China’s New Vassal
How the War in Ukraine Turned Moscow Into Beijing’s Junior Partner
NAPOLEON delivered himself of the saying that "Providence marches with the big battalions." He was often careless about contradicting himself and also about the way his sayings might be misinterpreted. This one was not altogether borne out in his practice, although he certainly relied on weight of numbers more than most of the great Captains. It was inevitable that this should be so owing to his disregard of the possibilities of making his forces qualitatively decisive through superior training or superior weapons. It was fostered by his unlimited resources -- until the man power of France was exhausted. Even so, his victories were obtained more by manœuvring power as a result of massing superior numbers at the decisive point than by a mere total superiority.
His words, however, made a deep impression. And they were read in the more obvious sense. A generation later his famous German interpreter, Clausewitz, expressed the conviction that "superiority in numbers becomes every day more decisive." He at any rate had more excuse than the military authorities who, in all countries, have repeated his creed for a century. For when Clausewitz wrote the mechanical age was only dawning; whereas his followers persisted in the same delusion during the time that mechanical weapons were continually multiplying in nature and effect. They forgot how Alexander conquered Asia, how Hannibal defeated the Roman armies in their own land, how Belisarius reconquered the Roman Empire, how Jenghiz Khan swept over Asia and Europe, with forces far smaller than those opposing them. They forgot the still clearer proof of the value of superior armaments which was provided when Strongbow conquered Ireland with a few hundred knights, an astonishing lesson in the power of a technically decisive handful which was repeated by Cortez in Mexico, Pizarro in Peru, and Clive in India.
When the World War came in 1914 the fallacy of the "big battalions" theory was exposed by the mechanical progress which enabled one man sitting behind a machine-gun to account for more than a score, or sometimes a hundred, or sometimes even a thousand, who were advancing upon him with rifle and bayonet. The more the number of the attackers, the more the number of the dead -- that was all in many cases. The contrast between qualitative and quantitative values was exemplified in another way at Cambrai on November 20, 1917, where the use of only 378 tanks and some 4,000 tankmen to assist a mere six divisions of infantry, produced a greater gain of ground and a greater shock to the enemy at a cost of some 5,000 casualties, than the use of several dozen divisions had achieved at Ypres in a three months' effort at a cost of 400,000 casualties. The contrast also illuminated the qualitative difference between different technical means -- for at Ypres the British Higher Command rested their hopes on the use of 3,000 guns, and 120,000 gunners, who fired some 4½ million shells in the preliminary bombardment alone.
Yet, in spite of all the experience which shows that numbers have little real meaning, the governments and generals of Europe still continue on the whole to count their forces in terms of "numerical men." And the public is naturally of the same tendency. Such figures are more easy to grasp than the difficult and intricate assessment of qualitative values. And even if they throw little light on the military problem they do at least help to reveal the taxpayers' burden, for the pay and upkeep of the individual soldier forms by far the biggest proportion of any military budget. Since no survey of the armies of Europe would seem "factual" without these false figures, I will insert a few in my present account. They are as accurate as can be determined under the conditions of censorship and mystification which now prevail in many parts of Europe. And if the sum should be a million or so out, it will not much matter militarily from any practical point of view.
The British Army voted by Parliament consists of 152,000 officers and men, and of this total 34,000 are serving abroad. But a further 57,000 stationed in India belong to it, although while serving there they are not paid for by the British public. Thus nearly half the Regular Army is employed on foreign service even in quiet times. The troops at home are organized in five infantry divisions -- one less than before the war, owing to the disbandment of the Irish regiments. Behind the Regular Army there is the Territorial Army, composed of civilian soldiers who spend a fortnight annually in camp, besides training in the evenings at their local drill hall. Its establishment is 182,000 but its strength at present is under 140,000.
The British Army has many points of difference from the armies of the continent. They are large, it is small; they are raised by conscription, it depends on voluntary enlistment; they have short terms of service, it has a long term (seven years is the normal); they are raised from all classes, it is drawn from the poor. In the past the British Army largely depended for filling its ranks on those who were too uneducated and resourceless to find better-paid employment; and while the officers were drawn from the other social extreme, it was a family principle that the army was the vocation of those sons who were not likely to shine in other professions. If there has been some change in this basis, it persists sufficiently to be a handicap in days when the trend of warfare places an increasing premium on intelligence. Moreover, its social tradition tends to make the British Army highly conservative. On the other hand, it to some extent escapes the narrow professionalism of the continental officer corps through the fact that so many of its officers have independent means, and also because it sees service in such a variety of places.
