|The Effect of
Industrialization and Technology on Warfare: 1854-1878
by Patrick Murphy
Europe after 1850 was beginning to create more weapons than commanders knew
what to do with. The industrial revolution brought many changes to warfare and
the societies that waged them. The steam engine was the force that drove the
industrial revolution. It was the power source of the vast increases in
production and development during the latter half of the 19th century. It also
increased the mobility of industrial weapons. All told, from the Crimean war to
the Russo-Turkish war of 1877-8, industrialization affected every aspect of how
humans went about killing one another.
Industry's vast increase in the scale of death forever altered the way wars
were fought. Increased firepower led to scattered troops looking for cover.
This dispersion and its effect on command control, was countered by the
invention of the telegraph. A new officer also appeared, one that was versed
equally in theoretical methods as practical ones. It would be the Staff
Officers who would pull the strings of their industrial-inspired mass armies.
As intelligent as war planners became, industry was always one step ahead with
more devastating weapons.
Developments in small arms, such as the modern breech-loading rifle, allowed
for a vast increase in the deadliness of infantry. The same technology was
applied to artillery, creating the modern field guns and howitzers that still
see extensive use in today's armies. This rifling was very expensive, creating
disparities between the technology of the rich and poor countries. The other
component of the battlefield trinity, the cavalry, ended up becoming obsolete,
although it would take the wholesale slaughter of many thousands of cavalrymen
and the horrors of World War One before this became fully realized by military
thinkers. Over all, defensive positions benefited the most from this new
technology, the added firepower in defensive roles made it difficult to
dislodge entrenched troops.
With this increase in firepower came an increase in the demand for ordinance.
Therefore, the change in the industrial power of nations affected their
military prowess. Tactics and cunning became less important than production
rates and supply ability. This also applied to the number of combatants
available as, increasingly, personnel came to be seen as numbers much like
ammunition consumption and weapon replacement. The larger the army, usually
stemming from a larger population base, the greater the casualties it would be
able to sustain, increasing the odds of victory.
Aside from the direct relationships between the industrial revolution and the
military battlefield, less obvious correlations can be made. The formation of
new industrial jobs manifested new sources of officers. Those in Prussia, when
applying these new ideas to military thinking, created an education revolution.
The development of the modern General Staff, predominantly shaped by Helmuth
von Moltke, would forever change the efficiency of warfare. General Staffs
depended on another development of the industrial revolution to succeed. The
telegraph, first via wire, then wireless, allowed for the rapid dissemination
of information to the staff officers and their subsequent orders to the front
Military units were not the only ones changing warfare with them. The telegraph
would serve the newspaper, which affected war in an unpredictable way.
Facilitated by the rapid movement of information that the telegraph created,
the media would not only shape public opinion but also would change strategy,
improve heath conditions and even bring about the end of wars and governments.
During the Crimean war, and for the first time in the history of warfare, the
power of the fourth estate would be seen. In the opening stages of the war,
public opinion, fuelled by newspapers such as The Times , accelerated
and increased hostilities. At first it was the British intent to merely stem
Russia's perpetual movement towards Constantinople, which they insisted on
referring to, much to the chagrin of the Ottoman Turks, as Tzargrad. The
religious and political tensions rose quickly and it was only the
non-intervention of the German states in the war that prevented a first world
war in 1854.
Quickly, England's position changed to a much more aggressive policy. It aimed
to severely reduce Russia's power, both in the Balkans and Eastern Europe. As
Thomas Carlyle put it, "It is the idle population of editors that have done
this to England. One perceives clearly the ministers go forward into it against
their will . In the end, it would be these same editors who would
remove the same ministers from office."
France also went to war in part due to public opinion. Napoleon III would make
a habit of using the military and nationalistic fervour to secure his place as
Emperor of the Second Republic. In an attempt to win the favour of the
staunchly Catholic peasants that were his power base, Napoleon III valiantly
defied Russia's claim on Jerusalem. Additionally, on a more personal level,
Napoleon desired to have revenge for the humiliation his uncle received during
the ill-fated march on Moscow. When Russia moved against the Ottomans with the
intent of securing the holy places for themselves France had all the motive it
needed. Napoleon III quickly developed an alliance against Russia and
spearheaded the attack.
On the technological side, the Crimean war saw the first wide spread use of
rifled infantry weapons. Previously, the large cost of producing such weapons
relegated them to elite sharpshooter units, whose high level of training
allowed them to make use of their vastly improved range. Rifling in artillery
proved to be even more important to the outcome of the war. After Henri
Paixhans invented the progenitor of the modern artillery piece in 1821, every
industrialized nation rushed to produce a model superior to all others.
