How many troops should it take to dominate a country?

Americans seem to be constantly debating the question of how many troops it should take to dominate Iraq.  On the JetBlue flight out here to Long Beach, I read the November 28, 2005 New Yorker magazine review of Tony Judt’s Postwar: A History of Europe Since 1945:

Judt notes that France, a country with a population of some forty million, was administered by fifteen hundred Nazis, plus six thousand German policemen. … Soon after Germany was defeated, a Myth of Resistance sprang up in the former occupied countries of Western Europe and for many years it successfully obscured the truth about wartime life.  In Austria (a country that supplied half of all concentration-camp guards), and even in Germany, people managed to convince themselves that they, too, had been Hitler’s victims.  In a poll conducted in 1951, only five per ent of West Germans said that they felt guilty about what happened to the Jews; twenty-one percent thought that the Jews were “partly responsible” for their fate.

So the Germans were able to do a somewhat similar job with 7500 people.

25 thoughts on “How many troops should it take to dominate a country?

  1. You are comparing the collaborator French with externally-funded (mostly Syria it appears) jihadis?

  2. Nice try Philip. They ADMINISTERED the country with that many people. The people there knew full well that if they tried to mount some real resistance (ie: form a militia) they would have the wrath of a good part of the German army – stationed there in case of invasion – on them.

    Or are you trying to suggest allied forces on D-Day were up against only “fifteen hundred Nazis, plus six thousand German policemen”?

  3. The French are the French. The Germans had to use more like 50 – 100K troops to take care of Yugoslavia, and it was never exactly pacified. Yugoslavia is probably more similar to Iraq than France is.

  4. rps, and what good did that do for the liberation of Yougoslavia? F*** all, it was just a waste lives without any strategic benefit. Most europeans were smart enough to just survive and wait for the guys with the big guns to show up.

    In the mean time, the resistance did actual useful things like raiding/burning down town halls to destroy records that could identify people as Jewish or having other personal traits the Nazis didn’t like.

    Just because you don’t heroicaly run into a machine gun nest doesn’t mean you don’t put up any resistance.

  5. Interesting, three asterikses seems to mean “make rest of paragraph bold” in this blog.

  6. Bas Scheffers, all I said was “The French are the French.” Project onto that statement what you wish.

    I don’t disagree with you, and I’m not ashamed to admit that I wouldn’t have been out in the hills eating bugs and ambushing Nazis either. But I still hold that Yugoslavia is a better than France as a model for Iraq.

  7. In that respect, it certainly is a better model to look at indeed.

    Maybe it was because slavic/mediteranian people are as macho/proud and hot-headed as your average middle eastern folk?

  8. Interestingly enough there were 1500 German soldiers at Dieppe in 1942. Truly amazing that they could hold the whole country from a single garrison in a small town on the coast.

    ” The 571st Regiment, however, had a diminished amount of manpower. Spread out thinly along the beaches of Dieppe and the neighboring towns, were the 571st’s mere total of 1500 soldiers.”

    Of course there were 2 other regiments of that division in the vicinity – but conceivablely they could have been on floating platforms offshore or something and thus not count in the 1500.

    A routine search finds at least 8 other German divisions in France in 1941-1942.

  9. A little more research and I discover that there were 20,000 German troops occupying the Channel Islands (population 53,000) from 1940-1944. I guess they don’t count, plus the channel islanders must be something truly special to distinguish themselves so greatly from the French.

  10. Is anyone else here astounded by Philip Greenspun’s ability to reach the wrong conclusion by misunderstanding a few facts or by trying to extrapolate from small or biased samples? This is not the first time, nor, I’m afraid, will it be the last.

  11. Bob, I’m not sure if Philip cares whether his “conclusions” are wrong or not. He makes these posts partly to start conversations, and partly to drive you up the wall. 🙂

    This post is clearly a conversation-starter. Note the big question mark after the title. Philip has left the actual content of the argument, as well as the conclusion, as an exercise for the reader.

