H. G. (Herbert George) Wells.

Anticipations of the reaction of mechanical and scientific progress upon human life and thought online

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covered. And a factor of primary importance in
this warfare, because of the importance of seeing
the board, a factor which will be enormously stim-
ulated to develop in the future, will be the aerial
factor. Already we have seen the captive balloon
as an incidental accessory of considerable impor-
tance even in the wild country warfare of South
Africa. In the warfare that will go on in the
highly organized European states of the opening
century, the special military balloon used in con-
junction with guns, conceivably of small caliber
but of enormous length and range, will play a
part of quite primary importance. These guns
will be carried on vast mechanical carriages,
possibly with wheels of such a size as will enable
them to traverse almost all sorts of ground.* The

* Experiments will probably be made in the direction of ar-
mored guns, armored search-light carriages, and armored
shelters for men, that will admit of being pushed forward over
rifle-swept ground. To such possibilities, to possibilities even
of a sort of land ironclad, my inductive reason inclines ; the
armored train seems, indeed, a distinct beginning of this sort



aeronauts, provided with large-scale maps of the
hostile country, will mark down to the gunners
below the precise point upon which to direct their
fire, and over hill and dale the shell will fly ten
miles it may be to its billet, camp, massing night
attack, or advancing gun.

Great multitudes of balloons will be the Argus
eyes of the entire military organism, stalked eyes
with a telephonic nerve in each stalk, and at night
they will sweep the country with search-lights and
come soaring before the wind with hanging flares.
Certainly they will be steerable. Moreover, when
the wind admits, there will be freely moving, steer-
able balloons wagging little flags to their friends
below. And so far as the resources of the men on
the ground go, the balloons will be almost invulner-
able. The mere perforation of balloons with shot
does them little harm, and the possibilitj^ of hit-
ting a balloon that is drifting about at a practically
unascertainable distance and height so precisely
as to blow it to pieces with a timed shell, and to
do this in the little time before it is able to give
simple and precise instructions as to your range

of thing, but my imagination proffers nothing but a vision of
wheels smashed by shells, iron tortoises gallantly rushed by
hidden men, and unhappy marksmen and engineers being shot
at as they bolt from some such monster overset. The fact of
it is, I detest and fear these thick, slow, essentially defensive
methods, either for land or sea fighting. I believe invincibly
that the side that can go fastest and hit hardest will always win,
with or without or in spite of massive defences, and no ingenuity
in devising the massive defence will shake that belief.



and position to the unseen gunners it directs, is
certainly one of the most difficult and trying un-
dertakings for an artilleryman that one can well
imagine. I am inclined to think that the many
considerations against a successful attack on bal-
loons from the ground will enormously stimulate
enterprise and invention in the direction of dirig-
ible aerial devices that can fight. Few people, I
fancy, who know the work of Langley, Lilienthal,
Pilcher, Maxim, and Chanute but will be inclined
to believe that long before the year A.D. 2000,
and very probably before 1950, a successful aero-
plane will have soared and come home safe and
sound. Directly that is accomplished the new in-
vention will be most assuredly applied to war.

The nature of the things that will ultimately
fight in the sky is a matter for curious speculation.
We begin with the captive balloon. Against that
the navigable balloon will presently operate. I
am inclined to think the practicable navigable
balloon will be first attained by the use of a device
already employed by nature in the swimming-
bladder of fishes. This is a closed gas-bag that
can be contracted or expanded. If a gas-bag of
thin, strong, practically impervious substance
could be inclosed in a net of closely interlaced
fibres (interlaced, for example, on the pattern of
the muscles of the bladder in mammals), the ends
of these fibres might be wound and unwound,
and the effect of contractility attained. A row



of such contractile balloons, hung over a long car
which was horizontally expanded into wings,
would not only allow that car to rise and fall at
will, but if the balloon at one end were contracted
and that at the other end expanded, and the in-
termediate ones allowed to assume intermediate
conditions, the former end would drop, the ex-
panded wings would be brought into a slanting
condition over a smaller area of supporting air, and
the whole apparatus would tend to glide down-
ward in that direction. The projection of a small
vertical plane upon either side would make the
gliding mass rotate in a descending spiral, and so
we have all the elements of a controllable flight.
Such an affair would be difficult to overset. It
would be able to beat up even in a fair wind, and
then it would be able to contract its bladders and
fall down a long slant in any direction. From
some such crude beginning a form like a soaring,
elongated, flat-brimmed hat might grow, and the
possibilities of adding an engine-driven screw are
obvious enough.

