Mechanization in Three 20th-Century Campaigns:
Battle of France; Tet Offensive; Persian Gulf War
The mechanization of war, which began tentatively in the 19th century, has been its dominant feature in the 20th. This mechanization is most obvious, and most often thought of, in terms of weapons: machine-gun, aircraft, missiles. Looking back at the experience of turn-of-the-century colonial wars, the intellectual Hilaire Belloc offered a mordant witticism in rhyme:
Certainly armies with primitive weapons had no chance against armies with modern ones. But in wars between armies that were even remotely matched, the decisive feature of mechanization has often been speed. The application of superior mobility in war is at least as old as the chariot, and as often gained by superior doctrine as by superior instruments. In the War of 1870, at the dawn of industrial warfare, the Germans used the railroad and telegraph to accelerate and coordinate the launching of their offensive, but once their advance moved past the railheads they could go only on foot, at the same speed as Napoleon's armies or Alexander's.
Indeed, by the First World War, industrialization seemed to have so accelerated movement behind the combat zone as to negate mobility within or beyond it: the German plan for a swift, decisive offensive on the lines of 1870 stalled instead into four years of trench warfare. A breach in the lines could be reinforced by the defender from the rear faster than it could be exploited by the attacker. From that experience the French concluded that the next war would again be static. In contrast the Germans, drawing lessons from the tentative use of aircraft and motorized armor in 1914-1918, developed a new doctrine of fluid industrial warfare.
The three campaigns discussed below trace the progress of fluidity in 20th-century warfare. The first, the Battle of France in 1940, tested the German fluid doctrine against the...