Part One - Part Two - Part Three - Part Four
The Modern Era
Although military action took place in the Baltic, Caucasus, Balkans as well as the Crimean Peninsula, it is the last of these that has given its name to the conflict that erupted in July 1853 with Russia crossing the River Pruth and invading Moldavia. This was followed on 5 October with Turkey declaring war on Russia and in March 1854 with the UK and France declaring war of Russia as well. In the UK, the Crimean War is "principally remembered for three reasons: the Charge of the Light Brigade, maladministration in the British army, and Florence Nightingale. However, this war, fought by an alliance of Britain, France, Turkey and Sardinia against Russia, is far more complex." (The National Archives, No Date) Indeed it was, being a product of not only great power rivalry in the Middle East and Eastern Mediterranean, but also of religious tensions between Russia (Orthodox), France (Catholic) and Turkey (Islam) as well as the control of access to religious sites in the Holy Land. (Williamson, 2016)
Both the British and French quickly found that logistically supporting the projection of military power into the Black Sea in the 1850s was a very different proposition to when they fought in both the Iberian Peninsula and the Low Countries some forty years before. Firstly, the latest muzzle-loading rifled-muskets, such as the French Pattern 1851 Minié and the British Pattern 1853 Enfield, had a higher rate of fire than smoothbore muskets such as the Brown Bess and therefore put additional pressure on the logistics system as regards ammunition resupply. (Macksey, 1989) In addition, this situation was complicated, as far as the British were concerned, by having more than one small arm in widespread use, exacerbating the problems of supply encountered by the British Army during the Crimean War especially with in relation to ammunition.
"The Pattern 1842 Musket used a round lead ball for its .753 calibre barrel while the Pattern 1851 Minie Rifle needed a .702 calibre conical bullet. The addition of the Pattern 1853 Enfield musket brought the need for smaller lead balls for its .577 calibre barrel." (Henderson, No Date)
Secondly, modern artillery fired shells which burst and therefore unlike cannon balls, could not be salvaged for re-use. Thirdly, the armed forces of both the UK and France had both steam-powered ships and railways at their disposal,
". . . which not only carried men, horse, artillery at supplies at high speed in great quantity but also hastened the despatch of information and orders – the latter function supplemented by simplex (one way working) telegraph networks as they spread across Europe, rendering semaphore stations obsolete." (Macksey, 1989, p. 9)
Out of the three allied forces fighting the Russians, it was the French who, during the 1848 disturbances across Europe, had acquired experience of the latest logistic revolution. Their commissariat organisation ran a relatively efficient supply system for 30,000 troops with operational demands, which was adequately financed by the French Government. This in contrast to the UK where successive governments had, under a general lack of interest in the army, on the grounds of economy and the pursuit of popularity, had disbanded the efficient and effective supply system built up during the Napoleonic Wars, especially during the campaign in Portugal and Spain and allowed the Commissariat (which ran the supply system) to fall into decay. Whenever military organisations are placed under financial pressure, there always seems to be a temptation to disproportionately cut combat service support forces rather than the combat (or 'teeth') arms. This seems to be more likely in an army such as the British Army, where the combat arms tend to be based on a 'regimental' system and where the 'regiments' usually have greater political influence than the more technical or support services. By the time of the Crimean War, the support and logistics services (the 'tail') had lost out on both land and sea, with a near complete lack of trained logisticians. Mobilising troops, equipment and supplies, as well as organising the transport resources to move them to a distant theatre of operations fell to a small group of administrators. Naturally, chaos and crippling shortages ensued, although to its credit, the Army did charter some fast steamships from the P&O Line, to transport men, equipment and horses to Scutari (now Üsküdar), Varna and the Crimea. (Macksey, 1989)
While the military commanders have to take their share of the blame, the state of the British Army (and to a lesser extent, the Royal Navy) lay with the British Government. Without any real consideration as to the state of the forces that had been deployed on the Crimea, it insisted that the Russian naval base at Sevastopol be taken as quickly as possible. Lord Raglan, although much maligned, protested (to no avail) that the forces at his command (26,000 at that point) were in no state to conduct such an operation, having been weakened by cholera, typhus and dysentery while staging at Varna. Having no choice but to comply and having little fodder available (his request for 2,000 tons would not be fulfilled until 1855), he left most of the animals behind, taking only enough to pull around 300 wagons worth of supplies. With most of the medical supplies and cooking equipment left behind at Varna, the troops situation deteriorated due to malnourishment, cavalry horses started dying from lack of fodder and after the Battle of the Alma, medical services were hampered by a lack of bandages, splints, morphia and chloroform, while operating under the light of the moon for a lack of lamps and candles. Those wounded shipped back to Scutari were little better off, as most of the medical supplies were in Varna and the under-staffed base hospital could not cope. Hundreds died without receiving proper care. These events, as reported by The Times reporter William H. Russell (the first modern war correspondent) and photographed by Roger Fenton resulted in a scandal that resulted in the Government being brought down. It prompted both individual and organisational action. Mary Seacole, petitioned the War Office to go to the Crimea. When refused, she financed the trip herself, and established the British Hotel in Balaclava, an officer's club and a convalescent home to treat battlefield wounded. Florence Nightingale, taking a party of thirty-eight nurses with her, transformed the situation at the base hospital in Scutari (despite initially uncooperative staff) by buying additional equipment with money raised by The Times and soldiers' wives, organising a proper laundry service and establishing basic standards of care, such as bathing, clean clothing and dressings, as well as adequate food. Attention was even given to the soldiers' psychological needs, with assistance in writing letters home and organising educational and recreational activities. Wandering the wards at night to give support earned her the nickname of 'Lady with the Lamp', gaining the respect of both soldiers and the medical establishment. (Macksey, 1989; Encyclopaedia Britannica, 2017 and 2017a; Lambert, 2011)
