Front Page Titles (by Subject) ON THE ORGANIC DIVISION OF ARMED FORCES * - On War, vol. 3
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ON THE ORGANIC DIVISION OF ARMED FORCES * - Carl von Clausewitz, On War, vol. 3 
On War, trans. Col. J.J. Graham. New and Revised edition with Introduction and Notes by Col. F.N. Maude, in Three Volumes (London: Kegan Paul, Trench, Trubner & C., 1918). Vol. 3.
Part of: On War
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ON THE ORGANIC DIVISION OF ARMED FORCES*
That the grounds which determine the division and strength of the different parts of an Army, and which have their root in elementary tactics, are not very distinct, and allow of much that is arbitrary, we must suppose, if we look at the various modes of formation which actually exist; but no great reflection is required to convince us that these grounds cannot determine the matter more exactly. What is usually adduced in relation to the subject, as, for instance, if a cavalry officer tries to prove that a cavalry regiment can never be too strong, because otherwise it is not in a condition to do anything, deserves no serious notice. This is the state of things as regards the small divisions with which elementary tactics is concerned—that is, Companies, Squadrons, Battalions, and Regiments; but it is much worse still with the larger divisions which are beyond elementary tactics, and where the question depends on higher tactics or the theory of the dispositions for a battle in conjunction with Strategy. We shall now take up the subject of these greater divisions—Brigades, Divisions, Corps, and Armies.
Let us first consider for a moment the reasonable grounds (the philosophy) of the thing. Why are the masses, as a universal rule, divided into parts? Plainly because one person can only exercise direct command over a limited number. The General cannot take 50,000 soldiers and place each man upon a particular spot and keep him there, and order him to do this and not to do that, which, if such a thing was conceivable, would plainly be the best thing that could be done; for none of the countless subordinate Commanders ever intensifies (at least it would be an anomaly if he did), but each more or less diminishes the force of the original order, and takes from the first idea something of its original precision. Besides this, if there are a number of subordinate divisions, the order takes considerably more time to reach its destination. From this it follows that the divisions and subdivisions, by reason of which orders must pass through many hands in succession, constitute a necessary evil. Here ends our philosophy, and we enter upon tactics and Strategy.
A mass entirely isolated which is opposed to the enemy as an independent whole, whether great or small, has three parts which are essential, and without which such a body can hardly be imagined, that is to say, one part which it throws out in advance, one which in case of unforeseen events it places in rear, and the main body between these two parts.
Therefore, if the division of the greater whole is made with a view to independence, it must never have less than three parts if the permanent Division is to be in accordance with that constant requirement of independence which must naturally be an object. But it is easy to observe that even these three parts do not constitute quite a natural arrangement; for no one would willingly make his advance and rear guards each of the same strength with the centre or main body. Therefore, it would be more natural to conceive the centre as consisting of at least two parts, consequently, to make a division of the whole into four parts in this order:
But even here it is plain we have not yet got to the most natural point. For, notwithstanding the depth which it is usual now to give an order of battle, all distributions of forces, either tactical or strategic, invariably assume the linear form; consequently, there arises of itself the want of a right wing, of a left wing, and of a centre, and five may therefore now be looked upon as the natural number of divisions in this form:
This formation now allows of one, or in case of urgent necessity, of two parts of the principal mass being detached right or left. Whoever, like myself, is a friend of strong reserves, will perhaps find the part in rear (reserve) too weak in relation to the whole, and, therefore, will add, on that account, another part, in order to have one-third in reserve. Then the whole will be organised as under:
If the force we have to organise is very large, a considerable Army, then Strategy has to remark that such an Army almost always finds it necessary to detach parts to the right and left; that, therefore, on this account with such a force, two more parts must generally be added; we then get the following strategic figure:
From this we deduce as a result, that a whole mass of troops should never be divided into less than three or more than eight parts. But still in this there appears very little that is definite, for what a number of different combinations may be made, if we reflect that we might divide an Army into 3 × 3 × 3, if we should base Corps, Divisions, and Brigades upon that number, which would give twenty-seven Brigades, or into any other possible product of the given factors.
But there are still some important points remaining for consideration.
We have not entered upon the strength of Battalions and Regiments, leaving that for elementary tactics; from what has just been said, it only follows that we should make the Brigades consist of not less than three Battalions. Upon this we certainly insist, and shall probably not encounter any opposition; but it is more difficult to limit the greatest strength which the Brigade should have. As a rule a Brigade is considered to be such a body as can and must be guided by one man directly—that is to say, through the instrumentality of his voice. If we adhere to that, then it should not exceed a strength of 4000 or 5000 men; and, consequently, will consist of six or eight Battalions, according to the strength of the battalion. But here we must bring in another subject, which forms a new element in the inquiry. This element is the combination of the different arms. That this combination should begin in a body of troops lower down the steps than a whole Army is a point on which there is but one opinion throughout Europe. But some would only commence with it in Corps, that is, masses of 20,000 to 30,000 men. Others would have it in Divisions—that is, masses of from 8000 to 12,000 men. We shall not enter into this controversy at present, but confine ourselves to this, which will hardly be disputed, that the independence of any body of troops is chiefly constituted by the combination of the three arms, and that, therefore, at all events for Divisions which are destined to find themselves frequently isolated in War, this combination is very desirable.
