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Armies in the World War


ARMIES IN THE WORLD WAR 46. Developments in Armament.—Of the developments in the constitution of armies during the World War—to be con sidered under the three headings : armament, personnel and organization—those in armament were the most considerable. The progress made in aviation during the years 1914-18 intro duced into warfare a completely new factor, as radical in its effects as the invention of gun-powder, but far more rapid and disturbing in its development. This subject is dealt with in the articles AIR FORCES, AIR WARFARE. Of the weapons already in existence at the outbreak of hostilities, the machine gun became the "key" weapon of the war. It was the deadliness of the machine gun in defence, protected by entrenchment and barbed wire, that led to the prolonged stagnation on the Western Front. The Germans were the first to realize the potentialities of the machine gun, and throughout the war used it more effectively than any other corn batant. The rapid and accurate rifle fire of the original British Expeditionary Force in the opening engagements had almost the stopping effect of machine gun fire, but subsequent reinforce ments could not be trained up to this standard and rifle fire de clined in value. The light automatic gun, of which the Lewis gun is a type (see INFANTRY AND SMALL ARMS), still further increased the volume of fire delivered by infantry and strengthened the de fence. The problem for which the attackers sought a solution throughout the war was to subdue the fire of the defenders' machine guns and automatic weapons sufficiently to enable the infantry to advance and occupy the position. The first solution attempted was to crush resistance by weight of artillery fire. The number of field guns was increased, high-explosive shell was largely substituted for shrapnel, and great quantities of heavy artillery with calibres from 6in. to i8in. were brought into the field. The selected front of attack was subjected to a prolonged bombard ment designed to destroy all hostile resistance before the infantry advanced. But it was found that this solution, even when suc cessful in annihilating the enemy, defeated its own ends by so ploughing up the ground as to render any rapid advance or ex ploitation of success impossible. Weight of material failed even as had weight of man power. The solution eventually found to the problem was the introduction of an entirely new weapon, the tank. The invention of this bullet-proof vehicle, armed with light quick-firing guns or machine guns or both, and capable of moving across country on caterpillar tracks, stands to the credit of the British. It first appeared on the battlefield in Sept. 1916, but it was not till nearly two years later that its influence became de cisive. A full account of this weapon, of its development and of its tactical employment, will be found in the article TANKS.

The other new weapon to which the World War gave birth was poisonous gas (see CHEMICAL WARFARE), first used by the Germans in April 1915 in violation of international law, and sub sequently by all the combatants. The gases used were of several kinds, asphyxiating, lachrymatory or vesicant, and were dis charged by means of cylinders, projectors or shells. Gas added many complications to a war already complex. Troops were com pelled to add to their growing burden of equipment a respirator, which they had frequently to wear for long periods, during which speech and vision were restricted and eating or drinking impos sible. A persistent gas, such as mustard gas (the most effective of the war gases), rendered the area over which it was spread untenable without heavy casualties, since it penetrated the cloth ing and severely blistered the skin. Another innovation was the use of smoke projected by shells as a protective screen. The aim was so to dispose a cloud of smoke as to blind the enemy without hampering the movements of one's own troops. Smoke was often an effective weapon, but not an easy one to use. Its introduction further complicated the problem of ammunition supply for field guns, which at the opening of the war had relied almost entirely on the man-killing projectile, shrapnel, but at the close might be called on to fire gas shell, smoke shell, high explosive or shrapnel.

There is space only for the merest catalogue of the other mili tary novelties which four years of intensive killing provoked. Some were applications to warlike purposes of recent scientific discoveries, such as the improvements in wireless telegraphy and in mechanical transport, sound-ranging apparatus to locate hostile guns, artillery to fire at aeroplanes, and so forth. Others were expedients dug out of rusty old wars and furbished up for modern use : such were the grenade, the mortar, the flame-thrower, min ing, and the use of the carrier-pigeon for inter-communication. From the animal world the soldier borrowed the art of protective mimicry, camouflage. Lastly may be mentioned a weapon not made with hands, aimed at the mind, not at the body, no soldier's weapon but a deadly one, propaganda. Propaganda declaring the high destiny of the nation, the invincibility of her army, the justice of any course her ruler set, had been part of the German peace preparation for a war. In the closing stages of the war subversive propaganda, which aimed at convincing the German people and German army of the hopelessness of their position, did much to hasten the collapse of Germany. (See PROPAGANDA.) 47. The Man Power Problem.—The assumption under which the nations took the field in 1914 was that the conflict would be a short one and would be decided before the reserves of young trained men had all been drafted into the front line and before the stock of munitions held in peace had all been exhausted. The Germans did in fact nearly win the war at the outset by virtue of the superior peace organization which enabled them to place Reserve Corps (formed from surplus reservists) in the field at once. But their first thrust failed, the expectation of a short war was falsified, and before the end came practically every able bodied citizen of the principal belligerents was engaged on war work. War ceased to be an affair of the armed forces alone; in dustry and invention were mobilized to make munitions; the Press —after some gropings and perplexities—was enlisted to spread propaganda; chemistry was recruited to seek new poisons or their antidotes, and so forth. Women took a great part in many war activities.

