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February 28, 2020

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Short Rounds

Divison Command in the AEF in World War I

During World War I, the United States committed 29 divisions to action in France. While the maximum number of days an American division spent at the front was 220, by the 1st Division – “The Big Red One” – and the minimum was 18, by the 80th, on average an American division spent 77.03 days at the front.

Time at the front was hard, not only on the troops. America fielded very large divisions, 28,000 men, more than twice the size of anyone else’s . And no one in the U.S. Army, not even AEF commander John J. Pershing himself, had ever commanded so many men. As a result, turnover in division command was rather frequent. The shortest tenure in command was the two days Brig. Gen. Douglas MacArthur was acting commander of the 42nd Division, right at the end of the war, while the longest was the 263 days in command of the 27th Division by the New York National Guard’s Maj. Gen. John F. Ryan – save for MacArthur the youngest divisions commander in the army.

Division Command Turnover
CommandersDivisions
43
311
29
13

There were a number of reasons why a division commander’s tenure might be short. Because the Army lacked commanders experienced with large formations, success in command often resulted in promotion. Robert Lee Bullard, for example, a regimental commander when the U.S. entered the war in April of 1917, went to France with Perhsing in mid-1917 to become commander of the A.E.F.’s extensive system of schools. In December he was promoted to major general and given the 1st Division in December 1917, which he commanded during its successful operation at Cantigny on May 28, 1918. He was them given command of the II Corps (with a staff so green he said the only thing newer than they was “what the stork brings"), and ended the war in November commanding the Second Army.

Of course, some commanders were found wanting, but that’s not discussed in polite circles.

 

Some Improbable Wars

Mentions of the Franco-Prussian or the Russo-Japanese or the Spanish-American Wars promptly bring to mind clashes of imperial ambition, territorial disputes, or deep historical animosities. All certainly at least serve to make the resulting hostilities at least logical. But there have been some other wars, less well known, and less logical.

Forthwith a sampling of some improbable wars.

  • Bavarian-Greek War (1862)
    In 1832, Prince Otto of Bavaria, a younger son of King Ludwig I, was proclaimed King of Greece, largely as a result of British and Russian pressure. In 1832 the Greeks threw him out, leading to a short civil war, to which Bavaria committed troops in support of its favorite son, who lost anyway.

  • Russo-Spanish War (1799-1801)
    Shortly after Napoleon ousted the Knights of Malta from Malta, their Grand Master died. Some of the knights, having sought refuge in Russia, elected Tsar Paul to the high honor, while others, having found refuge in Spain, elected one of their brethren. This worthy was promptly recognized by Spain, whereupon Tsar Paul – generally believed to have been mad – declared war. No one seems to have been killed in this conflict, which ended with Paul’s own demise, when he was murdered, probably at the orders of his son, Alexander I. This incident is sometimes known as the “War of the Maltese Succession,” which is even funnier than the “Russo-Spanish War,” when one considers that neither side actually owned Malta.

  • German-Murcian War (1872)
    The leaders of a secessionist movement in the Spanish province of Murcia, having taken umbrage at the refusal of Germany to offer recognition, confiscated the property and inflicted some personal harm on some Germans resident in the region. As a result, some German warships fired a few desultory rounds against some targets in Murcia. A few weeks later the secessionists were overcome by forces of the Spanish government and the whole matter was soon forgotten.

  • Bavarian-Swiss War (1918)
    In the general choas that followed the collapse of the German Empire in 1918, a radical Communist government briefly took power in Munich. The leaders of the revolution decided to send troops to support other radical elements throughout Germany, but found that there were not enough locomotives available. They promptly demanded that Switzerland deliver a certain number of engines, and, when the Swiss demurred, declared war. Before any harm could be done, the revolutionaries were overthrown.

 

Officer Origins, The British and the East India Company Armies, 1805-1834

From the mid-sixteenth century to the mid-twentieth century Britain had not one, but two armies. One was the regular British establishment, organized and funded by Parliament. The other was organized and funded initially by the Honorable East India Company, and, after the Great Mutiny of 1857, by the Government of India. The two forces were quite distinct, and there was an enormous social gap between them. Although regular British regiments often served in India, there was no interchange of personnel between the two forces.

The gap between the two armies was such that until the Crown assumed control of the Indian Army in the aftermath of the Mutiny, it was unusual for a graduate of Sandhurst, the regular infantry and cavalry academy, to enter the Indian Army. Most Indian officers in these arms were graduates of the less prestigious Addiscombe. This was not the case with regard to artillery or engineer officers of both armies, who trained together at Woolwich. However, since gunners and engineers generally regarded as declasse by the British cavalry and infantry officers, this distinction was not particularly important.

Social Origins of Officers
ClassIndian ArmyBritish Army
Upper4% 21%
Gentry 19% 32%
Middle 76% 47%

In general, the Indian Army recruited its officers from men too poor to serve in the regular establishment. While one's salary was sufficient if one wished to serve in India on a permanent basis, to be a proper British officer one had to have a private income several times greater than one's salary, in order to support oneself in the correct style demanded in Britain. As a result, the Indian Army was a way for a young man of a good family with modest resources to undertake a military career, and the Indian Army was a convenient place to stash a younger man of questionable character or dubious birth. In consequence, Indian officers were never highly regarded socially or professionally.

However, despite the general opinion of Indian officers, they were in fact at least as professional as their regular establishment comrades, and probably more so given that they were far more frequently in action. Indeed, many of Britain's most distinguished soldiers were Indian Army men, such as John Clive, Frederick Warburton, Claude Auckinleck, and William Slim, as well as some of her most notable characters, such as Richard Francis Burton and John Masters.

--Dennis Casey

 

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