Now all roads lead to France and heavy is the tread
Of the living; but the dead returning lightly dance.
Edward Thomas, Roads

Saturday, June 17, 2017

Whoops—There Might Be a War Coming! The Prewar Rush to Fill the Ranks

The Kaiser Reviews His Troops on the Eve of War

By early to mid-1913 the Balkan situation and a growing sense of defensiveness by European leaders over the cascading series of disagreements and crises seem to have led to an unstated acceptance of the possibility of imminent war. All the major land powers concluded they needed more bodies in uniform. In their own fashions they initiated legislative measures to accomplish this.

In March, Russia began this cycle with the unveiling of a five-year "Great Program" of expansion before the Imperial Council by the military leadership. This naturally quickly got the attention of the members of the Triple Alliance and encouraged subsequent responses from them. Being Imperial Russia, though, the process there took the longest to work through and was not fully approved until June 1914. Nevertheless, its implementation added two full corps to the army and substantial increases and modernization in artillery.

In May, with the backing of President Raymond Poincaré, a controversial bill known as the "Three Year Law" was introduced. It was intended to allow France to match the size of the German Army on mobilization and (this was not so publicized at the time) to make it possible for France to launch the offensive operations contemplated under the latest war plan. An immediate boost was provided by calling up two new classes simultaneously, combined with an extension to three years active service for those already in uniform (the classes of 1910 and 1911). The bill was passed in August after an appeal to the legislature by General Joffre.

The Kaiser and his generals were now looking at the two-front war they had long planned for. A shift in national priorities was in order. Immediately after gaining approval for a naval bill (something less that Admiral Tirpitz had urged), an effort was mounted to increase the strength of the army. Like the French effort it was a political "hot potato," but for another reason. The expenses of building the fleet had made the Reichstag resistant to cost increases that could increase tax burdens. After much sparring, a compromise was reached on 30 June. In October the final measure was approved, which added 136,000 enlisted men and included many reorganizing measures regarding the army, reservists, and home guard, which would facilitate the mobilization in 1914. By one rough estimate, it increased the army of 1914 by one-sixth.

During the Balkan wars the Dual Monarchy had passed a series of emergency military measures, but the overall situation of declining political stability further alarmed the leadership, both military and political. The war ministry reported in August 1913 that increases in manpower and artillery were needed due to recent technical innovations and a diplomatic situation shifting against the Monarchy's interests. Changes were approved by October 1913 with the support of one-time anti-militarist Hungarian leader István Tisza. These included credits for war materials and for expanding the intake of conscripts to allow for a larger force on mobilization. 

Sources: Pierre Miguel's writings on French politics, David Hermans on the arming of Europe, and the WWW-Virtual Library

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