The French Army
The Paris Constitutionnel has lately put forth a statement intended to prove that, in case of war, France could send across her frontiers a force of 500,000 men[a]. According to M. Gaillardet in his letter from Paris published in the Courrier des États-Unis of yesterday, this statement, and the figures by which it is supported, were furnished to our Parisian cotemporary directly from the Emperor himself, without the knowledge of any of his Ministers. The first point of the statement is that, if all the men on furlough are called in, and no more furloughs given, the French army will consist, on the 1st of April next, of 568,000 men; if the whole of the recruits of 1858 are called in, this strength will be increased by 64,000 men; and if war be declared, the Government may, with absolute certainty, count upon 50,000 voluntary enlistments at least, either of old soldiers whose time has expired, or of young volunteers. This would give a grand total of 682,000 men, divided, according to the Imperial statistician, as follows:
There is evidently some flaw in this sum total. There are 60,000 men wanting, which the Imperial pen, in the hurry of the moment, has forgotten to distribute. But never mind that. Suppose the 682,000 men are all right. In case of war, there would remain in the depots, which form at the same time the garrisons of the interior, 100,000 men. They would be supported by the 25,000 gensd'armes, while 50,000 men would be sufficient for Algeria. These 175,000 men, deducted from the above grand total, would leave 507,000 men. But his Majesty has again managed to lose 10,000 men, and deducts from 672,000 instead of from 682,000 men, thus reducing the net available field force to 497,000 men. An army of 500,000 men can, therefore, according to our authority, be made available for foreign war by the 1st of June, 1859, without in any way altering the existing military organization of France.
Now let us see what the French army is made of in reality. The existing organization of an army forms a certain limit to its extension; battalions, squadrons, batteries, cannot comprise more than a certain number of men, horses and guns, in any particular service, without destroying the system and the tactical specialities of that service. The French battalions of eight companies each, for instance, could not increase their companies to anything like twice their normal number of 118 combatants, without necessitating an entire revolution in the rudimentary and battalion drill; nor could the French batteries increase the number of their guns from six to eight or twelve, without a similar effect; and, in either case, the companies and batteries would become extremely clumsy, unless they were subdivided. Thus the organization of any army places certain limits to the numbers it can accommodate; and if those limits be exceeded, new formations become necessary. As these, however, cannot escape public notice, so soon as they are established to any extent, and as, so far, the Constitutionnel says that there need be no new formations, we may take the frame-work of the army, as it existed at the conclusion of the Russian war, as the limit of the number of men it can at present absorb.
The infantry battalion of the French line, with its complex organization of six companies of the line and two of élite, cannot well. exceed the strength of 1,000 men. For 100 regiments of the line, this would give, at three battalions each, 300,000 men. We purposely include the third battalion, for, although up to the Russian war it merely figured as a depot battalion, it was then mobilized, and three extra depot companies per regiment created, which no doubt are still in existence. These 300 depot companies will form a total of about 36,000 men. The 20 battalions of chasseurs à pied[c], destined to fight in detailed companies rather than in closed battalions, admit of a larger number of men; they number nearly 1,300 men each, and would therefore give a total strength of 26,000 men, with scarcely any depots, as they receive many men from other regiments. The guard consists of two divisions of infantry, and its regiments, up to the peace with Russia, had only two battalions each, which agrees with the Constitutionnel, according to which its infantry will consist of 18 battalions or 18,000 men. This constitutes the whole of the French infantry, with the exception of the troops designed for African service. These are 9 battalions of Zouaves, equal to 9,000 men, beside about 500 in depot; 3 penal battalions (Zéphirs), or 3,000 men, and 9 battalions of Algerian (native) Tirailleurs, which, if fully up to their complement, will number 9,000 men. Thus, the total strength of the French infantry may be summed up as follows:
Line, including depots, 336,000 men in 300 battalions and 300 depot companies.
Chasseurs, 26,000 men in 20 battalions.
Guard, 18,000 men in 18 battalions.
Zouaves, 9,500 men in 9 battalions.
Zéphirs, 3,000 men in 3 battalions.
Native Algerians, 9,000 men in 9 battalions.
Total, 401,500 men in 359 battalions and 300 depot companies.
Of which 36,500 belong to the depots, leaving 365,000 for active service at home and abroad.
The French cavalry was supposed, in 1856, to consist of
12 heavy regiments—72 squadrons and 12 depots—14,400 active and 1,800 depot men.
20 line regiments—120 squadrons and 20 depots—24,600 active and 3,820 depot men.
21 light regiments—126 squadrons and 21 depots—27,100 active and 4,230 depot men.
4 African regiments—16 squadrons and 4 depots—3,000 active and 450 depot men.
3 native regiments—12 squadrons—3,600 active men.
Total, 346 active and 57 depot squadrons—72,700 active and 10,300 depot men.
To which add the Guards—30 active squadrons—6,000 active.
Grand total, 376 active, 57 depot squadrons—78,700 active and 10,300 depot men.
But it is not to be forgotten that, although since 1840 great strides have been made in the improvement of the breed of horses in France, still the native horses of that country are, to an extraordinary extent, unfit for cavalry service, Only with the greatest trouble and expense has it been possible to mount the cavalry, of late years, and that not in very good style, mainly with French horses.- This refers, however, to the peace establishment only, which would scarcely exceed 50,000 horses; and in spite of the resources offered by Algeria, many foreign horses have had to be bought, among which not a few had been previously sold by other cavalries as unserviceable. Horses are, at this moment, being bought for the French cavalry in Germany, and the Austrian Government has just prohibited the exportation of horses on its south-western frontier. With all these difficulties, we need not apprehend that the French cavalry will ever exceed the number stated above, or that, with the exception of the small portion mounted on Algerian horses, it will ever excel in the field, unless it obtain, by conquest, a larger proportion of good horses than it now has.
