The question of the adaptability of mechanical traction for use in war is of the greatest interest; and the important part played by the railway in modem campaigns is well known, but it by no means exhausts the use of mechanical power for war transport purposes. The increasing size of armies has necessitated still further substitution of mechanical for animal traction.
Already in 1870 it was found that the means of transport for war material for the German army was deficient; but the disadvantages were not so much felt, as the army was operating in a densely populated country, and its victories, enabled it to extend the district from which it drew its supplies in advancing. Forced contributions sufficient for feeding large bodies of troops in future wars cannot be relied on, as they will certainly fail if the operations are arrested for strategic purposes; for instance, before fortifications, or if armies have to alter their line of march and concentrate, as in the case of Sedan.
Another reason for reform in army transport methods is the fact that the field force of the present day must use heavy guns in carrying out the duties assigned to it; such guns as formerly were only required by troops engaged in siege operations. In some cases it depends on the effect of these guns, especially their timely action against barrier forts [Barrier forts (sperrforts). That Invaluable work, Brockhaus’s Konveration’s Lexikon, gives the following description of what the Germans call sperrforts (Translator): Sperrforts, isolated forts intended to bar the way of an invading army at points where it oan best be done (river and mountain defiles). Themselves secure from surprise, and being carried by storm, they should be capable of holding out in proportion to the length of time it would take an invader to make a way round. They should compel the invader to use heavy artillery in attacking them, and be armed with heavy guns in iron casements and iron cupolas, and provided with bomb-proof chambers and galleries for the protection of the garrison. Noteworthy are the forts of this description in the Italian, Austrian, Swiss, and Frenoh Alps, built to defend the passes; also the chain of barrier forts in France on the Moselle and Saar.] whether an army must fight in its own country, or can do so in that of the enemy. For bringing up such guns, their ammunition, platforms, etc., automobile traction engines may be of the greatest value; and after bringing their loads to the place where they are required, they can be converted into stationary engines for hauling loads across country by means of wire ropes, thus accelerating the work of arming the batteries for action.
Mechanical traction for traffic has, during the last hundred years, made undreamt-of advances towards perfection. But its development is not yet complete. To wait until perfection is arrived at, as recommended in some quarters, is not expedient for the army. Such a policy may, in case of war, deprive the army entirely, or to a great extent, of important aid. And experience proves that an invention or appliance is of no use to an army in war time unless it has got acquainted with it and accustomed to it in peace time.
Previous to 1870 Germany was behind other countries in matters connected with the subject of this work. Native industries gave the German army no encouragement to experiment with road traction engines. The use of these engines, imported from England, was improvised during the Franco-German war. As a consequence, the results achieved with them were not at all equal to their capabilities, even at that time.
Improvised effort almost always ends in failure. As a contrast to the traction engine may he mentioned the air balloon. Whereas their war balloons rendered the French important services, the Germans were unable to use the only balloon they had, one obtained during the war from England for the purpose of observing the artillery fire from Strasburg.
It is time, then, to recognise the necessity for preparing beforehand and in peace time for the proper use of the traction engine in war. It is also necessary that this recognition should become general among the people, for sooner or later their representatives will be asked to supply the money required for the purpose. The nation must be prepared for as great an outlay on traction engines and plant as the rearmament of the infantry has hitherto cost. Germany grudges no expenditure on arms: Since it is now a question of equally great expenditure on means of military transport, the government and people should not forget that they owe the victories of 1870 to the circumstance that Prussia made timely use of the invention of the railway and telegraph (and the facilities afforded by them for more rapid transport) in the formation of strategic lines.
At the present time explosion or detonating motors or electric motors are to the front, and they come to mind first when it is a question of mechanical traction. But one must be on guard against the attractions of the sensational. These modem automobiles are not yet suited for the transport of heavy loads for war purposes—even with not illiberal allowances as regards cost and simplicity. War does not concern itself with the beautiful and intellectual invention. How small was the damage done to the Germans in 1870 by the technically highly interesting Mitrailleuse; and how little hurt were the French by the no less ingenious Feldl quick-firing machine [Used by the Bavarian army in 1870]. Before a scientific novelty can be of use in war, under conditions often of extraordinary difficulty, it must have been thoroughly well tested in every possible way in peace time.
But it is quite another matter when the question of mechanical traction refers to the locomotive, which, of course, is also an automobile. Of its use on rails it is needless to say a word. But on roads without rails it can also be of the greatest use in military transport. This is still disputed. The road locomotive does not shine as a pacemaker, and in this respect compares poorly with the railway engine or the express benzine automotor. All the same, the army traction engine’s pace, in its place behind the troops, is quite sufficient, and its day’s work is worth at least double that obtainable with animal traction.