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seem to have changed little since Saxe wrote: "So far from meeting with anything fundamental amongst the celebrated captains who have written upon this subject, we find their works not only altogether deficient in that respect, but, at the same time, so intricate and undigested, that it requires very great parts, 88 well as application, to to be able to understand them."
"The mechanical part of war is insipid and tedious in description, of which the great captains being sensible, they have studied to be rather agreeable than instructive in their writings upon the subject; the few books which treat of war as an art, and that furnish us with any principles, are but in small esteem while
those which treat of it in the historical way meet with a good general reception."
The student of the military writings of recent generations may recognise the continuity of the two types-on the one hand, the pleasant-to-read but superficial memoirs and commentaries; and on the other, the massive tomes occupied with a ponderous and minute recital of details, lacking in any synthesis.
No modern critic of authority could hope to surpass Saxe in the pungency and conciseness with which he exposes the traditional way that doctrines have been arrived at: "Blindly adopted maxims, without any examination of the principles on which they were founded ... our present practice is
nothing more than a passive compliance with received customs, to the grounds of which we are absolute strangers."
Since the war of 1914-18 we have been reminded how, twenty years before, Monsieur Bloch, the civilian banker of Warsaw, formed a far truer picture of a war between nations in arms, and foresaw both its nature and its course more accurately, than did any of the General Staffs of Europe.
If, however, instead of following the "blindly adopted maxims" of military theorists of the nineteenth century, these General Staffs had weighed the opinions of Marshal Saxe-one of that pre-Napoleonic school so despised by them, they might at least have avoided some of their subsequent errors that cost so heavy a price in lives and money.
As a first example, let us take the cult of numbers." On this subject Saxe says: "I am persuaded that the advantages which large armies have in point of numbers are more than lost in the extraordinary encumbrance, the diversity of operations under the jarring conduct of different commanders, the deficiency of provisions, and many other inconveniences which are inseparable from them.' "M. de Turenne was always victorious with armies infinitely inferior in numbers to those of his enemies, because he could move with more ease and expedition." Marshal Saxe understood, like Napoleon later, that mobility is the predominant factor in
war, and that rapidity of movement, ease of manœuvre, and efficient supply are the primary conditions to be fulfilled. There is a striking and thought-provoking parallel between Napoleon's famous saying that his victories were won by the legs of his soldiers and Saxe's dictum half a century earlier, that the principal part depends upon the legs and not the arms the personal abilities which are required in the performance of all manœuvres, and likewise in engagements, are totally confined to them, and whoever is of a different opinion is a dupe to ignorance, and a novice in the profession of arms."
Saxe's ideal army-in view of the conditions of his daywas one of some forty-six thousand men, and he declares that "a general of parts and experience commanding such an army will be able to make head against one of an hundred thousand, for multitudes serve only to perplex and embarrass."
Few facts stand out more clearly from the history of 1914-18 than the powerlessness of the high commands to attain decisive successes-a condition due to the unwieldy masses allowing neither opportunity nor room for manœuvre-and the constant stultification of offensives owing to the difficulty of supply. The commanders of the Great War were as unhappily placed as the proverbial puppy with a tin can attached to its tail.
The art of generalship as understood by the great cap
tains was suffocated in infancy by the weight of the numbers which enwrapped it; the artist yielded place to the artisan. Watching it from across the Styx, Marshal Saxe can be imagined as uttering that quotation from the Chevalier Folard of which he was so fond : "War is a trade for the ignorant and a science for men of genius."
The great captains, however, created opportunities for manœuvre; they did not wait, Micawber-like, in the hope that
something would turn up." Useless though it is to cry over the spilt milk of the Great War, it is nevertheless the part of wisdom to profit by experience, and in this respect the attitude of our former enemies is both an example and a warning. One of the axioms of military history is that armies learn more from defeat than victory-the German military power was forged in the years when the German states lay under the heel of Napoleon; 1870 gave birth to birth to the renaissance of French military thought which culminated in Foch; the disasters of the Boer War produced that highly trained instrument, the British Expeditionary Force of 1914. Thus it is but natural that, more than any other, the present German military doctrine embodies this supreme lesson of the bitter years of the Great War, that quality, attained through intensive and scientific training and expressed in a supreme degree of mobility
and the fullest exploitation be expelled the garrison; but
of manœuvre even by the smallest units of infantry, will more than compensate for the greater numbers of a shortservice army. It has been well said that "the Germans went to Cannæ for their last model; they will go to Cunaxa for their next."