The problems facing the logistic support to operations in the Crimean Peninsula took much longer to put right however, as "there could be no systematic and organised rectification of what was wrong until the Commissariat was properly staffed and what became known as the Land Transport Corps was formed and sent out." (Macksey, 1989, p. 12) For one thing, bureaucratic rules and inter-agency rivalry hindered the Commissariat and Land Transport Corps from cooperating efficiently. Staffing remained a problem as many of the personnel drafted in were rarely expert, energetic, competent or even trained. However, the situation was rescued by another individual, Colonel William McMurdo, who arranged for agencies to be opened throughout the Middle East in order to purchase mules, and after sufficient officers had arrived, McMurdo took command of the Commissariat transport and absorbed the Hospital Conveyance Corps. The Corps also supervised the clearing of the port of Balaclava and construction of a light railway to the frontlines, with the help of both civilian contractors and military engineers. This pointed to the development of military engineering as an important logistics service with the engineers also taking responsibility for running the 340-mile cable link installed in early 1855 by the English Electric Telegraph Company between Balaclava and the siege lines at Sebastopol. By the end of the war, the final capacity of the Land Transport Corps was three days rations for the 58,000 troops and 30,000 horses, 200 rounds of ammunition per man for 36,000 men and 2,500 men in ambulances. It is a tribute to those individuals who struggled to overturn the decay of the past that the British Army (after a terrible winter) was able to resume offensive operations in in mid-1855 and with French help, eventually capture Sebastopol in September, with an armistice being signed in February 1856. By that time, the logistic system supporting British forces in the Black Sea theatre had surpassed that of the French. (Macksey, 1989; Sutton, 1998) British forces were well fed, had adequate shelter and plenty of clothing – no-one could have taken
"the smart, clean troops seen on the Uplands in January, 1856, for the same care-worn, overworked and sickly soldiers of the trenches of January, 1855. That this changed situation was clearly related to properly organised, well-balanced logistic support was not in doubt." (Sutton, 1998, pp. 12-13)
It must have been frustrating then for those who had worked so hard to instigate reform that, with the war in the Crimea over, old habits made something of a return:
"However, when the Land Transport Corps was renamed the Military Train in August 1856, as a permanent basis for transport support, all the old ills returned. The Military Train was reduced to 1,200 men, in spite of the Commander in Chief Crimea, Sir William Codrington, protesting strongly that such a small train would only suffice for a Division." (Sutton, 1998, pp. 13-14)
". . . the immediate aftermath demonstrated how incorrigible were governments in putting short term economy before long-term prudence . . . it was patently ridiculous, for example, for the British Government to abolish the Land Transport Corps (which had at one time comprised 14,000 men and 28,000 beasts) in 1857 and cosmetically to rename it the Military Train, with the ability to supply only a single division of the British Army." (Macksey, 1989, p. 13)
As a direct consequence, when the Indian Mutiny broke out in April 1857, help had to be sent to rescue the East India Company from what was turning into a serious rebellion (much of which could be ascribed to poor administration, religious and cultural insensitivity, and its treatment of the native soldiers). This prompted a desperate search for qualified logisticians, many of whom had dispersed following their redundancy. (Macksey, 1989)
The Crimean War, as well as other wars of the second half of the nineteenth century (such as the American Civil War and the Franco-Prussian War) strongly hinted that the rapid pace of technological change was altering the both the conduct of warfare, as well as the way that warfare was supported logistically. The Industrial Revolution brought forth the development of new warships, naval guns, small arms (rifles and the machinegun), artillery, and eventually, tanks and aircraft, each new generation of which demanded more in the way of ammunition and fuel. The greater speed and carrying capacity offered by the new means of transportation that was made possible by steam power (in other words, the railway and the steamship) revolutionised the mobility of both armies and navies, a revolution carried forward into the twentieth century by the internal combustion engine. These were both an enabler and an additional burden to logistics for while conferring advantages, this new technology itself had to be fuelled and maintained in order for armed forces to reap the benefits. Such technology would prove to be even more of an advantage for river-going vessels, for in navigating a river, the twists and turns constantly changed the vessel's angle to the wind with the limited width of most rivers restricting the ability of the vessel to tack. The general availability of either wood or coal along the river meant that river-going vessels avoided the problem faced by their ocean-going counterparts, which had to rely on a growing network of refuelling stations, meaning that outposts such as the Falklands Islands gained strategic importance. On land, railways avoided many of the problems faced by traditional wheeled methods of transport with the prepared tracks reducing friction, avoided the plague of mud that occurred after a heavy downpour and could even (to a certain extent) overcome the usual effects of gravity by keeping the tracks to relatively gentle gradients. However, they did still did not have the flexibility of horse-drawn wagons and were vulnerable to small parties of raiders and were thus generally limited to more strategic roles. (Lynn, 1993; Macksey, 1989)
Case Study: US-Mexico War 1846-47
The war between the United States and Mexico has long been overshadowed by the much larger and much bloodier conflict that erupted thirteen years after its conclusion. It is usually relegated to being a member of the USA's minor wars, although its consequences were far from minor and its success heralded a major step forward in American military prowess. A large portion of what is now part of the southwestern United States was brought under American control, but the expansion reopened civil conflict over the status of slavery, which was to eventually lead to civil war in 1861. The war was also a proving ground for junior officers who would later gain notoriety in the Civil War, such as Davis, Bragg, Meade, McClellan, Grant and Lee. But the conflict with Mexico was not just a dress rehearsal for the Civil War. It was itself a serious conflict, fought over long distances between two determined opponents and the first war that the USA sought to project military power onto foreign soil. For logisticians, it brought unprecedented challenges, due to the distances involved when both the railroad and the telegraph were still in their infancy. That these challenges were (mostly) met was a key to victory.
Initially, the USA had three objectives: To defend the boundary of Texas claimed by the US, to seize New Mexico and California and achieve a sufficient military success over Mexico that it would make peace with the US on favourable terms. The forces gathered to undertake this campaign were initially very small. When the conflict started in May 1846 (the initial cause being a dispute over the boundary of Texas), the regular army consisted of 6,562 personnel (637 officers and 5,925 enlisted). More than one half of these (3,922 personnel in three brigades) were concentrated in Texas under Major General Zachary Taylor. As the war progressed, 1,016 officers and 35,009 soldiers joined up, making the total of regular troops engaged some 42,587 while another 73,532 served in volunteer units, although not all of them reached the theatre of operations.
