Supplemental Episode 5:
So the this week’s episode is going to deviate a bit from my original timeline. We’ve been making fairly steady progress moving through the first campaigns and battles of the war on the Western Front before, for the last four episodes, doubling back to cover how things were unfolding at the same time on the Eastern Front. Following this pattern, my intention this week was to simply move back to the Western Front to pick up the story there, and cover the climactic showdown at the beginning of September, 1914, that would determine whether or not the Germans would be able to take Paris after all. However, we’re going to leave that story aside for now, and come back to it in two weeks. Instead, this and next week’s episodes are going to cover some more basic, foundational stuff that, frankly, I probably already should have covered by now.
You see, after receiving some feedback from a few listeners, as well as having gone back and listened to the last few episodes myself, I’ve come to the conclusion that much of the narrative thus far, at least since we’ve really began digging into the war itself, has been somewhat lost in translation. What I mean by that is, despite my efforts to keep things relatively simple in terms of jargon, and by hoping that at least some of the military details I’ve covered so far would become clear in context, I have faltered somewhat in those two goals. In short, I’ve thrown a lot of terms at you without adequately explaining what they mean and what their significance to the story is. In this and next week’s episodes, I hope to correct that oversight.
So what I’ve done is create two supplemental episodes to try to cover this gap. In this first one today we will discuss the organizational structure of a typical army in 1914, or in other words to talk about what the difference is between, say, a regiment vs. a brigade vs. a division, and how all these kinds of units were structured and organized in relation to each other, plus covering which rank of soldier would typically command each kind of unit. Then next week we will have another supplemental that will cover some of the terminology that is often used to discuss battles and military campaigns, not just in the First World War but more broadly throughout military history. I’ll explain more about what I mean by that in that other supplemental.
Now, before we begin I’d like to mention something about these next two episodes. In previous supplemental episodes I’ve released concerning military issues in the abstract, I said that you should feel free to skip those episodes if that stuff doesn’t really capture you’re interest. However, these two episodes will be a bit different than that. By all means, you should feel no obligation to listen to these episodes if all you care about is the “plot.” But I do think that listening to these two episodes will be helpful in understanding not just the next few regular episodes, but indeed pretty much the whole rest of the show. This is all, frankly, pretty foundational stuff about military terminology that will come up again and again when discussing any significant military maneuver, and I really should have made some supplemental material about this kind of thing sooner. But, I didn’t, so here we are.
Finally, before we start I’d also like to mention that I’ve attached several images not just to this episode but on a dedicated page on the website that may be helpful in visualizing some of this stuff.
The first thing I should mention about what we’re covering here is that, for pretty much every statement I make here, there’s should be at least one or two asterisks attached with the phrase “in general.” When talking about the org charts of giant organizations, be they governments or corporations or, you know, armies, there will always be exceptions to any rule. Plus, just to make things more confusing, most armies of this period had different names for ranks or units of equivalent authority or size depending on the specific service of the army they corresponded to, for example infantry vs. cavalry vs. artillery and so on. Just to keep things consistent, for the most part we’re going to use infantry units, aka units made up mostly or entirely of common foot soldiers, as our standard rubric for this discussion. Since the vast majority of soldiers in the First World War served as infantrymen, this seemed to me the best way to go about this. But just know that cavalry units and artillery units (and indeed engineers, medical units, etc.) all had their own variations on the sizes and names of these units.
Also, I’m going to as much as possible discuss terms that are more or less universal across all the armies of this period, just translating those terms into English, but there were differences in these structures both large and small among all the armies of the First World War. I figure the best way to organize this discussion is to start at the very bottom of Army organization, that is with our lowly common enlisted soldier, and move all the way up to the top with the senior command structure of whole countries.
