’s first line of defense and completing the coastal battery construction projects around Tokyo Bay that the government had suspended to pay for the Satsuma Rebellion. He voiced a recurrent theme: without a strong military, Japan could not maintain its sovereignty from the European powers—who, he claimed, built armies and navies regardless of national wealth or poverty.

The army’s January 1882 budget proposed a ten-year plan to field seven modern infantry divisions with supporting troops, improve coastal defenses, and upgrade weaponry, especially artillery. It reflected Yamagata’s concern over the growing tension with Korea and China, which appeared to justify a larger army. Since 1877 the army had expanded slowly from around 40,000 officers and men to more than 46,000 by 1882, and its budget grew accordingly, from about 6.6 million yen (US$6 million) to 9.4 million yen (US$8.5 million), respectively. Army expansionism to counter perceived continental threats was consistent with the 1870 calls for a Korean expedition and overseas expansion. Yet it also demonstrated the government’s concern that Korea under foreign (non-Japanese) influence would pose an unacceptable threat to Japan’s home islands and that a larger military was necessary for self-defense against invasion.

Outbursts of anti-Japanese violence in Korea during the summer of 1882 culminated that July with the murder of the Japanese military adviser to the newly organized Korean army and an attack against the Japanese legation in Seoul. Tokyo sent two infantry companies to restore order, made demands on the Korean court, and moved large forces to Kyūshū opposite Korea during the so-called Jingo Incident. The Korean court promptly sought assistance from China, which dispatched 5,000 troops that eliminated pro-Japanese elements in the rebellious Korean army, installed a pro-Chinese Korean faction in power, and reasserted Chinese influence throughout the peninsula.

Although the general staff had an 1880 operational plan for offensive operations in north China, it was premised on wishful thinking because Japan was too weak militarily to confront the Chinese empire. During the Korea crisis the army remained passive, fearful that China might seize Tsushima Island to use as a springboard to attack Kyūshū. If that occurred, the navy would support the Tsushima garrison by cutting the sea-lanes from China or Korea, and the army would defend strategic locations on the Kyūshū coast.

The Chinese intervention unmasked the government’s and the army’s inability to protect Japanese interests in Korea. In August 1882 Yamagata reiterated to the throne the need for military expansion to counterbalance China’s military modernization program and conduct in Korea. In his view this necessitated expanding the navy to forty-eight warships and restructuring the army into seven divisions plus a 200,000-man reserve by 1885. Lt. Gen. Miura Gorō along with Lt. Gen. Soga Sukenori, both of whom had previously petitioned the emperor on the Hokkaidō sale issue, opposed a larger standing army. Much like Yamada Akiyoshi in the 1870s, they advocated a small standing army, perhaps 30,000 men, organized as a one-division force backed by a home guard available for duty during emergencies. Their proposal would also reduce the current three-year active duty obligation for conscripts to a single year.

The general staff’s western bureau director, Col. Katsura Tarō, however, insisted on a streamlined modern division structure because combining garrisons during wartime created patchwork and unwieldy units with huge administrative and personnel overhead that were too large to move rapidly. Yamagata supported Katsura and expected the finance ministry to impose new taxes on tobacco to pay for the enlarged military and division conversion expenses. But Finance Minister Matsukata Masayoshi cited the perilous state of Japan’s finances that made additional military spending impossible. In September, Minister of the Right Iwakura Tomomi advocated an emergency tax to underwrite military expansion and modernization. Emperor Meiji endorsed Iwakura’s recommendation and in November notified prefectural governors that military expansion was a matter of vital national security. The next month the government enacted emergency tax legislation to pay the increased personnel costs associated with the conversion to a seven-division force structure and the improvement of coastal fortifications.

About half of the additional annual tax revenue went to the army (1.2 million yen), with the remainder divided between naval shipbuilding and coastal defense construction programs spread over eight years. The National Defense Council (kokubō kaigi), established in March 1883, coordinated coastal defensive responsibilities between the army and the navy, establishing Japan’s first line of defense on the high seas, its second along the coast, and its third, and final, on homeland soil.

Advocates of a larger standing army, including Yamagata, Ōyama, Katsura, and the commander of the 2d Guard Infantry Brigade, Maj. Gen. Kawakami Sōroku, next rewrote conscription legislation to create a much larger reserve force. Reforms in 1883 created a first reserve with a four-year obligation and second reserve with five additional years of military commitment. The new legislation also eliminated paid substitutes, tightened restrictions on exemptions, and provided for volunteer one-year enlistments.

Although army budgets increased substantially in 1883 and 1884 and personnel grew from 42,300 in 1880 to 54,000 by 1885, division conversion lagged behind schedule because the purchase of new weapons and equipment, the coastal defense projects, and naval expansion created trade imbalances and unacceptable government deficits. These were especially sensitive issues because Foreign Minister Inoue Kaoru, hoping to impress the western powers with Japan’s fiscal responsibility during renewed negotiations to secure treaty revision, rejected running a deficit to pay for military modernization. At the same time, however, Inoue and imperial councilor Itō Hirobumi recognized the need for a stronger military to offset the rise of Chinese and western influence in northeast Asia. French and British naval squadrons were active around Taiwan and Korea, respectively, the Russian Vladivostok Squadron routinely operated in Korean waters, and China was modernizing its Northern Fleet to control the Yellow Sea.

Inoue would economize by cutting the army by 20,000 men, reducing terms of conscription by six months, and establishing a joint general staff. The savings would pay for limited naval expansion. Japan would rely on alliances either with England or Russia to ensure national security at a cheaper cost. Inoue drew support from big-army opponents like Miura, army Vice Chief of Staff Soga Sukenori, Minister of the Left Prince Arisugawa, and the retired but influential generals Tani and Torio. Yamagata, War Minister Ōyama, and Katsura adamantly opposed the initiative. According to Katsura, the hallmark of a first-class nation was an army capable of operating beyond its national borders, and Japan’s inability to project military power overseas would relegate it to the status of a perpetual second-class power.

Looking to save money, Emperor Meiji agreed with Arisugawa, Miura, and Soga, who also had the support of Prime Minister Itō. But Ōyama insisted that the volatile international situation placed Japan in such grave danger that the larger force structure was essential. When his obstinate opposition threatened to rupture Satsuma-Chōshū political hegemony, Inoue gave in to Ōyama’s demands.

The military share of the budget increased substantially, from about 15 million yen in 1885 to more than 20.5 million yen the next year, with the army getting an additional 2.2 million yen and the navy 3.5 million. The resulting huge deficit ruined Inoue’s fiscal plans, and when serious negotiations on treaty rectification began in 1886, western insistence on certain prerogatives produced a political and popular backlash that made amendment impossible. Tani resigned his portfolio to protest the terms of the proposed treaty revision, and Miura’s and Soga’s unwavering opposition to the government’s concessions on the emotional issue of treaty revision cost them Inoue’s and Itō’s backing. Their fall was attributable to their loss of patronage and support from the prime minister and the foreign minister over the intertwined issues of army expansion, treaty revision, and fiscal retrenchment. The break-up of the opposition coalition of conservative generals, the court, and civilian ministers left Yamagata and Ōyama free to implement their plans. Between 1875 and 1882 the ordinary military budget ranged from about 14 to 19 percent of the national budget. Thereafter naval construction and army modernization (the conversion to divisions) steadily increased it to a 31 percent share in 1892.

Construction started in late 1886 to improve Tsushima’s coastal defense fortress, and the next year the emperor’s personal donation of 300,000 yen to the army engineer branch launched a nationwide campaign that solicited 2.3 million more yen from wealthy individuals to employ additional laborers for work on an expanded network of fortifications. The same year the army assigned division numbers to the respective garrisons; for example, the Tokyo garrison became the 1st Division. The army then projected that the conversion process would take two years, but recurrent funding shortages ultimately delayed the Guard conversion. Nevertheless, in May 1887 the army officially abolished the garrisons and adopted the division force structure. Picked officers who would lead and staff the new divisions were sent to Europe for extended study of military organization and force structure. By the time conversion was completed in 1891 the army fielded seven modern divisions and had a reserve mobilization capability of 240,000 troops.

The army modeled its original 1888 division force structure on the Prussian mountain division, but with a larger peacetime establishment of about 9,000 officers and men that would double in wartime with the addition of an infantry brigade, a cavalry squadron, and various support units. The 1893-type division was organized around two infantry brigades each with two infantry regiments (a so-called square division) and had 18,500 officers and men at wartime strength as the gradual expansion of the active ranks, reform of conscription system, and volunteers provided cadre and reserves for rapid wartime expansion. The modern mobile division complemented the fixed coastal fortresses already under construction by enabling troops to move rapidly and reinforce threatened points or contain enemy landings.

The phased transition to a division structure is often regarded as prima facie evidence that Japan harbored offensive continental aspirations and tailored its army for overseas deployment and aggression. No doubt some high-ranking officers dreamed of imperial expansion on the Asian continent, but not until 1900 did the general staff begin formal planning for offensive operations there. In the meantime, the army continued to emphasize coastal defense against a Russian attack, and as late as 1891 the theme of the annual grand maneuvers was repelling an amphibious invasion.

It would likewise be inaccurate to say military preparations were not aimed at an external threat, but an operational offensive capability was part of a larger policy of strategic defense designed to spare Japan from foreign invasion. Rather than an indication of imminent aggressive warfare, the division force structure was a long-considered adaptation of the most up-to-date western military organization at a time when Japan was striving to master the secrets of the West’s success. Rectification of the unequal treaties, rebuilding the financial and political system, and checking the Russian threat from the north were the priorities of the Meiji government. In that context, the division organization was simultaneously offensive, because of the possibility of intervention in Korea due to deteriorating relations with China, and defensive, because of the emerging Russian threat in northeast Asia.

Educational Reforms and the Influence of Maj. Jakob Meckel

The growing number of critics of oligarchic rule during the mid-1880s, the violence of the people’s rights movement, and the specter of antigovernment political parties in control of the promised Diet fed Yamagata’s determination to isolate the army from those who would control it for political ends different from his own. One means to this end was to reorganize the army’s administrative system.

Army doctrine, training, and education were haphazard well into the 1880s, relying on at least five different versions of translated French infantry manuals between 1871 and 1885. Military organization followed the French model: training a peacetime establishment in drill and ceremonies, military courtesy, and proper care of the uniform and equipment. Tactics stressed junior officer and NCO responsibilities as small-unit leaders (battalion echelon and below) but were learned by rote and consequently lacked practical application and originality. French instructors at the military academy, for example, taught cadets to prepare detailed tactical orders and rigidly apply approved formations (columns shifting to skirmisher lines) to small-unit (battalion and below) tactical problems. Senior Japanese officers believed that the overemphasis on minor tactics and technical expertise had hampered strategic planning for large-unit operations during the Satsuma Rebellion. Their hard-won experience in that conflict seemingly made foreign instruction irrelevant, and in 1879 the government terminated the French military mission’s contract. But startling European advances in military science and weaponry could not long be ignored. Many officers admired the emerging Prussian doctrine, proven against the French in the Franco-Prussian War of 1870, and thought it more suited for higher-echelon operations involving brigades and divisions.

In 1884 a delegation composed of four senior officers—Army Minister Lt. Gen. Ōyama; Lt. Gen. Miura, now commandant of the military academy; Col. Kawakami Sōroku, commander of the 1st Guards Infantry Regiment; and Col. Katsura conducted a year-long inspection tour of European armies. With the exception of Miura, who had been trained by the French, the delegation favored the Prussian military system, which was widely regarded as the standard for modern armies. Miura’s views were well known, and he had likely been included to balance regional sensibilities; Ōyama and Kawakami were from Satsuma, and Katsura and Miura hailed from Chōshū. In any case, Ōyama overrode Miura’s objections and asked Prussian War Minister Paul von Schellendorff to recommend a senior instructor for Japan’s staff college. Von Schellendorff nominated Maj. Colmar von de Goltz, but the Chief of Staff, Helmut von Moltke, wanted Goltz to rebuild the Turkish army, which had been recently defeated by Russia. Moltke then nominated 43-year-old Maj. Klemens Wilhelm Jakob Meckel, a tactician, not an instructor, for the assignment. The delegation returned to Japan in January 1885, and Meckel arrived in Tokyo two months later.

Tall, ramrod straight, and imposing, the bald-headed Meckel looked like the stereotypical Prussian officer martinet. Indeed, he was an exacting taskmaster and demanded the same attention to duty and detail from students. But he lacked arrogance, enjoyed drinking, and was a genial personality.

Unlike the large French advisory mission, which had numbered as many as forty officers in the mid-1870s, Meckel’s advisory group never numbered more than seven. The army also retained four or five French advisers into the early twentieth century as language instructors and ordnance experts. Several Italian military advisers served in Japan between 1884 and 1896, a period when the army relied on Italian-produced bronze artillery guns.

