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The Making of a Division

Charles EP M.

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Me, reading Dan Dare: "The bit where Dan says the UN Expeditionary Force can recruit sports riders and archery clubs to form a ready-to-deploy cavalry is a bit silly but it's good solid Boys Own plotting--"

This article:

This led to “Zouave” regiments in the American Civil War being formed around Napoleonic reenactors because they were the only ones with skill at musket drills
Me: "Well then."
 

Death's Companion

General Ugg Apologist.
I admit I do have quite a fascination with WW2 divisions for some reason, particularly the German ones because of how often they got wiped out and reformed and ended up all over the place doing different things, it makes for interesting reading just browsing wikipedia sometimes and seeing who ended up where and what they did. Makes a dry subject seem fairly dynamic.

Think we underestimate just how astoundingly quickly things happened in the world wars.
 

Andrew J Harvey

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The timelines in the Ancient Period were a little better, but not much. During the Second Punic War Scipio Africanus arrived in Sicily in 205 BC with 7,000 volunteers and 30 warships to build an army able take on the Carthaginian forces toe-to-toe. It took a year for Scipio to build the army he wanted, and when he landed with in Africa in 204 BC, which consisted of perhaps 35,000 men. As a cadre he would have had the Sicilian garrison, which appears to have consisted of two legions, each of around 4,200 infantry and 300 cavalry. Although Rome appears to have use Sicily as a dumping ground for problem troops, many of these included experienced soldiers who had fought Hannibal in Italy, lost but survived.

Still, arming, training, feeding and motivating Scipio's army would have been mammoth undertaking in the time he had.
 

EnglishCanuck

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Ironically, this makes me most think of the massive mobilizations of both the French Revolution and the American Civil War. The Civil War I have more general knowledge of, but the mass mobilizations of that conflict showed off how hard it can be to get a functional army together, the Battle of Bull Run showed how utterly unprepared either side was in the first months of the war, and then - I would argue - the Peninsula Campaign in 1862 showed thar each side was not prepared or experienced enough to fully take advantage of their large armies.

With armies numbering in the hundreds of thousands, despite a peace time establishment of 16,000 men and only having put about 70,000 men into the field in the Mexican American War, there was a dearth of experienced officers at all levels of command.

In doing research for writing my own Trent Affair novel, I found it very exciting to compare the state of the Canadian militia for mobilization in 1861-62 to the mobilization of the US volunteers in the same time period. The experience was almost universal, just less Canadians.
 

Japhy

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Can I get a citation about the Zouave thing?
I've been looking since yesterday and I really can't find anything about it. I'm honestly not even sure if Napoleonic reenactment was a thing in the US by the 1860s.
 

Gary Oswald

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I've been looking since yesterday and I really can't find anything about it. I'm honestly not even sure if Napoleonic reenactment was a thing in the US by the 1860s.
Hopefully @Coiler can remember where he got that trivia from. I will say he sent me this article a while back so he might not.

I've searched for it on jstor myself and, while I suspect you have access to a bunch of books I don't, it feels like the kind of trivia you get written in books which mention the civil war but aren't written by specialists in that area so repeat rumours and don't get it right.

Like the 11th New York infantry does seem to have been formed around Ellsworth's Zouave Cadets who were a touring military drill team who performed in front of audiences and at ceremonies, but they weren't reenactors, just militia whose officer admired the French a lot and used that imitation of uniforms to get some attention.
 

Coiler

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Like the 11th New York infantry does seem to have been formed around Ellsworth's Zouave Cadets who were a touring military drill team who performed in front of audiences and at ceremonies, but they weren't reenactors, just militia whose officer admired the French a lot and used that imitation of uniforms to get some attention.
That sounds like it. "Reenactor" seems like something of a stretch, so I'm guessing whoever first used that term kind of took "wore the uniforms and behaved similarly" into an anachronistic term.

(Although it should be noted that the 1861 Union was desperately in need of anyone who knew basic drill, so they probably would get reenactors if those existed at the time :p ).
 

Japhy

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Ellsworth's cadets being misidentified makes the most sense IMO. But that was certainly a very different thing then reenactments. It was a sort of weird cultural phenomena about masculinity rather then a club for pretending to be at Waterloo.
 

Gary Oswald

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One example of the effects such scratch divisions being deployed before they were ready can be seen on 1 July, 1916.

The British Generals (especially Haig) had wanted to delay use of the "Kitchener" divisions to give them chance to get more acclimatised and trained, and to build up greater stocks of shells such that a hurricane barrage was possible. Political considerations meant that they were overruled, and ordered to commit the units on that date. (In addition, Haig wanted any attack to be further north, on ground more suited to an attack by troops with such modest abilities. Again, he was overruled, because of the perceived need to support the French at Verdun).

The result was almost inevitable. The British troops simply didn't have the training to do much more than they did, which was to advance in a tactically innocent way, and take huge casualties as a consequence.

Essentially, that's what happens when you deploy troops that haven't been properly trained. The Americans learned the same lesson at Kasserine Pass in 1943.

