Growth of a French Army Corps Headquarters, 1914-1918
When World War I broke out in 1914 a French army corps – of which there were 27 – had a standard table of organization and equipment (T/O&E). Virtually every corps was composed of two infantry divisions plus some additional artillery, engineer, and service troops, for a total of 42,200 officers and men. The exigencies of the war soon changed the organization of the infantry division, reducing it from over 18,000 men to only about 11,000, while the corps as a T/O&E unit essentially disappeared. As the war developed, the composition of corps varied greatly, depending upon their functions; offensive, defensive, sector command, expeditionary, and so forth.
Of course regardless of the role and composition of a corps, it still required a headquarters. While in 1914 the composition of a corps headquarters was fairly rigidly prescribed, by the end of the war it varied depending upon the number of troops under command and the nature of the mission.
|French Army Corps Headquarters Allocations|
The increase in the personnel assigned to a staff was due largely to the increasing complexity of operations, equipment, and logistics. When they went to war in 1914 the French – and almost everyone else – assumed that what was to come would be little different from the previous major power war, the Franco-Prussian War (1870-1871). In that war corps commanders could actually see their entire commands in action from a convenient height to church steeple, and combat was a sporadic occurrence, rather than continuous. Ammunition expenditure had been lower too: in the earlier the Prussian artillery fired an average of two rounds per gun per day, whereas in 1914 batteries were running through stocks expected to last for days in a few hours. The need for dedicated personnel to process intelligence had also been lower; in 1870 virtually all information came in from scouts or spies, whereas by 1918 these were supplemented by traffic analysis, aerial reconnaissance, radio intercepts, and more. So staff grew, and then grew some more.
The Belgian War for Independence
In the aftermath of the Napoleonic Wars, the Congress of Vienna gave the erstwhile Austrian Netherlands (i.e., Belgium) to the Kingdom of the Netherlands, under the House of Orange. But the Belgians were restless under Dutch rule.
In August of 1830 a revolt broke out in Belgium, culminating in a Belgians declared of independence from the Netherlands on October 4th. With the help of an improvised army, the largely Belgian inhabitants of Antwerp promptly seized the city. But the citadel remained in Dutch hands, and the garrison, under Lieut. Gen. David Henri de Chassé, began a desultory bombardment of the city on October 27th just to remind the Belgians that he was still there.
Now while all of this was unfolding, the great powers were by no means sitting idly by; fearful that the Belgian revolt would unleash a spasm of revolutionary activity across Europe. On November 4th, at a hastily convened conference in London, Britain, France, and Prussia, the three great powers most threatened by instability in the region, backed up by Austria and Russia, ordered a cease-fire. A few weeks later the powers decreed independence for Belgium.
But the Dutch, under King Wilhelm I, demurred. And Baron Chassé still held the citadel of Antwerp. Although it took a while to get organized, in August of 1831 King Wilhelm led a large Dutch army into Belgium. Initially his 50,000 troops gains some success against the still largely improvised Belgian forces. But the Dutch had crossed the Great Powers. And they weren’t called “great” for nothing.
Within days of the Dutch invasion of Belgium, a French army 60,000 strong was on the march, under Gen. Etienne Maurice Gerard, one of Napoleon’s veterans. By October Gerard had forced the Dutch to retreat. Now began a protracted investment of the citadel of Antwerp, to which Chassé still clung. Amazingly, the old general held out for more than a year. Finally, aided by the Royal Navy, the French began a close siege of the citadel in November of 1832. By the end of December Chassé had to give it up. He surrendered with the honors of war, and was later promoted to “General of Infantry.”
Although desultory fighting continued until a general armistice was concluded in late May 1833, the war was over.