Another mistake, paid heavily for in 1914, of which Marshal Saxe foresaw the dangers and warned his pupils of the folly, was the construction of permanent fortifications around cities. "I look upon the works of nature to be infinitely stronger than those of art: what reason therefore can we plausibly assign for neglecting to make a proper use of them ? Few cities have been originally founded for the purpose of sustaining a siege; but were indebted to trade for their largeness, and to chance for their situation . . . There is another more powerful reason to persuade me that fortified cities are capable of making but a weak defence, which is, that notwithstanding a garrison is furnished with provisions for a three months' siege, yet it is no sooner invested than they find that there is hardly a sufficient quantity for eight days; because no extraordinary allowance is made, in the calculation of numbers, for ten, twenty, or perhaps thirty thousand additional persons, who have abandoned the country to find refuge there Some may perhaps observe that those who could not furnish their own provisions should
such an inhuman proceeding
would be attended with more misery and distress than even the arrival of the enemy. But suppose nevertheless it be put into execution, is it probable that when the enemy invests the place he will suffer these wretches to retire where they please and the garrison to avail itself of their banishment? So far from it, that he will undoubtedly turn them back again; and surely the governor will not suffer them to perish with hunger at the gates; neither can he be afterwards able to justify such conduct to his sovereign What I have been saying appears to me sufficient to demonstrate the great defects of fortified cities: and that it is most advantageous to erect fortresses in such situations as are strong by nature, and properly adapted to cover the country, after having done which it will become a matter of prudence, if not to demolish the fortifications of towns, at least to relinquish all thoughts of strengthening them for the future, or of laying out such immense sums of money to such useless and ineffectual purposes.
"Notwithstanding that what I have here advanced is founded upon sense and reason, yet I am conscious there is hardly a single person who will concur with me, so prevailing and so absolute is custom: a place situated according to my plan may be defended against an enemy for several months, or
even years, because it is free from that detriment and encumbrance which is unavoidably caused by citizens." In 1924 military thought is at one with Marshal Saxe in the opinion that natural sites should be selected for permanent defences, and that cities should be left unfortified.
The survivors of a war that witnessed the revival of armour in the form of the steel helmet and the tank-at last partially realising the folly of pitting flesh and blood against machineguns and of exposing clothcovered heads to shrapnel bullets and splinters - may be interested in the Marshal's views on the discarding of this protection. "I am at a loss to know why armour has been laid aside, for nothing is either so useful or ornamental. Perhaps it may be said that the invention of gunpowder abolished the use of it, but that is far from being the true reason, because it was the fashion
well rammed down, or are received in an oblique direction. .. By arming your cavalry in this manner they will rush upon the enemy with irresistible impetuosity, grown doubly desperate from a consciousness of their own security, and a thirst of revenge for the dangers they have just escaped. And how can those whose bodies are quite unguarded be able to defend themselves against others who are, in a manner, invulnerable
"This kind of armour will not only have a good effect to the eye, but reduce the expense of the clothing considerably, for nothing more will be required than a small buff-skin every six years, a cloak every three or four, and a pair of breeches. The hat is to be exchanged for the Roman helmet, which is so graceful that nothing can be comparable to it, and it lasts, as does also the armour, during a man's life. Thus the dress will be rendered much less costly and more ornamental; your cavalry will be fired, from a sense of their superiority, with an eagerness to engage the enemy. should not be surprised to see ten or a dozen such horsemen attack and defeat a whole squadron, because fear would prevail on one side, and courage on the other."
Then follows a passage which would seem applicable to the argument used by the opponents of tank warfare: To say then that the enemy will adopt the same measures is to admit the goodness of them ;
nevertheless they will probably of their discipline, and in pro
Marshal Saxe then points out that even if when the armour is penetrated a severer wound ensues, which he doubts, the balance is still greatly in its favour, "for what will signify the loss of small numbers thus occasioned by their armour provided that, in general, it gives us the superiority over our enemies and wins our battles ? "Nothing but indolence and effeminacy could have occasioned its being laid aside : to carry the cuirass during the whole year for the uncertain service of a single day was deemed perhaps a hardship; but when a State so far degenerates as to suffer
In the military sphere, Saxe's arguments for the revival of armour could hardly be improved on, and to-day, when these two defects are removed in great measure by the fact that armoured protection is now no longer muscle-moved but mechanically moved and bullet-proof in addition, it is tragic to reflect upon the array of military opinion which still contemplates pitting large masses of unprotected flesh and blood against machineguns.
No maxim is more quoted than Napoleon's dictum that "the moral is to the physical as three to one," yet none surely seems SO little understood. There can be little surprise at the decisive results when tanks were present in the later engagements of the Great War as compared with those of the earlier years when the infantry depended on artillery support. As a fortifier of moral an immediate and visible form of support is infinitely more efficacious than a distant and unseen one. Few have grasped more clearly than Saxe how delicately is poised the balance between the will to go forward and the instinct to seek safety in flight, and that confidence or its decline is most often the deciding