Copyright
John Frederick Maurice.

The balance of military power in Europe; an examination of the war resources of Great Britain and the continental states online

. (page 8 of 20)
Online LibraryJohn Frederick MauriceThe balance of military power in Europe; an examination of the war resources of Great Britain and the continental states → online text (page 8 of 20)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


G



gS TJie Forest of Fortresses.

forts (Varrct close all the chief roads between these
great places of defence. An elaborate series of
defences cover the Cotes de Meuse between Toul
and Verdun, In second line Langres, Besancon,
and Dijon have been converted into vast in-
trenched camps. In fact, as Major Wachs says,
Epinal, Belfort, Besangon, Dijon, and Langres
form a large strategic pentagon, in which every
angle is filled with a fortified place of the first
rank. Reims, La-Fere, and Laon have all been
converted into intrenched camps. So numerous
are the forts which connect these various greater
places that only two gaps of any extent remain,
one between Verdun and the Belgian frontier, one
between Toul and Epinal. These have been de-
liberately left in order to tempt an invader to
advance by lines which would be disadvantageous
to him. Nor is this all ; the network of railways
in rear of these fortresses, and connecting them,
is most elaborate and complete.

The enormous size of the works may be judged
by the fact that Verdun will require a garrison of
25,000 men to hold it ; it has for its external forts
a perimeter of 27^ miles, Epinal has similarly a
perimeter of 28 miles, Belfort of 30 miles — and
so on.

Before discussing what appears to us to be the
weak point in this magnificent scheme, let us con-
sider what Germany has done on the other side.



TJic German Action in Reply. 99

First, she has demolished nearly all the smaller forts
and fortresses in Elsass-Lothringen. Secondly,
she has everywhere elaborated her facilities for
detraining and entraining troops. She has per-
fected her railway communication between all
parts of Germany where corps assemble, and
Strasbourg and Metz. She has also perfected
the railway system north and south, as well as
east and west, within the newly conquered terri-
tory. Thirdly, she has made of Strasbourg with
Kehl an intrenched camp so vast, that Major
Wachs declares — and we believe that it is true
though others scarcely put the figures so high —
that it would cover and supply an army of 280,000
men. It can be protected by a belt of water from
the 111, the Rhone Canal, and the Rhine. Three
of the forts are similarly protected by wet ditches.
The forts communicate by subterranean telegraph
wires, and a railway circuit connects them with the
great system of railway which converges on Stras-
bourg. We rather doubt Major Wachs' statement
that this circular railway is now in order, but the
roadway is there, and the rails could easily be laid
down. Germany has enormously improved and
strengthened the forts round Metz. She has
treated with a sort of careless indifference three
other fortresses which she has not actually dis-
mantled, Thionville, Bitsch, and Saarlouis.

By the treaty after the war, she obtained pos-



lOO TJie Command of tJie RJiinc.

session also of Neu Breisach, and this she has
retained in its old form, as it covers an important
bridge over the Rhine. Here, as elsewhere, she
has greatly improved the facilities for detraining
troops. Breisach will serve to bring into the
Southern Vosges the Bavarian corps. But, with
the exceptions we have named, no other fortresses
have been left standing on the French side beyond
the line of the Rhine. Germany has, however, still
her old line of great intrenched camps, giving her
command of rivers — Ulm, Rastatt, Mayence, Co-
blentz, Cologne, and Wesel.

She has over the Rhine itself no fewer than six-
teen railway bridges, besides four steam ferries,
capable of carrying entire trains, and also twenty
bridges of boats for wheeled carriages. Most of
these passages are fortified. All can be rapidly
destroyed. Double lines of railway run along
either bank of the Rhine throughout its entire
length.

Now what does this mean .'' It means that Ger-
many relics for the defence of her territory against
France upon facilitating in every way the gather-
ing of her forces upon the French frontier, and
upon striking in the field rapid blows against any
French force that shall attempt to pass the Rhine
to invade her. It means that every topographical
condition which will hamper the movement of an
army attempting rapid offence against her has



TJic Use of IntrencJied Camps. loi

been studied ; that she will have the most telling
bases and pivots of manoeuvre for supplying her
forces. The Germans will be able to mancEUvre
in concentrated masses against an enemy who must
expose himself to blows in such fashion that the
German army can strike on flanks or rear. The
blow may be delivered when the French army is
divided by the necessities of movement in difiicult
country or across a great river, of which the Ger-
mans hold all the bridges, so that they can forbid
its passage to the French and pass it themselves
when and where they please. That is the nature of
the defence manifestly designed.

