Unending Seige

Wartime Tactical Developments

Between February 1915 and November 1918 the tactics of warfare were weapons-driven. In 1918 the infantry was engaged in reasonably fluid assaults under an umbrella provided by artillery, heavy machine guns, tanks and planes. Since 1915 the number of guns per trench of 1,000 infantrymen had no less than doubled, and munitions rationing, strictly applied up to late 1916, had virtually been abolished.

In just three years, warfare had changed greatly. In 1918 the artillery played a larger role, but so did motorized transport companies, battalions of engineers and an antiaircraft company equipped with searchlights. Although the army was still dependent on transmission lines that were frequently cut in combat, communications systems were renewed.

The engineers, for example, had become highly mobile and active under fire. For the crossing of the Canal du Nord on 27 September 1918 they arrived just behind the first troops to cross the obstacle. Under fire from leftover enemy machine-gun nests, they built light bridges to ensure that the bridgehead received fresh supplies of troops and ammunition. At the same time, bigger bridges were built to enable the tanks to join in the battle and enable artillery to cover the troops that had advanced the farthest. For the engineers, this war of movement already greatly resembled what their successors would see in Italy beginning in 1943.