Section 2: Rise of the magazine system

Main purpose:

This section discusses the rise of the first professional logisticians in modern warfare and the reforms they put in place, especially the creation of organized supply depots called magazines (which had been around for hundreds of years, but became popular during this period). It also gives a basic description of how magazines were employed, but in less detail than the next section.

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Van Creveld begins by discussing how bad things had gotten in Europe by the end of the Thirty Years War. Central Europe had been devastated, the great generals (like Gustavus Adolphus and Wallenstein) were gone, and the remaining generals couldn't concentrate armies bigger than 15,000 men, due entirely to supply problems. War had turned into small handfuls of horsemen raiding towns until running out of supplies and going home...pretty much a complete step backward to the way things were in the Dark Ages. Two men changed all that. This is how van Creveld begins his discussion of the magazine system, by talking about its creators...Michel le Tellier (referred to as "Le Tellier") and his son Francois Michel le Tellier (referred to as "Louvois", since he was the Marquis de Louvois).

Magazines (and convoy operations to move supplies from those magazines to the troops) were already part of military doctrine, but they were almost never required, since, as we know from the last section, armies were previously too small to need them. To give you an example of how rarely convoy operations were used, van Creveld points out that armies didn't even have transportation sections (sorry Motor T). They would just contract wagons driven by civilians as needed. It didnít help that in this era's wars the front lines were only determined by fortified towns, so anyone outside a fortified town was just as likely to run into enemies as friends. As some of you may know, conducting convoy operations through a warzone without front lines is damn dangerous, especially for civilians. And since every convoy would be vulnerable to the sudden appearance of enemy cavalry, convoy operations required a lot of escorts. In short, using magazines and convoys required that the military take greater control of logistics from the civilian merchants.

Le Tellier appeared on the scene in 1640, when he was appointed the intendant for the Army of Italy. Faced with the system of supply and logistics we learned about in the last section, Le Tellier tried to fix some of its key problems. He fought corruption and fought for more regular pay of the troops (both big problems you'll recall from the last section). He also tried to fix problems with the contractors who supported the army, cutting much stricter contracts that forced them to operate through the winter, mandated their stockage levels to prevent shortfalls, etc. (these were other big problems you may remember from the last section). However, these were only attempts to improve the existing, flawed system. Le Tellier's real achievements came three years later, in 1643, when he was made minister of war. Donít glaze over that fact. Van Creveld doesnít emphasize it, but Iíd like to put this in perspective by noting that itís similar to the President suddenly appointing a supply/logistics officer as the Secretary of Defense. Since van Creveld is arguing that logistics drives (or should drive) strategy, I think it's important to note that he's just given us an example of a logistician being chosen as a major government's top military advisor.

Le Tellier began his career as minister of war by doing what any good logistician would do...he tried to figure out what the army's requirements were. He scaled these requirements based on rank (e.g., a private rates 1 ration per day, a general rates 100 rations per day, a captain rates two wagons to transport his personal baggage, each baggage wagon requires two horses, etc.), and then multiplied those amounts by the number of men of each rank in the army. After calculating the army's requirements, Le Tellier published them as formal regulations...easy day. Amazingly, nobody had thought to do this before. For those of you who are actual supply officers and logisticians, this would be a fine time to search your files for a similar document noting exactly what quantities of what items the elements you support typically require from month to month.

Le Tellier now knew exactly what the soldiers needed, so the next problem was getting it for them. Le Tellier didn't take over the entire support system from the civilian contractors, but he stabilized it by creating standard contracts that explicitly listed what the contractor would do for the army and what the army would do for the contractor. Even though civilians were still the ones running convoys and fulfilling most of the functions of supply/logistics, coordinating the process had now become complicated enough that it required specialized military personnel. And so, in August of 1643, Le Tellier created a special corps of intendants. "Supply/logistics officer" had changed from a billet into an MOS. Additional specialized logistics personnel soon followed, including the personnel of the equipage des vivres, a rolling magazine of emergency supplies.

With his reforms in place, Le Tellier could do proper logistics planning for campaigns. This meant more magazines. For example, when the kingdom planned a campaign, Le Tellier could ensure that there were magazines in place to support the army when it settled into a siege (and ensure that it had some emergency supplies with it to handle any unexpected shortfalls). Additionally, since Le Tellier was the minister of war, the king was looking to him for advice on which towns to besiege anyway...the chief strategist was a logistician.

