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HISTORY]
527
INFANTRY


In strategy (q.v.) and combined tactics it is generally for convenience called “ economy of force.” In the domain of artillery (see A 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 tights 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 tire-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 M, British. Eye-witnesses who served in the ranks of British the French have described the sensation of powerless;°;Z'5; ""' ness that they felt as their attacking column approached 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 Well ington's battles from V imeiro 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 r8r3 and 1814, and the Wellington method of 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) bc brought up at all.

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 firepower of the line, unless partly or wholly evaded by rapidity in the advance and manoeuvring 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. Waterloo and the Alma were credited, not to firepower, but to English solidity, and as Ardant du methods, Picq observes, “ All the peoples of Europe say 1870. no one can resist our bayonet attack if 1t1s 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. Butfitting 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 tire-weapon of the

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

rifie-corps or companies in the armies of Prussia and Austria. These older rifies could not compare in rapidity or volume of fire with the ordinary firelock.