The war tactics used by the United States Military has change greatly over time. The reason for these changes can be credited to advances in the technology of the weapons used. More specifically, the increasing of the range and accuracy of weapons has had the larges effect on modern warfare. Battles have gone from being fought by men storming across fields sword and shield in hand, to being able to devastate an entire country by merely pressing a button. In this paper I will concentrate on the changes seen during two time periods. These two periods are from the Civil War to World War II, and from World War II to present.
The Civil War
The majority of the Civil War was fought using the infantry divisions of the Union and Confederate armies. Infantry is "the branch of an army made up of units trained to fight on foot." (www.dictionary.com) Most of the time during the Civil war these infantries deployed or positioned themselves in long lines that were typically two soldiers deep. This formation was known as a "line of battle." This wasn't the only way that the armies formed ranks however. Sometimes they would form a more centralized group. This group usually consisted of lines much shorter than mentioned above, but they varied anywhere from 8 to 20 soldiers deep. This was typically known as a "column." Also used by the armies in the civil war was something known as an "open order" formation. In this particular set, the armies were in a long line, only one soldier deep that was spread out over a very large area.
In the major battles, the "line of battle" and "column" were most effective. The line of battle was used when the army was planning to stay in one place and defend its position against a charging army. The column was used when the army was planning a charge to assault the opposing army from the front. The column was more effective for this because it was more compact and long. If the armies were to charge in a line that was only two soldiers deep, it would most likely be squandered very quickly. However if the army charged in a line that was twenty soldiers deep, the chances of more soldiers making it to the opposing army unharmed were much higher.
Another popular strategy used by both sides during the civil war was to try and "flank", or sneak up behind the opposing army and catch them off guard. The best way to avoid being flanked was to position your army in front of impassable terrain before the battle began. If this weren’t the case, the armies would have an open-order type formation stay to the rear of the army and watch over a large area to stop any flanking attacks.
The open order formation was used mostly when the armies were changing positions. It was effective when moving through wooded areas where it was advantageous to be spread out. When spread out, you are less likely to be snuck up on and caught off guard. If the armies were to travel through the forests in one big group, it would be quite easy for the opposing army to come up on them from the sides and front, undetected and attack. If an army was caught completely off guard, the results tended to be disastrous.
Calvary, or "Troops trained to fight on horseback," (www.dictionary.com) was used very rarely throughout the Civil War. This type of soldier was basically defenseless against long-range riflemen. In the Mexican War, cavalry was still effective because the foot soldiers were only armed with smoothbore muskets. A smoothbore musket is a musket in which the inner-walls of the barrel are smooth. This weapon is only extremely accurate from a range of about 50 to 150 yards and at a maximum could fire around 500 yards. Because of the short range, and long re-loading time of this weapon it was still feasible for horse-mounted soldiers to successfully charge an army. However, during the Civil war, foot soldiers began to be armed with what were known as rifled muskets. These rifled muskets had grooves on the inner-wall of the barrel, which made them more effective to longer ranges. The rifled musket was accurate from a range of 400-500 yards, and at maximum could fire almost 1,000 yards. The long range of this rifle allowed the infantries of armies to pick off the cavalries long before they were in range to attack using their swords.
Because of their ineffectiveness on the battlefield cavalries were reduced to scouting missions. They were only used to ride ahead and bring back information concerning the formation, size, and location of opposing armies. They were effective at this because a man on horseback was able to travel great distances at speeds much faster than a person merely running ever could. Cavalry was also used to gain position in key spots. The cavalry would race to a certain position, then get off of their horses and fight on foot until the infantry arrived to back them up.
The invention of the rifled musket also changed the tendency of most generals to attack in a completely offensive manner. Because of the long range of this weapon there was a higher chance that a full-on charge would be stopped. This made generals tend to be more defensive and fortify their positions rather than charge. When an army did charge, they used out-dated formations, which allowed the long-range rifles to pick them apart. Most armies suffered great numbers of casualties when charging.