It is as auxiliary to this purpose that the great
camps exist. Her army is not swallowed up by
many fortresses. The great mass of the fortresses
which we have named, which hold the rivers, are
far to the rear, so that, whilst the active army
moves forward to the frontier, there can gather
securely behind them the great territorial army,
which will fill these camps, and be daily gaining
cohesion and discipline.

And now as to what she will do for offence.
That clearly depends on the weak spot she has the
opportunity to assail. In all that vast and won-
derful mass of fortification which confronts her, is
there one } Not in the fortresses, perhaps, as yet ;
but, unless all that we have gathered from the dis-
cussions which have of late been sufficiently ample



I02 TJic Frcncli Weak Point.

in France, and from some other sources, be decep-
tive, there will be one most serious weakness in-
volved in the French system of defence.

Among the literature which poured from the
French press after the war of 1870-71, there was
one pathetic little pamphlet, written by the Em-
peror of the French himself, describing the causes
of the French disasters. He emphatically declared
that the great cause of all his trouble was that
neither he nor any one else understood that the
movement of troops by railway for a great cam-
paign was an art in itself, till the bitter experience
of war taught him how little he knew about it.
The statement was certainly an exaggerated one.
The causes of the woes of France lay much deeper
than that. But this much is certain, that every-
thing for France in the next war with Germany
will at first depend on the question whether her
soldiers have or have not practically mastered the
difficulty which the methodic movement to the
frontier of both her active and territorial army will
entail upon her.

For the defect of that vast agglomeration of
works which she has piled together is, that it will
take an army to defend it. Germany, with her
one strong place of Metz, fronts ten first-class
fortresses alone, independent of all the minor forts
which jostle one another along that mighty line. If
the French proposed to employ their regular army



Not ''Shield v. Speaj^" but 103

in these works, well might Major Wachs exclaim,
as he does : " Now, this riveting of an army to a
fixed immovable spot is difficult to combine with
the offensive, and the year 1870 showed that a
French army could be brought rapidly behind
walls, but not easily before them ; so that we may
be permitted to ask the question. Whether the
nation which leads so excited a life to the west of
the Vosges is still the same that in former times
used to be so eager to advance and attack the ene-
my, and which, indeed, always showed a rapture for
open battle and swift decision, and the profoundest
aversion to merely standing and exchanging fire,
or to remaining long behind wall and trench ?
. . . Dead walls are the grave-stones of the mili-
tary self-confidence of the French, and the ' not-
withstanding their presence,' may very soon be
converted into ' because of their presence.' France
prefers to put her trust in the shield rather than
in the hand that wields the spear."

But Major Wachs, carefully as he has studied
the French frontier, evidently does not know the
French views as to the mode in which these fort-
resses are to be held. The idea is that, whilst the
active army takes the field, these fortresses are to be
occupied by the territorial army. There seems to
us to lie the weakness of the whole scheme. It
appears to have escaped notice in England that
France has never ventured to adopt the system of



1 04 TJie vast Movement required.

localisation and territorial mobilisation of the Ger-
mans. When the word " mobilise " goes forth
from the French headquarters, the reserves which
will join the nearest troops will not be the men
who have been trained with the regiments they
join. It is extremely difficult to believe that such
an operation can be conducted with the rapidity,
case, and certainty with which a German village,
in which all the men belong to one company, falls
in and joins the men of the next village or two in
making up the total reserves of the battalion whose
headquarters lie close to them. It is very difficult
not to believe that the French will suffer as we
have done ourselves from the want of cohesion,
due to vast numbers of men being placed with
officers they have not known before. Then the
whole mass of men, both of the active and territorial
army, will have to move eastwards. The army will
have to take up its position ; the territorial force to
occupy the forts. It is the most enormous problem
of military railway transport under the most difficult
conditions that has been ever attempted. It may
succeed, of course ; but, during all the earlier years
which followed 1870, if not since then, there was
an irregularity and uncertainty about the way in
which men were passed into the reserves and
about the way in which the training was given,
which makes us gravely doubt whether the mobil-
isation will not be much more like that which



