INFANTRY IN MODERN WAR The net result of the Franco-German war on infantry tactics, so 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, and their duties of feeling the way for the battle-formations came to be taken over by a lesser number of "scouts." But although the fire fight on this line of scouts built up into a firing line, was estab lished as the centre of gravity of the modern battle, a hot contro versy sprang up over its form. This, in the early stages, became a contest between "drill" and "individualism." To many German officers the most indelible impression of the battlefield was what they called Massen-Druckebergertum 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 the famous anonymous pamphlet A Sum mer Night's Dream, in which a return to the "old Prussian fire discipline" of Frederick's days was offered as the solution of the problem, how to give "fire" its maximum efficacy. The other school, although closer akin to the reality of the fire-swept mod ern battlefield, under-rated the importance of control and instilled the idea that to teach the recruit to shoot and to work with other individuals in the squad or company, was as far as training could, or need, go. Disorder and crowding in the firing line was accepted, not as an unavoidable evil, but as a condition in which individ uality had full playa view that held much truth, but not the whole truth.
Between these extremes, official opinion, with the emperor William at its head, spent a few years in groping for close-order formations which admitted of control without vulnerability—a vain ideal even at that stage of the development of small arms, and ultimately formulated a compromise, combining 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. But it was still more the new conditions of fighting that demanded careful individual training. Of old, the professional soldier (other than the man belonging to light troops or the ground scout) was either situated out of danger, 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, which was further prolonged by the increasing duration of battles.
Psychological Problems.—The psychological strain and prob lem created by this increased exposure to danger was further complicated by the enforced and inevitable dispersion of the troops while in the danger zone. Thus they stepped out of the control of their regimental leaders, and the higher commander lost the power to direct the fight according to a purposeful plan. In battle he could no longer proportion his effort to his ends, but only his means. Instead of being the driver of the battle machine, with his hand on the throttle able to regulate the pres sure, he was reduced to the role of stoker shovelling in more or less human fuel as he judged advisable. Military thought recon ciled itself to this new conception in a remarkable spirit of resignation, and with a still more remarkable lack of research for fresh ways of reviving the craft of generalship. In default of this the only practicable alternative was to raise soldiership to a craft. If generals in the true sense could no longer be trained, the fighting man could at least be imbued in some degree with the faculties of generalship, so that he could control and direct himself when higher control and direction was released. Un fortunately, the tradition of "moulding" soldiers was too strong for the new training to have effective scope. This was merely soldered on to the old pattern frame. Man's natural instinct in a fight is "to kill without being killed," while the tendency of traditional military training has always been by stifling this natural instinct, to produce a man ready to let himself be killed—at the word of command. Such discipline of the instinct is undoubtedly a valuable quality. In situations of great danger the ordinary man is the slave of the unconscious, and his actions are determined mainly by his strongest natural instinct.
The very nature of late igth-century armies tended to empha size the importance of disciplining the instincts. For under con scription armies were no longer composed of the naturally adven turous, but of the more normal lovers of safety. By constant drill, however, they might be converted into danger-disregarding automata. There was, however, a weak point, and one accentuated by another modern condition—the increasing deadliness and range of fire-weapons. However useful it may be to get men to advance automatically in face of danger, their usefulness ceases the mo ment they are dead. And as weapons developed, automatic men offered an easy target. Was it then a choice between two evils, or could a third course be found? The experience of many wars suggests that such an alternative existed. For at the end of any long war it has been found that men become cunning and skilful individual fighters, and although more wary do not lose unless of indifferent material their willingness to sacrifice themselves at the call of need. This is "reason" as against inborn or implanted instinct.
Tactical Training.—There is one form of training in peace which is aimed at the cultivation of reason—tactical training. It may be robbed of most of its utility by meaningless application, but fundamentally it is an appeal to the reason, just as drill in the opposite way is a development of the instinct. But when tac tical training has been applied to men whose natural instinct of self-preservation has been drilled out of them, and replaced by a purely automatic instinct of self-sacrifice, it cannot hope to pro vide self-directed soldiers as an effective substitute for generals who have lost the power to direct their men.
