Whereas at the present time the automobile as self propeller (i.e. not used to drag other carriages) has not much prospect of being widely adopted for military purposes, used as a means of traction much greater importance must be attached to it It was for this purpose (i.e. as traction engine) that the Frenchman Cugnot proposed, in 1769, to the French Minister of War the construction of a steam motor wagon, by utilising the invention of his countryman Papin.

It is only a question to which driving power to give the preference. Besides the various gas mixtures used in explosion motors, steam and the electric fluid have to be considered. Of late years for stationary small power engines steam-power has been almost entirely replaced by the gas engine, and that again by the oil motor. It looked at one time as if the oil motor would play an equally preponderating part as compared with steam for transport on roads without rails. But in the different heavy motor competitions which have taken place in France and England recently (Paris in August 1897 and October 1898; Liverpool in May 1898), the steam-engine proved to be a formidable competitor.

For the transport of artillery, oil motors working up to from 8 to 15 horse-power can be used, and were so employed (system Jourdan) in the 1896 manoeuvres of the French 16th Army Corps. In 1898 oil motors were used in Austria for the transport of artillery in hilly country by the 17th and 18th Army Corps. In England,, on the other hand, in the August 1898 manoeuvres only steam road traction engines were employed. Lord Wolseley, the commander-in-chief, reports with reference to them that they rendered valuable service in supplementing horse traction in wagon transport in rear of the army, easily accomplishing the task set them of drawing four wagons each with a load of five tons on level roads.

For heavy loads requiring greatest traction power (over 15 horse-power) the oil motor appears at present to be not so suitable as the steam road engine or the electric motor. As the power of the oil-motor working on the gas explosion system cannot be graduated, the driving shaft of the engine must always work at high speed. The danger of heating of the axles and break down of the valve packing is therefore very great, and the engine requires careful attention.

In the strife of opinions between the partisans of the oil motor and the steam engine, its lighter weight is claimed in favour of the former. That may be a consideration for traffic in a particular district where the condition of the roads is specially favourable. But for military purposes one must reckon with the minimum of result obtainable on bad and soft roads and steep gradients. The expansion space of the gas must then be increased; thus the weight of the whole of the mechanism of the oil motor must be heavier than that of a steam engine of the same power.

Of the use of the steam road locomotive in war we have historical evidence. As early as 1854 in the Crimean war the English army employed steam traction engines, on the Boydell system, for transport of wagon loads from the magazines at Balaclava to the front, over tracts of country impassable for other vehicles.

The street locomotive was used also both in the Franco-German war of 1870 and the Russo-Turkish war of 1878, and the experience gained ought to teach us to appreciate this means of transport, which has since then been so greatly perfected.

The importance of reserves in enabling an army to accomplish its task is more and more recognised since wars with great masses of troops were undertaken. Their employment in the war against Russia in 1812 showed that success in war does not depend alone on victorious battles, but also on the fulfilment of the conditions under which an army exists by means of assured supply.

In 1870 the keeping up of communications between the German army and its native land, and the magazines established on the military roads, required an unparalleled quantity of vehicles. And although this system of supply could be protected if necessary, it should not be forgotten that it was only possible, thanks to the favourable conditions of the operation in a rich, highly cultivated country.

The campaign of the army of occupation in Bosnia in 1878 affords an example of the size to which the train of wagons may attain in an uncultivated country with incomplete communications. Here was seen a repetition of the experiences gone through by the French army in 1812 in Russia: the supply columns required such a service of men and horses, and were so long on the way, that only from one- to two-thirds of the loads which started reached the magazines in Sarajevo. The horses drawing the supply trains sent from Banjaluka to Travnick consumed repeatedly the supplies of oats they were taking, and had to be supplied out of the Travnick magazines for the return journey. [Vedette, 1898, 'Essay on Load Transport in War,' by Colonel Victor Filschkert, of the Austrian army].

The war of 1870 showed strikingly how important railways are for bringing up not only troops but also supplies, and how disturbing all interruptions are (such as the blowing up of the Nanteuil Tunnel, of the Moselle Bridge at Fontenoy, 7.5 miles south of Toul, and the Xertingy Viaduct.

