Modern Methods of Warfare
If some dead soldier of our Civil War could come to life and see the present methods of carrying on warfare, he would be far more dazed than Rip Van Winkle ever was. The trench system has already been spoken of. The use of camouflage, the disguise or concealment of objects of war, is not new by any means, but it never was so elaborately done before. Trenches are concealed by sods and branches of trees; vessels are painted, the lower part of the hull to look like waves, the upper in sky-blue; an apparently solid rock in a field may prove to be a gray canvas protection for a man with a gun. A little ammunition shelter was decorated with a picture of a hen and her chicks, and it easily passed for a hen-coop. The Emden changed her paint and set up an extra smokestack to persuade the English that she was one of their own cruisers. The English retaliated in kind by secretly building dummy dreadnaughts of wood, which lay idly in the harbors while the real dreadnaughts were serenely acting as convoy for transports.
Barbed wire has proved a better defense than stone walls. These can be easily shattered, but barbed wire, stretched from post to post in wild entanglements, “looking as if they had been woven by a crazy spider,” is slow to yield, even to a storm of shrapnel. It can be cut, of course, but this is rather a dangerous proceeding when under a brisk fire from the enemy. Moreover, the wire is sometimes charged with a high power of electricity, and then any attempt at cutting it has two chances of proving fatal.
Machine guns have proved of great general value, though they look anything but dangerous, “so small, so fine, and such bits of workmanship that one would think to see them that they were a child’s playthings.”
The famous French “75’s” are light in weight, but in general artillery has been growing larger and larger and able to throw shells at a constantly increasing distance. The man who fires the gun has sometimes not even a glimpse of what he is trying to hit. His orders come from the man with a view, who is perhaps hidden in some innocent-looking farm-house on a distant hill, far away from the scene of action, perhaps skillfully camouflaged in the top of a tree, perhaps high up in an airplane, whence he can “wireless” down his directions for the aim.
A weapon revived by the Germans from the Greek fire of ancient times is liquid fire, made of pitch and gasoline or similar substances. A large stream of this fire is started, then a small stream of some mixture that catches fire on reaching the air. This is so timed that it kindles the large stream at whatever moment the man in charge wishes. Besides the heat and flame, this causes a suffocating smell and a heavy smoke.
Even worse than liquid fire is the poison gas set free when the wind is in the right direction to blow it over the trenches of the enemy. It is heavier than air, and so sinks down into the trenches. Other gases are put into shells which burst on reaching the trenches. These gases not only kill men, but often, if they escape death, injure the lungs and cause years of suffering. Scientific men, however, soon invented masks, which, unless the soldier is caught unawares, will protect him from injury. Poison gas is strictly forbidden by the Articles of the Hague, but was introduced by the Germans.
Hand grenades have been much used to hurl into the trenches of the enemy. An instant before being thrown, the fuse is lighted; but if the soldier delays a moment too long, the bomb explodes in his hands.
Shrapnel consists of a case containing so many bullets that a single shell is more deadly than the machine gun at its best. Moreover, while the rifle bullets make a clean hole not difficult to heal, the shrapnel bullets fly unsteadily and tear whatever they touch. Then, too, the pieces of the shell itself make jagged and irregular wounds.
Without wireless telegraphy and the use of the telephone warfare of the present character could not be carried on. The commander of a warship can reach every part of his vessel by telephone. Even on a battle-field, the slender wire does in a moment what was in the Civil War the work of orderlies galloping about with commands. Telephone wires are strung with almost unbelievable rapidity. Two men start off on horseback. One carries a reel of slender wire which unwinds as he goes. The other carries a rod with a hook and lifts the wire to branches of trees. To make the return circuit, a metal rod is driven into the ground at each end of the line, or even into a living tree. By means of this, a commander knows the condition of every company, and they can receive his orders without a moment’s delay.
Most interesting of all to the observer is the armored tank, clumsy, unwieldy, lifting up half its body and pawing about in the air as if searching for the best way to go. It rolls itself awkwardly into a deep shell-hole as if it really must see what is down there, then climbs the bank and rumbles on its course. It plunges through small trees and houses, if any are in its way; it roams about in barbed-wire entanglements as if it did not know they were there. It never makes a misstep or misroll—and wanders around with an irresistibly comical air of going all by itself and knowing just what it is about. And all this time it is giving perfect shelter to the men and machine guns which are protected by its plates of steel armor. Some one has said that all the tank lacks is a pocket for carrying prisoners.
