Industrial warfare

American B-24 Liberator bombers under construction during World War II.

Industrial warfare[1] is a period in the history of warfare ranging roughly from the early 19th century and the start of the Industrial Revolution to the beginning of the Atomic Age, which saw the rise of nation-states, capable of creating and equipping large armies, navies, and air forces, through the process of industrialization.

The era featured mass-conscripted armies, rapid transportation (first on railroads, then by sea and air), telegraph and wireless communications, and the concept of total war. In terms of technology, this era saw the rise of rifled breech-loading infantry weapons capable of high rates of fire, high-velocity breech-loading artillery, chemical weapons, armoured warfare, metal warships, submarines, and aircraft.

Total war

One of the main features of industrial warfare is the concept of "total war". The term was coined during World War I by Erich Ludendorff (and again in his 1935 book Total War), which called for the complete mobilization and subordination of all resources, including policy and social systems, to the German war effort. It has also come to mean waging warfare with absolute ruthlessness, and its most identifiable legacy today has been the reintroduction of civilians and civilian infrastructure as targets in destroying the enemy's ability to engage in war.

There are several reasons for the rise of total warfare in the 19th century. The main one is industrialization. As countries' capital and natural resources grew, it became clear that some forms of warfare demanded more resources than others. Consequently, the greater cost of warfare became evident. An industrialized nation could distinguish and then choose the intensity of warfare that it wished to engage in.

Additionally, warfare was becoming more mechanized and required greater infrastructure. Combatants could no longer live off the land, but required an extensive support network of people behind the lines to keep them fed and armed. This required the mobilization of the home front. Modern concepts like propaganda were first used to boost production and maintain morale, while rationing took place to provide more war materiel.

The earliest modern example of total war was the American Civil War. Union generals Ulysses S. Grant and William Tecumseh Sherman were convinced that, if the North was to be victorious, the Confederacy's strategic, economic, and psychological ability to wage war had to be definitively crushed. They believed that to break the backbone of the South, the North had to employ scorched earth tactics, or as Sherman called it, "Hard War". Sherman's advance through Georgia and the Carolinas was characterized by widespread destruction of civilian supplies and infrastructure.[2] In contrast to later conflicts, the damage done by Sherman was almost entirely limited to property destruction. In Georgia alone, Sherman claimed he and his men had caused $100,000,000 in damages.[citation needed]