On paper and from a strictly industrial point of view, the war should have been
decided rather quickly. Technologically, Russia was far behind, having but
6,000 rifles in 1853. Their industry was in a similar state. Russia had only
three factories in the entire empire, which produced an obsolete weapon, the
smoothbore musket. If this wasn't bad enough, the factories only made 61,000
units a year, which was barely enough to replace the weapons that wore out.
When one considers that 1,490 out of 1,500 muskets shipped to Sebastopol were
defective in one way or another, the situation seems almost comical.
The Allies initial plan was to defeat the Russians in the Crimea in only six
weeks. They were to achieve this by the blockade of the fortress of Sebastopol,
the naval bombardment of military targets and decisive ground attacks. In
reality, the situation proved to be much more difficult. At the battle of Alba
during September 1854, the Russians used defensive positions to inflict heavy
casualties on the troops crossing the Alba River. Eventually, the industrial
firepower of rifled infantry weapons over muskets drove the Russians back. Once
the Russian line had collapsed, rifled artillery littered the Russian ranks
with high explosives and shrapnel, creating mass casualties and panic.
A month after the crossing of the Alba an infamous battle would occur. Large
hills, valleys and incompetent commanders lacking understanding of the new
weapons of war would set the scene for the notorious "Charge of the Light
Brigade." Its commander, Lord Cardigan, doomed the light cavalry by ordering
them into massed cannon barrages that obliterated the 673 men. The obsolescence
of Napoleon era tactics failed to dawn on military leaders of the Crimean war.
Again, at the battle of Inkerman in November of 1854, Napoleon style shock
columns were used to tragic effect. Massed waves of men were hurled against the
entrenched British. Vastly outranging the Russians, their tightly massed
formations melted under the fire of the British rifles.
After the Pyrrhic victories at Alba, Balaclava and Inkerman, the English
resolved themselves to simply bombard Sebastopol from the hills and wait for
the Russians to run out of food and water. This course of action was
unacceptable to Napoleon III, as he needed a victory worthy of his uncle to
stabilize his fragile government. Eventually, Napoleon III settled for more
realistic war aims that were limited to the capture of Russia's Black Sea
If the preamble to Sebastopol would prove the tactics of the European powers to
be outdated, the siege itself would demonstrate the poor state of Russian
industry. The allies would fire 400,000 more shells into Sebastopol than the
Russians answered with. The supply of these shells necessitated construction of
the world's first tactical railroad, built during 1855 by the English from the
port of Balaclava to Sebastopol. Although it was an innovative invention, the
single rail line installation in was no more than a footnote in
If one were to look at the war from a strictly medical point of view, one would
find an area where industrial might would provide little support to either
side. The entirety of the war was an addendum to a huge epidemic of
disease and infection, as more casualties stemmed from these than from enemy
fire. Of the 500,000 Russian losses, the majority resulted from Russia only
having 1,600 beds in its hospital than from enemy ordinance. A full two thirds
of the 300,000 allied casualties can be attributed to these same factors. In
the face of these appalling conditions came another bi-product of the
industrial age, organized civilian relief. Florence Nightingale's arrival after
newspapers alerted the British public to the deplorable medical situation
brought much relief to the soldiers.
In all, the media played a somewhat ironic part in the Crimean war. At first
prodding a reluctant Parliament into full-scale war, it would later force Lord
Aberdeen's government to resign in disgrace over the deplorable medical
conditions. During the war, the classic war correspondence of The Times '
W. H. Russell would both set the standard for this type of reporting and
inadvertently aid the Russian war effort. Russia would gain much information
from the free press, which generally made the allied command's job difficult.
The age of public opinion had arrived on the battlefield.
While the eighty-nine reform committees occupied the British Parliament,
nationalistic powers in Italy were fuelled by Cavour to bring the disparate
provinces of Italy together under a unified national government. Cavour would
use his 10,000 troops deployed in the Crimean War as leverage against France in
his fight against Austria. Napoleon III's commitment of 300,000 men to the
unification of Italy, would equal the size of the entire Austrian Army. Even
so, it would be Austria that would ultimately force war, delivering an
unattainable ultimatum; much like it would in 1914.
To their credit, the French learned from their experiences in supplying forces
on the Crimea. For the first time, railroads were used to accelerate troop
deployment. Steamships took a further 74,000 men to bolster the Italian forces
on the Italian peninsula. The use of steam engines allowed a mobilization that
would previously have taken two months to be completed in as many weeks.
However, this was still early on in the integration of steam technology into
warfare. French units were often moved without their weapons or supplies, owing
to the lack of pre-war planning regarding railroad appropriation. Consequently
some commanders never reached their units while other units arrived piecemeal.
Making matters worse were the telegraph signals that were often confused or
contradicted by horse couriers.
During the opening battle of Montebello on 20 May 1859, the Austrians would
encounter the Napoleon , the pride of France's army. The bronze,
rifled, field gun was most definitely a product of the Industrial Revolution.
