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The Franco-Prussian War

Understanding the War: The Franco-Prussian War holds a place of special importance in European history for a multitude of reasons : two of them being its revolutionary military tactics and the creation of Germany. This war has influenced pretty much every important event in the history of modern Europe. To understand why this war took place one has to go further behind in history to the year 1866, in the aftermath of the Austro-Prussian War Prussia had annexed a lot of land in modern day northern Germany and formed the “North German Confederation”. This had disrupted the European power of balance which was formed post the end of the Napoleonic Wars. France's Monarch Napoleon III, wanted compensations of land from Belgium, which would help secure the French strategic position. However, this was turned down by the Prussian Chancellor Otto Von Bismarck.

France had been up to that point, a nation which struggled to stay structurally sound, an incapacitated monarchy alongside a generally angry public led to a constant struggle within the nation. The then monarch probably thought securing victories out of their land might usher in a time of relative peace however this was as we know shut down by Bismarck.

Bismarck on the other hand sided with a common notion in Prussia that a war between France and Prussia was inevitable. The chancellor believed that for a United Germany, a Franco-Prussian war was essential. However the question was what is to be done. Bismarck knew that French Supremacy struck fear into the hearts of many in Europe, everyone was aware that if the demon that is France was given some leverage it would use it for European Dominance relentlessly taking whatever it can. Bismarck depeneded on this piece of information to go ahead for conflict knowing that there would be no allies to aid the French due to the Anto-French rhetoric. However the European Powers wouldn’t mind a Prussian victory.

The Stage was set. On one side, the chancellor feared for not only his tactical prowess but also his diplomacy, was ready for war. He knew victory was certain. On the other was a French King, Napoleon III wanting to follow in his uncles great steps of conquering Europe and subsequently the world. He knew that if he won this war French domination would be inevitable. Due to mistranslations and a rather aggressive press and public, the French had to mobilise as early as they could. Upon hearing this, the Prussians swiftly countered, and on 19th July, war was formally declared, and the rest is history.

Understanding the Millitary:

The Franco-prussian war is a war that has revolutionised military strategies and usage of equipment and weapons more than any other war before World war one. This was the first war where both new equipment, weapons and tactics were used on an unprecedented scale, nothing short of revolutionary.


As for weapons, the Franco-Prussian war was the first war where rifled muskets for used on a mass scale. They also paved way for the development and introduction of modern rifles as we know them today. The reason why rifled muskets were a huge leap in military technology was that for at least three centuries the usage of Musket and strategy is related to it had been roughly the same. Rifled muskets made large columns and frontal charge obsolete. The reason why this happened was that rifled muskets were more precise and could fire more rounds per minute than its predecessors. Rifled Musket was also the reason why cavalry became utterly useless as higher firepower and more precise shots doomed the usage of war horses.

Strategy and command

Up until this point of time most armies which were massive in size were leaded by a handful of superiors and officers. Helmuth von moltke the elder recognised the the flaws and lack of flexibility in this system. He divided armies in several small components rather than one large unit. The value of highly trained officers that did not belong to nobles and upper class families was also realised, primarily because these officers many a times lacked merit.


This was the first European war where the importance of mass transportation of logistics and supplies was considered. The introduction of trains and railways to carry supplies and reinforcements was a crucial factor which decided the outcome of the war and affected the strategies related to it for another half century.

Type of warfare

This war marked the end of long and grueling campaigns in favour of quick and swift battles. Sieges which used to be a massive priority in previous wars, did not take place a lot of the times in this particular war. This was because carrying out sieges is a very costly, time consuming and labour intensive task to do, compared to regular battles.

Understanding the Socio-Political Effect:

The Franco-Prussian War perhaps is one of the bloodiest wars ever fought in Europe, with a total of nearly 3.5 million men fighting, 1.5 million of them succumbing to injuries and disease and 250,000 civilians dying. However this lead to 2 major events, The Paris Commune, perhaps the modern worlds only anarchist commune, barring a few short lived ones and the creation of the German State with Bismarck as its chancellor

The End of an Era

The Franco-Prussian war marked the end of archaic and several medieval European forms of war and pushed the world into a modern era ; which eventually paved the way for The Great War, arguably the most disastrous and revolutionary war ever.

~ Uddheshya Agarwal & Aadi Sardesai


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