So starting with our poor common enlisted soldier, when a recruit finished his training and was formally enlisted into the army, he was assigned the rank of private. That is, unless our young recruit had displayed some exemplary leadership skills or talents in a more specific field, in which case he might receive a higher rank, which we will discuss more in a minute. Now, of course, every army had their own version of this and any other rank in their own language, which though they all roughly correspond with one another did not always have direct one to one relationships with each other. We won’t do this for every rank or unit size we discuss, but just to give you an idea for this, in the German army the lowest rank of a soldier was called, simply, Soldat, which literally just translates as soldier. In the French Army this rank would be known as a Soldat de Deuxème Classe, ie a soldier of the second class, to be contrasted with the Soldat de Première Classe, or Soldier of the first class. This actually was often true of all the armies, “Privates” were often distinguished as being regular privates (in the U.S. we often refer to these soldiers as “buck privates,”), or Privates First Class, which indicated either some kind of specialization or as a standard promotion for having served in the army for some set length of time, but usually did not carry any official authority over the other privates. That said, promotion to Private First Class usually did come with one very real, very enticing reward: a small bump in pay.
Just to run through the equivalent ranks in the other two main armies in 1914, the Russian and Austro-Hungarian Armies, in Russia the lowest rank of an enlisted soldier would be known as a Ryadovoi, while in Austria-Hungary they would be known as either a Soldat (the same name as in the German Army), or as a Honvéd because, of course, every single rank in the Austro-Hungarian Army had to be officially listed in both German and Hungarian.
Anyway, these Privates and Privates First Class would generally be grouped together into units of around a dozen or so men led by a non-commissioned officer. In the U.S., we usually call this unit a squad, however in the British Army both then and now they would be referred to as a section. Just because I’m used to the terminology, I’ll refer to this unit as a squad (sorry to any British listeners out there). In German these units would be called a Gruppe, in French a Groupe de Combat, and so on. Now before we discuss how the squad functioned, we need to quickly discuss this term of a “non-commissioned officer,” and more broadly the distinction between an officer and an enlisted soldier.
All armies that participated in the First World War, and indeed virtually every organized armed force in the world today, made a basic distinction between enlisted soldiers and officers. In any army, enlisted men make up the majority of personnel, and are the ones expected to carry out the most routine requirements of an army: marching across the countryside, performing basic manual labor, and engaging the enemy in combat. These enlisted men are given orders by their officers, whose job it is to organize and deploy their assigned units in such a way as to best accomplish their mission while incurring as few casualties on their own forces as possible. But “officers” are further split into two categories, commissioned officers and non-commissioned officers, or NCOs.
Simply put, a commissioned officer is one who receives an official written certificate from a formal military school after having completed a formal military education, otherwise known as a commission. Non-commissioned officers, meanwhile, are men who began their service in the army as a rank and file enlisted soldier, ie a private, who was given a special promotion by a commissioned officer and thereby given formal authority over some small group of soldiers, in this case usually a squad sized unit. Technically, non-commissioned officers in the First World War were almost always considered to be part of the enlisted troops, but their requirement to lead other soldiers and give direct orders that had to be followed gave them an aura of authority and respect above a simple private.
Throughout military history, NCOs have often been referred to as the backbone of the army, serving as a critical link between enlisted soldiers and their officers, seeing that missions are carried out not by means of a formal education but rather based on their hard won experience. Leading not by top down authority, but leading by example. I think a good summation of the general high regard with which NCOs were and are held can be found in the writings of famed Prussian Army officer Friedrich Wilhelm August Freiherr von Steuben or, as he is known in my native United States, Baron von Steuben (Stoobin), the Inspector General and senior most training officer of the Continental Army during the US War of Independence. In a training manual he wrote in 1792, von Steuben wrote, “The choice of non-commissioned officers is an object of the greatest importance: the order and discipline of a regiment depends so much upon their behavior, that too much care cannot be taken in preferring none to that trust but those who by their merit and good conduct are entitled to it. Honesty, sobriety, and a remarkable attention to every point of duty…are indispensable requisites; a spirit to command respect and obedience from the men, and expertness in performing every part of the exercise, and an ability to teach it, are absolutely necessary.”
