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Quick overview about the reserve and the Landwehr of the German Empire (around 1890)

The defense strategy of the German Empire was designed so that the population should help to defend the country in the event of war. Therefore, there was a military service for the male population, which was essentially divided into active and passive military service.

Active service took place in the army or the navy. This was followed by service in the Landwehr I., then Landwehr II. and finally in the Landsturm. The reserve service was part of the active service, but without spending the time in the barracks.

This article is only about the reserve and the Landwehr service, as these two terms have often been confused or equated. However, for collectors of Pickelhaubes the differences between the soldiers of the reserve and the Landwehr can be differentiated by the plates on the helmets: While members of the reserve wore the Landwehr cross in the lower third of the plate (in Prussia below the "FR"), soldiers of the Landwehr wore the cross in the middle of the plate (in Prussia instead of the "FR").


The reserve

Active service usually lasted 7 years, divided into 3 years of active training and 4 years of reserve service.

But there were other possibilities as well, as the following graphic from 1890 shows:


The beginning of the reserve service, even if interrupted, was calculated from the same day as the active service and was followed by the Landwehr service.

The reserve men had the status of leave of absence, which also included the following men:

  • Members of the reserve, the Landwehr I. and II. or Seewehr.
  • All recruits temporarily on leave to their home country.
  • All teams that were released from the disposition of the substitute authorities pending a decision on further military relations.
  • All men who were available for disposition or on temporary leave (so-called disposition or king vacationers).

Well-trained military personnel with good leadership could temporarily be dismissed, but could be convoked again at any time until the end of their third year of service.

The duties of reservists varied and depended on their ranks. However, the following duties applied to everyone:

  • On duty, or when they were in uniform, they were subject to military discipline.
  • During the reserve service the men had to take part in 2 exercises of a maximum of 8 weeks.

The type and scope of the exercises were determined annually at 2 control meetings, which took place in spring (April) and autumn (November).

While in peacetime the reservists and all men with status of leave of absence were convoked by the commanding general, they were convoked on imperial orders in case of necessary reinforcement and for mobilization.

The reservists were convoked according to seniority in annual classes and started with the youngest if in military interest, but attempts were made to take social conditions into account. Also a service to society, such as a fire brigade or clergyman, was a reason to be deferred. Policemen were even exempt from all exercises. This shows once again how much effort was made in the empire to address the population and social aspects.

After 7 years of active service and reserve, the transition to Landwehr I. took place, which was also regulated at the control meetings. 

Landwehr

The Landwehr was divided into Landwehr I. and Landwehr II.

The duration of the Landwehr I. was 5 years, whereby the men had following duties:

  • Men of the Landwehr I. could be convoked to the control meetings in spring (April).
  • Men of Landwehr I. could be convoked to take part in 2 exercises of 8-12 weeks each. However, this rule did not apply to the Landwehr cavalry, which was not convoked for exercises in peacetime.
  • Men of Landwehr I. needed a permit to emigrate and had to come back immediately in case of mobilization.

During the 7 years of service in Landwehr II. , that followed Landwehr I. , the men had almost the same obligations as in Landwehr I. However, due to the older age and their professional obligations, they got following relief:

  • Landwehr II. men were not convoked to exercises or control meetings in peacetime.
  • Except in the event of war or imminent threat of war, the men of Landwehr II. didn't need a permission to emigrate, but had to inform the responsible military authority.
  • If the men of Landwehr II. were able to prove a work as a merchant or trader abroad, the vacation could be extended until the end of the military service and the obligations to return in the event of mobilization could be suspended.

The Landwehr was divided into districts, that were essentially similar to the recruiting districts of the army. This led to a conscious correlation between the organization of the army and the Landwehr. It was expected that this would create more cohesion and trust between the enlisted men and officers and, thanks to the longstanding cooperation, also a smoother process.

In this way, the domicile of the conscript determined on the one hand the infantry regiment in which he had to perform his active service, and on the other hand the Landwehr battalion to which he belonged after his active service.