This brings us to the greatest difference between the British and the continental armies. While their primary purpose is the defense of their own country -- a euphemism which embraces attack on a neighboring country -- that of the British Army is the defense of, and maintenance of order in, the British Empire. These duties have governed its basic organization. In the nineteenth century it became so predominantly a colonial service army as to become quite unfit, both quantitatively and qualitatively, to face the contingency of a European war. Thus in 1868 Mr. Cardwell, then Secretary of State for War, established the principle that there should be a battalion at home for each one maintained abroad. Under the "Cardwell system" the units at home provide drafts for those on foreign service, and the regiment, instead of being a fighting organization as in other armies, consists of linked home and foreign battalions, which never serve together but merely interchange officers and men. This interchange, combined with the fact that normal promotion is confined within the regiment, has tended to make the regiments (which cherish their distinctive titles and badges) a series of clans within the army. If the effect is to foster esprit de corps, it also acts as a check on change. The fact that colonial policing calls for infantry rather than the more modern arms which play a dominant part in continental warfare tends to produce the same result.
Besides finding drafts for the overseas garrisons, the home army has also to serve as a potential expeditionary force, either to act as an imperial fire-brigade in coping with a serious outbreak in the overseas territories, or as a contribution to the collective forces ranged against an aggressive European power. This last rôle, if deeply rooted in British history, was only revived a few years before 1914, when an expeditionary force of six divisions was erected as part of the Haldane reforms. If its size was puny compared with the armies that the continental powers could mobilize, and its equipment barely as good as theirs, it had a definite qualitative advantage through longer training; from its hard experience in the Boer War it had learned the value of marksmanship, and thus in 1914 its volume of aimed rifle-fire took the Germans by surprise and created the impression that it possessed quantities of machine-guns. This fire capacity gave it a weight beyond its numbers, and, combined with the natural "sticking power" of the British soldier, enabled it to renew its traditional record in repelling attacks. But it showed less aptitude for the offensive; and as it grew in numbers it tended to expend them prodigally but unprofitably. In the tank, however, it produced the most important new offensive weapon of the war.
After the war Britain gave up conscription and went back from her wartime army of millions to one even smaller than she had had in 1914. Yet in one respect this postwar army took the lead. Instead of being content to copy continental ideas and practice, it developed a new school of military thought which went back to an older tradition and thence went forward, via its wartime experience with tanks, to a fresh conception of mobile mechanized warfare. The new ideas, although at first regarded as heresy or fantasy, eventually won general acceptance.
But in the translation of theory into terms of actual equipment Great Britain has fallen behind. The political desire to postpone measures of rearmament, the inherent conservatism of the senior military chiefs, the inelastic requirements of the Cardwell system, the retarding power of India -- these are some of the factors that have put a brake on material progress. Another brake is to be found in the characteristic British tendency to seek technical perfection instead of going into production as soon as something that will be fairly effective has been found. The result is that the chief foreign armies already have a large quantity of modern mechanized troops, while Britain, despite the fact that her army is much smaller, is only beginning the task of reëquipment.
It was not until the end of 1935 that the British War Office embarked on a big scheme of thorough modernization. The cavalry were to be mechanized. Part was to be equipped with light tanks. The larger part was to be given a new kind of light motor vehicle with large wheels and oversize tires that can travel across country; it looks like an adaptation of the Irish jaunting car, the seating being so designed that each man on board can jump out easily and go instantly into action on foot. The intention is to create a mobile Division -- taking the place of the old cavalry Division -- to consist of two mechanized cavalry brigades and one tank brigade (the British Army has only one). At the same time, 28 battalions of infantry out of 136 are being converted into mechanized machine-gun units. It was originally intended to have one of these battalions in each infantry brigade, but it has now been decided to employ them as divisional and corps troops, while the infantry brigade will be reduced to three "rifle" battalions. These, relieved of their heavier and more complex weapons, will be easier to handle and train. Their manœuvring power is being improved by the motorization of their transport. Although called "rifle" battalions, each will have 52 light machine-guns -- one in each section of six men -- thus increasing their fire-power.
Actually, owing to the fact that the decision was taken so late, and that even then the execution of it was delayed by fresh changes of mind, the manufacture of all the new equipment required is likely to take some years. Meantime the successive emergencies in Egypt and Palestine during the past year have stripped the home army of equipment and men, leaving the expeditionary force a skeleton. This state of affairs has strengthened the arguments of those who hold that the home army should be designed and used simply as an imperial reserve. They would abandon the idea of its playing a part in continental warfare and leave to the Air Force any intervention called for by British obligations under the League Covenant or the Locarno Treaty.
