Part 37: February 21 Broadcast
You are listening to BBC radio 4. In an hour we will be presenting new microprocessors, a buyers guide. For the next hour, Professor David Stephenson will be presenting a documentary on the second 80 years war of the eighteenth century. This series will be running every third day, up to 50 episodes. If you want news of the current war in the Middle East please channel in to BBC radio 1.
Good evening, and welcome to BBC radio 4. Im Professor David Stephenson, professor of Dutch historical studies at Cambridge. This is the thirty-seventh part of our 50 episode special on the second 80 years war over Europe. Joining me for these broadcasts are fellow researchers and scholars Doctor Albert Andrews, specialist in German studies from the Berlin academy, Professor Robert Lowe, specialist in French studies at Cambridge, and a graduate student and technical assistant, Anton Thatcher. Last week, we discussed the Ottoman-Federation alliance.
This gave the Dutch significant breathing room. The world continued to expand, but the Dutch were reaching the limit of the era, at least in the territories they controlled. While it was clear that the harnessing of steam had lead to a major breakthrough in technology, and steam ships to safely and quickly bear cargo across the Empire had started to come into circulation, the train, the key to tying the East and West together conveniently had not yet been invented. Nor had multiple shot guns with internal feed magazines, effective machine guns or breach loaded cannon. These were the revolutionary ideas that would change war forever, leading to the trench and then tank warfare of the 1900s.
While the mortar of the 1700s was essentially the same as a modern artillery piece, it was not sufficient to revolutionize warfare on its own.
These ideas were always on the verge of discovery, with the problems and limitations the topic among many engineers, scholars and scientists. Revolutionary ideas which did lead to the massive change in army doctrine and casualties in the 1800s that were invented in the 1700s included touch fuse shells, which exploded on contact with the ground, rather than by a burning cord. Machine rifling had been invented, which let a marksman fire at considerable range, even selecting officers as their targets rather than the standard men in the line.
The Rifleman was a fundamentally different sort of soldier. They had to act on their own initiative, and were often at odds with the chain of command.
By 1760, the Dutch had already employed weapons such as rockets, mortars, shrapnel shells and chemical warfare. Of these, shrapnel shot, a canister of grape shot which burst open mid air was the most devastating. The ability, in essence, to fire grape shot out to distances as far as four hundred yards meant infantry formations were now vulnerable to cannon which had previously only been effective against walls when at range. Grape shot, which was loaded and fired perhaps once before the enemy closed into range was devastating, but highly limited by their single shot usage.
The mortar was an extension of the idea represented by the howitzer. Able to fire over tremendous distances, the mortar could attack enemies from well beyond retaliation range. As the mortar was too inaccurate to adequately defeat enemy artillery, and cannons were dramatically outclassed in range, if both sides had mortars, it was the infantry that suffered.
Rockets and mortars were far more rudimentary in this age. Neither were expected to hit their mark, but could be fired out farther than any other weapon. As they required time to deploy, and needed to be braced into the ground, their major deficiency was that they were immobile, which limited their use tremendously.
Generals of the 1700s had not firmly grasped the meaning of these innovations. While before, the constant bombardment of artillery fire in a pitched battle was meant to compel the army with inferior cannonry to advance forward lest they eventually wear away under the constant bombardment, new shells had made the mortar, cannon and howitzer tremendously deadly. So much so that the same designs used in the mid to late 1700s were considered the kings of the battlefield in the 1800s, where a mass battery was more useful than mere line. More than a siege weapon, the contact detonating shells changed the face of warfare, and were the first and perhaps most important piece to revolutionize war.
By the 1800s, artillery, organized in mass batteries, the improvements in shells and shot greatly increasing their effective field killing power.
Used improperly, the few and sporadically deployed howitzers and mortars would find their shells to be tremendously effective, but in too few numbers to impact the battle as they should have. Without another crucial innovation, the machine gun, the mortar was not yet the terror of the field that it would prove to be. While losses would be horrific, an army could at the very least, still advance under artillery fire into the enemy lines to get to the mortars. It was the machine gun, which prevented the advance of infantry which completed the revolution.
The machine gun was required in conjunction with artillery. Advancing into the arc of fire of a machine gun was essentially suicide, but waiting in a hole for an artillery shell was not much more appealing.