The Landwehr battalion districts were determined by the Kaiser (or the King of Bavaria). The area and the extent of all battalion districts of the Landwehr were measured according to the number of inhabitants in order to meet the replacement and supplementary needs of the standing army. Each line infantry regiment had a Landwehr district with 2 battalions each.

The infantry of each Landwehr battalion district exercised in peacetime strengths of 402 men. In the event of war, the strength could be increased up to 802 men. Special troops such as Jäger, artillery, pioneers or the Train were integrated into the relevant departments of the army corps district in times of peace.

If every Landwehr battalion district had a battalion in the event of war, about 300 Landwehr battalions, including the guard, could be set up, depending on the number of remaining men.

Due to the permanent staff of the Landwehr men, the infantry regiments were able to draw their necessary replacement from the Landwehr battalion districts and thus complete their rows. For exercises they were set up as complete Landwehr battalions.

Members of special troops, such as pioneers, Jäger, artillery or Train could not do this. In peacetime they had no permanent staff of men and were therefore only able to get their replacement men from the Landwehr Army Corps in event of mobilization. In contrast to the Landwehr infantry, these Landwehr troops were incorporated directly into existing units of the active army for exercises.

The cavalry was also not allowed to get their replacements from the Landwehr battalions in peacetime. As with the special troops, it was only possible as needed in the event of mobilization. But the members of the cavalry did not have to take part in reserve exercises anyway.

For the guard, which had very high demands on its team, the supplementary teams were brought from all over Prussian territory.

The control of the persons with the status of leave of absence was subject to the Landwehr district command, which therefore had to be informed immediately of all changes associated with this and of the event of mobilization. In order to be able to act as quickly as possible in the event of mobilization, the Landwehr district command kept separate entries in the rankings (officers), Landwehr core roles (teams), control lists (replacement reserve I.) and other auxiliary lists for checking and providing a better overview of the conscription. The Landwehr district command also regulated the control meetings and convoked the recruits to the reserve or to the Landwehr service, which was done on imperial orders in the event of war.

Because of these links, the completeness of the information about the Landwehr battalion districts was extremely important, as this also included the registration of those who were obligated to the Landwehr. All troops, even the men trained as guards or cavalry who had not to take part in reserve exercises in peacetime, had to report to the Landwehr district command of their place of residence after their active service had ended and were under the control of the Landwehr district command. Regardless of this, in the event of war they were assigned to the weapon in which they were trained.

For the Landwehr battalions, uniforms and equipment for army strength in peacetimes were kept in the clothing depots. Only secondary requirements, such as signal horns or kettledrums, were bought just in the event of mobilization.

For the 9 guard Landwehr regiments and for the Baden Grenadier Landwehr regiment No. 109, special rules regarding the storage of equipment existed. Because of no permanent staff of men for the guard Landwehr battalions, each active guard regiment was given the clothing and equipment for 2 guard Landwehr battalions. These had to be deposited in the garrisons, as a possible formation as with the special troops took place directly in the garrisons of the regiments (see the following AKO of March 1, 1872).


Landsturm

Landsturm was the name of the last contingent of all men not used in the army or the navy. As a rule, they only met when an enemy incursion threatened the country's territory and were the last contingent.

According to the Landsturm Act of February 12, 1875, the Landsturm consisted of all conscripts between the ages of 17 and 42 who did not belong to the army or the navy. The Landsturm was only convoked by imperial ordinance, in which the scope of the contingent was determined.

Germans fit for military service, who were not obliged to serve in the army, could voluntarily join the Landsturm. After convocation, the affected Landsturm compulsory were subject to the applicable regulations of the Landwehr. In particular, the deployed men were subject to military laws and disciplinary rules. The same applied for the volunteers.

The Landsturm received military badges that were visible in firing range and was usually formed as a special troops. In special cases, Landwehr troops could be replaced from the rows of the Landsturm. However, only if all men of the Landwehr and the reserve reserve had already been called up. Recruitment took place according to grade levels, starting with the youngest, as far as military interests permitted. If the Landsturm was not convoked, men could not be subjected to any military control or exercise.

The dissolution of the Landsturm was again ordered by the Emperor, whereby the military relations of the Landsturm obligated ended.

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