Such experiences teach us that in future an army compelled to retreat will not leave the railways so undisturbed as formerly. For this reason it is now recognised that in future from the moment of invading an enemy’s territory by the main army the use of the railways will cease. The destruction of railway lines is prepared for in peace time with other means than formerly, and to such an extent that it will take the railway service troops now found in all armies a long time to repair or rebuild the lines, even if they attained the strength of brigades. But until the lines are repaired supplies of all kinds not obtainable by requisition in the country itself must be forwarded by employing every available means of road transport.

Animal traction, which formerly had to be relied on, has such great disadvantages, that the substitution of mechanical traction is most desirable. In 1812 Napoleon set great hopes on the employment of draught oxen for his supply train, and the oxen were to be eaten when they had done their work. But they were slow and soon exhausted. The horses, on the other hand, required too much fodder, and consumed supplies intended for formation of magazines. In addition to this, disease caused by the eating of green food made such inroads in the supply of horses, that cavalry regiments were compelled to give up their mounts to provide the indispensable teams for the guns.

The danger of outbreaks of epidemics should supply another reason for not placing too much reliance on draught animals; for instance, in 1871 infectious horse diseases (influenza and glanders) threatened to break out in the teams of the transport columns in rear of the armies, shortly before the end of the war.

That, in spite of the well-known disadvantages of animal traction, mechanical-traction is not looked on with much favour in the army is only justified when the use of motor vehicles with the columns of troops in action at the front is considered. Such use of them must be limited, as in this case the vehicles with the troops must, when the latter are encamping, leave the roads free, and be parked together on one side, for which oil-motor vehicles are quite unfitted.

But the conditions are different in the rear of the army, where the columns can march as in peace time, and therefore no marching off the roads into the open country is necessary. Here mechanical traction may be employed with great advantage.

For draught purposes the steam road locomotives used to a small extent in the war of 1870 proved their value. [Supplement to the Militar Wochenblatt, 1886.  'Recollection* of the Franco-German War, 1870-71' By Baron von der Golte]. At that time only two of Messrs. Fowler's traction engines were bought by the Prussian War Ministry, and brought on after the army by the German civil engineer Toepffer.

The work done by these engines was, according to the * Recollections * of General von der Goltz as follows:—

  1. Transport of supplies in 12 French military baggage wagons for 30 (English) miles, from Pont Mousson to Commercy, carried out in 2.5 days.
  1. Transport of a railway locomotive and tender, round Toul, from Pont a Mousson to Commercy in 2.5 days.
  1. Journey of the engine on the line from Commercy to Nanteuil s/M.
  1. Transport of 700 cwt. of ammunition with 4 gun carriages from Nanteuil to Yilleneuve St. Georges and back in 3.5 days.
  1. Transport of a railway engine and tender from Nanteuil to Trilport, to get it by road round an unrepaired railway tunnel at Nanteuil (which had been blown up), and the uncompleted bridge over the Marne at Trilport, in 1.5 to 2 days.
  1. Transport of 300 cwt. of ammunition with 80 cwt. of coal from Nanteuil to Villeneuve St. Georges in 3.5 days.
  1. Transport of 180 cwt. of ammunition and 80 cwt of coal with one locomotive (the other was laid up for repairs) in 3.5 days from Nanteuil to CorbeiL
  1. Trial journey from Corbeil to Villacoublay and Versailles with load of oats, with a view to utilising the locomotives in the regular transport of ammunition.

It will be seen that the two traction engines rendered good service, and a dozen of them would have been of great advantage to the army round Paris in getting the heavy siege guns and ammunition on to the plateau de Villacoublay. As the Army Service Corps was compelled to make use of every available vehicle, the army corps before Paris had to provide their own transport to obtain their supplies by way of Villeneuve St Georges from the chief depot. But the means of transport consisted chiefly in the teams of the field artillery, whose mobility in case of a serious sortie on the part of the French was thereby weakened. Fortunately, at this period of the siege the enterprise of the besieged had been too much damped by the failures of the earlier sorties for this weakness to be dangerous. But any one who was present with the field artillery before Paris will remember how this transport work exhausted the horses, and how desirable it was that the troops should be spared this drain on their equipment [Blume, The Bombardment of Paris, 1870-71].

