Military Reforms of the 1860's and 1870s

Military Reforms of the 1860’s and 1870’s


in Russia, an integral part of the bourgeois reforms of the 1860’s and 1870?s. The military reforms arose from the abolition of serfdom; the growth of capitalist relations; the development of military technology; the weaknesses, manifest during the Crimean War of 1853-56, of the serfdom system of organization of the Russian Army; and the government’s striving to strengthen the army in the context of the increase in the armaments of the European countries. The reforms were carried out under the direction of Minister of War D. A. Miliutin. They met opposition from the reactionary military circles headed by Prince A. I. Bariatinskii and R. A. Fadeev.

Miliutin believed one of the main tasks of the military re-forms to be the reduction of the army in peacetime along with its subtantial expansion in wartime through the creation of a trained reserve. The reduction in the size of the army from 1,132,000 men (1864) to 742,000 (1867) made it possible to increase the trained reserve to 553,000 by 1870. The reform in the local military administration was carried out during 1862-64; 15 military districts, headed by the commanders of the forces of the respective districts, were established. The Ministry of War was reorganized in 1868; as a result, all branches of the military administration and armed forces were subordinated to the minister of war. New regulations on the direction of the army in the field during wartime were confirmed in 1868. To replace the cadet school in training officers, military Gymnasiums and schools were established in 1863-64, as well as Junker schools for persons without secondary education (from 1864). Higher military education in the academies was improved (the Nikolai Academy of the General Staff, the Artillery Academy, and the Engineering Academy), and the Academy of Military Justice was established (1867).

The rapid mobilization of the Prussian Army and its victory during the Franco-Prussian War of 1870-71 accelerated the introduction of compulsory military service for members of all the estates in Russia (1874). Under the law of Jan. 1, 1874, members of all classes and estates were subject to a draft for military service from the age of 21. The general term of service was set at 15 years, six years of which were to be in active duty and nine in the reserves; the period of active service was shortened (from four years to six months) for persons with secondary and higher education. There were substantial privileges based on family situation (only sons, sole breadwinners of families, and so on were not called up). Over 50 percent of the draftees were relieved of service because of privileges. Those freed of the draft were enlisted in the militia, which was called to duty only during wartime. Cossacks served on a special basis. The peoples of the north and of Middle Asia and certain peoples of the Caucasus and Siberia were not subject to conscription.

The rearmament of the army was carried out during the 1860’s; the transition from the smoothbore weapon to the rifled, muzzle-loaded firearm, begun in the first half of the 19th century, was continued. The transition to the breech-loading weapon began during 1867-69. In 1868 the American Berdan rifle was adopted; in 1870, the so-called Berdan number 2 (actually, a weapon of a new system developed by Russian engineers). By the end of the 1860’s the rearmament of the field artillery with bronze guns loaded from the breech was complete. Changes in war matériel required serious modifications in the combat training of troops. New tactical principles were introduced—although not always consistently—in the new regulations, manuals, and handbooks that were published. The reforms in the training of forces were intended to teach the soldier only what was essential in war. However, the considerable influence of reactionary elements in the army and insufficient financial resources hindered the consistent reorganization of the system of combat training.

As a result of the military reforms the Russian Army was turned into a mass army of the bourgeois type. This process substantially increased its fighting ability and resulted in positive effects as early as the Russo-Turkish war of 1877-78. However, the existence of the autocratic system meant that the reforms would not be consistent. Vestiges of feudalism and serfdom persisted in the army (parade ground traditions, harsh discipline, the caste composition of the officer corps, backward tactics, etc.). As the reaction gained force under Alexander III, these negative elements were strengthened.


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Stoletie voennogo ministerstva, vol. 1. St. Petersburg, 1902.
Zaionchkovskii, P. A. Voennye reformy 1860-1870 gg. v Rossii. Moscow, 1952.


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