It is difficult to see how such a contrivance could
carry guns of any caliber unless they fired from the
rear in the line of flight. The problem of recoil
becomes a very difficult one in aerial tactics. It
would probably have at most a small machine-gun
or so, which might fire an explosive shell at the
balloons of the enemy, or kill their aeronauts with
distributed bullets. The thing would be a sort of
M 209


air-shark, and one may even venture to picture
something of the struggle the dead-locked marks-
men of 1950, lying warily in their rifle-pits, will

One conceives them at first, each little hole with
its watchful, well - equipped couple of assassins,
turning up their eyes in expectation. The wind
is with our enemy, and his captive balloons have
been disagreeably overhead all through the hot
morning. His big guns have suddenly become
nervously active. Then, a little murmur along
the pits and trenches, and from somewhere over
behind us, this air-shark drives up the sky. The
enemy's balloons splutter a little, retract, and go
rushing down, and we send a spray of bullets as
they drop. Then against our aerostat, and with
the wind driving them clean overhead of us, come
the antagonistic flying-machines. I incline to
imagine there will be a steel prow with a cutting
edge at either end of the sort of aerostat I foresee,
and conceivably this aerial ram will be the most
important weapon of the affair. When operating
against balloons, such a fighting-machine will
rush up the air as swiftly as possible, and then,
with a rapid contraction of its bladders, fling itself
like a knife at the sinking war-balloon of the foe.
Down, down, down, through a vast, alert tension of
flight, down it will swoop, and, if its stoop is suc-
cessful, slash explosively at last through a suffo-
cating moment. Rifles will crack, ropes tear and



snap; there will be a rending and shouting, a great
thud of liberated gas, and perhaps a flare. Quite
certainly those flying machines will carry folded
parachutes, and the last phase of many a struggle
will be the desperate leap of the aeronauts with
these in hand, to snatch one last chance of life
out of a mass of crumpling, fallen wreckage.

But in such a fight between flying-machine and
flying-machine as we are trying to picture, it will
be a fight of hawks, complicated by bullets and
little shells. They will rush up and up to get the
pitch of one another, until the aeronauts sob and
sicken in the rarefied air, and the blood comes to
eyes and nails. The marksmen below will strain
at last, eyes under hands, to see the circling battle
that dwindles in the zenith. Then, perhaps, a wild,
adventurous dropping of one close beneath the
other, an attempt to stoop, the sudden splutter of
guns, a tilting up or down, a disengagement.
What will have happened? One combatant, per-
haps, will heel lamely earthward, dropping, drop-
ping, with half its bladders burst or shot away,
the other circles down in pursuit. . . . "What
are they doing?" Our marksmen will snatch at
their field-glasses, tremulously anxious, "Is that
a white flag or no? . . . If they drop now we
have 'em!"

But the duel will be the rarer thing. In any
affair of ramming there is an enormous advantage
for the side that can contrive, anywhere in the



field of action, to set two vessels at one. The
mere ascent of one flying-ram from one side will
assuredly slip the leashes of two on the other,
until the manoeuvring squadrons may be as
thick as starlings in October. They will wheel
and mount, they will spread and close, there will
be elaborate manoeuvres for the advantage of the
wind, there will be sudden drops to the shelter of
intrenched guns. The actual impact of battle
will be an affair of moments. They will be awful
moments, but not more terrible, not more exacting
of manhood than the moments that will come
to men when there is and it has not as yet
happened on this earth equal fighting between
properly manned and equipped ironclads at sea.
(And the well-bred young gentlemen of means
who are privileged to officer the British army now-
adays will be no more good at this sort of thing
than they are at controversial theology or electrical
engineering, or anything else that demands a
well-exercised brain.)