For armies which had a compulsory service system in peace the keeping of the ranks filled was a comparatively simple affair, even though the war wastage was far heavier than had ever been contemplated. Interest for the military student lies rather in the methods adopted by those nations which had to form new armies, Great Britain and her Dominions and, later, the United States. Once again the plain teaching of history, that it is better to ex pand an existing force, than to create an entirely fresh one, was disregarded. Lord Haldane, the creator of the Territorial Force, had rightly intended that any expansion of the national forces should be carried out through the agency of the same organization that administered the Territorials; i.e., the County Associations. But Lord Kitchener, who became War Minister at the outbreak of war, decided to create an entirely new force. So far as essential fighting value was concerned, the decision made little difference, but many difficulties of administration would have been avoided had the medium of the County Associations been used. A majority of the Territorial Force, which in peace enlisted for home service only, at once accepted a liability for service abroad. So that the British had three types of units serving in the war: the Regular, the Territorial, and the New Army. Another axiom in raising large forces, that every available trained officer or non-commissioned officer should be retained to instruct the new levies, was also un fulfilled. The engagement of the first seven divisions of the regular army in the forefront of the fight was of course necessary; and the loss of the flower of the nation's trained men in the first battles was unavoidable. But in the winter of 1914-15 many priceless lives were squandered in the mud of the trenches which might have been preserved to guide and instruct the new armies.

The United States and the British Dominions had similar prob lems of raising large forces with a very small nucleus of trained instructors. The circumstances of the conflict were singularly favourable to the birth and upbringing of these new armies. The deadlock in the main theatre gave time for their training to be completed, and the sedentary conditions of trench warfare allowed them to be introduced to their new trade gradually, instead of being thrust at once into the open field, as were the French levies of 1871, for example. When the newly created forces were thus gradually broken in to their work they soon became efficient. It was found that drafts to replace wastage could be incorporated into seasoned units after a very few weeks' training, but then no high standard of manoeuvre was demanded of the troops on the Western Front. As to compulsion in recruiting, Great Britain passed reluctantly to conscription—via national registration and the Derby Scheme—at the beginning of 1916; Canada clung to the voluntary principle till May 1917, and Australia throughout the war; the United States passed a compulsory service act on her entry into the struggle.

48. Developments in Organization.—The war period, while it necessitated continual modifications, additions and adjustments in detail, produced no organic change in the general framework on which armies were built. The most radical departure was made late in the war by the British, when they decided to separate their air force from the navy and army and to form it into a separate service. This will be discussed later, since its full significance only came to light when the World War was over. In the pro portion of arms the chief features were the increase in artillery, which rose to about ten guns per I,000 rifles, and the decline of cavalry, which found little scope in the European theatres, though the campaigns in Palestine and Mesopotamia showed that the day of the mounted man was by no means over. Infantry re mained in name the principal arm, but it was a lame and over burdened infantry, only able to hobble forward on the crutches of artillery and tanks, and propped up by machine guns in de fence. The platoon, reduced in size to some 3o men, became the tactical unit in battle. The British made their machine gunners into a separate corps, as they did also their tank personnel. In other armies the machine guns remained an integral part of the infantry or cavalry arm. In the artillery the French four-gun battery was almost universally adopted, although the British re turned to the six-gun battery before the end of the war owing to the shortage of battery commanders. The proportion of the rear ward services to the fighting troops grew abnormally with the static nature of the war. An enormous organization sprang up at the bases and behind the lines to supply the multifarious require ments in warlike stores and to minister to the comfort of the troops. New and strange units were formed for such tasks as sal vage of derelict material, cleaning and disinfecting the clothing of soldiers from the trenches, camouflage, meteorological fore casts and the like. Out of the United States army of a little over 2,000,00o at the time of the Armistice, over 65o,000 were em ployed on the communications; that is, for every two men in the front line there was one on the communications.

The composition and functions of the division, the army corps and the army underwent no greater changes than followed natu rally from the stagnancy of the operations. Corps usually consisted of three, sometimes of four, divisions; and the tendency was to group the bulk of the artillery under corps control, giving the divisional artillery only a limited independence. On the whole it may be said that the organization conceived in peace stood the test of war well. The British, who had had no higher organization in peace than the division, adopted a corps organization immedi ately on taking the field in 1914. (A. P. W.)

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