Thursday, February 23, 2017


Here's an interesting book that I've been reading in my meanderings and musings in support of my rules and research for 19th Century warfare. I won't be presenting an exhaustive review, but will share a few observations and takeaways. This book is available free online for you to check out for yourself (readable in your browser or to download. Just click the title below to go to it).  As usual, in this post, you may clix pix for BIG PIX (as usual). 

 Armies of Today A Description of the Armies of the Leading Nations at the Present Time: 1893

 As mentioned in the title, the book has sections dealing with the major armies of the period. Each written by a different author...
 ...there is also an annex that covers the other armies not listed in the main table of contents. These include the smaller European armies, to include those from the Balkans and Scandanavia. Interestingly, Spain is relegated the annex while Mexico is in the main table of contents. Published in 1893, this book is post-Franco Prussian but pre-Spanish American. An interesting time. The book is nicely illustrated with many spiffing engravings...

The piece on the Russian Army is perhaps the most fun reading (overall).  It dwells the least on technicalities of population and detailed breakdowns of unit organizations. Instead, it "tells a story" and sticks to the qualities of the Army and its achievements. Characteristic of the time, the author talks about the Russian "race" and brings up the usual points about the endurance of the Russian soldier, as well as the various ethnic groups, like the Cossacks. At this time, the prestige of the Russian Army was fairly high, and much is made of the expedition to Khiva, which had captured the imagination of the world. The piece makes the rather astonishing assertion (in retrospect) that the Russian Imperial Staff was the equal of the German.
 The French and German pieces are interesting given that the book was produced in the wake of the Franco-Prussian War, with Germany ascendant and France resurgent. The German piece is heavily consumed by technical descriptions of conscription, the equipment, organization, and structure of the the Army. However, this concluding passage (below) breaks from the technical and illustrates the German "nation in arms" mentality in the face of imminent threats, as well as the central position of the Army in Imperial German Society....
The French piece acknowledges the disaster in 1870, but dwells on the new spirit of the French Army and people.  It makes much of recent exercises as an example of the new efficiency of the French Army. 
The piece on the British Army is an interesting contradiction. On the one hand, it asserts, rightly, that the British Army was the most combat experienced of the period. On the other, it acknowledges that it was not on a scale to engage the much larger continental forces. The topic of conscription was a much debated-one in Britain at the time given that the conventional wisdom was that it was not a matter of "if" but "when" a war would break out. The author makes much of the need to modernize, talking about the switch over to khaki, for instance, and to leave older, more colorful uniforms behind. Despite these forward-looking themes, it also makes much of the retroactive notion that the English Officer, being a gentleman, was inherently superior, as well as the superior virtues of the "Anglo-Saxon" race as soldiers.
 The Austro-Hungarian and Italian Armies are covered in some detail.  Most of the text on these is devoted to organization and equipment, with some discussion of officer training.  All good information for those interested in these armies (nice supplements to what Ospreys might have). One interesting bit is that the Austrian piece starts off by acknowledging the defeat in 1866 and mentions that the army has instituted reforms along the Prussian lines --a rather candid admission, I thought. 
Given the tiny U.S. standing army, the discussion of the U.S. Army in the book dwells much on the U.S. Military Academy at West Point and the training of the regular officer corps (and military engineers). Like the piece on the British Army, the piece on the U.S. Army mentions the absence of conscription and its impact on the relevance of the U.S. Army in comparison to continental armies.

The book concludes with an interesting rumination on the state of military affairs in Europe at the time. Most interestingly, it posits, in rather matter-of-fact manner, that Germany, Austria, and Italy would be aligned against France, Russian, and Britain. It then proceeds to compare the forces (number of battalions, etc). The calculating nature of these estimates anticipate the mathematical estimates that would be part of the strategic planning in the Great War (short and long term attrition, for instance).  Another interesting point is the mention of the unknown impact of smokeless powder on operations in the next war--something of a wildcard.

I have another book from this time that I'll post about a bit later. That's it for now.  

1 comment:

  1. Interesting find! I will give the chapters on France and Austria a close look.
    Thanks for sharing.


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