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brindlerp

Army organisation

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brindlerp

Were the organisation of Battalions, Brigades, Divisions and Armies of Britain, Belgium, France and Germany similarly organised in August 1914 and did they (and how) change to suit western front conditions up to Armistice 1918?

regards

Richard

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Robert Dunlop

There were many similarities, based on the fact that all armies were predominantly infantry, machine guns and other infantry support weapons were in their infancy, and artillery was primarily field guns designed to directly support the infantry. Were you wanting specifics about the differences that existed?

As the war progressed, two key changes occurred so far as the infantry was concerned. The first was the growing number and variety of infantry support weapons. Some weapons, such as the grenade and the semi-automatic Lewis gun were incorporated directly into infantry companies. Sometimes, special infantry sections were created and sometimes the weapon was distributed throughout. Grenades are an interesting example where specialised grenadier/bombing sections were created. When the Mills bomb became widely used, rifle grenadier sections were retained. Other infantry support weapons included infantry guns, such as the 37mm used by the French and Americans, flame-throwers (principally used by the Germans and, to a lesser extent, the French, and infantry mortars (usually aggregated into trench mortar companies).

The Central Powers and Italy (Russia to a lesser extent) opted to create highly specialised assault forces, namely stosstruppen and Arditi. The recruitment and training for these units was highly specialised. They were well-armed and tended to be used as shock assault (or, in the case of the Germans, counter-attack) troops. The French, British and Dominion forces took a different approach. They relied on training and equipping all units (with greater or lesser degrees of success, depending on the unit) in the principles of fire and movement.

The second key change resulted from the ongoing losses. Typically, this caused armies to reduce the number of men per division in order to increase the number of divisions and/or to preserve the existing number of divisions. In the British Army for example, the number of battalions per brigade was reduced from four to three in 1918. To some degree, the decrease in the number of riflemen per division was made up for by the increase in firepower from the changes referred to above.

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Bill Alexander

Interesting summary Robert. One note regarding the organization of the British / Dominion divisions in 1918. General Currie, GOC, Canadian Corps refused to change the establishment of his divisions. They remained with the four battalion per brigade structure throughout the final campaign. Currie believed that this structure provided much more striking power. From historical perspective, it appears that he made a sound decision. In the summer and fall of 1918 the Canadian Corps was considered one of the most effective corps on the Western Front, both from a striking perspective and an endurance perspective.

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brindlerp

Many thanks for the information Robert.

The reason I asked the question was for wanting confirmation of similarity in purpose, organisation/structure and manpower of participating countries military units.

My current understanding is that a British Division at the time (1914) would contain approximately 17,000 men, would this be true of a German Division at the same time (and Belgian, French etc.).

By way of example:

The attached Map 3 - The Advance on Menin, 19th October 1914, (from "The Seventh Division" by C.T. Atkinson), indicates 3 German Divisions (52nd, 53rd and 54th Reserve Divisions of the German Fourth Army) moving on the 21st , 22nd Brigades, Divisional artillery and Mounted Infantry (Northumberland Hussars) of the British 7th Division line.

Annette has kindly sent me some Official History maps of The Battles Of Ypres 1914 which show the German Fourth Army attacking the British line above the Ypres - Menin Road, and the German Sixth Army attacking the British line below the Ypres - Menin road, at this time. These maps indicate 20th Brigade of the British 7th Division line below the Ypres - Menin line facing a German Sixth Army Cavalry Division.

Is it safe to assume in terms of manpower, that the British 7th Division holding the eight-mile line between Nieuwemolen and America were outnumbered 4 to 1 in this area, on 19-20 October 1914?

Was it the case on this date, that 17,000 British soldiers faced 68,000 German soldiers, or what are the correct figures?

The description of the First Battle of Ypres in Atkinson's book is astonishing, remarkable.

So much happened in just over three weeks, much we will never know.

After reading Atkinson's description of the battle, other accounts appear far too superficial, including the mistakes.