Once the command of the air is obtained by one
of the contending armies, the war must become a
conflict between a seeing host and one that is blind.
The victor in that aerial struggle will tower with
pitilessly watchful eyes over his adversary, will
concentrate his guns and all his strength unob-
served, will mark all his adversary's roads and com-
munications, and sweep them with sudden incredi-
ble disasters of shot and shell. The moral effect



of this predominance will be enormous. All over
the losing country, not simply at his frontier but
everywhere, the victor will soar. Everybody,
everywhere, will be perpetually and constantly
looking up, with a sense of loss and insecurity,
with a vague stress of painful anticipations. By
day the victor's aeroplanes will sweep down upon
the apparatus of all sorts in the adversary's rear,
and will drop explosives and incendiary matters
upon them,* so that no apparatus or camp or
shelter will any longer be safe. At night his high,
floating search-lights will go to and fro and discover
and check every desperate attempt to relieve or
feed the exhausted marksmen of the fighting line.
The phase of tension will pass, that weakening
opposition will give, and the war from a state of
mutual pressure and petty combat will develop
into the collapse of the defensive lines. A general
advance will occur under the aerial van ; ironclad
road fighting-machines may, perhaps, play a con-
siderable part in this, and the enemy's line of marks-
men will be driven back or starved into surrender,
or broken up and hunted down. As the superiority
of the attack becomes week by week more and
more evident, its assaults will become more dash-
ing and far-reaching. Under the moonlight and
the watching balloons there will be swift, noiseless
rushes of cycles, precipitate dismounts, and the

* Or, in deference to the rules of war, fire them out of guns of
trivial carrying power.



never-to-be-quite abandoned bayonet will play
its part. And now men on the losing side will
thank God for the reprieve of a pitiless wind, for
lightning, thunder, and rain, for any elemental
disorder that will for a moment lift the descending
scale! Then, under banks of fog and cloud, the
victorious advance will pause and grow peeringly
watchful and nervous, and mud-stained, desperate
men will go splashing forward into an elemental
blackness, rain or snow like a benediction on their
faces, blessing the primordial savagery of nature
that can still set aside the wisest devices of men,
and give the unthrifty one last, desperate chance
to get their own again or die.

Such adventures may rescue pride and honor,
may cause momentary dismay in the victor and
palliate disaster, but they will not turn back the ad-
vance of the victors, or twist inferiority into victory.
Presently the advance will resume. With that
advance the phase of indecisive contest will have
ended, and the second phase of the new war, the
business of forcing submission, will begin. This
should be more easy in the future even than it has
proved in the past, in spite of the fact that central
governments are now elusive, and small bodies of
rifle-armed guerillas far more formidable than ever
before. It will probably be brought about in a
civilized country by the seizure of the vital ap-
paratus of the urban regions the water supply,
the generating stations for electricity (which will



supply all the heat and warmth of the land), and
the chief ways used in food distribution. Through
these expedients, even while the formal war is
still in progress, an irresistible pressure upon a
local population will be possible, and it will be
easy to subjugate or to create afresh local authori-
ties, who will secure the invader from any danger of
a guerilla warfare upon his rear. Through that
sort of an expedient an even very obdurate loser
will be got down to submission, area by area. With
the destruction of its military apparatus and the
prospective loss of its water and food supply,
however, the defeated civilized state will probably
be willing to seek terms as a whole, and bring
the war to a formal close.

In cases where, instead of contiguous frontiers,
the combatants are separated by the sea, the aerial
struggle will probably be preceded or accompanied
by a struggle for the command of the sea. Of this
warfare there have been many forecasts. In this,
as in all the warfare of the coming time, imagina-
tive foresight, a perpetual alteration of tactics, a
perpetual production of unanticipated devices, will
count enormously. Other things being equal, vic-
tory will rest with the force mentally most active.
What type of ship may chance to be prevalent
when the great naval war comes is hard guessing,
but I incline to think that the naval architects
of the ablest peoples will concentrate more and
more upon speed, and upon range and penetration,



