INFANTRY, the collective name of soldiers who march and fight on foot and are armed with hand-weapons. The word is derived ultimately from Lat. infans, infant, but it is not clear how the word came to be used to mean soldiers. The suggestion that it comes from a guard or regiment of a Spanish infanta about the end of the 15th century cannot be maintained in view of the fact that Spanish foot-soldiers of the time were called soldados and contrasted with French fantassins and Italian fanteria. The New English Dictionary suggests that a foot-soldier, being in feudal and early modern times the varlet or follower of a mounted noble, was called a boy (cf. Knabe, garçon, footman, &c., and see Valet).
The importance of the infantry arm, both in history and at the present time, cannot be summed up better and more concisely than in the phrase used by a brilliant general of the Napoleonic era, General Morand—“L’infanterie, c’est l’armée.”
It may be confidently asserted that the original fighting man was a foot-soldier. But infantry was differentiated as an “arm” considerably later than cavalry; for when a new means of fighting (a chariot or a horse) presented itself, it was assimilated by relatively picked men, chiefs and noted warriors, who ipso facto separated themselves from the mass or reservoir of men. How this mass itself ceased to be a mere residue and developed special characteristics; how, instead of the cavalry being recruited from the best infantry, cavalry and infantry came to form two distinct services; and how the arm thus constituted organized itself, technically and tactically, for its own work—these are the main questions that constitute the historical side of the subject. It is obvious that as the “residue” was far the greatest part of the army, the history of the foot-soldier is practically identical with the history of soldiering.
It was only when a group of human beings became too large to be surprised and assassinated by a few lurking enemies, that proper fighting became the normal method of settling a quarrel or a rivalry. Two groups, neither of which had been able to surprise the other, had to meet face to face, and the instinct of self-preservation had to be reconciled with the necessity of victory. From this it was an easy step to the differentiation of the champion, the proved excellent fighting man, and to providing this man, on whom everything depended, with all assistance that better arms, armour, horse or chariot could give him. But suppose our champion slain, how are we to make head against the opposing champion? For long ages, we may suppose, the latter, as in the Iliad, slaughtered the sheep who had lost their shepherd, but in the end the “residue” began to organize itself, and to oppose a united front to the enemy’s champions—in which term we include all selected men, whether horsemen, charioteers or merely specially powerful axemen and swordsmen. But once the individual had lost his commanding position, the problem presented itself in a new form—how to ensure that every member of the group did his duty by the others—and the solution of this problem for the conditions of the ancient hand-to-hand struggle marks the historical beginning of infantry tactics.
Gallic warriors bound themselves together with chains. The
Greeks organized the city state, which gave each small army
solidarity and the sense of duty to an ideal, and the phalanx,
in which the file-leaders were in a sense champions yet were
made so chiefly by the unity of the mass. But the
and the legion.Romans went farther. Besides developing solidarity and a sense of duty, they improved on this conception of the battle to such a degree that as a nation they may be called the best tacticians who ever existed. Giving up the attempt to make all men fight equally well, they dislocated the mass of combatants into three bodies, of which the first, formed of the youngest and most impressionable men, was engaged at the outset, the rest, more experienced men, being kept out of the turmoil. This is the very opposite of the “champion” system. Those who would have fled after the fall of the champions are engaged and “fought out” before the champions enter the area of the contest, while the champions, who possess in themselves the greatest power of resisting and mastering the instinct of self-preservation, are kept back for the moment when ordinary men would lose heart.
It might be said with perfect justice that without infantry there would never have been discipline, for cavalry began and continued as a crowd of champions. Discipline, which created and maintained the intrinsic superiority of the Roman legion, depended first on the ideal of patriotism. This was ingrained into every man from his earliest years and expressed in a system of rewards and punishments which took effect from the same ideal, in that rewards were in the main honorary in character (mural crowns, &c.), while no physical punishment was too severe for the man who betrayed, by default or selfishness, the cause of Rome. Secondly, though every man knew his duty, not every man was equal to doing it, and in recognition of this fact the Romans evolved the system of three-line tactics in which the strong parts of the machine neutralized the weak. The first of these principles, being psychological in character, rose, flourished and decayed with the moral of the nation. The second, deduced from the first, varied with it, but as it was objectively expressed in a system of tactics, which had to be modified to suit each case, it varied also in proportion as the combat took more or less abnormal forms. So closely knit were the parts of the system that not only did the decadence of patriotism sap the legionary organization, but also the unsuitability of that organization to new conditions of warfare reacted unfavourably, even disastrously, on the moral of the nation. Between them, the Roman infantry fell from its proud place, and whereas in the Republic it was familiarly called the “strength” (robur), by the 4th century A.D. it had become merely the background for a variety of other arms and corps. Luxury produced “egoists,” to whom the rewards meant nothing and the punishments were torture for the sake of torture. When therefore the Roman imperium extended far enough to bring in silks from China and ivory from the forests of central Africa, the citizen-army ceased to exist, and the mere necessity for garrisoning distant savage lands threw the burden of service upon the professional soldier.
The natural consequence of this last was the uniform training of every man. There were no longer any primary differences between one cohort and another, and though the value of the three-line system in itself ensured its continuance, any cohort, however constituted, might find itself The Roman Imperial Army. serving in any one of the three lines, i.e. the moral of the last line was no better than that of the first. The best guarantee of success became uniform regimental excellence, and whereas Camillus or Scipio found useful employment in battle for every citizen, Caesar complained that a legion which had been sent him was too raw, though it had been embodied for nine years. The conditions which were so admirably met by the old system never reappeared; for before armies resumed a “citizen” character the invention of firearms had subjected all ranks and lines alike to the same ordeal of facing unseen death, and the old soldiers were better employed in standing shoulder to shoulder with the young. In brief, the old Roman organization was based on patriotism and experience, and when patriotism gave place to “egoism,” and the experience of the citizen who spent every other summer in the field of war gave place to the formal training of the paid recruit, it died, unregretted either by the citizen or by the military chieftain. The latter knew how to make the army his devoted servant, while the former disliked military service and failed to prepare himself for the day when the military chief and the mercenary overrode his rights and set up a tyranny, and ultimately the inner provinces of the empire came to be called inermes—unarmed, defenceless—in contrast to the borderland where the all-powerful professional legions lay in garrison.
In these same frontier provinces the tactical disintegration of the legion slowly accomplished itself. Originally designed for the exigencies of the normal pitched battle on firm open fields, and even after its professionalization retaining its character as a large battle unit, it was soon fragmented through the exigencies of border warfare into numerous detachments of greater or less size, and when the military frontier of the empire was established, the legion became an almost sedentary corps, finding the garrisons for the blockhouses on its own section of the line of defence. Further, the old heavy arms and armour which had given it the advantage in wars of conquest—in which the barbarians, gathering to defend their homes, offered a target for the blow of an army—were a great disadvantage when it became necessary to police the conquered territory, to pounce upon swiftly moving bodies of raiders before they could do any great harm. Thus gradually cavalry became more numerous, and light infantry of all sorts more useful, than the old-fashioned linesman. To these corps went the best recruits and the smartest officers, the opportunities for good service and the rewards for it. The legion became once more the “residue.” Thus when the “champion” reappeared on the battlefield the solidarity that neutralized his power had ceased to exist.
The battle of Adrianople, the “last fight of the legion,” illustrates this. The frontal battle was engaged in the ordinary way, and the cohorts of the first line of the imperial army were fighting man to man with the front ranks of the Gothic infantry (which had indeed a solidarity of its own, unlike the barbarians of the early empire, and was further guaranteed against moral over-pressure by a wagon laager), when suddenly the armoured heavy cavalry of the Goths burst upon their flank and rear. There were no longer Principes and Triarii of the old Republican calibre, but only average troops, in the second and third lines, and they were broken at once. The first line felt the battle in rear as well as in front and gave way. Thereafter the victors, horse and foot, slaughtered unresisting herds of men, not desperate soldiers, and on this day the infantry arm, as an arm, ceased to exist.
Of course, not every soldier became a horseman, and still fewer could provide themselves with armour. Regular infantry, too, was still maintained for siege, mountain and forest warfare. But the robur, the kernel of the line of battle, was gone, and though a few of the peoples The Dark Ages. that fought their way into the area of civilization in the dark ages brought with them the natural and primitive method of fighting on foot, it was practically always a combination of mighty champions and “residue,” even though the latter bound themselves together by locked shields, as the Gauls had bound themselves long before with chains, to prevent “skulking.” These infantry nations, without any infantry system comparable to that of the Greeks and Romans, succumbed in turn to the crowd of mounted warriors—not like the Greeks and Romans for want of good military qualities, but for want of an organization which would have distributed their fighting powers to the best advantage. One has only to study the battle of Hastings to realize how completely the infantry masses of the English slipped from the control of their leaders directly the front ranks became seriously engaged. For many generations after Hastings there was no attempt to use infantry as the kernel of armies, still less to organize it as such beforehand. Indeed, except in the Crusades, where men of high and of low degree alike fought for their common faith, and in sieges, where cavalry was powerless and the services of archers and labourers were at a premium, it became quite unusual for infantry to appear on the field at all.
The tactics of feudal infantry at its best were conspicuously illustrated in the battle of Bouvines, where besides the barons, knights and sergeants, the Brabançon mercenaries (heavy foot) and the French communal militia opposed one another. On the French right wing, the opportune arrival of a well-closed Bouvines. mass of cavalry and infantry in the flank of a loose crowd of men-at-arms which had already been thoroughly engaged, decided the fight. In the centre, the respective infantries were in first line, the nobles and knights, with their sovereigns, in second, yet it was a mixed mass of both that, after a period of confused fighting, focussed the battle in the persons of the emperor and the king of France, and if the personal encounters of the two bodies of knights gave the crowded German infantry a momentary chance to strike down the king, the latter was soon rescued by a half-dozen of heavy cavalrymen. On the left wing, the count of Boulogne made a living castle of his Brabançon pikes, whence with his men-at-arms he sallied forth from time to time and played the champion. Lastly, the Constable Montmorency brought over what was still manageable of the corps that had defeated the cavalry on the right (nearly all mounted men) and gave the final push to the allied centre and right in succession. Then the imperial army fled and was slaughtered without offering much resistance. Of infantry in this battle there was enough and to spare, but its only opportunities for decisive action were those afforded by the exhaustion of the armoured men or by the latter becoming absorbed in their own single combats to the exclusion of their proper work in the line of battle. As usual the infantry suffered nine-tenths of the casualties. For all their numbers and apparent tactical distribution on this field, they were “residue,” destitute of special organization, training or utility; and the only suggestion of “combined tactics” is the expedient adopted by the count of Boulogne, rings of spearmen to serve as pavilions served in the tournament—to secure a decorous setting for a display of knightly prowess.
In those days in truth the infantry was no more the army than to-day the shareholders of a limited company are the board of directors. They were deeply, sometimes vitally, interested in the result, but they contributed little or nothing to bringing it about, except when the opposing cavalries were in a state of moral equilibrium, and in these cases anything suffices—the appearance of camp followers on a “Gillies Hill,” as at Bannockburn or the sound of half-a-dozen trumpets—to turn the scale. Once it turned, the infantry of the beaten side was cut down unresistingly, while the more valuable prisoners were admitted to ransom. Thereafter, feudal tactics were based principally on the ideas of personal glory—won in single combat, champion against champion, and of personal profit—won by the knight in holding a wealthy and well-armed baron to ransom and by the foot-soldier in plundering while his masters were fighting. In the French army, the term bidaux, applied in the days of Bouvines to all the infantry other than archers and arblasters, came by a quite natural process to mean the laggards, malingerers and skulkers of the army.
