strategy and tactics: Total War and Mechanized War

Total War and Mechanized War

The first modern total war, fought with mass armies and modern firearms, was the U.S. Civil War. It demonstrated the importance of industrial mobilization; modern communications (especially railroads and the telegraph), and the deadly effect of new small arms, such as the rifled musket, on mass formations of attacking infantry. Beginning as a contest between armies, it grew into a conflict between two societies; before its termination almost the entire resources of both North and South were engaged.

The lessons of the U.S. Civil War were little noticed in Europe, where strategy and tactics continued to be thought of in terms of mid-19th-century practice. European theorists also ignored the extensive and effective use of machine guns, artillery, and rifles in the colonial wars of the 19th cent. As a result, the bloody stalemate of World War I came as a surprise to most generals. It was characterized by trench warfare and by bloody frontal attacks, which were usually stopped at great cost to the attackers by massed small arms and artillery fire. In an effort to break the stalemate, both sides turned to new technical devices, such as the tank, the airplane, the submarine, and poison gas. The importance of the tank was stressed in theories of mechanized warfare formulated in the 1920s and 30s in the writings of B. H. Liddell Hart, Charles de Gaulle, and J. F. C. Fuller; they proved prophetic when the Nazi blitzkrieg marked World War II as a war of mobility, characterized by vast movements of mechanized armies.

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