Monday, 12 April 2010

Balkrunia - Gateway to the East: Part 4

The various forces making up the Balkrunian army, whilst diverse in respect of ethnic origin and local tradition, all maintain certain uniform traits. The most significant of these is the actual organisation of the constituent battalions, batteries and regiments and also, to a lesser extent, the higher formations – the brigades, divisions and corps. The credit for this regularity of organisation should be given to the elected Commander in Chief of the Balkrunian Army, General Markov Zerbeast. At his insistence (and in the face of much provincial opposition) the Duma was able to implement the Army Reform Dictate of 1908 which regularised the organisation of all military and paramilitary formations within the empire. Crucially though, the question of manpower within each formation has been left to the individual provinces.

The infantry is organised into four company battalions with company strength varying from around two hundred and fifty to around one hundred and fifty officers and other ranks. Cavalry regiments tend to be slightly smaller with a maximum strength of around eight hundred officers and men; again in four squadrons. It is very unusual but not unknown for cavalry regiments to operate as a whole entity in the field. Customarily they are attached at squadron level to the infantry battalions for reconnaissance duties. Field artillery and machine guns are organised into companies of six pieces and are usually divided amongst the infantry battalions at the rate of two pieces per battalion. It comes as no surprise then that a Balkrunian infantry brigade consists of three battalions with an attached cavalry regiment, an artillery battery and a machine company of six weapons divided amongst the infantry units.

Three such brigades form a division and as a rule one or two of the brigades consists of provincial troops. The assignment of provincial troops within a division is usually decided upon at mobilisation and the resultant organisation stays in place for the duration of hostilities. A division of three brigades is further strengthened by an additional artillery battery of heavier weapons and a Guards Rifle Battalion. The Balkrunian Guard consists of the equivalent of an infantry division i.e. nine battalions of infantry and these are always attached to the infantry divisions during time of war. Their battalions are organised in the same way as the line troops with the only difference being that a company from each battalion (nine companies in total) is assigned guard duties and do not as a result take the field. The reduced strength of the field battalions is partially offset by each Guard battalion having its own machine gun platoon so their firepower is roughly comparable. There also exists three Guard cavalry regiments; one of which is used for escort and ceremonial duties whilst the other two are in the field. Unusually for Balkrunian mounted troops these units are always deployed together and are never divided amongst the regular divisions.

A Balkrunian corps sized formation contains from two to four divisions and like the divisions are usually organised upon mobilisation. Taking this a step further, a Balkrunian army group consists of two to four corps although it is rare for this level of formation to be used. The most common formation is undoubtedly the corps and this tends to be as high as most Balkrunian commanders aspire to. The geography of the region by and large also places limits on the size and sustainability of a formation as Balkrunian logistical arrangements are usually fairly basic. The empire as a whole does not have the necessary infrastructure to support large modern armies with the attendant transport needs etc. The road and rail network is adequate for normal usage but without the capacity for use in wartime. Where possible use is made of water transport and whilst this is efficient it too suffers from limitations of capacity.

The net effect of this logistical deficiency is to restrict prolonged military operations by large formations which is why most Balkrunian ‘armies’ tend to be small by comparison with their usual enemies. Smaller forces are easier to supply and sustain in the field and enjoy greater tactical flexibility at the expense of staying power and durability. Most Balkrunian commanders accept this and so their offensives tend to be well prepared and pushed on with extreme prejudice until literally the last round and the troops can move no further. This is where the provincial troops come into their own as they are well used to operating on a logistic shoestring so to speak. Speed and resolute daring is the watchword of these hardy troops and this is probably just as well as the all important logistical tail will invariably be overwhelmed within a couple of days of the start of an offensive. Karagozian commanders have learned to exploit this to an extent and will usually, if possible, allow a Balkrunian attack to develop and expend itself prior to counter attacking. Balkrunian offensives tend to be very ‘stop and start’ and this is an area than they are keen to improve upon. However, expenditure on the less glamorous but equally essential ‘sinews of war’ in the shape of improved road and rail link and a properly constituted army supply service is very hard to obtain from the Duma who prefer to devote monies to weapons and equipment.

Despite this shortcoming Balkrunian armies are very dangerous when on the attack and resolute when on the defensive and will expend lavish amounts of ammunition (and manpower) to achieve a specific aim. The problem has always been how to exploit a successful offensive and in this the Balkrunian high command are not alone. Recently, Balkrunia has experimented with armoured units following the recent acquisition of a substantial number of surplus French Renault FT 17 tanks. The version in use is the gun armed variant and so trials have been undertaken using infantry or cavalry to support, and in turn be supported by these machines. A small number of Schneider vehicles have also been acquired and expectations are high that these vehicles will represent a major advance in Balkrunian military capability – principally when used to exploit an attack. The high command is also keen to incorporate aerial reconnaissance to identify weak points in the enemy positions so the infiltration units of provincials can move as far as possible without hindrance, bypassing enemy strong points so the regular troops can contain these at their convenience.

The major debate within both the Duma and Balkrunian high command is whether or not these new armoured formations should be added to the existing divisions or kept back to form an army level reserve for maximum impact. Either way, these high level deliberations have caused much consternation and dismay in neighbouring Karagoz and will in all probability persuade the Sultan and his military advisers that similar steps need to be taken within his own armies. Balkrunia has lit the powder trail; it remains to be seen whether it will burn to its logical outcome or regional prudence will extinguish the flame.

The picture above shows Gen. Markov Zerbeast and his staff observing the annual manoeuvres of 1910.


  1. Starting to get quite the picture of Balkrunia. Alcovia will have to keep its eyes open.

  2. Balkrunia - the 'Eternal Empire'- is usually very peaceful and not unduly concerned with what is going on outside their borders. Unless of course you are anything related to Karagoz.