Meckel and his team introduced the Prussian military education model, which switched the emphasis from technical proficiency to a more general military education, especially in the staff college, whose course was extended to three years. Meckel’s dominance at the staff college changed the way Japanese officers thought about warfare, and his intellectual synthesis of modern strategy and traditional martial values held widespread appeal among the officer class. Meckel, for instance, preached that victory or defeat in battle was not simply a function of advanced weaponry. The decisive feature was élan, and he stressed the importance of the psychological dimension of warfare and offensive spirit, a philosophy of warfare that meshed nicely with the army’s existing concepts of seishin, or fighting spirit. With the exception of foreign languages, Meckel refocused the new curriculum almost exclusively on military art and science—tactics, military history, ordnance, gunnery, fortification, communications, terrain studies, equestrian arts, and health and sanitation matters. His slighting of logistics in favor of instruction devoted to techniques of operational planning and command found a receptive audience, but it left students with a poor grasp of the planning and organization of the movement of troops, equipment, and supplies and little knowledge of the science of modern military logistics.

Meckel used primary source documents and staff rides to educate officers in the application of theory on tactics and the influence of terrain on maneuver and battle, basing instruction on military history, not military theory. Lessons placed a premium on resolute decision making and glossed over intelligence gathering because that could delay action. Language was a problem because the question-translation-answer-translation format of Meckel’s classroom lectures made them lengthy and boring. Written translations of the lectures were, however, widely distributed to officers throughout the army as study materials.

Under Meckel’s guidance the army switched to the German field manual that emphasized importance of the company echelon in tactical formations. Standardized training and procedures accompanied the shift to the new manual. Until 1887 individual regiments had determined their training tables, but that year troop training regulations standardized training army-wide. In keeping with the Prussian reforms, the army adopted the so-called family training concept, which placed the company commander in charge of conscripts’ training. The army expected junior officers to both lead and teach and demanded proficiency in military art as well as the ability as instructors to inculcate the ideal of fighting spirit into the ranks. By 1889 the Prussian draft 1884 field service regulations had been translated into Japanese, and two years later the army completed the transition from the French to the Prussian training regimen and immersed recruits in training and drilling according to the new infantry manual.

Rightly praised as the father of modern military education in Japan, Meckel exerted a significant and enduring influence on the army. Yet his departure from Japan was clouded, apparently because certain influential Japanese officers suspected Meckel was a German spy. He received gifts and accolades but had to insist to get the emperor’s personal seal on his commendation and was awarded a lesser-grade medal. Nonetheless, Meckel took lasting pride in his accomplishments and his Japanese students.

As the military education system became institutionalized, officers took competitive entrance examinations for admittance to the staff college (in 1886 the course was extended to three years). At a minimum, candidates had to be first lieutenants, be in good health, possess a good service record, and demonstrate intellectual ability. Other qualifications mandated a minimum of two years service with a troop unit, an age limit of 28 (specialists like artillerymen and engineers were eligible until age 30 because of the extra technical schooling required in those branches), and the recommendation of the candidate’s commanding officer. Transportation branch officers initially were ineligible for admission because there was no logistics branch on the general staff, another indication of the army’s low regard for the services of supply.

Normally it took a junior officer two or three years to prepare himself for the staff college examination. Because a candidate’s admission to the staff college reflected favorably on his regiment, over time it became customary for battalion or regimental commanders to assign their most promising junior officers to light duties to enable them to study and prepare for the exam. At first, class ranking was critical, and beginning in 1887 the commandant or his deputy reported student grades to the chief of staff, who used the results to determine subsequent assignments and promotions. After the turn of the century, class ranking declined in importance as a factor in promotion, at least to the general officer ranks, and battlefield valor and practical experience with troop units were given greater consideration.

The army also schooled promising officers at foreign military institutions. In 1882 there were nine student-officers in France and three in Germany; in 1898 there were three in France and twelve in Germany. Throughout its existence the army routinely assigned officers to foreign military schools, almost all in Europe, and like their navy counterparts, a high proportion of senior army officers had overseas assignments as students, attaches, or observers on their service records. Popular wisdom credits the imperial navy with producing cosmopolitan and sophisticated officers while dismissing army officers as provincial bumpkins ignorant of the West. But the army routinely dispatched its best and brightest to Europe for study and professional grooming.

Branch schools were established to educate officers and train troops in their respective military specialties. The army ministry created the transport corps bureau in 1885 and issued the transport corps field manual the next year. The army managed its own medical training school in 1871 but because of the length of medical training and the expertise demanded of instructors in 1877 abolished it and used the Tokyo University Medical School to train military doctors. After graduation they received specialized instruction in military medicine. In 1888 the army reestablished its medical school as a postgraduate center for army doctors, to offer the latest surgical techniques to reserve doctors and to train medical orderlies. In 1894 it became the army sanitary school.

Prussian influence likewise changed the military academy. After 1890 cadets no longer received commissions upon graduation. Instead, using the Prussian model, before entering the academy they spent one year serving in a unit (six months if preparatory school graduates) as cadets, nineteen months at the academy, and six months after graduation as cadet aspirants with a unit. If the aspirant successfully completed his duty assignment, he received a commission as a second lieutenant. Later reforms in 1920 added a two-year preparatory course at the academy followed by six months attached to a unit as a cadet, then twenty-two months at the academy’s main course, followed by two months with a unit as an aspirant.

In 1896 the army adopted the Prussian system of separating the central military preparatory academy from regional preparatory academies. Thirteen-year-old boys entered the three-year course to prepare themselves for a two-year course at the central preparatory academy in Tokyo. Except for the sons of deceased soldiers or senior bureaucrats, the preparatory schools charged tuition, making it difficult for the poor to send their sons into officers’ careers. After graduation, cadets spent six months with a unit before entering the military academy. Maj. Gen. Kodama Gentarō insisted on emphasizing spiritual education in the cadet academies, where it became a standard feature of the curriculum from the 1890s.

The Army of Meiji 1 of 3 Parts

Uniforms during the Boshin War and Meiji era

On May 14, 1878, the most powerful man in Japan, Minister of Home Affairs Ōkubo, was riding alone in his unescorted carriage from his Tokyo residence to a morning appointment. Six sword-wielding former samurai surrounded his carriage in a narrow lane and hacked and stabbed him to death. The ringleader later admitted that the killers feared an Ōkubo dictatorship and had planned to murder him since they heard of Saigō’s suicide. One captured assassin joked to interrogators that if life was a stage, their act might be seen as a cheap burlesque.

Besides Ōkubo’s brazen murder, lingering questions of loyalty and obedience to orders clouded the national army’s victory over Saigō’s warriors. In the aftermath of the rebellion, many units felt slighted by a government that neither recognized nor rewarded their wartime sacrifices. For example, the Imperial Guard artillery battery, despite its prominent wartime role, received belated commendations and smaller monetary awards than soldiers had expected. The parsimoniousness reflected the government’s financial retrenchment policy deemed necessary to repay the enormous cost of the war, including more than 30 million yen in supplemental funding (five times the army’s annual budget). In order to balance the national budget, in December 1877 the council of state ordered 20 percent across-the-board reductions to ministry budgets. The following May the army ministry reduced military pay by 5 percent and temporarily suspended work on its showcase coastal fortification construction projects. These actions only added to the list of soldiers’ grievances.

On the night of August 23, 1878, about 200 noncommissioned officers and enlisted men of the Guard artillery battalion garrisoned near Tokyo’s Takebashi Bridge mutinied, murdered their commanding officer and the officer of the day, perfunctorily shelled the finance minister’s official residence, and demanded to speak directly to the emperor. The army ministry, having been tipped off in advance, quickly crushed the insurrection. Courts-martial held in October sentenced 55 mutineers to death and punished over 300 more (including accomplices in other units) with prison terms or banishment. Unrewarded wartime service had sparked the so-called Takebashi Incident, but the trials also revealed that many of the enlisted troops were active in the nascent liberty and people’s rights movement, a popular national political campaign demanding democratic rights from the Meiji government that leaders like Yamagata regarded as subversive and dangerous.

Yamagata sought to inoculate the army from the virus of mutiny by appealing to a romanticized imperial past. Fifty days after the Takebashi Incident, the army distributed his Admonition to Soldiers (gunjin kunkai) to all its company commanders. The instructions, aimed specifically at the officer corps, stressed that strict military discipline and unquestioning obedience to a superior’s orders were the foundation of the military institution. He portrayed officers as the heirs to a glorious samurai tradition in which loyalty and valor were the “way of the warrior” (bushidō).3 Real samurai were discredited, so officers and conscripts were indoctrinated to aspire to the greatly romanticized version of idealized warriors.

Yamagata also warned that disobedience to orders led to military involvement in political activities and spread subversion among the ranks. He justified that claim with another dubious assertion: that in ancient times the army had belonged to the emperor and was therefore above politics. By equating obedience to a superior’s orders with compliance to a direct imperial order, Yamagata further implied that a superior’s orders had to be followed unquestionably, regardless of legality. In sum, Yamagata wanted an apolitical army under his control to prevent a reoccurrence of the Satsuma Rebellion or Takebashi Incident, and one means to achieve this goal was to make the military directly responsible to the emperor, thereby insuring imperial control of the army.

Institutional Reforms

In the decade following the Satsuma Rebellion, the army thoroughly reorganized. The process was gradual, but the reforms were radical. The army’s fundamental institutions—a general staff, an inspector general, a general staff college, and a division force structure—evolved, but only after acrimonious debates within the army that pitted Francophile traditionalists against pro-Prussian reformers.

In the wake of rebellion, mutiny, and popular demonstrations, Yamagata feared that antigovernment politicians would restrict the army’s freedom of action, or that antigovernment forces might incite the ranks to revolt and overthrow the government. These concerns justified reforms to ensure an apolitical army by removing the supreme command from the political arena. The ruling oligarchy concurred because they wanted no more Saigō Takamoris—men who held dual military-civilian appointments and might use their military power to usurp the civilian government. One possible solution was to create a general staff with direct access to the emperor that could execute imperial commands unencumbered by the agenda of civilian political leaders or military administrators.

The idea was an extension of Yamagata’s 1874 establishment of the sixth bureau, augmented with fresh ideas from Europe. Capt. Katsura Tarō, one of Yamagata’s many Chōshū protégés, had spent the Satsuma insurrection studying at the Prussian military academy at his own expense. He returned home in 1878 convinced of the merits of a general staff that was independent of the army ministry’s administrative control and enjoyed direct access to the emperor. That October, apparently on Katsura’s advice, Yamagata formally recommended to the council of state the separation of staff and administrative functions.

The council of state abolished the general staff bureau on December 5, 1878, and established a general staff separate from the army minister and directly responsible to the emperor, although without clearly delineating the new staff’s authority. During peacetime the general staff controlled the Imperial Guard and regional garrisons, and the chief of staff, an imperial appointee, also served as the emperor’s highest military adviser. During wartime the chief of staff assisted the emperor with military matters but lacked command and decision-making authority, those formally being the prerogatives of the emperor. He could, however, issue operational orders in the emperor’s name. This provision institutionalized the prerogative of the independence of command (tōsuiken) executed in the emperor’s name as supreme commander (daigensui).

The new general staff had two bureaus divided by geographic interest. The eastern bureau was responsible for the garrisons in the Tokyo and Sendai military administrative districts as well as Hokkaidō, Siberia, and Manchuria; the western oversaw the other four regional garrisons plus Korea and China. Each bureau had operational and intelligence functions, and two smaller subsections handled administration, prepared gazetteers, translated materials, and archived documents.

Within days of creating a general staff, Yamagata, who became the first chief of staff, established a superintendency on December 30 as a separate headquarters in Tokyo. It too reported directly to the emperor, coordinated army-wide training, standardized tactics and equipment, ensured that units carried out the general staff’s orders, and enforced army regulations. The superintendency had no director, and the duties of its headquarters in Tokyo were limited, but its three regional superintendents enjoyed broad authority because they reported directly to the emperor, bypassing the general staff and army ministry. In peacetime each regional superintendent was responsible for the education and training at two garrisons and in wartime commanded a two-division corps formed by combining the garrisons’ forces.

The three regional superintendents were superimposed on the existing garrison system, and each was of lieutenant-general rank; Tani supervised the eastern commandaries, Nozu the central, and Miura the western. Each had the authority to enforce orders issued by the general staff with imperial approval. This reorganization of the army’s administrative system with a new inspectorate and an independent general staff was an attempt by Yamagata and Army Minister Ōyama to consolidate their power and, by extension, the Satsuma-Chōshū monopoly on senior army positions.

