mechanized warfare

The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.

mechanized warfare

mechanized warfare, employment of modern mobile attack and defense tactics that depend upon machines, more particularly upon vehicles powered by gasoline and diesel engines. Central to the waging of mechanized warfare are the tank and armored vehicle, with support and supply from motorized columns and aircraft. Automobiles were of great use in World War I. The tank was introduced at Cambrai in 1917, and its use was enthusiastically endorsed by the British general J. F. C. Fuller. The need for air protection and support was emphasized by the American general William Mitchell. Although the basic essentials of mechanized warfare were thus established early, it was not until Germany attacked Poland at the start of World War II that its full potentials were revealed. German armored (Panzer) divisions, supported by aircraft, proved their worth in Poland and France and later won spectacular successes in the Balkans, the Soviet Union, and Africa. Outstanding among the German proponents of this type of warfare were Heinz Guderian and Erwin Rommel. The German triumphs brought recognition to other advocates of mechanized warfare, e.g., Liddell Hart and Charles de Gaulle. The British and American armies also created armored divisions, and they developed weapons for defense against mechanized attack, e.g., the antitank gun and the tank destroyer. The Germans used their mechanized forces for deep penetrations into enemy territory but were ultimately beaten by superior use of artillery and aircraft as shown by the Allies in the battle of El Alamein and other engagements. The Allies themselves developed the use of mechanized warfare with brilliant success, as in the overrunning of Western Europe (1944–45) by Allied forces under such leaders as Gen. George S. Patton. The Israeli desert offensives of 1956 and 1967 involved close coordination of motorized infantry units with air and parachute forces; in the Vietnam War helicopters helped to increase the mobility of troops and equipment. Mechanized warfare has been augmented by technological developments to such an extent that the concept has become largely superfluous.

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