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1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Manœuvres, Military

MANŒUVRES, MILITARY. Manœuvres may be defined as the higher training for war of troops of 'all arms in large bodies, and have been carried out in most countries ever sincethe first formation of. standing armies. In England no manoeuvres or camps of exercise appear to have been held till the beginning of the 19th century, when Sir John Moore trained the famous Light Brigade at Shorncliife camp. In France, however, under Louis XIV., large camps of instruction were frequently held, the earliest recorded being that of 18,000 troopsat Compiégne in 1666; and these were continued at intervals underhis successor. At these French camps 'much time was devoted to ceremonial, and the manoeuvres performed were of an elementary description. Still their effect upon the training of the army for war was far-reaching, and bore fruit in the numerous wars in the first half of the 18th century. Moreover, experiments were made with proposed tactical systems and technical improvements, as in the case of the contest between l'ordre mince and t'ordre profonde (see INFANTRY) between 1785 and 1790. Other countries followed suit, but it was reserved for Frederick the Great to inaugurate a system of real manoeuvres and to develop on the training-ground the system of tactics which bore such good fruit in his various campaigns. The numbers of troops assembled were large; for example, at Spandau in 1753, when 36,000 men carried out manoeuvres for twelve days. The king laid the greatest stress on these exercises, and took immense pains to turn to account the experience gained in his campaigns. Great secrecy was observed, and before the Seven Years' Warno stranger was allowed to be present. The result of all this careful training was shown in the Seven Years' War, and after it the Prussian manoeuvres gained a reputation which they have maintained to this day. But with the passing away of the great king they became' more and more pedantic, and the fatal results were shown in 1806. After the Napoleonic wars Yearly manoeuvres became the custom in every large Continental army; Great Britain alone thought she could dispense with them, perhaps because of the constant practical training her troops and officers received in the various Indian and colonial wars; and it was not till 1853 that, by the advice of the Prince Consort, a body of troops were gathered together for a camp of exercise on Chobham Common, and that eventually a standing camp of exercise was evolved out of the temporary camp formed during the Crimean War at Aldershot.

Most continental armies have, since the great successes of the Germans in 1870, copied more or less their system of military training; hence it is appropriate to consider their methods first. The whole training of the army is based on a yearly programme of gradual progression, from the joining of the recruits in October to the training by squads, companies, battalions and regiments, the latter finishing their field training about the middle of August, when the manœuvre period begins. First of all, the brigades go through five working days of drills on flat ground, to get them under the hand of their commanders and prepare them for manœuvres. Then follow ten working days of manœuvres in new and varied ground, of which four are “brigade”, four “divisional” and two “corps” manœuvres, in each case the unit named being divided into two portions of all arms, which manœuvre against one another. Each year two or more army corps carry out manœuvres before the emperor, working against one another. The chief feature of the German manœuvres is the free hand allowed to leaders of sides. Of course, for reasons of supply and transport, it is necessary to keep the troops within a certain area, but the general and special ideas[1] are so framed that, while retaining their own initiative, the leaders of sides have to give such orders as will suit the arrangements made by the director of manœuvres for supply. The faculty of quartering troops on private individuals to any extent, and the fact of the troops being provided with portable tent equipment, give great latitude to the German leaders in their choice of quarters for troops, and so increase the similitude of manœuvres to war. The Austrian and Italian manœuvres are a close copy of the German, but those of the French present the peculiarity of a certain amount of prearrangement, especially at grand manœuvres, when it is frequently laid down beforehand which side is to be victorious. Thus a series of pictures of war is presented, but the manœuvres are hardly a test of the skill of the rival leaders. But, just as in recent years in France this practice has been modified, so also the entire liberty given to commanders in the German manœuvres in 1906–7 had to be curtailed in the following years owing to the strain of forced marches which it entailed on the troops.

In Russia the climatic and social conditions, and the distribution of the army, necessitate a quite peculiar system. The troops leave their barracks and move into standing camps, generally in May, and in these for about three months their training up to that in battalions is carried out on the drill ground. Camps of mixed units are then formed for a month, and from them, but always over the same ground, the manœuvres of regiments, brigades and divisions are performed. Then follow the so-called mobile manœuvres, which last for ten days or a fortnight. Of all European manœuvres these are perhaps the nearest approach to war, for the sides start a great distance apart, and ample time is allowed for cavalry reconnaissance. Besides, the Russian soldier does not require elaborate arrangements for supply; hence the director is not so tied down by consideration of this matter as in other armies. A political colour is sometimes given to such large assemblages of troops, especially when the manœuvres take place in frontier districts.