The various sorts of flying machines are used in vast numbers. The German Zeppelin is an enormous cucumber-shaped dirigible balloon, lifted by gas bags and propelled by gasoline engines. It has a strong, light aluminum frame and is divided into gas-tight compartments. Compared with the little French Nieuport biplane, it is slow, but it can carry a large weight of bombs, and it can keep still in one place and report by wireless to friends below just what is going on from moment to moment in the enemy’s lines. On the other hand, the “Zep” is a mark not especially difficult to hit, even if it is quite high up in the air. The Germans have employed these in raids not only upon London and Paris, but also upon little undefended villages and Red Cross hospitals. So many schools have been struck by their bombs and children killed that they are often called the “baby-killers.” Just as the Allies long refused to employ poison gas, so for many months they refused to make air raids; but a stern demand for reprisals sent great battle-planes forth to drop bombs, not upon schoolhouses and hospitals, but upon German barracks and munition factories.
Anti-aircraft guns have now become common, and when the whir of an aircraft is heard, an alarm is given to warn people to keep out of the street and to go to their cellars. Then long rays from electric searchlights flash over the sky and the guns begin to roar. A storm of shrapnel beats upon the aircraft. If the gunners are fortunate in their aim, a Zeppelin or a “plane” tumbles down from the sky. Often airplanes go out to meet airplanes, and there are battles in the air, whose results are known sometimes by the fall of an enemy’s shattered machines, sometimes by the failure of the defenders to return.
The “flyers” do many kinds of work. They take snapshots of the country beneath them, which are closely compared with the photographs of the preceding day, and if there is any new bit of camouflage or any change in the position of the enemy, it reveals itself in the film. They drop bombs to destroy railroad bridges and munition works, they direct by wireless from stationary balloons, or “sausages,” as has been said before, the fire of the artillery, and they fight with the utmost fearlessness. A later form of the airplane is the hydroplane, an amphibious sort of invention which can fly in the air or float on the water, according to the need of the hour. Airplanes differ in speed and are thus adapted to the special work required of them. One variety can fly 110 miles per hour, carrying 700 pounds of bombs; another, which is called “slow,” though it makes 80 miles per hour, can carry 4400 pounds of bombs.
One specially valuable work of the air machines is the discovery of submarines. The submarine under water is invisible at the surface, but from a distance above the surface it can be easily seen. The submarine is not wholly new; indeed, one is said to have been made three hundred years ago; but the kinds now in use were invented some years before the present war by the Americans John P. Holland and Simon Lake. The submarine is a cigar-shaped shell of steel, so filled with complicated machinery that the men who run it have very narrow quarters. It can go on water or under water, and can sink or rise at the will of its commander. When just under water a man in the conning tower can see what is on the surface by means of a periscope. This is an upright tube extending up into the air with such an arrangement of mirrors and lenses that whatever goes on above the water is reflected down into the submarine. When a ship comes into view, and the submarine has reached a convenient position, it fires a torpedo, rises to the surface to observe the result, and if necessary dives. It also carries guns of considerable range; and if the commander thinks it safe, the boat can remain on the surface and destroy any vessel whose guns are of less power.
Halfway between flying machines and railways are the teleferica of Italy. Up to the present time it had been taken for granted that fighting in the Alps must be done in the passes and on the low heights, and that no summits of lofty peaks could be held permanently, for there are no roads above the snow line, and even those below it are often deep in snow for perhaps half a winter at a time. The Italians made up their minds to use the summits if possible. Then came the question how to transport soldiers, munitions, and food from one mountain to another. The teleferica, or far carrier, was originally only a cable stretched from one point to another, on which buckets of ore could travel. The resourceful Italians adopted the idea, stretched hundreds of miles of strong wire cable from mountain to mountain, ran a cage on each cable, and set up a petrol engine to provide power. That is all, but by means of these, thousands of men and hundreds of thousands of tons of food and munitions have been carried, and not one passenger has ever lost his life in an accident. Wounded men, wrapped in blankets, are often sent a mile or so by teleferica, and sometimes—thanks to the slender cable—the prompt operation which will save a man’s life can be performed within an hour after he has been wounded.
