A Great War of Entrenchments

Saturday, October 15th, 2011

In the late 1800s, Ivan Bloch saw that the next great war would be a great war of entrenchments:

“Certainly, everybody will be entrenched in the next war. It will be a great war of entrenchments. The spade will be as indispensable to a soldier as his rifle. The first thing every man will have to do, if he cares for his life at all, will be to dig a hole in the ground, and throw up as strong an earthen rampart as he can to shield him from the hail of bullets which will fill the air.”
“The distance is 6000 metres from the enemy. The artillery is in position, and the command has been passed along the batteries to ‘give fire.’ The enemy’s artillery replies. Shells tear up the soil and burst; in a short time the crew of every gun has ascertained the distance of the enemy. Then every projectile discharged bursts in the air over the heads of the enemy, raining down hundreds of fragments and bullets on his position. Men and horses are overwhelmed by this rain of lead and iron. Guns destroy one another, batteries are mutually annihilated, ammunition cases are emptied. Success will be with those whose fire does not slacken. In the midst of this fire the battalions will advance.

“Now they are but 2000 metres away. Already the rifle-bullets whistle round and kill, each not only finding a victim, but penetrating files, ricocheting, and striking again. Volley succeeds volley, bullets in great handfuls, constant as hail and swift as lightning, deluge the field of battle.

“The artillery having silenced the enemy is now free to deal with the enemy’s battalions. On his infantry, however loosely it may be formed, the guns direct thick iron rain, and soon in the position of the enemy the earth is reddened with blood.

“The firing lines will advance one after the other, battalions will march after battalions; finally the reserves will follow. Yet with all this movement in the two armies there will be a belt a thousand paces wide, separating them as by neutral territory, swept by the fire of both sides, a belt which no living being can stand for a moment. The ammunition will be almost exhausted, millions of cartridges, thousands of shells will cover the soil. But the fire will continue until the empty ammunition cases are replaced with full.

“Melinite bombs will turn to dust farmhouses, villages, and hamlets, destroying everything that might be used as cover, obstacle, or refuge.

“The moment will approach when half the combatants will be mowed down, dead and wounded will lie in parallel rows, separated one from the other by that belt of a thousand paces which will be swept by a cross fire of shells which no living being can pass.

“The battle will continue with ferocity. But still that thousand paces unchangingly separate the foes.

“Who shall have gained the victory? Neither.

“This picture serves to illustrate a thought which, since the perfection of weapons, has occupied the minds of all thinking people. What will take place in a future war? Such are constrained to admit that between the combatants will always be an impassable zone of fire deadly in an equal degree to both the foes.

“With such conditions, in its application to the battles of the future, the saying of Napoleon seems very questionable: ‘The fate of battle is the result of one minute, of one thought, the enemies approach with different plans, the battle becomes furious; the decisive moment arrives, and a happy thought sudden as lightning decides the contest, the most insignificant reserve sometimes being the instrument of a splendid victory.’

“It is much more probable that in the future both sides will claim the victory.”

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