Page:EB1911 - Volume 25.djvu/1020

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was absolutely crushing. The truth is that the Prussian staff had not realized that cavalry reports alone, even if they arrive in time (which in fact very few ever did), do not afford a sufficient foundation on which to base a manoeuvre. If cavalry, three days' march in advance, report the presence of an enemy at a given spot, the fact affords no certain indication of where they may be even on the following day. It is not enough to find an enemy, he must also be fixed and held so that he cannot move; and the three arms, cavalry, artillery and infantry, form the most efficient combination for economically securing this end.

Twenty years at least elapsed before fresh light came; and then it came from France, not from Germany. No one can accuse the Germans of a tendency to sleep on their laurels; on the contrary, no army in history ever set itself to work with greater zeal and industry to profit by the lessons of its campaigns. But it is not in the ranks of the successful that the defects of the military machine are most surely revealed. Moreover, they were dazzled by the very brilliance of their victories, and gratitude to their leaders made them blind to those leaders' faults. The French started their reforms without these disadvantages. The younger officers, who had seen how splendidly the old imperial army had fought, and the spirit with which it had endured the misery brought upon it by the ineptitude of its leaders, felt no desire to shield the reputation of the latter, while the bitterness of the cup they were compelled to drink filled them with the determination and energy necessary to ensure regeneration. They had been beaten by the palpable neglect of their own Napoleonic traditions, and this fact added additional sting to their sufferings. Accordingly a number of the most zealous amongst them banded themselves together to ensure that the reason for their shame should no longer be forgotten. Presently these men assumed, by sheer weight of merit and industry, the practical control of the military history section of the general staff, and here they trained one another for the posts of instructors at the staff college (Ecole de Guerre), whence ultimately the supply of future commanders would be drawn. As a first step in their progress they ransacked the archives of the War Office and subjected the whole correspondence of Napoleon to a critical investigation, exceeding in thoroughness anything it had as yet undergone. This correspondence is incom- plete without comparison with the actual reports on which the letters were based and the executive orders issued, which hitherto had never seen the light. From the juxtaposition of the two a connected system was by degrees evolved. As has been indi- cated above, Napoleon never really appreciated the enormous intellectual gulf which separated him from his marshals. He habitually treated them as enjoying his own clearness of vision in their work, and it is only in his letters to Jerome and Eugene (with whose limitations he was only too well acquainted, but whom he employed because their interests were identical with his own) that he explains things in a form which even a child might understand. From these indications the whole web of the modern doctrine of the Ecole de Guerre was gradually woven, substantially in the form in which we have given it above. With this work the names of Maillard, Langlois, Bonttal, Foch, Colin, Camon, Desbriere and others deserve to be for ever associated, for they averted intellectual despair in the nation and rendered it possible for the best minds in the country to continue their labours for its regeneration. Without some such basis hope would have been impossible in face of the ever- growing forces of their watchful antagonist. As matters stand, as long as France can keep her ports open to commerce she cannot be overwhelmed by invasion, for it is a question of time and space; and with her existing network of railway communications, which favour her the more the farther the invaders penetrate, the application of this system promises quite astounding possibilities.

All systems, however, must sooner or later be discovered by the adversary, and require, moreover, adaptation to their surroundings, which may vary from the roadlessness of Poland in 1807 or the United States in 1862 to the highly developed

networks of communications of all kind* existing nowadays in western Europe; and in each, if the war lasts long enough, a deadlock must eventually come until some readaptation of exist- ing means is discovered which suffices to disturb this equilibrium. Wars, however, nowadays are so short that this condition of dead- lock can rarely arise. The side which starts with a pronounced superiority, whether due to more perfect organization, better tactics or the systematic training to some secret such as has been indicated above, will generally gain the lead from the outset and will keep it until its forces no longer suffice for the amount of work to be done. Then we get back to hard fighting pure and simple, in which the iron resolution of the commander ultimately decides the issue of events. But this resolution is not, as is generally supposed, a fixed quantity belonging in equal magni- tude to the leader at all times and places, but, is perhaps the most variable quantity of all. A human being can only put out a certain quantity of nervous energy or will-power in a given time, and of two men of equal character that one will succumb first upon whom the necessity for rapid decision is most fre- quently enforced. This holds good of every man throughout the whole army from highest to lowest. In this case the " art of the leader " will undoubtedly consist in adopting as his course of action that one which can be consistently followed without change of mind. Obviously his best course will be to seize the initiative and keep it up to the final act on the battlefield itself. The commander who is caught in the act of concentration or accepting battle of his own free choice cannot tell from one moment to the other at what point the attack may come or whether indeed it is coming at all, and the strain of expectancy is harder to bear than that of continuous action, and spreads also to every rank in his army. It has been held that as a consequence of the increase of range and rapidity of fire of modern weapons the defence has gained so enormously in power that a commander can accept the risks of a defensive battle with a light heart. This, however, ignores the fact that improved arms will be found in the hands of the assailant also, and every increment of range and rapidity of fire renders it easier to combine the action of many weapons on a single point. Formerly, when bullets barely travelled, with extreme elevation, 1000 yards, and the total artillery train of an army could be numbered in tens, not in hundreds as nowadays, tactical sur- prise was well-nigh impossible. Troops could always, either by selection of site or clearance around them, ensure that no formid- able force could assemble unnoticed within range of their position, while the round shot and the common shell of those days had little power of clearing or levelling solid parapets. Nowadays such selection of site, to say nothing of clearance, is impossible and inconceivable, and once the enemy's mounted men have been compelled to clear the field there is scarcely a limit to the fire power which may be brought into position unnoticed, and thence directed on any chosen point of the enemy's lines. One has but to take the map of Waterloo and its surroundings and consider how it would have facilitated Napoleon's purpose had it been possible for him to prepare the way for his infantry attack by a rain of modern shrapnel and H.E. shells directed from a balloon observatory and coming from every unseen point within a radius of say even 5000 yards. But Napoleon had to wait for several hours till the ground was dry enough to bring up even seventy-two guns to within effective case-shot range. Nowadays he could have switched on his whole two hundred at any moment after daybreak, and his balloon would have told him of the true position of his enemy's reserves. A balloon on the side of the allies could have told them no more than what they already knew, viz. that the whole French army was in front of them; and it is far easier to control and direct fire by observation on the relatively fixed targets which the de- fence necessarily presents than to do so upon the rapidly moving ones afforded by an assailant. Even where concealment can be practised to the utmost by the defender, and no balloons are available, the power still remains in the hands of the assailant of making any limited area he may choose absolutely untenable; it is only a question of turning on guns enough for the purpose.