After 187o there was a great opportunity to take this new mid dle road. The war on both sides had furnished ample proof that drill-disciplined troops, once their acquired instinct had been uprooted by heavy initial losses, suffered a worse reaction into confusion, and even panic, than could possibly have occurred with soldiers whose reason had been educated. But military doctrine, spurred on by the conscriptive system, chose to continue on the old road which led them in 1914 to a still deeper pit. Drill was therefore maintained as the basis of all European military train ing. To maintain it was right ; the error lay in maintaining it in this place and form. No organization, military or industrial, can dispense with drill, for it is, fundamentally, but the method of executing a movement repeatedly, so that it may develop into a habit, thereby enabling it to be carried out with the minimum expenditure of energy and the maximum of efficiency.
Battle Drill.—Executive skill of any kind owes much to habit. Thus the changed conditions of warfare made drill more neces sary than ever—but in a new form. For drill is a fine cement, but a bad foundation. The enforced dispersion, due to fire, re quired a "battle drill" as a means of developing the swift self controlled movements of widely extended units and of synchro nizing the co-operative action of the scattered groups of skirmish ers. Unfortunately for the solution of infantry problems "drill" and "close order" were commonly confused—as they still are so years later, owing largely to the fact that in the 187o battles the dissolution of close order formations practically meant the end of control as control was then understood. Thus, dispersion was only tolerated as an unavoidable evil and European soldiers sought to mitigate its consequences by postponing the moment of dis persion as long as possible—instead of seeking a permanent cure by adapting drill to the needs of dispersion. As the years passed and the memories of the battlefield faded, there was a natural tendency to make the wish father to the thought and to believe— in face of the evidence of technical progress in fire-arms—that closer rather than looser formations could be used on the next battlefield. The German infantry regulations of i906 aptly illus trated this spirit—"It must never be forgotten that the obliga tion of abandoning close order is an evil which can often be avoided. . . ." As the memories of 187o faded, the absence of bullets on the mimic battlefields of peace training lent impetus to the inevitable reaction which follows every step of progress. It is difficult to visualize bullets but easy to see men. Hence, those who direct and umpire field exercises in peace tend to base their verdict on a count by heads, and thus if a commander wishes to gain a favourable verdict he is almost driven to put in sufficient numbers of men to impress the observer that his attack has adequate "weight." Even if he is adjudged to suffer casualties, they are customarily calculated in proportion to his strength, whereas the more discriminating verdict of bullets penalises dense numbers out of all proportion to the original strength. The inevitable out come was that each successive training regulation issued between 1875 and 1914 tended to encourage greater density of numbers, while all the time in the armament factories fresh weapons were being produced to take an even greater toll of thickened targets.
Influence of Boer Tactics.—In the course of this unreal re action there was however one interruption. In the South African War of 1899-1902 the soldiers of Europe were astonished to find the ill-organized and undrilled Boers more than holding their own against superior numbers of regular troops, by the deadliness of their shooting combined with the evasive mobility of their move ments. Instances were known when 18 Boer marksmen were sufficient to repulse several British battalions. So deadly was the Boer fire that in self-preservation the British infantry were forced to make an abnormally early deployment into many successive lines of widely extended men.
For a year or two some of the European armies were inclined to flirt with "Boer tactics," but its "individualism" was repugnant to their traditions, made too shadowy a spectacle, and was diffi cult to apply to short-service conscript troops. Besides it had outwardly ended in defeat, however uneconomic to the nominal victors, and critics were quick to point out that its pure individual ism had hampered co-operative effort so that its exponents had been unable to push home their opening success. From this, it was an easy conclusion that individualism itself was at fault. Hence European armies soon reverted to their old doctrines, and so far as any permanent change occurred it was derived from the modifications introduced by the British, and "extended order" became the rule for infantry in battle. The British practice in and immediately after the South African war was to deploy the whole body before the attack began into a deep series of lines, with intervals of ten to 20 paces between men. The rear lines were merely used to feed the first, or "firing" line. These long continuous lines however had shown themselves unable to pro duce any decisive effect and were essentially unmanageable. Op posing positions were nearly always taken by wide outflanking movements, and even so were found empty, as the rigidly extended frontal advance rarely succeeded in pinning down the defenders. This defect was plain to European tacticians, and they soon adopted the obvious remedy—that of reducing the intervals and holding the reserves in concentrated formations, instead of dispersing them into lines.