In England the military authorities have long been hampered in the organization of manœuvres by the necessity of carrying them out on very limited portions of government land or on areas lent as a favour by, or hired from, private individuals. There has been no want of recognition by the military authorities of the necessity for, and value of, manœuvres, and the training at the camps of instruction has been supplemented as far as possible by small manœuvres on such portions of country as could be made available. But, with the exception of spasmodic efforts in 1871 and 1872, it was not until 1897 that the government allowed itself to be convinced by its military advisers, and passed a Military Manœuvres Act, by which certain districts could be “proclaimed” for purposes of manœuvres, and troops in consequence could traverse all ground. In 1898 the first manœuvres under this Act were held in Wilts and Dorset, and were intended to be repeated at fixed intervals in future years. In addition, every effort was made to add to the existing permanent training grounds for troops, and ground was acquired on Salisbury Plain with the intention of developing it into a second Aldershot. But the training on those well-known grounds, excellent as it is in itself as a preparation, is not “manœuvres,” and never can do away with the necessity for them, with a more or less free hand given to the leaders over fresh country.

Much misconception prevails as to the nature and limitation of the military instruction to be imparted at manœuvres. Manœuvres are a school for the leaders, in a less degree for the led, and consequently the minor details of instruction must be completed, and the troops fully trained as units, before they can take part in them with advantage. The time during which large bodies of troops can be kept together for manœuvres is too short, and the expense too great, to justify time being spent on exercises which might as well be carried out in the ordinary stations or at the great training camps. Therefore it may be laid down as a principle that manœuvres, properly so-called, should be begun with units not smaller than a brigade of infantry on each side, with a due proportion of the other arms attached. It is useful if these can precede the manœuvres of larger bodies, as the training is then progressive and the result more satisfactory[2]

The choice of ground is of great importance. Its extent should be proportionate to the force to be employed and the nature of the instruction to be imparted. It should not be too hilly nor yet too flat, but both descriptions should be judiciously combined; and regard must be had to the water supply and the road and railway net for the convenience of the supply service. Once the ground has been selected, the general and special ideas must be so framed that the troops are thereby confined to the chosen ground without seeming to tie the hands of the leaders of sides. It is of great advantage if the same idea can be maintained throughout each series of operations, as thereby the interest of all concerned and the likeness to actual warfare are increased; and, if possible, the “state of war” should be continuous also. Within the limits of the special idea, the utmost latitude should be left to leaders; but if the orders of one or both sides seem to render a collision unlikely, the director should so modify the special idea as to compel one or other to re-cast his orders in such a way that contact is brought about. Such interference will scarcely be necessary after the first issues of orders in each series. In war the number of marching days vastly outnumbers those of fighting, but in manœuvres this must not be allowed; tactical instruction is what is desired, and a manœuvre day in which none is imparted is not fully utilized. It is not necessary that all the troops should be engaged, but at least the advanced bodies must come into contact, and the rest must carry out marches as on active service. Each action should be fought to its end, “Cease firing” being sounded when the crisis has been reached; and on a decision being given by the director, one side should retire and the fight be broken off in a proper military manner. The troops should place outposts each day, and act in all respects as if on active service.

The quartering and supply of troops are the chief difficulties in the arrangement of manœuvres, and afford ample opportunity for the practising of the officers and departments responsible for these matters. In England, where in peace it is not possible to billet troops on private individuals, quartering must be replaced by encampments or bivouacs, and the selection of ground for them affords invaluable practice. If possible, their position should be selected to conform to the military situation; but if it is found necessary, for reasons of water or food supply, to withdraw troops to positions other than such as they would occupy in real warfare, time should be allowed them on the following day to regain the positions they would otherwise have occupied. It is next to impossible, for various reasons, financial and other, to organize the food supply in manœuvres as it would be in war. Sufficient transport cadres cannot be kept up in peace, and consequently recourse must be had to hired transport, which cannot be treated as a military body. Again, food cannot be requisitioned, and local purchase at the time cannot be trusted to; so dépots of supplies must be formed beforehand in the manœuvres area, which more or less tie the hands of the supply service. Still, with a judicious choice of the points at which these are formed, much may be done to approximate to service conditions, and the more nearly these are realized the more instructive for the supply will the manœuvres become.

Finally, a word must be said as to the umpire staff, which represents the bullets. The most careful selection of officers for this important duty is necessary, and they must have sufficient authority and be in sufficient number to make their influence everywhere felt. Their principal object should be to come to a decision quickly, so as to prevent the occurrence of unreal situations; and by constant intercommunication they must ensure uniformity in their decisions, and so maintain continuity of the action all over the manœuvres battlefield.

 (J. M. GR.) 

  1. The “general” idea is a document, communicated to both sides, containing such general information of the war—the supposed frontiers, previous battles, &c.—as would be matters of common knowledge. The “special idea” of each side comprises the instructions upon which it is acting.
  2. Manœuvres incidentally afford an excellent opportunity of testing new patterns of equipment, transport or other matériel under conditions approximating to those of active service.