Why do and did divisions exist, ever?

This text is not going to end with a reasonable answer, that's for sure. The journey is the reward.

One of the first if not the first standardised military formation was probably the Roman legion of the early Roman Republic (about 500 BC). It is no doubt the best-known early example of a well-defined army formation.
It was roughly comparable to today's brigades, with its cohorts being roughly comparable to battalions and centuries comparable to companies. It featured the combined arms of the horse-poor Northern coasts of the ancient Mediterranean regions: Heavy infantry, light infantry and a handful of light cavalry. It was a basic building block for armies, later on (late Republic and early empire) usually reinforced by allied auxiliaries or mercenary auxiliaries to augment the force - often times bowmen or cavalry (also rather dragoon-like double riders).

A wide range of missions can be handled by a force thousands of men strong, and this hasn't changed even as of today.

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Armies had a practical limit which varied a bit, but it was in Europe usually in the 25,000 to 30,000 men range. Larger armies were much more cumbersome. The reason was that troops usually marched about 25 km a day on a decent road or path, and at about 4-5 km/h. Breaking down camp, marching, breaks and setting up camp* led to these variables during the usual campaign seasons (winter would have allowed for even less).

Well, the art of war progressed, armies grew by the time of Napoleon to previously unknown sizes and thus it happened that the multiple armies of the Napoleonic Age became known as corps. The were still foot- and horse-mobile and operated under nearly the same limitations as did the Romans two thousand years earlier.

There we had basically the same building blocks as we could still use today (without the intermediate division): Corps made of multiple brigades and a few specialist forces to augment them.

So why did the division appear at all?

I don't know, honestly. Its origin was pre-First World War, so the supreme chewing of formations in 1914-1918 that led to divisions of about 20,000-24,000 size (in order to have enough bodies for sustained massacring of the same) was not the reason. It could have been one with brigades much easier, anyway. Brigades were actually superior in regard to the process of exchanging a worn-down formation with a fresh one. This troublesome move (almost as troublesome as adding a formation in between two existing ones to reinforce the line) is easier with smaller formations.

The division's origins can easily be traced to the Seven Years War period, when the Frenchmen Jacques de Guibert, Victor François de Broglie and Pierre Joseph de Bourcet promoted the idea of a permanent heterogenous army formation known as division (albeit I' not sure what size they had in mind, so maybe they would have been happy with what we would call brigades, too). Earlier thoughts on the subject were still under influence of the smaller Roman legion.

Permanent divisions were created during the French Revolutionary Wars, had varying tables of organisation by the time of Napoleon and by the end of the Napoleonic Age there were at least some divisions as strong as about 18,000 men. Two of these already large divisions were marching as one corps (which was thus already bigger than optimal at least on paper, but formations were rarely at full strength when on campaign).

The divisions back then had at times two brigades as subordinate formations, but it appears as if that level played only a small role and divisions were rather groupings of large battalions. The span of command (usually believed to be optimal at less than five subordinates) did not appear to be the reason for the size of a division.

The division as a standard building block of armies floated through the 19th century towards the first World War, usually with regiments as subordinates and with Corps as being the much more important level of command. References to 19th century army strengths tend to count either men and artillery pieces or army corps and independent cavalry formations, not divisions.

Divisions did not enter the focus of attention until the Second World War. Reports about he First World War's main theatres of war usually focus on corps (for the first weeks) or armies (forces of multiple corps) later on.

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The original rationale about the size of corps (25,000 to 30,000 men marching on feet) has become obsolete long ago, but the experiences of WW2 still showed that a corps-sized force was (then) necessary for independent offensives. A single spearheading division would be too easily cut off. The same experiences revealed that divisions are really too cumbersome. Most German Panzer Division commanders were apparently with their even less than brigade strong vanguard on offensive operations. That was to be expected since commanders were supposed to be at their Schwerpunkt more than at their staff. Still, it meant that actually leading a field formation was only possible up to the size of a small brigade. Other armies made similar experiences, such as the Americans with their Regimental Combat Teams and Combat Commands, variations of the concept of a modern brigade.