Anyway, NCOs put in charge of leading a squad in the First World War would generally hold one of two ranks: corporal or sergeant. Now there were literally dozens of variations on these two ranks depending on which service we’re talking about, with differences among all the various armies, but speaking very broadly corporals were the lowest rank of NCOs, or put another way the first rank above a private, while sergeants slightly but firmly outranked corporals. The leaders of these squads, be they corporals or sergeants, would be tasked with leading by example at all times, be that while marching or in camp or in battle, and giving specific soldiers specific orders. This was important, as a unit of this size, again about a dozen or so men, was about the largest unit wherein a unit leader could reasonably be expected to be able to give specific orders to specific individuals, as men within squads almost always stayed within shouting distance of each other, and with fewer than twenty people to keep track of the squad leader would be able to precisely position each of his soldiers rather than dividing them into different units.
Above the squad (or section) was the platoon. In general, a platoon would be made up of anywhere from 3-5 squads, so we’re talking about roughly 35-50 men, and was the smallest unit led by a commissioned officer, in this case usually a lieutenant. And yes, sorry again any British listeners, I’m going to pronounce this word as lieutenant, not left-tenant. I’m sorry, I honestly don’t think either way is right or wrong, but lieutenant is simply the pronunciation that I am the most used to and comfortable with. There were also different ranks of lieutenants, usually described in English as First Lieutenants (who were senior) and Second Lieutenants (which were junior). In some armies, these distinctions had more to do with seniority than an actual difference in the size of units they were expected to lead, however in other armies (and especially once the war breaks out and armies start suffering thousands of casualties per day), First Lieutenants might be expected to lead larger units and have authority over Second Lieutenants.
Though lieutenants would, given enough time, be expected to know, and have some knowledge of the skills and weaknesses of, all soldiers under his command, generally he would not be charged with giving orders to individual soldiers in the heat of battle, nor really troubling himself with commanding individual soldiers to do specific tasks or issuing reprimands most of the time. That job was left to his corporals and sergeants. Rather, at least in terms of combat, the job of the lieutenant was to see to, organize, and deploy the various squads under his command, and generally orders from a lieutenant went not to individual soldiers, but rather his squad leaders.
This is actually a key point to understand for all ranks and units in the Armies of the First World War, and indeed in virtually every military in the world today. In general, and this is very general, commanders of various units would issue orders – be they in battle or on the march or in camp – to the leaders of the next smallest unit below them. So, for example in this case, a lieutenant in charge of a platoon would issue orders to a corporal or sergeant in charge of one of the squads that made up his platoon. This rule, in general, applies from this smallest of levels of command all the way up to the commanders-in-chief of whole national armies.
So the next unit we have to discuss is the company, which in the First World War would in theory be commanded by a captain. Now, as I touched on a bit earlier, quite often the appalling levels of casualties suffered throughout the war, and the relatively slow pace of bureaucracy in terms of formalizing promotions, meant that a unit might fall under the command of an officer with a lower rank than would be found on paper, and in those cases would usually be referred to as an “acting” commander. But that said, the next highest rank above lieutenants, both first and second class, was a captain, and officers of this rank would usually serve as the commanders of a company. In a similar dynamic with the relationship between squad and platoon, a company was generally composed of roughly 3 to 5 platoons, so the company would usually have an “on paper” strength of between 150 and 250 men. However, due to the aforementioned high casualty rates of the war, the size of the company could vary pretty wildly, with units often being cobbled together from the remnants of another unit or, two units who had lost a great deal of soldiers might be combined together or simply eliminated, with the survivors assigned to other units.
The company was actually, arguably, the most important unit of all the armies, especially at the beginning of the war. Though this was not a universally held gospel across all the various armies, in 1914 most armies considered the company to be the primary “tactical unit,” which is to say the unit by which all large-scale military maneuvers would be carried out. Squads and platoons, the two smaller units that made up a company, were for the most part considered to be more logistical or organizational in function rather than units that would be assigned specific missions and objectives during a battle. A platoon or squad commander might of course be tasked by the company commander to move to a specific place or engage a specific target, that was after all the company commander’s job, but this was all to be in service of accomplishing the mission of the company, rather than squads and platoons being given their own specific and independent mission to carry out.