But even this infantry contained within itself two half-smothered sparks of regeneration, the idea of archery and the idea of communal militia. Archery, in whatever form practised, was the one special form of military activity with which the heavy gendarme (whether Revival of infantry. he fought on horseback or dismounted) had no concern. Here therefore infantry had a special function, and in so far ceased to be “residue.” The communal militia was an early and inadequate expression of the town-spirit that was soon to produce the solid burgher-militia of Flanders and Germany and after that the trained bands of the English cities and towns. It therefore represented the principles of solidarity, of combination, of duty to one’s comrade and to the common cause—principles which had disappeared from feudal warfare. It was under the influence of these two ideas or forces that infantry as an arm began once again, though slowly and painfully, to differentiate itself from the mass of bidaux until in the end the latter practically contained only the worthless elements.
The first true infantry battle since Hastings was fought at Courtrai in 1302, between the burghers of Bruges and a feudal army under Count Robert of Artois. The citizens, arrayed in heavy masses, and still armed with miscellaneous weapons, were careful to place themselves on ground difficult of access—dikes, Courtrai. pools and marshes—and to fasten themselves together, like the Gauls of old. Their van was driven back by the French communal infantry and professional crossbowmen, whereupon Robert of Artois, true feudal leader as he was, ordered his infantry to clear the way for the cavalry and without even giving them time to do so pushed through their ranks with a formless mass of gendarmerie. This, in attempting to close with the enemy, plunged into the canals and swamped lands, and was soon immovably fastened in the mud. The citizens swarmed all round it and with spear, cleaver and flail destroyed it. Robert himself with a party of his gendarmerie strove to break through the solid wall of spears, but in vain. He was killed and his army perished with him, for the citizens did not regard war as a game and ransom as the loser’s forfeit. As for the communal infantry which had won the first success, it had long since disappeared from the field, for when count Robert ordered his heavy cavalry forward, they had thought themselves attacked in rear by a rush of hostile cavalry—as indeed they were, for the gendarmerie rode them down—and melted away.
Crécy (q.v.) was fought forty-four years after Courtrai. Here the knights had open ground to fight on, and many boasted that they would revenge themselves. But they encountered not merely infantry, but infantry tactics, and were for the second, and not the last, time destroyed. The English army included a large feudal element, but the spirit of indiscipline had been crushed by a series of iron-handed kings, and for more than a century the nobles, in so far as they had been bad subjects, had been good Englishmen. The English yeomen had reached a level of self-discipline and self-respect which few even of the great continental cities had attained. They had, lastly, made the powerful long-bow (see Archery) their own, and Edward I. had combined the shock of the heavy cavalry with the slow searching preparatory rain of arrows (see Falkirk). That is, infantry tactics and cavalry tactics were co-ordinated by a general, and the special point of this for the present purpose is that instead of being, as in France, the unstable base of the so-called “feudal pyramid,” infantry has become an arm, capable of offence and defence and having its own special organization, function in the line of battle and tactical method. This last, indeed, like every other tactical method, rested ultimately on the moral of the men who had to put it into execution. Archer tactics did not serve against the disciplined rush of Joan of Arc’s gendarmerie, for the solidarity of the archer companies that tried to stop it had long been undermined.
Yet we cannot overrate the importance of the archer in this
period of military history. In the city militias solidarity had been
obtained through the close personal relationship of
the trade gilds and by the elimination of the champion.
Therefore, as every offensive in war rests upon boldness,
archer. these militias were essentially defensive, for they could only hope to ward off the feudal champion, not to outfight him (Battle of Legnano, 1176. See Oman, p. 442). England, however, had evolved a weapon which no armour could resist, and a race of men as fully trained to use it as the gendarme was to use the lance. This weapon gave them the power of killing without being killed, which the citizens’ spears and maces and voulges did not. But like all missiles, arrows were a poor stand-by in the last resort if determined cavalry crossed the “beaten zone” and closed in, and besides pavises and pointed stakes the English archers were given the support of the knights, nobles and sergeants—the armoured champions—whose steady lances guaranteed their safety. Here was the real forward stride in infantry tactics. Archery had existed from time immemorial, and a mere technical improvement in its weapon could hardly account for its suddenly becoming the queen of the battlefield. The defensive power of the “dark impenetrable wood” of spears had been demonstrated again and again, but when the cavalry had few or no preliminary difficulties to face, the chances of the infantry mass resisting long-continued pressure was small. It was the combination of the two elements that made possible a Crécy and a Poitiers, and this combination was the result of the English social system which produced the camaraderie of knight and yeoman, champion and plain soldier. Fortified by the knight’s unshakeable steadiness, the yeoman handled his bow and arrows with cool certainty and rapidity, and shot down every rush of the opposing champions. This was camaraderie de combat indeed, and in such conditions the offensive was possible and even easy. The English conquered whole countries while the Flemish and German spearmen and vougiers merely held their own. For them, decisive victories were only possible when the enemy played into their hands, but for the English the guarantee of such victories was the specific character of their army itself and the tactical methods resulting from and expressing that character.
But the war of conquest embodied in these decisive victories dwindled in its later stages to a war of raids. The feudal lord, like the feudal vassal, returned home and gave place to the professional man-at-arms and the professional captain. Ransom became again the chief object, The Hundred Years’ War. and except where a great leader, such as Bertrand Du Guesclin, compelled the mercenaries to follow him to death or victory, a battle usually became a mêlée of irregular duels between men-at-arms, with all the selfishness and little of the chivalry of the purely feudal encounter. The war went on and on, the gendarmes thickened their armour, and the archers found more difficulty in penetrating it. Moreover, in raids for devastation and booty, the slow-moving infantryman was often a source of danger to his comrades. In this guerrilla the archer, though he kept his place, soon ceased to be the mainstay of battle. It had become customary since Crécy (where the English knights and sergeants were dismounted to protect the archers) for all mounted men to send away their horses before engaging. Here and there cavalry masses were used by such energetic leaders as the Black Prince and Du Guesclin, and more often a few men remained mounted for work requiring exceptional speed and courage, but as a general rule the man-at-arms was practically a mounted infantryman, and when he dismounted he stood still. Thus two masses of dismounted lances, mixed with archers, would meet and engage, but the archers, the offensive element, were now far too few in proportion to the lances, the purely defensive element, and battles became indecisive skirmishes instead of overwhelming victories.
Cavalry therefore became, in a very loose sense of the word, infantry. But we are tracing the history not of all troops that stood on their feet to fight, but of infantry and the special tactics of infantry, and the period before and after 1370, when the moral foundations of the new English tactics had disappeared, and the personality of Du Guesclin gave even the bandits of the “free companies” an intrinsic, if slight, superiority over the invaders, is a period of deadlock. Solidarity, such as it was, had gone over to the side of the heavy cavalry. But the latter had deliberately forfeited their power of forcing the decision by fighting on foot, and the English archer, the cadre of the English tactical system, though diminished in numbers, prestige and importance, held to existence and survived the deadlock. Infantry of that type indeed could never return to the “residue” state, and it only needed a fresh moral impetus, a Henry V., to set the old machinery to work again for a third great triumph. But again, after Agincourt, the long war lapsed into the hands of the soldiers of fortune, the basis of Edward’s and Henry’s tactics crumbled, and, led by a greater than Du Guesclin, the knights and the nobles of France, and the mercenary captains and men-at-arms as well, rode down the stationary masses of the English, lances and bowmen alike.
The net result of the Hundred Years’ War therefore was to re-establish the two arms, cavalry and infantry, side by side, the one acting by shock, and the other by fire. The lesson of Crécy was “prepare your charge before delivering it,” and for that purpose great bodies of infantry armed with bows, arblasts and handguns were brought into existence in France. When the French king in 1448 put into force the “lessons of the war” and organized a permanent army, it consisted in the main of heavy cavalry (knights and squires in the “ordonnance” companies, soldiers of fortune in the paid companies) and archers and arblasters (francs-archers recruited nationally, arblasters as a rule mercenaries, though largely recruited in Gascony). To these armes de jet were added, in ever-increasing numbers, hand firearms. Thus the “fire” principle of attack was established, and the defensive principle of “mass” relegated to the background. In such circumstances cavalry was of course the decisive arm, and the reputation of the French gendarmerie was such as to justify this bold elimination of the means of passive defence.
The foot-soldier of Germany and the Low Countries had followed a very different line of development. Here the rich commercial cities scarcely concerned themselves with the quarrels or revolts of neighbouring nobles, but they resolutely defended their own rights against Burgher militias. feudal interference, and enforced them by an organized militia, opposing the strict solidarity of their own institutions to the prowess of the champion who threatened them. The struggle was between “you shall” on the part of the baron and “we will not” on the part of the citizens, the offensive versus the defensive in the simplest and plainest form. The latter was a policy of unbreakable squares, and wherever possible, strong positions as well. Sometimes the citizens, sometimes the nobles gained the day, but the general result was that steady infantry in proper formation could not be ridden down, and as yeomen-archers of the English type to “prepare” the charge were not obtainable from amongst the serf populations of the countryside, the problem of the attack was, for Central Europe, insoluble.
The unbreakable square took two forms, the wagenburg with artillery, and the infantry mass with pikes. The first was no more, in the beginning, than an expedient for the safe and rapid crossing of wider stretches of open country than would have been possible for dismounted men, The Wagenburg. whom the cavalry headed off as soon as they ventured far enough from the shelter of walls. The men rode not on horses but on carriages, and the carriages moved over the plains in laager formation, the infantrymen standing ready with halbert and voulge or short stabbing spear, and the gunners crouching around the long barrelled two-pounders and the “ribaudequins”—the early machine guns—which were mounted on the wagons. These wagenburgen combined in themselves the due proportions of mobility and passive defence, and in the skilled hands of Ziska they were capable of the boldest offensive. But such a tactical system depended first of all on drill, for the armoured cavalry would have crowded through the least gap in the wagon line, and the necessary degree of drill in those days could only be attained by an army which had both a permanent existence and some bond of solidarity more powerful than the incentive to plunder—that is, in practice, it was only attained in full by the Hussite insurgents. The cavalry, too, learned its lesson, and pitted mobile three-pounders against the foot-soldiers’ one- and two-pounders, and the wagenburg became no more than a helpless target. Thus when, not many years after the end of the Hussite wars, the Wars of the Roses eliminated the English model and the English tactics from the military world of Europe, the French system of fire tactics—masses of archers, arblasters and handgun-men, with some spearmen and halberdiers to stiffen them—was left face to face with that of the Swiss and Landsknechts, the system of the “long pike.”
A series of victories ranging from Morgarten (1315) to Nancy (1477) had made the Swiss the most renowned infantry in Europe. Originally their struggles with would-be oppressors had taken the form, often seen elsewhere, of arraying solid masses of men, united in purpose and fidelity to one another The Swiss. rather than by any material or tactical cohesion. Like the men of Bruges at Courtrai, the Swiss had the advantage of broken ground, and the still greater advantage of being opposed by reckless feudal cavalry. Their armament at this stage was not peculiar—voulges, gisarmes, halberts and spears—though they were specially adept in the use of the two-handed sword. But as time went on the long pike (said to have originated in Savoy or the Milanese about 1330) became more and more popular until at last on the verge of their brief ascendancy (about 1475–1515) the Swiss armed as much as one quarter of their troops with it. The use of firearms made little or no progress amongst them, and the Swiss mercenaries of 1480, like their forerunners of Morgarten and Sempach, fought with the arme blanche alone. But in a very few years after the Swiss nation had become soldiers of fortune en masse, the more open lands of Swabia entered into serious and bitter competition with them. From these lands came the Landsknechts, whose order was as strong as, and far less unwieldy than, that of the Swiss, whose armament included a far greater proportion of firearms, and who established a regimental system that left a permanent mark on army organization. The Landsknecht was the prototype of the infantryman of the 16th and 17th centuries, but his right to indicate the line of evolution had to be wrung from many rivals.