The combination of both the machine gun and mortar with contact fuses would change how battles were fought, but it would be the steam powered train that would revolutionize how wars were fought. The steam engine had been applied to ships by the mid 1700s, but applying this concept to land was a much more difficult task. The nature of water made it far easier to move a massive vessel, but on land, the heavier vessels required both constant energy to move, and a tremendous amount to simply start.
While many designs were created, the first functional, commercial steam driven train was built in Japan, collaborating with Dutch engineers. The most famous line however, directly connected Amsterdam to Istanbul, named the Alliance Express. It was expanded to Beijing under the terms of an unfair treaty against the Chinese.
In the 1700s, men could move from field to field by marching across increasingly smooth and well designed roads. If necessary, men could run quickly with a decent amount of personal supply by taking a quick horse and moving from post station to post station, but this method was far too expensive to employ for thousands of men. As the horseless infantry were the vast brunt of an armies power, the inability to move forward with this infantry at this rapid pace limited deployment. Armies moved and were checked or countered where they were met, but ones own armies needed only to be within proximity of the enemys armies.
Another great advantage of the railway system was the ability to rapidly move heavy artillery forward where before a heavy artillery piece would have to slowly be pulled to the front by horse, mule and man. This innovation also removed some of the limitations of size of artillery pieces.
Once the train had come into military use, troops could be loaded by rail to theaters across the entire frontage of a war, meaning they could be massed quickly at any time or location. This meant that a defender had to worry about potential breakthroughs literally anywhere across their empire with far faster mobilization times. While before, men would need to get their supplies prepared and march to the front, possibly across hundreds of miles followed by supply and logistics, once the train was invented, men could be herded into trains filled with supplies, rest on their way to the front over at most a few days, and be prepared to fight within a week.
Troops being rapidly mobilized using the train.
As trains came more and more into prevalence, the importance of keeping armies capable of responding everywhere, the idea that land could be lost then counter attacked, or that armies could not extend safely beyond their rail system without being countered by enemies using their own trains to redeploy made maneuver and movement radically different than it had been. An inability to fully resolve this change led to the formation of the trench warfare that spread from the North Sea to the Mediterranean in the 1900s.
Even though a train could get men and supply rapidly to the front, once they made it to their station, carts, cars, horses and manpower had to move the last few miles.
The steam ship had shown elements of this. The Dutch had used their steam ship to deploy into the wind in their retreat from Britain, even though the transport ships themselves were not steam powered. This mobility and flexibility that a steam ship provided, in attacking towards a location that had otherwise been considered safe due to weather. The train would exceed even those expectations, and allow a land army to mass wherever it desired.
Steam ships also increased in their transit capacity. Built of steel, the ships were built larger, and as they could more reliably cross the Atlantic than a wooden ship of sail, these steam ships allowed civilians much more comfortable and reliable transit.
By the late 1700s, industry had advanced as far as it would, even into the 1900s. While procedures would become safer, and factories add a few additional modifications during the 1800s, the only major innovation to truly occur was the usage of the assembly line system using the interchangeable parts which had started to take hold during the 1700s. This did less to improve overall output and far more to reduce the skill required to create formerly complex machines. What this meant for the Dutch however, who had filled virtually every city within their Empire with metal works and textiles, were producing more than could be sold. To remain competitive, prices had been slashed to the bone, with only the thinnest scraps of profit being pulled from each product. Even the poorest field hand could own a new warm coat every few winters, and a new hat every spring.
The assembly line method reduced the need for artisanship and increased the speed of production, but arguably reduced the quality of the product compared to what would have been made by a single craftsman.
The Dutch Empire had over three hundred million citizens within its borders, not including members of the Ottoman Empire. The worlds population was only seven hundred fifty million, meaning the Dutch internally, sold to half the worlds population. Outside their Empire, the Dutch sold their wares by the ton to another one hundred million people. Some markets, particularly those of other industrial nations were difficult to break into, leaving them to expand in Asia, South America and Africa. While Japan continued to be a voracious consumer of Dutch products, Chinas protectionist stance which included the Dutch and the low population density and poverty of Africa and South America hampered trade in those regions. While the huge population of China would open up to trade during the years of the unfair treaties of the 1800s, the addition of perhaps another fifty million consumers would not be enough to feed the markets demand for new buyers.
In some undeveloped regions such as much of Africa, trying to increase sales did not make sense, as the native people had few resources to trade for Industrial goods.