The German army of the post-Cold War era has divisions, but our division HQs are merely a remnant of Adenauer's early 50's promise to the Western Allies that Germany would provide "12 divisions" for the Central European frontier if re-armed. The WW2 veteran officers preferred a brigade-based army, but politicians still spoke in terms of divisions during the early 50's. We established a brigade-centric army with our 2nd army structure during the early 60's, reducing the divisional level much in its significance.
We could have eliminated the divisional HQs post-1992, but that would have "lost" even more officer posts, in times of major downsizing even without such a cut.

- - - - -

I have definitively read too much on military doctrine, history, tech and related stuff, but I am at a loss regarding the question why divisions exist at all. Something weird happened during the early 19th century, and I have no idea why. I'm even more at a loss why the phenomenon became so extremely sticky.

Isn't it weird that divisions are widely accepted as something self-evident while it's so damn hard to find a reason for their existence?

S Ortmann

*: Plus of course a substantial dosage of wasting time, which is almost by natural law an unavoidable  component of military life and warfare.


  1. Something I read awhile ago on it, if you read it you can probaly skip that 1st part and get to the more important parts. It is called "Does the Army need Divisions".



  2. Propably you are looking for the wrong thing. The role of divisions up to WW2 existed in the realm of tactics, being the smallest formation to combine all combat arms. Looking at WW1 they do exactly that: coordinating artillery and infantry. The picture gets blurry up to the end of WW2. After that - with the shrinking size of forces, increase in combat power and demand for micro-level-all-arms-coordination - the roles of military formations shifted one down, making divisions the new corps. Today they operate on seperate axis of advance and house main effort assets just like corps did in the days.

    This makes the question of divisions vs. brigades rather misleading but begs the question for redundancy between corps and division level of command.

    Seems to me you have been perplexed by the superficial question of how much men a unit has/had. (Big divisions are used to reduce the number of - always rare - competent officers and staffs required. Leadership issues were the major driver for the actual introduction of divisions in the french revolutionary army. Appart from compexity, dispersion (small unit tactics) is the major limiter for this, with a modern brigade owning more battle space than a WW1 division.)

    Misc: The romans did not use cohorts as subformations of the legion before mid-3rd century BC. Up to that time the maniple of two centuries was the only subunit within the legion. Between batallions and divisions in the revolutionary/napoleonic army existed two levels of command: demibrigade/regiment and brigade. In WW1 important innovations happened on the division level, infantry-artilery-cooperation and defense in depth being the most important ones. Just like in Napoleons days corps did the marching (if there was marching) and divisions did the fighting. Fightingpower of an enemy force was established by analysing the quality of its divisions.

  3. Have you considered the possibility that the division might have been developed as a unit that didn't need exchanging? Let me remind you that the German army reconstituted lots of divisions in WW2 after they had been totally wiped out during weeks or months of consecutive combat. In comparison, brigades are fragile. Swapping brigades around might be easier, but when things get hairy, you have to go all in. And it takes a lot longer for a regiment to wear down into nothingness than it does for a battalion.

    Standard divisions are very easy to command. In 1941 in Army Group North there were 23 divisions. It's relatively simple to account for those all the time. If there were twice that many brigades, rotating constantly, it would be very hard to do so. In practice, there would be no standard, permanent unit to put on your maps. Just corps, which can vary wildly in size, composition, quality and over time. You would need a spreadsheet to make sense of your command. Further, there is potential for a logistics nightmare if weaponry is standardized on brigade level.

    Also consider ranges of era artillery. 7.5-15cm howitzers had roughly 10km range. A division was optimally assigned ~20km of front. That makes integral division artillery very efficient coverage and availability wise.

  4. Most WW2 divisions were supposed to have three brigade equivalents as subordinates, typically regiments. The difference between brigades and divisions would really have been about span of command at the corps level, clumsiness, difficulty for the formation command and allocation of specialised support. I fail to see how brigades getting worn out would be worse than with divisions.

