The Combined Action Of The Three Arms
cavalry army enemy infantry artillery position fire rear front road
THE COMBINED ACTION OF THE THREE ARMS. So far we have spoken of what may properly be called the minor tactics of the three arms, though that name is often applied in quite a different sense. There can be little doubt that it is in that portion of tactics that the complexity and difficulty of the present stage of the question lie. As regards the larger handling of armies, the tendency of recent wars has been rather to simplification than to increased diffi culty. The employment of artillery in great masses, never in isolated batteries, is, so far as that arm is concerned, its most important law. So much so is this the case that, even when as many as eighty-four guns were collected together at Worth, the Germans found it answer best to turn all of them at once upon a single French battery, and then upon another, and so on. Wherever possible, some at least of the guns will take up an enfilading position ; that is, they will fire from flank to flank of the troops they assail, in preference to firing directly at them. It is always advantageous to the fire of artillery to have great depth rather than great extent to fire at, because range is much more difficult to fix correctly than direction.
Prince Kraft regards it as doubtful whether artillery can be employed in crossing its fire, the right of a long line of guns firing at an enemy's right and the left at the left, which would give to each a certain advantage in the direction of their fire. But it is clear that, if the whole of a long line of guns be employed, as at Worth, first against one object and then against another, many of the batteries will not be firing directly to their front, but at an angle, sometimes a very sharp one, to their own front.
In any case the earlier stages of a modern battle are sure to begin with a heavy fire of artillery, following either' on some slight affairs of outposts or on the cavalry having ascertained the position of the enemy at least approximately. Then may perhaps follow, what we have already suggested as one of the alternatives, a carefully regulated long-range fire of infantry ; then probably a gradual development of the infantry of the assailing army in front of the position to be attacked and certain tentative movements designed to feel the strength of an enemy's position. Then, as soon as the point to be carried at any cost has been determined on, every effort will be made to distract the enemy's attention from this, to occupy him at other points, and by engaging him all along the line to prevent him from reinforcing the point which it is essential to carry. At present the attempt will be, when possible, almost certainly to attack a flank. But, as the necessity of this becomes thoroughly realized as it now is on both sides, and a tendency arises towards continual extension of the space occupied in order to meet outflanking movements, it is almost certain that on one side or other the extension will exceed the limits of defensive power, and that then blows will be struck with the object of breaking the too extended line. All the cavalry not employed in mere reconnoitring duties, or for keeping up the connexion between different parts of the army, will ordinarily be kept under the control of the commander-in-chief until he is able to define the part of the battle in which it can be most effectually used. Then, when lie has so far decided its direction, he will be obliged to leave all details to the cavalry leader, who will choose his own time and opportunity for delivering his blow. The local defensive power conferred by the present arms will be used on both sides. The assailant will endeavour by employing it at unimportant parts of his line to gain the advantage of the superiority of force necessary for striking at the decisive point. The defendant will naturally employ it to the full. Both on one side and the other, however, the effort will be to keep strong forces of all arms for the decisive period of the action.
So far as Continental warfare is concerned, the enormous development of modern armies makes it very uncertain how far elaborate strokes of tactical skill can ever again be delivered in the way they were by Napoleon, - for instance, at Austerlitz and Dresden. The experience of recent wars supplies us at all events with nothing of the kind. The enormous masses and the enormous extent of ground to be covered almost force a general into the simplest possible arrangements on the larger scale, leaving it to his subordinates to work out the development with such local skill as the circumstances permit. Nevertheless, it would be rash to say that, as incidents of a great campaign, many battles may not be fought, the effect of which on the conduct of the general operations will be very decisive, where comparatively small numbers are engaged. For the conduct of these at least, there are many lessons to be gathered from the tactical experiences of earlier wars.
