The Rise of Rail-Power in War and Conquest, 1833-1914by Edwin A. Pratt
The extent to which railways are being used in the present War of the Nations has taken quite by surprise a world whose military historians, in their accounts of what armies have done or have failed to do on the battle-field in the past, have too often disregarded such matters of detail as to how the armies got there and the possible effect of good or
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The extent to which railways are being used in the present War of the Nations has taken quite by surprise a world whose military historians, in their accounts of what armies have done or have failed to do on the battle-field in the past, have too often disregarded such matters of detail as to how the armies got there and the possible effect of good or defective transport conditions, including the maintenance of supplies and communications, on the whole course of a campaign.
In the gigantic struggle now proceeding, these matters of detail are found to be of transcendant importance. The part which railways are playing in the struggle has, indeed—in keeping with the magnitude of the struggle itself—assumed proportions unexampled in history. Whilst this is so it is, nevertheless, a remarkable fact that although much has been said as to the conditions of military unpreparedness in which the outbreak of hostilities in August, 1914, found the Allies, there has, so far as I am aware, been no suggestion of any inability on the part of the railways to meet, at once, from the very moment war was declared, all the requirements of military transport. In this respect, indeed, the organisation, the preparedness, and the efficiency throughout alike of the British and of the French railways have been fully equal to those of the German railways themselves.
As regards British conditions, especially, much interest attaches to some remarks made by Sir Charles Owens, formerly General Manager of the London and South Western Railway Company, in the course of an address delivered by him to students of the London School of Economics on[viii] October 12, 1914. He told how, some five or six years ago, he had met at a social function the Secretary of State for War, who, after dinner, took him aside and asked, "Do you think in any emergency which might arise in this country the railways would be able to cope with it adequately?" To this question Sir Charles replied, "I will stake my reputation as a railway man that the country could not concentrate men and materials half so fast as the railways could deal with them; but the management of the railways must be left in the hands of railway men." We have here an affirmation and a proviso. That the affirmation was warranted has been abundantly proved by what the British railways have accomplished in the emergency that has arisen. The special significance of the proviso will be understood in the light of what I record in the present work concerning the control of railways in war.
- Hannah Stuart
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