Sunday, April 5, 2015

War games in an eighteenth-century German military academy

War games in an eighteenth-century German military academy, Hans Friedrich von Fleming, DervolIkommene teutsche Soldat (Leipzig, 1726). In this elegant room, four sets of instructions seem to be going on at the various tables. Above the tables on the right, there are on the wall two large panels setting out the calibres of the artillery, and on the wall at the end, five instructors seem to be discussing the best way to assault a well-defended sea port, looking something like La Rochelle.

In France much the same sort of development was taking place. In Leparfait aide de camp, published at Paris in 1770, Georges-Louis Le Rouge (active 1730-70), 'ingenieur et geographe du roi', explains how during the 1740s and 1750s it had been found necessary to train young aides-de-camp in bringing the most recent topographical and military information to the general officers whom they served, often using maps. Probably the leading exponent of military map use in France at this time was Pierre Bourcet (1700-80), whose book entitled Lesprincipes de la guerre de montagne (Paris, 1775) explained how 'a commander should plan troop manoeuvres and supply on a day-to-day basis from maps') As yet, though, these relatively detailed maps relied on hachures (striations marking hills) to indicate the terrain: there were no contour lines until quite far into the nineteenth century.

Meanwhile the same type of development was taking place in Brandenburg-Prussia, where Frederick the Great (ruled 1740-86) used officers like Major Von Wrede and Major Von Griese to manage a travelling Plankammer, or map-office, from which material could be generated for most contingencies. Frederick's own Instructions for his generals insist upon the use of 'the most detailed and exact maps that can be found', for 'knowledge of the country is to a general what a rifle is to an infantryman and what the rules of arithmetic are to a geometrician'. Frederick was of course in close touch with what was going on in France and England, and probably used specialists from these countries.

Above picture, taken from Dervollkommene teutscheSoldat, published at Leipzig in 1726, shows how thoroughly the study of maps was penetrating the German military academies. Groups of students are seen examining them at tables alongside the walls, while at the end of the room a large map sets out the details of a siege. Such an image is impossible to imagine for the sixteenth century, but by the middle of the eighteenth century armies had become so large that some form of cartographic control had become absolutely indispensable, along with standardized written orders, fighting groups of about 12,000 men, and trained general staffs; this was all part of a process of growing bureaucratization. Indeed, the military hierarchy and procedures that developed at this time would have been quite recognizable to twentieth-century soldiers.

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