Now if this starts to ring a bell (even a very faint bell), it’s because this idea, that of the company being the primary unit of attack and defense, was first pioneered by the Prussian Army during the Franco-Prussian War of 1870-1871. Back then, the second half of the 19th century, though the age of battles being fought by soldiers in tightly packed shoulder to shoulder formations (a la the Napoleonic Wars) had mostly drawn to a close, for the most part armies would launch attacks with units of at least a few thousand men, often tens of thousands of men, without really allowing smaller units to move around independently. The Prussians, having learned that weapons technology was making warfare a far quicker, larger, and deadlier affair than it had been even in Napoleon’s day, thus moved the impetus for attack and defense down to the company level, comprising no more than about 250 men. A captain, known in German as a Hauptmann, was no longer told to follow the orders of his superiors to the letter, nor were those superiors really supposed to give hyper specific orders to their company commanders. Rather, companies would be given specific objectives to accomplish or ground to seize from the enemy, and the commanders of those companies would be told to accomplish that task however he saw fit, as he would obviously be much closer to and have a much better sense of what was happening on the ground. Basically, a unit made up of thousands or even tens of thousands of men is simply too cumbersome to move around in synchronization, and this could be done much faster with just a couple of hundred men within shouting range of a captain.
With the smashing success the Germans had seen in 1870 over the French who, at the time, kept their company commanders on a tight leash and did not allow them any personal initiative, pretty much every army in the world had adopted this philosophy. However, and this is the last thing I’ll say about the Captain and his company, as the First World War goes on it will be determined that even this small a command, again around 150-250 soldiers, was in many cases too large and too cumbersome for quick and responsive action on the battlefield, a battlefield that had become orders of magnitude more treacherous and deadly since the Franco-Prussian War of forty years prior. So over time even smaller units, platoons and even squads, would be allowed far more freedom of action and be assigned their own individual objectives to accomplish with little to no meddling from the company commander, who’s job in turn became more of that of an overseer. Not that this removed the captain from harm’s way, not by a longshot, and nor did this change occur overnight, but the small unit squad based tactics seen in the Second World War and even down to the present really got their start during the second half of the First World War.
Moving up from the company we find…well, here’s where it starts to get a little complicated. To make things simple, let’s compare the structure of the German Army of 1914 with the British Army. In the German Army, the next largest unit was the battalion, which on paper was made up of four companies though, of course, this could vary a bit depending on whether or not the battalion had suffered significant casualties. So each German battalion had a nominal strength of around a thousand or so men. These German battalions would generally be commanded by a major, the next highest rank above a captain. Above this level of organization was the regiment, which usually consisted of three battalions for a total of around 3,000 men. Two of these regiments would make up an infantry brigade, for a total strength of around 6,000.
In the British Army, meanwhile, though the strength of the battalion was about the same as the German Army, roundabout 1,000 men, in 1914 the British Army did not have any infantry regiments, instead skipping that level of organization with the next highest level above a battalion being a brigade, which consisted of four battalions for a total of around 4,000 men. Now this is a relatively small difference in the grand scheme of things, but there should be two takeaways we glean from this difference. First, this is a great example of how the structure and organization of the Army varied from country to country, with no two countries militaries being exactly the same. Second, it means that the responsibility assigned to officers with the same rank could similarly vary from country to country.
So, for example, in the German Army a major would command a battalion of around 1,000 men, while a regiment comprising three of these battalions would be commanded by either a Colonel (known in German as an Oberst), or a Lieutenant Colonel (known in German as an Oberstleutnant). For the record, a Colonel always outranked a Lieutenant Colonel, though they would often hold the same level of command over a regiment. Meanwhile in the British Army, a major would not command the battalion but rather be its second in command, with the battalion commander usually being either a Colonel or a Lieutenant Colonel. Regardless, the general rules of the division of labor among different sized units with different ranking officers that we’ve discussed before still applies. Whether we’re talking about a British battalion or a German regiment, the commander of that unit generally gave orders to the next level down in command, so a British battalion commander would be responsible for the deployment of his companies, while the German regiment commander would be responsible for the deployment of his battalions.
