World War I Military Forces


Figure 1.--Western histories focus on the Western Front and the operations of their own natinal armies. The Russian Army, however, played a ceitical role in the War, occupying an important part of the German Army and resources as well as the austro-Hungarian Empire. As a result, German military planners after the War resolved never to commit this same mistake again. So did their new leader Führer Adolf Hitler. This postcard back portrait was taken in Petrograd during 1916. We at first thought that the boy was a Son of the Regiment, but we now think that it was family portrait, perhaps with three brothers or two brothers and son. Click on the image to see the messages in Russian on these and a related postcard. The little boy and his older brother wear Cossak caps. That orobably means the older brother was in the calvalry. The other soldier looks to be in the regular RussiannArmy.

Europe at the eve of World War I was an armed camp. All the European powers except for Britain had conscriptions systems and large armies. And the majoe powes were making massive expenditures to equip those armies. Even small countries had substantial armies. Germany had the strongest and best organized army. It also had the most efficent reserve force and organization to rapidly mobilize reserve forces through an efficent railway system. Germany had the industrial power to equip its army, although its industial capacity was not as great as that of Britain and France combined. The German Army was committed to a war of movement and gaining early victories by concentrating forces at critical points. Germany was also building a navy to challenge the long dominant British Royal Navy. Russia had the largest army, but it was ponderous and tool time to mobilize. It lacked the industrial power to prperly equip its army. The French Army was also sizeable and fortified with the manpower of its colonies which contributed nearly 0.5 million men, narrowing the German manpower advantage. The British at the onset of the War had only a small, but highly professional army. The British Expeditionary Force (BEF) would play a key role in slowing the German offensive through Belgium. Eventually the British had to turn to conspription. The Royal Navy was Britain's principal force in beding and with the French Navy was able to effectively blockade the Central Powers. The British Empire forces (Australia, Canada, New Zealand, and South Africa) were also important. The small Belgian Army was quickly mobilized and played an important role in slowing the German offensive in the first month of the War. The Austro-Hungarian Army was substantial, but proved much less effective than the German Army. They were unable to defeat the Serbs until refinforced by the Germabns and Bulgarians. The Serb Army managed to escape encirclement and was evacuated by Allied naval forces. The Ottoman Army was substantuial, but the country did not have the industrial capacity to build modern arms. The Germans supplied some modern equipment. The United States which would play a played a decisive role in the war, had a very small army which it did not begin to increase significantly until declaring war (April 1917).

Country Forces


Austro-Hungary

Austria-Hungary was 20th century reorganized Austrian Empire. The Austria Empire had been on og the great European powers. It was Germany's principal Central Powers ally. The Austro-Hungarian Army was substantial, but was still essentially a 19th century force. And unlike Germany, Austria-Hyngary did not have the industrial capacity to properly equip its army. Most of the Empire;s industry was located in Bohhemoa (modern Czech Republic). The Skoda Works was particularly important. The Empire unlike Germany had no policy to promote industrialization so it could keep up with the other major European powers. The Austrian Army proved much less effective than the German Army. It was essentially a 19th century They were unable to even defeat the small Serbian Army until refinforced by the Germans and Bulgarians. It is not altogether why the Austrain Army proved relatively ineffive durin the War. Inadequate equipment was surely a factor. Leadership was also important, but diffixult to assess. Another imprtant factor was that Austrai was only a small part of the Empire. Thus unlike the other European armies, there was no cohesive national ethos motivating the ustro-Hungarian Empire. The rather complicated organizational structure of the Austro-Hungariamn Empire was reflected in its army. Austria-Hungary had national (imperial) formarions. There were also a variety of ethnically based forces which were commonly national guard (militia) forces. The lack of the Austro-Hungarian national ethos was widely noted by German military and civilian officials. This is one of the reasons that the Germns under estimated the possible impact of the United States. Not only did the JUnited sttes not have a substantil army and troop ships were seen as vulnerable to U-bots, but for largely racial/ethnic reasons, the Germans did not see the United states as a real nation.

