Napoleon’s Rabbit Hunt
Resting from his labors after rearranging the geography of Europe in the aftermath of the Peace of Tilsit (July 7-9, 1807), Napoleon proposed that the Imperial Court engage in a rabbit hunt, entrusting the arrangements to his brilliant chief-of-staff, Alexandre Berthier.
Using all the energy and attention to detail with which he normally managed the Emperor’s campaigns, Berthier soon had everything in order. The Imperial hunting party – numerous enough to be mistaken for a regiment – would be sustained by a logistical train to provide a lucullan repast under an elaborate tent, while large details of gun bearers, game keepers, and beaters would be available to lend a hand. Leaving nothing to chance, Berthier even arranged to insure the supply of rabbits, procuring some hundreds, lest nature fail to cooperate in providing sufficient targets for the Imperial pleasure.
And so, on the designated day, the Emperor proceeded in his coach to the appointed place, escorted by Guardsmen, Equerries, and various others of his household, and followed by a host of kings, marshals, barons, generals, counts, and lesser folk. But something went wrong. As the Imperial conveyance approached the designated killing fields, the game keepers began releasing the rabbits. When the Emperor dismounted, much to everyone’s surprise, the lepine horde, rather than fleeing in all directions, made straight for him, in all their hundreds.
Confronted by this flood of rabbits, the Emperor’s escort formed a skirmish line to protect him. But, in the words of historian David Chandler, “with a finer understanding of Napoleonic strategy than most of his generals, the rabbit horde divided into two wings and poured around the flanks of the party.” As the Emperor fled to the relative safety of his coach, the rabbits pursued, some allegedly even leaping into it, so that he had to lend a hand in ejecting them even as his coachmen whipped up their horses.
In the aftermath, it transpired that Berthier, despite all his attention to detail, had procured not wild rabbits, but domesticated ones. Thus, when they espied the Emperor and his coach coming towards them, they though he was their keeper bringing good things to eat and acted accordingly.
Slicing and Dicing European Military Outlays, 1930
Different priorities, different traditions, different strategies, and different pocketbooks can have a profound effect on the type of military forces that a nation has. There are a number of ways which these trends can be examined. An unusual method of examining defense expenditures is to compare the per capita military expenditure (PCME) of a nation, its military participation ratio (MPR), and its active forces per capita expenditure (AFPCE).
PCME represents the total amount expended on defense divided by the number of people in the country. MPR is the number of civilians per person in uniform. AFPCE is the military budget divided by the number of men under arms.
The military balance among various European powers in 1930 gives what is perhaps the only example of a genuinely minimal "peacetime" military balance in Europe ever. Not only were military expenditures and establishments in this period affected by the Depression, which caused enormous cuts in virtually all countries, but throughout Europe, and the world, there was a deep-seated belief that major war was no longer possible: Japanese aggression in the Far East was still a year away, Hitler was as yet a crack-pot German demagogue, and Mussolini had not yet caught ceasaritis.
|Note: The pound (then worth nearly $5 American) has been anachronistically decimalized for this table. Figures for Russia are available but not particularly useful, in as much as the Soviets had dispensed with normal accounting methods.|
It’s important to keep in mind that the MPR and AFPCE refers to active metropolitan forces only, thereby excluding often enormous reserve forces (France had 4.5 million reservists, and Italy, 3.5 million), as well as exclude expenditures on, and personnel in, colonial forces, which, save in the case of Britain and France, were of relatively modest numbers.
The AFPCE actually gives a better notion of the nature of nation's military expenditures than does either the PCME or the MPR, since it suggests the proportion of investment in more advanced technology. Belgium, for example, was at that time investing rather heavily in a complex system of frontier fortifications, anticipating France's Maginot Line, at the time still largely in the planning stage. Britain, of course, was putting its money into the Royal Navy, expending the maximum amounts possible on new 10,000-ton, 8-inch gunned heavy cruisers and into the fledgling Royal Air Force. Note the rather good standing of Germany, which was at the time restricted by the 1919 Treaty of Versailles to an army of 100,000 men and a navy of 30,000. The Germans were investing their money in higher pay and better emoluments for the troops, as well as superior equipment within the limits of the treaty: Note that these are the "official figures," and exclude covert German expenditures on forbidden technologies, such as tanks, submarines, aircraft, and poison gas.