The next highest level of command, either from a British battalion or a German regiment, was the brigade, which in general consisted of between four to six thousand men depending on the country in question. Now because of the difference in unit structure and organization among all the belligerents of the war, which rank commanded a brigade could vary a bit. Again contrasting the British and German Armies, a British brigade of around 4,000 men, comprising 4 battalions of about 1,000 men each, would be commanded by a Brigadier General. This is finally a helpful name of rank that can help keep things straight in our head: a Brigadier General is called that because he commands a brigade. And helpfully, this rule holds true for the French Army as well, where a brigade would be commanded by a Général de Brigade.
In the German Army, meanwhile, there existed no rank called a “Brigadier General.” Instead, the first rank to be given the name of General was known in the German Army as a Generalmajor, which we might translate into English as Major General. This is unfortunately a bit confusing because the British and French Armies both held ranks known as Major Generals, however they commanded different unit sizes from German Generalmajore. Whereas a brigade in the British and French Armies would be commanded by a Brigadier General, a brigade in the German Army would be commanded by a Major General. But in the British and French Armies, a Major General would command a division, the next highest level of unit above a brigade. I know that’s all pretty confusing, and basically I don’t want you to worry about it too much. This is just yet another good example showing that while the structures of Armies in the First World War were quite similar, they were not exactly the same.
Anyway, as I just said the next largest unit above a brigade, in all the armies mind you, was a division, which in 1914 generally consisted of anywhere from 15 to 18,000 men. Usually, divisions would be composed of between 2-4 brigades depending on the country and mitigating circumstances. Just using English titles for these units to make things simpler, a division would usually be commanded by a Major General, the next highest rank above a Brigadier General. Divisions were a very important unit size for all the Armies throughout the First World War, as often times all armies would roughly gauge their own strength vs. the enemy by comparing how many divisions they fielded on a certain part of the front. Though not an exact calculation, this was a quick and easy way to estimate the relative strength between two opposing armies on the battlefield. So, for example, when the war began in 1914, the British brought five divisions – four infantry and one cavalry – to bear on the Western Front, which when combined with the seventy-two or so French divisions came to a grand total of seventy-seven allied divisions on the Western Front. They were opposed by fully eighty-eight German divisions, however the French high command badly underestimated the German strength in the opening days of the war, believing there were only about sixty-eight German divisions along the Western Front. This miscalculation was a big factor that led to the disaster of the Battle of the Frontiers, when the French launched an attack on the Germans through the Ardennes Forest believing that they would massively outnumber the Germans on that part of the front. However, as we saw in Episode 14, the Germans in fact were not outnumbered, and in fact themselves slightly outnumbered their French attackers, leading to the French suffering something like 300,000 total casualties in just a few days, which very led to the total defeat of France in those critical August weeks.
Above the level of division we find a unit known as the Corps, made up of anywhere from 2-4 divisions, with this number fluctuating as the war went on. A Corps would almost always be commanded by a Lieutenant General, the next highest rank above a Major General (and yes, I know, it’s rather counter-intuitive that a Lieutenant General outranks a Major General, even though a regular major always outranks a regular lieutenant). How the unit of Corps came to be developed is actually pretty interesting, and to understand this we have to go back to the days of the Napoleonic Wars at the beginning of the 19th century. Back then, though Armies were of course divided up into unit sizes of varying strength, all of these units would be made up of a single type of soldier. Though this is a generalization, both during the Napoleonic Wars and during the First World War, soldiers could be divided up into three basic types. First was the infantry, regular foot soldiers armed with rifles, and who made up the bulk of land forces in all the armies. Next was the cavalry, men on horseback who could ride around both the countryside and the battlefield much faster than a man on foot. And last was the artillery, men who loaded and fired cannons to blast away at great distances upon the enemy.