Developed under the close tutelage of Napoleon III, the French cannon totally
out-classed the Austrian smoothbore guns dating from the Napoleonic Wars.
Consequently, the French had a decisive advantage over the Austrians.
Outranging them by 1.4 kilometres gave the French shock columns more than
enough cover to seal the battle in France's favour.
The definitive battle of the Franco-Austrian war was also the last battle to be
led by the three combatants' monarchs. At Solferino, two Austrian armies
collided with the French and Italian armies on the morning of 24 June 1859.
While neither side was prepared for the engagement, the Austrians held the
better defensive ground and were soon forced to use it. Napoleon III demanded a
quick, glorious victory and used his artillery to smash the Austrian defences,
opening the way for the Minie rifle-equipped infantry to lay waste to the
Austrians. The Austrians primarily used smoothbore muskets as well as artillery
and fared much the same as the Russians did during the Crimean war. It was only
poor weather and France's lack of strategic reserve that allowed the Austrians
an organized retreat.
In spite of the modern weapons of war and it being the deadliest battle of the
Franco-Austrian war, Solferino mirrored the Crimean war in that the majority of
the causalities were non-combat related. Shock and infection would claim the
most lives at Solferino. The French still gave medical supplies low priority
for rail placement, hampering the situation further. Here too, the vastly
increased number of fatalities that industrialization helped to add to war
created another entity stemming from the Industrial Revolution, the
multi-national aid organization.
Much like the Crimean War before it, the deplorable medical conditions caught
the attention of a civilian observer. Jean Henri Dunant organized emergency
medical care for both French and Austrian wounded and proposed permanent
organized relief societies to care for war wounded. This resulted in the
founding of the International Red Cross in 1864. If this were not enough, he
also had a major hand in drafting the Geneva Convention which, in theory, would
benefit soldiers and civilians forever.
On the surface, the results of the Franco-Austrian war appeared to point to the
ability of shock columns even in the face of the needle rifle. The French
gained victories by using their dominating artillery along with persistent
attacks with columns of infantry. Further, the French victories discredited the
Austrian tactic of breaking into fire groups, to minimize the threat of
artillery and make best use of infantry weapons.
Much of the reason for the French victory can be seen in Austrian deficiencies,
not French strengths. Materially, the Austrians were totally outclassed.
Lacking significant quantities of rifled weapons for both infantry and
artillery, their only major successes came at the cost of the Italians, who
were also equipped with smoothbore weapons. Further, Austria had to contend
with its multinational make up, which proved to be unworkable in combat. As a
direct result of his personal loss at Solferino, Emperor Franz Joseph was
forced to create a liberal constitution. The nationalistic diversity of the
Austrian Empire was pulling itself apart, both on the battlefield and in the
realm of public opinion.
Prussia would take notice of France's lack of reserve, changing their strategy
to exploit this weakness while ensuring the creation of a substantial reserve
of their own. Moltke also noticed the French half-success in rail deployment.
Over the subsequent years, Moltke fully integrated the use of railroads in army
mobilization, logistics and supply operations. Additionally, the supremacy of
the Napoleon was of great concern to the Prussians. They made sure to
modernize before the next conflict of the 19th century, the Austro-Prussian war
of 1866. The French, on the other hand, would let their misleading victories at
Sebastopol and Solferino blind them to the badly needed reforms that would come
to haunt them in 1870.
The eight years between Austria's wars proved to be more than enough time to
reequip with a much-improved field gun, modeled in part on their 1859 nemesis
the Napoleon. Austria also adopted a rifle with a longer range than the
Prussian rifle, but fired slower and was more cumbersome to load. Contrasting
with this technological progression, the Austrians would readopt the Napoleonic
shock column. Taking false lessons from their loss to the French, the Austrians
would give up on small unit tactics, with disastrous consequences.
Politically, Europe would consider the Austro-Prussian war to be an internal
German affair and a one sided one at that. Austria was much larger in landmass,
with a population to match. They therefore had more resources to produce war
material and a larger base from which to enlist soldiers. For instance,
Austrian had a long-service professional army, along with greater numbers of
breach loading artillery and rifles. On top of this there was Austria's recent
war experience that was sharply contrasted with Prussia's lack of conflict
since Napoleon I, a war they were hardly remembered in high regard for. Up
until this point Prussia was thought of as a second rate power, clinging to the
legacy of Fredrik the Great. In the next five years, Moltke and Bismarck would
turn it into the most powerful, innovative military power in Europe.