Belgium

Many sectors of Belgian society were in the years before World War I pro-German, especially the Flemish population. The most staunchly pro-French sector of Belgium, however, was the officer class of the Belgian Army. Belgium's regular army was very small. There were six infantry divisions (43,000 men) supported by an additional 115,000 trained reserves. The Belgian Air Force had one squadron composed of 12 aircraft. The small Belgian Army, as aesult, did not fearure prominately in German military planning. The German commanders tasked with execuling the Schlieffen Plan assumed that the Belgian Army would be quickly swept aside by the force of a German military offensive. Belgium was a neutral nation, guaranteed by international treaty. The Belgian Army had never participated in a war other than limited colonial duty. King Albert quickly mobilized and to the astonishment of the Germany played an important role in slowing the German offensive in the first month of the War. Well conceived firtification aided the Belgian defenses. They were joined by the British Expoditionary Force (BEF) to the west and the French Army to the east. As a result rather than a largely unopposed march through Belgium, the Germans faced serious opposition. The Allies were still outgunned and overpowered by the massive German Army, but they seriously slowed the German advance (August 1914). Without the Belgian Army, the Miracke on the Marne would have never been possible (Swptember 1914). The Germans occupied almost all of Belgium for the duration of the War and the Belgian Army played a minor role in the ensuing combat. But for 1 month the Belgian Army played a central role and was vital in denying the Germans their anticipated victory.

Britain

The French had learned their lesson in the Franco-Prussian War (1870-71). They were not about going tobfight the Germans without allies. And this time they had two--the Russins in the East and the British in the West. Tge Russians had a large if poorly equipped army. The British had a small, but professional and well equipped force. The British regular armyh was rushed to Belgium as the British Expeditionary Force (BEF). They would play a key role in slowing the German offensive through Belgium. Britain in its long history had placed its defense primarily in the Royl Navy. They had never forned a large conscript army and had avoided fighting pitched battles in coninental wars. For the first year of the War, Btitain attempted the same approach, fighting wuth n ll-volunteer army. Eventually as aesult of massive losses, the British had to turn to conspription. The Somme Iffensive devesr=tated the new conscript army. The British had to form a new army and recomsider tactics. One of the resulting innovations was pushed by Winston Churchill--the tank and would eventually play a major part in the British victory. The Royal Navy was Britain's principal force aided by the French Navy in effectively blockading the Central Powers. The Royal Navy had not way to strike at Germany directly, but would be a war-winning force in the war of attrition which developed after the statemate on the Western Front developed. The Royal Flying Corps (RFC) was a small firce at the outbreak of war, but grew steadily durung the war. The RFC was important durung the War, but perhaps even more important was the impact the air war had on British military planning during the inter-War era.

British Empire

The British Empire forces (Australia, Canada, New Zealand, and South Africa) were also important.

Bulgaria


France

The French Army was also sizeable. The French Armybfor centuries had dominated Europe. Many military terms are as a result based on French-language terms. Most recently French armies during the Napoleonic Era had conquered much of Europe. . The French Army had, however, been humbeled by the Prussian Aemy in the Framco-Prussian War (1870-71). Unified Germany, however, was substantially larger than France and had a larger army and industrial base. The French were chastened by their defeat and wisely concluded to never again face the Germans without allies. And French diplomats skillfully negotiated an alliance with Russia and understandings with the British. The French Army was with the manpower of its colonies which contributed nearly 0.5 million men, narrowing the German manpower advantage. We do not have details, but apparently conscriotion was extended to the colonies. The Force noire was raised in West Africa, especially in Senegal. Blacks from Sub-Saharan Africa contrinuted over 0.21 million men. North Africans from the Maghreb contributed about 0.26 million men. About 0.05 million men came from Indochina. The diference in climate exposed these men to European diseases and they died in higher numbers due to illness after deployment to the Western Front. Another 0.18 men Africans and Indiochina provided labor needed by the war-0time economy. Colonial troops, especially the Tirailleurs Senegalis helped maintain French control of Indochina and Morocco.

