Modern-time Landwehr for Germany


Military history analysis shows that bigger armies don't win battles significantly more often than their numerically inferior opponents, but quantity is nevertheless a quality in its own right. It's often a precondition for military success (especially in deterrence) and an analysis of historical battles doesn't reveal how often the inferior power bowed due to its numerical inferiority without a(nother) battle.

The traditional method to gain quantitative strength is conscription - it was especially important in 19th and 20th centuries, from the Napoleonic Wars to the late Cold War. Conscription allows for larger armies and especially larger reserves than volunteer armies.

The mechanic behind this is simple; citizens get blackmailed into cheap service with the threat of jailing them otherwise. Voilà, low (visible) personnel costs.
The hidden costs (coercion, adverse selection, inefficient usage of too cheap personnel) of conscription make the whole affair much more expensive than all-volunteer armies. Even die-hard warmongers would hesitate to propose war if the state had to pay the full costs fiscally.

Europe turns mostly away from conscription (even though it's only deactivated instead of abolished in several nations). The three German-speaking countries plus Norway, Greece and Turkey keep the conscription.
The result of a volunteer force is a very small military personnel reserve in about 10-15 years. Even some countries with active conscription like Germany have a quite small military personnel reserve.

red: conscription active
orange: turning away from conscription
blue: volunteer forces
green: no forces

Even Germany's conscription doesn't yield a strong reserve. The target strength for 2010 is 250,000 personnel, only 50,000 of these conscripts (9 months terms + later exercises). Physical fitness for military service is acceptable up to an age of about 35 years, resulting in a bit more than half a million trained and fit reservists.

That's in itself an impressive figure, but it's deceptive.
Not all conscripts receive useful training. Most are assigned to jobs few volunteers would want to do. Basic training plus months of boredom on watch or in an office is not unusual. A short basic training plus day labourer jobs. That's no proper preparation for a later emergency.
The assignment of many conscripts to unpopular occupations also spits in the face of the argument that only a societal cross-section conscription would offer the Bundeswehr enough opportunities for recruiting volunteers for NCO and officer careers.
The Bundeswehr sucks at recruiting and public relations - because it sucks at efficient employment of manpower and everybody knows it.

I thought for years about how to keep (create) a good trained manpower reserve for emergencies without active conscription. It's certainly no easy combination.

My approach (solution?):

First, we need to acknowledge that reservist isn't the same as another reservist. We need trained manpower reserves for the army, not really for navy or air force. Navy and air force cannot expand easily in times of emergency and their object security requirements in wartime can be satisfied with quickly-trained personnel and policemen. The reserves should be all about the army.

Next, it's important to set the expectations: My expectation is that all reservists are trained infantrymen. Other qualifications either match with civilian skills (car mechanics and IT personnel, for example), require too much training or very little additional training. "Every reservist is an infantryman" is in my opinion the right approach for a respectable reserve manpower pool.

Finally, we need to protect the training of soon-to-be reservists against the active army. They would be mis-used for jobs with very little training effect without such a separation.

The concept:

My concept therefore rests on dedicated Training battalions. These training battalions would be scattered over the country, but in clusters for efficient use of training areas and installations.

These battalions would have one-year volunteers (SaZ1) as enlisted personnel. Nine months of training (to fully trained infantrymen), one month of vacation and (up to) two months additional training courses. SaZ1 who didn't volunteer for more can leave up to two months earlier in order to get into university semester in time.

The battalions would be part of an own military branch, I'd call it "Landwehr". This military branch would be prohibited by constitution to leave allied Europe.

The SaZ1 would enter the reserves after their term (unless they volunteer for more) and would have annual exercises, preferably alternating one week in summer (beginning or end of school vacations in their state) or in winter (Dec 27th to Jan 5th when most of our economy has its winter pause). These refresher exercises would last till the age of 35 or till invalidity.

The payment would be fair and the SaZ1 would get advantages when applying for public jobs or for university studies.

These battalions would build their own leadership pool as well, with dedicated reserve leaders:
Unteroffizier (Uffz) / lowest-ranking NCO:
SaZ1 volunteering for another year
Feldwebel (Fw) / squad-level NCO:
SaZ2 volunteering for another year
Leutnant (Lt) / lowest-ranking officer:
SaZ3 volunteering for another year.

Gaps in NCO and officer positions could be filled with army personnel.

The army could draw its new personnel from this pool, with ready NCOs and junior officers (if they volunteer for the regular army).

The army itself would run a parallel training for additional NCOs, officers and its own enlisted personnel (who get a risk premium on their pay).

The same system would work fine with conscripts instead of SaZ1

- - - - -

I think that the limitation on defence, fair pay for SaZ1-4 volunteers, regional and competent recruiting and a purposeful training would attract enough young men.
We need a well laid-out concept for the creation and maintenance of a strong trained manpower reserve pool for our army. It would give the most deterrence and defence per Euro.

SaZ = Soldat auf Zeit = "soldier on time" = volunteer
The historical Landwehr wasn't exactly a similar organization, but it was about reserves exclusively.
The photo shows Finnish conscripts.


  1. I think your idea is genius! I've always despised the draft. However, if you could clarify a couple of statements? I didn't really catch your drift...

    -Other qualifications either match with civilian skills (car mechanics and IT personnel, for example), require too much training or very little additional training.

    -Finally, we need to protect the training of soon-to-be reservists against the active army. They would be mis-used for jobs with very little training effect without such a separation.

  2. About qualifications:
    There are civilians with the skills for administration, logistics, IT and such.
    "Too much training" aimed at too ambitious training requirements which simply don't fit a reservist force.
    Very little training (quick enough for the concept) is required for radio, driving, basic medical care and such.

    About protection:
    This was motivated by the Bundeswehr's treatment of conscripts since the 90's. I've seen a conscript serve as a sauna boy who handed out and collected towels. Such manpower abuse (because it's pretty much for free, after all!) needs to be avoided.

    The army is active service-oriented, not mobilization strength-oriented. This lets even very serious people assert that a six month conscription is pointless because you can barely train a soldier for anything in six months. In other words; you train them, but you cannot use them for the active force once they're trained. That's their problem with six months!
    Six months is fine for training a soldier for the reserve force, nine months suffices for even battle group-level exercises and some advanced skills.

  3. A beefed up 6 months training was discussed, but things went pretty silent because we use every penny to show some other fellows on the globe what we want them to be.
    I would support a 6 months-one year infantry training if these guys are offered more than reserve-duty. They should be able to volunteer for one or more tours in the occupation and war zones in order to collect money that helps them to build up things in their civilian life. So the military eductaion as personnel of the reserve also offers you job security and earning chances someone without doesn't have.
    Having volunteers do a 2-3 years tour in the military must be combined with achieving skills useful for civilian life. So in a 2 years tour you can become a master craftsman or technician, while a 3 years tour offers a bachelor's degree. The idea would be to make the military an enabler of civilian success in order to get the right people eager to achieve something. There should be a limited number of home defense reserve tickets with foreign use volunteering and other tickets for full spectrum use reserves in order to reflect the political debates within the military and population.
    In a future large conflict it's not only about infantrymen, but people with technical and scientific training capable of integrating it into a military purpose and leading others to learn and follow them.