How Armies Grow, ed. Matthias Strohn

How Armies Grow, ed. Matthias Strohn

The Expansion of Military Forces in the Age of Total War 1789-1945

The focus of this book is on how the armies of Prussia, Germany, France, Britain and the United States expanded to cope with the increasing scale of warfare, from the French Revolutionary period to the two World Wars. This is the period of truly mass armies, starting with the levee en masse of the French Revolution. However the two World Wars stand out as the most significant examples of true mass mobilisation.

Each chapter is written by a different author, and thus focus on different periods. For Prussia we get a look at the revival after the defeats of Jena and Auerstedt. What emerges from this is that the military reformers also had equally important social aims, some of which were implemented, modernising Prussian society.

In the gap between the Franco-Prussian War is perhaps the only other significant example of a war of mass mobilisation, and is also the only example where a failed mobilisation played a major role in the outcome of the war. I would have liked to have seen more on this conflict, as it involved two of the key powers being studied, and the poorly organised French mobilisation played a part in their defeat. I don’t entirely agree with the conclusions in the final chapter. The key argument here is that the primary duty of a government is to keep their people safe, which is fine, but the assumption is then made that this means militarily. Events of the last few years clearly demonstrate that this isn’t automatically the case – safety from disease or poverty are at least as important, and rather more constant threats. However the author is quite correct that planning for a potential mobilisation does need to be done

For the unified Germany the focus is on the rebuilding of the German army in the interwar period. This shows how this work began well before the rise of Hitler, and how the small army allowed to Germany was used to train the officer and NCO corps that commanded the German army during the early years of the Second World War.

For Britain there is a look at the first two years of the First World War, when Britain struggled to decide how to create and use her first mass army, and the interwar debate on the purpose of the Territorial Army. Here the debate was between the use of the TA as a cadre to be used as the core of new larger armies or its use as a second line force that could be deployed quickly.

The chapter on the United States looks at the massive mobilisations of the two World Wars, both of which successfully produced vast armies from a small starting point. The Second World war mobilisation was the more effective, perhaps because the first mobilisation was hampered by the refusal to plan for any such expansion in the first years of the First World War.

There is also an interesting look at how some of these powers relied on forces from across their Empires to back up the home army. This was most important for Britain and France, with the Indian Army making a major contribution in both World Wars.

Overall this is an interesting selection of articles that look at a key element of the war effort in the two World Wars, the creation of the mass armies used to fight those wars.

1 – Reconstitution in History: An Overview, Dr Paul Latawski
2 – Pheonix from the Ashes: The Defeat of Prussia and the Prussian Reforms (1806-14), Dr Claus Telp
3 – ‘Every Frenchman is permanently requisitioned for the needs of the armies’: Mobilisation in France from 1789, Dr Tim Gale
4 – From Defeat to Rebirth: The Enlargement of the German Army in the Interwar Period (1918-39), Dr Matthias Strohn
5 – Marking Time: The Expansion of the British Army (1914-16), Colonel Martin Todd
6 – Never Again? The Role of the Territorial Army in Military Plans for Expansion (1919-39), Dr Alexander Jones
7 – Rising to the Occasion: US Army Expansion in the World Wars (1900-45), Alexander A. Falbo-Wild
8 – ‘This Sacred Trust’: Enlarging Armies with Local Forces (1878-1945), Dr Robert Johnson
9 – What Are the Enduring Lessons?, Major General Dr Andrew Sharpe

Editor: Matthias Strohn
Edition: Hardcover
Publisher: Casemate
Year: 2019

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