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A Text-book of Military Engineering: v. 1

by Junius Brutus Wheeler


The first object sought for in a fortification is the repulse of an enemy's attack. It follows, therefore, that fortifica-' tions are essentially defensive in their character.

Fortifications are indispensable auxiliaries of an army obliged to act defensively.

There are two general cases where an army is forced to act defensively. The one case is that of an army in the immediate presence of an enemy superior to it; this superiority being due to greater numbers, to the better quality of the weapons, to the kind of troops, to recent successes, or to other causes. The other case is that of an army charged with the duty of defending a large area of country from invasion.

In the first case, the army acknowledging the superiority of the enemy in its front, feels it necessary to occupy a position and wait for the enemy to attack. With this object in view, the army takes a position such that there shall be obstacles in its front to obstruct the enemy's approach, and such that its flanks cannot be easily turned. If obstructions do not exist naturally, they are supplied by fortifications that are constructed in the emergency, or may have been prepared in anticipation of their need. If the position be not too extended, the army waits for the attack, and feels sanguine of being able to resist it successfully.

In the other case, the army defending a large area of country is obliged to scatter its forces and to occupy points guarding the approaches to the objective of the enemy. These points are not in close defensive relations with each other, and are necessarily occupied by numbers less than those that an enemy can concentrate against any one of them. Important as fortifications were to an army of the first case, they became doubly so to an army of the second case, since any one of these points is liable at any time to be attacked by an enemy superior in numbers. The success of the enemy in attacking one of these points might lead to his breaking through the general line of defence, and seizing the communications of the defensive army with its base.

Fortifications are not only useful to defensive armies, but they are also useful to armies acting offensively.

However superior an army acting offensively may be, there are times that it must be content to a"ct upon the defensive. Prudence and good judgment also demand that its lines of communications and its flanks should be made safe, which is done by posting troops in strongly intrenched positions on the flanks and in its rear. The stronger and the more durable the fortification, the less will be the number required to hold it, and the greater will be the numbers allowed to act with the main body of the army in its forward movements.

It has been said by a high military authority that a defensive war cannot be systematically and successfully waged in a country not provided with fortifications planned and distributed according to strategical requirements.

As to the value of fortifications during a war, Napoleon said, " If fortified places can neither secure a victory, nor stop the progress of a victorious enemy, they can, at least, retard his progress and give more time for the defence to act."

1. Art of Fortification. — The means employed to strengthen positions selected for defence, are called fortifications. %The planning, laying out, and constructing of fortifications belong to a branch of Military Engineering termed the "art of fortification."

The art of fortification may be defined to be "that branch of Military Engineering which has for its object the strengthening of positions selected for defence."

2. Temporary and Permanent Fortifications.—It is usual to divide fortifications into two principal classes, viz.: temporary and permanent.

In time of war, many places acquire a special military value, which makes it important that they should not fall into the hands of the enemy. The value thus acquired may be only temporary, or it may be permanent.

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