and, above all, upon precision of fire. I seem to
see a light type of iron-clad, armored thickly only
over its engines and magazines, murderously
equipped, and with a ram as alert and deadly
as a striking snake. In the battles of the open
she will have little to fear from the slow, fumbling
treacheries of the submarine; she will take as
little heed of the chance of a torpedo as a bare-
footed man in battle does of the chance of a fallen
dagger in his path. Unless I know nothing of
my own blood, the English and Americans will
prefer to catch their enemies in ugly weather or at
night, and then they will fight to ram. The
struggle on the high seas between any two naval
powers (except, perhaps, the English and Amer-
ican, who have both quite unparalleled oppor-
tunities for coaling) will not last more than a week
or so. One or other force will be destroyed at sea,
driven into its ports and blockaded there, or cut
off from its supply of coal (or other force-generator),
and hunted down to fight or surrender. An inferior
fleet that tries to keep elusively at sea will always
find a superior fleet between itself and coal, and
will either have to fight at once or be shot into
surrender as it lies helpless on the water. Some
commerce-destroying enterprise on the part of
the loser may go on, but I think the possibilities
of that sort of thing are greatly exaggerated.
The world grows smaller and smaller, the telegraph
and telephone go everywhere, wireless telegraphy



opens wider and wider possibilities to the imagina-
tion, and how the commerce-destroyer is to go on
for long without being marked down, headed off,
cut off from coal, and forced to fight or surrender,
I do not see. The commerce-destroyer will have a
very short run ; it will have to be an exceptionally
good and costly ship in the first place, it will be
finally sunk or captured, and altogether I do not see
how that sort of thing will pay when once the com-
mand of the sea is assured. A few weeks will
carry the effective frontier of the stronger power
up to the coast-line of the weaker, and permit of
the secure resumption of the over-sea trade of the
former. And then will open a second phase of
naval warfare, in which the submarine may play
a larger part.

I must confess that my imagination, in spite even
of spurring, refuses to see any sort of submarine
doing anything but suffocate its crew and founder
at sea. It must involve physical inconvenience
of the most demoralizing sort simply to be in one
for any length of time. A first-rate man who has
been breathing carbonic acid and oil vapor under
a pressure of four atmospheres becomes presently
a second-rate man. Imagine yourself in a sub-
marine that has ventured a few miles out of port;
imagine that you have headache and nausea,
and that some ship of the Cobra type is flashing
itself and its search-lights about whenever you
come up to the surface, and promptly tearing down



on your descending bubbles with a ram, trailing
perhaps a tail of grapples or a net as well. Even
if you get their boat, these nicely aerated men
you are fighting know they have a four to one
chance of living; while for your submarine to be
"got" is certain death. You may, of course,
throw out a torpedo or so, with as much chance of
hitting vitally as you would have if you were blind-
folded, turned round three times, and told to fire
revolver-shots at a charging elephant. The possi-
bility of sweeping for a submarine with a seine
would be vividly present in the minds of a sub-
marine crew. If you are near shore you will prob-
ably be near rocks an unpleasant complication
in a hurried dive. There would, probably, very
soon be boats out, too, seeking with a machine-gun
or pompom for a chance at your occasionally
emergent conning-tower. In no way can a sub-
marine be more than purblind; it will be, in fact,
practically blind. Given a derelict ironclad on a
still night within sight of land, a carefully handled
submarine might succeed in groping its way to it
and destroying it; but then it would be much
better to attack such a vessel and capture it boldly
with a few desperate men on a tug. At the utmost,
the submarine will be used in narrow waters, in
rivers, or to fluster or destroy ships in harbor, or
with poor-spirited crews that is to say, it will
simply be an added power in the hands of the
nation that is predominant at sea. And, even



then, it can be merely destructive, while a sane
and high-spirited fighter will always be dissatis-
fied if, with an indisputable superiority of force, he
fails to take.*