    Now for my contribution: others have pointed out that the Germans may have had only 7500 troops officially tasked with serving as the police, but they also had the entire German army, with tanks, stationed within a few days’ drive. Note that even after the Eastern Front drained away a majority of the German armed forces, and even with the assistance of the largest invasion fleet in human history, the Allies didn’t exactly saunter into France in 1945.

    I’m pretty sure that the Germans didn’t disband the French military and police and send them out, unemployed, to the countryside to foment rebellion. Instead, they co-opted them.

    I’m also pretty sure that the French didn’t have the chance to raid their ammo warehouses before the Germans secured them. The average Frenchman didn’t have three AK47s, a pound of plastic explosive, and an anti-tank grenade launcher hidden in the basement.

    A lot of Germans could speak French. Europeans know languages. I bet that every single one of those 7500 Germans spoke fluent French. How many American troops are there who can speak fluent Arabic?

    Finally, let’s not forget that there was a war going on during the occupation of France. If the French resistance preferred to keep a relatively low profile during most of the war, saving most of their sabotage attempts for the moment when they would do the most good (during the invasion), who can fault them? It was a good strategy. The Iraqi insurgents, in a completely different cultural and strategic situation, are employing completely different strategies, which are louder, noisier, and bloodier on a daily basis… but that doesn’t mean that the French resistance was thoroughly “dominated”. The Germans did eventually have to evacuate France.

  12. [quote]Maybe it was because slavic/mediteranian people are as macho/proud and hot-headed as your average middle eastern folk?[/quote]

    Maybe because it was a stated goal of the Nazis to enslave and partially annihilate the slavic people – the goal that did not encompass the French (as well as the Dutch, Norwegians, etc.)

    Not to mention that Marschal Petain, the president of Vichy France, held in high regard by many French people, directly ordered the French in the occupied part of the country to collaborate with the Germans.

    I think a better illustration of how few foreign civil servants, police and soldiers are needed to effectively rule a (multi-ethnic, multi-lingual, multi-religious) domain is the British Raj in what is now India Pakistan and Bangladesh. The population of the British Isles was, what, 1/10th of that of the sub-continent? Does anybody have numbers how many British “ruled” India in the 19th and early 20th century (not counting native administrators and police.)

  13. yeah, and maybe it was because if you so much as looked at one of the Germans in the wrong way they tended to massacre your entire village. If the US had their troops believe that everybody living in Iraq was a lesser being and that this war was about expanding the ‘room for life’ for the ‘great american race’, you can BET that Iraq would look different now! That’s the difference between ‘occupying’ and ‘nation-building’.

    It also doesn’t work the other way round. A ‘Marshal’-plan for Iraq wouldn’t work because before it worked for Germany someone had to eliminate every little nuance of the belief that we could EVER win the war. Compare pictures of Cologne after WWII and Baghdad today and you literally SEE what I mean. This is the difference between ‘killing the Nazis/Krauts’ and ‘freeing the poor oppressed people by removing their dictator’. So please STOP making up comparisons between WORLD WAR(!) TWO and the USA’s uniliteral actions! (and yes, “I forgot Poland”). Thanks

  14. Mike, contrary to popular belief, the French didn’t just surrender at the view of German tanks. In fact, they went on the offensive and invaded Germany before the germans retaliated. (The French and English declared war on Germany, not the other way around. This of course isn’t to say Adolf wouldn’t have come for a visit at some point anyway.)

    Unfortunately, they were soundly defeated due to their own stupidity. They spend massive amounts of money on defense in the inter-war years. Too bad they put all their eggs in one basket, the Maginot line. Which would have been OK too, if they hadn’t forgotten to extend it acros their Belgian border as well. (“The Germans can’t possibly move tanks through the Ardennes!”)

    So call them stupid, but don’t dismiss their fighting spirit. In fact, they declared war on Germany twice this century, in 1914 and 1939!

  15. Bas correctly notes that the Germans had far more forces that Philip suggests. Moreover, the Germans retaliated ruthlessly against nearby French villages for any assassinations of German officers, which induced the French Resistance to focus on destroying German war materiel.