The Satsuma Rebellion had exposed the need for trained staff officers to plan and coordinate operations, formulate strategy, and remedy deficiencies in operational planning. In 1882 the army had a total of forty-nine staff officers: fourteen assigned to the general staff, five to the army ministry, and the remaining thirty to the various garrisons, the Imperial Guard, or the military districts. That year the army opened the general staff college to train and educate officers for future staff assignments. Nineteen students were selected for the three-year course. The first year was remedial and concentrated on the study of foreign languages (German and French), mathematics, and drafting for engineering and map-making purposes. Officer-students studied military organization, mobilization, tactics, and road march formations in their second year; their third year focused on the mechanics of overnight unit bivouacs, reconnaissance, strategy, and military history. Instruction in tactics and strategy was initially limited because of a lack of qualified Japanese instructors and the continuing debate within the army over adopting French or German doctrine. From its inception, the staff college had a close association with the throne, personified by the emperor’s personal presentation of an imperial gift to the top graduates: a telescope in the case of the first six graduating classes, and thereafter a sword.

Another manifestation of the link between emperor and army was the conversion of Ōmura’s Shōkonsha concept of a public memorial to commemorate those who died in the Boshin Civil War to a state-sponsored Shintō shrine to promote imperial divinity and Japanese uniqueness. In June 1879 the Shōkonsha was renamed the Yasukuni Shrine, with a status second in ranking only to the imperial shrines. The home ministry, army, and navy administered the shrine while the army paid for its upkeep. For purposes of army morale, the army reinterred its war dead from the Satsuma Rebellion at the Yasukuni and announced that they had been transmogrified into spirits guarding the nation. Interment was strictly limited to those killed in action; soldiers who died on active service during peacetime were interred in army-designated regional cemeteries.

Promulgating a New Ideology

Political agitation since the mid-1870s for a constitution and a parliament gradually matured into a campaign for freedom and people’s rights, a broader-based political movement whose origins lay in samurai discontent. By the late 1870s, peasant unrest had also increased because the government resorted to deflationary fiscal policies to repay the foreign loans that underwrote the military costs of suppressing Saigō’s rebellion. Retrenchment caused a sharper decline in market prices for rice and raw silk, the cash crops of the peasantry, than in overall consumer prices. Many peasants fell into debt, borrowed money to buy seed or pay land taxes, and in some cases were unable to repay the loans. Disaffected peasants organized into groups seeking debt relief, and outbreaks of armed violence—some led by local political party branch members—erupted in central Japan during 1882.

Soldiers had also been active in the people’s rights movement since its inception. In January 1879 police arrested several enlisted men assigned to the Guard infantry regiment for conspiring to murder their company commander and high-ranking government officials. Sometime later they apprehended a disgruntled artillery officer who was threatening to bombard the imperial palace. Dissatisfied over the awarding of medals, troops also complained about the five-year term of active service for those assigned to the Guard, demanded special pay and allowances, and sought political redress for grievances over the living conditions of enlisted men in garrisons.

Yamagata did initiate reforms that shortened the Guards’ length of service and reduced pay inequalities. Conscription reforms in October 1879 extended terms of reserve duty from four to seven years by creating a first (three-year) and second reserve (four-year), halved the fee to purchase a substitute, and tightened deferments. Yamagata refused, however, to allow soldiers greater political expression, believing that it would undermine military discipline. As if to underscore his fears, in 1880 a soldier stationed in Tokyo committed suicide in front of the imperial palace when the government refused to accept his petition calling for the opening of a parliament.

Internal army dissent also targeted the government and Yamagata, particularly the council of state’s fire sale of the Hokkaidō Colonization Office’s assets to private Mitsubishi interests allegedly to defray the retrenchment costs. Among the most vocal and persistent critics were four general officers: lieutenant generals Torio Koyata, Guard commander; Tani Tateki, commandant of the military academy and the Toyama Infantry School; Miura Gorō, superintendent of the western commandary district; and Maj. Gen. Soga Sukenori, acting superintendent of the central commandary district. The four claimed to be acting from bushidō principles when in September 1881 they petitioned the throne to reverse the transaction.

The people’s rights movement also criticized the sale, and the generals’ petition forged another link in the chain of protests during the so-called crisis of 1881, which climaxed that October when the emperor canceled the sale and promised a national assembly by 1890. To prepare for the assembly, a cabinet system of government would replace the council of state in 1886 (the change actually occurred in December 1885).

Liberal members of the government resigned to join the popular rights movement in anticipation of greater political opportunity. The four generals remained on the active duty list, continued to hold important positions, and formed the conservative opposition to Yamagata’s efforts to reorganize and unify the national army. The involvement of enlisted troops and senior officers in political activity stimulated army chief of staff Yamagata’s fears about the military’s security and reliability.

On January 4, 1882, Yamagata promulgated the imperial rescript to soldiers and sailors to remedy what he perceived as lax military discipline and military involvement in the popular rights movement. Its audience was the army rank and file, and the language was clearer and easier to understand than the highly stylized 1878 injunctions to officers. The message, however, was the same. Yamagata reemphasized respect for superiors, the spirit of courage and sacrifice, and absolute obedience because superiors’ orders were direct commands from the throne. Soldiers and sailors, he wrote, should loyally serve the emperor, their commander-in-chief, “neither being led astray by current opinions or meddling in political affairs,” and always recalling that “duty is heavier than a mountain while death is lighter than a feather.” Yamagata again relied on hoary martial values to send a message of modernity based on loyalty to the emperor and nation, not one’s former domain, and issue a caution against political involvement. The 1882 memorial would shape official popular ideology and the notion of duty and loyalty to the emperor.

The army’s role in controlling domestic disorders peaked in the autumn of 1884 when troops suppressed a large popular uprising in Chichibu, west of Tokyo. That October a 5,000-man-strong peasant army protesting usurious interest rates and demanding lower taxes and debt relief attacked government offices and moneylenders. In early November government troops used overwhelming force to restore order and shatter the popular rights movement, whose members disbanded rather than risk being labeled traitors for supporting insurrections. By that time, the army was engaged in reorganizing its basic force structure and command and control apparatus.


Like many tribal societies, the ethnic groups of Ethiopia put a strong emphasis on martial ability. Boys were trained from early childhood in the use of the sword, spear and shield. Every man yearned to own a gun, not just for what it would do for him on the battlefield, but also for hunting.

The Italians faced an Ethiopian army larger and more organized than in all of its recent history. Menelik had centralized and streamlined the taxation system, bringing in more goods to the central government. This allowed Menelik to keep a larger standing army, and support a huge temporary army at need. Most taxes were in kind – food or labour that went directly to support the soldiers. Menelik also ordered an extensive geographical survey in order to increase revenue, and to identify land that could be given to soldiers as a reward. His government also enjoyed the revenue from customs duties on ever-increasing international trade.

Mobilization and logistics

While the emperor maintained only a relatively small standing army, the entire countryside could be mobilized when a Negus ordered a kitet, or call to arms. This was made by proclamations in marketplaces and other gathering spots, and large negarit war drums were beaten to alert outlying farms. One even acted as a platform for the messenger, who stood on an upturned drum and read the proclamation while a slave held his lance and robe next to him as symbols of his rank. While the king was not always in full control of his territory, `beating the kitet’ was generally effective; it usually summoned men to fight against a common enemy, and always offered a chance for plunder and prestige. The Ethiopian army on the march looked more like a migration. Many warriors brought their families along, and wives and children would cook and gather provisions and firewood. During the march there were no stops until a camp was found for the night. The was assembling might run into difficulties of supply, especially considering that some regions he planned to march through were suffering from famine, so he ordered depots of food to be placed at regular intervals along the lines of march. This allowed Menelik to wait out the Italians on a couple of occasions.

This need for strategic speed affected how the Ethiopians made war. They avoided long conflicts in favour of big showdown battles in which they could destroy the enemy army and force favourable terms from the enemy commander. Drawn-out campaigns could prove counterproductive, since the army would have to ravage the very land they sought to conquer, forcing the inhabitants to flee. During Menelik’s long wait before Adowa the area was picked clean of food and most of the trees were chopped down for firewood. Shortages of ammunition, and the often fragile coalitions among the leaders, also encouraged quick campaigns.

To aid the advance, teams of workmen moved ahead of the main army clearing the way of trees and stones and searching out the best passes through the mountains. The Negus Negasti kept a group that outsiders called the `Royal Engineers’, but while some were undoubtedly skilled at complex operations such as building bridges, most were simply labourers.


Ethiopians favoured a half-moon formation in order to outflank and envelop an enemy, although extreme terrain often made this impossible. Despite having a general plan, warriors fought more or less as individuals, advancing and retreating as they saw fit. Chiefs only had a loose control over their men, and never kept them in close formation except for the final charge, when everyone bunched together and hurried to be the first to reach the foe. Considering the lethal effectiveness of late 19th-century rifles, this loose mode of fighting was actually in advance of its day. The Ethiopian tendency was to get in close to ensure a good shot, although rushing en masse when the enemy appeared weak did lead to great losses. The Italian army, especially the ascari, showed good discipline under fire, and inflicted heavy casualties on the Ethiopians; the majority of these tended to be suffered during the final rush. When charging, the Ethiopians used various battle cries depending on their origin: the Oromo shouted `Slay! Slay!’, while warriors from Gojjam cried `God pardon us, Christ!’, and those from Shewa rallied to the call `Together! Together!’

The Ethiopians had no formal medical corps. Healers trained in traditional medicine followed the army, but were too few to care adequately for the huge numbers of casualties. Still, traditional healers did the best they could at setting limbs and cleaning out wounds. One method for sanitizing gunshot wounds was to pour melted butter mixed with the local herb fetho (lapidum sativum) into the wound. In battle the warriors’ families cared for the wounded, collected guns from the fallen to distribute to poorly armed warriors, and fetched water for those wealthier warriors had servants to carry their equipment and mules or horses to ride. All these extra people and animals had to be fed, increasing the need to keep mobile. While some food was carried by the men themselves or on muleback, the army was expected to live off the land, and foragers spread out over a large area. The central highlands of Ethiopia are green and filled with game, so as long as an army kept moving it could feed itself, and, being relatively unburdened, it could move quickly. If it stopped for long, however, it would soon starve; this was a major problem if the army had to besiege a fortification, or – as in the run-up to Adowa – wait for an enemy to make the first move. Menelik realized that the large force he fighting. This last detail was important; at Adowa, Itegue Taitu had at least 10,000 women bringing water to the warriors, while the Italians suffered from thirst throughout the day.

The Ethiopians lacked uniforms; common warriors wore their everyday clothing – generally a white, cream, or brown length of cotton called a shamma that was wound around the body in various ways. Chiefs and higher nobility wore a variety of colourful garments, including the lembd, a ceremonial item vaguely resembling the cope or dalmatic of Christian churchmen. If a man had slain a lion during his career, his formal clothing could be embellished with the lion’s mane.


Despite Western preconceptions, and the employment of antique firearms by the poorest warriors, the majority of Ethiopians were armed with large-calibre, breech-loading, mostly single-shot rifles no more than 30 years old since they had first appeared in Western armies. It is estimated that Menelik’s army may have had as many as 100,000 of such weapons in 1896. Until the collapse of diplomatic relations he had been able to purchase large numbers of rifles from the Italians, and also from the Russians, French and British. After Italian sources dried up Menelik strove to increase his other imports, and a key figure in this trade was Ras Mekonnen of Harar, a city in eastern Ethiopia with trade links to the Red Sea. Individual chiefs also stockpiled arms, and issued them to their best warriors in times of need.

The types used by the Ethiopians included the elderly British 1866/67 Snider – an 1856 Enfield muzzle-loader converted into a single-shot breechloader. Used on the British Magdala expedition of 1867-68 against the Emperor Tewodros II, it had a massive 14.6mm calibre and a hinged breech action. However, the Ethiopians also had considerable numbers of the superior 1871 Martini-Henry – the classic British single-shot, lever-action, falling-block weapon of the colonial wars, firing 11.43mm bullets. The French 1866 Chassepot was another second-generation breechloader, a bolt-action, single-shot weapon taking 11mm paper and card cartridges; but again, the Ethiopians also had larger numbers of more modern 1871 Le Gras rifles, in which the Chassepot’s paper cartridges were replaced with 11mm brass rounds. Menelik’s warriors even had some 1886 Lebel 8mm bolt-action magazine rifles; with eight cartridges in the tubular magazine below the barrel, one in the cradle behind the chamber and one `up the spout’, these took ten rounds. The Lebel’s smaller-bore, smokeless-powder ammunition was the most advanced in the world (all the other types took black-powder rounds, which produced a giveaway cloud of white smoke and fouled the chamber fairly quickly with continuous firing).

