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INFANTRY TACTICS SINCE

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Originally appearing in Volume V14, Page 532 of the 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica.
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INFANTRY TACTICS SINCE 1870 The net result of the Franco-German War on infantry tactics, as far as it can be summed up in a single phrase, was to transfer the fire-fight to the line of skirmishers. Henceforward the old and correct sense of the word " skirmishers " is lost. They have 1 The Prussian.company was about 250 strong (see below under " Organization "). This strength was adopted after 187o by practically all nations which adopted universal service. The battalion had 4 companies. nothing to do with a " skirmish," but are the actual organ of battle, and their old duties of feeling the way for the battle-formations have been taken over by " scouts." The last-named were not, however, fully recognized in Great Britain' till long after the war—not in fact until the war in South Africa had shown that the " skirmisher " or firing line was too powerful an engine to be employed in mere " feeling." In most European armies " combat patrols," which work more freely, are preferred to scouts, but the idea is the same. The fire-fight on the line of skirmishers, now styled the firing line, is the centre of gravity of the modern battle. In 187o, owing to the peculiar circumstances of unequal armaof ff87os ment, the " fire-fight " was insufficiently developed and uneconomically used, and after the war tacticians turned their attention to the evolution of better methods than those of Worth and Gravelotte, Europe in general following the lead of Prussia. Controversy, in the early stages, took the form of a contest between " drill " and " individualism," irrespective of formations and technical details, for until about 1890 the material efficiency of the gun and the rifle remained very much what it had been in 1870, and the only new factor bearing on infantry tactics was the general adoption of a " national army " system similar to Prussia's and of rifles equal, and in some ways superior, to the chassepot. All European armies, therefore, had to consider equality in artillery power, equality in the ballistics of rifles, and equal intensity of fighting spirit as the normal conditions of the next battle of nations. Here, in fact, was an equilibrium, and in such conditions how was the attacking infantry to force its way forward, whether by fire or movement or by both? France sought the answer in the domain of artillery. Under the guidance of General Langlois, she re-created the Napoleonic hurricane of case-shot (represented in modern conditions by time shrapnel), while from the doctrine formed by Generals Maillard and Bonnal there came a system of infantry tactics derived fundamentally from the tactics of the Napoleonic era. This, however, came later; for the moment (viz. from 1871 to about 1890) the lead in infantry training was admittedly in the hands of the Prussians. German officers who had fought through the war had seen the operations, generally speaking, either from the staff officer's or from the regimental officer's point of view. To the former and to many of the latter the most indelible impression of the battlefield was what they called Massen-Driickebergertum or " wholesale skulking." The rest, who had perhaps in most cases led the brave remnant of their companies in the final assaults, believed that battles were won by the individual soldier and his rifle. The difference between the two may be said to lie in this, that the first sought a remedy, the second a method. The remedy was drill, the method extended order. The extreme statement of the case in favour of drill pure and simple is to be found in -ithe famous anonymous pamphlet A Summer Night's Dream, in which a return to the " old Prussian fire-discipline " of Frederick's day was offered as the solution of the problem, how to give " fire " its maximum efficacity. Volleys and absolutely mechanical obedience to word of command represent, of course, the most complete application of fire-power that can be conceived. But the proposals of the extreme close-order school were nevertheless merely pious aspirations, not so much because of the introduction of the breechloader as because the short-service " national " army can never be " drilled" in the Frederician sense. The proposals of the other school were, however, even more impracticable, in that they rested on the hypothesis that all men were brave, and that, consequently, all that was necessary was to teach the recruit how to shoot and to work with other individuals in the squad or company. Disorder of the firing line was accepted, not as an unavoidable evil, but as a condition in which individuality had full play, and 'The 1902 edition of Infantry Training indeed treated the new scouts as a thin advanced firing line, but in 1907, at which date important modifications began to be made in the " doctrine " of the British Army, the scouts were expressly restricted to the old-fashioned " skirmishing " duties.as dense swarm formations were quite as vulnerable as an ordinary line, it was an easy step from a thick line of"individuals" to a thin one. The step was, in fact, made in the middle of the war of 1870, though it was hardly noticed that extension only became practicable in proportion as the quality of the enemy decreased and the Germans became