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The Russian army that marched to war looked much like the armies of the other continental powers. They were all based on conscripting large numbers of young men for relatively short service before discharging them into reserves to be mobilized back into the army in the event of war. As a result, peacetime strength grew by three to five times when war began and reservists were called up. Their organization—from small platoons and companies up through larger formations of battalions, regiments, divisions, corps, and finally armies—was essentially the same. The basic fighting formation was the infantry division of 15–20,000 men, dominated by riflemen, whose firepower was supplemented by grenades, machine guns, mortars, and artillery in increasing quantity over the war. Precise figures for total peacetime strength and wartime mobilized strength vary for all the combatants , depending on how such paramilitary forces as border guards or militarized police are counted. In approximate terms, though, the relative strength of the European powers is clear. France and Germany were approximately equal in peacetime strength at about 800,000 men each. At mobilization , the French army amounted to a little under 4 million men, the German to a little over. Austria-Hungary had a peacetime army of 450,000, expanding to 2.5–3 million on mobilization. The British army was an outlier . A volunteer, long-service professional force, it benefited from regular experience in colonial warfare and excellent rifle marksmanship, but was short on artillery and machine guns and smaller than other European armies, sending only six divisions to the continent at the outbreak of war.1 2 The Russian Army 32 Stone_The Russian Army in the Great War 5/19/15 9:43 AM Page 32 The Russian army differed in two key ways from its European counterparts : it had much more cavalry, and it was by far the largest peacetime army in Europe: 1.4 million men and over 40,000 officers. At mobilization, it grew to 4.5 million men and doubled the size of its officer corps. European military thinking prior to World War I had focused on the implications of the Russian steamroller: the capacity of Russia’s reserves of manpower to crush all potential resistance. As measured crudely by peacetime strength, there was some justice to this: Russia’s 1.4 million men outnumbered Germany’s 800,000 and Austria’s 450,000 combined, even leaving aside Russia’s ally France. Russia’s 170 million people dwarfed Germany (68 million) and Austria-Hungary (51 million). These raw figures concealed , however, factors that meant Russia’s real advantage was not nearly so impressive. Russia’s high peacetime strength reflected the need for substantial domestic policing, as well as the country’s extended frontiers. This mandated a substantial military presence in the Caucasus against the Ottoman Empire and the Far East against Japan. Russia’s vast internal distances and sparse railroad network compelled a greater commitment to standing forces instead of reserves. In terms of its basic element—the individual rifleman—the Russian Empire was blessed and cursed by its reliance on the Russian peasant. When historians look at Russian soldiers, they are almost compelled to see them as a mass, not as individuals. Eighty-five percent of them were peasants, in keeping with their share of the Russian population, and as a result many were illiterate. Even those who could read and write often did so at a rudimentary level. A third of the 1913 call-up and as much as 61 percent of the wartime draft were illiterate, compared to less than 1 percent in the German army. While the Russian army did much to teach basic literacy to its soldiers, these efforts could only partly rectify the deep lack of familiarity with modern, mechanized life that those levels of literacy represented. The Russian army had long experience in teaching illiterate recruits to march and shoot, but the new warfare of artillery, machine guns, radios, and railroads put a premium on an educated soldiery. Rushed wartime training provided relatively little time to acculturate peasants to military norms. Peasant soldiers swung their bayonets like pitchforks, instead of thrusting with them, and were particularly horrified by war’s technological aspects , including artillery bombardment and airplanes. They died in the millions , and those who survived were not literate enough to record their THE RUSSIAN ARMY 33 Stone_The Russian Army in the Great War 5/19/15 9:43 AM Page 33 experiences. Those who could have...


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