The use of artillery decreased throughout the civil war much like the use of cavalry. The rifled musket was the cause of this as well. Because the soldiers could effectively attack from further distances, the artillery was unable to hit them. Artillery during the Civil War was fairly inaccurate, and didn't have much range. Artillery was only useful in hitting targets that were in plain sight and fairly large as well. At the beginning of the war artillery was used to support an attacking force, but there were too many friendly fire deaths, and this strategy was abandoned.
The rifled musket had an extremely large effect on the tactics and strategies used throughout the Civil War. It caused many changes. Cavalry was reduced to a scouting force, artillery was reduced to being used only on large targets, and the overall strategy of armies changed from mostly offensive to defensive. The example of the rifled musket shows how one advance in a weapon can greatly affect that tactics and strategies used by armies in a battle setting.
World War II
The tactics used in World War II are completely different than those used in the Civil War. In World War II Americans coordinated the many different branches of the military that had been developed in the time since the Civil War. Commanders in the war had to successfully organize armor, artillery, air support, ground soldiers, paratroopers, and even engineers. Among the infantry (ground soldiers) alone there were riflemen, mortars, machine guns, anti-tank divisions, and artillery. The many different entities involved called for extreme organization and precise instructions in order for the plans to work. In this section I am going to concentrate on the tactics used by the infantry and the air force.
World War II was unique because of the vast conditions that were faced by infantrymen. They fought in anything from a heavily wooded jungle, to a beach. The weather varied from sweltering heat, to freezing cold and snowing. Most of the time the soldiers reached enemy land on boats known as personnel carriers. However, we also utilized paratroopers in World War II. These men would jump out of airplanes in order to penetrate deep into enemy territory.
The main units of infantry during World War II were battalions. These were the large groups that were divided up into many smaller divisions. Each battalion had a headquarters, which co-coordinated the efforts of that battalion alone. Typically a battalion consisted of three rifle companies and one weapons company. One single rifle company was made up of three separate rifle platoons, each platoon was divided into three rifle squads, and each squad consisted of a squad leader, scouts, a BAR group, and riflemen. The scouts would come in first and try to gain intelligence about the enemy's position and size. Next the BAR group would set up and lay cover fire for the rest of the men. This cover fire was meant to draw the fire of the enemy so their riflemen could then sneak in closer to the enemy's machine gun nests. We were able to lay good cover fire because of great advances in the technology of weapons. The rifles used in World War II had unbelievable range. A talented sniper could pick off a target that was up to one mile away. The enemy had weapons with great range as well. Because of this range it was harder for us to overtake their positions. This is why we deployed a more complex strategy, which included the use of cover fire.
Another reason for the change in strategy of this war was the fact that most of the time we were on the offensive. There weren't many occasions during World War II where American soldiers were defending a position. We were usually trying to overtake a well-defended position. When storming a beach with many machine guns firing at you, strategy is everything. One mess up and your whole squad could be shot and killed.
Artillery was also used much more during World War II than the Civil War. This was because of the increased range and accuracy of our artillery. A light artillery gun such as the field gun or the field howitzer could accurately fire shells up to 15,000 yards. Also the artillery of World War II was much easier to move than the artillery of the Civil War. During the Civil War artillery guns had to be disassembled and loaded onto mules in order to be transported anywhere. During World War II they could be carried or loaded onto a jeep or some other form of motor vehicle and transported in an extremely more efficient manner.
The invention of the airplane in general, let alone the many other technological advances from the Civil War greatly changed tactics used throughout World War II. During the Civil War the only form of air force present were men going up in hot air balloons in order to observe enemy movements. During World War II the air force had many capabilities. The most important being fairly accurate bombing techniques.
One huge advantage of having an air force was the support of ground troops. The air force could attack first and bomb targets where there were suspected enemy strongholds. After the air force was finished the infantry could come in with tanks and ground soldiers and take care of the much-diminished forces left behind. This was a very effective technique when trying to re-take cities being held by German forces. After these bombing runs, the bombers were extremely susceptible to enemy attacks. Bomber planes were very heavy and did not maneuver well. Because of this fact, fighter pilots usually accompanied bombing missions in order to protect the bombers after the completion their bombing runs.