In 1846, the US Army did not have a general staff. The Secretary of War was assisted by several staff officers, each of whom headed a bureau responsible for supplying certain materials or services. These included the Quartermaster General (Brigadier General Thomas S. Jesup), the Commissary General of Subsistence (Colonel George Gibson), the Chief of Ordnance (Colonel George Bomford), the Chief of Engineers (Colonel Joseph G. Totten) and the Surgeon General (Colonel Thomas Lawson). Each bureau was organised on a commodity basis, rather than a functional basis (with each one responsible for procuring, storing, distributing and if necessary, repairing and maintaining the designated equipment and supplies) and its head reported directly to the Secretary of War, not the General of the Army (at that time, Major General Winfield Scott). These commodities were:
Early operations (by Taylor) were plagued with logistic problems, such as a shortage of tents, wagons and pack animals. This was due to several reasons. Firstly, the War Department did not plan for a war with Mexico, even as the probability grew, and so did not forecast the logistic requirements for such a conflict. Secondly, Congress did not appropriate funds for such an effort until after war was declared. Thirdly, Taylor failed to plan for his logistic requirements and was slow in providing information to the War Department as his campaign developed. Brigadier General John E. Wool commanded a subsidiary force that fared much better logistically – he had prepared methodically, accurately determined his requirements, established his main depot at La Vaca on the Texas coast with a forward operating base at San Antonio and moved his force and supply train over rugged, desolate country that Jesup thought was impossible. He finished his march to Monclova and then moved to Parras without losing a soldier and arrived with enough material to lend assistance to one of Taylor's subordinates being threatened by Santa Anna (of Alamo fame) at Saltillo.
The decisive campaign of the war however, was Scott's overland offensive against Mexico City after seizing Vera Cruz. To do it, Scott needed 4,000 army regulars, 10,000 volunteers, 1,000 marines and sailors, fifty transports between 500 and 750 tons, a siege train of 8-inch howitzers, 24-pounders and between forty and fifty mortars. For the amphibious assault, he required 140 surf boats that could land 5,000 men and eight artillery pieces. The surf boats were the first American boats designed (by Navy Lieutenant George M. Totten) specifically for amphibious landings. The landing took place on 9 March 1847 and was unopposed, so Scott was able to land 8,600 men without a single loss in just over four hours, a major military achievement at that time. He quickly built up his force ashore and established a supply base. Vera Cruz surrendered on 29 March. Realising, like Taylor, that he lacked sufficient wagons and horses to move all the supplies he needed, he decided to utilise what he had and leave the rest in storage, while procuring additional horses, mules and supplies en route. After the battle of Cerro Gordo (18 April), Scott captured Jalapa and then moved to Puebla. He stayed there for almost three months while building up supplies for an assault on the capital, some of which came from Vera Cruz but much of it was sourced locally. This was because a number of factors (an army too small to keep the line of communications open to Vera Cruz and advance on Mexico City, the threat of Mexican guerrillas, the poor roads, the mountainous terrain, the shortage of transport) made resupply from Vera Cruz uncertain. Scott decided to strike at Mexico City and in doing so cut his line of supply with Vera Cruz and rely on sourcing supplies locally. A daring move, that risked isolating his army in the middle of a hostile country. His gamble paid off and he reached the city on 18 August. Scott established both a base and general hospital at San Augustin and after several intense battles (Contreas, Churubusco, El Molino del Ray and Chapultepec) the Mexicans surrendered. The Americans occupied the city on 14 September with the peace treaty being signed on 2 February 1848.
Logistically, the war with Mexico was a significant achievement. Considering some of the problems and challenges that were encountered (such as the lack of planning from the War Department, the political realities of the day including hostility to the idea of a large standing army and the bureaucracy that goes with it, the bureaus responsible being staffed and operated in line with a small peacetime army, some of the field commanders having little appreciation of the importance of logistics in their planning and slow communications) the US was able to project military force onto foreign soil, support that force enabling the army to execute its commanders' plans and achieve victory.
The American Civil War (also known as the War Between the States) was one of the most important wars in US history. There is still debate as to exactly how many casualties were suffered, with some modern estimates suggesting that actual figures might be as much as twenty percent higher than the generally accepted figure of 620,000. (Cohen, 2011) If so, that would still mean that more casualties were suffered during the Civil War than all of the other wars combined. The death rate suffered by the Confederacy was three times that suffered by the UK during the First World War and the states of the Confederacy were fought over, decimated and occupied in a way not seen in the UK since the Norman Conquest. (Kirkpatrick, 2013) The American Civil War is interesting for several reasons, all of which gave pointers to the future of warfare and would culminate in the experience of the First World War. These were:
Historical Note: The Shenandoah Campaign
One example of where logistics featured as an actual campaign objective, was the little-known struggle for Virginia's Shenandoah Valley in 1864. In the summer of that year, the prospects of victory for General Ulysses S. Grant and his Army of the Potomac were slight. They had been fought to a standstill by General Robert E. Lee's smaller Army of Northern Virginia, just outside the town of Petersburg. Back in Washington, the political pressure on the Lincoln Administration was growing daily, as the casualty lists continued to lengthen and there seemed to be no end to the fighting. Grant had tried to overwhelm Lee but failed and so long as the Army of Northern Virginia remained in the field, Grant would not be able to bring the war to a close. Ironically, it was Lee's attempt to create a diversion and take the pressure of the Petersberg front that gave Grant an idea. Lee had sent an infantry corps under General Jubal A. Early into the Shenandoah Valley which defeated the Union forces there, succeeding beyond Lee's wildest dreams and then went on to threaten Washington DC. Grant would have to send substantial forces into the Shenandoah to stop Early's forces. However, both he and the Union's Western Commander, General William T. Sherman, knew the value of logistics and realised that Lee's Army of Northern Virginia depended on two sources, Georgia (which was in the process of being ravaged by Sherman) and the Shenandoah Valley. Grant saw the possibilities inherent in taking the Shenandoah including forcing Lee out from his fortifications around Petersberg, either to battle or to retreat. Command of the operation was given to Major General Philip H. Sheridan, who eventually defeated Early in the Battle of Cedar Creek and took control of the valley. Using a cavalry force of 10,000 men, the Union forces burned the valley from one end to another. In April 1865, Lee was forced to abandon Petersberg and cornered by Appomattox Court House, he surrendered his army. Grant had shown the importance both tactically and strategically of logistics. A direct assault on Petersberg would have defeated Lee much sooner but the casualties would have been horrific. The campaign demonstrated that sometimes, attacking an opponent's logistic support is a worthwhile initial objective. (Wright, 2001)
