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The First Blitzkrieg

The end of the first month of the Great War saw approximately a quarter of a million motor vehicles of all types in the service of the war departments of the belgerent nations. This tremendous total resulted from the fact that every continental government involved, immediately on the outbreak of war, commandeered practically all the motor vehicles within its boundaries. England, on her part, easily acquired the fifty thousand or so that she needed.

There were in England at the outbreak of hostilities more motor vehicles of all types than in all the other belligerent nations combined, the total being about 250,000. France had approximately 90,000, Germany 70,000, Austria 25,000, and Russia 10,000. It may be an interesting comparisoh, by the way, in this connection, to note that there are considerably over one million motor vehicles in use in the United States.

The perfection of the German system of motor mobilization may be judged from the report to the effect that every automobile in the empire was numbered and ready for service, and placed at the disposal of the country by its owner, well provided with gasoline and lubricants and extra tires. These were all exactly at the point specified in the call, and without any delay or confusion.

An extensive and effective use was made of the motor vehicle by all the belligerents ever since the war began. The first in the wonderful advance which carried the German armies through Belgium and on the very gates of Paris involved an extensive use of automobiles. On the very heels of the declaration of war against France, they dashed in large numbers into Belgium and Luxemburg carrying thousands of picked soldiers. Many small towns fell an easy prey before their impetuous advance.

The Germans made extensive use of rapid-fire guns mounted on armored motor cars. They had, according to one correspondent, thousands of these motor guns, which were of various categories, ranging from the quick fire of the type of a Maxim to a light field gun with very little less range than the ordinary field artillery.

It was probably owing largely to the mobility of these motor guns that the allied armies were forced to such a rapid retirement. After leaving one position they were not able to intrench in another before the German motor guns and cavalry were upon them. Thus their retirement was practically a continuous rearguard action.

The first attack on Liége was made by German troops riding in automobiles, the number of which has been estimated at close to one thousand. This was a new Balaklava charge, with the motor vehicle substituted for the horse. At the same time scores of German scouting parties using automobiles crossed into France at many points along the frontier. In this work, pleasure cars and light armored motor trucks were mostly used, and their activities furnished a rather spectacular and modern feature of the war.

In the French army the horse was being used for practically no other purpose than as a cavalry mount and to a limited extent in artillery traction. It is interesting to note that in the retreating movements of the German armies in France, in the middle of September 1914, when guns got stuck in the mud, only those drawn by motor tractors could be moved, the others being abandoned.

The really important work which motor vehicles are performing is in the field of transporting food, ammunition, equipment, and supplies. When Napoleon stated that an army traveled on its stomach he implied the obvious fact that no large force of men could advance faster than its supply train. The substitution of motor trucks for horses in army transport service has almost doubled the speed with which armies advance in modern times. The rapidity of the German advance, the speed and facility of the French mobilization, as well as the short space of time which it took England to place a thorough equipped army on the fighting line in France all bear out this assertion.

In the Balkan war this fact was also established. The Bulgarian army was provided with a small motor transport equpment, but even this, despite the handicap of inadequate roads, made possible the rapidity of the Bulgarian advance in the direction of Constantinople. In her war with Turkey, Italy employed about 200 light motor trucks in Tripoli, while Greece used about half as many in the war who and Servia waged against Bulgaria in the aftermath of the first Balkan war.

England was the first country to use motor vehicles in actual war. She employed a small number in the Boer War, but these were mostly steam tractors which hauled several trailers.

This great need of motor vehicles for possible war purposes was, of course, foreseen by the governments of the various nations. For several years the leading European governments have appreciated the desirability of having large numbers of motor vehicles available for use in case of war. How to secure them was a big problem. Outright ownership of the many thousands which would be required was out of the question, because of the high initial cost and the fact that they would become obsolete in a few years. In the case of many of the special types, of which only limited numbers would be needed, government ownership was feasible, and such vehicles were therefore acquired immediately.

To provide the large fleets of pleasure cars and motor trucks necessary, two plans were adopted. For owners of private cars a motor militia was arranged, while for the motor trucks a subsidy plan was adopted. Under this plan the governments approved of certain models' of different manufacturers, and buyers of these models were granted a yearly bonus, extending over a period of from three to five years. In return the owners of the subsidized trucks agreed to turn them over to the government on demand, and to keep them at all times in good condition. Under the latter provision the trucks are subject to inspection by army officers at regular intervals.

The German Government favored motor trains and its subsidy is applicable only to motor trucks and tractors designed to haul trailers. Load capacities of four tons on trucks and tractors and two tons on trailers are required, and a speed of ten miles an hour. The subsidy is $2160, paid in five yearly instalments.

The fleets of subsidized trucks in the service of the German [and French] armies were at least standard in the important matters of power, speed, size, road clearance, bodies, tire sizes, magnetos, and carbureters, and in being fitted with sprags, towing hooks, and radiator guards. Standardization is the desideratum in military motor transport equipment and the end toward which the European governments have striven. Germany has carried this to a point where the extensive interchanging of bodies is possible.

The French, German, and Austrian armies had a large number of heavily armored motor trucks, with miniature turrets carrying one or more quick-firing guns for use against infantry and cavalry. All have tractors, which are used instead of horses for hauling. France, Belgium, and Germany had the finest system of highways in the world. Innumerable roads, well laid out, carefully graded, and having hard stone surfaces, abound everywhere in these countries. Of equal importance is the fact that they are always kept in excellent repair. Fine weather also prevails at this season of the year and the roads are dry and hard, so that they offer a maximum of resistance to the wear and tear of the heavy motor-vehicle traffic to which they are being subjected.

The German armies were handicapped in September 1914 by a shortage of gasoline. This was extremely important, inasmuch as they had been obtaining ammunition and supplies by means of motor vehicles, being unable to use the railways for the whole distance when communicating with theit base.

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Page last modified: 09-09-2018 18:47:14 ZULU