The French Army exemplifies the fallacy of the old standards of gauging strength. If we judge by total numbers it would appear the "strongest" in Europe, apart from the Russian. That idea is reinforced if we take account of trained reserves of men and stored reserves of war material. Thus arose the impression that the French Army was, at any rate until recently, a serious potential threat to Germany. Actually, the numbers had small offensive meaning under modern conditions; a large proportion of them were abroad; and most of the war material was old. Although 22 tank battalions are maintained in France, most of them are still equipped with machines left from the last war, slightly renovated. They are slow machines. They are to be employed to help the infantry forward, yet they possess a very limited capacity for crossing obstacles to achieve their purpose.
The French Army comprises 20 infantry divisions, 5 cavalry divisions, and 5 colonial infantry divisions which serve as a "mobile force" ready for dispatch to deal with trouble overseas. The total "strength" is some 640,000; but of these nearly 200,000 are serving in North Africa and other colonies. Conscript service is still nominally for one year. Contingents are now being held for an extra year, however, due to recent German military expansion and to the shrinkage of the annual contingent of young men reaching military age (caused by the fall of the birth-rate during the World War). This shrinkage, together with the need for adequately trained personnel in the mechanized arms, has also led the French to enlist an increased number of long-service professional soldiers as a corps of specialists. A maximum of 117,000 has been legally sanctioned; but the terms of employment are not sufficiently attractive, and so far only some 80,000 have been found.
Until recently the French Army's horizon was bounded by 1918. It apparently intended, if war came again, to resume where it had left off. In French military doctrine and training all else was subordinated to the production of a great volume of fire, by methods that were as studiously deliberate as the rate of movement they promised. The best thing that could be said of the doctrine was that it recognized the importance of material factors, especially the effect of fire, and recanted the fallacious belief of 1914 that the unshielded will of the soldier was proof against bullets and shells. But it seemed to ignore the truth that fire is a means to movement, and that the effect is lost unless it can be followed up quickly. The division was still the profusely armed but complex organ of wartime pattern. The French seemed to have conceived of nothing more than the preservation of a powerful but rigid fighting machine, one likely to break down from its own internal friction if it should ever be called upon to make a prolonged advance or retirement. I could not help thinking that the French had renovated their steam-roller by fitting an extra roller, but had forgotten to consider its motive-power.
But in the last year or two there has been a rapid evolution towards a more flexible and mobile type of force and action. One cavalry division has already been completely mechanized; it is mainly equipped with armored fighting vehicles, but also has a proportion of "motor-dragoons" in light cars and on motorcycles. A second cavalry division is now in process of mechanization. In addition some ten infantry divisions have been motorized; their artillery is all tractor-drawn, while their infantry regiments are provided with little armored carriers for mortars, machine-guns, and ammunition, and can themselves be moved by lorry convoy.
The creation of these new-type formations, so different from the rest of the active French forces, and from the bulk army to be assembled in case of general mobilization, is naturally leading French military authorities towards a new picture of warfare. General mobilization is a slow process, so slow, indeed, that if mobilization and concentration were carried out as in 1914 there would be a risk that the army would never reach the field. Air pressure on the congested traffic arteries might cause a premature collapse. Even at best, a week or two must elapse before these forces can come into action. But the new-type formations, helped by their special composition as well as by their railfree mobility, may be ready in a few hours. To keep them waiting while the bulk army was assembling would be to discount the time factor precariously, even supposing the action of the enemy permitted.
In the new picture, then, the first phase of a war is fought out by the mobile forces together with the frontier garrisons. The second phase, that of conflict between the two enemy mass forces, may follow -- although some regard the possibility as doubtful.
In France, however, special conditions mean that the new military evolution takes a special turn. French opinion is more than ever concerned with the problem of safeguarding French soil from invasion. In other words, the chief problem is essentially defensive. Thus the new-type formations seem above all to be visualized as a means of strengthening defense, by switching fire more quickly to a threatened spot and by more promptly developing a counter-offensive. This "defensive" view of the value of mechanized forces may strike many as novel. But it is justified on technical grounds. Despite the obvious increase of offensive power conferred by the development of mechanized forces, time may show that the reinforcement of the defensive power is indirectly greater still. In the long view, one might even say that this has been the general trend revealed by the growing mechanization of war through the centuries.