The Peabody-Martini was an 1870 Swiss modification of an 1862 Peabody design from the United States. Widely manufactured across Europe, it had a single-shot, falling-block action in various calibres from 10.41mm to 11.43 mm. Probably the single most common rifle in Ethiopian use was the `rolling-block’ Remington, another American design very widely built under licence in the 1860s-80s, in calibres up to 12.7mm (.50 calibre). The Winchester 1866 was a lever-action 11.18mm calibre weapon with a tubular magazine taking 12 rounds; several later models used a box magazine. The Russians had supplied the Ethiopians with a fair number of US-designed, Russian-made Berdan 1864 and 1870 rifles; both were single-shot 10.75mm weapons, the 1864 model with a hinged `trapdoor’ breech and the 1870 with a bolt action. Sources also mention German Mausers, most likely the 11mm single-shot, bolt-action 1871 model. The Ethiopians also had some examples of the Austrian 1878 Kropatschek, an 11mm bolt-action repeater with an eight-round tubular magazine.

This wide variety of rifles and calibres inevitably created local shortages of ammunition. Menelik instituted a quartermaster system, and individual leaders may have helped supply individuals who were short of cartridges, but in general each man was expected to supply his own (and probably `collected his brass’ for artisan reloading). Cartridges were so valuable they were often used as currency; being hoarded, they tended to be older than was ideal, but Menelik and other leaders strove to purchase as much new ammunition as possible, and it appears that his forces at Adowa were well supplied. Still, out of habit the Ethiopian soldier conserved his ammunition, preferring to get up close before firing. Wylde noted they `made good practice at up to about 400-600 yards, and at a short distance they are as good shots as any men in Africa, the Transvaal Boers not excepted, as they never throw away a cartridge if they can help it and never shoot in a hurry’.

Traditional weapons

Despite the wide availability of firearms, many Ethiopians still went into battle with more traditional weapons. The shotel was the favoured type of sword, a heavy steel weapon curved like a scimitar, but with the sharpened edge usually on the inside of the curve so that the warrior could stab around the edge of an opponent’s shield. It was carried slung on the right side, so that the left (shield) arm had a full range of movement. Steel-headed spears were pretty much universal among men and boys for defending their flocks from wild animals; generally about 6ft long with a leaf-shaped head, they could be thrown, but were more often used for thrusting. Small shields completed an Ethiopian warrior’s kit. Styles varied among the tribes, but the most common was a circular, conical shield made of hide and covered on the front with coloured cloth such as velvet. Many were decorated and strengthened with strips of brass, tin or more valuable metals; a shield was an easy way for a warrior to show off his wealth and status, and many were quite elaborate.

Cavalry was common in the Ethiopian lowlands, and the horsemen of the Oromo were especially renowned. Horses were useful and acted as a status symbol, so every warrior wanted one. The Ethiopian horse is smaller than its European counterpart and can negotiate terrain that would stop a European steed. Nevertheless, Ethiopia’s mountainous terrain and dense thickets of thorn-bushes often meant that battles had to be fought on foot. Weaponry for cavalrymen was identical to that for footsoldiers.


The Ethiopians had 42 guns at Adowa. It is unclear what types of cannon were used, but sources agree that they were a mix of older guns bought or captured from various sources. They included Krupps, and mountain guns captured from the Egyptians when they tried to take Ethiopian territory in 1875 and 1876, or left behind when the Egyptian garrison evacuated Harar in 1885. One source describes the artillery as `of all calibres and systems’. There was a chronic shortage of shells, and thus crews had little chance to practise. While the Ethiopians were capable of bombarding a fort, as at Mekele, they had difficulty in manoeuvring guns and laying down accurate fire in broken terrain against a moving enemy; Italian eyewitnesses said that the Ethiopian artillery made a poor performance at Adowa.

More effective were the several automatic cannon that Menelik brought to Adowa. A detailed listing is unavailable, but Maxim weapons are mentioned, and perhaps six were 37mm Hotchkiss pieces. Produced by an American company from 1875, these were later licence-built in Europe, particularly France. Early versions were multi-barrel revolvers, fired by turning a crank like a Gatling gun; later models had a single barrel and were fed by a belt. These later-model `pom-poms’ fired both solid and explosive rounds, and were superior in range and accuracy to the Italian artillery.



1: Baqqara cavalryman This warrior is protected by quilted armour under an iron helmet and long ringmail shirt; note too the extensive quilted horse-armour and leather chamfron. He is armed with a spear with a broad leaf-shaped head, and a kaskara sword and flintlock pistol carried on his saddle. The Dervishes plundered many Martini-Henry rifles from defeated Egyptian soldiers, but the only modern touch to disrupt the splendidly medieval impression created by this warrior is a holstered revolver at his hip.

2: Sudanese footsoldier This infantryman, too, wears quilted armour; while useless against firearms, this was still fairly effective against the spears and swords of the Mahdists’ tribal enemies. He is armed with a spear, and a kaskara sword carried in a crocodile-skin scabbard; the flared end of the scabbard is purely stylistic, as the blade has conventional parallel edges. His concave hide shield with a large boss and nicked rim is of a type common in the Sudan.

A challenge to the Italians came from the loosely structured Mahdiyya army in the Sudan. The Mahdi claimed to be the new prophet of Islam, and his devout followers drawn from disparate peoples made great gains against the British-sponsored Egyptians and neighbouring tribes. There had been a longstanding rivalry between these Muslim warriors and the mostly Christian Ethiopians. Emperor Yohannes campaigned against the Dervishes, but, while at first successful, he was defeated and fatally wounded at the battle of Metemma on 9 March 1889.

Although the Mahdi died in June 1885 the fight was continued by his successor, the Khalifa. Between 1885 and 1896, when the reconquest of the Sudan was undertaken by the Anglo-Egyptians.

The Mahdists fought the Italians for the first time at Agordat on 27 June 1890. About 1,000 warriors raided the Beni Amer, a tribe under Italian protection, and then went on to the wells at Agordat, on the road between the Sudan and northern Eritrea. An Italian force of two ascari companies surprised and routed them; Italian losses were only three killed and eight wounded, while the Mahdists lost about 250 dead. In 1892 the Mahdists raided again, and on 26 June a force of 120 ascari and about 200 allied Baria warriors beat them at Serobeti. Again, Italian losses were minimal – three killed and ten wounded – while the raiders lost about 100 dead and wounded out of a total of some 1,000 men. Twice the ascari had shown solid discipline while facing a larger force, and had emerged victorious. The inferior weaponry and fire discipline of the Mahdists played a large part in these defeats.

Major-General Oreste Baratieri took over as military commander of Italian forces in Africa on 1 November 1891, and also became civil governor of the colony on 22 February 1892. Baratieri had fought under Garibaldi during the wars of Italian unification, and was one of the most respected Italian generals of his time. He instituted a series of civil and military reforms to make the colony more efficient and its garrison effective. The latter was established by royal decree on 11 December 1892. The Italian troops included a battalion of Cacciatori (light infantry), a section of artillery artificers, a medical section, and a section of engineers. The main force was to be four native infantry battalions, two squadrons of native cavalry, and two mountain batteries. There were also mixed Italian/native contingents that included one company each of gunners, engineers and commissariat. This made a grand total of 6,561 men, of whom 2,115 were Italians. Facing the Mahdists, and with tension increasing with the Ethiopians, this garrison was soon strengthened by the addition of seven battalions, three of which were Italian volunteers (forming new 1st, 2nd and 3rd Inf Bns) and four of local ascari, plus another native battery. A Native Mobile Militia of 1,500 was also recruited, the best of them being encouraged to join the regular units. Like all the other colonial powers, the Italians also made widespread use of native irregulars recruited and led by local chiefs.

The first big test came at the second battle of Agordat on 21 December 1893. A force of about 12,000 Mahdists, including some 600 elite Baqqara cavalry, headed south out of the Sudan towards Agordat and the Italian colony. Facing them were 42 Italian officers and 23 Italian other ranks, 2,106 ascari, and eight mountain guns. The Italian force anchored itself on either side of the fort at Agordat, and from this strong position they repelled a mass attack, though not without significant losses – four Italians and 104 ascari killed, three Italians and 121 ascari wounded. The Mahdists lost about 2,000 killed and wounded, and 180 captured.

When the Mahdists launched raids across the border in the spring of 1894, the Italians decided to take the offensive and capture Kassala, an important Mahdist town. General Baratieri led 56 Italian officers and 41 Italian other ranks, along with 2,526 ascari and two mountain guns. At Kassala on 17 July they clashed with about 2,000 Mahdist infantry and 600 Baqqara cavalry. The Italians formed two squares, which inflicted heavy losses on the mass attacks by the Mahdists, before an Italian counterattack ended the battle. The Italians suffered an officer and 27 men killed, and two native NCOs and 39 men wounded; Mahdist casualties numbered 1,400 dead and wounded – a majority of their force. The Italians also captured 52 flags, some 600 rifles, 50 pistols, two cannons, 59 horses, and 175 cattle. This crushing defeat stopped Mahdist incursions for more than a year, and earned Baratieri acclaim at home. (In 1896 the Mahdi’s followers would make several more incursions into Eritrean territory, but without success. Fighting the Italians seriously weakened the Mahdiyya, and contributed to its defeat at the hands of Kitchener’s Anglo-Egyptian army at Omdurman in 1898.)

Russian Military Weakness in the Seventeenth Century

It has often been said that prior to the accession of Peter the Great, Russia was in a condition of military weakness. Indeed, to Peter himself has gone the credit for transforming Russia into a first-class military power in the course of his twenty-one-year war with the Swedes. Yet what exactly is military weakness? And how, in particular, was Muscovite Russia militarily weak? Was it chiefly a question of technological backwardness? Inadequate numbers of troops? Poor training? A social structure that could not support the army? We shall attempt to answer these and some ancillary questions by examining the history of two of seventeenth-century Muscovy’s most resounding military catastrophes: the Smolensk War (1632–34) and the Crimean Campaigns (1687 and 1689).

Surrender of Mikhail Shein at Smolensk, painted by Christian Melich, 1640s

Smolensk Voivodeship, showing in red the disputed territory.

The Smolensk War

After the death of Tsar Boris Godunov in 1605, Russia was plunged into crisis. The extinction of the original dynasty meant that there was no universally recognized claimant to the throne. The Smuta, a period of anarchy, civil war, and peasant rebellions, ensued. Eventually the disorder in Muscovy caught the attention of neighboring states: both the Swedes and the Poles intervened in force. Although the election of Michael Romanov as tsar in 1613 nominally resolved the domestic unrest, war with Sweden dragged on until 1617, and the conflict with Poland until 1618. Muscovy had to pay dearly for peace. Under the Stolbovo treaty Moscow ceded to Stockholm a huge swath of territory curving around the northern and western shores of Lake Ladoga. Russia was now cut off completely from the Gulf of Finland. For their part the Poles, in return for the fourteen-year Deulino armistice, exacted important lands along the western border of the state, including the strategic city of Smolensk. For the rest of the seventeenth century the government of Muscovy saw as one of its most pressing tasks the recovery of those alienated possessions. Muscovy had to choose which of its two adversaries to confront first. In the 1620s and 1630s the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth was viewed as the principal enemy.

There were several reasons behind Moscow’s preference for a Polish war: personal, dynastic, religious, historical, and pragmatic. First, the most powerful man in the Muscovite state—the tsar’s father, Patriarch Filaret—was profoundly antagonistic toward Poland, and with good reason. Arrested by the Poles in 1611, he had languished almost ten years in captivity before the Deulino armistice had resulted in his release. Second, there was an important dynastic consideration. During the time of the troubles King Zygmunt III of Poland had proposed his son Wladyslaw as candidate for the Muscovite throne. Many of the most prominent boyars in the realm (including Michael Romanov) had in fact sworn fealty to Wladyslaw. On that basis the Poles refused to the recognize Michael’s claim and throughout the 1620s routinely denied his title in diplomatic correspondence. From the standpoint of the Muscovite ruling elite this behavior was more than a discourtesy; it represented a clear danger to the state. The Smuta had been the result of contention over the right to rule, after all, and had come to an end only when all of the main political factions had agreed to respect Michael’s somewhat dubious title. For a foreign power to dispute Michael’s claim was a direct attack on the political compact that held the Muscovite state together and an open invitation to internal subversion and disloyalty.

Another factor in the targeting of Poland was a profound religious antipathy. To be sure, the Orthodox hierarchy of Moscow had no fondness for the Lutherans of Sweden or the Muslims of the Ottoman Empire. But Catholicism was perceived as more threatening to Orthodoxy than either Protestantism or Islam. Muscovites were particularly alarmed at the proselytizing efforts the Catholic and Uniate clergy had been making among the Orthodox Christians of the Ukraine ever since the late sixteenth century. That missionary effort was simultaneous with an increasingly onerous domination by Polish landlords in the Ukraine and carried a heavy risk for Warsaw. In the 1620s Orthodox Ukrainians began to petition Muscovy for aid against the Polish Catholics. The rebellion of the Ukrainian Cossacks under Khmel’nitskyi against Poland (1648) cannot be explained without reference to the religious issue. And, in 1654, Muscovite intervention on the Cossack side (the Thirteen Years War) had the religious controversy as its backdrop.