Taking lessons from the French deployment in the Franco-Austrian war, Moltke
used rail and the pre-existing regional structure of his units to rapidly
mobilize and deploy Prussian troops to the Austrian border. It was the
education of the General Staff that made the rapid collection and transport of
massive industrial armies possible. Moltke's early Blitzkrieg would
surprise the Austrians whose cumbersome deployment reeked of
Hindsight would show them to have little to be confident about. The ethnically
diverse nature of the Austrian Empire created major problems for the Austrian
mobilization. Since units could not be stationed in their homelands for fear of
rebellion, they were scattered across the empire. Unsurprisingly, this added
significant time to mobilization schedules. When this was combined with Austria
requiring its soldiers to walk up to 60 days to reach the front line, a
physically and morally depleted army faced off against a future global
Upon engaging the Austrians, the Prussians utilized their Auftragstaktik,
a develoment of the Prussian General Staff, and the needle rifle to out flank
the Austrians and catch them in enfilading fire. The Prussian needle rifle, the
Zundnadelgewhr, was a vast improvement over smoothbore muskets. It
still had its drawbacks however. Its cartridge was rather large, reducing the
number of rounds each man could carry, combined with its huge increase in
rate-of-fire made ammunition conservation paramount. Its biggest draw back
might have been the unsealed combustion chamber. Its problems were twofold, on
one hand, the escaped gasses reduced the potential range of the rifle, on the
other, it invariably covered the soldiers face in back soot when fired from the
shoulder. Even with the Zundnadelgewhr's faults the Prussians
maintained a 4:1 casualty ratio throughout the opening battles.
The largest European battle until 1914, Königgratz pitted 220,000 Prussians
against a similar number of Austrians. On 3 July 1866, 10,000 Prussians and
45,000 Austrians, including 20,000 POWs were lost in what quite possibly was
the most decisive battle in the unification of Germany. Neither side planned
this historic battle. A lack of reconnaissance by either side made for a
scrambled, indecisive battle until the Prussian Second Army arrived and
out-flanked the Austrians.
At Königgratz, Moltke would circumvent the advantage of defensive fire by using
his tactically flexible system that was the essence of Auftragstaktik .
Using the very system Austria abandoned, Prussian forces were able to
dissipate, minimizing the effectiveness of Austria's 200 pieces of emplaced
artillery, yet still work in conjunction to feel out the weaknesses in the
fortress. Königgratz eventually fell due to Prussia's superior mobility and
firepower; while Moltke would not complete the envelopment of the Austrian
forces, he learned lessons that he would implement in 1870.
While Königgratz was certainly a disaster for Austria, on paper it was not
crippling. 200,000 men managed to escape the clutches of Prussia, a sizeable
force and one that would have the advantage of fighting on home soil. However,
the Austrian army now only existed on paper. The 200,000 men who escaped the
encirclement were not the definition of an elite fighting force to begin with
and the demoralizing effect of being routed destroyed them as an effective
fighting force. The same internal dissention that shattered the Austrians in
1859 was affecting them again in 1866. This war was as successful at
solidifying Franz Joseph's position as Emperor as much as the last one. Much
like the British public in 1856, Austrian citizens, along with Napoleonic
diplomacy, forced an end to the hostilities.
Austria's disunity weakened its control over the German states. The strength
and above all organization Prussia offered was very tempting to the German
people. Every strategic angle had been covered by Bismarck and Moltke. Indeed,
Moltke commented after the war on the true triggers and controllers according
to the Prussians,
||The war of 1866 did not take place because the
existence of Prussia was threatened, or in obedience to public opinion or to
the will of the people. It was a war which was foreseen long before, which was
prepared with deliberation and recognized as necessary by the Cabinet, not in
order to obtain territorial aggrandisement, but for power in order to secure
the establishment of Prussian Hegemony in Germany."
Thanks to the internal rot of Austria, Prussia was on its way in controlling
the Germanic states and becoming a powerful influence on world politics.
Until 1870 France was thought to be the foremost land power in Europe as
evidenced by victories in 1859, the invasion of Mexico and various other
colonial wars. The supremacy of the French army was as important to their
national image as the dominance of the Royal Navy was to the British.
Therefore, a large percentage of resources were assigned to fielding and
equipping it. France did however, become over confidant at the ease of these
victories, allowing themselves the luxury of minimizing the success of the
Materially, these resources were not wasted. They fielded one of the finest
infantry weapons of the time, the Chassepot, introduced the same year
as Königgratz and named after its inventor Antoine Alphonse Chassepot. The
Chassepot nearly tripled the effective range of the Prussian Zundnadelgewhr;
it achieved this by a rubber-sealing ring and by using much smaller ammunition.
This in turn, allowed the French soldiers to carry many more rounds than their
Prussian counterparts. Beside their excellent field rifle, the French also had
one of the first machineguns, the Mitrailleuse. It was a rotary, hand
cranked, multi-barrelled weapon, not unlike the future American Maxim gun. The Mitrailleuse
could lay down up to 200 rounds of defensive fire per minute, a devastating
number in 1870.