German Alohilisatiou z« 1888. 105

Prussia attempted in 1849 '^"^ in 1859, which
collapsed, rather than like that of 1866 or 1870.
Practice makes perfect rather in such matters as
these than in most others. It was no bellicose
wish which induced General Boulanger to desire
the experimental mobilisation of two corps. At all
events, whatever may have been his private views,
there was grave reason why France should make
the experiment. We have solid grounds for be-
lieving that, shortly prior to his proposal for the
mobilisation of the corps, General Boulanger had
specifically ascertained that all arrangements for
the movements by railway of the French army on
a large scale were in a condition as chaotic as they
had been prior to the war of 1870. If that is true,
we would give very little for the value to France of
the 135 millions spent on the fortifications.^

For what, meantime, has Germany been doing
as regards her own mobilisation ? The one arm of
the service which in 1870 was relatively slow in
being ready was the one whose services were
needed first — the cavalry. If we are rightly in-
formed, such vigorous steps have been taken to
remedy that inconvenience, that, thirty-six hours
after the magic word " mobilise " has arrived, each
cavalry regiment will be ready to take the field.

^ I do not think that the mobilisation actually dispelled these
causes for suspicion. It was known too long beforehand which
corps was to be mobilised, and the difficulties described above
could not in the experiment have occurred.



io6 GcvDian Silent ]Vo)'k.

Everything is done in Germany with a silence
which contrasts notably with the chatter and the
fussy efforts at secrecy which were characteristic of
General Boulanger's administration. It is there-
fore not easy to be certain to what point the time
required for mobilisation has been actually re-
duced. It is put sometimes now as low as four
days. The maximum time is, we believe, at all
events, six days. After that, it will be simply a
question of extremely rapid railway transport upon
fortified places for large portions, at least, of the
army. Without knowing the total number of en-
training and detraining stations available for each
corps, it would be impossible to estimate the time
within which the German army may be reckoned
upon to arrive within striking distance of the
French line. It is upon such points as these, the
amount of rolling-stock and the multiplication of
railway lines, and not upon mere distance, that the
rate of transfer of large bodies of troops depends.
Seeing that the German Government has been
bending all its energies to facilitate movement by
these means ever since the war, we confess that we
anticipate a rapidity of concentration on the fron-
tier or on the Rhine that will startle the world
almost as much as the earlier successes of 1870
surprised it. If that confusion reigns over the
French mobilisation which we anticipate, so that,
at the moment when the German forces are ready



TJic German Opportunity. 107

on their frontier, the occupation of the French
frontier forts is in progress, or if the forts are occu-
pied by inferior troops hurriedly brought together,
that will be the moment of the German stroke.
The two forts which must be taken in order to
enable a German army to advance will be suddenly
attacked and overwhelmed with fire. That their
capture will cost the Germans severe loss in men
cannot be doubted. But it must be remembered
that under all conditions of warfare that we have
ever known, the weakness of a practically continu-
ous and greatly extended system of fortification
lies in this, that broken in one point it is broken
in all. Mutatis vintandis, the example of Marl-
borough's success against the very same system
when adopted by the French of his day will apply
now. The danger to the French lies in the temp-
tation which Mr Hooper, in his lately published
history of the Sedan campaign, very ably discusses
as that which will be held out to weak command-
ers of an exaggerated reliance on great intrenched
camps. We agree with his critic in the ' Spectator '
that the case of Metz and Bazaine is not fairly in
point; because Metz, as it existed in 1870, did not
fulfil any of the conditions which obtain in either
the French or German camps of to-day. But,
nevertheless, the danger is a real one. No one
who has followed our statement will fail to see how
anxiously the Germans have endeavoured to avoid



io8 TJic Chinese Wall.