The importance which the French attribute to defensive power also finds expression in the frontier fortifications to which they have devoted so much of their money and attention in recent years. Their newly fortified line, for the most part running just inside the Franco-German frontier, has been widely discussed. It consists of a chain of forts and casemates. The forts themselves consist of a mushroom-like cluster of concrete casemates linked by underground galleries; other galleries lead to the living quarters, magazines, and power stations which serve each cluster, all likewise buried deep. The sector first constructed was from Longuyon, opposite Luxembourg, to the Vosges; this covered Metz and the Briey industrial area, although originally a gap was left on either side of the Sarre River between St. Avold and Bitche, where a succession of streams parallel with the frontier helped to form a natural barrier. Subsequently this gap was filled, in part at least, and the chain of fortifications now extends along the Rhine to the Swiss frontier. Defense of the approaches through Belgium and Luxembourg has also been taken in hand.
Though this fortified line is better designed than the vast trench systems which developed in the war, it of course is narrower and cannot offer so much protection. It is intended to gain time rather than to be an insurmountable barrier. Primarily it is a shock-absorber, to cover the mobilization process. Its effectiveness thus depends on the adequacy and readiness of the forces which normally garrison it, and on the promptness with which support can be given. The main danger to it would be a surprise attack which might overwhelm a sector before the emergency was realized. A further danger is that the intervals between the main forts might be penetrated by mechanized forces; the forts would be left to be "mopped up" by a second wave of invaders. It is for this reason that French strategists now are so concerned with the new risks of the attaque brusquée. Some visualize the possibility of hostile mechanized forces crossing the old demilitarized zone by a swift bound during a single night and delivering their stroke early next morning. All of them now appear to realize, from this point of view at least, the great acceleration of the tempo of warfare which modern developments foreshadow.
Meantime the immediate concern of the French is how to adapt their present organization to meet the requirements of changing conditions. One need is to remodel the scheme of mobilization so as to produce an effective force in support of the frontier garrisons in the shortest possible time -- a time that we must now count in hours rather than in days. That mobilization scheme must also take account of the new risks threatened by hostile air attack during the main process of mobilization and concentration. Concentration must not spell congestion. Rail and road movements must be more flexible, and the whole process must be more widely distributed. The other need is to carry forward the process of mechanization as a means of saving time in making intervention effective. The fortified region itself is garrisoned by units "hand picked" to suit the requirements of each individual sector; these garrisons can be brought up to strength at short notice with reservists drawn from the neighboring district. But to supply prompt support to each region, and to facilitate manœuvre based on these pivots, mobile formations are necessary. The need is now being met.
Since the advent of the Nazi régime, the German Army has carried out a great expansion not altogether to its qualitative advantage. The Treaty of Versailles limited it to a strength of 100,000 men voluntarily enlisted on a long-service basis; it was forbidden the use of tanks, aircraft and heavy artillery. These compulsory limitations encouraged subtle attempts to develop a force of superior quality and mobility. Surprise became the German keynote. "Every action," declared the postwar German manuals, "should be based on surprise . . . ruses and wiles of every kind ought always to be used to deceive the enemy." General von Seeckt had been the brain of Field-Marshal von Mackensen in the war; he devised the plans which led to the Gorlice break-through against the Russians in 1915, and to later successes. It was General von Seeckt who rebuilt the German Army after the war. He gave it the doctrine of mobility, putting forward the view that a small, quick-moving, quick-hitting army of picked troops could, under modern conditions, discount the numerical superiority of an old-fashioned mass army. That view was shared by some of the more original-minded German officers. But the majority merely made a virtue of necessity. Brought up in the creed of mass, they hankered after the size which to them still represented strength and, no less important, prestige. Similarly, despite the experience of the war and their straitened postwar means, they still clung to the old belief in the offensive. Officers like the present Field-Marshal von Blomberg who sought to adapt tactics to modern conditions and who advocated such methods as the "luring defensive" found it difficult to win over the bulk of their comrades.
The idea of the "qualitative" professional army had not really taken firm root when the Hitler revolution gave the German Army a chance to revert to its old love of mass. The very nature of the Nazi movement made such a reversion almost inevitable. Many of the regular officers were undoubtedly apprehensive of the effect of diluting their carefully trained units with undisciplined enthusiasts of the Brown Shirt type, and found still more cause for concern in the claim of the Brown Shirt leaders to share in the officering of the new national army. They welcomed all the support the new régime gave to the growth of the army and the development of martial ideas, but they were not ready to accept a partnership in control. Their policy prevailed, helped by Hitler's need of army support in maintaining what he had created.
Before she left the League, Germany had claimed the right to expand her army of 100,000 men, organized in seven divisions, to an army of 300,000. While the statesmen argued, the process of expansion went on. The aim was to create a force of 21 divisions. The manufacture of tanks, artillery, machine-guns and aircraft was pushed ahead rapidly. The way for conscription was paved by the introduction of six months' labor service, and the training given in the Labor Corps was so directed that it soon came to have a marked military value -- more, indeed, than the training given the Brown Shirts.