Germany

Imperial Germany was built around the Prussian state. Some wiuld say that the foubding Prussian state was buolt around the country's army. This means the institutions of Imperial Germany were formed around Prussia, both the Prussian state and Prussian Army. This included the Imperial German Army. The Prussian Army had a long, storied reputation in European military history. Prussia was a relatively small, poor state compared to the other European powers. Prussia did not have the capability of fighting long, drawnout wars with the major powers. The Prussian strategy was to naintain a highly profesional standing army. This made the Prussians extremely valuable allies, especially in the opening phase of aar. The Prissian Army in connection with this situation developed a reputation for rapid movement and discipline. This was the mainstay in Prussian military doctrine. The Prussians developed a military doctrine of a rapid war of movement to close with and defeat enemy armies by concetrating forces before the adversary was fully prepared. The Prussian Arny became the core of the new Imperail German Army. And when the new kaiser, Wilhelm II, ignored Bismarck and allowed the Reinsurance Treaty with Tsarist Russia to lapse. The German Army soon found itself confronted with the a possible two-front war. The Imperial Germany Army's sollution to this conumdrum was to devise a plan for a quick vicory and short war--the Schiliffen Plan. Germany had the strongest and best organized army. It also had the most efficent reserve force and organization to rapidly mobilize reserve forces through an efficent railway system. Germany had the industrial power to effectively equip its army, including heavy weapons. There were several specialized units, such as artillery, calvalry, engineers, military police, pioneers/sappers, and others. Germany's industial capacity, however, was not as great as that of Britain and France combined. And the Germans lacked many important raw materials. The German Army, like the Prussian Army, before it was committed to a war of movement and gaining early victories by concentrating forces at critical points. What is unclear to us is what happened in the Army's High Command that led to the attrocities committed by the Germany Army in Belgium. Kaiser was also building a new German Navy to challenge the long dominant British Royal Navy. Admirl Tirpitz did not believe that a German Navy could ever defeat the British Royal Navy, but he believed that it could pose enough of a risk to disuade the British from involvement in an alliance against Germany. In fact, it porimarily served to change German attitudes toward Germany. And the primary achievement of the U-boat force was to draw America into the War.

Italy


Japan


Ottoman Empire

The Ottoman Army was substantuial, but the country did not have the industrial capacity to build modern arms. The Germans supplied some modern equipment.

Romania


Russia

The Imperial Russia Army was the largest in the world and with its huge population had the capability to mobilze an immense force. The Russian Army in the early-19th century had been the most powerful force in Europe. The Russians had played a key role in defeating Napoleon in the Napoleonic Wars The Russians had destroyed Napoleon's Grand Armee during the retreat from Moscow (1812). The Russian Army helped police the conservative regime implaced with the the Congress of Vienna. The Russians intervened to defeat the 1848 revolutions in central Europe. The Russians did not keep up Western Europe during the Industrial Revolution. This findamentally changed the ballance of power in Europe as was first seen during the Crimean War (1853-56). Thus while massive, the Russian Army in the early 19th century no longer dominated Europe. The unification and industrialization of Germany, deamatically changed the European power ballance. Russian in the early 20th century had a rapidly growing industrial sector, but it was small in coparison to Germany. Russia did not have the ability to equip its army with modern weapons as was the case for the Germans. The Russian army was not as well trained or as well equipped as the Germans. Nor did plans exist for the rapid mobilization of reserves. Mobilization the Imperial Army would take condiserble time. The Germans had the most efficent mobilization systen in Europe and thus was prepared to strike first if the Russians began to mobilize. After thge War broke out, the Russians mobilized much quicker than the Germans anticiptd gorcing them to weaken the drive through Brlgium by transg=fering forces east. Russia also had a small Imperial Russian Navy which was bottled up in the Baltic by the Germans for most of the War. .

Serbia

The Serb Army managed to escape encirclement and was evacuated by Allied naval forces.

United States

The United States which would play a played a decisive role in the war, virtually did not have an army when World War I broke out in Europe, at least in European terms. There was a small Army which was basically unarmed. The Army conducted a small Mexican Expedition into Mexico. This was the only real battle experience that many of the yonger U.S. commanders who went to France had. And President Wilson made no effort to expand the U.S.Army or arm it as the war raged in Europe. The Democrats during the reelection campaign in 1916 campaigned on he 'He kept us out of war', although the President thought this unwise knowing that the United States might still be drawn into the War. And this is precisely what occurred omly a few months after his reelectiin and the Kaiser's decesion to resume unrestricted submarine warfare. The United States did not begin to prepare its army for war until Congress actually declared war (April 1917). Much of the small professional core was sent to France. The Europeans had expected a huge army, but such an army did not exist. With war declared, the President and Congress had to get down to the business of creating the army that would win the War. Congress passed a conscription law, bases were opened all over the country to train a massive new concript army. General Pershing who was appointed to command the American Expeditionay Force (AEF) had served as a young officer in the Spanish American War. Many men were sent to France to be trained there. Because of shipping shortages and the lack of a large, modern American arms industry, the Americans were sent to France without their equipment and used equipment provided by the Allies, mostly the French. The U.S. Navy was a modern force and was ordered Europe to support the Allied blockade of the Central Powers. And the United States also had virtually no air force and the small avition industry had not kpt pace with the rapid advances in Europe as the war progressed. The first American flyers would fly with the Britishband French air forces. Like the Army, the U.S. Army Air Corps would be trained in France and fly Allied aircraft.

