4

How long would it take to mobilize the armed forces of a Western country during the 20th century? Specifically, during and around WW2. I'm also looking for the number of troops as-well.

  • 3
    What do you mean by "army"? During the 20th century the term became a "unit size" of perhaps 200,000 or so combatants. Is this what you mean, or are you referring to the "mobilized armed forces of a (major) nation", comprising several "armies" and "air forces" and "fleets"? – Pieter Geerkens Jun 28 '18 at 12:11
  • Also, no major nation had a men under arms total anywhere near as small as one million men in World War 2.The U.S. had 11 million under arms by mid 1944, Germany launched Barbarossa with just under 4 million men against a U.S.S.R. with ~3 million (front-line) men mobilized and a further reserve of 14 million men. Of major combatants, only Canada mobilized a measly 1 million men from a population of just 11 milllion. – Pieter Geerkens Jun 28 '18 at 15:18
  • An army, like you've laid out in your answer, but I'm looking for the number of troops as-well. So I can sort of gauge how much time it would take to mobilize a million in one country. – Khorps Jun 29 '18 at 1:33
  • Please edit your question to encompass all required clarifications Comments are ephemeral, and subject to deletion at any time. – Pieter Geerkens Jun 29 '18 at 1:50
8

I am assuming that your phrasing refers to the general mobilization of the armed forces of a major nation, typically comprising several armies, air forces and fleets.

In World War One all the great nations of Europe had a two week timetable for general mobilization, with the exception of Russia (six weeks) and Great Britain (6 months). Russia required longer because of both greater distances and a much "thinner" rail network. Great Britain required 6 months because much of its manpower would be from overseas (India, South Africa, Australia, New Zealand and Canada). These Dominion armies would initially mobilize locally, then be transported first to Great Britain and then to France. Barbara Tuchman's Guns of August is a great resource for this period.

Note that the ability to mobilize an armed force eight times as large as one's standing army in just two weeks requires decades of preparation and a specified permanent infrastructure:

  1. Mandatory military service of 2 years from 18-20;
  2. Followed by 8 years of mandatory Reserve service for 4 weeks / year;
  3. Followed by another 10 years of mandatory Landwehr service of 2 weeks / year.
  4. A regular standing army ~12% as big as the final desired army
  5. A country no bigger than 1914 Germany in size, with a very dense rail network and extremely detailed mobilization plans.
  6. A Professional General Staff

Note also that your mobilized units can only pop-up at rail terminuses with sufficient rail capacity to handle the arriving men and equipment, and sufficient open land for their bivouac. The available land around Aachen in 1914 was only 1/3 that required for the destined troops, requiring an invasion of neighbouring Belgium on Day 5 rather than Day 15. This eventuality was unknown to everyone except German mobilization planners.


World War Two is more complicated. Looking at France for example, it was much less prepared than 25 years earlier. Although general mobilization was achieved in "days" (ie perhaps a bit faster than in 1914) it was an utter mess.

  • No provision had been made to excuse men working in essential industries such as ammunition production. Over the next few months these men had to be identified, removed from their units, and returned home. In the meantime much of the army was bereft of vital supplies and equipment.

  • Many of the the reserve units, comprised of older men, had received much less training than in 1914. This training now had to be planned and executed on an emergency basis. Although this was mostly completed by May 1940, it meant that the French armed forces, while ostensibly "mobilized" by late September 1939, were nowhere near combat ready until spring 1940.

Ironically, and contrary to expectation, through May and June 1940 the Class B reserve units of men in their forties and late thirties significantly out-performed the Class A reserve units of men in their late twenties and early thirties. This is thought to be due to the steadying presence of WW1 veterans in the former.

In contrast, for the U.S. mobilization in World War Two took 2.5 years; essentially from Dec. 1941 until June 1944. Having only a tiny regular army and no meaningful reserve in late 1941, the entire operation of raising and training over 11 million men (thank you Jon Custer) had to be constructed from scratch. The naval vessels that its sailors would man against Japan had, for the most part, not even had their keels laid in Dec. 1941.

The only nation that mobilized a steady-state of about 1 million men under arms, I believe, is Canada. Of these the breakdown by service is roughly:

  • Army: 55,000 in 1939 to ~730,000 by spring 1944
  • Air Force: 3,000 in 1939 to ~260,000 by spring 1944
  • Navy: 3200 in 1939 to ~110,000 by spring 1944

This mobilization took nearly 5 years, from summer and fall 1939 to spring 1944.

  • Full mobilization to ~10 million under arms took 2.5 years. The US had operations before D-Day. My father-in-law was inducted in February 1942 and was running a radar station on New Guinea by the end of that year as just one example. – Jon Custer Jun 28 '18 at 13:46
  • @JonCuster: I think that's what I said; it's certainly what I meant. I low-balled intentionally at 5MM because I couldn't find a good source for an actual number Do you have one for the 10MM figure? – Pieter Geerkens Jun 28 '18 at 13:56
  • 2
    nationalww2museum.org/students-teachers/student-resources/… shows total US military personnel increasing from ~330,000 in 1939 pre-war to 12,200,000 in 1945 (11,600,000 in 1944). – Jon Custer Jun 28 '18 at 14:01
  • My father was sitting on the outskirts of Rome on D-Day! American forces were included in Operation Torch, November of 1942, the invasion of North Africa; my father joined them in Sicily. Army training and transport required about six months to turn a civilian into a soldier ready for combat. – Peter Diehr Jun 28 '18 at 14:25
  • 1
    The Essex-class carriers (of which 24 were built) were the backbone of the US Navy in WW2. The first was authorized in May 1938, ordered in July 1940 and commissioned in December 1942. (More were ordered, but well before the end of the war the orders for the last ten or so were canceled, leaving just 24 built.) The Midway class which followed the Essex class didn't make it into WW2, the first being commission in late 1945. It's hard to scale this back to answer the actual question about a 1-million man army, since so much of the time was spent on design. – Mark Olson Jun 28 '18 at 14:38

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.