The French Mobilization

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French volunteers

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Edmond Le Bœuf, French Minister of War

The French War minister, Edmond Le Bœuf, had made plans for the creation of three armies at Metz, Strasbourg and Chalons .The army of Strasbourg would be commanded by Marshall MacMahon ( of Irish ancestry), hero of Crimea and Governor of Algeria. All the troops which could be spared from Algeria would be sent to this army, which was to be made of three corps. The army of Metz, would also have three corps, commanded by Marshal Bazaine, the leader of the recent failed Mexican expedition. The army of Chalons, with two corps, would be under the command of Marshal Canrobert .


For five days all preparations were made on this plan, then on July 11, the emperor ordered that one large army, eight corps strong and under his personal command, which would gather in Metz .The three marshals, would command one corps each . Napoleon made these changes, expecting Austria would join the war on his side as well. Most Austrians, were rather surprised at what they considered premature declaration of war, for which they were unprepared . Russia, also threatened to mobilize to aid Prussia, if Austria mobilized .  Austria was to declare neutrality on July 20th.


The French mobilization was chaos . French troops were scattered all over the country .There was no great organizer like Moltke in France .Leboef decided that mobilization should take place at once rather than successively to be able to launch an attack before German could bring their massive armies together. By August 6, only half of the reservist had reached their units and many lacked equipment and uniforms . Many were stuck in railway stations due to rail delays .

Most of the French command had served in Algeria in their formative years and this influenced the command style, with ambushes being common and a desire to seek a strong defensive position. France had been fighting in Algeria for 30 years by the time the war started .


Strasbourg was the base of operations for the French right, and Metz for the center and left. Besides Strasbourg and Metz other frontier fortresses strengthened the advanced line — Bitche and Phalsbourg in the Vosges, and Thionville on the Moselle. The French army occupied, therefore, a very long line, and its advanced corps, extending from Thionville on the left to Strasbourg on the right, were scattered over too wide a front, insufficiently connected, and too far from their supports at Metz .This left them be exposed to being defeated in detail .

It was taken for granted by most foreign military observers, that the war would begin with a French invasion into Germany, either to the north into the Palatine or eastward into the Rhine . Fredrich Engels wrote in the Pall Mall Gazette, that the French must be planning an offensive if they declared war . The Germans themselves also expected an invasion .


The one strong card that the French held was their supposed ability to mobilize their smaller army quicker than the larger Prussian army could . Every day that passed without an invasion favored the Germans . Moltke was astonished that the French declared war two weeks before they were ready for it . What happened ?


The mobilization was in chaos because of poor planning .The main train station for the war with Germany was at Metz, which could not handle the huge quantities of supplies, ammunition and rations which were brought to it .Many supplies were uninventoried and eventually forgotten, including millions of rounds of chassepot ammunition. Troops assembled in Metz and Strasbourg lacking supplies .By the 14th day of mobilisation, Leboef, the French minister of war, hoped to have 385,000 men and around 900 guns ready of action .Instead he found 202,448 men. The French troops were garrisoned throughout the country and the troops were sent straight to the frontier, to be armed there .

The German Mobilization



The German crown Prince read the mobilization order to cheering crowds at Postdam on July 15. Within 18 days, 1,183,000 men were placed in the army and 462,000 were transported to the frontier .To make the mobilization go smoothly,  a special Line of Communication Department of the General Staff was created and a civilian-military Central Commission to make plans for the railways in time of war . Moltke was deeply concerned with the details of mobilization and supply and contributed greatly to the German success .It did not all go smoothly, and the Germans suffered transportation problems as well, but nowhere near the chaos the French were having .


Moltke divided his attacking force into three armies, the First Army under Stienmetz with the I,VIII and VIII Corps of 50,000~70,000 made up of the 7th Corps of Westphalians, under General von Zastrow; the 8th Rhinelanders, under General von Goben ; part of the 10 th Corps ; and the Brandenburg . 7 division of cavalry and 186 guns .The 1st Army occupied the line of the Saar, from Saarburg on the right, to Saarbriicken .


The large Second Army under Crown Prince Charles of the III, IV,IX,X,XII Corps and the Prussian Guard of 134,000 and the Third Army under the command of Crown Prince Friedrich Wilhelm, of the V,XI and 2 Barvarian Corps of 125,000 made up of the 1st East Prussian Corps, under General Manteuflfel; the 2nd Pomeranian, under General Fransetzky; the 3rd Brandenburger, under General von Alvensleben II.; the 4th Prussians, Saxons, and Thuringians, under General von Alvensleben I.; the 9th Schleswig Holstein, under General von Manstein; the 10th Hanoverians, under General von Voigts Rhetz ; the 12 th Saxons, under the Crown Prince of Saxony; the Hesse Darmstadt division ; the Garrison of Mayence (Mainz) ; and the 1st, 2nd, 4th, 10th, and 12th cavalry divisions with 660 guns.


At the beginning of the war the Third Army was considered to be less reliable due to its South German units .consisting of the Corps of the Guard, under Prince Augustus of Wurtemburg ; the 5th Poseners, under General von Kirchbach ; the 6th Silesians, under General von Sumpling; the 11th Hesse and Nassau, under General von Bose; the Wurtemburg contingent, under Lieutenant-General von Obernitz; the Baden contingent, under General von Beyer ; the Bavarian contingent, under General von der Tann ; and the 6th cavalry division : making a total of 250,000 men, with 660 guns.


The Germans dispersed their armies over 300 miles and were seperated by mountains. The French concentrated their forces between Saarbruken and Metz. The orginal German plan was to destroy Napoleon's Army by encircling it after it had invaded German territory.


 Disposition of forces August 1870.

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