Topic: US Armed Forces
Soldiers to be Taught New Ways of Warfare
Trench Life Will be Lived by Men
Artillery Training is Arduous Branch
The Milwaukee Journal, 14 October 1917
By Arthur D. Howden Smith (Staff Correspondent of The Milwaukee Journal and The New York Evening Post.)
Washington.—The first stage of the training of the men of the national army will not be nearly so interesting as the later stages. This first stage will be devoted largely to making them physically capable of standing the driving routine of real soldier work. To march fifteen and twenty miles a day, with sixty-pound pack, ammunition, and rifle, requires a degree of fitness that few men in civil life possess. You must be hard. Every muscle in your body must be toughened and freed. There is no room for superfluous flesh on a man in hiking condition. It is excess baggage and has to be cast off.
After a few weeks of Swedish drill, of twirling the army Springfield and marching and counter-marching, in close and extended order, the conscript should be prepared for higher instruction. By the time the companies have begun to achieve solidarity in maneuver and can even combine into battalions with some degree of order, the brigadiers will begin holding confidential sessions with the regimental commanders and surveying the countryside around the cantonments for good sites for mimic warfare. By this time, too, delegations of expert British and French exponents of the modern art of trench sighting should be on hand, and the advance-guard of the reserve officers , sent over-seas for instruction close to the fighting front, will be returning to lend the value of their experience to the partially trained men of the national army.
A World Achievement
Just when this time will come nobody can say. The regular officers in charge of training may have ideas of their own, but if they have any they are keeping the knowledge to themselves. And rightly. For the national army is the most ambitious experiment in constructing military forces that any country ever attempted. It presents innumerable problems to which there are no answers in the available textbooks. The general scheme for development of the drafted men will be something like this, however.:
First phase, physical training and elementary military drill.
Second phase, advanced military drill.
Third phase, specialized warfare, as taught abroad.
Naturally, the training will vary at different cantonments, according to the ideas of the commanding officers, climatic conditions, and the adaptability of the men. Also, physical training will continue throughout the entire period of development, but it will not be stressed in the later phases. It might be said that the physical benefit the average man derives from military routine is little short of astounding.
Learning Trench Warfare
Once the drafted men have been welded into coherent units, able to obey promptly and in unison the spoken word of command, they will have ceased to be rookies in the opprobrious sense of the word, and may be called soldiers. Before the present war scrapped pre-existing ideas of military tactics their training in essentials would have just begun. Ahead of them would have stretched a long series of lessons in out-post duty, guard duty, flank and rear-guard duty, and so forth. Trench warfare has simplified all of this, and, if regular army officers are to be believed, it is this simplification which makes possible the intensive training of utterly raw troops in the mass. Their training will embrace instructions in fighting from trenches and in attacking trenches. That sums it up.
A tradition of the American Army that will be adhered to is target practice. Regular army officer hold that one of the secrets of the remarkable success British troops have always had when opposed to the Germans under anything like equal conditions has been the individually better marksmanship of their men.
This war has shown a weird tendency to develop terrible new engines of destruction and to revive the use of primitive weapons. The theory of twenty years ago following the perfection of the magazine rifle and the machine gun, that close-order fighting would be barred has been thrown into the discard. The arme blanche, as the French call it, the cold steel of the Anglo-Saxons, still reigns supreme as close quarters.
Thorough Bayonet Drill
Bayonet-fighting, as developed on the western front, mainly through British initiative, has become almost a new science. The old-time rigmarole of the bayonet manual, with its elaborate parries, guards, cuts, and thrusts, has been almost entirely done away with. In its place has been substituted a murderously simple and effective set of movements. It is horrible, almost terrifying, to the uninitiated. For bayonet-fighting represents a complete relapse to the primitive. Many sensitive, tensely strung men cannot stand it. At the training camps for officers, several men were gien discharges because of the nausea that mastered them at the idea of knife-fighting—which is all the bayonet-fighting is.