    The HGr Nord example isn't really an argument against brigades because the relevant span of command was not 23 anyway. There were intermediate layers of command known as Armee and Korps. The Korps commanders would have more work with about five brigades than with two or three divisions, but they would have been grateful for being more able to keep a full combined arms formation in reserve, to insert or extract a full formation in the front line. The handling of field artillery-deprived regiments was more troublesome, especially as keeping a regiment as reserve in a force of two divisions required to exercise direct control of one's subordinate subordinate. This pretty much proved that the TO&E was too coarse.

    About your artillery ranges argument: The better German line corps had an Artillerykommandant with a small staff and he combined the fires of multiple artillery detachments from multiple divisions anyway. Artillery wasn't concentrated in one small area and certainly not so close behind the front line anyway. Finally, howitzers are best at well less than their maximum range and WW1 howitzer ranges (~9 km) coupled with Eastern Front ~1917 basically turns your argument around anyway..

  5. Could it be that starting around 1790 the division as tactical unit, consisting of 8-12 battalions infantry plus one battery of artillery, was the most useful building block on the battle field and therefore was sticking during the 19th century? As long as most bats. fought in close formation 10 bats. and a little bit artillery could be led by one general.

    Or from a different POV: For Clausewitz the question was whether to form Corps or not, there was absolutely no reason for him to question the formation of divisions :-)

    The corps as tactical unit became important 1870/71 and later when more specialised units and much more artillery were attached.

  6. The very early divisions were larger than the previously used formations (regiments et cetera) and larger than suitable for direct control by an individual. The span of command was more than twice than what's usually considered to be fine (admittedly, this was the same with legions).

    Looking the other direction, they were so friggin' large that only two made up an entire corps, and at times a too large (too clumsy) corps. Clausewitz' Schwerpunkt was not written down during the Napoleonic Age, but having only two manoeuvre units did obviously limit the manoeuvre options to almost none unless you did split them up.

    A smaller unitary army formation of what we would nowadays call a large brigade would have been superior during the age of muskets.

    Let's say one small battalion light infantry, four large battalions line infantry, one light cavalry squadron, one light artillery battery on foot, one supply battalion; overall no more than 6,000 men and boys. Four of these plus some specialist units could have formed a corps.

    I see nothing in theory or history that points at late musket age divisions being superior to such a brigade.

  7. Dim leadership / command economics

    Its difficult to remember the details for 80 Brigades, easier to remember 20 divisions.

    Especially if you can convince yourself those 20 divisions are identical, or are a/b/c/d divisions

    Personaly, I'd consider Divisions to be Administrative functions at best, but then, I'd leave Colonels to fight wars too.

  8. SO, that's not really correct - check out napoleonic OOBs and most Corps are made up of 3-5 divisions, with a total battlefield strength of about 20,000 .. i.e. 4k - 6k per division: the equivalent of a modern-day brigade, or an ancient legion, and for FRW & Napoleonic commanders, the basic building block of attack and defense. I believe Guibert's original divisions in the SYW were roughly of the same size - and Guibert was only advocating the permanent-ization of command groups that were in common use throughout the first half of the 18th century, organised on an ad-hoc basis for each campaign (Nb British brigades of this period were of a similar ad-hoc organisation). These were usually 2-12 battalions of anywhere between 300 and 900 men, but usually seemed to total around 2000ish men on the battlefield (TO strengths probably much higher, but all experienced commanders seemed to allow for massive campaign wastage prior to any battles, for obvious reasons).

  9. sorry, I should have added to my comment: if you doubt my figures, have a look through the vast Nafziger collection of OOBs:

    say, Aspern-Essling:
    20 divisions containing 99000 men
    & the French with 15 divisions containing 77000 men.

  10. @Aechzener:
    Fine, so the TOP&Es I saw were exceptions, not the rule (Prussian Guards Div, for example).
    This means the morph into the larger size was not complete until mid-19th century and the original Napoleonic Age divisions were probably still at the better brigade size.