Perhaps not exactly “methods of warfare,” but certainly of great assistance in warfare, are mules and horses, homing pigeons, and dogs. Motors do not fill the place of horses and mules by any means. It is estimated that, entirely aside from the requirements of the cavalry, one horse is needed to every four men. The horse will go over ground too rough for the motor, and even over ditches and through ploughed fields where a motor would flounder helplessly. The motor car can usually carry supplies of food and ammunition to within five miles of the fighting line, but the horse or mule must do the rest.
Homing pigeons are the best carriers of messages in the employ of the army. Pigeon lofts, looking like lunch carts, are drawn up behind the lines, and from there the birds are taken to the men who are to form scouting or attacking parties. Patrol boats and U-boats carry pigeons, aviators send them home with messages written on thin paper and fastened in a capsule to one of their legs. The pigeon never loses his sense of direction. Even if he is set free in the midst of a heavy barrage fire, he flies up as fearlessly as if he knew what an impossible mark he is for an enemy’s gun, circles around once to get his bearings, and then starts for his own loft at astounding speed. Pigeons can fly sixty miles an hour and have been known to make eight hundred miles on a single flight. At one of our camps a message of moderate length was started at the same moment by dog, wireless, and pigeon, to a distant place. The pigeon-borne message arrived in two and one half minutes. Even the wireless lagged behind, for it took longer than that to relay the message and deliver it.
The work of the dog is exceedingly valuable and greatly varied. For drawing carts the Belgians have long used a cross between the Great Dane and the mastiff, such a dog as is the hero of Ouida’s story, A Dog of Flanders. He now draws light guns, and with dogs of other breeds has been taught to search out wounded men, running back with a cap, a button gnawed from their clothing, or, as trained in some armies, carrying in his mouth a loose strap left hanging from his collar and thus showing that he has found some one in need. Dogs have been brought from Alaska to drag supplies and ammunition on narrow-gauge tracks laid over the Vosges Mountains. They also carry food and hot coffee to the men in the first trenches when the firing is protracted. They carry messages to the firing-line when communication has been in any manner cut off. They accompany sentinels and patrols and keep close beside listening-posts, ready to indicate the direction of the danger by “pointing.” They help kill the rats in the trenches; and not the least of their services is acting as pets for the soldiers. They wear gas-masks like “other folk,” though they were at first greatly mortified at appearing in public in such a costume; and if they are wounded, they are carried to hospitals and are cared for by skillful specialists. Like other folk, too, they receive badges of honor. More than one dog has got a message through, thus saving a whole battalion or system of trenches, and has received from France the highest decoration for bravery that the country can give.
England has a veterinary corps attached to every brigade. A horse that is injured hopelessly is put out of his suffering by a prompt and merciful death. One that can be saved is carried in a horse ambulance to the hospital and given water, food, and a bed of straw. If the horse is sleepy, he is first allowed to rest as long as he likes, for the veterinaries know well that sleep is his best medicine. Then he is washed, and his wounds dressed. Even after he recovers, if he needs rest he is sent to pasture for a while before returning to the front. Thousands of horses that would have died in lingering agony on the battle-field are saved by this treatment; and whenever a horse “over there” is saved, the need of sending one from “over here” is prevented. England soon found her regular corps insufficient, and appealed to the Royal Humane Society for help. The Blue Star, as the animal relief society is called in France, has twelve or more base hospitals and a number of first-aid hospitals, but very many more are needed. The American Humane Association, at the request of the Secretary of War, is doing the same kind of work under the name of the Red Star.
Dogs and horses are just as lonesome and nervous and homesick as people. In war they are just as much exposed to danger as are the men, and they suffer just as much from liquid fire burns, from gas, shrapnel wounds, and shell shock. Well deserved is the noble prayer of the Russians, “for the innocent beasts who, together with us, have borne the danger and burden of the day.”