chap 3 2-2 - VAUBAN at the same time facilitate an attack...

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Unformatted text preview: VAUBAN at the same time facilitate an attack upon enemy territory. Vauban never thought that fortresses were important solely for defense; he was careful to stress their importance as bases for offensive operations against the enemy. The fortified places should be situated so as to command the means of communication within one’s own territory and to provide access to enemy soil by controlling important roads or bridgeheads. They should be large enough to hold nor only the supplies necessary for their defense, but the stores required to support and sustain an offensive based upon them. These ideas, enunciated terser in this memoir, were later elabo- rated and systematized by one of Vauban’s eighteenth-century disciples, the engineer and adventurer Maigret, whom Voltaire mentions in his Charles XII and whose Treatise on Preserving the Security of States by M eaas of Fortresses became the standard work dealing with the strategic significance of fortifications. This book, all too little known, was used by the famous French school of military engineering, the Ecole de Me- zieres. In this work Maigret writes that “the best kind of fortresses are those that forbid access to one’s country while at the same time giving an opportunity to attack the enemy in his own territory?” He lists the characteristics that give value and importance to fortresses: control of key routes into the kingdom, such as a mountain gorge or pass; control of the bridgeheads on great rivers, a condition eminently fulfilled by Strasbourg, for example; control of important communication lines within the state, as for example, Luxembourg, which secured the em- peror’s communications with the Lowlands. There were still other facrors that might make a fort important. It might be a base of supplies for offensive action, or a refuge for the people of the surrounding countryside; perhaps it could dominate trade and commerce, exacting tolls from the foreigner; or perhaps it might be a fortified seaport with a good and safe harbor; a great frontier city with wealth, more than able to contribute the cost of fortification and sus- taining the garrison; or a city capable of serving the king as a place to Store his treasure against internal and external enemies.” The value of a fortress depends in large part, of course, upon the nature of its local situation. Art or science may make up for certain defects in the terrain but they can do little with respect to the matter of communication. Thus certain fortresses are advantageously situated because the defenders have the communications leading to them well under their control, whereas “ 'i‘raité de la sareté at conservation des états, par le moyea les forzeresses. Par M. Maigret, lngém'eur en Chef, Chevalier de l'ora're Royal et Militaire de Saint Louis (Paris, W25), I49. “ lbid., i29-43. 87 ORIGINS OE MODERN WAR the enemy, in consequence, will have difficulty in bringing up the supplies necessary for a sustained siege.” These criteria make it possible to select certain fortresses in pref- erence to others but there still remains the question of their relation one to the other, of liaison. Vauban, in the memoir of 1678, concluded that the frontier would be adequately fortified if the strongholds were limited to two lines, each composed of about thirteen places, stretched across the northern frontier in imitation of infantry battle order.38 This first line could be further strengthened and unified by the use of a waterline stretch~ ing from the sea to the Scheldt. Canals or canalized streams or rivers would link one fort with another, and the canals themselves would be protected at regular intervals by redoubts. This scheme was not original with Vauban; in fact it was in operation over part of the frontier even as he wrote. He was under no illusions as to the strength of the waterlines, for he saw that their chief purpose was to ward off the harassing raids by which small enemy detachments plagued the countryside. Should an enemy decide to attack the lines with an army, then the lines must be defended with an army.-W Such a project would of course necessitate new construction, but Vauban was careful to point out that it would also mean the elimination of numerous ancient strongholds, and he accordingly urged the raring of all fortresses remote from the frontier and not included in the two lines. This would not only be a saving for the treasury but, he urged, also a saving in manpower: with the elimination of their garrisons, ten fewer strongholds would mean about thirty thousand soldiers free for duty elsewhere. This famous memoir of r678 also embodied a consideration of pos- sible future conquests and these indicate that, so far as the northern and eastern frontiers were concerned, Vauhan was willing to pave the way for something more ambitious than a mere local rectification of a line. In the event of a future war, he said, certain enemy fortresses should be immediately seized. Dixmude, Courtrai, and Charlemont would open up the Lowlands, while to the east, Strasbourg and Luxembourg were the supremely important cities to acquire. Not only did these fortresses have the most admirable features of size, wealth, and situation—in these mat- ters they were the best in Europe—but they were the keys to France’s ‘7 Ibid., 15;f., 221—22. ‘8 The first line: Dunkirk, Bergues, Furnes, Fort de La Kenoque, Ypres, Menin, Lille, Tournai, Fort de Mortagne, Condé, Valenciennes, Le Quesnoy, Maubeuge, Philippeville, and Dinant. The second line: Gravelines, Saint-Omar, Aire, Bethune, Arras, Douai, Bou— chain, Cambrai, Landrecies, Avesnes, Marienbourg, Rocroi, and Charleville. ‘9 hazard, Vauban, 282—84; Augoyat, Apergu bistoriqae, 1:219. 