The men of the national army will receive thorough instruction in the use of this dreadful little tool. And the instruction will be as lifelike as ingenuity can make it. They will be taught to fight in every position—standing up, face to face; from the side, when caught off guard; thrusting downward, from the lip of a trench; upward, at an enemy climbing the parapet; on the run, as when a counter-attack meets a charge. The training will embrace the use of dummies and trenches and every conceivable kind of terrain. It requires good wind to end a quarter-mile sprint, loaded down with equipment, with enough energy to indulge in a bayonet duel.
Bomb Work Important
Perhaps the most important new tactics brought our during this war center around bomb-fighting. The grenadiers of the eighteenth century were what their name implies—men picked for their height and strength, and each carrying two bags of cast-iron grenades, which they ignited with a slow match and hurled at close quarters at the enemy. There was a grenadier company in each regiment of the old British line. But long before the Peninsular war the name had become almost meaningless. The improvement in field artillery made grenadiers useless, except for siege work. In recent wars grenades have been practically unknown, although the Japanese used some in the siege of Port Arthur.
But the continuous close fighting on the western front, with the establishment of trench warfare, brought the grenade back into high favor again. At first the opposing troops manufactured their own grenades out of food tins. The effectiveness of these improvised weapons proved a revelation, and first the Germans, and then the French and British, undertook the production of several standardized types of hand-bombs. Now the bombers that accompany every attack form the first wave, and it is to them that is entrusted the task of cleaning out garrisons of dugouts and machine-gun nests.
Bombing has developed into a separate department of military science. There are recognized ways of throwing the different bombs, and different types of bombs for different uses. The men of the national army will learn all about them in time. Bomb practice is dangerous, and has cost many lives in Great Britain and Canada.
Work in the Trenches
Instead of the open country maneuvers that used to be employed to accustom troops to actual warfare, the men of the national army will be taught the life of the trenches. On the hillsides and plains close to the training cantonments huge systems of field fortifications will be dug, complete to the last detail, with barbed wire entanglements, artillery and machine gun emplacements, bomb-proofs, dugouts, communication trenches, support trenches, listening posts, everything that the ingenuity of the battling nations has evolved from three years of fighting on a stupendous scale. They will be taught how to enter and leave a trench, how to repel attacks, how to make raids, how to attack by surprise under cover of the night and by day behind the protection of barrage fire.
Of course, the instruction will not be identical for all men. This is an age of military specialization. The artilleryman has not the time to spend on infantry tactics, nor has the bomber leisure to acquire the tricks of the machine gun. It is understood that the new system of regimental organization adapted by our army from the French calls for companies of approximately 250 men. Each of these companies consists of four platoons. One platoon is made up of bombers or grenadiers, two are made up of magazine riflemen, and the fourth is armed with automatic rifles or machine guns. In addition, there is an extra machine gun battalion attached to every regiment and to every brigade and division headquarters. But all of these men will have to learn trench tactics, because all will fight from trenches.
On the other hand men who elect the artillery will receive radically different training after they have emerged from the embryonic stage, where they are taught to stand and walk and the A B C of military ways. At each cantonment there will be a brigade of field artillery as a component part of the tactical division formed there. A field artillery brigade consists of three regiments, two of 3-inch batteries and one of heavier guns, 4.7 or 6-inch generally. When men report they are given the opportunity of selecting the arm they wish to serve in so far as is possible.
Artillery training is probably the biggest of all the training camp problems. The biggest obstacle is equipment. The country was woefully short of field artillery equipment even for the regular army and national guard, when we entered the war.
The men are first taught just what a modern field-piece is. They are shown how to take it apart and assemble it again, and they are drilled until they know every part of it by name and by feel. The mechanism of shells is illustrated practically and demonstrations are given in how and why a shell explodes. They are taught to ride and care for horses and the simpler elements of hippology. Range-finding and the plotting of targets is a much more difficult work, and yet perfectly tangible, once the guiding rules are comprehended. The use of the azimuth, the theory of indirect fire, triangulation and probably, too, the most modern development of all, co-operation between airplane observers and batteries, will form the bulk of the drafted artilleryman's studies. By the time he has finished such a course, he may not be quite ready for the battlefront, but at least he should be able to go to the finishing schools immediately behind the front.