World War I: German Conscription and Age of Soldiers


Figure 1.--Germany built the most professional and powerful conscript army in Europe. I'm not sure yet about the age of conscription, but believe it was 17 unless the youth was accepted for universitiy studies.

Prussia adopted universal conscription during the Napoleonic Wars. After defeat at the hands of Napoleon, Prussian Army reformers Gneisenau, Scharnhorst, Boyen, and others sought to create a modern new army. Like the French, the Prussians maintained that every citizen has a moral obligation to the fatherland. The defeat of Napoleon brought enormous prestige to the military. The military became perhaps the most prestigious careers in Prussian society. After the defeat of Napoleon and restoration of conservative regimes overseen by the Congress of Vienna, there was a militarisation of Prussian society. Citizens of all classess received military training. Germany was united under the Prussian monarchy. German military policy thus was largely conceived under Prussian influence. The German army with its core Prussian officer corps was the most influential institution in Germany--primarily because it had been the force that had achieved unification. Not only did officer rank convey social status, but also reserve officer rank. The army's officer corps was drawn almost exclusively from the Prussian Junker aristocracy. The influence of the Prussian military and the policies of the monarchy resulted in Germany giving great priority to military power. Key to that policy was a massive conscript army and a high state of military readiness. United Germany had both the industrial capacity and population to make it the most powerful single European nation. This policy also fomented an armaments race which continued for over 40 years until the outbreak of World War I. The Imperial German Army had the most professional conscript army in the world when World War I broke out. [Fosten and Marrion] We do not yet have details on the German conscription law and the age of the conscripts.

Napoleonic Wars

Historians see the Napoleonic Wars as the foundation of German nationalism. Defeat an occupation generated a national sentiment that pervaded German siciety, still split into many principalities. Prussia adopted universal conscription during the Napoleonic Wars. After defeat at the hands of Napoleon, Prussian Army reformers Gneisenau, Scharnhorst, Boyen, and others sought to create a modern new army. Like the French, the Prussians maintained that every citizen has a moral obligation to the fatherland. The defeat of Napoleon brought enormous prestige to the military.

Prussia

The military became perhaps the most prestigious careers in Prussian society. After the defeat of Napoleon and restoration of conservative regimes overseen by the Congress of Vienna, there was a militarisation of Prussian society. Citizens of all classess received military training.

Unification

National sentiment grew after the Napoleonic War until the only question was how Germany would be unified. Liberal reformers during the Revolutions of 1848 attempted to unite Germany, but failed. Germany was instead united under the conservative Prussian monarchy. Unification occurred after the defeat of Emperor Napoleon III in the Franco-Prussian War (1870-71). The various German states had joined Prussia in the War, but the Prussians were the major force. German military policy thus was largely conceived under Prussian influence. The German army with its core Prussian officer corps was the most influential institution in Germany--primarily because it had been the force that had achieved unification. Not only did officer rank convey social status, but also reserve officer rank.

Prussian Junkers

The army's officer corps was drawn almost exclusively from the Prussian Junker aristocracy.

Imperial Germany

The influence of the Prussian military and the policies of the monarchy resulted in Germany giving great priority to military power. Kaiser Wilhelm as a boy had watched his grandfather oversee the war with France and his father actually participate in the fighting. He and his brother had watched the victory parades. The Kaiser was not only committed to maintaing the strongest army in Europe, but also to building a powerful highseas fleet.

Conscript Army

Key to German military power was a massive conscript army and a high state of military readiness. United Germany had both the industrial capacity and population to make it the most powerful single European nation. The Imperial German Army had the most professional conscript army in the world when World War I broke out. [Fosten and Marrion] We do not yet have details on the German conscription law and the age of the conscripts.

Students

We note student groups that seem to be involved in some sort of cadet groups. We do not know if Germany had a system of school cadets. These were not military schools, byt rather regular schools where the students did some military training, like Reserve Officer Training Cirps (ROTC) in America. Their teachers seem to be involved in leadership roles. We do not know just what the groups represent and to what extent they actually involved the students with military training. We notice uniforms on some school groups.

Arms Race

Germany participated in an armaments race which continued for over 40 years until the outbreak of World War I. Germany not only maintained a large army, but by commiting to building a highseas fleet set off a costly naval building program.

Sources

Fosten, Donald and Robert Marrion. World War 1: The German Army 191418 (Men at Arms 80, 1978), 48p.






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Created: June 12, 2004
Last updated: 5:00 AM 12/3/2005