Later still, in 1982, we see an example of trained troops coming up against inadequately trained conscripts, and the outcome there was - as far as the ground-fighting was concerned - all too predictable.
The Mahdist wars are particularly stark examples of this, too. In that the British officer class were a constant in all the battles but sometimes they were giving orders to green egyptian conscripts whose reaction to having their formations broken was to panic and collapse and sometimes they were giving orders to british veterans who could reform and adapt, result being the sudanese found themselves trapped by the counter attack.

The tactics didn't really change that much, despite every infantry square being broken they kept forming then, it was all down to how the men reacted once that square was broken. Which is a training thing.
 

Alexander Rooksmoor

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A useful article. I think one interesting example is the involvement of US troops in the First World War and how long this took to organise. Despite the US obsession with guns it had a small army and one which had not performed well in the Punitive Expedition to Mexico 1916/17 despite which the commander of that, Pershing, was made commander of the American troops sent to France. It was not simply a question of soldiers. National Guard units were quickly transformed into regular regiments, but also of equipment. We probably all know that some US troops went into battle in uniforms dating back to the American Civil War. Much of the equipment and uniforms supplied to the AEF in the early months came from the French. The lack of expertise Salt mentions was clearly shown in France with the casualty rates for the Americans seven times higher than equivalent British and French soldiers. Not only were many of the Americans 'green' they had not had 3+ years experience in trench warfare; they were like the British and French forces of 1914.


There were factors that worsened the situation for the AEF. First the Americans were associates, not allies of the British and French and Pershing insisted on their own stretch of the front, when it would have been safer to mix in newly arrived American units alongside British and French (and indeed Belgian and Portuguese) ones. Conscription 'by number' meant that the US forces had men of different races but they were not permitted to serve side-by-side in the US Army until 1948. Thus, four black regiments (369th, 370th, 371st, and 372nd) were given to the French, welcome of the manpower. These regiments benefited from that inter-mixing with hardened veterans that the white units lacked. Those kept by the AEF were not seen as suited to frontline combat and were assigned support roles the way that the British used Chinese labourers in their sectors. Despite all these disadvantages the AEF was important in defending Paris during the Second Battle of the Marne, June-August 1918.


I just highlight this example to bring out the fact that in addition to the challenges that Salt shows, even once you have begun assembling your larger army, it takes time to be effective and it getting beyond the high casualties of 'green' units can be aided or hindered by the approaches adopted for that larger army. If Pershing had not been so dogmatic about standing alone, he could have reduced the casualties of his units. As for the US Army dealing with its racial approach, that was a problem that US society struggled to grapple throughout the rest of the 20th Century and indeed beyond. Thus, difficulties can arise not simply among the units a commander controls, but the context from which those units are drawn, which again can impact on the effective use of the soldiers.
 

Redolegna

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Much of the equipment and uniforms supplied to the AEF in the early months came from the French.
Which included planes, tanks and artillery as I recall, though tinged partly by the fact that if the French and Brits provided that, that was some space freed on the convoys through the Atlantic for stuff they badly needed that couldn't be produced in Europe. There was already the issue of shifting one to two million people from the US to France, if their kit was included, the Allies were breaking into cold sweat over what that would do to tonnage.
 

Redolegna

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There's an article (or several) in that; how the Saxon forces differed entirely from the Norman forces, and so on.
It's a thing on which Bret Devereaux hammers often, and how militaries which are built in defiance of that often underperform dramatically or even collapse, like the recent Afghan example, and probably a number of Arabic countries' military where the model used just didn't fit with the society.
 

Redolegna

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As the article points out, cadre is key (junior officers and senior NCOs). Senior officers are moving tokens around, and don't actually deal with soldiering; ordinary soldiers stand around looking confused until told what to do.
If I remember right, the Reichswehr of the Weimar era knew that acutely, so they trained every member to be able to operate two ranks above their nominal one, so that when the 100,000-men limitation of the Versailles treaty would be broken, the army could expand very, very fast.
 

Francisco Cojuanco

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It's a thing on which Bret Devereaux hammers often, and how militaries which are built in defiance of that often underperform dramatically or even collapse, like the recent Afghan example, and probably a number of Arabic countries' military where the model used just didn't fit with the society.
Right, it's why the contemporary Iraqi Army is IIRC a much more capable force than the same army during the initial fight against ISIS.
 

FriendlyGhost

Trying to write more than my AH.com alter ego :-)
Pleasantly surprised when I read this article. I was expecting something about not just needing (fighting) soldiers but also logistics (the old saw about amateurs talking tactics and professionals talking logistics). Reading about the need to expand from cadre to full strength and the (immense amount of) training required was great and very, very true. I've been in the 'cadre' of a number of organisations in my career; during exercises, what's expected of the trained personnel is very different from what's expected of the reinforcement personnel - and it's training and exercises which are vital prior to actual combat, no matter whether that's at sea, on land or in the air (or in command and control for one or more of them).
The discussions above have also been very interesting and, again, very true. Having worked (trained and fought) with personnel from dozens of different nations (European, North American, Middle Eastern, South-East Asian, Oceanic) over the years, the culture of the various militaries is something which can't just be glossed over. It's one of NATO's failings, the 'one size fits all' approach which ignores that not everyone works the same way as the USA or Germany (for example). I could go into a lot more detail, but it would turn into a bit of a rant...
 
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