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A military reserve force is a military organization composed of citizens of a country who combine a military role or career with a civilian career. They are not normally kept under arms and their main role is be available to fight when a nation mobilizes for total war or to defend against invasion. Reserve forces are generally not considered part of a permanent standing body of armed forces. The existence of reserve forces allows a nation to reduce its peacetime military expenditures while maintaining a force prepared for war. It is analogous to the historical model of military recruitment before the era of standing armies.

In some countries, such as the United States, Spain and the United Kingdom, members of the reserve forces are civilians who maintain military skills by training, typically one weekend a month. They may do so as individuals or as members of standing reserve regiments, for example the Territorial Army of the United Kingdom. In some cases a militia could constitute part of a military reserve forces, such as the United States National Guard. A Home Guard is a specific type of reserve force that can only be activated in the event of invasion.

In other countries, such as the Taiwan, Republic of Korea, and Israel, service in the reserves is compulsory for a number of years after one has completed their national service.

A military reserve force is different from a reserve formation, sometimes called a military reserve, which is a group of military personnel or units not committed to a battle by their commander so that they are available to address unforeseen situations, bolster defenses, or exploit opportunities.


Historically reservists first played a significant role in Europe after the Prussian defeat in the Battle of Jena-Auerstedt. On 9 July 1807 in the Treaties of Tilsit, Napoleon forced Prussia to drastically reduce its military strength, in addition to ceding large amounts of territory. The Prussian army could no longer be stronger than 42,000 men.

The Krumpersystem, introduced to the Prussian Army by the military reformer Gerhard von Scharnhorst, arranged for giving recruits a short period of training, which in the event of war could be considerably expanded. With this the reduction of the army's strength did not have the desired effect, and in the following wars Prussia was able to draw up a large number of trained soldiers. The system was retained by the Imperial German Army into the First World War. By the time of the Second Reich reservists were already being given so-called 'war arrangements' following the completion of their military service, which contained exact instructions relating to the conduct of reservists in time of war.

Sources of reserves

In some countries, for example the United States, reservists are often former military members themselves who reached the end of their enlistment/ resigned their commission. Indeed, service in the reserves for a number of years after leaving active service is required in the enlistment contracts and commissioning orders of many nations.

Reservists can also be civilians who undertake basic and specialized training in parallel with regular forces while retaining their civilian roles. They can be deployed independently or their personnel may make up shortages in regular units. The Territorial Army in the United Kingdom is one example of such a reserve.

Use of reserves

Reserves are used and employed in many ways. In wartime they may be used to provide replacements for combat losses to in-action units and formations, thus allowing these to remain battle worthy longer. They can also be used to form new units and formations to augment the regular army. In addition, reservists can undertake tasks such as Garrison duty, manning Air Defence, Internal security and guarding of important points such as supply depots, Prisoner of War Camps, communications nodes, air and sea bases and other vital areas, thus freeing up regular troops for the front. A combination of these can be used.

In peacetime reservists can be utilised in internal security duties, and disaster relief, sparing reliance on the regular military forces, and in many countries where military roles outside warfare is restricted, reservists are specifically exempted from these restrictions.


One of the primary advantages in having military reserves is that they increase the available manpower by many fold in a short period of time, unlike the months it would take to train new recruits or conscripts, since reservist are as mentioned above already trained. Reservists are often experienced, combat veterans which can increase not only the quantity, but the overall quality of the forces. Having a large reservist pool can allow a government to avoid the costs, both political and financial of requiring new recruits or conscripts. The reservists are usually more economically active than regular troops as they are only called up when they are extremely needed. On the other hand preparations made to institute a call up (which are obvious to adversaries) can be used as a display of determination.


Reservists are usually provided with second line equipment, which is no longer used by the regulars, or is an older version of that in current service. Reservists will also have little experience with the newer weapon systems. Reservists in the sense of retired services personnel are sometimes considered to be less motivated than regular troops. Meanwhile reservists in the sense of civilians who combine a military career with a civilian one, as in the UK's Territorial Army (TA), experience demands on time not experienced by regular troops, and which affects their availability and duration of service. Conducting of exercises involving reservists is expensive, requiring compensation for lost wages, and it is difficult to call up then demobilise reservists again and again, which means that a nation that has called up reservists may be reluctant to stand them down again until the conflict is resolved. This is particularly true in the case of reservists in the sense of retired personnel, less true in the case of a standing force (eg: the TA). In the prelude to World War I, the reluctance of the various antagonists to demobilise reserves once called up, due to the difficulty of remobilisation has been held up as one of the causes why the diplomatic phase escalated so quickly to war.

Table of Military Reserve Forces







  • La reserve Marine
  • La reserve Air
  • La reserve Gendarmerie
  • La reserve Armement




The Netherlands

New Zealand


  • AFP Reserve Command
  • Army Reserve Command, PA
  • Air Reserve Command, PAF
  • Naval Reserve Command, PN
    • 4th Marine Division (Reserve), PNR

South Korea (Republic of Korea)

Soviet Union

Soviet Union made the largest use of reserves in both senses during the Second World War, having separate and distinct military reserve force formations that included not only conscription reserves of lower readiness category cadre units, but also including the use of Military reserves - reserve Armies and even a Front that constituted the reserve of the High Command.


The 39/2007 Defence law specially reinforces the role of the voluntary reservist, who through authority of the Minister of Defence can be approved for serving in missions abroad. The voluntary reservist is a resource that the Spanish society makes available to the National defence, and their active participation in international peace-keeping missions contributes to improve the levels of social conscience towards the Defence forces. The material contribution of voluntary reservists to the operations in which Spain takes part is based on a model characteristic of similar to those that prevail in other European countries; that of taking advantage from the professional qualifications of the volunteers, as well as of their capacity to communicate, and to integrate themselves in the military units while collaborating actively in different operations. In despite of this, the bulk of Spanish military reserves consist of retired personnel, either approaching retirement age or having left the active army.[1]

Sri Lanka



United Kingdom

United States

National Guard of the United States

SFR Yugoslavia

See also

For Further Reading

Losky-Feder, Edna, Nir Gazit, and Eyal Ben-Ari. “Reserve Soldiers as Transmigrants: Moving between the Civilian and Military Worlds.” Armed Forces & Society, Jul 2008; vol. 34: pp. 593-614.

Griffith, James. “Will Citizens Be Soldiers? Examining Retention of Reserve Component Soldiers.” Armed Forces & Society, 2005; vol. 31: pp. 353-383.

Ben-Dor, Gabriel, Ami Pedahzur, Daphna Canetti-Nisim, Eran Zaidise, Arie Perliger, and Shai Bermanis. “I versus We: Collective and Individual Factors of Reserve Service Motivation during War and Peace.” Armed Forces & Society, Jul 2008; vol. 34: pp. 565-592.

Griffith, James. “After 9/11, What Kind of Reserve Soldier?: Considerations Given to Emerging Demands, Organizational Orientation, and Individual Commitment.” Armed Forces & Society, Jan 2009; vol. 35: pp. 214-240.

Willett, Terence C. “The Reserve Forces of Canada.” Armed Forces & Society, Oct 1989; vol. 16: pp. 59-76.

Ben-Dor, Gabriel, Ami Pedahzur, and Badi Hasisi. “Israel’s National Security Doctrine under Strain: The Crisis of the Reserve Army.” Armed Forces & Society, Jan 2002; vol. 28: pp. 233-255.


  1. ^ [1] Reservistas de las Fuerzas Armadas

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