The artillery, including the guards, may number about 50,000 men, with 207 field batteries, or 1,242 guns. Of this number of men, at least 5,000 belong to the depots. The engineers will not exceed 9,000, or 10,000 men, but we will say 12,000, with the Constitutionnel. The train, working companies, sanitary officers, &c., all non-combatants, number about 11,000 men on the war footing. Thus the utmost number of men for which the French army, in its present organization, is adapted would be as follows:
| ||Active men.||Depot men.||Total.|
This result agrees very well with the general arrangements of the French army for recruits. Every year 100,000 young men are called upon to join the ranks, but formerly in time of peace 60,000 only were actually sent to their regiments, and as they were liable to serve seven years, the army would not exceed 400,000 to 420,000 men. But under Louis Philippe the actual time of service seldom exceeded from four to five years, so that at that period the actual strength would not exceed 300,000 men, the remainder being on furlough. Since then, however, an extra battalion to each infantry regiment, an extra squadron to each cavalry regiment, and the whole corps of guards having been added, the frame-work of the army has been so far extended that it can accommodate about 600,000 men; and it is not likely that France, except in a war of national self-defense, will ever have more drilled soldiers at any one time.
If, therefore, we take the numbers which we have given above, and add to them the 49,000 gensd'armes, municipal guards, and nobody knows what other "miscellaneous corps" the Constitutionnel includes to make up that sum, the grand total will very nearly coincide with what that journal makes the strength to be on the 1st of April, 1859. But now the difference begins. In our grand total there are depots organized in 300 companies and 57 squadrons, which are barely sufficient for the preliminary drill and organization of the 46,800 infantry and cavalry soldiers which are now in them. Supposing these to be suddenly withdrawn to make room for new recruits, and to fill up in the regiments the places of men whose time has elapsed, what number of recruits would these depots have to drill? The 100,000 men of the levy of 1859, and at least 20,000 raw volunteers, in all 120,000 men, or 70,000 more than the depots can accommodate. There is no doubt, then, that between the 1st of April and the 1st of June, the three depot companies of each infantry regiment must be increased to a full battalion, and thus for every cavalry regiment, two instead of one depot squadron must be established. For while now, with the whole army on mere garrison duty, the depots are mere stations of passage for the recruit, from which as soon as possible, undrilled or half-drilled, he is sent to his regiment, there to receive his education, it is not to be forgotten that in war, the army being on active duty, the depot has to equip and drill the soldier thoroughly so that he may join his regiment fit for army duty. Thus, if the Constitutionnel maintains the French can increase their strength to 700,000 men, without new formations, it deviates very considerably from the truth. And the formation of 100 depot battalions out of 300 companies, and of 57 extra depot squadrons, will necessitate the withdrawal from the ranks of the active army, at the very moment when their services are most required, of at the very least 2,000 commissioned and 10,000 non-commissioned officers.
But, supposing the 700,000 men collected—and we are far from maintaining that France, at the onset of a war, could not collect this number of young men—how many soldiers fit for duty will there be of the 700,000? Not more than 580,000, and of these, according to the Constitutionnel, 50,000 have to defend Algeria. The gensd'armes and miscellaneous corps for duty in the interior we must not take at 25,000, but stick to the original estimate of the Constitutionnel, viz., 49,000. This leaves a residuum of 481,000 men. But our Imperial cotemporary must have a very strong faith indeed in the stability of his dynasty if he thinks that 120,000 raw recruits and 49,000 gensd'armes and other military police can be intrusted with its exclusive defense. The depots will hardly be sufficient to garrison the more important fortresses, except Paris and Lyons. These two towns Louis Napoleon would never trust in the hands of raw recruits; and although the Constitutionnel thinks 40,000 troops quite sufficient to keep them in check, it is certain that 100,000 men will not be too many for the purpose. But suppose we deduct 100,000 men for the requirements of the large towns of the interior, and for the Royalist south of France, the whole force disposable to be employed abroad is reduced to 381,000 men. Of these, 181,000 men, at least, would have to form an army of observation on the Belgian, German and Swiss frontier, and but 200,000 men would remain available for an attack upon Italy. Now, we maintain, that 150,000 Austrians, in their strong position on the Mincio and Adige, are equal to at least 300,000 French and Sardinians, and if there should be a war, they may one of these days prove it.
Written on January 31, 1859
First published in the New-York Daily Tribune, No. 5568, February 24, 1859 as a leading article
Louis Boniface's article dated Paris, January 29, Le Constitutionnel, No. 30, January 30, 1859.—Ed.
Boniface has the figure 83,800.—Ed.
Zouaves—French colonial troops first formed in 1830. Originally they were composed of Algerians and French colonists and later of Frenchmen only while Algerians were formed into special regiments of riflemen.
Zéphires—an unofficial name of African infantry units of the French army formed of criminals.
The guard was formed by Napoleon III in 1854 on the pattern of Napoleon I's imperial guard disbanded in 1815.
Source: Marx and Engels Collected Works, Volume 16
(pp.171-176), Progress Publishers, Moscow 1980