Yet another reason for discord between Moscow and Warsaw was the very existence of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, which frustrated Muscovy’s own imperial ambitions. One of the tsar’s honorifics, after all, was samoderzhets vseia Rusi, or autocrat of all Rus’. Its implication was that Muscovy alone was the true successor to the old Kievan state of the ninth through the twelfth century. Some of the lands and cities of Kievan Rus’, however, including the city of Kiev itself, lay under the sway of Poland. As Polish peace commissioners were to point out to their Muscovite counterparts in 1634, “the tsar should most properly style himself autocrat of his own Rus’ since Rus’ is located both in the Muscovite and in the Polish state.”

If all those considerations militated in favor of a war with Poland, there were eminently pragmatic motivations as well. As we shall see somewhat later, given the composition and logistics of the Muscovite army in the first half of the seventeenth century, a foray into Polish white Russia, where food and forage were readily available, had a greater chance of success than a war against Sweden, which would, perforce, be fought in the barren wastes of Karelia, Finland, or Ingria.

In any case, for Muscovy to undertake a full-blown war with any other state was hardly an easy matter in the first quarter of the seventeenth century. There was, of course, a financial problem: the time of the troubles had emptied the tsarist treasury, and many years would be required to achieve that solvency and those fiscal surpluses without which war would be unthinkable. The difficulty here was compounded by the fact that in the 1620s and 1630s Muscovy received more than three-fourths of its revenues from import duties and a tax on the sale of alcohol in the taverns. It was obviously hard to squeeze more money from those sources than they already provided. Throughout the seventeenth century the Muscovite administration therefore continuously tried to find new ways of raising revenue, usually by imposing higher and (theoretically at least) more collectable new direct taxes.

Another impediment to war was the perceived inadequacy of Muscovy’s indigenous military system. The Livonian wars of the late sixteenth century plus the Smuta itself had aroused doubts about the training, equipment, and tactics of the traditional cavalry army. That army, consisting of members of the petty nobility (dvoriane and deti boiarskie) along with their armed dependents, was not a standing force. In exchange for service (and years sometimes went by between musters) these nobles received estates in usufruct or sometimes modest cash payments from the crown. Augmenting the horsemen were the so-called strel’tsy or musketeers, who, when not campaigning or serving in a garrison, engaged in petty trading and small-scale agriculture in the principal towns of the country. Although the Muscovite army had an artillery branch, there were few arsenals. Master gunners were in short supply. Such an army had its advantages: it was both relatively mobile and relatively inexpensive, at least by Western standards. It also had its uses in pitched battle against other cavalry formations. Indeed, this military system, which had been created for fighting Tatars, was to some extent modeled on similar Tatar military institutions.6 Yet by the early seventeenth century this army had ceased to be an army of aggressive conquest: it did not have the power to occupy any territory permanently, nor was it of significant use in siege warfare.

A final check on Muscovite belligerence was the geopolitical position of the Muscovite state itself. To the northwest, west, and southwest, Muscovy shared borders with three powerful potential enemies: Sweden, the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, and the Khanate of the Crimea. Those states were so embroiled in rivalry with Muscovy and with each other that Muscovy did not dare to go to war against one of them without an alliance with, or at least a promise of neutrality from, the other two. As the Smuta had demonstrated, Muscovy simply could not afford a two-front, let alone a three-front war. And there were many reasons for it to fear the power and intentions of each of those three states.

Muscovy had been at peace with Sweden since the Stolbovo treaty. The Swedish monarchy was satisfied with its terms and for the moment entertained no more territorial designs on Russia. But the Kremlin could not be certain that matters would stay that way. There was an anti-Muscovite party active at the Swedish court, and Sweden manifested a suspicious interest in monopolizing the proceeds of Muscovy’s transit trade with the rest of Northern Europe. Swedish military might, founded on its vastly profitable iron industry, its effective system of conscription, and the military reforms of the great Gustaphus Adolphus, could not be taken lightly.

For the reasons already cited, relations between Moscow and Warsaw were tense. There was growing evidence of the political decomposition of the Commonwealth, beginning in the early seventeenth century, which for the Muscovites could only be a cause for satisfaction. The monarchy, elective since 1572, was becoming progressively weaker vis-à-vis the powerful noble clans. Soon the Polish-Lithuanian state would recognize the right of Liberum veto, which permitted any noble delegate to the Diet (or parliament) to “explode” it, thereby paralyzing the government. The state was further afflicted with poisonous feuds between the great magnates, to say nothing of religious, ethnic, and national tensions. All this notwithstanding, with a population of more than 8 million and a land area of almost 400,000 square miles, Poland was one of the largest of European states. Then, too, although the Polish army was small (fielding no more than 60,000 men in wartime) it was formidable beyond its numbers. The Polish light cavalry was the terror of Eastern and Southern Europe: between the late sixteenth and mid-seventeenth centuries it fought outnumbered and often prevailed against Turks, Tatars, Cossacks, Swedes, Prussians, and Russians. In the early decades of the seventeenth century King Zygmunt had embarked on a series of Western-style military reforms of his own.

The territory of the last great security threat to the Muscovite state, the Crimean Khanate, lay roughly 600 miles south of the city of Moscow proper. The Girei dynasty, which ruled the Khanate, was one of the last in the Muslim world that could trace itself back to Genghis Khan. Although they were nominally tributaries of the Turkish Sultan, the Gireis reserved to themselves considerable freedom of military and diplomatic action. The danger of raids upon Muscovy by the Crimean Tatars and their Nogai allies was in theory averted by the annual tribute that the tsar delivered to the Khan. Yet those bribes did not buy total protection. There were always free spirits and outlaws among the Tatars—men who mounted their own attacks on Polish, Ukrainian, or Russian territories in defiance of the Khan’s orders. And given the economic problems of the Khanate (including inadequate stocks of food and overpopulation), the Khan at times yielded to the temptation to break his word and go on raids in search of plunder, slaves, and prisoners to ransom. As the Khan was able to put from 40,000 to 100,000 warriors in the saddle for a single campaign, this was no small worry. Muscovy had endured more than thirty major Tatar attacks during the sixteenth century; from 1611 through 1617 southern Russia had annually been ravaged by them. Muscovy was concerned with the Tatar danger throughout the seventeenth century and experimented with a variety of means (settlement of permanent garrisons, enlistment of the Don Cossacks, construction of fortified lines) in order to contain it.

Despite all of these problems—financial, military, geopolitical—Patriarch Filaret and the people around him were bent on war with Poland. In preparing for it they took steps to overcome each difficulty. In the mid-1620s Filaret decreed a new system of direct taxation (the dvorovaia chef), which enabled the government to compute taxes on the basis of the number of households in a region rather than their productivity. This fiscal measure and others permitted Filaret to restore financial stability while building up a substantial war chest.

The war fund was particularly important to Filaret’s plan to stockpile in advance the resources he would need for his war. Between 1630 and 1632 the Muscovite state imported more than a million pounds of iron and lead for the casting of cannon and forging of bullets. Special purchasing commissions visited all the principal courts of Northern Europe in search of cannon, muskets, pistols, and rapiers. Personnel were no less important. Muscovy tried to hire foreign military specialists—experts in the Western way of war—and simultaneously tried to enroll entire regiments abroad. Although the Thirty Years War was raging and it was a sellers’ market for mercenaries, Muscovy’s two Scottish agents, Lesly and Sanderson, were eventually able to dispatch some 3,800 troops from Germany and England to Muscovy. Their frenetic and expensive recruitment resulted in a doubling of the number of foreigners in the tsar’s service.

Yet Russia could not afford enough foreign mercenaries to bear the brunt of its Polish war. The “German” soldiers (as all foreigners were called, regardless of nationality) typically demanded fat salaries and substantial fringe benefits, such as lifetime pensions for their heirs in the event of serious wounds or death. With a view to economy the tsarist government decided to try to train Russians to fight in the Western manner. This was the origin of the voiska inozemnogo stroia (troops of foreign formation). Enlisting landless deti boiarskie, Tatar converts, some peasants, and some Cossacks, these units began to drill under the supervision of their foreign officers in 1630. At the beginning of the war the government had eight infantry regiments (9,000 troops) of the “foreign” type on hand.

Diplomatic maneuvering in Stockholm and the Crimea completed Russia’s war preparations. Gustaphus Adolphus had recently intervened in the Thirty Years War as an ally of the Protestant princes and consequently welcomed Russia’s proposed attack on Poland, hoping that it would secure his Livonian flank. Negotiations with the Tatars, although less smooth, finally resulted in the Khanate’s promise of neutrality.

Confident that Russia was ready, Filaret made his final choice for war when he learned of the sudden death of King Zygmunt III in April 1632. A Poland distracted by the quarrels and intrigues of an interregnum, Filaret reasoned, would be more vulnerable than ever. Accordingly Moscow ordered the concentration of the troops of foreign formation and commanded the cavalry troops to “ready themselves for service, assemble supplies, and feed their horses.” Voevody (district military leaders) and namestniki (provincial viceroys) were ordered to cooperate with the recruiting officers who would shortly arrive to verify the musters of the local nobility. All those processes required time. At last, by August the Muscovite state had at its disposal 29,000 troops and 158 guns. Overall command rested with the aged boyar Mikhail Borisovich Shein. Shein’s qualifications for his post were his close association with Filaret (the two men hand endured Polish captivity together), his prestige as a hero of the Smuta and his intimate knowledge of the fortress of Smolensk (as commandant of the garrison there during the Polish siege of 1609–11).

A nakaz, an instruction issued in the name of the tsar, spelled out for Shein the general objectives of the war and the overall strategy he was to follow in their pursuit. Russia’s goals were in fact modestly limited to the reconquest of the territories that had been lost to Poland in 1618. Russia’s forces were supposed to capture Dorogobuzh and as many other frontier outposts as they could, as quickly as possible. Simultaneously, they were to issue proclamations calling on the Orthodox subjects of the Poles to rise in rebellion. Then they were to move briskly to invest and take the important town of Smolensk, some 45 miles southwest of Dorogobuzh. Possession of Smolensk was critical to Muscovy’s plan for the entire campaign. The lands Russia wanted to reacquire lay roughly within the oval described by the Dniepr river to the west and Desna to the east. Smolensk was located on the Dniepr at the northern end of the oval, less than 30 miles from the headwaters of the Desna.

The war began splendidly for the Muscovites. By mid-October 1632, Dorogobuzh and twenty other frontier forts were in Russian hands. On October 18, Shein and the main army arrived at the outskirts of Smolensk and prepared to besiege it.

To seize Smolensk was, however, no easy matter, for the town was protected by series of daunting natural and man-made obstacles. The core of the city was ringed by a wall almost 50 feet high and 15 feet thick. Thirty-eight bastions furthered strengthened this defense. Although those fortifications had been considerably damaged during the 1609–11 siege, the Poles had recently devoted great attention to their repair. They had augmented them by erecting a five-bastion outwork to the west of the city (known as King Zygmunt’s fort), which was furnished with its own artillery and subterranean secret passages to facilitate sorties and countermining. To the north the city was defended by the Dniepr and to the east by a flooded marsh. The southern side of the city consequently offered the most promising approach for an assault, but here the Poles had build a strong, palisaded earthen rampart. The garrison, under the Polish voevod Stanislaw, was also relatively strong, comprising 600 regular infantry, 600 regular cavalry, and 250 town Cossacks. Stanislaw could rely on the townspeople to man the walls in a pinch and could also enlist the services of several hundred nobles of the local levy, who, armed and mounted, had taken refuge within the town of Smolensk at the news of the Muscovite advance.

Smolensk thus confronted Shein with formidable military problems: a resolute garrison, strong fortifications, and natural obstacles. Shein’s troop dispositions were commendable for prudence, economy, and foresight. He recognized that the same natural obstacles (the Dniepr, the flooded marsh) that protected the Poles to the north and east also hemmed them in, serving as natural siege works. That made a complete set of lines of countervallation unnecessary. Shein therefore deployed his troops to achieve three purposes: the possession of all tactically significant positions, such as patches of high ground around the city; the protection of his own lines of communication, supply, and retreat; and defense against potential relief columns. He ordered Colonel Mattison to occupy the Pokrowska Hill due north of the town of Smolensk on the opposite side of the Dniepr. The site was clearly the one most suitable for the emplacement of artillery batteries. Due west of the city Shein stationed the formations of Prince Prozorovskii. Prozorovskii, whose back was to the Dniepr, enclosed the rest of his camp with an enormous half-circle of earthworks (the wall alone was over 30 feet high). His purpose was both to menace the Polish ramparts on his right flank and to serve as the first line of defense against any Polish army of relief coming from the west. Between Prozorovskii and the walls of Smolensk, Shein placed van Damm’s infantry and d’Ebert’s heavy cavalry. Colonel Alexander Lesly, Colonel Thomas Sanderson, and Colonel Tobias Unzen, in command of the main body of Russian forces (almost nine thousand men) positioned themselves along the perimeter of the enemy’s palisades to the south. To the east Karl Jacob and one thousand Russian infantry of new formation formed a screen behind the flooded marsh. Two and a half miles farther east, in a pocket formed by the bend in the Dniepr, was Shein’s own fortified camp. Shein’s camp protected not only the army’s wagon trains and magazines, but also two pontoon bridges the Muscovites had erected across the Dniepr to secure communications with Dorogobuzh, where the reserves of food were stockpiled.