The year 1480 indeed was a turning-point in military history. Within the three years preceding it the battles of Nancy and Guinegate had destroyed both the old feudalism of Charles the Bold and the new cavalry tactics of the French gendarmerie. The former was an anachronism, The long pike. while the latter, when the great wars came to an end and there was no longer either a national impulse or a national leader, had lapsed into the old vices of ransom and plunder. With these, on the same fields, the franc-archer system of infantry tactics perished ignominiously. It rested, as we know, on the principle that the fire of the infantry was to be combined with and completed by the shock of the gendarmerie, and when the latter were found wanting as at Guinegate, the masses of archers and arblasters, which were only feebly supported by a few handfuls of pikemen and halberdiers, were swept away by the charge of some heavy battalions of Swabian and Flemish pikes. Guinegate was the début of the Landsknecht infantry as Nancy was that of the Swiss, and the lesson could not be misread. Louis XI. indeed hanged some of his franc-archers and dismissed the rest, and in their place raised “bands” of regular infantry, one of which bore for the first time the historic name of Picardie. But these “bands” were not self-contained. Armed for the most part with armes de jet they centred on the 6000 Swiss pikemen whom Louis XI., in 1480, took into his service, and for nearly fifty years thereafter the French foot armies are always composed of two elements, the huge battalions of Swiss or Landsknechts, armed exclusively with the long pike (except for an ever-decreasing proportion of halberts, and a few arquebuses), and for their support and assistance, French and mercenary “bands.”
The Italian wars of 1494–1544, in which the principles of fire and shock were readjusted to meet the conditions created by firearms, were the nursery of modern infantry. The combinations of Swiss, Landsknechts, Spanish “tercios” and French “bands” that figured on the battlefields of the early 16th century were infinitely various. But it is not difficult to find a thread that runs through the whole.
The essence of the Swiss system was solidity. They arrayed
themselves in huge oblongs of 5000 men and more, at the corners
of which, like the tower bastions of a 16th-century
fortress, stood small groups of arquebusiers. The
Landsknechts and the Romagnols of Italy, imitated
The Italian Wars,
1494–1525. and rivalled them, though as a rule developing more front and less depth. At this stage solidity was everything and fire-power nothing. At Fornuovo (1495) the mass of arquebusiers and arblasters in the French army did little or nothing; it was the Swiss who were l’espérance de l’ost. At Agnadello or Vailá in 1509 the ground and the “encounter-battle” character of the engagement gave special chances of effective employment to the arquebusiers on either side. Along the front the Venetian marksmen, secure behind a bank, picked off the leaders of the enemy as they came near. On the outer flank of the battle the bands of Gascon arquebusiers, which would otherwise have been relegated to an unimportant place in the general line of battle, lapped round the enemy’s flank in broken ground and produced great and almost decisive effect. But this was only an afterthought of the king of France and Bayard. In the rest of the battle the huge masses of Swiss pikes were thrown upon the enemy much as the old feudal cavalry had been, regardless of ditches, orchards and vineyards.
Then for a moment the problem was solved, or partially solved, by the artillery. From Germany the material, though not—at least to the same extent—the principle, of the wagenburg penetrated, in the first years of the 16th century, to Italy and thence to France. Thus by degrees a very numerous and exceedingly handy light artillery—“carts with gonnes,” as they were called in England—came into play on the Italian battlefields, and took over from the dying franc-archer system the work of preparing the assault by fire. For mere skirmishing the Swiss and Landsknechts had arquebusiers enough, without needing to call on the masses of Gascons, &c., and pari passu with the development of this artillery, the “bands,” other than Swiss and Landsknechts, began to improve themselves into pikemen and halberdiers. At Ravenna (1512) the bands of Gascony and Picardy, as well as the French aventuriers (the “bands of Piedmont,” afterwards the second senior regiment of the French line) fought in the line of battle shoulder to shoulder with the Landsknechts. On this day the fire action of the new artillery was extraordinarily murderous, ploughing lanes in the immobile masses of infantry. At Marignan the French gendarmerie and artillery, closely and skilfully combined, practically destroyed the huge masses of the Swiss, and so completely had “infantry” and “fire” become separate ideas that on the third day of this tremendous battle we find even the “bands of Piedmont” cutting their way into the Swiss masses.
But from this point the lead fell into the hands of the Spaniards. These were originally swift and handy light infantry, capable—like the Scottish Highlanders at Prestonpans and Falkirk long afterwards—of sliding under the forest of pikes and breaking into the close-locked The Spanish infantry and the arquebus. ranks with buckler and stabbing sword. For troops of this sort the arquebus was an ideal weapon, and the problem of self-contained infantry was solved by Gonsalvo de Cordoba, Pescara and the great Spanish captains of the day by intercalating small closed bodies of arquebusiers with rather larger, but not inordinately large, bodies of pikes. These arquebusiers formed separate, fully organized sections of the infantry regiment. In close defence they fought on the front and flanks of the pikes, but more usually they were pushed well to the front independently, their speed and excellent fire discipline enabling them to do what was wholly beyond the power of the older type of firing infantry—to take advantage of ground, to run out and reopen fire during a momentary pause in the battle of lance and pike, and to run back to the shelter of their own closed masses when threatened by an oncoming charge. When this system of tactics was consecrated by the glorious success of Pavia (1525), the “cart with gonnes” vanished and the system of fighting everywhere and always “at push of pike” fell into the background.
The lessons of Pavia can be read in Francis I.’s instructions to his newly formed Provincial (militia) Legions in 1534 and in the battle of Cerisoles ten years later. The “legion” was ordered to be composed of six “bands”—battalions we should call them now, but in those days the term “battalion” 16th Century-tactics. was consecrated to a gigantic square of the Swiss type—each of 800 pikes (including a few halberts) and 200 arquebusiers. The pikes, 4800 strong, of each legion were grouped in one large battalion, and covered on the front and flanks by the 1200 arquebuses, the latter working in small and handy squads. These “legions” did not of course count as good troops, but their organization and equipment, designed deliberately in peace time, and not affected by the coming and going of soldiers of fortune, represent therefore the theoretically perfect type for the 16th century. Cerisoles represents the system in practice, with veteran regular troops. On the side of the French most of the arquebuses were grouped on the right wing, in a long irregular line of companies or strong squads, supported at a moderate distance by companies or small battalions of “corselets” (pikes of the French bands of Picardy and Piedmont); the rest of the line of battle was composed of Landsknechts, &c., similarly arrayed, except that the arquebusiers were on the flanks and immediate front of the “corselets” and behind the arquebuses and corselets of the right wing came a Swiss monster of the old type. On the imperial side of the Landsknechts, Spanish and Italian infantry were drawn up in seven or eight battalions, each with its due proportion of pikes and “shot.” The course of the battle demonstrated both the active tactical power of the new form of fire-action and the solidity of the pike nucleus, the former in the attack and defence of hills, woods and localities, the latter in an episode in which a Spanish battalion, after being ridden through from corner to corner by the French gendarmes, continued on its way almost unchecked and quite unbroken. This combination of arquebusiers supported by corselets in first line and corselets with a few arquebusiers in second, reappeared at Renty (1554), and St Quentin (1557), and was in fact the typical disposition of infantry from about 1530 to 1600.
By 1550, then, infantry had entirely ceased to be an auxiliary arm. It contained within itself, and (what is more important) within its regimental units, the power of fighting effectively and decisively both at close quarters and at a distance—the principal characteristic of the arm to-day. It had, further, developed a permanent regimental existence, both in Spain and in France, and in the former country it had progressed so far from the “residue” state that young nobles preferred to trail a pike in the ranks of the foot to service in the gendarmerie or light horse. The service battalions were kept up to war strength by the establishment of depots and the preliminary training there of recruits. In France, apart from Picardie and the other old regiments, every temporary regiment, on disbandment, threw off a depot company of the best soldiers, on which nucleus the regiment was reconstituted for the next campaign. Moreover, the permanent establishment was augmented from time to time by the colonel-general of the foot “giving his white flag” to temporary regiments.
The organization of the French infantry in 1570 presents some points of interest. The former broad classification of au delà and en deça des monts or “Picardie” and “Piedmont,” representing the home and Italian armies, had disappeared, and instead the whole of the infantry, under one colonel-general, The French infantry in 1570. was divided into the regiments of Picardie, Piedmont and French Guards, each of which had its own colonel and its own colours. Besides these, three newer corps were entretenus par le Roy—“Champagne,” practically belonging to the Guise family, and two others formed out of the once enormous regiment of Marshal de Cossé-Brissac. At the end of a campaign all temporary regiments were disbanded, but in imitation of the Spanish depot system, each, on disbandment, threw off a depot company of picked men who formed the nucleus for the next year’s augmentation. The regiment consisted of 10-16 “ensigns” or companies, each of about 150 pikemen and 50 arquebusiers. Each company had a proprietary captain, the owners of the first two companies being the colonel-general and the colonel (mestre de camp). The senior captain was called the sergeant-major, and performed the duties of a second in command and an adjutant or brigade-major. Unlike the regimental commander, the sergeant-major was always mounted, and it is recorded that one officer newly appointed to the post incurred the ridicule of the army by dismounting to speak to the king. “Some veteran officers,” wrote a contemporary, “are inclined to think that the regimental commander should be mounted as well as the sergeant-major.” The regiment was as a rule formed for parade and battle either in line 10 deep or in “battalion” (i.e. mass), Swiss fashion. The captain occupied the front, the ensigns with the company colours the centre, and the lieutenants the rear place in the file. The sergeants, armed with the halbert, marched on each side of the battalion or company. Though the musket was gradually being introduced, and had powerful advocates in Marshal Strozzi and the duke of Guise, the bulk of the “shot” still carried the arquebus, the calibre of which had been, thanks to Strozzi’s efforts, standardized (see Caliver) so that all the arms took the same sizes of ball. The pikeman had half-armour and a 14-ft. pike, the arquebusier beside the firearm a sword which he was trained to use in the manner of the former Spanish light infantry. The arquebusiers were arrayed in 3 ranks in front of the pikes or in 10 deep files on either flank.
The wars in which this system was evolved were wars for prestige and aggrandizement. They were waged, therefore, by mercenary soldiers, whose main object was to live, and who were officered either by men of their own stamp, or by nobles eager to win military glory. But the Wars of Religion raised questions of life and death for the Frenchmen of either faith, and such public opinion as there was influenced the method of operations so far that a decision and not a prolongation of the struggle began to be the desired end of operations. Hence in those wars the relatively immobile “battalion” of pikes diminishes in importance and the arquebusiers and musketeers grow more and more efficient. Armies, too, became smaller, and marched more rapidly. Encounter-battles became more frequent than “pitched” battles, and in these the musketeer was at a great advantage. Thus by 1600 the proportions between pikes and musketeers in the French army had come to be 6 pikes to 4 muskets or arquebuses, and the bataillon de combat or brigade was normally no more than 1200 strong. In the Netherlands, however, the war of consciences was fought out between the best regular army in the world and burgher militias. Even the French fantassins were second in importance to the Spanish soldados. The latter continued to hold the pre-eminent position they had gained at Pavia. They improved the arquebus into the musket, a heavier and much more powerful weapon (fired from a rest) which could disable a horse at 500 paces.
