The Historical Text Archive: Electronic History Resources, online since 1990 Bringing you digitized history, primary and secondary sources
HTA Home Page | E-books | World War I | Methods in Modern Warfare

19: Methods in Modern Warfare

<< 18: Turkey and the Balkan States || 20: Canada's Part in the World War >>

One hundred years ago the Battle of Waterloo had just been fought and Napoleon's star had set never to rise again. For years he had swept Europe with his armies, rending the nations into fragments, and winning world-famous victories with weapons that no one would look for today except in a military museum, weapons antiquated beyond all possible utility on a modern field of battle.


Every fresh modern war has been fought with new weapons, and during the past century there have been countless inventions for the carrying on of warfare in a more destructive manner, apparently on the philanthropic theory that war should be made so terrible that it must quickly pass away.

But it has happened that as soon as a particularly horrible contrivance was invented and introduced into armies and navies, other inventors immediately set themselves to offset and discount its probable effect. Consequently war not only has not passed away, but we have it with us in more frightful form that ever before. Thus it is that each big war, after being heralded as the world's last conflagration, has proved but the herald of another war, bigger and more death-dealing still.

Since the Civil War in the United States, in which probably more new features in modes of fighting were introduced than in any conflict that had preceded it, there have been immense improvements in arms, in armament and in general efficiency of both armies and navies. It was the Civil War that brought into being the turreted MONITOR, one of the greatest contributions to naval architecture the navies of the world had then known. While the turrets on the modern battleship are very different in design, in armor and in arrangement from those on the old monitors, they are nothing more than an adaptation of the original devices.

The same is the case with the small arms and the field guns of the modern armies, these having been greatly improved since the period of the Civil war. The breech-loading and even the magazine rifle are now in use in every army, while the smallest field piece of today is almost as efficient as the most powerful gun in use fifty years ago.

The first attempt to use a torpedo boat dates back to the Civil War. A primitive contrivance it was, but it showed a possibility in naval warfare which speedily led to the general building of torpedo boats, and to the invention of the highly efficient Whitehead torpedo.


Another lesson in warfare was taught when the ironclad MERRIMAC and MONITOR met and fought for mastery in Hampton Roads. The ironclad vessel was not then a new idea in naval architecture, but its efficiency as a fighting machine was then first demonstrated. Iron for armor soon gave way to thick and tough steel, while each improvement in armor led to a corresponding improvement in guns and projectiles, until now a battle at sea has grown to be a remarkably different affair from the great ocean combats of Nelson's time.

But development in the art of war has not ceased with the improvement in older types of weapons. New devices, scarcely thought of in former wars, have been introduced. These include the use of the balloon and aeroplane as scouting devices, of the bomb filled with explosives of frightful rending power, and of the submarine naval shark, designed to attack the mighty battleships from under water.


Of recent years the balloon has been developed into the dirigible, the flying machine that can be steered and directed. Made effective by Count Zeppelin and others, its possibilities as an aid in war were quickly perceived. Then came the notable invention of the Wright Brothers, and after 1904 the aeroplane quickly expanded into an effective aerial instrument, the probably serviceableness of which in war was evident to all. Here we are tempted to stop and quote the remarkable prediction from Tennyson's "Locksley Hall," the truth of which is now being so strikingly verified:

"For I dipt into the future, far as human eye could see, Saw the vision of the world and all the wonder that would be; Saw the heavens fill with commerce, argosies of magic sails, Pilots of the purple twilight, dropping down with costly bales; Heard the heavens fill with shouting, and there rained a ghastly dew From the nations' airy navies grappling in the central blue; Far along the world-wide whisper of the south-wind rushing warm, With the standards of the peoples plunging through the thunder storm; Till the war drum throbbed no longer, and the battle flags were furled In the parliament of man, the federation of the world."


The airship does not float safely in the cental blue, aside from attacks by flying foes. Guns pointing upward have been devised to attack the daring aviator from the ground and flying machines can thus be swiftly brought down, like war eagles shot in the sky. Several types of guns for this purpose are in use, some to be employed on warships or fortifications, others, mounted on automobile trucks, for use in the field.