    This moves the question towards wtf did divisions grow so much during the mid-19th century. German Corps of the post-1871 era knew two large divisions only, for example.

  11. Armies grew greatly during 19th century. According to Wikipedia French army grew from less than 300 000 to almost 500 000 strong. Maybe it was easier to increase the size of existing formations than to create new formations?

  12. Hello,

    Aspern, after two month of campaigning, doesn't realy give a very good indication of napoleonic thought on divisional organisation. OOB at the start of the campaign show divisions of 9-10000 men organised in 12 btlns of 8-900 men. They are within - albeit on the small side - of Napoleons explicit preferences (divs of 9-12000, btlns of 8-1000 men).

    Save for very big russian and rather small british divs numbers remained roughly within this frame. At least in standard formations there was nothing like "evil division madness". Excessive numbers stem from increase of artillery and trains, and are rather irrelevant in tactical terms as they moved at the back of a marching column.

    I discount the case made for a brigade based structure as all of its advantages manifest within the actual divisional structures. Brigade as well as regimental HQs were present and functional. There is but one underlying assumption, that needs to be addressed: napoleonic warfare isn't so much about lateral movement, not fix-flank-destroy but rather deploy-attrition-breakthrough. There wasn't much relieving either.

    On the other hand I propose, that the dismissal of the division level would have been a serious impediment. Unlike what the author suggests there was a rational decission made to stick with, or introduce a divisional level of command (the absense of blind traditionalism is demonstrated by the adoption of a brigade based structure if conditions were met - in Italy 1859 by the austro-ungarian army for example).

    The basic criteria were:
    (1) unity of command of a force that could deploy from marching formation within an hour.
    (2) unity of command of a force that could acomplish all basic missions within a typical unit of terrain (1500 - 2500 m wide in western europe)
    (3) a force that could fight on its own until reinforcements could deploy or disengage (c. 1 hour).

    None of those criteria are met by a force of only 6000 men, therefor a intermediate level of command would have been necessary to coordinate the actions of two mutually supporting brigades.

    Technical improvements in the later half of the 19th century should have been reflected in the organisational structure of european armies, but most certainly not in favour of the brigade. True, improvements in firepower decreased the manpower needed/and savely deployed under the above criteria, but a reduction of company size would have been a better option. Companies then were to large to be employed in a singe firing line anyway and the ability to reinforce companies in line by reserves of said companies proved to be catastrophic. The next best step would have been the reduction from 4 to 3 rgts (12 to 9 btlns), reflecting the increased firepower of machine guns (and in hypothetical terms the (re-)introduction of infantry guns/mortars), and the abolishment of the brigade level alltogether. Why not abolish the regiment (a one arm formation in contrast to the brigade as a combined arms force in modern parlance) in this case? Because artillery, allthough grown in firepower still lacked the means of close cooperation with infantry (basically radios), which is the major advantage of combined arms brigades. Until after WW1 artillery depended on mass and carefully arranged plans of fire, best put together at division level. The premature introduction of all arms brigades would have dissipated artillery for no relevant gain in efficency.

  13. SO, I think the growth in divisional size was a form of arms race - given the limited thinking that the division is the manouevre unit, obviously a bigger division will have an advantage over a smaller one ... which would lead considerable inflation, to the point where divisions were no longer the viable building block they were designed for. Of course the short duration of the FPW and the otherwise long peace in Europe pretty much shielded that from the raw test of combat, so it didnt become apparent really until Big One, at which point it was (presumably) politically easier to shift to thinking of the brigade as the building block than to shrink divisions down again (generals egos being what the are).