Then, in March 1935, the Nazi government announced conscription for the army and simultaneously its expansion to 36 divisions, organized in 12 army corps. The news came to neighboring countries as a shock, increased by the importance customarily accorded to mere numbers. Yet, curiously, there was a tendency to underestimate the new total; 450,000 was suggested as the probable figure, whereas it really seemed likely to exceed 550,000. The first contingent of conscripts of the 1914 class (aged 21) was called up in October, 1935. An average year was expected to yield about 300,000 young men. Meanwhile, the men between 21 and 35 (the classes 1900-1913), representing Germany's lost classes of trained reserves, have been called up for short periods of training lasting six weeks to two months.
In August this year a fresh step was taken when the period of conscript service was extended from one year to two. This may be partly designed to offset the lean years when the birth-rate was low, represented by the 1915 to 1919 classes; but the effect is likely to be an increase in the total number of men under arms. Moreover, it is known that Germany has formed 3 armored divisions which are additional to the 36 divisions provided for by the Army Law of March 16, 1935; and there are reports of the formation of two more. The fact has a bearing on the declaration made by Hitler in the Reichstag a few days after that law was announced: "The German Government have announced the extent of the expansion of the new German defense forces. In no circumstances will they depart therefrom." It would seem that further increases are not regarded as a departure.
These new-style formations were not shown to the foreign officers and military publicists who were invited to see the German Army at work in the autumn of 1935 or again in 1936. In the infantry divisions which were seen, the transport of the battalions and the field artillery were still horse-drawn, but they were well provided with machine-guns, anti-tank guns and mortars. The division has some 400 machine-guns, light and heavy, and their quota of anti-tank guns (2½ pounders drawn by a light car) is higher than in the French or any other army; they form a divisional unit of 3 companies with a total of about 42 guns. The most interesting new feature of the division is a mechanized reconnaissance group, which comprises a company of armored cars or light tanks, one of anti-tank guns, one of four light mortars, one of machine-guns, and two companies of infantry in lorries. They push ahead of the division's advance, seize tactical points and occupy them with machine-guns, and then press on to some fresh objective. The staple of the division is composed of three infantry regiments, each with three battalions, a mortar company, a machine-gun company, and a cavalry troop. A battalion is formed of three "rifle" companies, each with 9 light machine-guns.
There is an apparent shortage of officers in the German Army, owing partly to a wise desire to maintain the proper standards and also, perhaps, to a reluctance to give commissions except to those who have passed through the orthodox professional channels. But the troops have made a strong impression on observers. They move in more dispersed form than the French, but they are no less active and their equipment is far more modern. The Versailles Treaty evidently has had its compensations. The new German 105 mm. field-howitzers and the anti-aircraft guns are highly efficient weapons. But the general composition of these divisions and the manner of handling them show little advance over the ideas which prevailed in the last war. With its increase in size the German Army seems to have rather lost sight of the need for subtlety and surprise which von Seeckt insisted on in the early postwar era.
The new armored divisions are not as yet well known. They are said to consist of three parts, one for probing, one for hitting, and one for holding. The "punch" is delivered by a tank brigade, which is believed to consist of three regiments totalling about 600 tanks. The number of mechanized vehicles in the division as a whole is said to be nearly two thousand. At present the tanks are fast but light, weighing only about six tons, with two machine-guns in a turret capable of all-round fire. The Germans are seeking to develop a larger "medium" tank, but it is doubtful if as yet it has been produced. Against a country with open frontiers or an army inadequately equipped with anti-tank guns, the new armored divisions might prove a formidable factor in the opening phase of a war. But there is cause for doubt whether the German Army as a whole has yet developed either the equipment or the tactics to overcome the opposition of a strong and thoroughly modern defense
The Red Army, by contrast, is undoubtedly the most powerful in its tank forces, while also the most original in methods. New and old ideas are strangely intermingled. The most archaic feature is the prominent rôle given to horsed cavalry -- no less than 16 cavalry divisions are maintained -- and the way in which they are handled. On manœuvres, great masses of horsemen are plunged into tank-infested areas with little regard to the differing vulnerability of each. In peace the proceeding looks like a circus; in war it would probably create a huge cemetery. This Russian attempt to repeat Balaclava in face of machine-guns is evidence that the Red Army has not succeeded in shedding the mental conventions of its Tsarist predecessor so thoroughly as its progress in other directions might suggest.
