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Subject History » Military History

DOI: 10.1111/b.9780631168485.1994.x


Though war chariots appeared near the end of the fourth millennium BC, we have to wait until 1482 before Leonardo da Vinci wrote to Ludovico Sforza (‘the Moor’): ‘I shall produce unassailable, covered chariots which will enter the enemy lines with their artillery and will break through any troop formations, however numerous they may be. The infantry will be able to follow, without losses or obstacle.’ Three aspects of the tank appear in this text: mobility, firepower and protection. This project, like so many of da Vinci's ideas, had to remain on the drawing board and await the coming of the internal combustion engine that allowed the required weight-to-power ratio to be achieved. The armoured car, mounted on wheels and equipped with a moving turret, appeared at the beginning of the twentieth century. In that vehicle, mobility won out over armament and protection. While the Irishman Richard Lovell Edgeworth (1744–1817) had designed a wooden caterpillar track in 1770, his invention was not exploited until the years just preceding the First World War, and then it was used on civil engineering vehicles and farm tractors. During the First World War, after the French retreat, the ‘miracle’ of the Marne and the ‘race for the sea’, operations bogged down on the Western Front. There then began a war of position and attrition, which was to last until July 1918. This strategy, which offered ... log in or subscribe to read full text

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