  14. "divisions were no longer the viable building block they were designed for"

    Is there any argument to back this claim up? Any metric to qualify your assumption of "considerable inflation"? I mean the history at least is totally wrong: After the "Big One" Brigade Headquarters were dropped, not divisions. Even during WW2 no attempt was made to establish a permanent all arms tactical command below divisional level in a standard formation, with the US Brigade Combat Commands in armored divisions a sole exception.* No other army thought it would be possible that formations smaller than a division would fight on separate axis.** To be sure there were de facto tendencies to ad hoc "brigadize" combat assets within tip-of-the-spear formations. On the other end of the spectrum brigades were formed as a stop gap measure in severe ressource shortages, but mostly abandoned when the situation eased. Brigades did a great leap only after the former tip-of-the-spear started to make up 90% of an army. The end of any meaningfull tactical role of divisional headquarters in the US Army by the way, happened just recently with the new BCTs. AFAIK no prior (non special) Brigade structure was realy able to fight outside of divisional support and/or reinforcements.

    In regard to why divisions grew: I guess mostly because restrictions on recruitment eased, that plagued Napoleon (not the least for political reasons with his wars growing more and more unpopular). So what actually happened was, that divisions grew to a size that Napoleon himself regarded to be save and sound.
    *) I discount soviet tank brigades, that, albeit a very interesting concept, dont fit very well with the western idea of a brigade.

    **) A brigade headquarter existed in the early german panzerdivisions, but mostly because it was thougt tanks and infantry would sometimes fight separated. That is infantry and tanks would fight in different depths on one axis of advance.

    I'm aware of the futility of arguing below a blog post that isnt even on the first page anymore. But maybe Sven would consider to actually address the rationale behind the formation of divisions instead of just waving it aside like he did in the above article.

  15. Anon, keep in mind the blog post assumes the position that mistakes were made by retaining divisions, and that these divisions were suboptimal. Historical TO&E don't exactly serve as an argument against that, unless they faced and defeated an otherwise comparable brigade force (which did not happen).

    The many ad hoc quasi-brigades (often vanguard, rearguard) actually points out that senior officers saw the need for something smaller than a division.

  16. "saw the need for something smaller than a division"

    There always WAS something smaller than a division, even for napoleonic Officers. They even changed from more brigade focused structures if conditions were met (see the austrian force in the italian war of independence). But this does only tell you something about the restrictions of a division sized formation, not about its uses (or supposed uselessness).

    TOE serve a purpose in this discussion if confronted with expectations of what functions a certain level of command ought to serve. See my 26th aug. post, you answering answering to this one would actually advance this discussion further than respondig to me straightening out of some misconceptions DaA brought into the matter. The second post only addresses his claim that combat experience of WW1 lead to the abandonment of the division, when even WW2 left us with a brigade-division dualism that assigned enough ressources to divisions to keep brigades dependent of their higher headquarters for some standard missions. Unlike what DaA's suggests, your argument is the heterodox one from Napoleon to the end of WW2 and should be crafted with much more care. Well, first of all it should address the standard rationale for the divisional level of command at all.

    On the other hand you made this about TOE yourself in arguing that divisions were vastly oversized by the end of the 19th c. With divisions usually consisting of 12000 infantrymen this is hardly true.

    I admit to a 25% reduction in the following years, for above mentioned reasons and the additional one of arranging for more artillery at the point of a marching column. This last reason comes back to your "ad hoc quasi-brigades (often vanguard, rearguard)". But rearguard an vanguard actions dont suit your case, as the non-commitment of the bulk of the force isnt a liability but a feature in those kind of missions. Furthermore a standard brigade would hardly excel in those kind of mission over a mixed formation that can draw from the wider pool of divisional supporting arms (recon, engineer) and waste a large amount of maneuver btlns. The fluid deployment from a small point to a force of considerable fighting power was actually the first incentive for the development of divisions after Rossbach. Reinforced regiments actually defending a sector or breaching an enemy defensive position without substantial divisional support would be much more relevant to your argument, but (for a good reason) were much less likely to happen.

  17. I mentioned rearguard and vanguard for a reason; German division commanders often led such efforts in person because they were their main effort during advance or retrograde movement.
    Those rear guard / vanguard forces were much smaller than the division because that was the limit of what a single officer could overview on the spot, instead of on maps. A small (3 battalions), a bit decimated (-20%) brigades would equal a typical WW2 ad hoc vanguard of a division in size.