Before Napoleon came to power roundabout 1799 or 1800, in all European Armies all units were made up mostly or exclusively with one of these types of soldier. So there were dedicated infantry, cavalry, and artillery units that marched and were deployed totally separately. Further, when armies would march around the countryside, they would generally stick very close to one another on just a few roads, which meant that the pace of any 18th or early 19th century army was painfully slow, often moving fewer than ten miles a day for the simple reason that these armies were so large and spread out on so few roads, most of them little more than winding goat paths, that it took forever for the whole army to march down these roads. Napoleon, therefore, developed a new kind of unit that within a few years was adopted by all of his opponents, and by the First World War was an integral part of Army organization. And this was the Corps.
A Corps could be described as a kind of army in miniature. Each Corps would be comprised of all three types of soldier – infantry, cavalry, and artillery – roughly divided up based on the number of Corps in the army. So if an army was made up of, say, five Corps, then each of those Corps would have roughly 1/5 of each kind of soldier in the whole army. Further, each Corps would be spread out across the countryside when marching and assigned its own roads independent of the other Corps, which massively sped up the pace of the advance of the whole army. I mean, you can just imagine how much faster a group of twenty or thirty thousand people can walk down a few roads than literally hundreds of thousands. Each Corps was generally instructed to stay no more than one days march away from their neighbors, giving the Corps enough time to hold off an enemy army they encountered for their neighboring Corps to come and reinforce them. This was such a hugely successful innovation in military organization that not only had it become universally adopted long before the First World War broke out, and would continue to be utilized throughout the war, but it is to this day a key part of military organization throughout the world.
So a Corps, as mentioned before, would usually be made up of anywhere from 2-4 infantry divisions plus accompanying cavalry and artillery units, with the general rule being that as the war progressed, divisions started to become smaller with each Corps being made up of more of these smaller divisions. So in 1914, a Corps was usually comprised of about thirty thousand men at the low end to forty thousand at the high end. Commanded by a Lieutenant General, the Corps would generally be assigned a large sector of the front, often times a dozen miles or more in length, upon which they would deploy their various units from which to best launch an attack or repel an enemy attack.
Finally, we get to the largest unit size of the First World War, not counting the high command of the entire country: the Army. Now, this nomenclature might be a bit confusing at first. You see, a land based military force of an entire country would be collectively known as “The Army,” as in the British Army, the French Army, etc. However, in terms of battlefield deployment, the largest unit at this time was also known as an Army, of which the entire national army might contain several, which are usually given numbers or assigned names based on where they were geographically based. As we’ve seen throughout the last several episodes, I’ve described multiple Armies fighting with one another across both the Western and Eastern Front. So In 1914 the entire “German Army” was composed of eight separate armies. For example, in the last few episodes we have largely focused on the German Eighth Army commanded by Hindenburg and Ludendorff. So there is a difference between an entire national armed force called “the Army,” and the unit of deployment known as an Army.
In the First World War, an army would usually be commanded by an officer simply described as a “General.” To make this a bit easier to understand, in the U.S. we often describe Generals based on their emblem of rank, which is made up of different numbers of stars. So a Brigadier General, the lowest rank of General, is often described as a “One Star General,” because his or her emblem of rank is made up of a single star. A Major General would be described as a two star general, a Lieutenant General as a three star, and so on. A “General,” without any qualifying prefix, could be described in the U.S. as a “four star general.”
