Home Forums WWII Percentage volunteers?

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    Ivan Sorensen

    Anyone happen to have figures for what percentage of the various armed forces that volunteered vs were drafted?

    I seem to vaguely recall 60% drafted in the US army, but anyone have figures for Britain, Germany or the USSR?

    Nordic Weasel Games


    The Indian Army was 100% volunteer. It would differ from campaign to campaign. France 1940 the Brits were 100% volunteer, Libya 40-41.


    IIRC, the Canadian Army was 100% volunteer – I think that applied to overseas troops and not those that stayed in Canada though


    John D Salt

    I would be very surprised if there were a large proportion of volunteers in the rank and file of most continental armies. For British Empire forces, as noted, the Indian Army was the largest all-volunteer army ever to take the field, and the overseas-deployed elements of lots of other dominions and colonies would be all or mostly volunteers. Armies in exile from occupied countries — Free French, Free Poles, the Jewish Brigade, the Prinses Irene Brigade, and others — are effectively all-volunteer, even if their original enlistment in their national armed forces was not. Resistance forces and partisans are also effectively voluntary organisations, although the Russians I believe had considerable state control over their partisan groups. Likewise units of renegades are more-or-less voluntary, although given the alternatives open to them Jifs and SS-Freiwillingen troops or Ostruppen are probably taking Hobson’s choice. The other place one would expect to see large proportions of volunteers would be in auxiliary and women’s organisations, such as the UK’s ARP wardens, volunteer firefighters, FANY, QAs, WRNS, and the Home Guard. Althougn we do not think of the WVS (Women’s Voluntary Service, later WRVS, now RVS) as a fighting organisation, their roll of honour for WW2 runs to 245 names.

    If “volunteer” is supposed to correlate with improved fighting power, as in the phrase “one volunteer is worth ten pressed men”, the place you would expect it to show up would surely be in those special units that were recruited by asking for volunteers. In British service this would include the Army Commandos, but exclude the Royal Marine Commandos; and in both British and US service, it would include parachutists, but exclude glider troops. I tend to doubt that there was any distinguishable difference between the fighting spirit of volunteers and “pressed men” in any of these cases (although of course one recalls the odd sardonic pronouncement, like the picture of a crashed glider with the slogan “Join the glider troops — no flight pay, no jump pay, but ever a dull moment”). Likewise, the change in the USMC from all-volunteer to including a “pressed” element during the war does not seem to have been accompained by any appreciable loss in fighting quality.

    In the aove cases there was also an element of selection, so even the “non-volunteer” elements of an RM Commando or airlanding battalion would have passed the requisite tough training. Still, I suspect that the lack of apparent difference between volunteers and conscripts during WW2 was due to the conscripts being, in many cases, wholeheartedly in favour of their country’s role in the war. After all, Israel’s armed forces have long relied on conscription, but do not seem to be lacking in combat effectiveness as a result.

    All the best,


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