In the taking up of positions it may be assumed generally that the conditions to be sought are freedom for mameuvre, free scope for fire both of artillery and infantry, and, as a rule, for that end gentle glacis slopes like those of St Privat and Gravelotte, rather than precipitous heights like that of the Red Hill at Spicheren. There is nothing as to which war experience and popular assumptions differ more than as to the relative strength of different positions. As a rule, steep heights give a great deal of cover from fire. Their lower slopes can only be seen from the edge, and that edge cannot be held because it is completely exposed to the enemy's fire from many points below. It is better to have a difficult climb than to be shot by a bullet. It has constantly happened that positions have fallen because the defenders have trusted to physical difficulties of access rather than to the effect of ground upon the use of arms for their defence. Whatever tends to oblige an enemy to debouch on a narrow front against a wide front of fire is most valuable to the defence ; but it is upon considerations like these of the use of arms that the strength of a position must be determined. Similarly, whatever tends to facilitate communication between one part and another of your own troops, and to cause an enemy to separate his, adds greatly to the strength of your position. The element of time also has here, as in the province of strategy, to be always taken into account. Where ground tends to make movements slow and difficult, there it will be safe to economize men by employing small forces, in order to gain time for decisive blows in other directions. Whatever in an enemy's rear will prevent his safe retreat, and therefore either locally or throughout a position will make successful attack decisive, is greatly in favour of the army which, whether at first on the defensive or offensive, can attack an enemy in such a position. The application of these principles is almost infinite in its variety. It is impossible here to do more than indicate their general character.
The proposition has been advanced that it would be best to meet the effort of an assailant to outflank a position by ; employing detached bodies to manoeuvre outside the position, so that when an assailant has committed himself to an outflanking movement, and has moved up his enveloping troops, the detached body could fall upon these unexpectedly from their rear. Twice during the -1870 campaign the Germans designed a movement of this kind. In neither case was there an opportunity for putting it to the test. Such a movement successfully executed could hardly fail to have great results. On the other hand, a well-handled cavalry, searching all the country round prior to an action, might not improbably discover the isolated corps placed for the purpose, and in that case it ought not to be difficult for the assailant to keep it apart from the main army and to destroy it.
A proposal of a somewhat kindred kind, but involving a different principle, was made by Sir E. Hamley as a deduction from the 1870 campaign, and was applied in practice by the Russians in Asia in 1877. He suggested that the defensive strength of comparatively small bodies was now so great that a general would be tempted to detach, or to connect with his main body only by a telegraphic wire, a body of troops, who, passing round an enemy to be attacked, should take up a strong position in his rear, and should thus become the anvil on which the main assailing army should act as hammer, grinding the enemy between them to powder. This was actually done by the Russians, who in October 1877 destroyed Moukhtar Pasha's army by this very means.
Both these forms of operation - the detached force to the flank and the detached force to the rear - partake of the nature of the attempt of Napoleon to destroy the allied armies, after the battle of Dresden in 1813, by preiously detaching Vandamme to intercept their retreat. As a matter of fact, that manoeuvre was one of the most disastrous that Napoleon ever attempted, but the disaster was probably due to a failure of Napoleon's own wonted activity arising from illness. The telegraph might then have made a very great difference in the result of the operation. In any case, these suggestions indicate possibilities of action, due to the present condition of arms and of science, which may have much wider application in the hands of skilful commanders. Everything will depend on their execution, and on the skill with which they are met. It may at least be asserted that, with the possibilities of such manoeuvres being employed against him, it will ordinarily be extremely rash for a general to commit himself to the actual turning movement by which he wheels up a portion of his army to attack an exposed flank, without having searched the ground with his cavalry far beyond the point which he proposes to assail. This was actually done by the German cavalry under express orders from headquarters, prior to and during the great turning movement at the battle of Gravelotte.
Marches. - The principles regulating the marches of armies which precede battles are determined by the conditions of a modern battle itself. As a rule nowadays the cavalry of an army will be certainly pushed far forward in advance of the main body. Therefore, with the exception of small parties of horsemen employed as orderlies, for keeping up the connexion between one part of an army and another, and to aid the infantry in the immediate work of local security, the marching body will in ordinary country consist of artillery and infantry. The tendency for every action to begin by artillery fire continually leads more and more to the pushing forward of that arm to the front of the column, only sufficient infantry being placed before it on the road to give protection in case of sndden attack, and to furnish the necessary troops for the defence of the grins at the beginning of an action. The exact order of march will therefore necessarily vary with the character of the country through which the army moves. In very mountainous districts, in which collision with an enemy may occur at any moment, it may be necessary to push forward infantry instead of cavalry. In all cases where mountain defiles have to be passed, detached infantry must gain possession of the heights before the main body enters the defile.