Another advantage gained by the use of air force was paratroopers. We were able to fly our men behind enemy lines, and have them parachute into areas that would have otherwise been inaccessible. This allowed us to take over areas much quicker, and in a lot of cases catch the enemy completely off guard.
The air force and the atomic bomb were the sole reasons for the ending of the fight with Japan during World War II. In one bombing mission the United States Air Force was able to completely destroy the two Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. This is a good example of technology shocking the world. No one knew what the true power of the bomb was until after it was dropped, and by that time it was too late. The city of Hiroshima had been destroyed. This is a good example of how advances in technology completely took tactics out of the equation. All that it took was two bombs, and a country we almost in ruins. However, this is also a good example of how technology can go too far, and kill lots of innocent people.
The furthering of the range of rifles and machine guns along with the fact that the weapons did not have to be re-loaded after every shot made huge changes in the tactics used by infantry in World War II. The use of the air force (bombing and para trooping) was the other big factor in the change of military tactics. As a whole our armies were also much quicker to move because of the use of motor vehicles that weren't present during the Civil War. Basically technology completely changed everything that we knew about warfare from the time of the Civil War to World War II.
Modern War Tactics
Modern war tactics are very different from those used during World War II. Most of the fighting in World War II was done by the infantry (foot-soldiers) and then finishing a close second was the air force. Nowadays, those two have switched positions. The majority of the work is now done by the air force. Our ground forces are still organized in a very similar manner to those of World War II; they just aren't used nearly as much. Advances in technology have driven the change in position of these two branches of the military.
In modern wars such as the War on Terror in Iraq, that is still being fought, the majority of the fighting is done through the air. The main reason for this being the advances made in the accuracy of our bombs. We are able to hit targets with extreme accuracy. During World War II, there was still a large margin of error on our bombing missions. That margin has almost been completely erased. The main reason for this increase in accuracy was the invention of the smart bomb. During World War II the United States only had what were known as dumb bombs. These bombs were dropped out of a large airplane, such as a B-52 bomber, and the merely fell to the ground. They had no way of steering themselves. Now we have smart bombs, which are able to guide themselves to a specific target. These smart bombs have a guidance system on board the actual missile, which is very accurate. This also allows the bombs to be dropped or fired much further from the target than those used in World War II. This helps to keep our fighter pilots out of danger. We also now have planes like the Stealth Bomber, which are undetectable by radar. This adds even more safety to the bombing missions. Our modern planes are also able to travel at much higher speeds and are able to travel much greater distances. The increase in speed and range allows our aircraft carriers to stay even further out of harms way, which keeps our soldiers safe. Overall the modern Air Force is an extremely efficient fighting machine.
The ground tactics used in modern warfare have changed much since World War II. Foot soldiers are now used mostly for cleaning up areas that have already been bombed by our smart bombs. There are no longer any large ground fights like the ones on the beaches of Normandy. After a target has been hit with bombing missions our ground troops will roll in with tanks and air support to take the location over completely. The bombs eliminate most of the enemy. What is left is taken care of by the foot soldiers and tanks. If the ground troops were to face more trouble than expected, they can always call for help from the air or even artillery. Our artillery has also advanced very much from that of the artillery used in World War II. The artillery used today has much more range and accuracy. Soldiers can order an artillery hit which can be accurate up to the second. Most large groups of foot soldiers and tanks are also accompanied by Apache Helicopters. These helicopters hold much firepower and are able to take out large targets any type of armored vehicles used by the opposition.
War tactics have evolved so much in the past 150 years. They have come from firing a weapon at a person standing 100 yards in front of you, to firing a missile at a target that is miles away. All of the changes have been driven by the increase in the technology of the weapons used. By increasing the accuracy of the weapons, it has given confidence and also much efficiency to modern warfare. By increasing the range of these weapons, technology has allowed us to make fighting battles much safer for our soldiers. Without these great advances in technology the art of war in the world today would be completely different.