Modern war against an old enemy? The railways in the Franco-German war 1870/1871
The outbreak of the Franco-Prussian war in 1870 was accompanied by an entire engagement of railroads for military purposes on both sides. With regard to the so called People's war especially in his second part the struggle between France and the German states under Prussian leadership has been considered by some scholars as the first modern war, yet some other looked upon it as a prelude to the total wars of the 20th century. That approach will be supported by a look to the extreme level of military transports by railroads on either side. Thoroughly planned by a joint civil-military organisation, the German forces were enabled, to rush almost 650 000 men and 170 000 horses embarked on 1500 trains in just three weeks to the Palatinate, an achievement, never accomplished before. Since the all-embracing requirement of civil facilities for military purposes must be regarded on as an important feature of the later total wars, it cannot be ignored, that the absolute assignment of about 50 independent German railroad companies, operating a rail-net of 19 000 km with almost 240 000 clerks and workers, is pointing yet in the very same direction. On the foe's side the continuos use of the six great French railway companies stocks was in no way less extensive, however lacking the Prussian quality of an. exact scheduling. As the French forces used her excellent and well equipped railroads in a short term manner, very often based on a quick decision making badly arranged with the companies in charge, the Prussians as paradigm for the other German states managed their deployment with the help of a precisely drafted system of transports, which has been tested yet in the war against Austria four years ago. Especially the Prussian-German general-staff considered the task to transport huge masses of forces by railroads as a mechanic procedure with no room for later individual decisions. Mass, precision and total control determined, at least on German side, the beginning of the war, so it is by all means justified, to talk about the Franco-Prussian war of 1870/71 as a true prelude to the later total wars.
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checked on Mar 3, 2024