Since the great object of all marches is to deliver the army in fighting order on the battlefield, it is necessary that the force should not be dispersed too widely on the march, but it is quite as necessary with large bodies of troops that the march should not be made upon too few roads. An army corps with its attendant waggons occupies in depth about 25 miles on a single road. As under most circumstances a day's march is abort 13 or 14 miles, it is clear that, if an army corps were moving in the ordinary road formation on a single road, the rear of the column would scarcely be able to arrive on the same day that the head of the column was first involved in action. Nor is it always possible to place the whole of the fighting force in front and to leave the whole mass of waggons in rear. Ambulances and surgeons at least, as well as ammunition columns, are required at the very moment of battle. Therefore it is advisable to employ as many roads as possible that are within convenient reach of one another. The difference between the lengths of march that have been done by troops tinder favourable and unfavourable conditions is so great that it is impossible to fix any specific length es the march that can under all circumstances be relied on. Good spirits, good roads, high training, and favourable weather on the one hand, and depression, deep mud, storms, and want of marching condition on the other, are elements that must be taken into account in all such matters. Of the difficulties which a large number of troops marching on a single road encounter a striking illustration is afforded by an incident of the 1866 campaign. According to the Austrian official acconut, the men marched eight abreast in order to diminish the length of road occupied. Vet, though this unusually wide marching front was taken up by the infantry, and corresponding formations were as far as possible taken by the other arms, the length of the longest column, according to Von der Goltz, was, when actually on the road, from front to rear 67 miles in length. In this case about three corps were marching together. Hence it is always desirable when possible to allow one road at least to each division. Another striking illustration both of the size of modern armies and of the length occupied by troops on a road is given by Von der Goltz. He calculates that, if the present German army were placed on one road, it would reach from Mainz to the Russian frontier, the whole distance being densely packed with men, guns, and waggons. Again, he shows that either the present French or German army extended in battle array would occupy the entire length of the common frontier of the countries.
Advanced and Rear Guards. - The questions involved in the proper use and employment of advanced and rear guards would occupy more space than we can possibly afford for them. In general terms it may he said that, with both advanced and rear guards, artillery (perhaps with machine and quick-firing guns), cavalry, and mounted infantry will play the principal parts. It is tolerably certain, though opinion is much divided on the subject, that the enormous advanced guards employed lay the Germans during the 1870 campaign, in which the advanced guard of an army corps sometimes consisted of about half the whole force, would be for most campaigns a mistake. The tendency of very large advanced guards is, as that campaign showed, to bring on actions prematurely. Artillery or mounted corps can he easily drawn out of a premature action. Infantry cannot be so withdrawn. If the advanced guard is large enough to give time to the marching body to form upon suitable ground before it is attacked, it possesses all the strength that is necessary.
The task of a rear guard retiring before a victorious enemy, and covering the retreat of a beaten army, is one of the most delicate of operations. It depends for its proper execution on the full employment of those means for gaining time by forcing an enemy to deploy on unfavourable ground which have been described under the general heading.
Outposts. - The subject of outposts is also one which, for its full explanation, would require a volume to itself. The general principle on which their use is based is that a slender cordon of men shall so surround an army when at rest that no enemy can approach its quarters unobserved, and that this cordon shall be supported by piquets from which the actual sentries for the cordon are taken, and these again by stronger but less numerous bodies, serving to connect together the different parts, so that, if the enemy attempts to drive in the outposts at any point, he meets with a continually increasing resistance. In this broad indication of the method, the principle is equally applicable to cavalry and to infantry outposts. In general, however, the security of a modern army, when not in actual contact with an enemy preparatory to battle, depends chiefly on the early information gained by cavalry pushed far out beyond the rest of the army. The cavalry will be at a distance of at least one or two days' march in advance and on the flanks scouring the country in all directions.
It is practically certain that during the earlier stages of a campaign the collisions that will occur will be between bodies of cavalry pushed forward from both sides, supported by horse artillery and by such infantry as can he rapidly transported to the front. The circumstances of the collision of the main armies must depend in the first instance upon what happens in these encounters, in which cavalry will be the most important arm, Both sides will endeavour to use their cavalry to obtain all the information they can and to prevent the enemy from obtaining information of their own movements. At the same time, in the case of two great neighbouring powers like France and Germany, it is probable that attempts will be made by the cavalry on both sides to interfere with the mobilization of the armies across the frontier. These efforts promise to result in contests on a scale and of a kind such as we have never yet seen, and of the nature of which it is difficult to judge from any past experience of war. It seems certain, however, that the body which will gain victory in these encounters will be the most highly trained and numerous cavalry, supported by its sister arm the horse artillery. But the value of a body of mounted infantry, and perhaps a strong force of cyclists, pushed forward to support the cavalry, can hardly be doubted when it is remembered how often defiles will have to be seized, bridges held, and important stations permanently secured. No doubt, when such infantry is not available, cavalry will at times have to be employed on foot for these purposes. So long as such employment is looked on as exceptional and a necessity to be regretted, it need do no harm. in any case no rules mast prevent the securing of the actual object for the time being.
