Monday, July 09, 2007

Logistics - The French Army

I’ve started doing some research on the logistics of the Eighteenth Century.

I thought I’d share what seemed to me to be some of the more thought-provoking things I’d come across.

Just for a start, it’s all about bread. The horses could be fed from whatever fodder could be scrounged, munitions were probably one of the least bulky and troublesome things that could be transported, but without bread your army starts to starve.

An army of 100,000 men consume, in the French service at least, 200,000 pounds of flour per day.

The bread ration was issued every four days. Bread was nominally edible for nine days after it had been baked, although I imagine it’d be good only for toasting, and that after the mouldy bits had been cut out.

Again in the French service, the practice of the day was that field ovens were constructed no more than three days march from the grain stores and only two days’ march from the Army. Consider what this means for the French Army; the bread was baked in brick ovens. It was reckoned that 40 ovens were needed to bake the bread for 100,000 men. At times houses had to be demolished to provide the necessary raw materials. Construction of said ovens took as long as two weeks.

For these reasons it must have taken little to upset ones’ plan of campaign! Imagine your army leapfrogging in carefully planned steps from one laboriously constructed set of field ovens to the next, they themselves built laboriously at least two weeks beforehand and no more than three days from your magazines. You yourself, on receipt of your two-day-old bread knew you could march for no more than seven days before your bread became inedible and that your troops at the outset would have to hump the lot on their backs.

The upshot of all this is that ultimately, the French Army of the day could be no more than about five days from their magazines. An unexpected retrograde movement could send the Army along paths unprepared from a logistical point of view and this lack of supply could lead to every evil attendant upon maurauding, breakdown of discipline and desertion.

Almost entirely culled from Lee Kennetts' book "The French Armies in the Seven Years' War" - rarish and not too easy to obtain, but highly recommended.


MiniWargamer said...

You might also want to look at van Creveld's book Supplying War. He does some good analysis of a number of campaigns, one of which is the Russian campaign. In this campaign, Napoleon takes a number of measures to overcome the initial logistical shortfalls he sees as being critical to the campaign.

Henry Hyde said...

Greg -- I second miniwargamer's comments about "Supplying War" by Martin van Creveld. I did quite a lot of logistics research way back during my degree, and I found this to be a very helpful book. Probably out of print now, but no doubt available through the usual second-hand sources.

Bloggerator said...

MiniWargamer, Henry, I'm just working my way thru my Duffys on the Prussians and Austrians at the moment for detail; I greatly respect the work of Mr van Creveld and will make it my business to track down the book you've both so kindly drawn my attention.

Best regards,


Grimsby Mariner said...

And it for these reasons that Marlborough was able to carefully plan his campaigns and march so effeciently - he didn't rely on fixed positions but improved the supply chain instead.

Bloggerator said...

And I believe the French justified their arrangements by saying "Well, if it was good enough for the Sun King..."


Bloggerator said...

By the way, I just bought a copy of the van Creveld book. $US1.95! Postage: $US9.95.

I nearly choked on my afternoon doughnut.

MurdocK said...

I think is it superior that you are considering such things as supply in your games plans!

Another source (more of a Napoleonic variety, but good in that the conversion of information has been prepared with a gamer in mind) is Bruce Quarrie's Napoleon's Campaigns in Miniature