acclimatized to fire. Between these extremes, a moderate school, with the emperor William (who had more experience of the human being in battle than any of his officers) at its head, spent a few years in groping for close-order formations which admitted of control without vulnerability, then laid down the principle and studied the method of developing the greatest fire-power of which short-service infantry was supposed capable, ultimately combined the " drill " and teaching ideas in the German infantry regulations of 1888, which at last abolished those of 1812 with their multitudinous amendments. The necessity for " teaching " arose partly out of the new conditions of service and the relative rarity of wars. The soldier could no longer learn the ordinary rules of conditions safety in action and comfort in bivouac by experience, of the and had to be taught. But it was still more the new modern conditions of fighting that demanded careful individual battle. training. Of old, the professional soldier (other than the man belonging to light troops or the ground scout) was, roughly speaking, either so far out of immediate danger as to preserve his reasoning faculties, or so deep in battle that he became the unconscious agent of his inborn or acquired instincts. But the increased range of modern arms prolonged the time of danger, and although (judged by casualty returns) the losses to-day are far less than those which any regiment of Frederick's day was expected to face without flinching, and actual fighting is apparently spasmodic, the period in which the individual soldier is subjected to the fear of bullets is greatly increased. Zorndorf, the most severe of Frederick's battles, lasted seven hours, Vionville twelve and Worth eleven. The battle of the future in Europe, without being as prolonged as Liao-Yang, Shaho and Mukden, will still be undecided twenty-four hours after the advanced guards have taken contact. Now, for a great part of this time, the " old Prussian fire-discipline," which above all aims at a rapid decision, will be not only unnecessary, but actually hurtful to the progress of the battle as a whole. As in Napoleon's day (for reasons presently to be mentioned) the battle must resolve itself into a preparative and a decisive phase.2 In the last no commander could desire a. better instrument (if such were attainable with the armies of to-day) than Frederick's forged steel machine, in which every company was e human mitrailleuse. But the preparatory combat not only will be long, but also must be graduated in intensity at different times and places in accordance with the commander's will, and the Frederician battalion only attained its mechanical perfection by the absolute and permanent submergence of the individual qualities of each soldier, with the result that, although it furnished the maximum effort in the minimum time, it was useless once it fell apart into ragged groups. The individual spirit of earnestness and intelligence in the use of ground by small fractions, which in Napoleon's day made the combat d'usure possible, was necessarily unknown in Frederick's. On the other hand, graduation implies control on the part of the leaders, and this the method of irregular swarms of individual fighters imagined by the German progressives merely abdicates. At most such swarms—however close or extended—can only, be tolerated as an evil that no human power can avert when the battle has reached a certain stage of intensity. Even the latest. German Infantry Training (1906) is explicit on this point. " It must never be forgotten that the obligation of abandoning close order is an evil which can often be avoided when " &c. &c. (par. 342). The consequences of this evil, further, are actually less serious in proportion as the troops are well drilled—not to 2 This is no new thing, but belongs, irrespective of armament, to the " War of masses." The king of Prussia's fighting instructions of the loth of August 1813 lay down the principle as clearly as any modern work. an unnecessary and unattainable ideal of mechanical perfection, but to a state of instinctive self-control in danger. Drill, there-fore, carried to such a point that it has eliminated the bad habits of the recruit without detriment to his good habits, is still the true basis of all military training, whether training be required for the swift controlled movements of bodies of infantry in close order, for the cool and steady fire of scattered groups of skirmishers, or for the final act of the resolute will embodied in the " decisive attack." Unfortunately for the solution of infantry problems " drill " and " close order " are often confused, owing chiefly to the fact that in the 1870 battles the dissolution of close order formations practically meant the end of control as control was then understood. Both the material and objective, and the inward and spiritual significances of " drill " are, however, independent of " close order." In fact, in modern history, when a resolute general has made a true decisive attack with half-drilled troops, he has generally arrayed them in the closest possible formations. Drill is the military form of education by repetition and association (see G. le Bon, Psychologie de ''education). Materially it consists in Drill. exercises frequently repeated by bodies of soldiers with a view to ensuring the harmonious action of each individual in the work to be performed by the mass—in a word, rehearsals. Physical " drill ' is based on physiology