The French certainly recognized the need for revised battlefield tactics to
incorporate these new technological advances. After intense reviews of the
Prussian victories over the Austrian army in 1866, the French wisely decided to
abandon shock columns that proved so suicidal against the needle rifle. The
French generals decided that the best way to utilize their new firepower was in
densely packed, defensive positions, where the three-tiered defensive power of
the Chassepot, Mitrailleuse and the Napoleon would
decimate the Prussian forces and prepare the way for a decisive counter-attack.
France's concentration on defence was absolute; all soldiers were equipped with
entrenching tools and trained vigorously in their use.
This entrenchment was seen as the best defence against Prussia's Auftragstaktik
, which the French saw as an unorganized, unnecessary dissolvement of troop
strength. This complete misreading of the Prussian tactics would go along way
to explain the disastrous record of the French in the Franco-Prussian war. As
noted in the Austro-Prussian war, these were, in fact, the strengths of the
Prussian attack. The apparent disorganization was quite intentional, with each
unit commander understanding both the overall strategy of the battle and his
unit's role in it.
Prussian units overarching goal was nearly always the flank manoeuvre, which
were easily facilitated by the intensely static lines of the French. Moltke
then, didn't see much need to reform the overwhelmingly successful Prussian
tactics, save incorporate Prussia's increased industry. While retaining the
rather outdated Zundnadelgewhr, the formidable Krupp cannon's numbers
were tripled since meeting the Austrians four years prior. Consequently, the Kilometerschweine
, as the Prussian infantry rather aptly named themselves after their
tireless flank marches, would find it much the same story. It would be up to
Moltke's mobilization schedule to save their all-important legs for the
invasion of France.
In this initial, critical phase, deployments of the two armies could not have
been more different. The Prussian deployment evolved into a textbook operation.
Prussian divisions and corps collected in their specified zones and units moved
in autonomous trains. The path to the front was secured by the seizing of all
the public and private rail lines for military use. This allowed Moltke to
deploy sixteen army corps to the French border in only two weeks. When compared
to the already unprecedented deployment rate of 1866, Moltke managed a 100%
The French mobilization, in spite a more extensive rail network than Prussia,
was a fiasco apparent to many of its most experienced soldiers. For instance,
on the day that the French should have completed mobilization, the navy had yet
to even begin and the army was only at half strength. Napoleon III's premature
invasion in the face of such a delay in mobilization was strongly influenced by
internal pressures brought by the active French press.
This spelled disaster for the French. Since they were completely outnumbered
with 400,000 French soldiers to Prussia's million-man army, their only hope of
victory was a quick and decisive strike into southern Germany. Unless Napoleon
III could shatter the Prussian mobilization, the war would be settled by simple
mathematics. The French's standard operating procedure, that of le systeme D
, which served the indefatigable French army in numerous campaigns from the
Napoleonic wars to recent colonial wars, severely failed them against the
highly organized Prussians. Indeed the difference in mobilization rates would
allow Prussia to bring about the fall of the Second Republic in only seven
For all intense and purposes the French were on the defensive for all but the
opening stages of the war. After the French victory on 2 August at Saarbrucken,
a victory considerably trumped up by the empire of Napoleon III, French forces
would never again occupy German lands. Before the French media had even
finished their propaganda frenzy, Moltke had surrounded the small French
contingent with three armies. The defence of France was about to begin.
The Second Republic was about to experience first hand how well the Prussians
had adopted the innovations of the Industrial Revolution. The battle of
Froeschwiller on 6 August foreshadowed the final obsolescence of horse-mounted
cavalry. The near complete destruction of the French cavalry brigade was
assured by the large and accurate bombardment from the Krupp cannon. The only
difference from the Charge of the Light Brigade was the lack of imposing hills
and the different nationalities involved.
On the same day and only a short distance away from Froeschwiller, Prussian
artillery would pound the French infantry nearly as hard as their cavalry. The
Krupp's ordinance was armed with percussive fuses, causing them to detonate
upon impact. This was a vast improvement over the French shells, which were
armed with timed fuses, a technology left over from the Napoleonic wars. The
percussive detonator was particularly effective against tightly grouped
infantry huddled in fortifications. This, of course, was exact tactic that the
French General Staff proscribed to defeat the Prussian's "haphazard" attacks.
General MacMahon's army was now in disarray in involved in a general
The initial stages of the war went so poorly for the French that what started
out as an invasion of Germany to cement public opinion, turned into a fight for
national survival. Napoleon III was now severely deflated politically and was
forced to replace himself as the leader of the French army. The politics would
not end at his stepping down however. His replacement was chosen for political
reasons as well, much to detriment of the defence of France. Marshal Achille
Bazaine was a competent unit commander, a soldier who gained popularity by
rising through the ranks to general in the French Foreign Legion, but his
strategic sense was to be soon proven wholly lacking.
Bazaine would retreat his army to the dominating defensive position of Metz, a
modernized fortress with commanding, eminently defensible heights around it.
