What was the impact of transport improvements on the nature of warfare 1792-1945? Essay
What was the impact of transport improvements on the nature of warfare 1792-1945?
Transport had a huge impact on the nature of warfare. This was helped with the Industrial Revolution which helped with the evolution of transport. This can be seen with warfare changing from static to mobile throughout the period. Generals would use transport to gain speed over other armies, meaning they could move across land quicker and get resources to the front line quickly. Moreover, it can be suggested that it is not how revolutionised the transport is, but in fact how it is utilised. A general may have the best form of transport in the world, but if he does not utilise it in the best possible way then there may be no impact on warfare whatsoever. However, it can be argued that there were other factors which impacted warfare further than transport.
In the Napoleonic War speed was very limited, but warfare was fairly mobile. Cavalry was the army’s prized possession, they used horse and foot when travelling anywhere and to attack the enemy, which was used in the battle of Austerlitz. Napoleon made his men walk while their horses carried any supplies they may have. This mode of transport showed a lack of speed and so Napoleon trained his men while they walked, using the Corp System. He then utilised this tactic to win the battle of Ulm. However, his men tired easily and speed became limited. Napoleon was getting through 70,000 men a year with this harsh training scheme and tactic.
Furthermore due to this, Napoleon was unable to supply his army with food and other provisions and so living off the land was the only option. Although, this was fairly successful in highly populated areas, it wasn’t so much in places like Russia which was a very sparse and rural country. Throughout this was it is easy to see that speed was the key, but it was something that Napoleon simply did not have. Although warfare was fairly mobile, it was still hard for him to supply his army especially when they were so far from home and caused the French to use the hopeless tactic of living off the land. Moreover, making his army walk for miles on end tired them out. These factors combined with the fact that Napoleon’s Jominian Principle led to his final defeat in the Battle of Waterloo.
The American Civil War so a battle between one very industrialised side against a very rural side. Even though there was this vast difference both sides used trains to manoeuvre resources to the front and mobilise men. This meant that, unlike Napoleon, both sides were able to use speed and to get their men the provisions they need. Plus, they didn’t have to travel far on foot meaning they didn’t tire before battle. However, it can be argued that Napoleon utilised what transport he had, horses, as thoroughly as possible. A major factor in the North’s victory was their controlling of vast amounts of the railway, this allowed them to put the Anaconda Plan into affect.
The Anaconda Plan involved the strategy to capture the Mississippi River, which would divide the Confederacy. Moreover it also contained the purpose to capture the Confederate capital Richmond. This would not only preclude the South from selling cotton to foreign countries, but would also close down the way for their war supplies and soldiers to be delivered. Yet, this effective use of the railway by the North was stopped by the South when they cut off the train lines to stop resources going in the bull run. From this war it can be seen that this improvement of transport helped make warfare faster as the speed of mobilisation and manoeuvring is faster. This can be shown with the use of simultaneous movement across the line. However, it is obvious that transport was important in bringing in resources and soldiers but not actually used in fighting.
In the Franco-Prussian War, Moltke made efficient use of the railway. He built mile long platforms which allowed fast manoeuvring and allowed men to preserve energy before battles. Furthermore, platforms were built near the border of France which was useful for the execution of the ring of fire, which was seen in the battle of Sedan and Metz. However, warfare is still cavalry based, there is no transport that can actually be used offensively, as trains were not able to reach the front line. This also meant that when trains delivered resources there was a delay from the platform to the front line. This means that the way the battles are fought is not changed from back to the Napoleonic Wars, instead it changes the strategy which is first produced. Again this war shows how the transport available has been utilised well, yet there is only so much it can do. Like with Napoleon, Moltke has made the best use he can out of what he has got. Railway can only take resources and soldiers so far, meaning that speed is still not fully enhanced in battles.
World War One sees a major change in warfare, as it goes from mobile to static with the use of trench warfare. This means that transport is unable to penetrate these lines, but it can be helped to support it. Horses are still used in this war, more straw was transported across the continent than food. The introduction of tanks allows speed over rough terrain.
The use of the internal combustion engine was not successful during the 1916 Battle of the Somme. However, like with the Jackson’s use of the railway in the American Civil and Moltke’s use of it in the Franco-Prussian war, when integrated into tactics it is successful. This is shown in the battle of Cambret. World war one saw the use of cars and taxis which gave the side quick reinforcement in the Battle of Marne. This made it harder to break through the lines especially with defensive trench structure. Yet, men still used food to manoeuvre on the battlefield. Although the nature of warfare had changed from mobile to static, the use of transport still helped with this. Transport becomes more and more useful when combined with the useful tactics.
World War Two saw the use of armoured carriers used further in war, with them now being used to transport soldiers. This ensured speed in safe numbers, which can be seen at the battle of Blitzkrieg. This also saw the shift of warfare back to mobile, as trench warfare is now impossible to use with tanks. As the nature of warfare becomes more mobile, it also becomes more lethal. This can be seen with the huge use of aeroplanes. These are used to transport people and resources and also offensively while carrying deathly weapons such as the atomic bomb.
This was used with the attack on Japan by America, where atomic bombs were dropped in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Furthermore, the lethality of warfare is also increased as weapons are revolutionised further such as the machine gun becoming more mobile. The war was spread all over Europe meaning transport was essential, for example on D-Day. In this war it can be seen that transport such as tanks and aeroplanes are further used offensively instead of defensively to simply drop off resources and soldiers. Yet, it can also be argued that it was the change in weaponry which helped impact the nature of warfare too.
In conclusion, transport did not actually impact the nature of warfare until world war two. Yet, with the introduction of the railway, transport was constantly used as the heart of tactics. Although it can be seen that the element of speed was crucial in war, and is what every general needed to succeed. For example, Napoleon made his soldiers travel on foot everywhere, not only did it mean they were slow in travelling, it also meant that his men were tired before battle. As the war went on the soldiers became more and more tired and so more were needed to be able to fight.
This combined with Napoleon’s inability to supply his soldiers with resources helped in his defeat. Whereas, Moltke and Lee, who effectively used the railway were successful in their battles. Not only did they use them to transport men and resources but they proved that transport was the key to a master plan. As more transport was introduced, such as tanks and aeroplanes, then the nature of warfare was impacted. The lethality increased and made warfare mobile again. Soldiers and provisions were able to be transported back and forth efficiently and promptly. This also helped warfare become more offensive as transport was used a weapons as well.
University/College: University of California
Type of paper: Thesis/Dissertation Chapter
Date: 5 September 2017
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