How well could 15 year olds fight in a war?

Nov 2018
212
Wales
I realize that the title says "fight" but there a lot of jobs in a pre-modern army that do not require peak combat strength. Someone needs to pasture the baggage animals and cook food.
Yep. Powder Monkeys, Drummer Boys and other roles, such as Luftwaffe AAA crews could be much younger than 15.
 
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caldrail

Ad Honorem
Feb 2012
5,365
I bet a modern day US Marine or US Army soldier is much more physically capable than a WWI Doughboy.
Some might be, given modern food and physical training. But the average Doughboy would have complained a lot less than a modern US soldier and tolerated more discomfort. I saw a news item once where a US Abrams driver in the Gulf War claimed he couldn't fight without his I-pod and thrash metal content :D
 

martin76

Ad Honorem
Dec 2014
6,979
Spain
Today not possible in Europe... not soldiers at all when you are 15 or 16 yo.... till 1960... yes.. but not today...

Maybe in Afghanistan, Pakistan....Iran....but not many places more....and no way in Europe!
 
May 2018
1,024
Michigan
Child Soldiers are a common theme in history, but it has more to do with when society considers someone a "man." The British Royal Navy had cabin boys aged 9 and midshipmen leading men in battle were often very young. Some Ensigns in the British army were very young, and some aristocrats (before some Napoleonic era reforms supported by Wellington, who would later not be so liberal about army reform) could be Colonels before age 20.

People often attack Nazi Germany for using child soldiers and the Hitler youth. Ever had a 9 year old walk up to your HMMWV with a grenade?
 
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May 2018
1,024
Michigan
“Let the boy win his spurs," was reportedly said of the 16 year old Black Prince or Edward, Prince of Wales, during the battle of Crecy. I'm not certain, but it sounds like he took part in the battle and performed well enough.
That's a good point to bring up: many of these child soldiers were not "forced" to join the military.

If I was a 16 year old kid, and I was offered a chance to go into battle with the king (or be a fighter pilot), I probably would have taken it.
 
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Nov 2019
228
Memphis TN
Has there ever been an organized army in the past where the vast majority of fresh recruits or levies were made up of 14 to 16 year olds, what was the average age of a new recruit in a hastati cohort or a roman legion?
To the best of my knowledge, only at the end when the war was already lost, and I have never heard of any successful battalions or younger teens.

I did however specifically hear a military historian reference how much better the Russian women preformed relative to the German child soldiers the nazi’s put into action at the end..

Well now that I think about it I think there was some “success” with the African child soldiers militarily.. but good luck dealing with the officers they grow into..


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Nov 2019
228
Memphis TN
Roman girls got married around 15-16 ...

Regarding the legions there were two preliminary steps:

the "dilectus" [the authority communicated to the individual that may be he was going to serve in a legion];
the "probatio" [substantially a series of tests to see if the individual was able to train to join a legion, the alternative was to join support units].

As for the age of the individuals involved in the dilectus, they were between 17 and 25. Only in case of real emergency they recruited younger boys. But it wasn't the rule.

I wonder about Spartans in case of necessity: their children left the families really young [around 7] to join what we could call "military schools", the "agoge".
I don’t think that would count as the young teens would be such a small fraction of the total army, the moral and discipline wouldn’t be because of the teens...


For a real test we need an example with a 50+% of the army being child soldiers to know.




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Nov 2019
228
Memphis TN
Most boys at the ages of 14-16 are still growing. Some boys reach their adult height before age 16, others do not. Even if a boy has reached his adult height, height comes first, muscle mass comes later. Boys who get tall fast tend to be very thin at first. Even if a 15 year old was tall enough to be a soldier, he would probably lack the strength to be a good soldier. Probably less than ten percent of all 15 year old boys are strong enough to be soldiers. You might find one or two 15 year olds in the ranks, but you wouldn't find the vast majority of an ancient army to be under the age of 17 or even under 19. Armies would normally take 18 year olds but they also take 19, 20, 21 year olds and even older.

One advantage of a 15 year old soldier is that his moral compass is not yet fully formed. A 15 year old will have less mental resistance to killing than will an older soldier. A 15 year old is also more susceptible to peer pressure than an older soldier and can therefore be more easily manipulated and molded into the army's ideal soldier.
Not in the modern world.. anyone old enough to hunt deer can be a soldier physically.... mentally that is a different matter.


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Nov 2019
228
Memphis TN
“Let the boy win his spurs," was reportedly said of the 16 year old Black Prince or Edward, Prince of Wales, during the battle of Crecy. I'm not certain, but it sounds like he took part in the battle and performed well enough.
A) he was nobility, so they tended to exaggerate their exploits..

B) one teen mixed into a larger force isn’t going to effect anything one way or the other ..

An army made of teens is how one would know.


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Nov 2019
228
Memphis TN
I don't know about that.

It's not just pulling a trigger. It's running, it's humping all day up and down mountains with quite a bit of equipment, in excess of a hundred pounds sometimes: communication equipment, night vision, body armor, ammo, water, medical supplies, food, etc. The m16 weighs 8lbs. The m249 weighs over 20 locked and loaded. Carrying these weapons all day, aiming, etc, is a struggle, mentally and physically. Physical training in the US military has been revamped recently for good reason.

I bet a modern day US Marine or US Army soldier is much more physically capable than a WWI Doughboy.
We are getting bigger and stronger, but also softer..

In WW1/ww2 life was harder.. so I have to assume an advantage of a certain level of toughness. Now that toughness isn’t super relevant on a battlefield, but physically I bet it does.


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