There, the French should have had no problem repelling the Prussian invasion,
in spite of the numerical superiority. The entire basis of French tactics
relied on defence, an attribute Metz had in spades.
Moltke would again come out on top however, and create another misnomer of
military history that would only become accepted after the First World War. His
success at Metz, which would tie up an irreplaceable chunk of the French army,
occurred due to superior artillery and numbers. 70 percent of Prussian
casualties would come from rifle wounds; the Chassepot and Mitrailleuse
decimated the Prussian infantry who had to make their way through many hundreds
of yards before able to return fire with their antiquated weapons. Indeed,
their losses were so high that it attested to the increasing tolerance for
death and the consumption of war materiel industrialization was bringing to
warfare. For example, the Prussians lost 20,000 men on 18 August during the
battle of Gravelotte-St. Privat, equal to the losses of the Austrians at the
crippling battle of Königgratz only four years earlier.
On the surface, Moltke defeated the superior French defensive fire by infantry
rushes aimed at closing the gap in rifle ranges and flanking the French
positions. His successes gave the impression that a good infantry assault could
turnout the enemy no matter how well entrenched they were, so long as you had a
surplus of men to afford the horrendous casualties such tactics brought about.
Unfortunately for millions of soldiers over the next 50 years, statistics told
another story. French losses were caused by the exact opposite method of the
Prussians but in the same numbers. That is, 70 percent of French losses came
from the Krupp cannon. Moltke's infantry tactics were not all that effective
after all. It was powerful and accurate bombardments of high explosives on
tightly packed targets that settled the battle in Prussia's favour, not the
offensive spirit that was concluded later.
Even more effectual in France's loss to Prussia than the Krupp cannon was the
division of the French armies caused by Bazaine's ludicrous refusal to breakout
of his prison fortress. This made Prussia's numeric superiority even greater
and set up one of the greatest defeats/victories in military history and the
final nail in the coffin of the Second Republic, the first battle of Sedan.
As the situation deteriorated in France, Napoleon III required a greater and
greater victory to salvage his place as Emperor. With the understanding that
Bazaine was moving his army to meet up with MacMahon, who's army had reformed
after its initial thrashing during the first days of the war, Napoleon III once
again personally led his armies. When MacMahon realized that Bazaine was not
going to leave his position, he tried to move his army from its extremely
vulnerable position, back to Paris before the Prussians could realize his
predicament and close their trap.
Once again, the Prussian General Staff proved to have a better understanding of
military unit's new place in the technological battlefield. Moltke used his
cavalry not for suicidal charges against artillery, but for recon-in-force.
Constantly in contact with the enemy but never fully engaging, the Prussians
had a very good idea where the French forces were at all times. If this were
not enough, the French newspapers would alert Moltke of the French armies
movements; the French press, many of whom were not fond of the Emperor, openly
printed battle plans and troop movements, which was to the benefit of the
Prussians, to say the least.
At Sedan, Moltke corrected the mistakes of Königgratz and ensured there was no
escape for Napoleon and his men. Before making his attack he turned the ring of
heights around Sedan into artillery platforms and fired 33,134 artillery
rounds, systematically pounding the 65,000 French soldiers into submission.
This is not to say that the Prussian infantry played no part. On the contrary,
the Kilometerschweine reconfirmed their nicknames, some marching three
days straight with no water in order to complete the envelopment of the French
Emperor. Once pinned by artillery and infantry, Napoleon had no choice but to
surrender himself and the remaining men under his command.
Thus, with the Emperor captured and the once vaunted French army effectively
destroyed, the Second Republic fell. The industrial diversity of France
surpassed its government, creating resources for an irregular war where the
crack Prussian army made quick work of the French peasant armies and remaining
French regulars. Eventually the French government, now calling themselves the
Third Republic, became more afraid of the revolutionaries inside Paris than the
Prussians outside it and sued for peace in January of 1871. The price Prussia
asked was huge and the loss of Alsace and Lorraine would play a large part in
the tensions leading up to the First World War.
The Russo-Turkish war of 1877 had is roots in both the Crimean and
Franco-Prussian war. Still stung by the defeat in 1856, the Russian Tzar
Alexander II wanted to rebuild the Black Sea navy and re-establish Russia as a
power in the Balkans. By virtue of his neutrality in 1870, Bismarck backed
Russia's refutation of the severely constraining peace treaty brought on after
the Crimean war. To Bismarck, a French defeat and German unification was more
important than curtailing Russian hegemony in the Balkans.
Since 1856, Russia had spent great sums modernizing the army, a cost so great
it necessitated selling Alaska to the Americans. Unfortunately for Russia, it
was too late and by the time it used the pretence of Ottoman atrocities in the
Balkans to declare war in 1877, it was still out classed by every European
power. This was truly a war between the sick men of Europe; Ottoman Turkey
surpassed only one nation in military technology, Russia.