According to the Official History maps, the German Sixth Army would have fought at Messines Ridge and Wytschaete.

The account on the link http://www.firstworldwar.com/battles/ypres1st.htm states

"Next, von Falkenhayn renewed his offensive on 29 October, attacking most heavily in the south and east - once again without decisive success. Duke Albrecht's German Fourth Army had taken the Messines Ridge and Wytschaete by 1 November."

The account on the link http://www.firstworldwar.com/battles/ypres1.htm states

"The second phase of the Flanders Offensive was a series of assaults against the city of Ypres. To seize it, Falkenhayn had at his disposal the newly assembled Fourth Army (made up of units from the siege of Antwerp and eight new divisions manned by underage recruits) commanded by the Duke of Wurttemberg, a cavalry corps, and Prince Rupprecht of Bavaria's Sixth Army."

What are we to believe?

Regards

Richard

post-2-1072853992.jpg

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AOK4

Hello,

You can say the 7th Division was ountumbered app. 4 to 1 but you have to bear in mind that the quality of the German forces was not very high: the 52., 53. and 54. Reserve-Division were quickly assembled and traind Ersatz-Reserve men, Kriegsfreiwillige and Landwehr. The German cavalry division was not pleased with its role as infantry division (it was dismounted to attack the British lines) and performed not very well.

Soon, these German divisions were reinforced with Landwehr and Reserve-Ersatz units after the first attacks had decimated their numbers.

Jan

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Robert Dunlop
The reason I asked the question was for wanting confirmation of similarity in purpose, organisation/structure and manpower of participating countries military units.

My current understanding is that a British Division at the time (1914) would contain approximately 17,000 men, would this be true of a German Division at the same time (and Belgian, French etc.).

Thank you for the extra information. I will piece together some more details for you. Just a quick note that the German divisions will likely not have pushed all of their infantry into the attacks. So the actually numbers involved in the frontline fighting will have been less. This comment in no way denigrates the extraordinary effort of the BEF (and the French) during First Ypres.

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Robert Dunlop
So the actually numbers involved in the frontline fighting will have been less. This comment in no way denigrates the extraordinary effort of the BEF (and the French) during First Ypres.

Not least of all, because the BEF themselves were already depleted when the German assault began.

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brindlerp

Found "The Structure of Infanty Divisions in the Great War" courtesy of The Western Front Association, last night on this link

http://www.westernfrontassociation.com/the...ofdivisions.htm

I think this answers my original question.

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Robert Dunlop

Well done. That leaves:

1. The details of the Belgians:

1914 - infantry division (31,000 officers and ORs) had a cavalry regiment; 3 infantry brigades (7,000 officers and men) comprising cavalry troop (32 officers and ORs), MG company (6 heavy MGs), 2 infantry regiments of 3 battalions, each with 4 companies, and 3 batteries of 75mm artillery; divisional artillery regiment with 3 field gun batteries (4 x 75mm guns); engineer battalion with bridging company, telephone company and pioneer company (500 officers and ORs); and the divisional (supply) train.

1918 - cavalry regiment replaced with a 'light group' comprising cavalry squadron, cyclist company, and armoured car squadron (3 armoured cars); 3 infantry regiments of 3 battalions, each comprising 3 infantry companies and an MG company; artillery regiment comprising 3 artillery groups of 3 field gun batteries and a mortar group

2. Special forces

For example, the German stosstruppen would be organised as a stormtroop battalion (1916), comprising:

Headquarters, 1-5 assault companies (each with 124-200 officers and ORs), 1-2 MG companies (initially 6 expanding to 12 MGs per company), flamethrower platoon, infantry gun battery (4-6 76.2mm Russian guns for example) and 1 mortar company.

The size and composition of these units varied widely but in general they were significantly more heavily armed than their infantry counterparts.

I have information on Austrian, Italian and Russian special forces as well.

Robert

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