The real lesson—the surprising fire effect exerted by scattered Boers sitting on distant kopjes—was soon forgotten, most easily by those armies that had not experienced it personally. The Brit ish army suffered less than others from the reaction towards denser formations, because of its experience and because its con stant preoccupation with colonial expeditions gave less chance for the effects of fire to fade from its memory. Its national bane was that of "lines" themselves, rather than dense ones in particu lar. Lines required long pauses to restore their alignment unless they were to dissolve in disorder; the units forming them were trained to wait for their neighbours and to avoid an exposed flank as a deadly danger ; consequently, the pace of the line be came the pace of its slowest unit—with a correspondingly pro longed exposure of the target. For a line of men, even an "ex tended" line, is one of the most visible of targets—a swathe of human corn calling the attention of the reaper. Its very sym metry makes it a cemetery.
Revival of the Napoleonic Attack.—On the continent the natural swing of the peace-time pendulum received an artificial impulse from the rehabilitation of the "Napoleonic attack" in the decade before 1914. In France, particularly, an influential school of military thought had for long devoted itself to a minute study of Napoleon's campaigns and correspondence with the idea of discovering the secret of his victories. Thereby they hoped to formulate a remedy by which the debilitated military body of France could recover from its 187o collapse and gain new strength. Valuable results were attained, but mistakenly they sought to apply them to the technical sphere of tactics, instead of adapting the spirit of his principles to the conditions imposed by the introduction of accurate firearms. The progress made in timed shrapnel suggested the use of concentrations of shrapnel fire to revive the deadly Napoleonic artillery preparation, and the infantry were to fulfil the role of the massed reserves which had poured through the breach thus made. Naturally, this con duced to greater density and was in turn accentuated by the propaganda of a new metaphysical school of military thought which was so obsessed with its discovery that the "will to con quer" is the soul of victory that it tended to forget that the human will, to be effective, must retain its habitation in the human body, and that human bodies are vulnerable to bullets.
The influence of this school grew when its leader and prophet, Colonel de Grandmaison, became chief of the Operations branch of the General Staff. The "security" aspect of the Napoleonic method was entirely overshadowed by the "audacity" form. De Grandmaison's text was that instead of waiting for the enemy to disclose his hand, "it is the quickness with which we engage the enemy that guarantees us against surprise, and the power of the attack which secures us against the enemy's manoeuvres." He summed up his theory by saying, "We must not recoil before this principle, of which only the form seems paradoxical: in the offensive, imprudence is the best of safeguards." The conclusion was that, whatever the role of a force or unit, there was only one mode of action—attack, which meant a headlong assault. The very simplicity of this theory combined with its appeal to the Frenchman's temperament—and its implicit tribute to the irre sistibility of his spirit—to capture the imagination of the Army. Those who opposed it were derided and superseded, as "lacking in nerve." And the official doctrine was re-cast on the founda tion that "the French Army, returning to its traditions, no longer knows any other law than the offensive. . . . All attacks are to be pushed to the extreme with the firm resolution to charge the enemy with the bayonet, in order to destroy him. . . . This result can only be obtained by bloody sacrifice. Any other conception ought to be rejected as contrary to the very nature of war." Accordingly, the training of the infantry was directed to a discipline of the muscles, not of the intelligence, sacrificing initiative in order, by an incessant repetition, "to develop in the soldier the reflexes of obedience." The successive French tactical regulations issued during the 40 odd years of peace which sep arated the wars of 187o and 1914, shed a curious light on the way the memory of pain fades—and still more the memory of its cause. Thus it came about that the first regulations of 1875 came nearest to the reality of 1914, whereas the last of the series was framed for a battlefield on which there were no bullets.