The orchestrators of this war did not see it this way however. Russia planed on
a Prussian style, swift march to Constantinople. They had carefully observed
Moltke's victories in 1866 and 1870-1 and planed a similar style attack,
planning on being in the Ottoman capital in a matter of weeks. While the
Russians could dream like Prussians, their troops not equal to the task of
fulfilling that dream. Severely lacking in training and desperately short in
number, the Russian soldiers advanced only as far as Ottoman defences at
Plevna, before coming to a grinding halt.
Plevna is a textbook example of how not to attack entrenched positions. Over
successive days, Russia launched wave after wave of frontal assaults on the
Ottoman trenches. The Ottomans, armed with the American made Peabody rifle and
extremely well dug in, easily weathered the Russian field gun bombardments,
then decimated the following massed infantry charges. The similarities of both
the preliminary battles of the Crimean war and World War One are striking.
Continuing the foreshadowing of future wars, the Russians noticed the
ineffectiveness of low trajectory field guns against entrenched positions.
Observers noticed that once dug-in in elaborate trenches, infantry became
almost unaffected by field guns. Russian artillery officers estimated it would
take six field guns 24 hours to kill but a single Ottoman soldier. What was
needed was a high trajectory howitzer, able to lob explosive and shrapnel
shells directly into the trenches.
After a hard fought, costly war, Russia emerged victorious. Ending the war
closing in on Constantinople, Russia demanded, and received, huge concessions
in the form of the treaty of San Stefano in 1878. Once the treaty was in place,
there were no wars of empires until the Russo-Japanese war of 1904-5. There the
land battles proved that defensive fire was again the commander of the
battlefield and huge losses were still needed for victory. It would take a
World War and the death of millions of soldiers to return strategic mobility to
Warfare from the end of the 19th century was affected by industry just like the
wars of the early 20th century. Industry would affect all aspects of war,
changing parts of it at different times, making the adoption of technology
difficult. The one thing that was always constant was the quest for more
destructive weapons. There was always a need for a military innovator to place
the industry's new weapons in their proper role in military strategy. In the
last fifty years of the 19th century, military innovators predominantly came
from Prussia. Their impressive victories attest to their ability to transform
technological advancements into tactical advantages
The greatest advancements came in the field of infantry weapons. The move from
smoothbore muskets to modern breech-loading rifles was soon followed by the
creation of the first machineguns. This same technology was incorporated into
artillery, whose increased destructiveness made battlefields resemble the
surface of the moon. Modern artillery's destructive power would eliminate the
cavalry as it once was used. Massacres in many wars of the period attest to
cavalry's obsolescence. Defensive positions proved to be the most reliable way
of surviving the battlefield.
Breaking the deadlock caused by industrial firepower required new ways of
thinking from industrious minds. These new thoughts came out of educational
centres that stressed an understanding of more than just traditional military
values. These well-rounded Staff officers proved to be more innovative,
independent and able with the new battlefield. Technology proved to be
essential in General Staffs adapting industrialization. The telegraph made
communication almost instant, allowing the removed Staff officers to make
realistic decisions regarding real-time events.
Once these plans were decided on, the media used the telegraph to report the
results to the masses. The newspaper, supplied by reporting via telegraph,
shaped and responded to the will of the people. Governments would fall,
practices changed and organizations created, all from the power of the steam
driven printing press. As broad as these examples are, the permeation of
industry in society is not limited to the topic discussed in this work.
The developments in naval technology were as important as those on land.
Warships progressed from sailing ships of the Nelson era to the revolution of
the Dreadnought class battleship. The navy's impact in the wars of the
latter 18th century has been overlooked as well, mostly for their lack of
impact on overall warfare. That said, the battles of Sinope and Lissa, in the
Crimean and Franco-Austria wars, respectfully were instructive in how naval
warfare was evolving. Finally, many important land battles were not considered.
The events of the American Civil war as well as the Boer war were not
considered either. While both wars have much to offer the military theorist,
they had an insignificant effect on the future European wars such as the
approaching World War One.
. Geoffrey Wawro, Warfare and Society In Europe 1792-1914, (London:
Routledge, 2000), 54, Imanuel Geiss, The Question of German Unification (New
York: Routledge. 1997), 45.
. Glover in Wawro, 55. Italics in original.
. Wawro, 52-3.
. Wawro, 53.
. Dennis E. Showalter, Railroads and Rifles: Soldiers, Technology, and the
Unification of Germany (Hamden: Archon Books. 1975) 99; Wawro, 56-7.
. A. D. Lambert, "Crimean War" The Reader's Companion to Military History.
Eds. Cowley, Robert and Parker, Geoffrey (New York: Houghton Mifflin Company,
1996) 115; Wawro, 57.
. Oscar, Browning,. Wars of the Century and the Development of Military
Science, (London: W. & R. Chambers Ltd. 1903) 276; Wawro, 59.