At this moment the professional soldier was at the high-water mark of his supremacy. The musket was too complicated to be rapidly and efficiently used by any but a highly trained man; the pike, probably because it had now to protect two or three ranks of “shot” in front of the leading Alva. rank of pikemen, as well as the pikemen themselves, had grown longer (up to 18 ft.); and drill and manœuvre had become more important than ever, for in the meantime cavalry had mostly abandoned the massive armour and the long lance in favour of half-armour and the pistol, and their new tactics made them both swifter to charge groups of musketeers and more deadly to the solid masses of pikemen. This superiority of the regular over the irregular was most conspicuously shown in Alva’s war against the Netherlands patriots. Desperately as the latter fought, Spanish captains did not hesitate to attack patriot armies ten times their own strength. If once or twice this contempt led them to disaster, as at Heiligerlee in 1568 (though here, after all, Louis of Nassau’s army was chiefly composed of trained mercenaries), the normal battle was of the Jemmingen type—seven soldados dead and seven thousand rebels.
As regards battles in the open field, such results as these naturally confirmed the “Spanish system” of tactics. The Dutch themselves, when they evolved reliable field armies, copied it with few modifications, and by degrees it was spread over Europe by the professional soldiers on both sides. There was plenty of discussion and readjustment of details. For example, the French, with their smaller battalions and more rapid movements, were inclined to disparage both the cuirass and the pike, and only unwillingly hampered themselves with the long heavy Spanish musket, which had to be fired from a rest. In 1600, nearly fifty years after the introduction of the musket, this most progressive army still deliberately preferred the old light arquebus, and only armed a few selected men with the larger weapons. On the other hand, the Spaniards, though supreme in the open, had for the most part to deal with desperate men behind fortifications. Fighting, therefore, chiefly at close quarters with a fierce enemy, and not disposing either of the space or of the opportunity for “manœuvre-battles,” they sacrificed all their former lightness and speed, and clung to armour, the long pike and the heavy 21 oz. bullet. But the principles first put into practice by Gonsalvo de Cordoba, the combination, in the proportions required in each case, of fire and shock elements in every body of organized infantry however small, were maintained in full vigour, and by now the superiority of the infantry arm in method, discipline and technique, which had long before made the Spanish nobles proud to trail a pike in the ranks, began to impress itself on other nations. Therelative value of horse and foot became a subject for expert
|||DREUX—1562.||(From Hardÿ de Périni’s Batailles Françaises, by permission.)|
|VIONVILLE DE CISSEY’S COUNTER-ATTACK (SEEN FROM REAR OF PRUSSIAN 38th BRIGADE).|
|(From Revue d’Infanterie, 1909.)|
|APPROACH-MARCH UNDER ARTILLERY FIRE, FRENCH PRINCIPLES (FROM ENEMY’S ARTILLERY POSITION).|
discussion instead of an axiom of class pride. The question
of cavalry versus infantry, hotly disputed in all ages, is a matter
affecting general tactics, and does not come within the scope of
the present article (see further Cavalry). Expert opinion
indeed was still on the side of the horsemen. It was on their
cavalry, with its speed, its swords and its pistols that the armies
of the 16th century relied in the main to produce the decision
in 1600. in battle. Sir Francis Vane, speaking of the battle of Nieupoort in 1600, says, “Whereas most commonly in battles the success of the foot dependeth on that of the horse, here it was clean contrary, for so long as the foot held good the horse could not be beaten out of the field.” The “success” of the foot in Vane’s eyes is clearly resistance to disintegration rather than ability to strike a decisive blow.
It must be remembered, however, that Vane is speaking of the Low Countries, and that in France at any rate the solidity which saved the day at Nieupoort was less appreciated than the élan which had won so many smart engagements in the Wars of Religion. Moreover, it was the offensive, the decision-compelling faculty of the foot that steadily developed during the 17th century. To this, little by little, the powers of passive resistance to which Vane did homage, valuable as they were, were sacrificed, until at last the long pike disappeared altogether and the firearm, provided with a bayonet, was the uniform weapon of the foot-soldier. This stage of infantry history covers almost exactly a century. As far as France was concerned, it was a natural evolution. But the acceptance of the principle by the rest of the military world, imposed by the genius of Gustavus Adolphus, was rather revolution than evolution.
In the army which Louis XIII. led against his revolted barons of Anjou in 1620, the old regiments (les vieux—Picardie, Piedmont, &c.) seem to have marched in an open chequer-wise formation of companies which is interesting not only as a deliberate imitation of the Roman legion (all Gustavus Adolphus. soldiers of that time, in the prevailing confusion of tactical ideas, sought guidance in the works of Xenophon, Aelian and Vegetius), but as showing that flexibility and handiness was not the monopoly of the Swedish system that was soon to captivate military Europe. The formations themselves are indeed found in the Spanish and Dutch armies, but the equipment of the men, and the general character of the operations in which they were engaged, probably failed to show off the advantages of this articulation, for the generals of the Thirty Years’ War, trained in this school, formed their infantry into large battalions (generally a single line of masses). Experience certainly gave the troops that used these unwieldy formations a relatively high manœuvring capacity, for Tilly’s army at Breitenfeld (1631) “changed front half-left” in the course of the battle itself. But the manœuvring power of the Swedes was higher still. Each party represented one side of the classical revival, the Swedes the Roman three-line manipular tactics, the Imperialists and Leaguers those of the Greek line of phalanxes. The former, depending as it did on high moral in the individual foot-soldier, was hardly suitable to such a congeries of mercenaries as those that Wallenstein commanded, and later in the Thirty Years’ War, when the old native Swedish and Scottish brigades had been annihilated, the Swedish infantry was little if at all better than the rest.
But its tactical system, sanctified by victory, was eagerly caught up by military Europe. The musket, though it had finally driven out the arquebus, had been lightened by Gustavus Adolphus so far that it could be fired without a rest. Rapidity in loading had so far improved that a company could safely be formed six deep instead of ten, as in the Spanish and Dutch systems. Its fire power was further augmented by the addition of two very light field-guns to each battalion; these could inflict loss at twice the effective range of the shortened musket. Above all, Gustavus introduced into the military systems of Europe a new discipline based on the idea of exact performance of duty, which made itself felt in every part of the service, and was a welcome substitute for the former easy-going methods of regimental existence. The adoption of Swedish methods indeed was facilitated by the disrepute into which the older systems had fallen. Men were beginning to see that armies raised by contract for a few months’ work possessed inherent vices that made it impossible to rely upon them in small things. Courage the mercenary certainly possessed, but his individual sense of honour, code of soldierly morals, and sometimes devotion to a particular leader did not compensate for the absence of a strong motive for victory and for his general refractoriness in matters of detail, such as march-discipline and punctuality, which had become essential since the great Swedish king had reintroduced order, method and definiteness of purpose into the conduct of military operations. In the old-fashioned masses, moreover, individual weaknesses, both moral and physical, counted for little or were suppressed in the general soldierly feeling of the whole body. But the six-deep line used by Gustavus demanded more devotion and exact obedience in the individual and a more uniform method of drill and handling arms. So shallow an order was not strong enough, under any other conditions, to resist the shock of cavalry or even of pikemen. Indeed, had not the cavalry (who, after Gustavus’s death, were uninspired mercenaries like the rest) ceased to charge home in the fashion that Gustavus exacted of them, it is possible that the new-fashioned line would not have stood the test, and that infantry would have reverted to the early 16th-century type.
The problem of combining the maximum of fire power with the maximum of control over the individual firer was not fully solved until 1740, but the necessity of attempting the problem was realised from the first. In the Swedish army, before it was corrupted by the atmosphere The Great Rebellion. of the Thirty Years’ War, duty to God and to country were the springs of the punctual discipline, in small things and in great, which made it the most formidable army, unit for unit, in the world. In the English Civil War (in which the adherents of the “Swedish system” from the first ousted those of the “Dutch”) the difficulty was more acute, for although the mainsprings of action were similar, the technical side of the soldier’s business—the regimental organization, drill and handling of arms—had all to be improvised. Now in the beginning the Royalist cavalry was recruited from “gentlemen that have honour and courage and resolution”; later, Cromwell raised a cavalry force that was even more thoroughly imbued with the spirit of duty, “men who made some conscience of what they did,” and throughout the Civil War, consequently, the mounted arm was the queen of the battlefield.
The Parliamentary foot too “made some conscience of what it did,” more especially in the first years of the war. But its best elements—the drilled townsmen—were rather of a defensive than of an offensive character, and towards the close of the struggle, when the foot on both sides came to be formed of professional soldiers, the defensive element decreased, as it had decreased in France and elsewhere. The war was like Gustavus’s German campaign, one of rapid and far-ranging marches, and the armoured pikeman had either to shorten his pike and to cast off his armour or to be left at home with the heavy artillery (see Firth’s Cromwell’s Army, ch. iv.). Fights “at push of pike” were rare enough to be specially mentioned in reports of battles. Sir James Turner says that in 1657, when he was commissioned with others to raise regiments for the king of Denmark, “those of the Privy Council would not suffer one word to be mentioned of a pike in our Commissions.” It was the same with armour. In 1658 Lockhart, the commander of the English contingent in France, specially asked for a supply of cuirasses and headpieces for his pikemen in order to impress his allies. In 1671 Sir James Turner says, “When we see battalions of pikes, we see them everywhere naked unless it be in the Netherlands.” But a small proportion of pikes was still held to be necessary by experienced soldiers, for as yet the socket bayonet had not been invented, and there was still cavalry in Europe that could be trusted to ride home.
While such cavalry existed, the development of fire power was everywhere hindered by the necessity of self-defence. On the other hand the hitherto accepted defensive means militated against efficiency in many ways, and about 1670, when Louis XIV. and Louvois were fashioning the new standing army that Disuse of the pike. was for fifty years the model for Europe, the problem was how to improve the drill and efficiency of the musketeers so far that the pikes could be reduced to a minimum. In 1680 the firelock was issued instead of the matchlock to all grenadiers and to the four best shots in each French Company. The bayonet—in its primitive form merely a dagger that was fixed into the muzzle of the musket—was also introduced, and the pike was shortened. The proportion of pikes to muskets in Henry IV.’s day, 2 to 1 or 3 to 2, and in Gustavus’s 2 to 3, had now fallen to 1 to 3.
The day of great causes that could inspire the average man with the resolution to conquer or die was, however, past, and the “shallow order” (l’ordre mince), with all its demands on the individual’s sense of duty, had become an integral part of the military system. How then was the sense of duty to be created? Louis and Louvois and their contemporaries sought to create it by taking raw recruits in batches, giving them a consistent training, quartering them in barracks and uniforming them. Henceforward the soldier was not a unit, self-taught and free to enter the service of any master. He had no existence as a soldier apart from his regiment, and within it he was taught that the regiment was everything and the individual nothing. Thus by degrees the idea of implicit obedience to orders and of esprit de corps was absorbed. But the self-respecting Englishman or the quick ardent Frenchman was not the best raw material for quasi-automatic regiments, and it was not until an infinitely more rigorous system of discipline was applied to an unimaginative army that the full possibilities of this enforced sense of duty were realized.
The method of delivering fire originally used by the Spaniards, in which each man in succession fired and fell back to the rear of the file to reload, required for its continued and exact performance a degree of coolness and individual smartness which was probably rarely attained in practice. This was Methods of fire before 1740. not of serious moment when the “shot” were simple auxiliaries, but when under Gustavus the offensive idea came to the front, and the bullets of the infantry were expected to do something more than merely annoy the hostile pikemen, a more effective method had to be devised. First, the handiness of the musket was so far improved that one man could reload while five, instead of as formerly ten, fired. Then, as the enhanced rate of fire made the file-firing still more disorderly than before, two ranks and three were set to fire “volews” or “salvees” together, and before 1640 it had become the general custom for the musketeers to fire one or two volleys and then, along with the pikemen, to “fall on.” It was of course no mean task to charge even a disordered mass of pikes with a short sword or a clubbed musket, and usually after a few minutes the combatants would drift apart and the musketeers on either side would keep up an irregular fire until the officers urged the whole forward for a second attempt.