For a few weeks of war, movement was kept alive by searching for an open flank when frontal attacks proved futile. Where the frontal attacks broke down, the two sides dug in, powerless to come to grips effectively across the bullet-banned "No Man's Land." With the supplementary assistance of trenches and wire entanglements, a modicum of fire-weapons was adequate to hold such fronts, and the surplus was hurried off to the one still open flank—towards the sea.
Thus the experience of Manchurian battlefields was repeated, with emphasis. And this time, numbers were greater, distances less. The sea was soon reached, the front became static, and, with the collapse of the violent attempts to break this flankless line before it had crystallized, deadlock set in. The history of the next four years is of ceaseless renewals of the frontal onslaughts on entrenched lines held in reality by machine-guns, if nominally by men.
While a few individual tacticians in the British Army sought to apply the "human reaction" of 1916 and fit it into an improved tactical method, the Germans were the first to incorporate it offi cially and practise widely these new tactics of infiltration. Based on the group instead of the line, the idea was that a widely dis persed chain of little groups should, under cover of the bombard ment, probe the enemy's front to discover its weak points and thus penetrate between the posts and machine-gun nests of the defence. While the leading groups pushed onwards through the enemy's position, the "islets" of the resistance cut off from help could be outflanked and reduced by fresh troops from the reserves. Sound economy of force was embodied in the basic principle of these infiltration tactics, that reserves should be used to exploit 'success instead of to redeem failure—to follow and back up the leading groups wherever a penetration had been made, instead of to reinforce those parts of the front where the attackers had been held up.
By the British also the "group" idea had been accepted in the autumn of 1917, and when somewhat belatedly the training direc tion of the British Expeditionary Force was centralized—under an Inspector General of Training'—after the early disasters of 1918, the training of the infantry was radically re-cast on more flexible lines with "soft-spot" tactics as the pivot. When the British, in conjunction with their French and American allies, retook the initiative and the offensive in the late summer, these new tactics were a contributory factor in purchasing the final victory at an economical price. In the Australians particularly, less trammelled by instinct and training than European troops, they found most able exponents. If the tanks, the lavish use of gas and smoke-shells, the flood of American reinforcements, and the decay of the German morale under the strain of its immense physical casualties, were the outstanding factors in this dramatic turning of the tide, it is unquestionable that the "soft spot" tactics saved thousands of lives in the last phase, and enabled the in fantry to make better progress with lighter loss than under any previous system. Not least of its assets was that its life-saving possibilities did much to restore the moral of infantry whose con fidence had been steadily undermined by years of unintelligent misuse. Its handicap was, however, that it had to be applied to and by a vast "residue" who had to absorb it under stress and without qualification, whereas it was essentially the method for 'Lieut.-General Sir Ivor Maxse was the officer appointed to this post. --Editor.
a highly trained and carefully picked elite—if ite inherent ad vantages were to be exploited to the full.
The sole condition which enabled infantry in the World War to make a general advance—even for a limited distance—was that hostile machine-guns be overwhelmed by artillery or tanks. With artillery the issue turned on whether the concentration was suffi ciently intense so to plaster the defences with shells that their machine-guns were overwhelmed by a profusion of explosives rather than by deliberate aim. For the machine-gun was so small a target and so easily concealed, that guns rarely succeeded in hitting it except by the "plastering" method. In attacks which attained a limited success, experience showed that a concentration of one gun to every ten yards of front was the minimum neces sary, while one gun to five yards became the normal standard in the sectors where a definite result was sought (see ARTILLERY). But with the post-war reduction of artillery, the most that the divisional artillery could provide was a very thin barrage—one gun to every 3o yards of front—on barely one-tenth of the nor mal frontage of a division. Even so, on the remaining nine-tenths the infantry would have to advance without support. And as the reserve of medium and heavy artillery under the control of higher formations is now of still more slender proportions, it will be obvious that infantry cannot rely on artillery to help them forward, and may have to sit passively in trenches for the first year or two of a future war, while the industries of the nation concerned are being converted to war production and the out put of munitions is raised to the level of 1917. Even so, such a type of warfare is ruinous. The mere preliminary bombardment before the battle of Ypres, 1917 (q.v.), namely 4,283,55o shells, cost f 2 2,000,000.