Van Creveld concludes his discussion of Le Tellier's reforms by discussing a campaign in 1658, commanded by Turenne, which shows the reforms' positive effect on operations. Turenne quickly moved from siege to siege, and each time he halted to besiege a town, he was supported by river convoys from magazines that Le Tellier had built up specifically to support him. At the end of the campaign, the towns Turenne had captured were fortified and turned into new magazines for the next campaign. Not one of the sieges in the operation had to be stopped because of supply problems. However, Van Creveld closes by noting that Le Tellierís magazines were always temporary arrangements, and that they would be sold off at the end of the campaigns for which they'd been created. This brings Van Creveld to Le Tellier's son, Louvois, the creator of the permanent magazine system.

Louvois created two different types of permanent magazines. The first were defensive magazines called places fortes du roi, and the second were offensive magazines called magasins genereaux. Places fortes du roi were strategically located frontier towns and fortresses that were always kept ready with enough supplies to support their garrison for six months (and their horses for two months). Louvois built a whole chain of these. Magasins genereaux were stockpiles of supplies intended to support armies conducting operations outside the country.

Louvois determined the stockage level of his magazines (and the support requirements for his offensive operations) by using a systematic planning process. He would multiply the number of troops by the number of days the campaign was expected to last (his default campaign length was 180 days), then use those numbers to calculate the campaign's total requirements...keep in mind that standardized requirements per day were one of his father's logistical reforms. After figuring out his requirements, Louvois decided what he was willing to pay for each required item, then factored in the cost of transportation, storage, and distribution. Based on his cost estimate, Louvois would have standard contracts (another of his father's innovations) drawn up. Van Creveld notes that the biggest problem in this system was on the government's end...they would usually ask for credit from the contractors, and their inability to pay could cause problems.

In addition to the two types of permanent magazines and the system of campaign planning, van Creveld says Louvois' other major reform was establishing that troops rated a free basic daily ration of food. In Louvois' time, this ration was two pounds of bread or hard biscuit. The basic ration could be supplemented by protein (beans, meat, etc.), which would be supplied at half price, quarter price, and occasionally for free. Van Creveld notes that the big problem with this system was that Louvois didnít think to control consumption, and the 0311 types on the front lines, who werenít brilliant logisticians fathered by other brilliant logisticians, would frequently waste their rations or trade them for booze.

Having gone over what Louvois' reforms were, van Creveld discusses a campaign in which they were applied...Louis XIV's war against the Dutch in 1672, the first plan organized completely by Louvois. Louvois built a massive army for the campaign (van Creveld describes it as "the largest field army since Xerxes"), totaling about 120,000 men. He organized magazines to supply them in advance, and cut a deal to secretly put the magazines on the territory of a French ally, the Elector of Cologne. The Elector identified four of his towns to be Louvois' magazines, and French secret agents, pretending to be working for the Elector, did all the purchasing and coordination to fill the magazines with provisions. At the same time, the magazines on France's northern border were stocked up. The specifics of the campaign aren't really important, but they show an army which wasn't marching farther and farther away from magazines in the rear, like many military historians would have you think...they show an army getting closer and closer to its magazines as it approached the campaign's final objective. This isn't the way we think of an army's supply depots as working, and that's exactly what van Creveld is getting at.

To reinforce the point he's about to make, van Creveld tosses out some math. Based on the numbers available, he roughly calculates that a typical army for Louvois (around 60,000 men and 40,000 horses) would consume an average of about 980,000 pounds of supplies. However, the supplies stored in Louvois' magazines and moved to the army by convoys only amounted to about 120,000 pounds...only around 11% of what was needed. Between talking about Louvois' magazines mostly being in front of the army instead of behind it, and talking about the small amount of supplies that came from the magazines, what van Creveld is getting at is this: Magazines weren't meant to supply an army all on their own. Mathematically, they couldn't have. Even under Louvois, armies still had to live off the land for almost 90% of what they needed. So, what the hell was the point of Louvois' magazines?

Van Creveld comes to an interesting conclusion. He says that the real benefit of these early magazines wasnít really in terms of was in terms of the effect logistics could have on intelligence and operations. By creating several dispersed magazines to support the siege of a town, preparations could go unnoticed by enemies, a large army could suddenly appear at the gates of a town that seemed to be unassailable (due to a lack of supplies surrounding it), and the army could not only stay long enough to capture the town, but hopefully capture it more quickly due to the enemy not having seen the need to prepare for a siege.

Questions you should be able to answer after reading:

  1. What is a magazine?
  2. Who was Le Tellier?
  3. Who was Louvois?

Capt Palmer's favorite quote:

"Under this logistic system, speed and range counted for very little. Rather, it was a question of disguising and dispersing one's preparations - then as now, dispersion was an essential element of surprise - and of minutely coordinating the movements of troops, siege-train, and supplies with their different modes of transportation and controlling them in such a way as to make everybody, from Vauban to the King, appear in front of the selected town at exactly the right moment."