With the general disuse of the lance, the disappearance of the personal motives that formerly made the cavalryman charge home, the adoption of the flintlock musket and the invention of the socket bayonet (the fixing of which did not prevent fire being delivered), all reason for retaining the pike vanished, The bayonet. and from about 1700 to the present day, therefore, the invariable armament of infantry has been the musket (or rifle) and bayonet. The manner of employing the weapons, however, changed but slowly. In the French army in 1688, for instance (15 years before the abolition of the pike), the old file-fire was still officially recognized, though rarely employed, the more usual method being for the musketeers in groups of 12 to 30 men to advance to the front and deliver their volleys in turn, these groups corresponding in size to one of the musketeer wings (manches) of a company or double company. But the fire and shock action of infantry were still distinct, the idea of “push of pike” remained, the bayonet (as at Marsaglia) taking the place of the pike, and musketry methods were still and throughout the War of the Spanish Succession somewhat half-hearted and tentative. Two generals so entirely different in genius and temperament as Saxe and Catinat could agree on this point, that attacking infantry ought to close with the enemy, bayonets fixed, without firing a shot. Catinat’s orders to his army in 1690, indeed, seem rather to indicate that he expected his troops to endure the enemy’s first fire without replying in order that their own volley, when it was at last delivered at a few paces distance, should be as murderous as possible, while Saxe, who was a dreamer as well as a practical commander of troops, advocated the pure bayonet charge. But the fact that is common to both is the relative ineffectiveness of musketry before the Prussian era, whether this musketry was delivered by groups of men running forward and returning in line or even by companies in a long line of battle.
This ineffectiveness was due chiefly to the fact that fire and movement were separate matters. The enemy’s volley, that Catinat and others ordered their troops to endure without flinching, was sometimes (as at Fontenoy) absolutely crushing. But as a rule it inflicted an amount of loss that was not sufficient to put the advancing troops out of action, and experienced officers were aware that to halt to reply gave the enemy time to reload, and that once the fight became an interchange of partial and occasional volleys or a general tiraillerie, there was an end to the attack.
Meanwhile, the tactics of armies had been steadily crystallizing into the so-called “linear” form, which, as far as concerns the infantry, is simply two long lines of battalions (three, four or five deep) and gave the utmost possible development to fire-power. The object of the “line” was to Linear tactics. break or beat down the opposing line in the shortest possible time, whether by fire action or shock action, but fire action was only decisive at so short a range that the principal volley could be followed immediately by a charge over a few score paces at most and the crossing of bayonets. Fire was, however, effective at ranges outside charging distance, especially from the battalion guns, and however the decision was achieved in the end, it was necessary to cross the zone between about 300 yds. and 50 yds. range as quickly as possible. It was therefore the business of the regimental officer to force his men across this zone before fire was opened. If, as Catinat recommended, decisive range was reached with every musket loaded and the troops well in hand, their fire when finally it was delivered might well be decisive. But in practice this rarely happened, and though here and there such expedients as a skirmishing line were employed to assist the advance by disturbing the enemy’s fire the most that was hoped by the average colonel or captain was that in the advance fire should be opened as late as possible and that the officers should strive to keep in their hands the power of breaking off the fire-fight and pushing the troops forward again. Theorists were already proposing column formations for shock action, and initiating the long controversy between l’ordre mince and l’ordre profonde, but this was for the time being pure speculation. The linear system rested on the principle that the maximum weight of controlled fire at short range was decisive, and the practical problem of infantry tactics was how to obtain this. The question of fire versus shock had been answered in favour of the former, and henceforward for many years the question of fire versus movement held the first place. The purpose was settled, and it remained to discover the means.
This means was Prussian fire-discipline, which was elaborated by Leopold of Dessau and Frederick William I., and practically applied by Frederick the Great. It consisted first in the combination, instead of the alternation, of fire and movement, and secondly in the thorough efficiency of the fire in itself. But both these demanded a more stringent and technically more perfect drill than had ever before been imagined, or, for that matter, has ever since been attained. A hundred years before the steady drill of the Spanish veterans at Rocroi, who at the word of command opened their ranks to let the cannon fire from the rear and again closed them, impressed every soldier in Europe. But such drill as this was child’s play compared with the Old Dessauer’s.
On approaching the enemy the marching columns of the Prussians,
which were generally open columns of companies 4 deep, wheeled, in
succession to the right or left (almost always to the right)
and thus passed along the front of the enemy at a distance
of 800-1200 yds. until the rear company had wheeled.
discipline, 1740. Then the whole together (or in the case of a deployment to the left, in succession) wheeled into line facing the enemy. These movements, if intervals and distances were preserved with proper precision, brought the infantry into two long well-closed lines, and parade-ground precision was actually attained, thanks to remorseless drilling and to the reintroduction of the march in step to music. Of course such movements were best executed on a firm plain, and as far as possible the attack and defence of woods and villages was left to light infantry and grenadiers. But even in marshes and scrub, the line managed to manœuvre with some approach to the precision of the barrack square. Now, this precision allowed Frederick to take risks that no former commander would have dared to take. At Hohenfriedberg the infantry columns crossed a marshy stream almost within cannon shot of the enemy; at Kolin (though there this insolence was punished) the army filed past the Imperialist skirmishers within less than musket shot, and the climax of this daring was the “oblique order” attack of Leuthen. With this was bound up a fire discipline that was more extraordinary than any perfection of manœuvre. Before Hohenfriedberg the king gave orders that “pelotonfeuer” was to be opened at 200 paces from the enemy and continued up to 30 paces, when the line was to fall on with the bayonet. The possibility of this combination of fire and movement was the work of Leopold, who gave the Prussian infantry iron ramrods, and by sheer drill made the soldier a machine capable of delivering (with the flintlock muzzle-loading muskets, be it observed) five volleys a minute. This pelotonfeuer or company volleys replaced the old fire by ranks practised in other armies. Fire began from the flanks of the battalion, which consisted of eight companies (for firing, 3 deep). When the right company commander gave “fire,” the commander of No. 2 gave “ready,” followed in turn by other companies up to the centre. The same process having been gone through on the left flank, by the time the two centre companies had fired the two flank companies were ready to recommence, and thus a continuous series of rolling volleys was delivered, at one or two seconds’ interval only between companies. In attack this fire was combined with movement, each company in turn advancing a few paces after “making ready.” In square, old-fashioned methods of fire were employed. Square was an indecisive and defensive formation, rarely used, and in the advance of the deployed line, the offensive and decision-seeking formation par excellence, the special Prussian fire-discipline gave Frederick an advantage of five shots to two against all opponents. The bayonet-attack, if the rolling volleys had done their work, was merely “presenting the cheque for payment” as a modern German writer puts it. The cheque had been drawn, the decision given, in the fire-fight.
For some years this method of infantry training gave the Prussians a decisive superiority in whatever order they fought. But their enemies improved and also grew in numbers, while the Prussian army’s resources were strictly Leuthen. limited. Thus in the Seven Years’ War, after the two costly battles of Prague and Kolin (1757) especially, it became necessary to manœuvre with the object of bringing the Prussian infantry into contact with an equal or if possible smaller portion of the enemy’s line. If this could be achieved, victory was as certain as ever, but the difficulties of bringing about a successful manœuvre were such that the classical “oblique order” attack was only once completely executed. This was at Leuthen, December 5th, 1757, perhaps the greatest day in the history of the Prussian army. Here, in a rolling plain country occasionally broken by marshes and villages, the “oblique order” was executed at high speed and with clockwork precision. Frederick’s object was to destroy the left of the Austrian army (which far outnumbered his own) before the rest of their deployed line of battle could change front to intervene. His method was to place his own line, by a concealed flank march, opposite the point where he desired to strike, and then to advance, not in two long lines but in échelon of battalions from the right (see Leuthen). The échelon was not so deep but that each battalion was properly supported by the following one on its left (100 paces distance), and each, as it came within 200 yds. of the Austrian battalion facing it, opened its “rolling volleys” while continuing to advance; thus long before the left and most backward battalions were committed to the fight, the right battalions were crumbling the Austrian infantry units one by one from left to right. It was the same, without parade manœuvres, when at last the Austrians managed to organize a line of defence about Leuthen village. Unable to make an elaborate change of front with the whole centre and right wing for want of time, they could do no more than crowd troops about Leuthen, on a short fighting front, and this crumbled in turn before the Prussian volleys.
One lesson of Leuthen that contemporary soldiers took to heart was that even a two-to-one superiority in numbers could not remedy want of manoeuvring capacity. It might be hoped that with training and drill an Austrian battalion could be made equal to a Prussian one in the front-to-front fight, and in fact, as losses told more and more heavily on Frederick’s army as years went on, the specific superiority of his infantry disappeared. From 1758 therefore, to the end of the war, there were no more Rossbachs and Leuthens. Superiority in efficiency through previous training having exhausted its influence, superiority in force through manœuvre began to be the general’s ideal, and as it was a more familiar notion to the average Prussian general, trained to manœuvre, than to his opponent, whose idea of “manœuvre” was to sidle carefully from one position to another, Prussian generalship maintained its superiority, in spite of many reverses, to the end. The last campaigns were indeed a war of positions, because Frederick had no longer the men available for forcing the Austrians out of them, and on many occasions he was so weak that the most passive defensive and the most elaborate entrenchments barely sufficed to save him. But whenever opportunity offered itself, the king sought a decisive success by bringing the whole of his infantry against part of the enemy’s—the principle of Leuthen put in practice over a wider area and with more elastic manœuvre methods. The long échelon of battalions directed against a part of the hostile line developed quite naturally into an irregular échelon of brigade columns directed against a part of the enemy’s position. But the history of the “cordon system” which followed this development belongs rather to the subject of tactics in general than to that of infantry fighting methods. Within the unit the tactical method scarcely varied. In a battle each battalion or brigade fought as a unit in line, using company volleys and seeking the decision by fire.
In this, and in even the most minute details of drill and uniform, military Europe slavishly copied Prussia for twenty years after the Seven Years’ War. The services of ex-Prussian officers were at a premium just as those of Controversies and developments, 1760–1790. Gustavus’s officers had been 150 years before. Military missions from all countries went to Potsdam or to the “Reviews” to study Prussian methods, with as simple a faith in their adequacy as that shown to-day by small states and half-civilized kingdoms who send military representatives to serve in the great European armies. And withal, the period 1763–1792 is full of tactical and strategical controversies. The principal of these, as regards infantry, was that between “fire” and “shock” revived about 1710 by Folard, and about 1780 the American War of Independence complicated it by introducing a fresh controversy between skirmishing and close order. As to the first, in Folard’s day as in Frederick’s, fire action at close range was the deciding factor in battle, but in Frederick’s later campaigns, wherein he no longer disposed of the old Prussian infantry and its swift mechanical fire-discipline, there sprang up a tendency to trust to the bayonet for the decision. If the (so-called) Prussian infantry of 1762 could be in any way brought to close with the enemy, it had a fair chance of victory owing to its leaders’ previous dispositions, and then the advocates of “shock,” who had temporarily been silenced by Mollwitz and Hohenfriedberg, again took courage. The ordinary line was primarily a formation for fire, and only secondarily or by the accident of circumstances for shock, and, chiefly perhaps under Saxe’s influence, the French army had for many years been accustomed to differentiate between “linear” formations for fire and “columnar” for attack—thus reverting to 16th-century practice. While, therefore, the theoreticians pleaded for battalion columns and the bayonet or for line and the bullet, the practical soldier used both. Many forms of combined line and column were tried, but in France, where the question was most assiduously studied, no agreement had been arrived at when the advent of the skirmisher further complicated the issues.
