At the outset of World War I, Germany had seven armies arrayed along the western front supported by five cavalry brigades. Facing them were five French armies, the Belgian Army and, soon, the British Expeditionary Force. The German and French armed forces were well matched numerically (840,000 versus 761,000), but the Germans had a greater mobilization potential from a much larger population. This advantage was mitigated, however, by Germany’s commitment of two (later, more) armies to its eastern front. The British armed forces were far smaller, as they were the only major power without conscription before the war. However, Britain’s vast colonial possessions gave it great mobilization potential. France and, to some extent, Belgium had learned from the humiliation of the Prussian War of 1870–71, and strengthened their border defences with a string of forts and fortified towns. Some, like Verdun, proved huge obstacles to the Germans.