    There was a huge leadership and agility advantage to be found in having many such smaller formations instead of few larger ones (great parts of which were necessarily neglected by the div commander).

    "(1) unity of command of a force that could deploy from marching formation within an hour."

    Marching speed no more than 6 kph, more like 4 kph. 2 kph average more realistic since you're talking deployment.
    An infantry division of 10,000 including lots of horse carts could hardly move in a 2 km column.
    Such quick deployments were about parts of divisions, with considerable reserves left behind.

    "(2) unity of command of a force that could acomplish all basic missions within a typical unit of terrain (1500 - 2500 m wide in western europe)"

    A brigade of 4,000 would have fit this description in the age of blackpowder rifles (unless we're talking about woods, but woods are terrain for small unit leadership).

    Direct command over a division is largely an illusion, and always was one. Whatever unity of command could be enforced over a division could just as well be enforced over multiple brigades (check the definition of unity of command).
    A division commander's subordinates did most of the actual leadership job.

    "(3) a force that could fight on its own until reinforcements could deploy or disengage (c. 1 hour)."

    A brigade could easily do so if allowed to fight with appropriate tactics.
    Also, keep in mind that a fair comparison would be between 2 or 3 brigades and one division, not 1/1. Nobody would prevent the corps commander to pair up brigades, with one brigade cmdr senior to the other.

  18. Thanks for your comment.

    "rearguard and vanguard"

    Once again, there isnt anything agitating against divisions unless you could prove, that those rgts trailing behind didnt have any value. If a div cdr bogs down with only a fraction of his force, than this is a leadership failure. So what if a div cdrs job is in most cases a table job? You wouldnt disband corps, armies, and army groups. Also in my book advance guards of infantry divisions usually were made up of the recon btln, a reinforced infantry btln, some engineers and artillery. A brigade would normaly waste 2-3 btln to the strenous advance guard duty or fail to form as a whole.

    "talking deployment"

    A infantry column of 12000 men would be somewhat less than 5 km in lenght, faster moving artillery usually trailed behind, save for the odd battery, on an other 5 km stretch of road. Trains moved at the back of the corps column. Cavalry was far out supporting the screening cavalry divisions, or very small usually occupied with route security and liason.

    "A brigade of 4,000 would have fit this description"

    Densities for a weak defense were expected to be somewhat less than 3 men/m this is essentially the only mission a blackpowder Brigade of 4000 could accomplish. A sustained defense was taxed at 5-6 men/m. Not until WW1 was a brigade expected to pull off such a feat. An attack used up to twice that number on a limited front and considerable concentrations of artillery in the blackpowder days - 2 km divisional sector in WW1 not according to war time fuck ups but lessons learned, they were even smaller with the Entente - and a division wasnt expected to last more than a day as a effective formation. Unless your suggestion for an "appropriate tactic" would be: "use tanks and machine guns, stupid", I doubt brigades could have operated with the independence of a division. Obviously, therefore a corps cdr would have had much more trouble supporting and coordinating his brigades. Even if you

    "pair up brigades, with one brigade cmdr senior"

    either a brigade cdr or the corps cdr does the division cdrs job. Nothing changes except one of them would propably suffer from burnout within days :) Once again, your case isnt made by arguing that brigades are sometimes usefull, but by arguing, that divisions are (almost) always useless.

  19. Instead you will find meaningfull decisions made by division cdrs in nearly every detailed battle account, that couldnt of wouldnt have been made by either brigade or corps commanders. Take Soults corps at Austerlitz for example. Without division cdrs Soult would have had to advance a force of no less than 4 Brigades to the Pratzen Hill while simultaneusly seek liason to Davout on his right, fight off the enemy main effort attack there until Davout takes over, fend of an enemy counter attack, introduce a reinforcing cavalry brigade, than shift it to another lokation, while keeping an eye on a fast moving cavalry battle on his left. Both wings out of sight from the center of his force and his radio operator was ill or something. Oh, and first of all keep focusing on taking the Pratzen Hill asap. After that, he would have had to reorganize no less than 6 Brigades and 2 major cavalry formations and lead them to exploit in two different directions, against an intact enemy force that is up to that point only lightly engaged. Then again converge the same force increased by one more brigade, diveded by a small river on the retreating enemy force.

