25 OCTOBER 1930, Page 9

The War of the Future


[Brigadier-General Spears is the author of Liaison, 1914.] SIXTEEN years ago saw the revolutionizing of war 10 as we understood it. At that time, in September, 1914, we thought that the tide that had flowed against us from Mons to the. Marne had turned finally in favour of the Allies, and that our armies would soon be on the Rhine. Then suddenly—and it was a complete surprise —the Germans halted, their line froze into immobility, became rigid and unyielding, and they entrenched themselves from Switzerland to the Aisne.

In the first six weeks of the War, everything had been liquid and mobile. We had been fighting the sort of war that we knew and understood. Then, almost in a night, the whole face of military operations was changed, and we were back in the Middle Ages. It was the old conflict of the lobster-clad man, a return to the day of the fortress impregnable to assault, when siege and famine alone could prevail.

In an endeavour to get round the first German entrenchments, the Allies began the race to the sea, only to find the line facing them solidifying as they moved westwards and northwards, until finally they confronted their opponents across rigidly drawn lines of trenches extending from the Channel ports to the far eastern frontier of France.

The Germans were far better prepared for trench- warfare than the French or even ourselves, but I am quite certain that they did not realize beforehand the stopping power of entrenchments.

Its significance was extraordinary. With certain reservations, it might almost be said to have set the clock back several hundred years. With no warning at all the lessons that the Continent and Great Britain had learnt from Marlborough], Frederick the Great and Napoleon were thrown on the scrap-heap, and the war of the twentieth century was changed, as if by Illogic, into the siege-warfare of the Middle Ages.

It is no exaggeration to say that the new siege-warfare of the trenches marked as revolutionary an epoch in the history of war as the invention of gunpowder. It marked also the end of a great period. When the stalemate of the Western Front set in, an end Caine to the days when men met their enemies as individuals.

As I look back on those early months of the War and conmare, them with the long years that followed, I ant astonished that the startling transformation that took place in 1914 is not more generally understood. No one in his wildest dreams had imagined the possibility of such a thing happening. No one had conceived that human ingenuity would invent a barrier which human ingenuity would be unable to sweep away again. When one realizes that for years practically the total output of the world in iron and steel was rained unceasingly on those tortured acres in France, without making any real impression, one gets some idea of the revolution in the science of war that was involved. Gaps—at the cost of thousands of pounds in money, and of thousands of human lives, could be made fairly easily, but it was easier still to close them up again. Even when the end did come, it was not because the Allies had overcome the barrier. But for the interior troubles in Germany, largely the result of the blockade, the War might have dragged on even longer. With each year that passed the methods of attack and counter-attack on each side were nullified by new methods of defence and counter-defence.

People constantly ask—what will the war of the future be like ? Lurid pictures are drawn of peaceful cities gassed or bombed from the air, and of a decimated civilian population. Indeed, it is often said that the only safe place will be the trenches. That might be true enough, but the trouble is that there will in all probability be no trenches in the sense of the trenches we knew in 1915-18. There will be powerfully reinforced strong points, but not long continuous lines.

For another revolution has taken place, and human ingenuity has by now evolved weapons of attack which are capable of breaking down any barrier of entrenchments that can be erected by man. If there is another Great War it will once again be a war of movement. Men in tanks and armoured cars instead of foot-soldiers, and aeroplanes instead of cavalry, will be the protagonists in the next great conflict, if such a conflict there is to be. There will be no need of " cannon-fodder " such as we knew in 1914-1918. War will be a matter of highly trained experts in elaborate machines of de- struction, fighting other experts in equally deadly machines over a wide area of ground.

What will not change will be the qualities that make the fighting man. Bravery and nerve and grit will be. as necessary in the war of the future as they have been in the past. The qualities that make the great com- mander will not change either. Judgment, fortitude and leadership will tell as they have always done, as will those other attributes of a commander, driving energy and hardness verging almost on insanity, to which must be added the faith, though not the recklessness, of the gambler. It was this hardness, this persistence, this faith, this self-confidence, that made Marshal Foch a great commander, although the same qualities were nearly his undoing in 1915, when he would not accept the cold fact that entrenchments were something that could not be broken at whatever the cost in human lives.