The army of the Catholic Liga and the Bavarian army

Maximilian I von Wittelsbach parading through his troops after the Battle of Melnik, AD 1619

If neither the Danes nor the Dutch made use of what could properly be seen as military enterprisers, developments in the Liga/Bavarian army led to a very different relationship between state power and private capital and organization.

The army of the League of Catholic German states (the Liga) had been formed in 1610 through the direct initiative of Duke Maximilian of Bavaria, whose duchy also provided the majority of the troops and funding. This imported into the army Maximilian’s characteristic concern with direct control and accountability, which he was as anxious to apply to an expensive army as he had been to the financial and legal institutions of his duchy. In this concern he was abetted by his close working relationship with his lieutenant general, Jean T’Serclaes de Tilly. Tilly shared decision-making about all aspects of military policy with Maximilian in person, and with the duke’s senior military commissioners, who stood at the head of an elaborate pyramid of administrators, which reached down to the level of the individual regiments and handled issues connected with food and munitions supply and aspects of civil-military discipline. In the early 1620s the resources of Maximilian’s Bavaria and the wealthy Rhineland territories that made up the other key Liga states were sufficient to meet a high proportion of the costs of the army via self-imposed military taxes.

It might seem then that the Liga army was a straightforward precursor of the state-financed, state-directed military force, in which both officers and men were paid employees of the ruler and his state administration, where control and accountability was maintained by salaried state officials on commission, and the commanding officer himself was a willing servant of a ruler who considered that all major military decisions should fall under his purview. But underlying all of this, the essential character of the Bavarian army remained that of a force composed of enterpriser-colonels. Although they might be vetted for their Catholic credentials, and although Maximilian took a strong personal interest in the military capacities of his senior officers, the terms of the Bestallung, or recruitment contract, are recognizably those made with military enterprisers. The parallels with the Bavarian military system are not those of a modern, state-run army, but more closely those of the contemporary Venetian armies and galley fleets, based on hired mercenaries and contracted service, but supervised by state officials – the proveditore – and with a substantial element of state oversight and control over military policy-making and execution. The colonel in the Liga army received full discretion to appoint junior officers, allowing these officers in turn to recruit as they saw fit to produce good-quality recruits, a process which could well include paying above the specified recruitment sums to attract better soldiers. The colonel also held full administrative and judicial rights over his men, and had responsibility for the provision of their weapons, equipment, clothing and, in the case of cavalry, horses, much of which he would recover from their subsequent wages. Above all, although it was masked by the military successes and the relatively easy access to funds from various forms of taxes and contributions in the 1620s, the enterpriser-colonel was still entering into a financial agreement with Maximilian and the Liga in which he would, if required, advance his own capital to raise more troops, to maintain his existing forces or to meet other shortfalls.

What the Liga achieved in the financially ‘good years’ of the 1620s was control over the growth of military enterprise and the extent to which capital could be invested in the army. This was seen most clearly in the decision that none of the colonels in the Liga army should be allowed to acquire command of more than a single regiment. Such a stipulation could not be more different from the case with the armies of Wallenstein or the Swedes, where multiple contracting was the norm and colonels regularly invested in units whose actual command was placed in the hands of the lieutenant colonel. The Liga army did not wholly forbid multiple proprietorship: the cavalry general Jan de Werth, for example, held three regiments. The restriction was more concerned with the practicalities of military administration, with preventing the development of powerful interests and too much financial exposure amongst the senior officers. In a similar spirit, the Liga army stipulated at ten the maximum number of companies in a regiment. Both these policies had the same basic aims: to ensure that the colonels were present in person with the army and controlled their units directly, and that the force that they commanded and might need to finance was of a manageable size – both adminstratively and financially. The weekly salary for a colonel in the army of the Liga in 1629 was 62 talers (approximately 85 florins), while in the same period Wallenstein’s colonels were receiving 400 florins a week, rising to 500.

There were certainly opportunities for the Bavarian colonels to recover some of their investment and to meet the costs of making their units up to strength; even in the difficult winter of 1632/3, the ordinance for winter-quartering accorded the Bavarian colonels billeted on Liga territories 400 florins per month.50 Most of this was intended to assist with the recruitment and reconstruction of the regiments, but doubtless allowed the colonels some element of reimbursement for previous expenditure.

This financial structure based on moderate but regular pay was subject to slippage, above all as the Bavarian and other Liga territories suffered the blows of invasion, devastation and occupation by the Swedes in 1631–4 and again later in the war. But the major army reforms following on the Peace of Prague (1635), which abolished the Catholic Liga army but permitted the Bavarians to retain an independent army under the overall authority of the Emperor, reiterated the principles of restricted investment and a strong administrative-supervisory presence with the army. The advantages of this may have been less apparent in the campaigns of the late 1620s and early 1630s when the armies of Wallenstein, the combined forces of Christian of Denmark and the armies of Gustavus Adolphus were briefly pushing totals of troops under arms into the hundreds of thousands, but in the longer run the Liga/Bavarian model of a small and high-quality army was to prove the optimal solution to the challenges of waging the Thirty Years War, with its logistical constraints and the need to promote sustainability of financial commitments both at the level of exactions from territory and populations and from the military enterprisers themselves.

Over the period 1635 to 1648 by far the largest proportion of the financing of the army came from agreed military contributions levied by local authorities on the Bavarian and Swabian Circles. This was not a system that depended on conquest, occupation and near-confiscatory contribution demands to meet its own military costs. Between 1635 and 1648 the contributions and other local taxes levied across the two Kreise amounted to 11.7 million florins, a huge amount by the standards of pre-war taxation, but spread out across relatively prosperous territories and imposed over fifteen years, it was a sustainable burden. State-sanctioned financial support, coupled with an administrative presence within the armies, permitted the maintenance of the Bavarian system of ‘restricted enterprise’, encouraging the colonels to invest in their units, but at a sustainable level compared with the central sources of funding. This had a particularly significant consequence in maintaining the long-term existence of a significant number of Bavarian regiments.56 While the Bavarian army was not unique in its capacity to maintain a strong core of experienced career soldiers under arms, it was certainly one of the most successful of the armies of the Thirty Years War in this respect. Contemporaries largely agreed that the numbers and quality of veteran soldiers were the key to military effectiveness, and it was unsurprising to them that the Bavarian army, despite its small numbers, had an impressive military reputation.

The limits of military enterprise

The Liga/Bavarian army, with its state-funded and ultimately state-directed military organization which nonetheless recognized distinct financial and organizational benefits in encouraging regimental proprietorship and regulated private interest, is an important model in the evolution of early modern military institutions. However, its emergence depended on the particular circumstances of leadership from the ruler of the one financially robust major state in the Holy Roman Empire, on substantial financial support from other relatively wealthy fellow members of the Catholic Liga, and a political context which for the most part allowed the Liga army more initiative and latitude in deciding on its military commitments and the military scale of its responses than other powers in the war. Other states were in less favourable positions, and the temptation to establish a very different balance between the public and private elements of their military organization was correspondingly greater. The two obvious belligerents pursuing an expansionist approach to the involvement of military enterprise in their war effort were the Habsburg Imperial army and the Swedish forces operating in Germany.




Origin: Wehrkreis VI

Composition: 1944: Pz. Gr. Rgt. 60, Pz. Gr. Rgt. 156, Pz. Rgt. 16, Pz. Aufkl. Abt. 116, Pz. Art. Rgt. 146. Pz. Jag. Abt. 228, HFlakart. Abt. 281, Pi. Btl. 675, Nachr. Abt. 228, Kdr. Pz. Div. Nachsch. Tr. 66.

Commanders: Oberst Gerhard Müller (28. III.-30. IV. 1944, m. d. F. b.), Gen. Lt. Gerhard Graf von Schwerin (1. V.-13. IX. 1944), Oberst (Gen. Maj.) Siegfried von Waldenburg (14. IX. 1944-V. 1945).

116. Pz. Div. was raised in France on 28 March 1944 from the remnants of 16. Pz. Gr. Div. and 179. Res. Pz. Div.

The division was stationed north of the Seine River when the Allies landed. But it was not committed until the end of July. According to the written testimony of its commander, Count von Schwerin, it was being held in reserve for the “20 July plotters” and that is why it was not thrown into the battle of Normandy although quite close to the front. It finally moved into the combat zone at the end of July. In August, it counter- attacked in the Mortain sector but failed in its attempt to cut off the Americans. It was caught in the Falaise pocket and only managed to break out by suffering heavy casualties.

In mid-September, the division fought in the Aix-la- Chapelle region. It was around this time that its commanding officer, General von Schwerin, was relieved of his command for ordering the division to evacuate the town of Aix. In September-October 1944, it was part of I. SS-Pz. K. (7. Armee). It was repatriated to re-form in the Düsseldorf area. It joined Pz. Brig. 108 but, owing to shortages, the number of tanks per company was restricted to 14. Its strength was increased to 11,500 men. In November, it left for the Cologne area, then was engaged in the Ardennes as part of 5. Pz. Armee. It sustained heavy losses during that offensive. In January 1945, it retreated to Cleves, and fought in Holland, making a vain attempt to halt the advancing British and Canadian troops (February 1945). 116. Pz. Div. ended the war in the Ruhr pocket where it was wiped out.

In its one-year existence, 116. Pz. Div. produced 13 Knights of the Iron Cross.


An interview with Genmaj Rudolf von Gersdorff – C of S, 7 Army Genmaj Siegfried von Waldenburg – Cmdr 116 Pz Div 1.

Q : What was the mission of 116 Pz Div when it was committed in the Vossenack – Schmidt area?

A : (Waldenburg) The immediate task was to halt your attack and then counterattack with the mission of clearing the American penetration. (Gersdorff) At Army level, we felt that the effort should divide itself in two phases. First, we wanted to cut off and destroy your troops southeast of the Kall, using principally 89 Inf Div. and the tank regiment of 116 Pz Div. Secondly, by using the reminder of 116 Pz Div., we hoped to drive you off the heights at Vossenack and eventually re-establish the front in the woods west of Germeter. For us, it was advantageous to fix the battle line in the forest as it limited the use of your air power and your tanks.

1. Q : Was our attack a surprise in timing and / or direction? A : (Gersdorff) We knew, generally, that an attack was forming. Our agents in Roetgen reported the presence of numerous reserves and artillery observation planes, but we did not know the specific date. We believed the main thrust would be headed northeast through Huertgen onto Dueren. At the same time, we believed you would send a force through Schmidt and go for the Dams. The tremendous artillery preparation, of course, showed your hand and we know the attack was on. (Interviewers’ Note: See Gersdorff’s account of “Kriegsspial of Model.”)

1. Q : (Interviewers’ Note: The account of 116 Pz Div’s action is contained in ML – 1039) When your reconnaissance battalion drove from Mestringer Muehle, did 89 Inf Div launch an attack from the south to join them?

A : (Waldenburg) I believe so. Our elements did make contact, but 89 Inf Div was very weak at the time and no strong link was formed. A patrol from my reconnaissance battalion, consisting of an officer and 4 or 5 with a radio, made its way to this point of woods south of Vossenack (Ed: coordinates 0232). From here, they could easily observe movement from Germeter to Vossenack and adjust artillery fire.

1. Q : Our troops in Vossenack, having been shelled almost continually for four days, were unnerved by the quiet on the morning of 6 Nov 44. Was the absence of an artillery preparation a planned tactic?

A : (Waldenburg) Yes. We hoped to gain surprise.

1. Q : Did your troops find stiff resistance from our forces in Vossenack?

A : (Waldenburg) Yes. There was hand – to – hand combat. We did get many prisoners, but the farther we went, the more resistance stiffened. During the attack, we smoked the Germeter area. Finally, when your armour and reinforcements arrived, we could not get beyond the church.

1. Q : Did you plan to renew the attack on 7 Nov 44?

A : (Waldenburg) Yes. As a matter of fact, I believe the artillery preparation for our attack caught your troops as they were getting ready to attack us. Your troops (Interviewers’ Note: 146 Engr C. Bn) that retook Vossenack with those tanks did an excellent job.

