29 NOVEMBER 1940, Page 16

The Soldier and the Machine

THE theme of this most fascinating book is known far and wide in general. 'It has been before a specialised public arjd before the French for several years. It is the English dress that is new ; but, appearing at this date, when the main part of the theory it advanced has been applied against the nation for which it was written, it has a novelty that appears to make it entirely new. General de Gaulle wrote his plea for a mechanised army in 1934, and if the plea fell on deaf ears the reason may be found in these pages. The general argued not wisely but too well, and it is in the " why " and " how " he urged the armoured divisions that his book seems now to break such fresh ground.

General de Gaulle's point of departure for this essay in the making of an army was the defencelessness of his country. How much it lost " for want of a good hedge around the estate! " And the Maginot Line, which left the main road of attack wide open, could not safely be entrusted to " novices." The tendency to cut down the period of army service and the multiplicity of weapons involved a constantly increasing deficiency in effective training. The invasion of the machine and the reluctance of large masses to serve in the army converged to suggest the enrolment of a small " professional," " volunteer " army. How interesting it is to realise that the conscription which Britain feared France embraced, and the professional army which we favoured France feared. For it seems to have been on this rock that General de Gaulle's scheme foundered ; and vet it was that he took as his first premiss—the need for a " professional army" since the defences would not otherwise safely defend. It is, of course, inevitable a long-term army should be raised if the highly organised armoured division is to be constructed, and it would be an army of the skilled mechanic type. It was here, I think, that General de.Gaulle lacked the -subtle \ without which many plans come to grief. Was it likely tli:, corps d'ilise would be welcome to France, the France he ,0 ably describes? "These master-troops, well-fed and clothed, carefree celibates, a source of envy . . ." That might ha' been a good prospectus (?) for recruiting ; but would it com- mend itself to the politicians? The very virtues with which General de Gaulle credited the special force of armoured divisions, the suggestion of invincibility in comparison with the " mass " of recruits, made it more unpalatable:

That he was right is almost an irrelevance. The armyof " quality " is the one means of solving the problem into which the levee en masse has plunged us. For toopoo men one can have six armoured divisions, and if such a force could be trained with the self-sacrificing zeal which General de Gaulle postulates, it would transform warfare. It would not remove but place in higher relief the personal factor. That is the paradox of the machine, as he quite rightly appreciates. Personal respon- sibility, individuality and esprit de corps would be reborn and flourish anew. Training would be reconceived aid, of course, promotion.

Treated in this bold, imaginative way, the army becomes once more a field for the play of the intellect, and it is rather the background of the book than its positive suggestions that will interest the general, reader. It is, moreover, for the outline of the armoured division, and not the mere vision of mechanised warfare, that General de Gaulle deserves praise. The use of armoured vehicles (" tanks "), even with aeroplanes, was a development of an English brain, and the first armoured divisions were laid down in this country. If the vivid imaginative sweep of this book should, as it will, find wide appreciation here, it must nevertheless be recognised that a colder and more brutally rigorous commendation might have done better service.