The Military Strengths of the European States in 1914

This extract is from Niall Ferguson’s The Pity of War, pointing out the quite vast gulf between the sizes of Entente and Central Powers military size in 1914. Of course, size isn’t everything, and superior German tactics and efficiency led them to not only almost win the war, but not lose it in over 4 and a half years, despite fighting on two fronts.

…the forces of Russia and France had grown more rapidly in the preceding years. The Russian and French armies had a total peacetime strength in 1913– 14 of 2,170,000, compared with a combined German and Austrian strength of 1,242,000: a discrepancy of 928,000. In 1912, that gap had been only 794,665; while in 1904, it had been just 260,982. 54 This meant that, at its full war-time strength, the German army totalled around 2.15 million men, to which could be added 1.3 million Habsburg troops; whereas on a war footing the combined forces of Serbia, Russia, Belgium and France numbered 5.6 million.

German infantry might have been outnumbered on the battlefield in World War One, but they were certainly more effective. As illustrated in our costs of war infographic.

Peacetime Size of Armed Forces – Mainland Entente Powers vs. Central Powers:


Ferguson, Niall (2012-10-25). The Pity of War (Kindle Locations 2690-2694). Penguin Books Ltd. Kindle Edition.

James Carson graduated from the University of York with a degree in English and History and have a keen interested in both World Wars and popular science - particularly space.