Now above the rank of “General,” all the Armies going to war in 1914 had a rank usually translated into English as Field Marshal, which was the name of that rank used by the British Army. Now the size of unit or number of men under the command of a Field Marshal was not as fixed as all the other ranks of the armies. Often, it was less a matter of “x number of armies” falling under the purview of a Field Marshal, rather it was meant to demonstrate that the Field Marshal outranked all of the commanders of individual armies in the field. In fact, because of this it was rare for an army to have more than one or two leaders to hold the rank of Field Marshal at the same time, and quite often no officer would hold this rank. This also meant that the size of the command of a Field Marshal could vary wildly. For example, eventually Paul von Hindenburg, commander of the Eighth Army that defended Eastern Germany from the Russians in August and September of 1914, well eventually he is going to be promoted by the Kaiser to the rank of Field Marshal, or Generalfeldmarschal in German. In this role, Hindenburg would effectively have under his command every single German Army in the field, comprising literally millions of soldiers. However earlier in the war, the commander of the British Expeditionary Force or BEF, Sir John French, would also hold the title of Field Marshal, even though the BEF in the first month or so of the war was made up of fewer than a hundred thousand soldiers. So once you get up to a certain level of command, the level of responsibility assigned to different ranks could vary quite a bit.
So before we close this episode, let’s do a very quick bullet point rundown of all the various unit sizes we’ve discussed and the ranks of those soldiers who would typically command them. And just to keep this at least somewhat simple, we’ll only use the English names for all of them. So starting at the very bottom, we have our newly recruited private, the common enlisted soldier and the rank that was held by a plurality of all people in the army, if not a majority. Around a dozen or so of these privates would be grouped together in a squad, commanded by either a corporal or a sergeant. Roughly 3-5 of these squads would make up a platoon, usually around 35-50 men strong, and the platoon would be commanded by a lieutenant. 3-5 of these platoons would be grouped together into a company, ranging from 150-250 men strong, and the company would theoretically be under the command of a captain but would often having a lieutenant as acting commander.
Anywhere from 3-5 companies would form a battalion, with the theoretical strength of these units almost always being about 1,000 men strong. In some armies the next highest unit was a regiment, usually with around 3 battalions making a strength of about 3,000 men, however not all armies in 1914 included this level of command. So, for example, in the German Army a battalion would be commanded by a major while a regiment would be commanded by a colonel or lieutenant colonel, whereas in the British Army battalions were usually commanded by a colonel with a major serving as second-in-command.
Regardless, the next largest unit was the brigade, typically made up of between four to six thousand men, and would be commanded by a Brigadier General. Above that would be the division, usually between 16-18,000 men strong and commanded by a Major General, and above that would be the Corps, typically made up of between 30-40,000 men, commanded by a Lieutenant General. Finally, several of these Corps would be combined into a single Army, commanded by a General. Then, depending on circumstances, several of a country’s armies, or sometimes even the combined force of all of the armies, might fall under the command of a Field Marshal.
Alright so, that wasn’t too bad right? As mentioned before, on the website I have embedded an entire new page dedicated entirely to images and charts that better visualize these army organizations and rank hierarchies. That page will also contain similar information regarding the topic of the next supplemental, covering more general military terms and theories. Next week, we will take a look at some of the fundamental military theories that all of these privates and lieutenants and generals kept in mind as they marched off to war in 1914.
Steuben, Baron von. Regulations for the Order and Discipline of the Troops of the United States. Boston: Thomas and Andrews, 1792.
Boff, Jonathan. Military Structures and Ranks. British Museum, 2014. https://www.bl.uk/world-war-one/articles/military-structures-and-ranks
Columbia University. The Organization of Armies. https://ccnmtl.columbia.edu/services/dropoff/schilling/mil_org/milorgan_99.html
Kast, Bernhard. British Infantry Division 1914/1916 – Visualization, Organization, & Structure. Youtube.com. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=I5Clh5C38Eg&list=PLv0uEimc-uN-PxBv8vwDDysUnrcnM_i93&index=10
Kast, Bernhard. German Infantry Division 1914/1918 – Visualization, Organization, & Structure. Youtube.com. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=K3vTCOfKg0Y&list=PLv0uEimc-uN-PxBv8vwDDysUnrcnM_i93&index=9
WorldWar1.com. The Organization of the German Army, August 1914. http://www.worldwar1.com/sfgarmy.htm