RAILWAYS AT WAR

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John Westwood 224 pages hardcover

This military history of railroads is superbly written, marvelously organized and jam packed with fascinating details. It clearly and cogently explains the various strategic and tactical roles played by railroads in numerous military campaigns. It describes the ways in which the use of railroads facilitated the advent of modern, total war. John Westwood penetratingly examines the origins and evolution of military railroading. His story starts in the 1830s, when the Prussian General Staff carried out the first studies of the practical military uses of railways. He reveals the intriguing fact that it took the Great Powers a surprisingly long time to realize how valuable railways could be in war. They were troubled by the possibility that both sides in a conflict could employ rail power. It was argued well into the late 19th Century that troops might be stranded if the lines int he rear were destroyed by opposing forces and leaders couldn't determine who would run the railroads in wartime, the owners or the government. Mr Westwood shows how events int he United States made European indecisiveness on the matter largely academic. The American Civil War is presented as the first historical demonstration of the critical importance of railways in war. The inability of the Confederacy to replace its demolished rail lines is identified as a major reason for the South's defeat. Despite this graphic example, military planners took decades to discover the utility of even such basic aspects of military railroading as armored trains and rail transport to carry the wounded to the rear. And yet by the First World War, railroads were and integral part of Warfare. Railways at War is filled with vivid and provocative vignettes amplifying and Concretizing the author's insights on the development of military railroading. For instance, he recounts that in 1914 the grip of the railway timetable was so dominant a factor in all military planning that the German Kaiser was told it would be impossible to halt mobilization once it had been authorized, because the trains would be thrown out of joint. Mr Westwood persuasively maintains that the coming of railways had almost as profound an effect on the waging of war as the introduction of gunpowder, that the ability to mobilize and support millions, nit just thousands, of men in the field was the hallmark of total war that rail transport made possible. He supports his contention with colorful and convincing coverage of all the railways wars through the Second World War and carries his analysis into the contemporary era. His readable and carefully illustrated book is an essential addition to the library of every railroad enthusiast and student of military history.