Services

There were two primary militar services during World War II, the army and the navy. The War was primarily fought by the armies of the belligerant powers. Germany had the strongest and best carmed army at the nset of the War which us why the Germans launced an offensive through Belgium, This took advantage aof the German strength and have them the opportunity to bring about a quick resolution of hostilities. The Russins had the largest army, but not the industrial capability to properly quip it, espcially after early dfeats. Tge French had a large well-equipped army, but not the capability o take on the Germans alone. The British had a small, but highly professional army. The British were the only country to enter the War wiyh an all-volunteer army. America at the time the war began had an all volunteer military. The American Army ws both small and poorly equipped. As a result the United States had to depend on the state militias (renamed the National Guard) and the U.S. Navy Mzrine Corps when it entered the War. Despite America's large population, its army ws miniscule in comparison to the European powers. The other major service was the navy. The navies play an important part in the war even though there were few major engagement. This was because the British Royal Navy was so dominant. As a result, th British were able to bloclade the Central Powers which would have a mjor impct on the War. A third service emerged during Workd war I, the air force. Itwas during te War, however, geberally organized as an army unit. There were some additional specilize services like coat guards, merchant marines, and others.

Armies

The War was primarily fought by the armies of the belligerant powers. Germany had the strongest and best carmed army at the nset of the War which us why the Germans launced an offensive through Belgium, This took advantage aof the German strength and have them the opportunity to bring about a quick resolution of hostilities. The Russins had the largest army, but not the industrial capability to properly quip it, espcially after early dfeats. Tge French had alarge well-equipped army, but not the capability o take on the Germans alone. The British had a small, but highly professional army. The British were the only country to enter the War wiyh an all-volunteer army. America at the time the war began had an all volunteer military. The American Army ws both small and poorly equipped. As a result the United States had to depend on the state militias (renamed the National Guard) and the U.S. Navy Mzrine Corps when it entered the War. Despite America's large population, its army ws miniscule in comparison to the European poers.

Navies

The British Royal Navy was still the dominant naval force of the day. The Royal Navy outnumbered the Germans in all important classes of surface vessls. The Royall Navy's numerical superority in capital ships made its control of the Sea virtually unassaiable. Britain's long naval tradition was also an important advantage. The German High Seas fleet was the only force capable of mouning a serious challenge to the British. The German built the second most important highseas fleet with ships every bit as good if not marginally better than the British ships. The German Navy included mostly modern ships because their construction prgram was reltively recent. The German crews despite the lack of a naval tradition were well trained and highly motivated. The geography of Germany with coasts located on the Baltic and North Sea met that invariably the British and Germnans would confront each ther in the North Sea. The Russian Navy was bottkled up in the Baltic. The French Navy was largely deployed in the Mediterranean. The Austrians had only a small navy which saw little action outside the adriaric. The Japanese Navy aided the Royal Navy in eliminating the German Pacific squadron and in seizng Grman colonies in the Far East and Pacific. The only important navy that was not engaged in the War from an early stage was the United States Navy.

Air forces

A third service emerged during World War I, the air force. For the first time, air combat became a part of warfare. Air forces were generally organized as a unit with armies. There were also small navy aviation units. All the belligerent powers fielded air forces of some kind or another. The three most important countries involved in the air war were Britain, France and Germany who were involved in intense air combat over the trenches of the Western Front. All three countries began the war with planes of limited capability which were not even equipped for air combat. And all three made enormous advances in aircraft design during the War.

Other forces

There were some additional specilize services like coat guards, merchant marines, and others.







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Created: 4:58 AM 11/4/2010
Last updated: 2:52 AM 10/4/2015