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American Government Special Collections Reference Desk



The New York Times
September 28, 1901

The growing interest in Europe on bicycles and automobiles as military vehicles seems to the average civilian rather fanciful than practical. However, if our Consul at Rouen, Mr. Thornwell Haynes, is well informed, both classes of vehicles are likely to play an important part in future European military preparations, if not in war. The bicycle has become an institution in the French Army, and seems to be useful in the applications thus far made of it. Twenty cycle battalions are to be formed next year, mounted on machines which can be folded for convenient portage and which weigh thirty-six pounds. The soldier who can use his "bike" for purposes of transportation will no doubt find it a convenience, but when he has to carry it, in addition to the other items of his outfit, thirty-six pounds will probably be found an inconvenient addition to his kit.

The military future of the automobile is still indeterminate. French manufacturers have received circular letters from the Vincennes artillery station asking for a memorandum of the conditions in which automobiles could be bought in case of mobilization. In Germany the Minister of War is having automobiles built, equipped with tables on which officers can spread out their maps for study while on the march. Orders also have been given for self-propelling ambulances, gun carriages, and ammunition wagons. In the recent German manoeuvres the general staff dispensed with horses and used motor vehicles and bicycles. This, however, is not especially significant, since a great many devices can be used very successfully in practice manoeuvres which would greatly incumber an army in war. In Austria and Italy the Ministers of War are having automobiles built for military purposes, under the idea that they will be extremely useful in mobilization; and in England substantial prizes have been offered for the best types of military wagon, with a view to test in practical service.

There is reason in this movement. The horse is proverbially a vain thing for safety and needs a great deal of care. To repair him when out of order is especially difficult, and considering his first cost and the expensive character of the fuel he uses, his value in war is a steadily diminishing quantity. There would seem to be no good reason why a military motor vehicle could not be made which would be measurably proof against injury in its vital organs from anything less formidable than an artillery projectile and with sufficient protection for its occupants against long-range sharpshooters. Going to war in a two-seated carriage is vastly more comfortable than footing it, and it is not inconceivable that the armor which the soldier cannot carry may be carried for him in the shape of an automobile fortification. Something of this sort must be evolved by mechanical talent, or the deadly precision of the military rifle will render war impossible. To be able with a telescopic sight to kill an enemy at a distance so great that he is dead a good while before the report of the rifle could be heard where he was standing, if, indeed, it could be heard at all, is war, but it is not magnificent and does not attract the average man who might be temped to win fame e'en at the cannon's mouth. Perhaps the armored automobile may change all this and make war again attractive to those who have to do the fighting.

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