The Martians have invaded for a second time and the world is at war!

Sunday, April 8, 2007

H. G. Wells' "The Land Ironclads"

By The Scrapboard :
I'm very pleased to be able to add H. G. Wells' "The Land Ironclads" to the collection of his works available online.

In this story, published in 1903, Wells describes how a trench stalemate is broken by armoured vehicles. He obviously draws on the recent South African conflict for inspiration for his war between "Townsmen" and "Countrymen". The use of entrenchments had been a feature of the Boer War but was by no means new, having been seen in both the Crimea and American Civil War.
The armoured vehicles Wells describes obviously differ in form from the tanks that were actually used in World War One but in principle they are identical. Wells recognized that such vehicles would need have good levels of firepower, protection and cross-country mobility.
Wells also recognized that such vehicles would need to be applied en-mass and that infantry would have to follow close behind to hold the territory gained. In the story the latter use bicycles. The principles of concentration and consolidation were sometimes forgotten when tanks were used for real.
Personally I find one of the most striking passages in this story is in the passage

"What would you do if you were the enemy?" said the war correspondent, suddenly.
"If I had men like I've got now?"
"Take these trenches."
"Oh-dodges! Crawl out half-way at night before moonrise and get into touch with the chaps we send out. Blaze at 'em if they tried to shift, and so bag some of 'em in the daylight. Learn that patch of ground by heart, lie all day in squatty holes, and come on nearer next night. There's a bit over there, lumpy ground, where they could get across to rushing distance-easy. In a night or so.. It would be a mere game for our fellows; it's what they're made for. . . .Guns? Shrapnel and stuff wouldn't stop good men who meant business."
"Why don't they do that?"
"Their men aren't brutes enough; that's the trouble. They're a crowd of devitalized townsmen, and that's the truth of the matter."

Here a character describes the same "Hutier" or "Stormtrooper" infiltration tactics that
the Germans would use successfully in the latter part of World War One. Attacks by stealth
and infiltration were by no means new, but Wells clearly spells out how these might be used
in the context of trench warfare.
When reading this story it is important to bear in mind that Strand Magazine was popular with Gentlemen and that many senior or future senior officers would have not only read it regularly but have contributed articles to it themselves. Many of the commanders of World War One had therefore been introduced to both the ideas of Armored vehicles and infiltration tactics as a solution to a trench stalemate.

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