Most European observers had left after the first battle, unimpressed with the performance of the two armies at the First Battle of Bull Run (First Manassas). One of the exceptions to this was a Captain Justus Scheibert of the Prussian Army, who published several accounts of the fighting on his return to Prussia. He was impressed by the support given to the Union Army by the Union Navy, both tactically and logistically, to help it overcome a number of supply problems. His report on how the Union Army railway repair battalions kept the railways working so effectively inspired the Prussians to form their own units in 1866. However, by the time he produced his main work on the war in 1874, Prussia (now part of a unified Germany) had been involved in three separate, successful wars against Denmark, Austria and France. All were relatively short and considerable preparation had occurred before each. The Germans, and indeed most of the rest of Europe, saw few lessons to be learned from a war that lasted for four years with a large number of bloody but indecisive battles. Other wars, such as the Anglo-Zulu War of 1879, the Spanish-American War of 1898, the Boer War of 1899-1902 and the Russo-Japanese War of 1904-05, all reinforced the importance of logistics, especially when projecting military power away from the home base. However, the emergence of breach-loading small arms and artillery indicated that ammunition resupply would be of growing importance in the future, a lesson that was not properly recognised, even after the invention of a more powerful smokeless propellant in 1885 by Alfred Nobel, the invention of an automatic, belt-fed machine gun by Hiram Maxim in the same year and the introduction of the quick firing French Schneider 75mm gun in the 1890s. (Thompson, 1991; Macksey, 1989)
The World Wars
The formation of rival alliances (the Triple Entente and the Triple Entente) during the early years of the twentieth century increased tensions in Europe, which was fuelled by the development of new technology, an arms race (especially in naval armaments), territorial disputes, nationalism and colonial competition in Africa. It was almost inevitable that such a situation, when confronted with a sudden crisis, would lead to a rapid escalation of hostilities between the major powers. In July 1914, the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife in Sarajevo, provided such a catalyst. (Trueman, 2016)
As predicted by the American Civil War (as well as the small wars in the interim, although much more subtly), the First World War saw a massive increase in the demand for war material, especially ammunition of all types. There were three reasons for this. Firstly, the numbers of troops many countries now fielded, not only in the regular force but in the reserve as well, had increased. Even as late as the Franco-Prussian War, most armies were similar in size to that found in the Napoleonic Wars, for example, the French only mobilised around 570,000 troops for that conflict. The First World War saw troop strengths that were an order of magnitude larger. For example, on the Western Front alone, the British Army reached a peak strength of just over 2 million troops (Baker, 2017), while in August 1916, the Germans had some 4.85 million troops in the field (Simkin, 2015) and France called up over 3 million soldiers at the start of hostilities. Such an expansion of numbers that armed forces could call upon, as a consequence of having a reservist system and the growth in populations right across Europe, would put most countries' supply systems under pressure like never before. An additional layer of complexity was that the fighting occurred in a number of theatres outside Europe such as the Middle East, East Africa and the Pacific, as several of the major combatants had empires, such as France, UK, Germany and Turkey. Secondly, in the century after the Industrial Revolution, technological change had continued apace and even accelerated, changing the character and composition of the equipment that had to be supplied and maintained. The late nineteenth century / early twentieth century had seen the introduction of magazine-fed bolt-action rifles, such as the Short Magazine Lee Enfield (SMLE) Mk. III, Mauser Gewehr 98, Mosin Nagant M1891, Lebel M1886 and Springfield M1903, all of which had far higher rates of fire than weapons that had been in widespread use only a few years before. It had also seen the widespread introduction of machineguns capable of fully automatic fire, both belt-fed and magazine-fed (such as the already mentioned Maxim but also the British Vickers machinegun, American Lewis Gun and German Maschinegewehr 08) and quick-firing artillery. (Lynn, 1993) While there were differences in the relative size, structure, doctrine and tactics between the armed forces of each of the major powers, the one thing that united them all was a complete underestimation as to the consumption of ammunition, which on the Western Front grew worse, as the war entered its static phase and in some cases, caused political uproar. (Macksey, 1989)
Historical Note: The Shell Scandal
The 'shell crisis' or 'shell scandal' as it became known, was a political crisis that occurred in the UK after the publication in May 1915 of an interview given by Field Marshal Sir John French – at that time the Commander-in-Chief (CinC) of the British Expeditionary Force (BEF) in France – to The Times correspondent Colonel Charles Repington. That the British Army was facing a shortage of artillery ammunition was not in doubt with many countries underestimating the ammunition usage rates that the First World War would generate, and many considered it a major factor in the inability of the British to achieve a breakthrough at the Battle of Neuve Chappell in March that year. The Chancellor, David Lloyd-George MP, believed that British munitions production had to be expanded on a massive scale in order to fight what could turn out to be a long war with the Central Powers (see below). He also believed that the current Secretary of State for War, Lord Kitchener, was not up to the task of overhauling the system as it stood. Lloyd-George therefore encouraged Lord Northcliffe (proprietor of both The Daily Mail and The Times newspapers) to publish the details of the interview, with both newspapers attacking the War Office and in particular Lord Kitchener. The political upheaval brought about a change of Government to one of Coalition (but still under the existing Prime Minister, Herbert Asquith) as well as the creation of a new government department, the Ministry of Munitions, headed by Lloyd-George. As a consequence of his interview, French was replaced in December 1915 as CinC BEF by Field Marshal Sir Douglas Haig, while Kitchener, because of his popularity within the country as a whole, remained Secretary of State for War. (Duffy, 2009; Fraser, 1983) While it would be easy to ascribe the munitions scandal to a single cause, the causes included:
"the nation's unwillingness to become fully committed to the war until it had raged for almost three years; the control and over-regulation of industry by Civil Service mandarins; the censorship of the national media which was force to portray success, despite the huge casualty lists that told the true story; and the political manoeuvrings in both Government and military circles, bordering on the Machiavellian." (Harding, 2015, p. 7)
Such a wide-ranging, global conflict between industrialised nations deploying huge numbers of troops and material resources demanded that the countries involved move beyond the normal peacetime structures and processes involved with the 'defence of the realm'. Taking the UK as an example, the realisation that the country had to move towards the total mobilisation of both society and industry started to surface in February 1915, with a memo from Lloyd-George outlining the need for such a measure. Over time, this was underlined by the problems the Russians were having in the east, continued French losses and the failure of the Dardanelles campaign. June 1916 became the target date for a greatly expanded munitions programme, which aimed to not just supply the BEF on an ad hoc basis but to (eventually) supply a massively expanded BEF, equipped with the heavy weapons needed to fight on a 'continental' scale. This programme went through several iterations – 'A' (seventy divisions), 'B' (fifty divisions), 'C' (seventy divisions) and C.1 (100 divisions), mainly due to political rivalries between Lord Kitchener and the War Office on one side, and Lloyd George on the other. The placing of such large orders for munitions enabled economies of scale, as it became worthwhile for manufacturers (including those in the USA) to invest in the necessary large-scale tooling and machinery and thus speeding up order-completion and delivery, thus guaranteeing the seventy-division target by June 1916. There was also considerable tension between the War Office and the Ministry of Munitions, as to whether programme could be achieved. Having all this additional artillery was one thing, but the War Office were worried how the extra 169,204 personnel were to be recruited, trained, organised, equipped and billeted, as well as all the horses, motor transport, ammunition, spares and support would come from in order for these guns to be fully effective upon deployment, as the British Army turned out 'equipments, complete', rather than just sending individual guns to France. (Thompson, 2016)
Equipping and supporting a massively expanded BEF was no inconsequential task. Whereas France and Germany already had armed forces numbering in the millions and a defence industry large enough to support the scale of expansion necessary to facilitate large-scale mobilisation, the UK did not. The size of Britain's defence industry was commensurate with the maintenance and support of what amounted to an Imperial garrison force and the UK would have to take what was, essentially, a cottage industry and turn it into one of the world's largest in less than eighteen months. The conversion of current civilian industry would not be enough – there would have to be new factories, which in turn would require land, materials, machinery, construction work and labour. On top of that there would have to be new infrastructure to support these new factories, such as roads, railways, warehouses, trains, motor vehicles, engines, telephone and telegraph facilities along with the ability to connect them to the national infrastructure, which itself would need expanding and upgrading, including additional shipping and port facilities to move the equipment, troops and supplies over to the continent. Even when all that had been done, there would still be a delay as rifles, machineguns and artillery are complex pieces of machinery which take time to manufacture and finish. It would also require a massive change in social structures, relationships and outlook. To fill out the expanding BEF as well as replace the casualties that were being inflicted daily, required huge numbers of men, even skilled men who had been labelled as doing vital war work. In the move towards the total mobilisation of society, conscription was introduced in the UK, firstly in January 1916 for single men and then in May 1916 for married men although at the point at which the Battle of the Somme started, such a move had yet to have an impact on the BEF which still consisted predominantly of volunteers. Many of the new units were known as 'Pals' battalions and were highly localised in character, as were many of the TA units. To keep the factories working, it would have to be women (and in some cases children) who filled the positions in an expanding defence industry. This caused something of an uproar, as many men feared skill dilution would lead to the erosion of many hard-won rights regarding pay, conditions and privileges. It also was seen to challenge the social and cultural perceptions of what constituted the 'proper' roles for men and women. Despite initial resistance however, practical considerations eventually won out. The Ministry of Munitions, in producing a minor miracle in organising the expansion of British industry to fulfil the demands of modern war, changed the very fabric of British society. By 1918, 1,148,500 women had been employed in jobs directly replacing men. This doesn't include the 1,536,000 women who were employed directly on government munitions work, over half of the total so employed. It was still not enough – the demand for workers was so great that employers turned to children (aged between fourteen and sixteen) to fill it with over 590,000 children being employed during the war (374,000 of them girls). (Thompson, 2016) It had also been learned, albeit the hard way between the Crimean War and the Boer War, that better treatment of the wounded could drastically curtail the loss of skilled personnel. With the enforcement of preventative measures such as higher standards of hygiene and sanitation, the British Army managed to reduce those troops lost to illness and disease to a fraction of those lost in 1900. This emphasis on preventative medicine even extended to the trenches, where the risks of developing respiratory and stomach illnesses, as well as trench foot, due to long-term exposure to cold and damp conditions were high. There was also a gradual improvement in the survival rates for those wounded in action as newly recruited surgeons in the Royal Army Medical Corps used the latest techniques related to the elimination of infection by cleansing rather than using the old-fashioned methods of antiseptic treatment. (Macksey, 1989)
Case Study: Preparations for the Battle of the Somme
The Somme was selected to be the focus for the combined Anglo-French offensive by the French C-in-C General Joffre. Originally, it was intended that all the Allies take part in one massive combined offensive on all fronts to stretch the Central Powers to the limit but the German offensive at Verdun had thrown that into disarray and the French were keen on the British to conduct an offensive to take the pressure off them by forcing the Germans to redeploy forces away from Verdun. However, the Somme area was far from ideal. The British would have to move over 400,000 troops and 100,000 horses into the area, with all the necessary equipment, artillery, munitions and rations, and keep them supplied. The Somme had been a quiet front and the infrastructure had not been built up to support such an offensive. It would take a prodigious effort to prepare for the attack, including the use of units which were supposed to be in reserve or training, given that Joffre only wrote to Haig on 3 June 1916 giving formal notice that he must attack on 1 July 1916.
