The command and control of armies the 1792 -1945 period

The command and control of armies developed throughout the 1792 -1945 period. In the Napoleonic era, Napoleon seldom delegated command to his subordinate officers, developing the logistics of battle himself. Granted, he did begin to develop a General Staff but mainly for reconnaissance purposes and to ensure his orders were communicated to other generals. However, by the end of WWII Dwight Eisenhower had been appointed as the supreme allied commander of the Allied forces in Europe to influence co-operation between various heads of the army, navy and air force operating in that theatre.

Each power in WWII had their own general staff who facilitated correspondence between a commanding officer and subordinate military units. They also had to compose contingency plans for future battles accounting for defensive or offensive conditions. I think the developments in the command and control of armies were necessary for success in battle in this period. Without an extensive organisation to aid, help foresee and incite the process of war armies wouldn’t have been able to successfully employ tactics and take advantage of technological developments.

When considering Alliances, they most definitely had an impact upon victory in battle but it was important to maintain a stable relationship and co-operation between allied states through the combined command and control of their armies. Conscription in the Napoleonic era led to a mass increase in the size of armies. This meant the command and control of military forces had to be adjusted accordingly to succeed in battle. Napoleon introduced the Corp system where he divided combined infantry, cavalry and artillery into 7 corps.

This resulted in greater speed and mobility, the lack of which could cripple a large army. Napoleon also began to develop a general staff; however it was Helmuth Von Moltke who first introduced a fully functioning general staff, to the Prussian army. Where Napoleon failed to delegate Von Moltke promoted a small group of officers to organise and run the army. Historian Micheal Howard said that ‘the Prussian General Staff acted as a nervous system animating the lumbering body of the army’.

The Franco-Prussian war exemplified the importance of a general staff and preparation before battle. For example the Battle of Sedan when Marshal MacMahon of the French army became injured command fell to General Ducrot who initiated orders for a retreat, this was soon cancelled upon the arrival of General Emmanuel Felix de Wimpffen who possessed a special commission to take over the Army of Chalons in the event of MacMahon’s incapacitation. This confusion in command structure severely weakened the French army leading to their defeat.

Furthermore, Germany delivered 380,000 troops to the forward zone within 18 days of the start of the war, while many French units reached the front either late or with inadequate supplies. The French had superior artillery in the form of the Mitrailleuse machine gun but few men were trained in using them. Ultimately the poor organisation and fragile command structure of the French Army cancelled out their technological advantages rendering the command and control of an army the deciding factor in this war.

Development in Technology and communications had a great influence on the command and control of armies. For example the successful mobilisation and co-ordination of troops on the battlefield could be attributed to the development of radio, aircraft and tanks. This enabled infantry, planes and tanks to quickly co-ordinate their movements on a large scale, known as the Blitzkrieg tactic. Germany’s early successes in WWII could be related to their innovation of radio-equipped tanks, allowing them to co-ordinate their movements more efficiently than the Allied armies.

The Prussian army in the wars of the mid-19th century also benefitted from advances in technology by the mobilisation of its military by railway: The Prussian General Staff had a railway department. During the Austro-Prussian war the Prussian army of 250,000 men was deployed using 5 separate railways across 300 miles to organise and converge quickly on enemy positions. However in the Franco-Austrian war of 1859 poor organisation and planning led to unfulfilled utilisation of railway. For example when the Austrian reserve force used railway they managed to get lost and miss the battle.

Similarly, when travelling by rail, despite successfully reaching the battlefield, the French army left their guns and ammunition behind. This shows a direct correlation between careful planning and the control of armies, and the exploitation of developments in technology. Good generalship also played a significant role in succeeding in battle. An inspired leader was important, for example Napoleon earned the name of ‘the visible commander’, when he sighted cannons, usually the job of a corporal he united his men by showing he was one of them.

It was also his tactical prowess, exemplified at the Battle of Austerlitz which led to an overwhelming victory for the French Army. Napoleons envisioned that the Russo-Austrian army would attack his right flank leaving their own left flank exposed and vulnerable. He then manipulated them to do so by moving his forces, imitating weakness whilst concealing his main force. He then sought a decisive encounter with the centre of the Allied army, crippling them and then encircling them from the rear.

Key to Napoleon’s success was his preparation and the control of his command, for example the Pratzen Heights were crucial terrain in the area he had selected for battle. They allowed him to fool the allied force who would interpret the French army’s abandonment of the territory as uncertainty, bolstering their confidence and blinding them to Napoleon’s true motive. However in 1917 in WWI French General Nivelle launched an offensive causing 120,000 losses in the opening two days, this sparked mutiny that involved half of the army.

Similarly in WWII Gamelin, the French commander in charge of the British and French allied forces showed poor leadership when he ignored vital intelligence concerning huge German divisions building up in the Ardennes, evidently ready to attack. Gamelin’s disregard for important reconnaissance shows how both poor leadership and uninformed preparation can lead to failure in battle as the German army invaded through the Ardennes whilst the bulk of the French army was stationed in North Belgium under Gamelin’s orders.

The forging of alliances facilitated victory in war. For example Napoleon was eventually – after making no attempt to ally with other great powers of Europe – defeated by a coalition, outnumbered by 333,000 allied soldiers to 85,000 French. Alliances evolved into having their own command structure as in WWI the Allied armies were under the control of Supreme Commander Ferdinand Foch. Along with the British commander Field Marshal Haig, Foch planned the Grand Offensive, opening on 26 September 1918, which led to the defeat of Germany.

The decision was made to strike on the Somme, east of Amiens, which marked the boundary between the British Expeditionary forces and the French armies, allowing the two armies to cooperate. Alliances could also be proved a hindrance. For example in WWI the German army’s view of its alliance with Austria-Hungary was that they were “shackled to a corpse. ” Supply shortages, low morale, and the high casualty rate seriously affected the operational abilities of the Austro- Hungarian troops, as well as the fact the army was of multiple ethnicity, all with different race, language and customs.

Finally, in WWII Dwight Eisenhower was appointed Supreme Allied Commander acting as more of a diplomat, admitting that his strategic knowledge was minimal In conclusion, Essentially command and control of armies was more important than generalship in successful war campaigns. Conscription and the forging of alliances led to mass armies so it wasn’t just about being a great tactician and strategist, such as Napoleon, political skill and diplomacy were essential to properly control armies in the most effective way.

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