The most important service was the transport of a railway engine, as the Germans had some rolling stock of different kinds on part of the broken railway on the side next the enemy, but no locomotive. Transport of guns was rendered unnecessary by the conclusion of peace.

In judging the work done by the two traction engines used by the Germans in the campaign of 1870, it must be remembered that they were constructed as steam ploughing engines, and weighing twenty tons, were too heavy for passing over pontoon bridges. But even on short winter days and with bad roads a rate of fifteen miles a day was got out of them, and on longer days and better roads as much as twenty-five to thirty miles a day. Their rate of travelling was thus about the same as that of infantry on the march, which they could easily have kept up with.

In the Russo-Turkish war of 1878 both the Russian and Roumanian railways were badly provided with engines and trucks, and in the course of the campaign 120 engines and 2150 trucks had to be provided; also the railways were insufficient and over 200 miles of new lines were built in four months to provide for indispensable requirements. Thus there was plenty of room for utilising field lines and traction engines. Of the latter the Russian Government had purchased two in 1876 [Bornecque, Journal des Sciences Militaires, 21st vol. 1878. ‘Road Locomotives considered from a military point of view.’] which answered so well that ten new ones were ordered for the war and used during it, making twelve in all, of which two were made by Maltzeff, four by Clayton, and six by Aveling-Porter. According to the Report of Major Demianowitsch of the Russian army, these traction engines gave most satisfactory results, and effected very considerable saving of expense and labour.[Russian Invalide, 24th February 1879, No. 42]. Especially was this the case with the traction engines used by the Roumanian army before Plevna, which were also used in arming the batteries with guns.

It is remarkable that, after being used in two great campaigns, so little was beard about preparations for their employment in war afterwards. In Germany this is to be explained by the fact that it is still a country rich in horses, and that therefore it is unnecessary to rely on the assistance of more or less complicated engines.

But the conditions are different in Italy; here the supply of horses is scanty, and in case of war they have mostly to be purchased abroad. At mobilisation of the Italian army, a large part of it is obliged by the configuration of the country to make long marches up to the plains of the Fo; and in order to get over this drawback, horse depots were established in Upper Italy, and peace batteries were to be put on a war footing as regards teams only in this district, to which the guns, partly without teams, were to be brought by rail But the railways were so congested with traffic that mobilisation of the army occupied (as compared with German conditions) the comparatively long time of from fourteen to twenty days. In order to relieve the congested state of the lines, it appeared to be most desirable to transport the guns and carriages without teams by means of road traction engines to the scene of the manoeuvres, where the necessary teams would be provided from the horse depots. With these objects in view, and under these conditions, during the period between 1875 and 1883 road traction engines were employed to a considerable extent. Engines made by Fowler, Aveling & Porter, and Enrico were purchased, which are said to have rendered good service, especially at the great manoeuvres, when they drew guns and carriages over the Apennines. But the use of traction engines, so enthusiastically taken up by the army to begin with, was discontinued in 1883.

The engines were no longer so heavy as those used in 1870, their weight being only about ten tons, which the Italian pontoon bridges were supposed to be equal to carrying. But the following disadvantages were advanced against them:—

  1. The engines required their boilers refilling every eight or nine miles, and to coal again every twenty-four miles (i.e. about 440 gallons of water and about half a ton of coal).
  1. The engines could only draw about twice their own weight, and eight per cent less on ascents.
  1. There were continual breakdowns if the engines were driven fast, and to avoid this they had to be driven slowly, thus doing away with what had been hoped would prove a great advantage, viz. speedy transport.
  1. Smoke and noise causing interruption of ordinary horse traffic, especially in narrow roads.

Another disadvantage arose from the jolting, so much more severe on country roads than on rails. This ruined the engines, and quite exhausted the drivers standing on them. To overcome this defect special kinds of wheels were constructed with elastic material to cover them, such as full rubber tyres, also wooden wedges with some sort of buffer: arrangement between them, over which the iron tyres were, fixed [Major Mirandoli in Riviata di artiglieria, 1876: also Rivitta militarie, 1870, voL i.; 1878, vols. ii. and iii ; and 1883, voL i]. But nowadays such complicated wheel construction is avoided by using springs, on which the axle-bearings rest.