    On the other hand all of this comes quite naturally if you can leave your right flank in the care of Gen. Legrand, assign the approaches to Pratzen hill, divided by a flat crest to Gen. Vandamme and Gen. St. Hilaire, assign the reinforcing cavalry to Gen. St. Hilaire. Let Gen. Vandamme take precautions for his left flank. Then order those two to turn towards Augezd and Sokolnitz, while ordering Gen. Legrand to reorganize his forces. You could simply send reinforcements to the division cdr you want to reinforce. He will make the decission that those reinforcements are no longer necessary in the place you ordered them and send them to another place (why woult Soult give up command of 6 squadrons if a brigade based force would have been favourable?). You will be free to assure that Napoleon is pleased with your actions and focus on issues that cannot be seen from within those 3 units of terrain that constitute your battle area, like ordering the Brigade of Levassier to advance in support of Gen. St. Hilaire. And those are only the big decissions, nothing about how Vandamme detached two btlns to secure his left while concentrating anything else on his main objective, nothing about St. Hilaire coordinating the actions of 10th light regiment with Brigade Thiébault, nothing about him concentrating his artillery to soften the flanked enemy force at Sokolnitz.

    Must have been some kind of bloated mega corps? Barely, 22.000 men in 3 divs resp. 31 btlns, operating on a ~9 km front (18.000 of those men concentrated within the northern 5 km between Puntowitz and Girskowitz). Soult wasnt exactly a dimwit either.

  20. My case is described by the title. All I need to be correct is to see how a division-based force structure would be inferior to a brigade-based force structure.

    Grouping 2-3 brigades on missions suitable to one division was possible and I'm confident that it was less of a problem than to divide a single division for 2 or 3 missions. The latter was possible with the 3-4 regiments division, but support (especially arty) needed to be split. Brigades have infantry and support integrated all the time, with the associated benefits regarding lower friction.

    The case against a brigade-based army is IMO strongest (a) during periods with little independent manoeuvre below corps (that would be non-motorised, non-cavalry forces) since the superior agility of the brigade can't come into play then and (b) concerning span of command during mobile warfare until radio comm became rather reliable.

    (a) leads to a stalemate between Div and Bde IMO and (b) finds its answer in temporary grouping of Bdes; ad hoc divisions instead of ad hoc Bdes as done historically.

    The described super-busy Soult is inherently incompatible with how German officers think about command in battle. A German general would have joined the forward commanders at his Schwerpunkt (with a tiny tactical staff) and allowed his other subordinate leaders to lead based on mere general guidance or even only based on their judgement alone (mission).
    In case of trouble, his 2nd in command (chief of staff) would be with the main staff.

    To sit at a central vantage point and issue orders by courier yields no morale impact on the troops and suffers from severe command time lags.

  21. I chose a name, but obviously same person.

    "less of a problem than to divide"

    Sorry but this oppinion is not shared by any piece of military theory, sociology, nor psychology; all of them state quite unisonous, that friction decreases in stable relationships. The relationships within a division are stable between formations of infantry and artillery and three dozen commanding officers of a division would propably come to know each other quite well. It isnt much of an issue if the artillery btln in direct support changes (battery if we are still talking about the first half of the 19th c.), because it would propably use the same regimental SOP. Detachements from a coherent force are no problem (youre no less effective at work wether youre married or not). On the other hand without divisions there isnt any structure between 2-3 brigades that coordinates them. How do you concentrate artillery? Who would make detachments like Vandamme did in face of enemy cavalry? On the other hand you get the corps community, that, as far as military history goes, were a much more volatile formations, and never formed the same esprit de corps (no etymologizing please) divisions did.