The Ehrhardt gun, a German weapon, which is designed to be mounted on an auto-truck, weighs nearly 1700 pounds. The car carries 140 rounds of ammunition and the whole equipment in service condition weighs more than six tons. The gun has an extreme range at 45 degrees elevation of 12,029 yards, or more than six miles. The sights are telescopic, a moving object can be followed with ease, and the gun is capable of being fired very rapidly. The British are provided with the Vickers gun, which is mainly intended for naval use, but the military arm is also provided with anti-balloon guns, which have great range and can throw a three-pound shell at any high angle. Some of these guns use incendiary shells, intended to ignite the gas in dirigibles. There is another type that explodes shrapnel. In addition to these, rifle fire is apt to be effective, in case of airships coming within its range.

Jules Vedrines, a well-known French aviator, tells this story of his experience while doing scout duty for the French army:

"Those German gunners surely have tried their best to get me," he wrote. "Each night when I come back to headquarters my machine looks more and more like a sieve because of the numerous bullet holes in the wings.

"I have been keeping tab on the number of new bullet holes in my machine each day, marking each with red chalk, so that I won't include any of the old ones in the next day's count. My best record so far for one day is thirty-seven holes. That shows how close the enemy has come to hitting me. My duties as scout require me to cover various distances each day. The best record so far in one day is 600 miles."


The submarine is another type of war apparatus, one the utility of which promises to be very great. It is of recent origin. At the time of the Spanish-American War there were only five submarines in all the navies of the world, and of this number three were in the French navy, one in Italy and one in Portugal. The United States was building its first one, and had not decided what type to select. At the outbreak of the Russo-Japanese War Great Britain had nine of the American (Holland) type of submarines and was building twenty more, while France had accumulated thirty-six of various types and of various grades of reported efficiency, while Germany had none. In 1914 there were nearly four hundred vessels of this type in the world's navies, France standing first with 173.

It was believed that the moral effect of the submarine would be almost as important as its physical effect in dealing with an enemy's warship, and this idea has been justified. Some persons maintained that fights of submarines with each other might take place, each, like the Kilkenny cats, devouring the other. But the fact is that when submerged the submarine is as blind as the traditional bat. Its crew cannot see any object under water, and is compelled to resort to the use of the periscope, which emerges unostentatiously above the water, in order to see its own course.

It is known that the periscope is the eye of the submarine, and naturally attention has been paid to the best way of destroying this vital part of such boats. Recently, grappling irons have been devised for use from dirigibles, which are expected to drag out the periscope as the dirigible flies above it. Careful plans for torpedoing submarines also have been made, but their effectiveness likewise remains to be demonstrated.

Submarine builders have naturally held the view that the submerged boat could not be seen. But it has been discovered that from a certain height an observer may trace the course of a submerged submarine with as great accuracy as if it were running on the surface. It is found that the submerged boat can readily be seen from the dirigible and the aeroplane. On the other hand an anti-balloon gun has been devised which can be raised from the submarine when it comes to the surface, and used against the hostile airship.


The submarine is supposed to have its most important field of operation against a fleet of battleships and cruisers besieging a seaport city. These great war craft, covered above the water- line with thick steel armor, are vulnerable below, and a torpedo discharged from a torpedo boat or an explosive bomb attached to the lower hull by a submarine may send the largest and mightiest ship to the bottom, stung to death from below.

With this idea in view torpedo boars, destroyers designed to attack torpedo boats and submarines have been multiplied in modern navies. We have just begun to appreciate the effectiveness of this type of vessels. Their possibilities are enormous and their latent power renders the bombardment from sea of town or fort a far more perilous operation than of old. Fired at by the great guns of the fort capable of effective work at eight or ten miles distance, exposed to explosive bombs dropped from soaring airships, made a target for the deadly weapon of the torpedo boat, and in constant risk of being stung by the submarine wasp, these great war ships, built at a cost of ten or more millions and peopled by hundreds of mariners, are in constant danger of being sent to the bottom with all on board a contingency likely to shake the nerves of the steadiest Jack Tar or admiral on board.

A typical submarine has a length of about 150 feet and diameter of 15 feet, with a speed of eleven knots on the surface and five knots when submerged. Some of the more recent have a radius of navigation of 4,500 miles without need of a new supply of stores and fuel. On the surface they are propelled by gasoline engines, but when submerged they use electric motors driven by storage batteries. If the weather should grow too rough they can sink below the waves.