The reliance on mass is a general symptom. In numbers, the Red Army far exceeds any other. A population which has now grown to 170,000,000 provides an annual contingent of recruits which in recent years has always been well over a million and this year is over two million. The peacetime strength of the army has now been raised to 1,300,000. This number provides 84 infantry divisions apart from other formations. The men taken for the regular army do two years' continuous service, while the remainder do several months' training in the territorial militia. The regular army now represents 73 percent of the total forces, and the territorial militia 27 percent. It is said that the Red Army chiefs could mobilize 6,000,000 men at a fortnight's notice, and that by 1938 the total trained reserves will reach 10,000,000. This apparently does not include the youths below military age who, to the number of several millions, are receiving preliminary training under the auspices of the Osoaviatkhim and the Young Communist League. More significant is the statement that upwards of half a million have qualified as skilled parachute-jumpers and many thousands as aëroplane or glider pilots.
The bulk of the Red Army is maintained in the West. The Far Eastern forces nevertheless are said to number nearly 300,000 men. The double-tracking of the Trans-Siberian Railway will facilitate the reënforcement of the Far East command in an emergency. But as Tukhachevsky pointed out in his 1935 report: "If the Germans had to expend some 15 million kilometre-tons in order to concentrate one infantry division in Liege by means of the railway from Berlin, 200 million kilometre-tons are required of us in order to transfer such a division from Moscow to Vladivostok. Thus we must be very cautious in counting on the rapid transfer of considerable masses of troops over so-called internal operation lines." The strain on the railway for supply has been much reduced by accumulating supplies on the spot in order to make the Far Eastern army self-sufficient -- so much so that soldiers stationed there are said to find the can-opener almost as indispensable as the rifle. At the same time, agriculture and munition factories are being developed as a more permanent foundation for military effort. This is part of the general scheme by which the industries of Russia are being organized and distributed with an eye to strategy, i.e. where they will be safest from hostile air attack. The largest source of munitions is now established in the almost inaccessible area near the Ural Mountains. But this only solves half the problem. If the Red Army attempts to concentrate its immense forces to act in any particular theatre there will be an inevitable congestion of the routes of supply in that area. Herein lies a continual danger of breakdown.
The units of this enormous mass are certainly far more impressive in quality than the old Tsarist Army. The discipline is unmistakably good, yet free from the old brutality. The men's bearing on the march combines smartness with elasticity. They give a good impression as regards physique and intelligence. The officers are professionally enthusiastic and much better educated than their predecessors; no army, indeed, takes a keener interest in foreign ideas and all news of military progress. On manœuvres there is much evidence of skilled organization and staff work. The elimination of the corruption which was rampant in the administration of the Tsarist Army should alone go far to reduce the risks of defeat through shortage of equipment and supplies.
The most striking features of the Red Army are its development of tank and air-borne units. Today there are said to be about 6,000 tanks in service; over a thousand have been seen on manœuvres in one area alone. The small number of breakdowns is evidence of their mechanical efficiency as well as of the standard of training prevailing among the crews. The fact that the designs show no marked originality, and are obviously indebted to various foreign models, seems to indicate only that the Russians have had the ability to adopt and adapt the best points of each. They have great numbers of two-men light tanks which can "swim" rivers and are based on the Carden-Lloyd amphibian, first produced in Britain by the Vickers firm. They also have quantities of rather larger machines copied from the 6-ton Vickers. But the machine on which they mainly rely for fulfilling the modern-style cavalry rôle is one developed from the American Christie tank. It is well-armored and weighs about 12 tons. Yet it has a speed of over 30 miles per hour on its tracks, while for long strategic moves these can be taken off, when the tank runs on its bogie wheels. In addition, to deliver the decisive assault the Russians have a "medium" tank of no less than 27 tons. It carries a gun of field-artillery calibre as well as machine-guns, yet travels almost as fast as the Christie-type tank. They even have a small number of "heavy" tanks, which look like moving fortresses and must weigh at least 50 tons. But in view of the growing power and variety of anti-tank defense, the Russians prefer to rely on high-speed machines with a good capacity for crossing obstacles, combined with a fair thickness of armor, rather than to increase weight and size at the expense of pace.