    From Wikipedia “Maginot Line”:
    The specification of the defenses was very high, with extensive and interconnected bunker complexes for thousands of men; there were 108 main forts (grands ouvrages) at 15 kilometres intervals, smaller (petits ouvrages) and casements between, with over 100 kilometres of tunnels. The fortifications did not extend through the Ardennes Forest (which was believed to be “imp

  16. Europeans collaborated on a massive scale. The only countries not to have volunteers in Waffen-SS were Poland and Czechoslovakia.

  17. That probably depends on your definition of massive. Do you have any numbers?

    The Waffen-SS was quite elite; sure there were no people from those two countries volunteering in other parts fo the wehrmacht either?

  18. The list of Waffen SS divisions can be found on Wikipedia. Click links for more information about individual divisions. As for numbers, this posting claims the following numbers:
    Sweden = 300
    Norway = 3.000
    Finland = 3.000
    Denmark = 8.000
    The Netherlands = 40.000
    Wallonians = 16.000
    Flamish = 72.000
    Luxembourg = 100
    Liechtenstein = 100
    Switzerland = 1.330
    France = 12.000
    Italy = 10.000
    Spain = 300
    Portugal = 50
    Romania = 5.000
    Albania = 16.000
    Croatia = 8.000
    Serbia = 4.000
    Slovenia = 6.000
    Greece = 1.000
    Estonia = 23.000
    Latvia = 33.000
    Lithuania = 1.000
    Bulgaria = 3.000
    Hungary = 40.000
    Russia = 40.000
    Ukraine = 25.000
    Armenia = 3.000
    Georgians = 1.000
    Caucasians = 15.000
    Cirgisians = 2.000
    Cosakians = 35.000
    Tartars = 10.000
    Turks = 3.000
    Indians = 3.000
    England = approximately 50
    U.S.A. = approximately 30
    It references a website that no longer exists, but the numbers sound credible. For example, the number listed for Netherlands (40,000) is consistent with the fact that there were two Dutch Waffen SS divisions (23rd and 34th) in addition to the 5th division (SS Wiking) being partly Dutch.

    From reading books and from Web search, I haven’t seen any evidence of Poland or Czechoslovakia contributing to Wehrmacht. In any case, if such evidence were uncovered, it wouldn’t improve Europe’s image, execpt perhaps in the eyes of those who subscribe to the principle “everybody collaborated, therefore collaboration was nothing to be ashamed of.”

  19. I don’t think anyone subscribes to that principle, I guess only actual collaborators and maybe descendants who are ashamed of them do. By the list you post, I come from a country full of collaborators (this is no surprise to me) and yet I have never heard anyone say that it wasn’t a bad thing, quite the contrary in fact.

    What all too many people – who weren’t there and have never been in the situation nor will they ever be – do, however, is liken “not resisting” to “collaborating”. Should civil servants really stop serving the public just because some new power is in charge? Should every able person go live “out in the hills eating bugs and ambushing Nazis”, as rps put it, instead of simply keeping their families fed?

    There is a world of difference between “collaborating” and “surviving and doing the best you can for your fellow sufferers”.

    Saying: “it wouldn’t improve Europe’s image” makes me think that in your eyes “Europe” has a not very good image. Almost as if we are all supposed to be intollerant, anti-semitic, racist genocidal maniacs. Care to elaborate and compare to, say, your part of the world – assuming you are not European?

  20. I don’t think in black and white terms. Europe has some things to be proud of and some things to be ashamed of. I wrote about the latter, but I am appreciative of the former as well.

  21. “Nice try Philip. They ADMINISTERED the country with that many people. The people there knew full well that if they tried to mount some real resistance (ie: form a militia) they would have the wrath of a good part of the German army – stationed there in case of invasion – on them.”

    Thanks to Bas and Mike Booth for the rapid (and informative) corrections!

  22. Asides: Israel (or Jews) for their strong stance and isolated alliance, at times I wonder if this attribute makes them viable pawns for much greater powers at play.

    See sample story here:,,2089-1920074,00.html

    It’s hard to imagine a moderately strong Iran inviting retaliation from US in the form of Israel, if not for some greater power at play.

    Is Israel not looking at some viable stands instead of (unwittingly) seeking to be at the receiving end in its perennial struggle for existence?

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