In the early Silesian wars, when armies fought in open country in linear order, the outpost service scarcely concerned the line troops sufficiently to cause them to get under arms at the sound of firing on the sentry line. It was performed by irregular light troops, recruited from wild characters of all nations, who were also charged with the preliminary skirmishing necessary to clear up the situation before the deployment of the battle-army, but once the line opened fire their work was done and they cleared away to the flanks (generally in search of plunder). Later, however, as the preliminary manœuvring before the battle grew in importance and the ground taken into the manœuvring zone was more varied and extended than formerly, light infantry was more and more in demand—in a “cordon” defensive for patrolling the intervals between the various detachments of line troops, in an attack for clearing the way for the deployment of each column. Yet in all this there was no suggestion that light troops or skirmishers were capable of bringing about the decision in an armed conflict. When Frederick gained a durable peace in 1763 he dismissed his “free battalions” without mercy, and by 1764 not more than one Prussian soldier in eleven was an “irregular,” either of horse or foot.
But in the American War of Independence the line was pitted against light infantry in difficult country, and the British and French officers who served in it returned to Europe full of enthusiasm for the latter. Nevertheless, their light infantry was, unlike Frederick’s, selected line infantry. The light Light Infantry. infantry duties—skirmishing, reconnaissance, outposts—were grafted on to a thorough close-order training. At first these duties fell to the grenadiers and light companies of each battalion, but during the struggle in the colonies, the light companies of a brigade were so frequently massed in one battalion that in the end whole regiments were converted into light infantry. This combination of “line” steadiness and “skirmisher” freedom was the keynote of Sir John Moore’s training system fifteen years later, and Moore’s regiments, above all the 52nd, 43rd (now combined as the Oxfordshire Light Infantry) and 95th Rifles (Rifle Brigade), were the backbone of the British Army throughout the Peninsular War. At Waterloo the 52nd, changing front in line at the double, flung itself on the head and flank of the Old Guard infantry, and with the “rolling volleys” inherited from the Seven Years’ War, shattered it in a few minutes. Such an exploit would have been absolutely inconceivable in the case of one of the old “free battalions.” But the light infantry had not merely been levelled up to the line, it had surpassed it, and in 1815 there were no troops in Europe, whether trained to fight in line or column or skirmishers, who could rival the three regiments named, the “Light Division” of Peninsular annals. For meantime the infantry organization and tactics of the old régime, elsewhere than in England, had been disintegrated by the flames of the French Revolution, and from their ashes a new system had arisen, which forms the real starting-point of the infantry tactics of to-day.
The controversialists of Louis XVI.’s time, foremost of whom were Guibert, Joly de Maizeroy and Menil Durand (see Max Jähns, Gesch. d. Kriegswissenschaften, vol. iii.), were agreed that shock action should be the work of troops formed in column, but as to the results to be expected The French Revolution. from shock action, the extent to which it should be facilitated by a previous fire preparation, and the formations In which fire should be delivered (line, line with skirmishers or “swarms”) discussion was so warm that it sometimes led to wrangles in ladies’ drawing-rooms and meetings in the duelling field. The drill-book for the French infantry issued shortly before the Revolution was a common-sense compromise, which in the main adhered to the Frederician system as modified by Guibert, but gave an important place in infantry tactics to the battalion “columns of attack,” that had hitherto appeared only spasmodically on the battlefields of the French army and never elsewhere. This, however, and the quick march (100 paces to the minute instead of the Frederician 75) were the only prescriptions in the drill-book that survived the test of a “national” war, to which within a few years it was subjected (see French Revolutionary Wars). The rest, like the “linear system” of organization and manœuvre to which it belonged (see Army, §§ 30-33; Conscription, &c.) was ignored, and circumstances and the practical troop-leaders evolved by circumstances fashioned the combination of close-order columns and loose-order skirmishers which constituted essentially the new tactics of the Revolutionary and Napoleonic infantry.
The process of evolution cannot be stated in exact terms, more especially as the officers, as they grew in wisdom through experience, learned to apply each form in accordance with ground and circumstances, and to reject, when unsuitable, not only the forms of the drill-book, but the forms proposed by themselves Tactical evolution in France 1792–1807. to replace those of the drill-book. But certain tendencies are easily discernible. The first tendency was towards the dissolution of all tactical links. The earlier battles were fought partly in line for fire action, partly in columns for the bayonet attack. Now the linear tactics depended on exact preservation of dressing, intervals and distances, and what required in the case of the Prussians years of steady drill at 76 paces to the minute was hardly attainable with the newly levied ardent Frenchmen marching at 100 to 120. Once, therefore, the line moved, it broke up into an irregular swarm of excited firers, and experience soon proved that only the troops kept out of the turmoil, whether in line or in column, were susceptible of manœuvre and united action. Thus from about 1795 onwards the forms of the old régime, with half the troops in front in line of battle (practically in dense hordes of firers) and the other half in rear in line or line of columns, give way to new ones in which the skirmishers are fewer and the closed troops more numerous, and the decision rests no longer with the fire of the leading units (which of course could not compare in effectiveness with the rolling volleys of the drilled line) but with the bayonets of the second and third lines—the latter being sometimes in line but more often, owing to the want of preliminary drill, in columns. The skirmishers tended again to become pure light infantry, whose rôle was to prepare, not to give, the decision, and who fought in a thin line, taking every advantage of cover and marksmanship. In the Consulate and early Empire, indeed, we commonly find, in the closed troops destined for the attack, mixed line and column formations combining in themselves shock and controlled close-order fire—absolutely regardless of the skirmishers in front.
In sum, then, from 1792 to 1795 the fighting methods of the French infantry, of which so much has been written and said, are, as they have aptly been called, “horde-tactics.” From 1796 onwards to the first campaigns of the Empire, on the other hand, there is an ever-growing tendency to combine skirmishers, properly so called, with controlled and well-closed bodies in rear, the first to prepare the attack to the best of their ability by individual courage and skill at arms, the second to deliver it at the right moment (thanks to their retention of manœuvre formations), and with all possible energy (thanks to the cohesion, moral and material, which carried forward even the laggards). Even when in the long wars of the Empire the quality of the troops progressively deteriorated, infantry tactics within the regiment or brigade underwent no radical alteration. The actual formations were most varied, but they always contained two of the three elements, column, line and skirmishers. Column (generally two lines of battalions in columns of double-companies) was for shock or attack, line for fire-effect, and skirmishers to screen the advance, to scout the ground and to disturb the enemy’s aim. Of these, except on the defensive (which was rare in a Napoleonic battle), the “column” of attack was by far the most important. The line formations for fire, with which it was often combined, rarely accounted for more than one-quarter of the brigade or division, while the skirmishers were still less numerous. Withal, these formations in themselves were merely fresh shapes for old ideas. The armament of Napoleon’s troops was almost identical with that of Frederick’s or Saxe’s. Line, column and combinations of the two were as old as Fontenoy and were, moreover, destined to live for many years after Napoleon had fallen. “Horde-tactics” did not survive the earlier Revolutionary campaigns. Wherein then lies the change which makes 1792 rather than 1740 the starting-point of modern tactics?
The answer, in so far as so comprehensive a question can be answered from a purely infantry standpoint, is that whereas Frederick, disposing of a small and highly finished instrument, used its manœuvre power and regimental efficiency to destroy one part of his enemy so swiftly Napoleon’s infantry and artillery tactics, 1807–1815. that the other had no time to intervene, Napoleon, who had numbers rather than training on his side, only delivered his decisive blow after he had “fixed” all bodies of the enemy which would interfere with his preparations—i.e. had set up a physical barrier against the threatened intervention. This new idea manifested itself in various forms. In strategy (q.v.) and combined tactics it is generally for convenience called “economy of force.” In the domain of artillery (see Artillery) it marked a distinction, that has revived in the last twenty years, between slow disintegrating fire and sudden and overpowering “fire-preparation.” As regards infantry the effect of it was revolutionary. Regiments and brigades were launched to the attack to compel the enemy to defend himself, and fought until completely dissolved to force him to use up his reserves. “On s’engage partout et puis l’on voit” is Napoleon’s own description of his holding attack, which in no way resembled the “feints” of previous generations. The self-sacrifice of the men thus engaged enabled their commander to “see,” and to mass his reserves opposite a selected point, while little by little the enemy was hypnotized by the fighting. Lastly, when “the battle was ripe” a hundred and more guns galloped into close range and practically annihilated a part of the defender’s line. They were followed up by masses of reserve infantry, often more solidly formed at the outset than the old Swiss masses of the 16th century. If the moment was rightly chosen these masses, dissolved though they soon were into dense formless crowds, penetrated the gap made by the guns (with their arms at the slope) and were quickly followed by cavalry divisions to complete the enemy’s defeat. Here, too, it is to be observed there is no true shock. The infantry masses merely “present the cheque for payment,” and apart from surprises, ambushes and fights in woods and villages there are few recorded cases of bayonets being crossed in these wars. Napoleon himself said “Le feu est tout, le reste peu de chose,” and though a mere plan of his dispositions suggests that he was the disciple of Folard and Menil Durand, in reality he simply applied “fire-power” in the new and grander form which his own genius imagined.
The problem, then, was not what it had been one hundred and fifty years before. The business of the attack was not to break down the passive resistance of the defence, but to destroy or to evade its fire-power. No attack with the bayonet could succeed if this remained effective and unbroken, and no resistance (in the open field at least) availed when it had been mastered or evaded. In Napoleon’s army, the circumstance that the infantry was (after 1807) incapable of carrying out its own fire-preparation forced the task into the hands of the field artillery. In other armies the 18th-century system had been discredited by repeated disasters, and the infantry, as it became “nationalized,” was passing slowly through the successive phases of irregular lines, “swarms,” skirmishers and line-and-column formations that the French Revolutionary armies had traversed before them—none of them methods that in themselves had given decisive results.
In all Europe the only infantry that represented the Frederician tradition and prepared its own charge by its own fire was the British. Eye-witnesses who served in the ranks of the French have described the sensation of powerlessness that they felt as their attacking column approached The British Peninsular infantry. the line and watched it load and come to the present. The column stopped short, a few men cheered, others opened a ragged individual fire, and then came the volleys and the counter-attack that swept away the column. Sometimes this counter-stroke was made, as in the famous case of Busaco, from an apparently unoccupied ridge, for the British line, under Moore’s guidance, had shaken off the Prussian stiffness, fought 2 deep instead of 3 and was able to take advantage of cover. The “blankness of the battlefield” noted by so many observers to-day in the South African and Manchurian Wars was fully as characteristic of Wellington’s battles from Vimeiro to Waterloo, in spite of close order and red uniforms. But these battles were of the offensive-defensive type in the main, and for various reasons this type could not be accepted as normal by the rest of Europe. Nonchalance was not characteristic of the eager national levies of 1813 and 1814, and the Wellington method of infantry tactics, though it had brought about the failure of Napoleon’s last effort, was still generally regarded as an illustration of the already recognized fact that on the defensive the fire-power of the line, unless partly or wholly evaded by rapidity in the advance and manœuvring power or mastered and extinguished by the fire-power of the attack, made the front of the defence impregnable. There was indeed nothing in the English tactics at Waterloo that, standing out from the incidents of the battle, offered a new principle of winning battles.