and gymnastics, and aims at the development of the physique and the individual will power.' But the psychological or moral is incomparably the most important side of drill. It is the method or art of discipline. Neither self-control nor devotion in the face of imminent danger can as a rule come from individual reasoning. A commander-in-chief keeps himself free from the contact with the turmoil of battle so long as he has to calculate, to study reports or to manoeuvre, and commanders of lower grades, in proportion as their duty brings them into the midst of danger, are subjected to greater or less disturbing influences. The man in the fighting line where the danger is greatest is altogether the slave of the unconscious. Overtaxed infantry, whether defeated or successful, have been observed to present an appearance of absolute insanity. It is true that in the special case of great war experience reason resumes part of its dominion in proportion as the fight becomes the soldier's habitual milieu. Thus towards the end of a long war men become skilful and cunning individual fighters; sometimes, too, feelings of respect for the enemy arise and lead to interchange of courtesies at the outposts, and it has also been noticed that in the last stage of a long war men are less inclined to sacrifice themselves. All this is " reason " as against inborn or inbred " instinct." But in the modern world, which is normally at peace, some method must be found of ensuring that the peace-trained soldier will carry out his duties when his reason is sub-merged. Now we know that the constant repetition of a certain act, whether on a given impulse or of the individual's own volition, will eventually make the performance of that act a reflex action. For this reason peace-drilled troops have often defeated a war-trained enemy, even when the motives for fighting were equally powerful on each side. The mechanical performance of movements, and loading and firing at the enemy, under the most disturbing conditions can be ensured by bringing the required self-control from the domain of reason into that of instinct. " L'education," says lc Bon, " est ''art de faire passer le conscient duns l'inconscient." Lastly, the instincts of the recruit being those special to his race or nation, which are the more p'owerful because they are operative through many generations, it is the drill sergeant's business to bring about, by disuse, atrophy of the instincts which militate against soldierly efficiency, and to develop, by constant repetition and special preparation, other useful instincts which the Englishman or Frenchman or German does not as such possess. In short, as regards infantry training, there is no real distinction between drill and education, save in so far as the latter term covers instruction in small details of field service which demand alertness, shrewdness and technical know-ledge (as distinct from technical training). As understood by the controversialists of the last generation, drill was the antithesis of education. To-day, however, the principle of education having prevailed against the old-fashioned notion of drill, it has been discovered that after all drill is merely an intensive form of education. This discovery (or rather definition and justification of an existing empirical rule) is attributable chiefly to a certain school of French officers, who seized more rapidly than civilians the significance of modern psycho-physiology. In their eyes, a military body possesses in a more marked degree than another, the primary requisite of the " psychological crowd," studied by Gustave le Bon, viz. the orientation of the wills of each and all members of the crowd in a determined direction. Such a crowd generates a collective' will that dominates the wills of the individuals composing it. It coheres and acts on the ' In the British Service, men whose nerves betray them on the shooting range are ordered more gymnastics (Musketry Regulations, 191 0).common property of all the instincts and habits in which each shares. Further it tends to extremes of baseness and heroism—this being particularly marked in the military crowd—and lastly it reacts to a stimulus. The last is the keynote of the whole subject of infantry training as also, to a lesser degree, of that of the other arms. The officer can be regarded practically as a hypnotist playing upon the unconscious activities of his subject. In the lower grades, it is immaterial whether reason, caprice or a fresh set of instincts stimulated by an outside authority, set in motion the " suggestion." The true leader, whatever the provenance of his " suggestion," makes it effective by dominating the " psychological crowd " that he leads. On the other hand, if he fails to do so, he is himself dominated by the uncontrolled will of the crowd, and although leaderless mobs have at times shown extreme heroism, it is far more usual to find them reverting to the primitive instinct of brutality or panic fear. A mob, therefore, or a raw regiment, requires greater powers of suggestion in its leader, whereas a thorough course of drill tunes the " crowd " to respond to the stimulus that average officers can apply. So far from diminishing, drill has increased in importance under modern conditions of recruiting. It has merely changed in form, and instead of being repressive it has become educative. The force of modern short-service troops, as troops, is far sooner spent than that of the old-fashioned automatic regiments, while the