    But the issue of detachments is rather irrelevant as instead of

    "little independent manoeuvre below corps (that would be non-motorised, non-cavalry forces)"

    there seemed to be a quite lot of "independent manoeuvre below corps" level at Austerlitz done by divisions. On the other hand you have to look very hard to make out the right wing of division Legrand (4000 men + 800 cavalry) as a roughly brigade like force with an independent mission. Guess what, it failed its mission securing the Goldbach line until Davout arrived and only the arrival of division Friar kept the strong russo-austrian left wing from gaining enought space to turn Napoleons flank. Its not about the failure, Napoleon knew this risk and would have won the battle anyway (but with half of the enemy force left intact) as soon as the enemy right wing was broken. But it shows that using brigades for an independent mission was an economy of force move). May this agitate in favour of a divisional level of command?

    "ad hoc Bdes as done historically"

    Which history are you talking about, in my history there were brigades as a permanent level of command within divisions up to WW1. They were gone by the end of the war for the sole reason, that regiments (that gained lots of fighting power during WW1) did just as fine.

    "super-busy Soult"

    The described functions of command (their correct assignement to different levels of command being the issue here) were not voluntaristic, but prerequisites of mission accomplishments. In the end Soult wasnt "super-busy" for he had 3 division cdrs he could delegate to. And he was at the critical point (Div. St. Hilaire, to order the supporting attack of Levassier and to ask Napoleon for reinforcements) when an enemy counter attack threatened to delay his advance on Pratzen Hill. He didnt start commanding a division, a brigade or even a bataillon as some of the posterchilds of misunderstoot german military tradition would have done.

    This whole "Führen von vorn"-thing only goes so far. If a cdr looses the ability to lead all of his forces (within the limits of time and space) there is something going wrong.

    (There is no stationary command post until telephone).

    I allready hinted that austia adopted a brigade based structure (although the brigades were rather strong at 7 btlns) without a divisional level of command. Why not point out their experiences? They also engaged the divisional prussian army in a number of battles. How did they benefit from the supposed superiority carried by the elimination of divisions?

  22. The "less of a problem than to divide" thing is more complicated.

    Ad hoc battlegroups from the same division (say, infantry regiment with engineer Coy and arty Bn) need to integrate into a combined arms team. That doesn't work well with people not or barely knowing each other (= in a division without at least semi-permanent battlegroups).

    Multiple brigades working together on the other hand is about cooperation of staffs mostly, and little cooperation of the units on the border. That's mostly about timing and manoeuvring; less demanding than combined arms integration.
    "there seemed to be a quite lot of "independent manoeuvre below corps" level at Austerlitz"

    You can safely assume that I had set the goalpost more ambitiously than that.

    "Which history are you talking about, in my history there were brigades as a permanent level of command within divisions up to WW1."

    ...which is not logically incompatible with what I wrote, for I added no "only" or "exclusively".

    Concerning super-busy Soult; didn't you spot that I was writing about delegating as well? The example simply doesn't demonstrate that a Corps commander would have been overburdened with a brigade structure.

    Concerning leading from the front (preferably the most critical part thereof); I get a feeling that you underestimate the morale impact.
    Concerning the Austrian example; it's in principle difficult to argue with something merely similar as a pro argument. Furthermore, the force structure-related topic makes a ceteris paribus case, and the example is in itself statistically weak and under many more influences. Some arguments/examples are simply not worthy.
    One last remark for tonight; the real problems of divisions appeared after 1918, when combined arms tactics/techniques became more of a challenge. The blog post dug deeper to the Napoleonic era because there are the roots, and indeed I see no overwhelming arguments in favour of divisions even in the 19th century.
    Again, to have only so few manoeuvre formations in a Corps is rather limiting in regard to tactics. Leonhard summarises this neatly in "The Art of Maneuver", pp.255.


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