1. Q : After we had repulsed your second effort to take Vossenack on 7 Nov 44, we brought up an infantry battalion to replace the engineers. The relief was made hurriedly and the infantry, on 8 Nov 44, was not ready for action. Did you plan another attack for that day?

A : (Waldenburg) Unfortunately, you didn’t notify me of this situation. No, our troops were very tired and had suffered heavy casualties.

A : (Gersdorff) You must remember this Vossenack fight was considered the second phase of our action, so most of our concern was across the Kall; then too, we could not move tanks up to Vossenack.

A : (Waldenburg) I tried to build a road from Huertgen through the woods towards Vossenack, but it was not suitable. A couple of assault guns got through, but the heavier, bigger tanks became stuck in the mud.

1. Q : At this time, we committed a new regiment (Interviewers’ Note: 12 Inf Regt of 4 Inf Div (US)) in the woods above Germeter. They were to attack towards Huertgen. Was this area under your control? A : (Waldenburg) Initially, my zone was south and east of there, but on 6 or 7 Nov 44, this area also became my responsibility. On 10 Nov 44, while you were attacking west to clip off the Weisser Weh salient, I launched an attack. Following a heavy artillery preparation, elements of both 156 and 60 Pz Gren Regts, followed by some engineers, were committed and cut off your troops. They passed through the engineer battalions who were holding the line.

Q : On 13 Nov 44, after two unsuccessful efforts to improve the situation of the isolated force, we made a withdrawal. Not a shot was fired. Were you aware of this?

A : (Waldenburg) Yes. We got a report on what you were doing, but the local commanders said the woods were so thick and the debris so prohibitive that they could not stop you.

1. Q : Having failed to cut off the Wiesser Weh salient at its base, we finally began on 14 Nov 44 to attack directly up it. How strongly was it defended at that time?

A : (Waldenburg) We merely maintained patrols behind the wire obstacles and mine fields. All this time I was making daily requests to be relieved from this sector. It was not suitable for the employment of a panzer division.

A : (Gersdorff) We also wanted to withdraw the unit so that it could be refitted for the Ardennes Offensive, but we had no one to fill the hole. Finally, we managed to relieve a battalion at a time. The Division Artillery stayed on an extra three or four days so that you would not notice a slackening in the fire and realize what we had done.

1. Q : On what date did your troops leave the Vossenack area?

A : (Ed: probably answered by Waldenburg.) Approximately 13 Nov 44.

1. Q : What do you estimate as your casualties in the battle for Schmidt and Vossenack and in the fighting between Germeter and Huertgen and between Huertgen and Kleinhau?

A : (Waldenburg) Without data of any kind, it is, unfortunately, impossible for me to give a detailed description of the looses suffered by the Division in the fighting in the Huertgen Forest and at Schmidt. The casualties in personnel, especially of officers and non-commissioned officers, were heavy. The two panzer grenadier regiments were particularly hard hit and the reconnaissance battalion to a lesser degree. The panzer regiment, as far as I remember, suffered only small losses in the Schmidt area, with only three or four tanks being put out of action. The artillery had hardly any casualties or any losses in material. The antiaircraft battalion lost two guns through air attacks. Even though the losses in personnel of the Division could be made up on the whole by fresh replacements before the Ardennes Offensive, the casualties in officers and non-commissioned officers and enlisted men with battle experience could no longer be replaced. This lack of experienced personnel made itself felt considerably in the Ardennes campaign. Weapons lost or put out of action generally could be completely replaced. The motor vehicle situation, however, had further deteriorated and the Division moved into the Ardennes Offensive with only about 60% of the vehicles it should have had.

1. Q : How seriously did your engagement in the Huertgen Forest affect your efficiency and strength for the Ardennes Offensive?

A : The loss of experienced leaders and battle – hardened veterans was certainly felt. Our losses in material were replenished, except in trucks. In that category, we went into the Ardennes at only 60% of our T/O strength. Source: Foreign Military Studies – Ethint -56 (Headquarters United States Army Europe – 15 Dec 1945)

The Rise of Professionalism I

Attack of Prussian Infantry, 4 June 1745, by Carl Röchling

From the dawn of recorded history, military organization has assumed many different forms. All of these were ultimately rooted in political, social, and economic structures, but all of them were also partly the product of the technology in use. Little can be learned from archeological evidence about early armed forces. To argue backward from the military organization of primitive tribes which still exist or which existed until recently, however, one can conclude that the first war-making societies probably did not recognize the distinction between civilians and soldiers, let alone professional soldiers. With them it would be more correct to speak of warriors, who were simply adult members of the tribe. Very often the only way to gain recognition as an adult was to assume the role of a warrior, sometimes symbolically but often enough literally by killing an enemy, as among some North-American Indian tribes. As is indicated by the Greek word stratos, which means host, under such conditions armies—in the sense of specialized war-making organizations standing apart from society as a whole—did not exist. Rather, it would be more correct to say that, when hostilities threatened or broke out, the entire tribe was put on a war footing and fought on the basis of the same organization as governed its day-today life.

Naturally, tribal organizations could only survive so long as the military technology in use met a very specific set of requirements. It had to be cheap, or else it would be beyond the reach of every member of the tribe. It had to be simple to make, or else the difficulty of its manufacture would give rise to a specialized class of artisans which might then be able to translate its skills into economic and political power. Either the weapons had to be very simple to use or else they could not be specialized for war; where these conditions were not met, their use would presuppose specialized military training and hence the rise of a warrior class sufficiently well-off economically to be able to take time out for that training. As a result of all these requirements, the weapons employed by tribal societies for war were normally much the same as those employed for games, sport, hunting, and certain types of magical-religious ceremonies. Indeed, those activities themselves were often not clearly differentiated from each other and from war.

We do not know just where and when weapons first reached a stage of development in which they could no longer easily be purchased, or manufactured, or used, by every male member of the tribe. Probably the change did not occur quickly in all places at once. In any case, tribal organization was not compatible with settled life, or perhaps things developed the other way around and it was technological advances which caused the nomadic way of life to be abandoned. The earliest urban civilizations known to us, those of Egypt, Sumer, India, and China, had already reached a stage of development where weapons were not available to the whole population but concentrated in the hands of certain groups.

The organization of these military groups varied greatly from time to time and from place to place. Sometimes, as in the Greek polis and Republican Rome, the system was tymocratic or money-based. A census was held and the citizens were divided into classes according to the amount of property that they owned. Those above a certain minimum were obliged to acquire the arms appropriate to their class, spend a certain amount of time training with them, and fight when necessary. At other times and places, political and economic power was concentrated in the hands of a central government which issued arms—manufactured either in its own shops or by contractors—and hired troops. In some cases the forces at the government’s disposal might be permanent, in which case it is possible to speak of standing armies. In others they were raised only in emergencies, so that the term mercenaries would be more appropriate.

In many cases different types of military organization existed side by side, not merely at different places but within the same civilization, society, and state. Indeed one might argue that the period before 1500 A.D. was characterized precisely by the fact that even quite primitive tribal structures that were centered around the bow remained not only viable but perfectly competitive, as the establishment of the vast Mongol Empire during the thirteenth century shows. The various forms did not necessarily exist in isolation but often gave rise to combinations. The nature of these combinations was not based on the weapons and technology in use, but was most certainly affected by them.

To focus on military professionalism, in one sense it represents a very ancient system indeed. By the time of Christ, if not long before, standing armies had already been maintained by governments in the Far and Middle East, and also in the Mediterranean area. These armies consisted of men who looked on war as their trade and expected regular payment for their services. A good example is the Roman Imperial Army, which survived in recognizable form for several centuries. During the first century B.C., between the time of Marius and that of Augustus, its personnel was transformed into regulars who regarded war as their trade and who soldiered as a living. Not only did these troops develop a strong corporate identity and esprit de corps, but advancement within the army was at least partly by merit. Nevertheless, Roman professionalism was so different from that in our time that the very use of the term may be misleading. Whereas today it is the officers above all who consider themselves military professionals and are so regarded by society at large, in Imperial Rome the situation was just the opposite. There, professionalism was limited to the rank and file and to the centurions, the latter corresponding approximately to the present day NCO. Above the rank of primipilus, or senior legionary NCO, appointments did not go by professional merit but were restricted to members of certain well-defined socio-economic classes, the equites and senators. To them the suggestion that they soldiered for a living would have come as an insult, even if (or particularly when) it was true. Under the Roman army system it was thus the base which contained the expertise, whereas the top consisted, in principle at any rate, of amateurs and political appointees. This is not quite what we would expect in a professional force today.

Feudalism, the foundation of numerous societies during ancient and medieval times, was another very important form of military organization. As a military system, feudalism arose where weapons were not concentrated in the hands of a central government, but were nevertheless so expensive or else so difficult to make and employ that their use was confined to a narrow, normally hereditary, class. The nature of the weapons themselves varied very greatly. In some places it was the chariot, in others the horseand-composite-bow combination, in others still the horse combined with expensive iron armor that formed the military-technological basis of a warrior aristocracy. As a look at many times and places—India during the second millenium B.C., Homeric Greece, Mamluk Egypt, medieval Europe, and Samurai Japan—shows, feudalism as a form of military organization was compatible with any of these weapons. There can be no question of strict technological determinism here. Indeed, all but identical weapons were often used by troops whose military system of organization did not follow feudal principles. These considerations notwithstanding, feudal military organization, like any other, clearly does rest upon certain technological foundations. Take those foundations away, and feudalism itself will crumble into dust, though only someone untouched by the least historical sense would expect the process to be simple, or smooth, or painless.

Where feudalism reigns, the establishment of a military organization properly speaking poses special problems. Feudal warriors derive their status in life largely from their ownership of certain expensive weapons which are difficult to use and require much training. Hence, they are apt to regard themselves as the equals of all other warriors equipped in the same manner. Armies made up of such warriors will tend to be impermanent, organizationally unarticulated, and difficult to discipline. Furthermore, they are likely to attempt to turn war itself into a ritual, designed less with “utilitarian” considerations in mind than to preserve their own special status against outsiders. In such societies war itself will often be regarded as the exclusive domain of a single class. People who do not belong may be forbidden to carry weapons altogether, as was the case in Japan under Tokugawa rule. Also, fights between them and the aristocracy (and among themselves) will not count as war but merely as police work, hunting, sport, or entertainment.

Such being the nature of feudalism in general, and of European feudalism during the Middle Ages in particular, its incompatibility with military professionalism will be readily understood, Though kings and great lords frequently did maintain permanent bodies of retainers, these were bound to them by personal ties—either as relatives or as servants—and could not be described as professional soldiers. To feudal knights, on the other hand, war represented not so much a profession as a vocation. They practiced it not in order to earn a salary, but because it was the manifest destiny of the class to which they belonged. Though the training of knights began from the moment they could stay in the saddle, the goal and outcome of this training was less professional expertise as presently understood than an entire way of life. Since there were no permanent units, they could not serve as the basis of a corporate identity, nor did esprit de corps arise except on an ad hoc basis. There were no officers in our sense of the word, or perhaps it would be closer to the truth to say that the forces consisted exclusively of them. An ordered system of ranks and promotions did not exist. Selection for command was by socio-political status, so that commanders tended to be simply better-sired men than their followers.

Against this rather unpromising background, the rise of military professionalism in early modern Europe was the outcome of many factors, some of them technological and others not. They included the growing power of kings and of centralized states, the tendency to substitute wages or salaries for feudal service, and, from the fifteenth century on, the persistent attempts of great lords to develop the retainers of their households into the nuclei of standing armies. Among the numerous technological factors involved, perhaps the most important were the invention of paper, printing, and related techniques for the storage and dissemination of information. These innovations helped increase the size of armed forces and improve their administration. Ultimately, they also permitted a revolution in military education.

War has always been, and in some ways still remains, a practical affair above all. Therefore, the need for theory was slow to gain recognition, and indeed is by no means universally accepted even today. In many different societies, and at many different times and places, the training received by warriors remained rudimentary for centuries after the instruction of other experts—doctors, lawyers, or priests—had been formalized and entrusted to specialized schools. Specialists in violence—the anachronism is deliberate—were not educated as other professionals were. Though virtually all societies that engaged in armed conflict recognized the need to acclimatize novices to war, and often appointed specialized personnel to supervise the process, in virtually every historical army this acclimatization was limited to instruction in the basics, i.e., physical hardening and weapons drill. Beyond this, specialized training for the higher posts did not exist. Preparation for them, to the extent that it was considered necessary at all, depended primarily on serving a kind of practical apprenticeship either in the units themselves or on what passed for staffs. The scarcity and cost of textbooks was one of the factors that contributed to this situation. Though textbooks did of course exist, and though some are even known to have been written (and sometimes read) by commanders of every epoch, before 1500 their circulation had been too small to permit the education of the majority of officers to be based on them.

