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528
[TATICS
INFANTRY


attack, made no corresponding progress, and even as early as the Alma and Inkerman (where the British troops used the Minie ride) 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 counter stroke 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 fires 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 nationaliélan 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 The that does not imply that the attack was often followed breech- by a hand-to-hand fight. In principle, when one 1°-141113 makes a bayonet charge, it is because one supposes me' that the enemy will not await it .... To approach the enemy closely, pouring on ejicacious fire into him-as Frederick the Great's infantry did-is also a method of the oj7'ensiz'e.” This method vs/as 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 frrer 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 stiflly 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 skirfnishers 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 armyatrue “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 Btilow'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 1 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 a.t short range and carried out by the company and battalion reserves in closing 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 Koniggriitz the French army was served out with a breech-loading rifle greatly superior i11 every respect to the needle-gun, and after four years' tension, ,, ,, m, , y France pitted breech-loader against breech-loader. “ In the In the first battles (see W6RTH, and METZ: Bottles) Wa' “f the decision-seeking spirit of the “ armed nation, ” the mm 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 counter strokes, but these counter strokes 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 Bring 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 Bring 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. INFANTRY TACTICS SINCE 1870' .

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

1 The Prussian company was about 250 strong (see below under

“ Organization ”). This strength was adopted after 1870 by tactically all nations which adopted universal service. The battalion had 4 companies.