(Edit: I'd let this stand, as I have other things to write, but it's just too darn rough to go without a little polishing.)
It's amazing how quickly a day at the library goes. There's a lot of things that I'd like to talk about. Some of the sillier notions of pre-war aviation history got aired again last week in the even sillier context of a call for a lunar colony. I'm still circling the problem of getting a handle on the transatlantic horse trade. (This book looks like it needs a look.) In the end, though, I went with trying to draw out a picture that I've already formed from books that I've already read.
This is one doesn't start chronologically. Eugenia Kiesling's purpose here is pretty clearly spelled out. How much can you plan for future wars? It's an interesting question, but not a big concern for me. I like her Arming Against Hitler for its explication of the obstacles between planning and implementation. And by that I don't mean all of the debates over periods of service or frequency of cohort uptake or the problems of dealing with politically unreliable conscripts. What I mean begins with a little story about mobilisation centres.
Kiesling (88) notes the ideal of 509th Tank Regiment, whose depot was Mobilisation Centre 509 in Maubeuge, with a backup Mobilization Centre 513 at Rouen, which had no indigenous regiment. So every new conscript inducted at Maubeuge who meets the 509th's requirements (of which more below) goes to that regiment. If that wasn't enough, MC 513 could send along a few more men. The 509 is staffed from a coherent region. At the end of their service, the men go back to Maubeuge or Rouen, ready to be called up to serve in "their" regiment when the balloon goes up. But consider the more common case of Mobilisation Centre 503, which sent men to the 507th, 508th and 510th Tank Regiments, while the 503rd Tank Regiment received men from rear Mobilisation Centres in yet another four regions. How did things get so confused? I'm sure that there is a complicated, amusing bureaucratic story to be told, because we are talking about complicated bureaucracies that do amusing things. I would say that it is no way to run an army, except that pretty much all armies are run this way, which is why my eyes glaze over at so much of Kiesling's heroic research. Prove that things weren't equally screwed up on the German side, and she'd have a case.
That being said, another of her examples is just awesome (89ff). She has looked at the papers for the Lille Mobilisation Centre. Obviously the old fortress-and-sayettrie centre turned grimy industrial town didn't send men to a single tank regiment. It sent men to the infantry, chasseurs à pied, Zouaves, Tiralleurs algeriens, Tirallieurs tunisiens, armoured units, "mechanical support units" for armour, horse cavalry (again, resident Africans were segregated into the chasseurs d’Afrique), motorised cavalry units, horse-drawn artillery, mechanised artillery, railway artillery, fortress infantry, AA troops, chemical weapons units,* training establishments, engineer units including sappers, mechanics, electromechanical engineers, and telegraphists, supply companies, horse-drawn and motorised, clerical and other administrative units, medical, balloon detachments, the navy and the air force. Clearly the preference for regions of recruitment conflicted heavily with the need for specialists. This is because, to an extent, Lille was just big, but there's more to it.
For example, armoured regiments didn't take just anyone. They required that 15% of their inductees to be skilled metal workers and 10% to be woodworkers (this is Kiesling's translation, and I suspect that if I were writing about the British army of the period, I would say "fitters and riggers," and be just as mysterious). Twenty percent must have driver’s licenses.
The tankers go on. They want Radio operators and painters. They also want bootmakers and saddle makers. Now this seems a little strange, but they go on to specify "other suitable candidates for training as drivers." So having a militarily useful trade makes you a better potential candidate driver? Maybe it has something to do with recruiting within pay rates? Meanwhile the cavalry remount depots also wanted the boot and saddle makers, with more reason. More specifically, they accepted only these trades, plus accountants, blacksmiths, tailors, and, once again, woodworkers. Tradesmen with other certificates across a wide range of other skills were certified by their employers and distributed with regard to need (riding, driving, music, mechanics, nursing, piloting, navigation are noted). Bakers, butchers, cooks, masons, painters, and so forth were distributed according to TOEs.
At the other extreme, there were unwanted men. Les Joyeux, illiterates and non-Francophones were supposed to be sprinkled around to maximum targets. The cavalry wanted no more than 5% illiterates, but when, say, 22.5% of the inductees in the Limoge, for example, were functionally illiterate, this was a challenge. Kiesling notes that some mounted units in western France had 50% illiterates.
Now, the theory of the nation in arms is that each man (parliament argued about conscripting women, and concluded that it, like a national labour registry was impractical in peace) goes to camp, is trained, and returns to civilian life. Every once in a while, he gets a refresher, and as his cohort ages, it graduates into newer, lower effectiveness reserve units. So 1st Infantry of Ville Ordinaire is backed by the 101st, 201st, 301st and Too-Old-For-This1st that garrisons the citadel. But if a man goes away from town to be a tanker in the 509th, and comes back to Ville Ordinaire. His unit is supposed to be the 1509th, all the way across the country, which is not very practical to start with, and raises the further problem that there have to be tanks for him. If there is no 1509th, for lack of tanks or whatever, the old soldier is sent to the local infantry –with no infantry training! (94). In theory, 20 armoured regiments that train 1000 men every year have encumbered the country with 200,000 veterans with no infantry training after 10 years!
I wouldn't overstress this problem taken in isolation. Maybe if the awesome Nazi war machine crossed the border hours after mobilisation in a vast attaque brusque, it would be important. If it's an "iron spearhead on a wooden shaft" that does so eight months after the declaration of war, not so much. Yet the same circumstance can apply to anything from the cavalry to the railway service and I do see a more subtle problem.
Consider: how many eighteen year old inductees are skilled mechanics? Bootmakers? Accountants? Butchers? Very few: the system is based on the premise that these eighteen year olds can be turned into riflemen quite as good as anyone's, but the armed forces' are only 39% infantry, a figure that the British Army Council could only look at with envy, hampered as it was by the India garrison) In a shooting war, the riflemen will die a lot, and there will be need of a large cohort of replacements, but that's not the point. The point is to staff the regular units that will train everybody. This is easily accomplished with rifle companies, but not so much with units that are presumably looking for eighteen-year-old mechanics. Not that the army can afford to be the trade school for the nation, even if one can imagine how it might be accomplished. (Are surplus Grande Ecole men going to be kidnapped and forced to study a trade?)
The point of the requirements of the cavalry depot is that this isn't exactly a new problem. There's probably a transition point where the main issue goes from horses being relatively scarce to war being all new fangled and stuff. But, heck. Let's not sweat the "probably." Let's look at other books.