While the Russians are now ahead of all other countries in the development of armored mobile forces, their ideas regarding the use of such forces are not so well thought out. Here they give an impression of having assimilated many ideas from abroad without digesting them. At any rate, such is the impression one gains from a study of their published views and from personal discussions. On their manœuvres, too, the higher tactical handling of the armored forces is not equal to the actual handling of the machines by the individual crews. The same remark applies also to the handling of the ordinary infantry forces; their formations too often offer too good a target. An undue disregard of the effects of modern fire is to be noticed even in the methods employed in the low-flying attacks on ground columns which are in much favor; these seem to invite casualties needlessly. The general tendency noted may be in accord with the Russian tradition. But if it is inherent in a doctrine of war which contemplates the use of masses, that is no reason for believing that the masses, despite their increased efficiency, will prove capable of overcoming modern methods of defense. The Russians might have better prospects if they relied simply on their mechanized forces. For this would also minimize the worst risk they run in taking an offensive with such vast numbers -- namely, that the military machine will break down under the burden placed on its own communications when the strain is increased by air attacks.
In one way, however, the Russian Army is better equipped than any other to bring about the breakdown of the enemy. I refer to their new parachute forces, much in evidence during the manœuvres of this past autumn. In one area, for example, a force of 1,200 men together with 150 machine-guns and 18 light field-guns was carried 100 miles in air-craft and dropped on an aerodrome behind the enemy's front. Within eight minutes of the release of the parachutes the force had assembled on the ground and driven off the defenders. The spectacular nature of such an operation may be as likely to obscure its real potentialities as to cause an exaggerated estimate of them. It is easy to see what practical difficulties such an expedition might encounter if carried out under war conditions; obviously it would run dangers both in its passage through the air, in the descent to the ground, and in maintaining itself when landed. Nevertheless, any instrument of surprise confers a big advantage in war. Audacity pays, especially when it is allied with mobility. Because of its range and its capacity for variability, the "parachute stroke" has possibilities that it would be foolish to underrate. Its indirect strategic influence may be much greater than its actual results. All armies, and nearly all commanders, are acutely susceptible to the threat of a blow in the back. They worry about anything that endangers their communications. Knowledge that the enemy had parachute forces which could be dropped near important bridges or other crucial points in the rear would aggravate this fear. The risk might cause the higher command to strengthen detachments and posts on the lines of communication, with the result that a force many times larger than the parachute forces of the enemy might be subtracted from the main concentration. Added to this would be the psychological strain. Such forces, then, hold a promise of far greater effect than any damage they may actually do.
In view of the essential antithesis between mass and mobility it is a curious phenomenon that both are being simultaneously developed all over the continent regardless of consequences. No country carries quite so far as Italy the conception of the "nation in arms." The male child is put in uniform when he is scarcely out of the cradle and may stay in it until he is put in the grave -- since the hard-worked Italian peasant is often not very longlived, all risks of war aside. At six years of age he is enrolled in the "Figli della Lupa" (Wolf Cubs), in which he is taught to march, to shoot with the rifle and the machine-gun, to wear gas-masks and perform anti-gas drill, and to inure himself to life under canvas. A boy who is bad at drill is treated as if he had failed to pass his scholastic examinations for promotion to a higher form. At eight he enters the ordinary Balilla corps, and continues there until eighteen, when he undergoes a more intensive system of military training. At twenty-one he is called up for his conscript service with the army, which normally lasts eighteen months. After his release he has to carry on his post-military training until the age of fifty-five -- and even then he joins the civilian cohorts that are part of the wartime civil mobilization scheme. The Italian press was unusually accurate when it applauded this introduction of life-service with the remark that history had no parallel for such nation-wide militarization.
The actual number of men in the Italian Army varies. In the past it has usually been about 400,000, but shortly before the Abyssinian War it was raised to 600,000. In addition the Fascist Militia totals some 400,000 men. The army (exclusive of the colonials) is organized in 13 army corps, yielding a total of 31 infantry divisions. There are also 3 mobile divisions, mainly of motorized troops, with a small proportion of armored vehicles. They have a few hundred Fiat tanks, but these are very small and have limited obstacle-crossing capacity. They are mainly used as armored machine-guns to assist the infantry attack.
The infantry division comprises nine battalions, as is usual on the continent, but until recently three of these were kept in skeleton. It is rather weaker in artillery support and also in automatic fire-power than the French. The Italian Army's progress towards mechanization was for long retarded by lack of money, a reluctance to be dependent on outside fuel supplies, and the fact that its probable theatres of war were mountainous, thus seeming to offer small scope for mechanized mobility. On the other hand, this type of country has had an influence on the training of the infantry, which has aimed to develop agility by a most strenuous course of physical exercise. The hillsides near any military center are dotted with gymnastic apparatus, and it is astonishing to see whole companies of men going through a series of vaulting, jumping and balancing exercises which seem severe enough to test a professional acrobat. Likewise the marching of the Italian infantry, both in pace and distance, seems all the more remarkable when one takes note of the slender scale of rations on which these physical feats are performed. Italy has also begun to exploit a new kind of mobility by following the Russian lead in forming parachute units. In mountain warfare these may have notable effect. A pass or narrow valley can be held by a few men against many; and by dropping parachute units to seize such points in the enemy's rear reinforcements may be prevented from reaching him, his supplies may be interrupted, or his retreat may be cut off.