To this end, the Dutch had begun construction of more farms and fisheries, which had been neglected for decades. While no region explicitly faced deaths due to mass starvations, this was only because the Dutch citizens who could not easily access sufficient food moved to the Americas. Much of Europe had become crowded to the point where the heavily efficient methods of agriculture could not keep up with the explosive growth of the worlds population. The only means to improve the production of food was in investing tremendous funds towards the production of food. Doing so generally meant privatizing the farmland under the ownership of wealthy businessmen who would run the farm to earn a profit. These men were generally wealthy enough to invest heavily in the land to improve yields, had sufficient money to pull some farmers back from the cities, and to reclaim or terra-form huge swaths of formerly unviable land.
These palaces cost more than they would ever earn back, but by relocating wealthy businessmen into the countryside with specific tasks with such a lavish lifestyle led them to work the extent of the territory as best they could, spending thousands on logging, land clearing and fertilizing land which was otherwise unsuitable for growing crops.
It was the last factor that most mattered. As each estate had to compete against all others, prices for crops dropped, huge stretches of forest were cut down to clear farmland, and even rocky hills were combed over until they could grow something. All this was done at tremendous expense to both the Dutch government and to the entrepreneurs who ran the estates.
It takes a tremendous amount of man power to clear land suitable for farming. As such, it was not often done. The common method, known as slash and burn was not desirable as it produced far smaller returns than properly clearing land and rotation farming.
Even this did not fully pay off. While food was being produced in greater quantities, not all farmlands were positioned where the markets were. While both steam ships and efficient roads had let product move farther, grain and produce often wasted or rotted in silos. Once again, the train would assist in alleviating this pressure, especially in preparing deliveries to cities such as Paris and Vienna. Even when the trains were circulating produce across the various theaters, tons of produce were wasted in transit every year.
To create more business, more consumers, and sell more product, the Dutch were hoping to create the conditions needed to expand the population. This tremendous effort in improving food production was a major part of it, but this effort was failing. As the world became more crowded, as cities became more concentrated, more people simply died. Disease and plagues had been a problem since ancient times, but in the 1700s where people were in constant contact with one another, and where sanitation had not yet been invented, the death rate was climbing faster in some cities than its natural growth, bolstered only by an increase in the number of immigrants from the countryside.
Plagues like the black death involved pathogens which the Europeans had no immunity to, as the disease had spread from Asia. While the globalization over the past fifty years meant the Europeans had been exposed to, and gained an immunity to many forms of the plague, local diseases were now killing thousands of people due to cramped, unsanitary conditions.
Advances in medicine had not truly occurred in the 1700s. While more men were interested in the topic, while microbes had been detected, superstition remained the main basis of medicine in the Empire. This meant water remained tainted by disease, and as the population and population of the ill rose, the degree to which the water was tainted rose. Those who were ill or injured often found themselves exposed to dirty surgical equipment, and rather than finding themselves better, often died from the septic wound they had initially received, or worse, had sustained during surgery from poorly kept tools.
A barber surgeon of the middle ages. Medicine had not advanced far beyond these men who had very little understanding of the human body. Proper research on the inner workings of the human body were not advanced until doctors in Edinburgh began illegally exhuming and studying corpses.
For the next two centuries, the population creep steadily upward, but it wasnt until the discovery of penicillin, pesticides and refrigeration that the population would expand in a dramatic way.
While refrigeration, and even insulated ice transportation were a long while off, tin cans had been used to preseve food by the mid 1700s. The food was considered so foul that only the navy relied heavily on it.
This was the state of the Dutch by 1762. Technology had advanced over the past decades, but for the time being, they were stalled. A few pieces of the puzzle had been discovered, but their complimentary pieces, required to further expand the power of the Dutch and even of humanity as a whole, were still mysteries.
And this change in discovery, where a new status quo was settling in did not favour the Republicans. They could no longer garner support by throwing money into the economy. They no longer understood warfare. As people died in the crowded, filthy cities, satisfaction in the government was reaching an all time low, and for the first time, money could not buy what the Republicans needed.
Next we will be presenting world a buyers guide to microprocessors, followed by world news. If you want news of the current war in the Middle East please channel in to BBC radio 1. David Stephenson will be presenting more on the 80 years war in 3 days.