What Bloch foresaw with stunning prescience was a future battlefield that would be far more lethal than most of his contemporaries imagined

Saturday, April 9th, 2022

In The Kill Chain, Christian Brose tells the story of Jan Bloch:

Jan Bloch was not a soldier. He was a banker who was born into poverty in Warsaw in 1836 but worked his way up to become a wealthy railroad financier in Russian-controlled Poland. He never served a day of his life in uniform. But he was passionate about military issues and for years obsessively studied how the new technologies of his era would change warfare.

Bloch examined the introduction of the machine gun, smokeless gunpowder, long-range artillery, new types of explosives, railroads, telegraphs, steamships, and other innovations. And he traced their increasingly devastating effects from the Crimean War in the 1850s through the American Civil War a decade later, the Austro-Prussian War in 1866, the Franco-Prussian War in 1870, the Russo-Turkish War that began in 1877, and the start of the Boer Wars in 1880. He poured the results of his lifelong study of technology and warfare into a six-volume doorstop of a book that he published in 1898, four years before his death. He called it The Future of War.

What Bloch foresaw with stunning prescience was a future battlefield that would be far more lethal than most of his contemporaries imagined. The invention of smokeless gunpowder would literally lift the fog of war that had hung thick over past conflicts so that, unlike in previous skirmishes, opposing armies would remain dangerously exposed after the initial volleys of gunfire. Rifles could shoot farther, faster, and more accurately than ever. For centuries, the best professional soldiers could fire a few accurate shots per minute. At the end of the nineteenth century, average conscripts could fire dozens of accurate shots per second. And because bullets had become smaller, soldiers could carry more of them into combat.

Modern fast-loading artillery, equipped with range finders and high-explosive shells, were 116 times deadlier, by Bloch’s calculation, than guns from just a few decades prior.


For Bloch, this meant that battlefields would become killing fields, where combatants would never “get within one hundred yards of one another.” War would cease to be “a hand-to-hand contest in which the combatants measure their physical and moral superiority.” Instead, Bloch predicted, “the next war will be a great war of entrenchments.”


Much of the war was waged with modern technology but antiquated doctrine.


Another factor that made the war so calamitous was the military technological parity that existed between the great powers.


  1. Adar says:

    Protracted war too. The Modern industry could replace with rapidity the weapons and machines lost in combat.

    Think too of the common soldier and how he was processed [that actual word used] when inducted into the military. You got a number, shots, uniforms, paperwork, by the numbers mass production of personnel according to an assembly line process churn-’em-out method.

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