. H.A.L. Fisher, A History of Europe, vol. 2 (London: Collins.
1935) 1034; Wawro, 59.
. Browning, 288-9; Wawro, 60-1.
. Browning 283-5; Lambert, 116; Nicolas V Riasanovsky, A History of Russia,
2nd Ed. (Oxford: Oxford University Press. 2000) 338-9; Wawro, 60, 63.
. Wawro, 54-5, 60, 63.
. Fisher, 1042; Wawro, 63, 65, 67.
. Browning 296; Wawro, 68.
. Brian Bond, War and Society In Europe 1870-1970, (McGill-Queens
University Press. Montreal & Kingston 2003) 18; Fisher, 1042; Wawro, 68-9.
. Browning 298; Wawro, 68.
. Showalter, 106-7; Patrick Turnbull, "Solferino 1859" War Monthy.
(25) (London: Marshall Cavendish Ltd., 1976) 27-34.
. Wawro, 69.
. Lawrence Malkin, "Jean Henri Dunant." The Reader's Companion to Military
History. Eds. Cowley, Robert and Parker, Geoffrey (New York: Houghton
Mifflin Company, 1996) 142.
. Wawro, 71-2.
. Turnbull, "Solferino 1859," 30; Wawro, 69.
. Wawro, 71.
. Showalter, 122-4; Wawro, 85.
. Bond, 14; Wawro, 85.
. John Keegan, A History of Warfare (New York: Alfred A Knopf.
1993) 307; Theodore Ropp, War in the Modern World (Durham: Duke
University Press. 1954) 129, 142; Showalter, 42, 56-61.
. Wawro, 86-8.
. Mission Tactics
. Showalter, 128; Wawro, 83, 86.
. Bond, 14; Daniel Moran, "Battle of Königgratz" The Reader's Companion to
Military History . Eds. Cowley, Robert and Parker, Geoffrey (New York:
Houghton Mifflin Company, 1996) 245.
. Browning, 386-7; Martin van Creveld, Technology and War: From 2000 B.C.
to the Present, (New York: The Free Press. 1991) 173; Wawro, 89.
. Gordon A. Craig, Germany 1866-1945, (Oxford: Oxford University
Press. 1978) 4; Wawro, 90-1.
. Fischer, 1068.
. Fischer, 1068.
. Turnbull, "Sedan 1870" War Monthly (60) (London: Marshall
Cavendish Ltd.) 1; Wawro, 100.
. Keegan, 312; Turnbull, "Sedan 1870 1; Wawro, 102.
. Ropp, 144-5; Wawro, 102-3.
. Wawro, 102-3.
. Kilometre pig
. Keegan 311; Turnbull, "Sedan 1870," 2-3.
. Fisher, 1080-1; Wawro, 110.
. Bond, 15, 19; Keegan 307; Ropp, 154; Wawro, 109.
. On se debrouillera toujours , which translates roughly to "one
muddles along somehow."
. Bruce I. Gudmundsson, "Franco-Prussian War" The Reader's Companion to
Military History . Eds. Cowley, Robert and Parker, Geoffrey (New York:
Houghton Mifflin Company, 1996) 169, Wawro, 108.
. Philip Guedalla, The Second Empire, (New York: G.P. Putnam's
Sons. 1922) 415, Martin Kitchen, A Military History of Germany: From the
Eighteenth Century to the Present Day (Bloomington: Indiana University
Press 1975) 125, Wawro, 110.
. Turnbull, "Sedan 1870," 2-3, Wawro, 110.
. Guedalla, 416, Wawro, 110.
. Guedalla, 419, Showalter 72, Wawro, 111.
. Guedalla, 422, Wawro, 113.
. Guedalla, 422-3, Turnbull, "Sedan 1870," 5, Wawro, 113-5.
. Wawro, 113-4.
. Wawro, 115.
. Guedalla, 423; Wawro, 115-6
. Turnbull, "Sedan 1870," 5; Wawro, 116.
. Gudmundsson, "First Battle of Sedan," 419; Keegan 309; Wawro, 116-7.
. Gudmundsson, "Franco-Prussian War,"169; Kitchen, 125-6; Wawro, 117-8.
. Riasanovsky, 386; Wawro, 126.
. Riasanovsky, 387; Wawro, 62-3, 127.
. Browning, 480; Wawro, 127.
. Browning, 485-9; Wawro, 127.
. van Creveld, 172; Wawro, 128.
. Riasanovsky, 387
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Copyright © 2006 Patrick Murphy.
Written by Patrick Murphy. If you have questions or comments on this article,
please contact Patrick Murphy at:
About the author:
Patrick Murphy is an honors student at Carleton University in Ottawa, Canada
studying International History with a concentration in Military History.
Published online: 03/23/2006.