reserve force of its component parts, remaining after the dissolution, is far higher than of old. But this uncontrolled force is liable to panic as well as amenable to an impulse of self-sacrifice. In so far, then, it is necessary to adopt the catch-word of the Billow school and to " organize disorder," and the only known method of doing so is drill. " Individualism " pure and simple had certainly a brief reign during and after the South African War, especially in Great Britain, and both France and Germany coquetted with " Boer tactics," until the Russo-Japanese war brought military Europe back to the old principles. But the South African War came precisely at the point of time when the controversies of 1870 had crystallized into a form of tactics that was not suitable to the conditions of that war, while about the same time the relations of infantry Therican South Af and artillery underwent a profound change. As war regards the South African War, the clear atmosphere, -- the trained sight of the Boers, and the alternation of level plain and high concave kopjes which constituted the usual battlefield, made the front to front infantry attacks not merely difficult but almost impossible. For years, indeed ever since the Peninsular War, the tendency of the British army to deploy early had afforded a handle to European critics of its tactical methods. It was a tendency that survived with the rest of the " linear " tradition. But in South Africa, owing to the special advantages of the defenders, which denied to the assailant all reliable indications of the enemy's strength and positions, this early deployment had to take a non-committal form—viz. many successive lines of skirmishers. The application of this form was, indeed, made easy by the openness of the ground, but like all " schematic " formations, open or close, it could not be maintained under fire, with the special disadvantage that the extensions were so wide as to make any manoeuvring after the fight had cleared up a situation a practical impossibility. Hence some preconceived idea of an objective was an essential preliminary, and as the Boer mounted infantry hardly ever stood to defend any particular position to the last (as they could always renew the fight at some other point in their vast territory), the preconceived idea was always, after the early battles, an envelopment in which the troops told off to the frontal holding attack were required, not to force their advance to its logical conclusion, but to keep the fight alive until the flank attack made itself felt. The principal tendency of British infantry tactics after the Boer War was therefore quite naturally, under European as well as colonial conditions, to deploy at the outset in great depth, i.e. in many lines of skirmishers, each line, when within about 1400 yds. of the enemy's position, extending to intervals of ro to 20 paces between individuals. The reserves were strong and their importance was well marked in the 1902 training manual, but their functions were rather to extend or feed the firing line, to serve as a rallying point in case of defeat and to take up the pursuit (par. 220, Infantry Training, 1902), than to form the engine of a decisive attack framed by the commander-in-chief after "engaging everywhere and then seeing" as Napoleon did. The 1905 regulations adhered to this theory of the attack in the main, only modifying a number of tactical prescriptions which Formula- had not proved satisfactory after their transplantation tion of the from South Africa to Europe, but after the Russo-British Japanese War a series of important amendments was "D° issued which gave greater force and still greater elastrine." ticity to the attack procedure, and in 1909 the tactical " doctrine " of the British army was definitively formulated in Field Service Regulations, paragraph 102, of which after enumerating the advantages and disadvantages of the " preconceived idea " system, laid it down, as the normal procedure of the British Army, that the general should " obtain the decision by manoeuvre on the battlefield with a large general reserve maintained in his own hand " and " strike with his reserve at the right place and time." The rehabilitation of the Napoleonic attack idea thus frankly accepted in Great Britain had taken place in France several years before the South African War, and neither this war nor that in Manchuria effectively shook the faith of the French army in the principle, while on the other hand Germany remains faithful to the " preconceived idea," both in strategy and tactics.' This essential difference in the two rival " doctrines " is intimately connected with the revival of the Napoleonic artillery attack, in the form of concentrated time shrapnel. The Napoleonic artillery preparation, it will be remembered, was a fire of overwhelming intensity delivered against the selected point of the enemy's position, at the moment of the massed and decisive assault of the reserves. In Napoleon's time the artillery went in to within 300 or 400 yds. range for this act, i.e. in front of the infantry, whereas now the guns fire over the heads of the infantry and concentrate shells instead of guns on the vital point. The principle is, however, the same. A model infantry attack in the Napoleonic manner was that of Okasaki's brigade on the Terayama hill at the battle of Shaho, described by Sir Ian Hamilton in his Staff Officer's Scrap-Book. The Japanese, methodical and cautious as they were, only sanctioned a pure