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much-debated and most important question, which I feared to deal with unless I could devote to it more room than I then had at my disposal.
Otherwise, the essay, with a few trifling verbal alterations, stands as it did. I have to apologise to my American readers for a ludicrous slip by which, in the original article, I substituted the name of “Longstreet” for “Stuart,” in speaking of the American cavalry of the civil war. It escaped my notice till I came to revise my work. Oddly enough, none of my critics noticed it till I had finally printed off the corrected edition as it now stands, with Stuart's name in its proper place.
I have thought it better to reserve for this preface, and not to incorporate in the text, a notice of certain important questions which have come into prominence within the last few months.
The art of war is continually progressing. That is a truth which has been strongly urged in the following article, Events which have occurred since it was written have illustrated the truth more forcibly than any arguments could have done. We have seen the principles of modern war officially sanctioned within the last year by the publication of the French, the German, and the English regulations for tactical exercises. Furthermore,
, changes in the progress of scientific discovery, which a year ago had scarcely passed beyond the experimental stage, have now arrived at a condition which forces upon us questions as to the effect they will produce in future war.
The invention of "smokeless " and so-called “ noiseless" powder, the practical application to shell-composition of “high explosives," are all facts which can no longer be
ignored by the soldier who desires to realise the nature of future battles.
After a careful consideration, however, I have found very little to modify in the statements based upon the practical experience of war which are set forth in the article as originally published in the “Encyclopædia Britannica.” The text-books now published in France and Germany confirm the general views expressed in it.
Our own drill regulations are a more tentative and hesitating step in the same direction. It is natural that that should be
The whole of the armies of France and Germany, almost the whole of the two nations, have had their attention forcibly directed to the new conditions of war. In England there yet survive officers who talk as though the experiences of the Crimea were the only “practical” experiences; as though the blood-stained fields of France and Turkey supplied us only with “theoretical” lessons. It is the old story. Horace foretold our experience when he declared, as a permanent fact of human nature, that you get at men's minds through their ears more slowly than through their eyes. It is natural, therefore, that those who in England are pressing present facts upon the attention of the army should have a far more difficult task than those who work for a similar purpose in Germany and in France. It would be untrue to say that we have any longer an uphill fight. In principle the battle
Unfortunately we need to win not only in principle but in practice, and the time is short. I should suppose that there is no doubt that the present drill-book can only be the precursor of our final adoption in practice of the principles which are now universally acknowledged.
I may venture also to hope that certain undonbted mechanical imperfections in the mere drill routine which have shown themselves, wherever the present drill-book has been practically used, will lead to the adoption of the principle I have advocated, that Aldershot, and not PallMall, is the place for the working out of practical tactics.
To turn to the changes involved in the scientific development. I do not think that anything that has been here urged as to the change in the moral aspect of discipline and tactics is likely to be modified by smokeless or even by "noiseless” powder. It is true that historically noise played a not unimportant part in making the old formations impossible. But that which I have described under the phrase "catalepsy "—the intense absorption involved in the use of a weapon which can be employed so frequently as the modern infantry arm — was even more effective in preventing words of command from being heard by large bodies of men. Moreover, the one decisive fact, that line formations never were or could be employed unbroken for long distances, and that all our actual fighting must now take place over long distances, would be unaffected even if battles ceased to be noisy at all. Until, however, the next great battle takes place we can none of us judge how far the diminished noise of the small-arm will affect the general noise of a battle. There will be no temptation whatever to diminish the noise of bursting shells, for this noise will not trouble friends, but enemies. It is as certain that an actually “noiseless” powder will never be invented as it is certain that the circle will never be squared. Ballistic motion implies concussion. Concussion implies noise. While, therefore, the powder of the small-arm may produce a very different kind of noise from anything that we have yet known, it is very doubtful how far and to what extent the noise of artillery guns and shells will be diminished.
The apparently absolute success now attained in the creation of a “smokeless" powder will undoubtedly affect many of the factors of past battles.
As far as it is possible to judge without the experience of war, one at least of these will be to increase the importance of " quickfiring” guns.
A Nordenfelt behind any cover, such as a bush, would be completely invisible if it emitted no smoke. It would not be so easy to conceal a gun-detachment, and still less a battery.
The general effect of “smokeless ” powder will probably be to render a defensive position more difficult to approach. The assailants moving towards any well-chosen position ought to be, during the deadly period of action, completely exposed to view, while it ought not to be difficult to conceal entirely the position actually occupied by defenders who do not indicate their line by any puffs of smoke.
It is scarcely safe to go further in probing in this manner into the future.
According to all the experiments of which we know, it is scarcely possible to exaggerate the effect likely to be produced by the adaptation of high explosives to artillery. The French have carried these experiments much farther than any other nation. Their experiences have, however, been confirmed by the results obtained both in Germany and in England. It is hardly too much to say that according to the present stage of our knowledge the effect of high explosives is to put it within the power of field
artillery to demolish permanent fortifications in all of their present forms. This is so far recognised that both France and Germany believe that the whole of the vast expenditure of France upon her frontier fortresses has from this invention ceased to guarantee her against direct attack. The whole future of permanent fortification is therefore at present dependent on this question of the power of high explosives. Even field defences, earthworks and the like, have undoubtedly lost much of their value from this new development of artillery power. On the other hand, as far as we yet know, it is not possible to obtain a high explosive which will keep its condition for a long period. Nor will these high explosives bear much rough usage without deterioration. Both France and Germany look upon it as certain that it will be necessary to accept this fact, and to meet it by constant replacement of material.
It is clear at once that these facts will materially affect both strategy and tactics. Strategy will be affected, because it will be possible to carry out great movements with less regard to the influence of fortresses than was formerly necessary. The difficulties involved in the constant replacement of material will also seriously affect the system of supply of armies in the field.
As regards tactics, the change in this respect will, like most other improvements in artillery, tend to favour offence rather than defence.
Looking at the changes as a whole which have thus lately, almost with a rush, come upon us, it is, I think, safe to say, from the experience of the past, that they will in all probability involve changes on the battle-field which