By a curious contrast, the higher training of the Italian Army until recently had a tendency to restrain rather than exploit the use of its natural assets. Tactical methods were even more deliberate than in the French Army. In part, this was inspired by a desire to correct the haphazard ways of the past by a rigorous mental discipline attuned to the new national trend. Even though it thus served a practical purpose, it certainly had the less beneficial effect of cramping tactical mobility. Operation orders were so long and detailed that, after reckoning the time for writing and reading them, they seemed to leave little time for execution.
In form and in outlook, then, it was an old-style army which was shipped out from Italy to Eritrea a year ago. Mechanized vehicles and aircraft were no more than a trimming to the masses of infantry. Yet the trimmings, coupled with the fact that the primitive enemy had a similar obsession with mass, extricated the Italians from the impasse (even peril) into which their own old-fashioned ideas had brought them. In the outcome, the course of the campaign can be epitomized in a phrase -- the machine triumphed over the man. The Lion of Judah was crushed between Italy's mechanized fangs. The data of the campaign, when analyzed, reveal that the machine-gun and the gas-projector proved the decisive weapons, aircraft the decisive arm, and mechanization in the broad sense of the word the foundation upon which the Italians built their military superiority. The result is a striking vindication of those who, in the face of doubts and obstructions, have for years foreshadowed the importance of these new factors. For Europe this war is a writing on the wall -- the more significant because the wall was in remote mountains. For here was a theatre of war so rugged and so strategically inaccessible that aircraft and landcraft operated under exceptional handicaps.
The Italian command at first increased their own handicap by beginning the invasion of Abyssinia after the style of the invading hosts in 1914. By relying on mass they impeded their own mobility, so that what they gained by their mechanized means of movement was largely offset by the fact that they used them merely to feed and maintain great masses of infantry. The supply of such large forces as were employed demanded a well-developed system of roads. The building of these roads called for a great number of laborers, together with the troops to protect them. The task of feeding and otherwise maintaining all these involved a great increase in the transport demands and in the traffic over the new-built roads. That enormous traffic destroyed the roads almost as fast as they were built. So the difficulties were multiplied by the very means taken to overcome them.
Thus the Abyssinian war began by providing a fresh illustration, in a somewhat different form, of the lesson of the last European war -- that armies are impeded more than helped by their own growth. Mere quantitative superiority of force carries its own antidote. That experience merely confirmed the neglected warning of the famous eighteenth century master of war, Marshal Saxe, that "multitudes serve only to perplex and embarrass." He saw, like Sherman a century later, that there is a limit, determined by mobility, to what one may call the economic size of an army. That is something which requires unusual art to gauge -- mass and mobility are hard to reconcile. Unless the mean can be found, force is liable to be stultified by its own forces.
It was fortunate for the Italians that there was no air force to oppose them. That missing factor was their salvation from something worse than congestion and internal disorder. At the end of 1935, after a campaign of three months, the Italian masses were at a standstill with nothing to hit, while the overburdened communications by which they were being fed provided a target for guerrillas. How much worse it would have been if those narrow mountain routes had been bombed from the air! In this state of stagnation, discontent grew. Then the Abyssinian leaders came to the rescue of the Italian command by attempting a series of massed attacks, thus providing a target for machine-guns both on the ground and from overhead. In exploiting the Abyssinians' recoil, the Italians turned their infantry masses into road-makers and relied for their own thrust forward on relatively small motorized spear-heads, the while mustard gas was sprayed to shield their own communications against enemy interference and also to demoralize the troops and populated areas behind the enemy's front. The advance of these mobile columns was covered by a long-range and flexible barrage of air bombers, while their supplies were in part brought up by air transport.
The Abyssinian campaign gave the general staffs of the world cause for thought. It has shown the fallacy of their argument that machines are not a substitute for men -- by which they mean the weight of the many, not the quality of the essential few. It has shown, more clearly even than the World War, that mass has become a dangerous encumbrance when the attempt is made to concentrate it on the fighting front. Under modern conditions, and especially in view of the growing menace of air attack, the larger a country's army, the weaker that country may prove in war. Technical quality counts, not drilled quantity.