During the early modern period, this state of affairs no longer applied. Books on military affairs were by no means the last to come off the printing presses. By the end of the sixteenth century it was possible to read, either in the original or in translation or both, modern editions of Thucydides, Xenophon, Polybius, Caesar, Livius, Onasander, Polynaeus, Frontinus, and Vegetius, as well as printed versions of the Byzantine military classics which were brought to the West after the fall of Constantinople in 1453. Simultaneously there arose a vast military and naval literature written in the modern European languages, initially Italian but later also German, French, Dutch, Spanish, English, and Swedish. Side by side with books, military periodicals gradually appeared. By the late eighteenth century, these were well on their way to turning into specialized vehicles for expressing views and exchanging ideas on war. Beginning with siege warfare, the most technical subject of all, the idea began to catch on that war was not merely a practical pursuit but also rested on a substantial theoretical basis. This theoretical basis became the concern of professionals, or perhaps it would be closer to the truth to say that a professional was increasingly defined not simply as one who cut throats for a living but as somebody who had studied and mastered the theoretical foundations. It would be ridiculous as well as unhistorical to attribute these developments solely to technological factors. Still, for military book-knowledge to be possible and to count for something there must be books, and whether there are books in sufficient numbers and priced sufficiently low depends as much on technology as on anything else.

While printing was contributing to the rise of military professionalism in this way, other technologies were pressing in the same direction. In the fourteenth century, the free companies appeared. These were bands of skilled warriors who rented themselves out to the highest bidder. Often they specialized in some particular weapon, notably the crossbow, which while not regarded as fit for a gentleman nevertheless required some skill to operate. Since these characteristics applied equally well to the first firearms, it was only natural that the troops who used them should be organized in a similar manner. This was all the more true because firearms, particularly cannon, were difficult to make and to use. Often the same personnel was employed on both tasks, and indeed artillerymen very soon came to constitute a kind of international guild with their own patron saint and jealously guarded professional secrets. As time went on and prejudices against the use of the new arms diminished, this personnel tended to be integrated into the structure of armies, thereby becoming regulars like any others. Indeed a turning point was reached when, during the third decade of the sixteenth century, the use of firearms in the attack or defense of fortresses came to be regarded as an honorable and even commendable form of war for which one could be awarded the highest decorations. The net result of the successive technological inventions was to increase the demand for skill. Though skill is not the same as professionalism, where the technology in question was too complex and too expensive to be owned by individuals, professionalism inevitably grew out of increased skills.

The Rise of Professionalism II

Détachement du régiment de Picardie, vers 1680
Rousselot Lucien (1900-1992)

The role played by ordnance, particularly heavy ordnance, in promoting military professionalism is brought out in yet another way. Guns required powder and ammunition, classes of supplies that could neither be gathered in the fields nor plucked from trees. Consequently, nothing was more natural than to make artillerymen responsible for supply, maintenance, and transport. Hand-in-hand with transport went engineering, particularly fortification and the construction of pontoons for crossing rivers. From these activities, engineers—the very word stems from the medieval war engine, hence is of military origin—spread into related activities such as building roads and constructing bridges. All these were skilled activities. Not infrequently they demanded very considerable mathematical knowledge, which could only be acquired from the mouth of experts instructing people who themselves wanted to become experts. No wonder, therefore, that it was precisely the artillery and the engineering branches of armed forces which were among the first to acquire a professional outlook. During the period under consideration, the importance of these branches grew and grew. As it did so, their outlook, based on knowledge and skill, clashed head-on with the traditional aristocratic approach which was rooted in breeding, honor, and social status. What was more, war itself was brought down from the high pedestal on which it had been put by feudal civilization. Increasingly, as technology and professionalization advanced, war tended to shed its supposedly ennobling characteristics and turn into a mere tool of policy, regrettable but sometimes necessary.

As one would suspect, the same factors that tied military technology to the rise of professionalism also applied to nonmilitary technology as used in war. Often, indeed, the two were inseparable, and frequently the same personnel were involved. Throughout the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, the same men—one cannot find a title sufficiently wide to embrace all the various skills that they possessed or claimed to possess—who built windmills and lathes and pumps and waterwheels also erected fortifications and designed engines of war. An interesting, if little-known, case in point is that of Antoine Andreossy, who for many years served as Napoleon’s chief of artillery and as such was responsible not only for the guns themselves but also for the various activities outlined in the previous paragraph. Andreossy, a professional engineer himself, was descended from a family of such engineers. Among them was an Andreossy who, during the reign of Louis XIV, had served as de facto constructor-in-chief of the Canal du Midi, which was the largest single engineering project undertaken in Europe since the fall of the Roman Empire.

If increasingly complex technology helped military professionalism develop on land, a fortiori this was true at sea. As Plato pointed out in The Republic, since technology is vital at sea not only for efficient work but for sheer survival, a captain’s knowledge and competence count for everything. In fifteenth-century Venice, naval officers along with clerks and, for some reason, barbers, were among the most literate groups in the population. Later, those vast, complicated, wind-driven machines, the eighteenth-century men-of-war, required tremendous amounts of skill and science to operate, let alone to fight successfully. Naval warfare now covered much of the globe and frequently involved very extensive voyages. These could not be carried out except on the basis of professionally-acquired mathematical and navigational techniques. To cope with these demands, naval officers became distinguished from civilian sailors and acquired an identity of their own. The French and British navies in particular served as nurseries for an intellectual elite of a new type. Among the members of this elite, it was expert knowledge that counted. As time went on and different technologies leapfrogged each other in their successive advances, shifts occurred in the relative status of the technicians aboard. Until the middle of the seventeenth century it was the gunners who commanded the highest wages, but subsequently primacy shifted to the deck officers whose task was to sail the ship while coordinating and integrating the work of everybody else.

With complex technology demanding high skills, and at the same time helping make available textbooks to teach those skills, military training was gradually turned into a formal affair comprising courses and examinations. The first modern military schools were established in sixteenth-century Spain and taught the art of gunnery. Later the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries witnessed the founding of cadet schools and officer schools and, after 1763, military academies for staff officers. Even a brief list of these schools would include the Écoles Militaires at Paris, Mézières, and St. Petersburg; the equivalent institutions at Berlin, Munich, Wiener Neustadt, and Woolwich, all of which specialized in the production of junior officers; the naval colleges of Dartmouth, Toulon, Le Havre, and Brest; and junior academies such as at Potsdam and Brienne le Château, the latter primarily a school for artillery specialists where Napoleon received his initial training. Towards the very end of the period we are dealing with here, two of the most celebrated institutions offering military instruction opened their doors, the Berlin Kriegsakademie and West Point. Of these, the Kriegsakademie owed everything to the desire to raise professional standards, whereas West Point was an engineering school first and foremost, and to some extent has retained that character down to the present day.

During the early modern age the growth of technology in general, and of military technology in particular, acted as a spur to the rise of military professionalism, though it did not constitute its sole cause. The process was neither smooth nor easy. One need only recall the reluctance of Louis XIV to make Vauban, a commoner whose military-professional credentials were as good as those of any other man, into a maréchal de France to realize how far this was from being the case. Throughout the eighteenth century, and much of the nineteenth, the most important armed forces failed to adopt a system under which officers and commanders would be appointed and dismissed solely by their professional merit. Everywhere, social standing and seniority continued to play a large role, though a case might be made to show that the seniority system itself tended to foster a corporate identity and hence a professional outlook among the officer corps. During the early years of the Revolution in France, and in most countries during the Restoration that followed, appointments went not to professionals but to men considered politically reliable by those in power, a system which has by no means disappeared even in the most advanced twentieth-century armies. Naturally, different countries have at different times adopted different attitudes towards professionalism, some regarding it with favor, others opposing it, others still resigning themselves to it.

In the long run, the technologically generated thrust towards military professionalism proved irresistible. Gathering momentum, it turned into one of the cardinal phenomena of warfare not only during the period before 1830 but also in the one succeeding it. The process by which the officer corps of the most advanced countries adapted itself to the new situation worked simultaneously from the bottom up and from the top down. At one end of the scale, officers who were technical specialists—like those responsible for army ordnance, or in charge of the army’s health—demanded, and gradually obtained, status and privileges similar to those of the rest, a good example being the rivalry between “sailors” and “engine men” that divided the British Navy during the second half of the nineteenth century. At the other end, high-ranking commanders from the age of Moltke on were gradually transformed from fighters into military experts whose precise function is perhaps best called the management of violence. Regardless of the position that they took in the hierarchy, more and more officers found themselves unable to function except on the basis of specialized education and expert training in such fields as engineering and business administration. This trend culminated in the second half of the twentieth century when, in West and East alike, perhaps the majority of commanders actually became almost identical with engineers and managers.

The historical development of the rank and file has been somewhat different. Medieval armies had neither file nor rank in our sense of these terms. Sixteenth- and early seventeenth-century common soldiers were mercenaries who served for the duration and, though often quite well trained, possessed an outlook that made them all but indistinguishable from a horde of ruffians. The growing importance of firearms, however, made strict discipline absolutely necessary. Beginning around the time of Gustavus Adolphus and Cromwell, one army after another came to consist of personnel who, since they served for long periods and were regularly paid, could be subjected to strict control. Eighteenth-century soldiers were, in one sense, professionals. Though their skills were not exactly admired by society at large, they did serve for a living (even if the choice of a living was often forced) and on a long-term basis which made thorough training possible. Towards the end of the period there appeared clear signs that the NCO corps of various countries were developing professional attitudes in the modern sense of the word.

With the French Revolution, the drive towards professionalism among the rank and file was interrupted, and some would say reversed. The reason was the institution of the levée-en-masse in 1793, a development which every other country was soon compelled to follow. During the next century and a half, and in spite of post-1815 attempts to put the clock back, other ranks even in the best armies—often, particularly in the best armies—neither could be described as professional soldiers nor regarded themselves as such. A hard core of NCOs, who nevertheless did not normally expect to spend a lifetime in the service, was surrounded by a popular militia, made up of short term conscripts who received intensive training and were then transferred into the various classes of reserves. Mobilization, itself made possible by a series of important technological innovations, enabled these nonprofessional warriors to be recalled to the colors at a moment’s notice.

Thus, the move toward professionalism in the rank and file was delayed by the introduction of short-term universal conscription. Its goal was precisely to enable countries to wage war without turning all their manpower into professionals, and in this they were successful for a while. However, after 1945 a variety of ideological, political, social, and economic factors joined forces against conscription. When these were combined with the pressures brought to bear by a highly sophisticated military technology, the outcome was inevitable. In country after country, short-term service came to be regarded as incompatible with the long period of training required by many modern weapons and military equipment. The conscript army was either abandoned altogether or replaced by a mixed-force structure. A typical example is the German Bundeswehr, 40 percent of which consists of conscripts doing rather simple jobs, and 60 percent of regulars performing the “real” work requiring training and skill.

However, even the armed forces of countries such as the Soviet Union and Israel, which for various reasons held on to the idea of a nation in arms, saw themselves compelled to man such technical services as the navy and air force with a much higher percentage of professionals. The rationale is that professionals are the only people capable of dealing with the complexities involved. At the very least, a professional force will prevent the waste involved in using the extremely expensive machines used by these services for continuous retraining. Elsewhere, the idea that professionalism is the key to warfare has gained hold to such an extent that common soldiers in the U.S. Army are currently graded as specialists rather than privates, corporals, etc. The military in many less-developed countries have been forced to take the same road, even though the technology at their disposal is often much less sophisticated. To be taken at all seriously, it is necessary to adopt at least the semblance of “professional” norms.

Just because a more or less consistent trend towards greater military professionalism has existed for about five centuries, and because this trend was closely linked to the advance of war technology, it does not necessarily follow that the two will continue to march in step indefinitely. In particular, two factors appear noteworthy. First, it has recently been suggested that the latest technological developments diminish rather than increase the demand for military-professional skills on the part of the rank and file. They do this by automating some functions previously reserved for humans, and by transferring much of the work previously involved in repair and maintenance to civilian specialists. Second, since much modern military equipment is simple to use, at present the highest training may be required not for those who drive tanks or operate guns, but for those who specialize in close-in fighting on foot.

Finally, a skill-oriented professional attitude, like anything else, has its price, particularly when it is pursued for its own sake and regardless of everything else. It may undermine the kind of authority and loyalty that are vital to the functioning of any armed force. Given that war remains the province of hardship and fear, of suffering and pain and death, it is dangerous to overemphasize the mastering of technological skills as opposed to maintaining the eternal qualities of the warrior. The combination of professionalism and technology may also result in narrow-minded specialization more suited to a debating society than to an organization whose task it is to cope with, and indeed live in, the dangerous and uncertain environment of war. The price of professionalism may exceed its benefits, and this quite regardless of the nature and quality of the technology at our disposal. Judging by the inability of the Americans to win in Vietnam, and of the Soviets and Israelis to overcome irregular forces in Afghanistan and Lebanon, could it be that this point has already been reached?