Mobilisation Part I: The need to counter arms buildups


The French were keen to reconquer Alsace-Lothringia after 1871. They conscripted to the maximum (about 75% of young men were deemed fit and pressed into service), trained many officers, introduced the revolutionary Soixante-Quinze field gun and produced it in the thousands before WWI. Germany enjoyed a larger population base and kept the peace with a less extreme conscription (a bit over 50%). The defensive outlook of Germany in 1871-1913 was based on the consensus that German borders were satisfactory with no need for expansion. The alliance situation did put the gargantuan Russian army on the side of Germany's opposition, though. The German armies repeatedly called for additional funding for additional army corps, but the parliament (of the then supposedly oh-so militaristic German nation) refused such expansions for many years about two years before WW1. Eventually, Germany was short of a couple army corps in 1914 to win in France and the First World War became not only unnecessarily bloody, but also a disaster that cracked (amongst others) the German society. The ability to expand the armed forces more rapidly before WWI would have helped much; it would have kept costs (and loss of productivity) low during the many peaceful decades that preceded the First World War in Central Europe and it would have delivered that critical extra punch when the war happened.

The run-up to the Second World War was longer. Italy's Fascist government was considered a prime threat to peace in Europe around 1930, but the Soviet Union was at that time already much-increasing its arms production output based on new factories, some of which were built with American help. Germany turned Fascist in early 1933 and began a rearmament program based on a 100,000 troops army of men who were almost all qualified for immediate promotion (plus a small navy) and reintroduced conscription in 1935. Hostilities began around 1936-1938 with the Italian aggressions against Albania, Abbessinia (Ethiopia), the Japanese attack on China and German occupation of today's Czech Republic. The Second World War officially broke out in late 1939 and by end of 1941 the world was on fire for real. Again, several countries would have fared better if they had better prepared for a rapid expansion of their armed forces, especially their army. They had about two to twelve years time for this expansion, depending on country and political situation.

These are two examples of very high stakes conflicts with a prior period of a few years in which countries needed to prepare for (defensive) war in face of preparations for war by aggressive powers. Maybe such an ability would even have deterred the historical aggressor?

This series of blog posts will cover the scenario of a peaceful country (or alliance) reacting to aggressive intent and the potential aggressors' military build-up.





  1. Pre-WW1 Germany spent about a third of its defense budget on the navy. Had the money been available to the army, Germany could have conscripted the eligible soldiers who were going unconscripted. Given the fact that the navy achieved so little during WW1 and the naval buildup raised the ire of Britain, the pre-WW1 naval buildup by Germany must qualify as a colossal strategic error.

    1. That's a different topic.

      This time I wrote about how the about two years were not used well. This was in part because there was no preparation for using that time well. The small expansion by IIRC two corps in 1913/14 happened at a peacetime rate.
      There was no orders for thousands of howitzers, ten thousands of MG08, a million shells, a million rifles and there was no emergency quick training program for reserves of junior NCOs and junior officers.

    2. The Navy did succeed in stopping the Russian navy and stopped any threat to the North Sea coast, it also made the UK hold back one of its army corps in Norfolk.
      The more significant side is actually in the Med, where they delayed the Algerians and brought the Ottoman Empire onto the Triple Alliance's side, stopping defeat in 1915.
      Poor diplomacy was the real thing which lost Germany WW1.

    3. The North Sea coast largely defends itself through its geography. You'd just have needed a few mines and guns to defend it, not a battlefleet supported by a fleet of cruisers and torpedoboat destroyers.

  2. "There was no orders for thousands of howitzers, ten thousands of MG08,..."

    German batteries still consisted of 6 guns, a reduction to four would not have done harm as the ammunition supply was the bottleneck. Field guns were not the issue in 1914.

    A few thousands MG 08 and a additional 200 heavy howitzers
    would have made sense, more ammunition too, motorized supply units...