Nor indeed did Europe at large desire a fresh era of warfare. Only the French, and a few unofficial students of war elsewhere, realized the significance of the rejuvenated “line.” For every one else, the later Napoleonic battle was the model, and as the great wars had ended before the “national” spirit had been exhausted or misused in wars of aggrandizement, infantry tactics retained, in Germany, Austria and Russia, the characteristic Napoleonic formations, lines of battalion or regimental columns, sometimes combined with linear formations for fire, and always covered by skirmishers. That these columns must in action dissolve sooner or later into dense irregular swarms was of course foreseen, but Napoleon had accustomed the world to long and costly fire-fighting as the preliminary to the attack of the massed reserves, and for the short remainder of the period of smooth-bore muskets, troops were always launched to the attack in columns covered by a thin line of picked shots as skirmishers. The moral power of the offensive “will to conquer” and the rapidity of the attack itself were relied upon to evade and disconcert the fire-power of the defence. If the attack failed to do so, the ranges at which infantry fire was really destructive were so small that it was easy for the columns to deploy or disperse and open a fire-fight to prepare the way for the next line of columns. And after a careful study of the battle of the Alma, in which the British line won its last great victory in the open field, Moltke himself only proposed such modifications in the accepted tactical system as would admit of the troops being deployed for defence instead of meeting attack, as the Russians met it, in solid and almost stationary columns. Fire in the attack, in fact, had come to be considered as chiefly the work of artillery, and as artillery, being an expensive arm, had been reduced during the period of military stagnation following Waterloo, and was no longer capable of Napoleonic feats, the attack was generally a bayonet attack pure and simple. Infantry methods, 1815–1870. Waterloo and the Alma were credited, not to fire-power, but to English solidity, and as Ardant du Picq observes, “All the peoples of Europe say ‘no one can resist our bayonet attack if it is made resolutely’—and all are right. . . . Bayonet fixed or in the scabbard, it is all the same.” Since the disappearance of the “dark impenetrable wood” of spears, the question has always turned on the word “resolute.” If the defence cannot by any means succeed in mastering the resolution of the assailant, it is doomed. But the means (moral and material) at the disposal of the defence for the purpose of mastering this resolution were, within a few years of the Crimean War, revolutionized by the general adoption of the rifle, the introduction of the breech-loader and the revival of the “nation in arms.”
Thirty years before the Crimea the flint-lock had given way to the percussion lock (see Gun), which was more certain in its action and could be used in all weathers. But fitting a copper cap on the nipple was not so simple a matter for nervous fingers as priming with a pinch of powder, and the usual rate of fire had fallen from the five rounds a minute of Frederick’s day to two or three at the most. “Fire-power” therefore was at a low level until the general introduction of the rifled barrel, which while further diminishing the rate of fire, at any rate greatly increased the range at which volleys were thoroughly effective. Artillery (see Artillery, § 13), the fire-weapon of the attack, made no corresponding progress, and even as early as the Alma and Inkerman (where the British troops used the Minie rifle) the dense columns had suffered heavily without being able to retaliate by “crossing bayonets.” Fire power, therefore, though still the special prerogative of the defence, began to reassert its influence, and for a brief period the defensive was regarded as the best form of tactics. But the low rate of fire was still a serious objection. Many incidents in the American Civil War showed this, notably Fredericksburg, where the key of the Confederate position was held—against a simple frontal attack unsupported by effective artillery fire—by three brigades in line one behind the other, i.e. by a six-deep firing line. No less force could guarantee the “inviolability of the front,” and even when, in this unnatural and uneconomical fashion, the rate of fire was augmented as well as the effective range, a properly massed and well-led attack in column (or in a rapid succession of deployed lines) generally reached the defender’s position, though often in such disorder that a resolute counterstroke drove it back again. The American fought over more difficult country and with less previous drill-training than the armies of the Old World. The fire-power of the defence, therefore, that even in America did not always prevail over the resolution of the attack, entirely failed in the Italian war of 1859 to stop the swiftly moving, well-drilled columns of the French professional army, in which the national élan had not as yet been suppressed, as it was a few years later, by the doctrine that “the new arms found their greatest scope in the defence.” The Austrians, who had pinned their faith to this doctrine, deserted their false gods, forbade any mention of the defensive in their drill-books, and brought back into honour the bayonet tactics of the old wars.
The need of artillery support for the attack was indeed felt (though the gunners had not as yet evolved any substitute for the case-shot preparation of Napoleon’s time), but men remembered that artillery was used by the great captain, not so much to enable good troops to close with the enemy, as to win battles with masses of troops of an inferior stamp, and contemporary experience seemed to show that (if losses were accepted as inevitable) good and resolute troops could overpower the defence, even in face of the rifle and without the aid of case shot. But a revolution was at hand.
In 1861 Moltke, discussing the war in Italy, wrote, “General Niel attributes his victory (at Solferino) to the bayonet. But that does not imply that the attack was often followed by a hand-to-hand fight. In principle, when one The breech-loading rifle. makes a bayonet charge, it is because one supposes that the enemy will not await it. . . . To approach the enemy closely, pouring an efficacious fire into him—as Frederick the Great’s infantry did—is also a method of the offensive.” This method was applicable at that time for the Prussians alone, for they alone possessed a breech-loading firearm. The needle-gun was a rudimentary weapon in many respects, but it allowed of maintaining more than twice the rate of fire that the muzzle-loader could give, and, moreover, it permitted the full use of cover, because the firer could lie down to fire without having to rise between every round to load. Further, he could load while actually running forward, whereas with the old arms loading not only required complete exposure but also checked movement. The advantages of the Prussian weapon were further enhanced, in the war against Austria, by the revulsion of feeling in the Imperial army in favour of the pure bayonet charge in masses that had followed upon Magenta and Solferino.
With the stiffly drilled professional soldier of England, Austria and Russia the handiness of the new weapon could hardly have been exploited, for (in Russia at any rate) even skirmishers had to march in step. The Prussians were drilled nominally in accordance with regulations dating from 1812, and therefore suitable, if not to the new weapon, at least to the “swarm” fighting of an enthusiastic national army, but upon these regulations a mass of peace-time amendments had been superposed, and in theory their drill was as stiff as that of the Russians. But, as in France in 1793–1796, the composition of their army—a true “nation in arms”—and the character of the officers evolved by the universal service system saved them from their regulations. The offensive spirit was inculcated as thoroughly as elsewhere, and in a much more practical form. Dietrich von Bülow’s predictions of the future battle of “skirmishers” (meaning thereby a dense but irregular firing line) had captivated the younger school of officers, while King William and the veterans of Napoleon’s wars were careful to maintain small columns (sometimes company columns of 240 rifles, but quite as often half-battalion and battalion columns) as a solid background to the firing line. Thus in 1866 (see Seven Weeks’ War), as Moltke had foreseen, the attacking infantry fought its way to close quarters by means of its own fire, and the bayonet charge again became, in his own words, “not the first, but the last, phase of the combat,” immediately succeeding a last burst of rapid fire at short range and carried out by the company and battalion reserves in close order. Against the Austrians, whose tactics alternated between unprepared bayonet rushes by whole brigades and a passive slow-firing defensive, victory was easily achieved.
But immediately after Königgrätz the French army was served out with a breech-loading rifle greatly superior in every respect to the needle-gun, and after four years’ tension France pitted breech-loader against breech-loader. Infantry in the war of 1870. In the first battles (see Wörth, and Metz: Battles) the decision-seeking spirit of the “armed nation,” the inferior range of the needle-gun as compared with that of the chassepot, and the recollections of easy triumphs in 1864 and 1866, all combined to drive the German infantry forward to within easy range before they began to make use of their weapons. Their powerful artillery would have sufficed of itself to enable them to do this (see Sedan), had they but waited for its fire to take effect. But they did not, and they suffered accordingly, for, owing to the ineffectiveness of their rifle between 1000 and 400 yds. range, they had to advance, as the Austrians and Russians had done in previous wars, without firing a shot. In these circumstances their formations, whether line or column, broke up, and the whole attacking force dissolved into long irregular swarms. These swarms were practically composed only of the brave men, while the rest huddled together in woods and valleys. When, therefore, at last the firing line came within 400 or 500 yds. of the French, it was both severely tried and numerically weak, but the fact that it was composed of the best men only enabled it to open and to maintain an effective fire. Even then the French, highly disciplined professional soldiers that they were, repeatedly swept them back by counterstrokes, but these counterstrokes were subjected to the fire of the German guns and were never more than locally and momentarily effective. More and more German infantry was pushed forward to support the firing line, and, like its predecessors, each reinforcement, losing most of its unwilling men as it advanced over the shot-swept ground, consisted on arrival of really determined men, and closing on the firing line pushed it forward, sometimes 20 yds., sometimes 100, until at last rapid fire at the closest ranges dislodged the stubborn defenders. Bayonets (as usual) were never actually used, save in sudden encounters in woods and villages. The decisive factors were, first the superiority of the Prussian guns, secondly, heavy and effective fire delivered at short range, and above all the high moral of a proportion of resolute soldiers who, after being subjected for hours to the most demoralizing influences, had still courage left for the final dash. These three factors, in spite of changes in armament, rule the infantry attack of to-day.
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 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 1870,
owing to the peculiar circumstances of unequal armament,
the “fire-fight” was insufficiently developed
and uneconomically used, and after the war tacticians
of 1870. turned their attention to the evolution of better methods than those of Wörth 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-Drückebergertum 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 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 breech-loader 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 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 safety in action and comfort in bivouac by experience, and had to be taught. But it was still more the new Conditions of the modern battle. 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, 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 Wörth 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. 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 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 an unnecessary and unattainable ideal of mechanical perfection, but to a state of instinctive self-control in danger. Drill, therefore, 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 l’éducation). Materially it consists in 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. Drill. 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 manœuvre, 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 submerged. 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’éducation,” says le Bon, “est l’art de faire passer le conscient dans l’inconscient.” Lastly, the instincts of the recruit being those special to his race or nation, which are the more powerful 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 knowledge (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 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 catchword of the Bülow 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 The South African War. and artillery underwent a profound change. As 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 manœuvring 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 10 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 Formulation of the British “Doctrine.” had not proved satisfactory after their transplantation from South Africa to Europe, but after the Russo-Japanese War a series of important amendments was issued which gave greater force and still greater elasticity 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 manœuvre 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 forces engaged by five—and to find the resolute The decisive attack. general to lead them—to obtain the ideal decisive 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 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. Sometimes even after a firing line of some strength has been established at decisive range, it may prove too difficult The approach-march. 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 1875) 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 “confirms”
the victory. Every attack begins with deployment
into extended order, and the leading line
Current views on
the infantry attack. advances as close to the enemy as possible before 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 1000 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 long 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 1909 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 Defence. 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 illustrated in Fortification and Siegecraft: Field Defences. Entrenchments of greater or less strength by themselves have always been used by infantry on the defensive, Entrenchments. 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 barrier 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.”
The organization of infantry varies rather more than that of other arms in different countries. Taking the British system first, the battalion (and not as elsewhere the regiment of two, three or more battalions) is the administrative and manœuvre unit. It is about 1000 strong, and is commanded by a lieutenant-colonel, who has a major and an adjutant (captain or lieutenant) to assist him, and an officer of lieutenant’s or captain’s rank (almost invariably promoted from the ranks), styled the quartermaster, to deal with supplies, clothing, &c. There are eight companies of a nominal strength of about 120 each. These are commanded by captains (or by junior majors), and each captain has or should have two lieutenants or second lieutenants to assist him. Machine guns are in Great Britain distributed to the battalions and not massed in permanent batteries. In addition there are various regimental details, such as orderly-room staff, cooks, cyclists, signallers, band and ambulance men. The company is divided into four sections of thirty men each and commanded by sergeants. A half-company of two sections is under the control of a subaltern officer. A minor subdivision of the section into two “squads” is made unless the numbers are insufficient to warrant it. In administrative duties the captain’s principal assistant is the colour-sergeant or pay-sergeant, who is not assigned to a section command. The lieutenant-colonel, the senior major and the adjutant are mounted. The commanding officer is assisted by a battalion staff, at the head of which is the adjutant. The sergeant-major holds a “warrant” from the secretary of state for war, as does the bandmaster. Other members of the battalion staff are non-commissioned officers, appointed by the commanding officer. The most important of these is the quartermaster-sergeant, who is the assistant of the quartermaster. The two colours (“king’s” and “regimental”) are in Great Britain carried by subalterns and escorted by colour-sergeants (see Colours).