Reconnaissance and Intelligence. - The vital necessity of obtaining all possible information of what an enemy is doing makes the reconnaissances continually carried out by cavalry all round an army, and the occasional special reconnaissances conducted by single officers and small parties or strong bodies employed for the purpose, sonic of the most important operations of war. It is, however, difficult in brief space to lav down lilies for their guidance, because the essence of the value of such work depends on officers being trained in all parts of the art of war so as to know what to look for and what to report. The principles of such reconnaissance are determined by the general principles of both strategy and tactics, and are not in themselves independent. Nevertheless, it is very important that it should be realized, by men who are sending in reports from some one point of a large circle, that information in itself apparently unimportant may be of the greatest value when it is collated with other facts either already known or simultaneously gathered from other quarters. Thus, for instance, a newspaper advertisement, or a reference to a particular man or officer as not being with his regiment, may give negative evidence of the position of that regiment which may become of great importance. The sifting, therefore, of information should be chiefly left to the department at headquarters which has charge of that work. Spies and deserters will supply evidence the value of which usually depends on the power of time department to check their assertions by a number of minute facts already known. Any information about the enemy or the country which may assist to that end should be carefully gathered and reported. Numerous forms and rules have been drawn up to supply hints as to the kind of information about roads, rivers, railways, villages, &c., which should be gathered. Lord Wolsefey's Pocket-Rook and Colonel Harrison's Handbook are the best for these purposes.
Literature. - The following books may be recommended as the most recent and most valuable on matters of military art. (1) On tactics, to which modern military literature has been chiefly devoted, see Prince Kraft of Ilohenlohe-Ingelfingen's Letters on cavalry, Infantry, and artillery, especially those on the last-named. These are being now translated in the Proceedings of the Royal Artillery Institution. (2) On cavalry tactics two anonymous works by the same writer appeared in Germany in 1884 : Die tiaeallerie-Division als Schlaclaenkarper, and Ueber:die Boraffnung, Ausbildung, and Verwendung der ReitereC The former has been translated into French in the Revue de Cavaterieof successive months of less-es, and we have no hesitation in saying that it is a book that ought to be known to every officer of every arm of the service, but more especially to every cavalry officer, See also Das Volk in Wager, ("The Nation in Arms"), by Baron von del' Goltz, which has been completely translated into French under the title of La Nation armee - organisation mil itaire et grande tactigue modernes (1884); parts of it have been translated by Sir Lumley Graham in the Journal of the United Service InstItutlon,.No. 138, vol. xxxi. (1887). (3) On infantry tactics the books are legion. They should be read in conjunction with the actual history of the battles on which their conclusions are based, and if possible with a study of them on the ground on which they were fought. Perhaps the most important are Von Scherff's Studien zu neuen fante•ie-Taktik (1873), translated by Sir Lumley Graham, New Tactics of Infantry, 1875; Verdy du Vernois's Studien titer Feld. diens! (188G), and his Studien fiber Truppen.Flihrung (1873-75), and the numerous strategical and tactical studies recently published in Germany, - many by Von Gizycki, and in some cases translated ns we have noted above by Captain Spenser Wilkinson, and published by the Manchester Tactical Society. We should also recommend a perusal of Col. the Right lion. J. II. A. Macdonald's Common Sense on Parade (18SC), from which we have given several extracts. (4) On strategy Prince Kraft's "strategical letters" have already been alluded to. Sir Edward Ilainley's Operations of War (4i h ed., 1878) remains without a rival in the English language on questions of strategy. We cannot think that Clausewitz's great book, On War, translated by Col. J. J. Graham, 1873, has ceased to be of value. Mekler's Taktik, which represents the course for the German war school, has not as yet been translated; It Is a most impotent work. No soldier can read Major Adams's Great Campaigns without advantage. But on these matters we must conclude by expressing our conviction that an exhaustive study of at least a single campaign carried out pretty neatly ott the principles laid down, for the purposes of the study of general history, by Dr Arnold, In his Lectures on History, but with just such modifications as apply to war study. is almost indispensable to a soldier who would derive much value from those books which examine the whole field of war, and that that cultivation of the Judgment of which we have spoken must follow, if any real use is to be made of either one orthe other. (J. F. Nt.,)