Part of those preparations involved the railways. It was estimated that the Fourth Army would need around seventy complete supply trains per day when in action, while Third Army (only partly engaged) would need fifty-eight. Only two railway lines approached the front, both entering Albert, and north-south communication behind the front was poor, with a lot of traffic already there running coal from Artois to Paris and southern France. The British Army was therefore tasked with expanding the rail system by building a new line between Candas and Acheux (seventeen miles), between Daours and Contay (ten miles) and the spur running from Derancourt was extended, eventually becoming 'The Loop'. Additional railheads, sidings, depots platforms etc. were also built, most notably at Vignacourt, Flesselles and Buire. But with the Labour Corps not yet in existence, much of the work fell on the infantry.
The roads in the Somme area, being a quiet agricultural area, were not suitable for sustained heavy loads. With little local stone available, every ton had to be brought in from elsewhere in France, and even Cornwall and Jersey. The supply of manpower and stone were often stretched to the maximum and before the campaign started, the condition of the roads was a great cause for concern. For example, in one twenty-four-hour period (21-22 July 1916), the following passed a single point near Fricourt:
Eight days rations were stockpiled within the supply chain between the divisional dumps (of which each division had several) and the forward troops and maintained at that level. Soldiers and horses also need reliable sources of clean water. Other than the Somme and Ancre Rivers, and a stream between Vadencourt and Contay, there was no surface water on or near the battlefield, and none within the range of the planned advance. This necessitated the drilling of boreholes and the laying of miles of pipeline with water refilling points established, from where the water tank wagons of each division could supply the forward troops. They also need somewhere to sleep, so behind the front, thousands of tents and huts were erected, providing 'close billeting' i.e. a 6' x 2' space for each soldier. Every town and village behind the front became packed with troops.
In readiness for the preparatory artillery bombardment, a large number of artillery ammunition dumps had to be built, the largest near the railheads at Gezaincourt, Puchevillers, Contay, Corbie and Flesselles, where munitions could be offloaded from the trains (up to ten trains a day). 'Corduroy Roads' made of timber were laid down so that horse-drawn transport could access the dumps.
To treat the expected numbers of wounded, the Royal Army Medical Corps formed eight groups, each with two Casualty Clearing Stations (CCSs), located at Heilly, Corbie, Contay, Puchevillers, Vecquemont, Doullens (two groups) and Warlincourt. There was a single CCS at Gezaincourt, Beauval, St Ouen and Amiens with advanced operating centres (for urgent cases) at Warloy and Authie. The CCSs would quickly treat casualties, stabilise them and then send them on to the rear (hospitals near the coast) for more intensive treatment. There were eighteen permanent ambulance trains, supplemented by another fifteen for the battle.
The First World War also saw the widespread use of chemical weapons as well as the introduction (albeit early, relatively primitive versions) of vehicles powered by internal combustion engines, most notably the truck and the tank. Overland transportation had needed a technology to free it from having to rely on the horse and wagon for moving men and material between the railhead or port and the army in the field. Trucks certainly had a limited cargo-carrying capacity when compared to trains while requiring more fuel and spare parts, but they could take advantage to an ever-expanding road network as well as travel off-road given favourable circumstances and their flexibility was essential to the development of mobile warfare. Although seen in the very late stages of the First World War as the Allies finally made headway against the German Army, the combination of tanks, trucks and radio would liberate warfare from the slow pace of the man on foot and the horse, and when combined with more mobile artillery and aircraft, would herald a new form of warfare, something that would realise its potential in the Second World War. The use of aircraft in the First World War, although initially restricted to reconnaissance missions, soon began taking on other duties, such as air superiority and aerial bombing, while their widespread use for transportation would again have to wait until the 1939-45 conflict. (Lynn, 1993) In many ways, the First World War was a milestone for military logistics. It was no longer true to say that supply was easier when armies kept on the move due to the fact that when they stopped they consumed all the food, fuel and fodder in the local area and having done so would be forced to move on, regardless of how prepared they were. From 1914, the reverse applied, because of the huge expenditure of ammunition, and the consequent expansion of transport to lift it forward to the consumers. It was now far more difficult to resupply an army on the move, while the industrial nations could produce huge amounts of war materiel; the difficulty was in keeping the supplies moving forward to the consumer, especially after the start of an offensive, when the armies were moving away from their main supply bases and supply routes would have to go across no-man's land. (Moore & Antill, 2011)
After the armistice of November 1918, the Treaty of Versailles and the end of the 'war to end all wars', defence budgets naturally contracted. For example, UK defence spending went from a little over three percent in 1913 to a high of forty-seven percent in 1918 and then quickly reduced to just under three percent from 1923 onwards. (Chantrill, 2017) The economic cost to the UK would however, last much longer. The UK Government paid for the war by expanding the tax base (the percentage of the population paying income tax rose from two percent to eight percent), printing money (after freeing itself from the Gold Standard by the Currency and Bank Notes Act of 1914 but which exacerbated inflation) and increased government borrowing (in the form of international loans and issuing war bonds). Ultimately, these measures worked as the UK and its allies prevailed in the First World War and it managed to avoid bankruptcy and social chaos (unlike Germany). But foreign trade, a vital part of the UK economy had been badly disrupted during the war. Many countries, faced with shortages of goods from the UK, had developed their own industrial base to make up the shortfall and so were no longer as reliant on trade with the UK as they had been, while in some cases, were now competing with her. Added to that, in 1920-21 the UK would experience a deep recession. The First World War would mark the beginning of the end for the UK as a global superpower, being eventually eclipsed by the USA after the Second World War. Even today, there are still thought to be around 125,000 holders of war bonds originating from the First World War, as in 1947, Chamberlain converted those remaining to 'Perpetuals', giving the UK Government the right not to pay them back, so long as they continue to pay the 3.5 percent interest. "The continued existence of war bond debt is possibly the most graphic illustration of the lasting shadow cast by World War One." (Pym, 2017)