The “tactical” unit of infantry is now the company, which varies very greatly in strength in the different armies. Elsewhere the company of 250 rifles is almost universal, but in Great Britain the company has about 110 men in the ranks, forming four sections. These sections, each of about 28 rifles, are the normal “fire-units,” that is to say, the unit which delivers its fire at the orders of and with the elevation and direction given by its commander. This, it will be observed, gives little actual executive work for the junior officers. But a more serious objection than this (which is modified in practice by arrangement and circumstances) is the fact that a small unit is more affected by detachments than a large one. In the home battalions of the Regular Army such detachments are very large, what with finding drafts for the foreign service battalions and for instructional courses, while in the Territorial Force, where it is so rarely possible to assemble all the men at once, the company as organized is often too small to drill as such. On the other hand, the full war-strength company is an admirable unit for control and manœuvre in the field, owing to its rapidity of movement, handiness in using accidents of ground and cover, and susceptibility to the word of command of one man. But as soon as its strength falls below about 80 the advantages cease to counterbalance the defects. The sections become too small as fire-units to effect really useful results, and the battalion commander has to co-ordinate and to direct 8 comparatively ineffective units instead of 4 powerful ones. The British regular army, therefore, has since the South African War, adopted the double company as the unit of training. This gives at all times a substantial unit for fire and manœuvre training, but the disadvantage of having a good many officers only half employed is accentuated. As to the tactical value of the large or double company, opinions differ. Some hold that as the small company is a survival from the days when the battalion was the tactical unit and the company was the unit of volley-fire, it is unsuited to the modern exigencies that have broken up the old rigid line into several independent and co-operating fractions. Others reply that the strong continental company of 250 rifles came into existence in Prussia in the years after Waterloo, not from tactical reasons, but because the state was too poor to maintain a large establishment of officers, and that in 1870, at any rate, there were many instances of its tactical unwieldiness. The point that is common to both organizations is the fact that there is theoretically one subaltern to every 50 or 60 rifles, and this reveals an essential difference between the British and the Continental systems, irrespective of the sizes or groupings of companies. The French or German subaltern effectively commands his 50 men as a unit, whereas the British subaltern supervises two groups of 25 to 30 men under responsible non-commissioned officers. That is to say, a British sergeant may find himself in such a position that he has to be as expert in controlling and obtaining good results from collective fire as a German lieutenant. For reasons mentioned in Army, § 40, non-commissioned officers, of the type called by Kipling the “backbone of the army,” are almost unobtainable with the universal service system, and the lowest unit that possesses any independence is the lowest unit commanded by an officer. But apart from the rank of the fire-unit commander, it is questionable whether the section, as understood in England, is not too small a fire-unit, for European warfare at any rate. The regulations of the various European armies, framed for these conditions, practically agree that the fire-unit should be commanded by an officer and should be large enough to ensure good results from collective fire. The number of rifles meeting this second condition is 50 to 80 and their organization a “section” (corresponding to the British half-company) under a subaltern officer. The British army has, of course, to be organized and trained for an infinitely wider range of activity, and no one would suggest the abolition of the small section as a fire-unit. But in a great European battle it would be almost certainly better to group the two sections into a real unit for fire effect. (For questions of infantry fire tactics see Rifle: § Musketry.)
On the continent of Europe the “regiment,” which is a unit, acting in peace and war as such, consists normally of three battalions, and each battalion of four companies or 1000 rifles. The company of 250 rifles is commanded by a captain, who is mounted. In France the company has four sections, commanded in war by the three subalterns and the “adjudant” (company sergeant-major); the sections are further grouped in pairs to constitute pelotons (platoons) or half-companies under the senior of the two section leaders. In peace there are two subalterns only, and the peloton is the normal junior officer’s command. The battalion is commanded by a major (commandant or strictly chef de bataillon), the regiment (three or four battalions) by a colonel with a lieutenant-colonel as second. An organization of 3-battalion regiments and 3-company battalions was proposed in 1910.
In Germany, where what we have called the continental company originated, the regiment is of three battalions under majors, and the battalion of four companies commanded by captains. The company is divided into three Züge (sections), each under a subaltern, who has as his second a sergeant-major, a “vice-sergeant-major” or a “sword-knot ensign” (aspirant officer). In war there is one additional officer for company. The Zug at war-strength has therefore about 80 rifles in the ranks, as compared with the French “section” of 50, and the British section of 30.
The system prevailing in the United States since the reorganization of 1901 is somewhat remarkable. The regiment, which is a tactical as well as an administrative unit, consists of three battalions. Each battalion has four companies of (at war-strength) 3 officers and 150 rifles each. The regiment in war therefore consists of about 1800 rifles in three small and handy battalions of 600 each. The circumstances in which this army serves, and in particular the maintenance of small frontier posts, have always imposed upon subalterns the responsibilities of small independent commands, and it is fair to assume that the 75 rifles at a subaltern’s disposal are regarded as a tactical unit.
In sum, then, the infantry battalion is in almost every country about 1000 rifles strong in four companies. In the United States it is 600 strong in four companies, and in Great Britain it is 1000 strong in eight. The captain’s command is usually 200 to 250 men, in the United States 150, and in Great Britain 120. The lieutenant or second lieutenant commands in Germany 80 rifles, in France 50, in the United States 75, as a unit of fire and manœuvre. In Great Britain he commands, with relatively restricted powers, 60.
A short account of the infantry equipments—knapsack or valise, belt, haversack, &c.—in use in various countries will be found in Uniforms, Naval and Military. The armament of infantry is, in all countries, the magazine rifle (see Rifle) and bayonet (q.v.), for officers and for certain under-officers sword (q.v.) and pistol (q.v.). Ammunition (q.v.) in the British service is carried (a) by the individual soldier, (b) by the reserves (mules and carts) in regimental charge, some of which in action are assembled from the battalions of a brigade to form a brigade reserve, and (c) by the ammunition columns.
Bibliography.—The following works are selected to show (1) the historical development of the arm, and (2) the different “doctrines” of to-day as to its training and functions:—Ardant du Picq, Études sur le combat; C. W. C. Oman, The Art of War: Middle Ages; Biottot, Les Grands Inspirés—Jeanne d’Arc; Hardy de Périni, Batailles françaises; C. H. Firth, Cromwell’s Army; German official history of Frederick the Great’s wars, especially Erster Schlesische Krieg, vol. i.; Susane, Histoire de l’infanterie française; French General Staff, La Tactique au XVIII me—l’infanterie and La Tactique et la discipline dans les armées de la Révolution—Général Schauenbourg; J. W. Fortescue, History of the British Army; Moorsom, History of the 52nd Regiment; de Grandmaison, Dressage de l’infanterie (Paris, 1908); works of W. v. Scherff; F. N. Maude, Evolution of Infantry Tactics and Attack and Defence; [Meckel] Ein Sommernachtstraum (Eng. trans, in United Service Magazine, 1890); J. Meckel, Taktik; Malachowski, Scharfe- und Revuetaktik; H. Langlois, Enseignements de deux guerres; F. Hoenig, Tactics of the Future and Twenty-four Hours of Moltke’s Strategy (Eng. trans.); works of A. von Boguslowski; British Officers’ Reports on the Russo-Japanese War; H. W. L. Hime, Stray Military Papers; Grange, “Les Réalités du champ de bataille—Woerth” (Rev. d’infanterie, 1908–1909); V. Lindenau, “The Boer War and Infantry Attack” (Journal R. United Service Institution, 1902–1903); Janin, “Aperçus sur la tactique—Mandchourie” (Rev. d’infanterie, 1909); Soloviev, “Infantry Combat in the Russo-Jap. War” (Eng. trans. Journal R.U.S.I., 1908); British Official Field Service Regulations, part i. (1909), and Infantry Training (1905); German drill regulations of 1906 (Fr. trans.); French drill regulations of 1904; Japanese regulations 1907 (Eng. trans.). The most important journals devoted to the infantry arm are the French official Revue d’infanterie (Paris and Limoges), and the Journal of the United States Infantry Association (Washington, D. C). (C. F. A.)
- At Bouvines, it is recorded with special emphasis that Guillaume des Barres, when in the act of felling the emperor, heard the call to rescue King Philip Augustus and, forfeiting his rich prize, made his way back to help his own sovereign.
- Crossbows indeed were powerful, and also handled by professional soldiers (e.g. the Genoese at Crécy), but they were slow in action, six times as slow as the long bow, and the impatient gendarmerie generally became tired of the delay and crowded out or rode over the crossbowmen.
- As for instance when thirty men-at-arms “cut out” the Captal de Buch from the midst of his army at Cocherel.
- This tendency of the French military temperament reappears at almost every stage in the history of armies.
- The term landsknecht, it appears, was not confined to the right bank of the Rhine. The French “lansquenets” came largely from Alsace, according to General Hardy de Périni. In the Italian wars Francis I. had in his service a famous corps called the “black bands” which was recruited, in the lower Rhine countries.
- This practice of “maintenance” on a large scale continued to exist in France long afterwards. As late as the battle of Lens (1648) we find figuring in the king of France’s army three “regiments of the House of Condé.”
- Even as late as 1645 a battalion of infantry in England was called a “tercio” or “tertia” (see Army#Spanish; Spanish army).
- In France it is recorded that the Gardes françaises, when warned for duty at the Louvre, used to stroll thither in twos and threes.
- About this time there was introduced, for resisting cavalry, the well-known hollow battalion square, which, replacing the former masses of pikes, represented up to the most modern times the defensive, as the line or column represented the offensive formation of infantry.
- The Prussian Grenadier battalions in the Silesian and Seven Years’ Wars were more and more confined strictly to line-of-battle duties as the irregular light infantry developed in numbers.
- Even when the hostile artillery was still capable of fire these masses were used, for in no other formation could the heterogeneous and ill-trained infantry of Napoleon’s vassal states (which constituted half of his army) be brought up at all.
- Rifles had, of course, been used by corps of light troops (both infantry and mounted) for many years. The British Rifle Brigade was formed in 1800, but even in the Seven Years’ War there were rifle-corps or companies in the armies of Prussia and Austria. These older rifles could not compare in rapidity or volume of fire with the ordinary firelock.
- The Prussian company was about 250 strong (see below under “Organization”). This strength was adopted after 1870 by practically all nations which adopted universal service. The battalion had 4 companies.
- 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.
- This is no new thing, but belongs, irrespective of armament, to the “War of masses.” The king of Prussia’s fighting instructions of the 10th of August 1813 lay down the principle as clearly as any modern work.
- In the British Service, men whose nerves betray them on the shooting range are ordered more gymnastics (Musketry Regulations, 1910).
- In 1870 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.
- In February 1910 a new Infantry Training was said to be in preparation. The I.T. of 1905 is in some degree incompatible with the later and ruling doctrine of the F.S. Regulations, and in the winter of 1909 the Army Council issued a memorandum drawing attention to the different conceptions of the decisive attack as embodied in the latter and as revealed in manœuvre procedure.