Tuesday 19 July 2016

Review: Engines of War: How Wars Were Won & Lost on the Railways

Engines of War: How Wars Were Won & Lost on the Railways Engines of War: How Wars Were Won & Lost on the Railways by Christian Wolmar
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Before the advent of mass transport, battles were short, sharp and brutal. Troops only could be supplied with a certain amount of food, relying on scavenging from the local area and they did not require vast quantities of ammunition. With the advent of the railways, armies were suddenly more mobile. Large number of soldiers could be easily moved into a region, with abundant supplies of materiel to support military action.

In this book, Wolmar details all the major campaigns from the Crimean War, the American Civil War, the Boer Wars and the two World Wars and the pivotal role that the intelligent use of railways played in making these far more deadly than every single conflict that went before. He shows how critical battles were won by those who used the railways properly and how others were lost when armies failed to understand the finer detail of timetables and scheduling. There are examples of how it would cause chaos when officers would send a single package with one man in a whole carriage and how Nazi reliance on roads without having the lorries or the fuel meant that the battles did not have the logistical support that they needed. Having delivered their deadly cargos to the fronts, they were then essential in bring out the wounded and deceased. Mostly the trains were used for supplies, but there are examples of armoured trains, guns and even missile launchers that were developed for the cold war.

This book confirms the maxim that an army marches on its stomach and in this book Wolmar has highlighted the role of the railways in wars over the past century. He has managed to make what could have been a dry subject reasonably interesting. It is full of fascinating detail and anecdotes and eminently readable.

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