88 VAUBAN expansion to its natural boundaries. Vauban would not have been French- man and patriot had he not accepted the familiar and tempting principle that France’s natural frontier t0 the north and east was the Rhine. We know that he held this view and we can suspect that it was already clearly formulated in his mind early in his career. It certainly was later. just before the Peace of Rvswick, when he was terrified for fear France was about to lose both Strasbourg and Luxembourg, he wrote: “If we do not take them again we shall lose forever the chance of having the Rhine for our boundary.”40 It is not easy to say with certainty whether this memoir of 1678 represents Vauban’s mature and final view on the matter of permanent fortification. Vauban’s later memoirs leave much to be desired as ex- amples of strategic thinking about the role of fortresses. Except for a memoir on the fortification of Paris, in which he discusses at length the strategic importance of a nation’s capital, most of the later studies are lacking in genuine strategic interest. They are concerned chiefly with detailed recommendations as to which fortresses should be condemned and which enlarged Or rebuilt. Despite these handicaps it is not hard to detect a series of changes in Vauban’s opinions, due partly to a gradual evolution of his ideas, but chiefly to the changed conditions under which he was obliged to work in the later years of the reign. Increasing financial stringency and a grow— ing drain on the manpower supply encouraged Vauban to stress the razing of fortifications as much if not more than new construction.‘tl This led him to urge the destruction of many of the places that had been lisred in his second line of defense in the memoir of 1678. At the same time the armies of Louis XIV were being thrown more and more on the defensive and Vauban adapted himself increasingly to defensive thinking. He followed the trend that was becoming evident at the close of the century toward still greater reliance upon a continuous waterline along the northern frontier. But he was aware of the peculiar weakness of this sort of defense. In I696 he wrote a memoir in which he urged the creation of camps retranchés, fortified encampments to supplement the fortresses and to Strengthen the waterline. The purpose of these encampments was either to guard the waterline in the interval between the fortresses or to strengthen the forts themselves by producing a veritable external defense. With a small armyw—smaller than the ordinary field army—camped be— yond the outworks of a fortress and protected by elaborate earthworks it was possible either to interfere with any besieging forces unwise encugh 1“ Lavallee, Les frontiéres de France, 33-85. *‘ Zeller, L’organisarion défensive, 98-107. 89 ORIGINS OF MODERN WAR to tackle the fortress directly or to impose upon them a wider perimeter to be invested. Taken together these two factors—~first, the stress upon the contin- uous line supplemented by the fortified encampments; and second, the willingness to sacrifice the second line of forts he had favored in 1678— do not offer support to Lazard’s assertion that Vauban was a pioneer advocate of the “fortified zone” that modern strategy has adopted. Quite the contrary, Vauban’s thinking seems to have evolved in the direction of favoring a thinner and thinner line. He simplified that disorganized parody on a fortified zone that he had inherited from his predecessors. At first he reduced it to a double line of fortifications, a palpable imitation of the familiar infantry line, and then proceeded to simplify this still further into a single cordon, based on strong points linked by a continuous waterline and supported by troops. Perhaps it is not too far—fetched to see in this a sign that the great engineer, toward the close of his career, was led gradually to lay more emphasis upon armies and less upon fortification. He seems almost to have come closer to the idea of Guibert that the true defense of a country is its army, not its fortifications; that the fortified points are merely the bastions of that greater fortress of which the army forms a living and flexible curtain. 90 ...
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This note was uploaded on 01/25/2012 for the course HIST 202 taught by Professor Smith during the Fall '11 term at University of Maryland Baltimore.

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chap 3 2-2 - VAUBAN at the same time facilitate an attack...

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