Despite the contraction of defence budgets, and some attempts by 'reactionaries' to reverse the advances made during the First World War, experimentation and innovation continued during the post-war years in most of the major states, with the emphasis on communications, mechanisation and flight. The social, political, economic and technological changes that were set in motion by the First World War were too strong to resist, especially when such changes were seen as vital by both far-sighted civilians and military planners. The advantages of the cleaner and more easily handled fuel oil, advances in signal communications, the replacing of animal and human labour with machines as well as improving and extending the range of various modes of transportation (land, sea and air) all had implications for the logistician and strategists ignored them at their peril. (Macksey, 1989)
Although the Second World War started out as another European conflict following the German invasion of Poland on 1 September 1939 (with the USSR invading the eastern half on 17 September, in accordance with the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact signed in August) it quickly involved both the UK and France, along with their respective empires. It expanded again in mid-to-late 1941 firstly, with the German invasion of the USSR in June (codenamed Operation Barbarossa) and in December when the Japanese attacked the US Pacific Fleet at Pearl Harbor near Honolulu, Hawaii. So, while it had many of the characteristics of its predecessor, in terms of scale, geography, complexity, brutality, casualties and destruction, it surpassed the First World War in every way. The war was fought right across the globe, involving countries from every continent, some of whom projected military force thousands of miles from their home base. While certain strategies, tactics, operational concepts and technologies had been given a 'preview' in the First World War, there were many that were new in the Second World War, all of which imposed a greater strain on those responsible for logistic support, who had to come up with novel solutions to the problems, such as the use of artificial harbours following D-Day and the use of fleet trains during the campaigns in the Pacific. In addition, aircraft had improved in both range and carrying capacity and so increasing numbers of paratroopers, gliders and transport aircraft were used by both sides as a means to project military power. (Thompson, 1991)
However, there were still tried and tested ways of moving troops, equipment and supplies around that were still as vital as they had been in the wars of the past. Railways were, and are, still the most efficient means of moving large and heavy loads around on land. But with the maturing of air power, this meant that they could be attacked like never before. Aircraft could now range well beyond the immediate battlefront and attack targets right across the other side of a theatre of operations. For example, the UK's railway system had been relatively immune to the small-scale air raids suffered during the First World War but the German attacks during the 'Blitz' of 1940-41 produced large-scale congestion on the railway system due to the damage caused during bombing raids. It thus took longer to clear the ports of goods and war material and so shipping was held up, slowing imports. The situation was made worse by the pattern of traffic at both the ports and on the internal network being very different to what had happened in peacetime, for which the railway system had been designed. Later in the war on the run up to Operation Overlord (D-Day), Allied air power would put a great deal of effort into interdicting railway traffic in France and Belgium to slow the movement of supplies and once the invasion had occurred, of reinforcements, helped by active resistance groups. Some divisions were held up by days, being forced to travel by road with lines being blocked or there being a shortage of flat cars for their armoured fighting vehicles (AFVs). (Thompson, 1991)
Case Study: The Evacuation of the BEF
The German advance into the Low Countries and France during May 1940 shattered the Allied armies in the West, and led to possibly "the most devastatingly brilliant, lightning campaign in history." (Horne, 1966, p. 215) The German 6th (von Reichenau) and 18th (Küchler) Armies of Army Group B (von Bock) moved into the Netherlands and northern Belgium, which resulted in the French First Army Group (Billotte) – containing the British Expeditionary Force (BEF) under Field Marshal Lord Gort – moving northwards to support the Dutch and Belgian armies. Meanwhile, the German 1st (Witzleben) and 7th (Dollmann) Armies of Army Group C (von Leeb) pinned the French Second Army Group (Prételat) to the Maginot Line defences in eastern France. This left Army Group A (von Rundstedt) with the 4th (von Kluge), 12th (List) and 16th (von Busch) Armies, containing seven out of the ten panzer divisions and three out of the five motorised infantry divisions, to advance into southern Belgium and Luxembourg (just north of the Maginot Line), through the Ardennes Forest. (Barry, 1966; Charles 1966) The Germans then achieved a breakthrough at Sedan on the River Meuse and began the 'race to the sea' which split the Allied forces and forced the retreat of the BEF to the Channel ports. (Horne, 1966)
The story of the evacuation of the BEF from the Channel coast has been placed once again in the limelight due to the release (2017) of Christopher Nolan's film 'Dunkirk'. However, it is important to remember that the actual evacuation of British (and Allied) troops from Dunkirk and the beaches east of the town (codenamed Operation Dynamo), is only part of the story. The War Office at the time was juggling several geographically separate and dynamic operations, not all of which were linked to the BEF. Originally, the focus was the logistic support of the BEF through the ports in western France. When the BEF was cut off, the plan changed to one supporting the BEF through the Channel ports, but this quickly proved to be insupportable and the War Office took the decision to evacuate the BEF. At the same time, they were continuing to support the remaining British forces south of the River Somme and planned to send reinforcements, including 1st Armoured Division, 52nd (Lowland) Division and 1st Canadian Division. This was partly accomplished and was to have included a reconstituted 3rd Division (recently returned from France) but the situation was deteriorating quickly and so a complete withdrawal was deemed to be necessary (Maginniss, 1998; Thompson, 2009)
In fact, there were five evacuation operations:
The other part of the process was the reception, transport, distribution, accommodating, reorganising and re-equipping the remnants of the BEF and potentially any Allied forces that were evacuated as well. With the rapid advance of the German armoured spearheads across France cutting the internal Lines of Communication (LOCs) of the BEF, a conference was held at the War Office on 19 May 1940 to discuss the arrangements for receiving the BEF should that become necessary. To facilitate the planning process, the staff made a number of assumptions, most of which were proven accurate. A simple but flexible plan consisting of two phases was created (Maginniss, 1998):
In this respect, the Royal Army Service Corps (RASC) was well placed to facilitate the timely onward flow of soldiers through its network of mobilisation centres. A key component to transport this number of soldiers was the railway system, with road transport providing an important supporting role, in the event the railway could not reach the dockside or rail traffic was temporarily halted due to enemy action. The ability of Fighter Command to maintain air superiority over the UK Channel ports was vital in minimising additional disruption to the onward movement of British (and Allied) forces. As it turns out, very little heavy equipment or munitions came back from France, the BEF losing approximately 84,427 soft-skinned vehicles, 615 tanks and 1,954 artillery pieces, along with 77,000 tons of ammunition expended, captured or destroyed, so the main concern was with the movement of personnel. (Boyd, 2009; Maginniss, 1998)