open force assault as a last resort. Then the brigadier Okasaki, a peculiarly resolute leader, arrayed his brigade in a " schematic " attack formation of four lines, the first two in single rank, the third in line and the fourth in company columns. Covered by a powerful converging shrapnel fire, the brigade covered the first 900 yds. of open plain without firing a shot. Then, however, it disappeared from sight amongst the houses of a village, and the spectators watched the thousands of flashes fringing the further edge that indicated a fire-fight at decisive range (the Terayama was about 600 yds. beyond the houses). Forty minutes passed, and the army commander Kuroki said, " He cannot go forward. We are in check to-day all along the line." But at that moment Okasaki's men, no longer in a " schematic " formation but in many irregularly disposed groups—some of a dozen men and some of seventy, some widely extended and some practically in close order—rushed forward at full speed over 600 yds. of open ground, and stormed the Terayama with the bayonet. Such an attack as that at the battle of Shaho is rare, but so it has always been with masterpieces of the art of war. We have only to multiply the front of attack by two and the The forces engaged by five—and to find the resolute dedslve general to lead them—to obtain the ideal decisive attack. attack of a future European war. Instead of the bare open plain over which the advance to decisive range was made, a European general would in most cases dispose of an area of spinneys, farm-houses and undulating fields. The schematic approach-march would be replaced in France and England by a forward movement of bodies in close order, handy enough to utilize the smallest covered ways. Then the fire of both infantry and artillery would be augmented to its maximum intensity, overpowering that of the defence, and the whole of the troops opposite the point to be stormed would be thrown forward for the bayonet charge. The formation for ' In 187o the " preconceived idea " was practically confined to strategy, and the tactical improvisations of the Germans themselves deranged the execution of the plan quite as often as the act of the enemy. Of late years, therefore, the " preconceived idea " has been imposed on tactics also in that country. Special care and study is given to the once despised " early deployments " in cases where a fight is part of the " idea," and to the difficult problem of breaking off the action, when it takes a form that is incompatible with the development of the main scheme. this scarcely matters. What is important is speed and the will to conquer, and for this purpose small bodies (sections, half-companies or companies), not in the close order of the drill book but grouped closely about the leader who inspires and controls them, are as potent an instrument as a Frederician line or a Napoleonic column. Controversy, in fact, does not turn altogether on the method of the assault, or even on the method of obtaining the fire-superiority of guns and rifles that justifies it. Although one nation may rely on its guns more than on the rifles, or vice versa, all are agreed that at decisive range the firing line should contain as many men as can use their rifles effectually. Perhaps the most disputed point is the form of the " approach-march," viz. the dispositions and movements of the attacking infantry between about 1400 and about 600 yds. from the position of the enemy. The condition of the assailant's infantry when it reaches decisive ranges is largely governed by the efforts it has expended and the losses it has suffered in its progress. Some-times even after a firing line of some strength has been The established at decisive range, it may prove too difficult a8 ac or too costly for the supports (sent up from the rear to replace casualties and to augment fire-power) to make their way to the front. Often, again, it may be within the commander's intentions that his troops at some particular point in the line should not be committed to decisive action before a given time—perhaps not at all. It is obvious then that no " normal " attack procedure which can be laid down in a drill book (though from time to time the attempt has been made, as in the French regulations of i875) can meet all cases. But here again, though all armies formally and explicitly condemn the normal attack, each has its own well-marked tendencies. The German regulations of 1906 define the offensive as " transporting fire towards the enemy, if necessary to his immediate proximity "; the bayonet attack " con- current firms " the victory. Every attack begins with deploy- views ment into extended order, and the leading line on the advances as close to the enemy as possible before lnfaatry attack. opening fire. In ground offering cover, the firing line has practically its maximum density at the outset. In open ground, however, half-sections, groups and individuals, widely spaced out, advance stealthily one after the other till all are in position. It is on this position, called the " first fire position " and usually about moo yds. from the enemy, that the full force of the attack is deployed, and from this position, as simultaneously as possible, it opens the fight for fire-superiority. Then, each unit covering the advance of its neighbours, the whole line fights its way by open force to within charging distance. If at any point a decision is not desired, it is deliberately made impossible by employing there such small