While the peril of the big ship has thus been increased, the size and fighting capacity of those ships have steadily grown and at the same time their cost, which is becoming almost prohibitive. Taking the British navy, the leader in this field, the size of battleships was yearly augmented until in 1907 the famous Dreadnought appeared, looked upon at the time as the last word in naval architecture. This great ship was of 17,900 tons displacement and 23,000 horse-power, its armor belt eleven inches thick, its major armament composed of ten twelve-inch guns. There are now twenty British battleships of larger size, some much larger.

On shore a similar increase may be seen in the size and effectiveness of armies and the strength of fortifications. In all the larger nations of Europe except Great Britain the whole able-bodied male population are now obliged to spend several years in the army, and to be ready at a moment's notice to drop all the avocations of peace and march to the front, ready to risk their lives in their country's service or at the command of the autocrat under whom they live.


Mobilization is a word with strenuous significance. When it is put into effect every able-bodied man must report without delay for service. His name is on the army lists; if he fails to report he is branded as a deserter. In Germany, the order to mobilize is issued by the Emperor and is immediately sent out by all military and civil authorities, at home or abroad. Every person knows at once what he is required to do. Skeleton regiments are filled out and additional regiments formed. Simultaneously there is a levy of horses. The order reaches into every household; into the factories, the shipyards, the hotels, the farms, river boats, everywhere. Almost instantly the male individuals within the prescribed ages must at once report to the barracks to come under military discipline. Infantry, cavalry and artillery units double and triple at once.

This is the first step in mobilization. The second is the transportation and concentration of forces. The railways are seized, the telegraph and telephone systems. Mail, military, aerial and railway services are assigned. The commissary lines are laid and transportation provided for. With marvelous efficiency the full fighting strength, in front and rear, is made ready and co-ordinated.

The psychological effect of mobilization is tremendous. In every household home-ties are broken. The fields are stripped of men. Industry stops. Artillery rolls through the streets, bands play. An atmosphere of apprehension settles down on the country.


And the waste of it all; the criminal, unbelievable waste! Consider the vast loss of products that is due, not only to actual war, but to unceasing and universal preparation for war.

It has been stated on the highest authority that during the last decade forty per cent of the total outlay of European states has been absorbed by the armies and navies which, when war arises, seek in every way to destroy as much as they can of the remainder. Commenting on this state of affairs, Count Sergius Witte, the ablest of Russian statesmen and financiers, said in London not long ago:

"Sketch a picture in your mind's eye of all that those sums, if properly spent, could effect for the nations who now waste them on heavy guns, rifles, dreadnaughts, fortresses and barracks. If this money were laid out on improving the material lot of the people, in housing them hygienically, in procuring for them healthier air, medical aid and needful periodical rest, they would live longer and work to better purpose, and enjoy some of the happiness or contentment which at present is the prerogative of the few.

"Again, all the best brain work of the most eminent men is focused on efforts to create new lethal weapons, or to make the old ones more deadly. For one of the arts in which cultured nations have made most progress is warfare. The noblest efforts of the greatest thinkers are wasted on inventions to destroy human life.

"When I call to mind the gold and the work thus dissipated in smoke and sound and compare that picture with this other villagers with drawn, sallow faces, men and women and dimly conscious children perishing slowly and painfully of hunger I begin to ask myself whether human culture and the white man who personifies it are not wending toward the abyss."

In "War and Waste" Dr. David Starr Jordan quotes the table of Richet to show the cost of a general European war.

Per day the French statistician figures the war's cost thus:

Feed of men ........................................ $12,600,000
Feed of horses ...................................... 1,000,000 
Pay (European rates) ................................ 4,250,000
Pay of workmen in arsenals and ports ................ 1,000.000
Transportation (sixty miles, ten days) .............. 2,100,000
Transportation of provisions ........................ 4,200,000


Infantry, ten cartridges a day ................. 4,200,000
Artillery, ten shots per day ................... 1,200,000
Marine, two shots per day ...................... 400,000
Equipment ........................................... 4,200,000
Ambulances, 500,000 wounded or ill ($1 per day) ..... 500,000
Armature ............................................ 500,000
Reduction of imports ................................ 5,000,000
Help to the poor (20 cents per day to one in ten) ... 6,800,000
Destruction of towns, etc ........................... 2,000,000

TOTAL PER DAY ................. $49,950,000

<< 18: Turkey and the Balkan States || 20: Canada's Part in the World War >>