This onward movement was a challenging and complex task, chiefly involving the War Office and the railway companies. The outbreak of war had resulted in a major reorganisation of the rail network, with the 'Big Four' railway companies of the time – Great Western Railway (GWR), London Midland and Scottish Railway (LMSR), London and North Eastern Railway (LNER) and the Southern Railway (SR) – coming under the control of the Railway Executive Committee (REC). The companies all had considerable experience of planning for mass mobilisation and had already evacuated over 1.3m children from British cities, but in the days leading up to the evacuation, there was a paucity of information regarding what forces were coming back, what condition they would be in and where they would arrive. The REC coordinated the provision of 186 train sets from the 'Big Four', which were held in a pool and capable of transporting 600 troops, with the initial handover of stock to the SR taking place at Salisbury (GWR), Kensington, Addison Road (LMSR), Banbury and Reading (LNER). Redhill, Reading, Banbury and Salisbury were chosen as Regulating Stations (where rail traffic from the ports would be directed) which had REC-supervised Special Control Offices (SCO) set up. Having been set up on a purely ad hoc basis, with communications being conducted mainly by telephone, it is a credit to all concerned that the railway system was able to keep up with demand and that no casualties were recorded during the operation in the UK, proving to be a key component in the provision of logistic support to those forces returning from France. (Maginniss, 1998; Farrell, 2009)
The Second World War also saw the much wider use of vehicles powered by the internal combustion engine, from tanks and self-propelled guns (SPGs) to cars, trucks and motorcycles. The age of the fully mechanised army was dawning, although during the war, it was only really the British and Americans that achieved this accolade, with many armies still relying on other means of transport. For example, the German Army (Heer) began the war with 103 divisions, only sixteen of whom were armoured (panzer) or mechanised infantry (panzergrenadier). The remaining divisions had to march and although there were some 942 vehicles in each infantry division's establishment, they relied on around 1,200 horse-drawn wagons to move supplies, much as the Roman legions had done. It is interesting to note that as part of the plans for Operation Sealion (the German invasion of the UK), the Army required 4,500 horses be included in the first wave of landings. All these were organic to the division for use in its operational area, but behind that, there were only three transport regiments per army, with a capacity of 19,500 tons. As a comparison, Allied forces in Northwest Europe had a motor transport capability to lift 69,400 tons to support forty-seven divisions and were still short of lift. Although the Germans massively expanded the number of armoured and mechanised infantry divisions, as well as the overall transport assets of the entire army, they still relied on horse-drawn transport to the very end. (Thompson, 1991) This meant that effectively, they always had two separate forces, one fast and mobile, the other restricted to the marching pace of the infantry and it required strict control so as the infantry did not impede the supply convoys of the fast-moving armoured spearheads. (Van Creveld, 1977) That the German Army was so dependent on horse-drawn transport is not widely known – one of the main reasons that the German attack on the USSR failed. Time and again the panzer divisions rapidly outstripped the supporting infantry and had to wait for them to catch up, plus when winter came, thousands of horses were lost to the cold, all of which had to be replaced. The problems of providing the necessary forage under those conditions, so far from the home base and having to cope with a limited amount of railway infrastructure are hard to imagine but would have been all too familiar to those in Napoleon's army. (Thompson, 1991)
Historical Note: The Eastern Front
How did the Wehrmacht, victorious in Western Europe, fail to defeat the USSR between June 1941 and early 1943 with Operations Barbarossa and Blau? It has been suggested that it lies in the German approach to warfare at that time, as well as the operational tactics used. During the Second World War, German strategy was still being influenced by a nineteenth century concept known as Vernichtungsschlacht, which loosely translated means, a battle of annihilation, in other words, a strategic military victory in a single decisive campaign. This would be achieved by destroying the enemy army through tactical and operational excellence, thus bringing about a victory at the strategic level and thus further the political aims of the war. During the inter-war period, the Germans learnt a number of lessons from the experiences of the First World War, however none of them were about the Schlieffen Plan (itself an example of Vernichtungsschlacht, as were Cannae, Zama, Adrianople, Austerlitz and Tannenberg). The concept was still regarded as being sound and therefore was used regularly in German planning between 1939 and 1943. It's success, at least between 1939 and 1941, lay in the opposing forces' lack of ability to counter the new German methods of manoeuvre warfare and so did not provide a reliable test of the Vernichtungsschlacht concept as well as German operational art, tactics and fighting prowess. That the Germans believed it did, led to their invasion of the USSR in 1941 and ultimately defeat in 1945. Vernichtungsschlacht is closely linked to the operational concept of and tactics associated with Blitzkrieg (lightning war), although the Germans themselves rarely used that term regarding it as merely another word to describe already established fighting methods. This approach was more commonly known to them as a Kesselschlacht (another concept from the nineteenth century), loosely translated as the cauldron or encirclement battle, where an enemy army would be quickly surrounded and then destroyed. It was the practical battlefield approach of achieving a Vernichtungsschlacht. The number of encirclements would depend on the size and tactical skill of the enemy. The concepts worked well against Poland, Western Europe and in North Africa but the size of the pockets created in the East created problems, as (mentioned above) the Wehrmacht was essentially made up of two forces – a fast-moving mechanised one and a slower infantry one. The panzers could quickly encircle a Soviet army and stop their retreat but they then had to wait for the infantry (supported by the Luftwaffe) to reduce the pocket, thereby losing momentum, which risked the Red Army making something of a comeback and drawing the Wehrmacht into a war of attrition, which the Germans could not win given the vast manpower, industrial base and resources of the USSR. They therefore gambled on winning the war quickly, in a single campaign. In addition, the scale of the distances involved was greater than anything the Wehrmacht had had to deal with previously and had a major impact on German logistics. It was only about 200 miles from the Ardennes to the Atlantic coast, but from Warsaw to Moscow is 1,000 miles and from Berlin to Stalingrad is around 2,000 miles. Supplies of food, spare parts, fuel, equipment and replacement personnel had to be moved over these distances, while taking into account the Russian weather that often limits mobile operations to between May and November, in terrain where the lack of a modern infrastructure hinders the logistic support to mobile operations and facing an increasingly active partisan movement. (Antill, 2007; Zabecki, 2014)