No; the naval warfare of the future is for light,
swift ships, almost recklessly not defensive, and
with splendid guns and gunners. They will hit
hard and ram, and warfare which is taking to
cover on land will abandon it at sea. And the
captain, and the engineer, and the gunner will
have to be all of the same sort of men: capable,
headlong men, with brains and no ascertainable
social position. They will differ from the officers
of the British navy in the fact that the whole male
sex of the nation will have been ransacked to get
them. The incredible stupidity that closes all
but a menial position in the British navy to the
sons of those who cannot afford to pay a hundred
a year for them for some years, necessarily brings
the individual quality of the British naval officer
below the highest possible, quite apart from the
deficiencies that must exist on account of the
badness of secondary education in England. The
British naval officer and engineer are not made

* A curious result might very possibly follow a success of
submarines on the part of a naval power finally found to be
weaker and defeated. The victorious power might decide that
a narrow sea was no longer, under the new conditions, a com-
fortable boundary line, and might insist on marking its bound-
ary along the high - water mark of its adversary's adjacent



the best of, good as they are; indisputably they
might be infinitely better, both in quality and train-
ing. The smaller German navy, probably, has an
ampler pick of men relatively; is far better educated,
less confident, and more strenuous. But the ab-
stract navy I am here writing of will be superior
to either of these, and, like the American, in the
absence of any distinction between officers and
engineers. The officer will be an engineer.

The military advantages of the command of the
sea will probably be greater in the future than they
have been in the past. A fleet with aerial supports
would be able to descend upon any portion of the
adversary's coast it chose, and to dominate the
country inland for several miles with its gun-fire.
All the enemy's sea-coast towns would be at its
mercy. It would be able to effect landing and send
raids of cyclist-marksmen inland, whenever a weak
point was discovered. Landings will be enor-
mously easier than they have ever been before.
Once a wedge of marksmen has been driven in-
land they would have all the military advantages
of the defence when it came to eject them. They
might, for example, encircle and block some forti-
fied post, and force costly and disastrous attempts
to relieve it. The defensive country would stand
at bay, tethered against any effective counter-
blow, keeping guns, supplies, and men in per-
petual and distressing movement to and fro along
its sea-frontiers. Its soldiers would get uncertain



rest, irregular feeding, unhealthy conditions of
all sorts in hastily made camps. The attacking
fleet would divide and re-unite, break up and vanish,
amazingly reappear. The longer the defender's
coast the more wretched his lot. Never before in
the world's history was the command of the sea
worth what it is now. But the command of the
sea is, after all, like military predominance on
land, to be insured only by superiority of equip-
ment in the hands of a certain type of man, a type
of man that it becomes more and more impossible
to improvise, that a country must live for through
many years, and that no country on earth at
present can be said to be doing its best possible to

All this elaboration of warfare lengthens the
scale between theoretical efficiency and absolute
unpreparedness. There was a time when any
tribe that had men and spears was ready for war,
and any tribe that had some cunning or emotion
at command might hope to discount any little
disparity in numbers between itself and its neigh-
bor. Luck and stubbornness and the incalculable
counted for much; it was half the battle not to
know you were beaten, and it is so still. Even
to-day, a great nation, it seems, may still make
its army the plaything of its gentlefolk, abandon
important military appointments to feminine in-
trigue, and trust cheerfully to the homesickness
and essential modesty of its influential people, and



the simpler patriotism of its colonial dependencies
when it comes at last to the bloody- and wearisome
business of "muddling through." But these
days of the happy-go-lucky optimist are near their
end. War is being drawn into the field of the
exact sciences. Every additional weapon, every
new complication of the art of war, intensifies
the need of deliberate preparation, and darkens
the outlook of a nation of amateurs. Warfare in
the future, on sea or land alike, will be much more
one-sided than it has ever been in the past much
more of a foregone conclusion. Save for national
lunacy, it will be brought about by the side that
will win, and because that side knows that it will
win. More and more it will have the quality
of surprise, of pitiless revelation. Instead of the
see -saw, the bickering interchange of battles of
the old time, will come swiftly and amazingly
blow, and blow, and blow no pause, no time for
recovery, disasters cumulative and irreparable.

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Online LibraryH. G. (Herbert George) WellsAnticipations of the reaction of mechanical and scientific progress upon human life and thought → online text (page 13 of 21)