forces as possess no offensive power. Where the attack is intended to be pushed home, the infantry units employed act as far as possible simultaneously, resolutely and in great force (see the German Infantry Regulations, 1906, §§ 324 et seq.). While in Germany movement " transports the fire," in France fire is regarded as the way to make movement possible. It is considered (see Grandmaison, Dressage de l'infanterie) that a premature and excessive deployment enervates the attack, that the ground (i.e. covered ways of approach for small columns, not for troops showing a fire front) should be used as lon& as possible to march " en troupe " and that a firing line should only be formed when it is impossible to progress without acting upon the enemy's ,means of resistance. Thereafter each unit, in such order as its chief can keep, should fight its 'way forward, and help others to do so—like Okasaki's brigade in the last stage of its attack—utilizing bursts of fire or patches of wood or depressions in the ground, as each is profitable or available to assist the advance. " From the moment when a fighting unit is ` uncoupled,' its action must be ruled by two conditions, and by those only: the one material, an object to be reached; the other moral, the will to reach the object." The British Field Service Regulations of 19o9 are in spirit more closely allied to the French than to the German. " The climax of the infantry attack is the assault, which is made possible by superiority of fire " is the principle (emphasized in the book itself by the use of conspicuous type), and a " gradual building up of the firing line within close range of the position," coupled with the closest artillery support, and the final blow of the reserves delivered " unexpectedly and in the greatest possible strength " are indicated as the means? The defence, as it used to be understood, needs no description. To-day in all armies the defence is looked upon not as a means of winning a battle, but as a means of temporizing and avoiding the decision until the commander of the defending party is enabled, by the general military situation or by the course and results of the defensive battle itself, to take the offensive. In the British Field Service Regulations it is laid down that when an army acts on the defensive no less than half of it should if possible be earmarked, suitably posted and placed under a single commander, for the purpose of delivering a decisive counter-attack. The object of the purely defensive portion, too, is not merely to hold the enemy's firing line in check, but to drive it back so that the enemy may be forced to use up his local reserve resources to keep the fight alive. A firing line covered and steadied by entrenchments, and restless local reserves ever on the look-out for opportunities of partial counterstrokes, are the instruments of this policy. A word must be added on the use of entrenchments by infantry, a subject the technical aspect of which is fully dealt with and illus- trated trated in FORTIFICATION AND SIEGECRAFT : Field Defences. meann Entrenchments of greater or less strength by themselves ts. have always been used by infantry on the defensive, especially in the wars of position of the 17th and 18th centuries. In the Napoleonic and modern " wars of movement," they are regarded, not as a passive defence—they have long ceased to present a physical harrier to assault—but as fire positions so prepared as to be defensible by relatively few men. Their purpose is, by economizing force elsewhere, to give the maximum strength to the troops told off for the counter-offensive. In the later stages of the American Civil War, and also in the Russo-Japanese War of 1904–1905—each in its way an example of a " war of positions "—the assailant has also made use of the methods of fortification to secure every successive step of progress in the attack. The usefulness and limitations of this procedure are defined in generally similar terms in the most recent training manuals of nearly every European army. Section 136, § 7 of the British Infantry Training (1905, amended 1907) says: " During the process of establishing a superiority of fire, successive fire positions will be occupied by the firing line. As a rule those affording natural cover will be chosen, but if none exist and the intensity of the hostile fire preclude any immediate further advance, it may be expedient for the firing line to create some. This hastily constructed protection will enable the attack to cope with the defender's fire and thus prepare the way for a farther advance. The construction of cover during an attack, however, will entail delay and a temporary loss of fire effect and should therefore be resorted to only when absolutely necessary. . . . As soon as possible the advance should be resumed, &c." The German regulations are as follows (Infantry Training, 1906, § 313): " In the offensive the entrenching tool may be used where it is desired, for the moment, to content one's self with maintaining the ground gained. . . . The entrenching tool is only to be used with the greatest circumspection, because of the great difficulty of getting an extended line to go forward under fire when it has expended much effort in digging cover for itself. The construction of trenches must never paralyze the desire for the irresistible advance, and above all must not kill the spirit of the offensive."
End of Article: INFANTRY TACTICS SINCE
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