it. There is no mistaking the significance of their
careful dcmoHtion of Schlettstadt, Marsal, Phals-
bourg, La Petite Pierre, Lichtenberg, and Landau.
As Major Wachs has put it in the passage we
have quoted, the danger is lest an army " brought
rapidly behind walls " will not be brought " easily
before them." For our own part, we have the
most profound belief in the strength of a de-
fensive position under the modern conditions of
war ; provided always that an army knows how,
when needed, to use it, and when to dispense with
it. But that local power of the defensive is one
which a skilful assailant may turn to his own profit,
as the Germans showed alike before Metz, Sedan,
and Paris. The French method is, as Major Wachs
has well said, a recurrence to the " cordon system
of the last century." Beyond doubt the complete-
ness in itself of each separate fortification is a
matter of the greatest importance; but we confess
to thinking that there is risk lest these fortifications
should be only too comfortable for the generals of
the French army. Victory will now, as ever, be
ultimately decided in the open field. Fortifications
are of importance in so far as they assist an army
in its operations in the field. They become dan-
gerous when, instead of being used as pivots of
manoeuvre, they are erected, like the stone wall
of China, themselves to bar the progress of the
invader.



Belgian Neutrality. 109

We think that, in what we have said, we have
supplied an explanation, and to some extent even
a justification, of Sir Charles Dilke's statement,
though we have given our reasons for differing
from him. To any one looking merely at the elab-
oration, the cost, the completeness of the French
defence, it must seem that the Germans have on
their side done nothing comparable to it. The
German behaves like the master of fence who
apparently drops his point, and lays his breast
open to be stabbed. Woe betide the unskilful
fencer who thinks that he has also dropped his
eye !

III. Will the Germans violate Belgian territory?
— It will, perhaps, now be apparent why we do not
ourselves believe that Germany will make her
great attempt upon France by violating Belgian
territory. We have no wish to speak dogmatically
on the subject. We are quite aware that others,
whose judgment is entitled to the greatest weight,
think differently. For our own part we believe
distinctly that Sir Charles Dilke has done the
greatest service to Belgium in drawing her atten-
tion to the necessity that,

"Would she be free, herself should strike the blow."

But, as it seems to us, the balance of advantage to
Germany in moving by that line is so nice a one,



no Bclgiuvi and Engln)id.

that a conviction that Belgium and England would
act together to resist any such attempt would be
amply sufficient to turn the scale. If Belgium re-
fuses to play her part in maintaining her neutrality,
the case falls of course. We are under no obliga-
tion to assist her if she will spend nothing on the
armaments and the men that are needed to fulfil
her international contract. We certainly should
be most unwilling to say anything that may tend
to prevent Belgium from setting her house in
order. But if we are right as to the weak point
in the French defence at which it is the policy
of Germany to strike, it is obvious that the blow
must be struck rapidly and in an unknown direc-
tion. Time is of the essence of the question.
Now for Germany to choose the road by Belgium
is to abandon all the advantages of time.

It is as well to remember that during the war of
1870 and in the advance on Sedan, subsequent
that is to the negotiation of our common treaty
with Germany and France for the protection of
Belgium during August of that year, orders were
given to the German army that " should the enemy
enter Belgian territory and not be disarmed at
once, he is to be followed thither without delay." ^
Obviously we should in that case have had even
under that treaty no casus belli against Germany.
The case is analogous to that of a blockade, which,
^ Prassian Official History, vol. ii. p. 291.



Time v. Violation of Bc/giinn. 1 1 1

to be respected, must be effective. In speaking,
therefore, of German violation of Belgian territory,
we speak of direct invasion intended to attack the
northern frontier of France, so as to avoid the
necessity of dealing with the great fortress barrier
between Verdun and Belfort. We do not speak of
such chance violation of territory as may occur in
any marches made to the north of Verdun in the
course of a westerly movement. If that frontier
of Belgium be not properly guarded, it will no
doubt be casually or deliberately violated by parties
on both sides. We doubt, in that case, if anything
but diplomatic apologies, more or less sincere,
could be expected to follow.