Further, we have not only to take into consideration the combination of all three arms, but also that of two of them, namely, artillery and infantry. This combination, according to the generally prevailing custom, takes place very much sooner, although artillerymen, excited by the example of cavalrymen, show no slight inclination to form again a little Army of their own. They have, however, as yet been obliged to content themselves with being divided amongst the Brigades. Through this combination, therefore, of artillery with infantry, the idea of a Brigade takes a somewhat different form, and the only question to be considered is, what should be the minimum size of a body of infantry to which, as a rule, a portion of artillery must always be attached in a permanent manner?
This question is more readily answered than one would at first sight suppose, for the number of guns which, for every 1000 men, we can take into the field, seldom depends on our will, it is settled by a variety of other, partly very remote, causes; then, again, the number of guns which are united in a battery rests upon much more substantial tactical grounds than any other similar organisation; thus it is that we do not ask, How many guns shall this mass of infantry (for instance, a Brigade) have? but, What mass of infantry is to be joined to a battery of artillery? If we have, for example, three guns per 1000 men with the Army, and then deduct one for the reserve, there remain two to distribute amongst the rest of the troops, which allows a mass of 4000 infantry for a battery of eight guns. As this is the ordinary proportion, it is evident that, with our calculation, we come nearly to what has been found to answer best in practice. After this, we shall add no more in regard to the size of a Brigade than that it should consist accordingly of from three to five thousand men.
Although the field of division is limited on one side in this way, and on the other it was already limited by the strength of the Army as a given quantity, a great number of combinations still always remain possible, and we cannot let them be disposed of at once by a rigorous application of the principle of the least possible number of parts; we have still to take into consideration some points of a general nature and we must also allow special considerations in particular cases to have their rights.
First we must observe that great bodies must be split into more parts than smaller ones, in order to be made sufficiently handy (as already noticed), and that small bodies with too many subdivisions or branches are not easy to handle.
If an Army is formed into two principal Corps, each of which has its own special Commander,* that is as much as to neutralise the Command-in-Chief. Every one who has military experience will understand this without any further elucidation. It is not much better if the Army is divided into three parts, for in such a case there can be no expeditious movements, no suitable dispositions for a battle, without an incessant breaking up of these three principal Corps, by which their Commanders are very soon put out of temper.
The greater the number of parts the greater becomes the power of the Commander-in-Chief and the mobility of the whole mass. There is, therefore, a reason for going as far as possible in this direction. As there are more means of putting orders in a train for execution at a headquarters like that of the Commander of an Army than with the limited staff of a Corps or Division, therefore, on general grounds, it is best to divide an Army into not less than eight parts. If other circumstances require it, this number of parts may be increased to nine or ten. If there are more than ten parts, a difficulty arises in transmitting orders with the necessary rapidity and exactitude, for we must not forget that it is not the mere question of the order, else an Army might have as many Divisions as there are heads in a company, but that with orders, many directions and inquiries are connected which it is easier to arrange for six or eight Divisions than for twelve or fifteen.
Again, a Division if it is small as regards absolute strength in numbers, one which therefore may be supposed to form part of a Corps, can always make shift with fewer parts than we have given as the normal number; quite easily with four, in case of urgency with three. Six and eight would be inconvenient, because its means are not sufficient to transmit orders rapidly enough to so many parts.
This revision of our proper normal number gives as a result that an Army should have at least five parts, and not more than ten; that the Division should not have above five, and may be reduced to four. Between the two now lies the Corps, and both the question of its strength and the general question whether it should exist at all, depend on the adjustment of the other two combinations.
Two hundred thousand men in ten Divisions, and the Division split into five Brigades, gives the Brigade a strength of 4000 men. In such a force we could, thereore, do very well with Divisions only.
We could certainly divide this force into five Corps, the Corps into four Divisions, and the Division into four Brigades, then each Brigade would be 2500 men strong.
To me, the first arrangement appears the best; for, in the first place, it has one step less in the gradation of ranks, therefore orders are transmitted quicker, &c. Secondly, five branches are too few for an Army, it is not sufficiently pliable with that number; the same applies to a Corps divided into four Divisions, and 2500 men form a weak Brigade, of which there are in this scheme eighty, instead of which the other organisation makes only fifty, and is therefore simpler. These advantages are sacrificed for the sake of having only to give orders direct to five Generals instead of ten.
So far general considerations extend, but the points which require to be determined in particular cases are of infinite importance.
Ten Divisions may be easily commanded in a level country; in widely extended mountain positions the thing may be perfectly impossible.
A great river which divides an Army creates a necessity for the appointment of a separate Commander on one side. General rules are powerless against the force of circumstances in all such particular cases; however, it is to be remarked that when such special circumstances make their appearance, those disadvantages, which a multiplicity of Divisions otherwise produces, generally disappear at the same time. Certainly, even here abuses may arise, as for instance, if a bad organisation is made to gratify the unseasonable ambition of individuals, or, out of want of firmness, to resist personal considerations. But, however far the requirements of particular cases may extend, still experience teaches us that the system of divisioning as a rule is dependent on general principles.
[* ]To serve as an elucidation of chap. v. of Book V.
[* ]The command is the true base of division. If a Field-Marshal commands 100,000 men, of which 50,000 are under the orders of a General specially designated, whilst the Field-Marshal in person conducts the other 50,000, formed in five Divisions, a case which often happens, the whole is not in reality divided in two parts, but into six, only that one of them is five times as large as the others.