But the necessity for supplementing animal with mechanical traction is more and more experienced in Italy, the question being whether the steam traction engine or the oil motor carriage should be used [Luigi Segato, Riviata militate, 1898.].

Although these experiments have not fulfilled all expectations as regards facilitating army mobilisation, it must be admitted/ that the traction engine alone has stood the test of military requirements—not so satisfactorily as might be wished, perhaps, but still it has stood the test, whereas such experiences with other automobiles are wanting.

The firm of John Fowler & Co., which supplied the road locomotives used by the German army in 1870, has improved the construction of the engines it makes for the Engligh War Office and for industrial and agricultural purposes. They are now more lightly constructed, engines of ten tons weight working up to 50 indicated horse-power. Their construction secures better utilisation of the heating material, and therefore more economical working. The water-supply (60 to 90 gallons) only requires replenishing every eight or nine miles when working on a level road, and if a tender is used, of course at still less frequent intervals. The engines are provided with fire-boxes in which wood, naphtha, and agricultural refuse can be used as fuel.

A winding apparatus with drum (capstan) and 50 yards of steel wire rope is connected to the rear driving axle (see p. 54), by means of which heavy weights can be wound up steep places, or got out of difficult positions, the engine being firmly planted crosswise. According to the report of the Krupp Gruson-works, the Fowler steam road locomotive will draw after it a load of 22} tons on roads with gradients of 1 in 12, and wind it up gradients of 1 in 8 by means of the drum and steel rope.

It will be seen that in this manner the traction engine may be employed in arming siege batteries. With it at night-time the heaviest guns can be got into positions far from the road much more quickly with the drum and rope on the fixed engine than by any other method. In employing horse traction for heavy loads on difficult ground it is well known that there is much waste of power, especially if teams of more than six horses must be used; and the use of large numbers of men at night is limited by the difficulty of getting them all to pull together and at the same time.

By means of a crane fixed on the traction engine the train trucks can be quickly unloaded, guns mounted on their carriages, etc., work which can otherwise be done only by tedious operations which delay the formation of the siege train as well as the arming of the batteries (see fig. 17).

The conditions which prevailed at the siege of Belfort in 1870 show clearly how useful in many ways would have been the assistance which mechanical traction could have afforded the foot artillery.

As the Bavarian siege-park at Rechotte was being formed on the 17th and 18th of December 1870, a 24-pounder fell over on die road. The artillerymen worked from five o’clock in the evening till half-past three in the morning, and in spite of assistance from horses of the field artillery, were unable to right it; and it was only by employing fifty men and eight horses in daylight that the attempt succeeded. For Battery 22, every 24-pounder had to be hauled up by ten horses and sixty men, and the same with Battery 52. For Battery 23, they were obliged to take the gun off its carriage and haul it on a sledge drawn by twelve horses and twenty-five men. To another gun one hundred and twenty men and eight horses were harnessed; after seventy metres it sank up to the hub, the ropes broke, and it took three and a half hours to get it out over planks [Schlagiatweit, History of the 2nd Bavarian Foot Artillery Regiment].

It was only on the 14th of September 1870 that the German artillery before Toul was able to get guns in place on the commanding position on Mont St. MicheL But the two Fowler road steam engines had reached Font h Mousson on the 20th of the previous month. The driver, who was not then under military orders, rode from there to Toul to inquire if his engines could be employed. Seeing the artillery officers almost at their wits’-end as to how to get their heavy guns up the mountain, he offered to use his traction engines, which were fitted with windlass and steel rope, but his offer was declined[Report of Engineer Richard Toepffer of Magdeburg].

It is uncertain whether the few guns available could have been employed from this position with such effect that the early capture of the fortress might have been to some extent attributed to the use of mechanical traction. (The besieged had been encouraged by their successful repulse of a recent attack.) In any case, now that the service which the road locomotive can render is better known than it was then, it is worth noting that it can be employed with good results in similar circumstances.