When we speak of the element of time being
against a German invasion of France by way of
Belgium, we speak of an advance from Cologne
across Belgian territory, directed upon Mezieres
and Maubeuge, either to turn the line of the
fortresses or to carry the army immediately upon
Paris. At Metz, and in the general concentration
in Elsass-Lothringen, the German armies can,
within their own territory, concentrate by railway
without its being possible for any but the vaguest
reports to reach the French as to the direction of
the impending blow. They arrive at once without
difficulty within striking distance, and with all the
facilities so necessary to a railway concentration
afforded by terminal stations elaborately prepared



1 1 2 Tlie Move through Belgium.

for the purpose. The nearest point at which con-
centration can take place on similar terms on the
Belgian frontier is at Aix-la-Chapelle. From Aix
only a single railway runs across the frontier of
Belgium. Obviously, if force were attempted on
this side, it would be the duty of the Belgian
Government to destroy this line. As the crow
flies, the distance from Aix to Mezieres is ninety
miles ; and as the railway runs through Liege, and
makes a considerable detour, it would be impos-
sible for any Prussian force to secure it throughout
its length without deliberate connivance or scan-
dalous neglect on the part of the Belgians. Even
were the line in the hands of the Germans it would
furnish a most insecure dependence for supply.
At best the army must march by road through
Belgium, so that at least six or seven days must
elapse between the departure from Aix and the
arrival within striking distance of the French fron-
tier. Six or seven days of clear warning would
thus be given to the French before their first line
of defence could be reached.

Though the defences of the northern frontier of
France are not like those of the eastern, they are
not to be despised. Here the character of the
French defence much more nearly approaches to
that of the German, as we have already discussed
it. The railways would facilitate the rapid gather-
ing of the armies from all parts of France. Their



Raihvay Difficulty of Violation. 1 1 3

movement thither would not interfere with the
concentration eastwards of the territorial army
into the great fortress belt The main line of
supply for the German armies would still be inter-
cepted by the Verdun-Belfort forest of fortresses.
It seems to us inconceivable that, if this Belgian
line alone were taken, the French armies should
not be able to meet the German in superior num-
bers, in more perfect concentration, and with
every advantage of position in their favour.

Of course the case would present fresh com-
plications if the neutrality of Luxembourg were
violated as well as that of Belgium. Again here
we must say that the question mainly turns upon
the sincere desire of the King of Holland to fulfil
international obligation. By an agreement with
the King of Holland, no doubt the railway from
Treves by Luxembourg and Arlon could be made
to assist ; but to any one who realises what the
nature of a great railway movement of thousands
of men and their stores is, it will, we think, be
evident that the mere fact of this violation of
territory would at once and necessarily substitute
marching by road for railway shipment, at least
for the first advance of the troops. Probably, in
any case, in order to relieve the railways, parts of
the German army from the nearer distances will
march. But the developed facilities for railway
transport since the war are now so great that it

H



1 14 Voii Moltke's viczv in 1870

does not look as if, for the first line of their main
army, that were the German purpose.

By no manner of means that we can see would
it be possible for a German army to maintain itself
in France and to carry out successfully an offensive
campaign, unless some part of the great fortress
barrier is by one means or another broken down,
Certainly it would be impossible without a prelim-
inary complete and absolute conquest of Belgium
and possession of Luxembourg, unless the barrier
be broken. Therefore, as it seems to us that the
easiest time for breaking that barrier will be the
earliest possible moment at which it can be at-
tempted, and as it cannot be done so quickly by
moving on the northern frontier as by striking
boldly at the eastern, we do not believe that the
tendency of the military situation lies in the direc-
tion of invasion of France by Germany through
Belgium. Either the condition of a preliminary
attempt of France to adopt that line, or absolute
quiescence and indifference to her liberties on the
part of Belgium, would no doubt materially alter
the whole aspect of the case.

As long ago as in 1868-69, Von Moltke pro-
nounced decisively as to the advantages to the
French of not violating Swiss or Belgian territory.
To any one who reads his words now, it will, we
think, be tolerably evident that with very little
modification the same argument applies both to



of Neutrality Question. 1 1 5

French and German action under present con-
ditions : —

" The neutrality of Belgium, Holland, and Swit-
zerland limits the theatre of war to the area


1 2 3 4 5 6 8 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20

Online LibraryJohn Frederick MauriceThe balance of military power in Europe; an examination of the war resources of Great Britain and the continental states → online text (page 8 of 20)