Global Logistics and Strategy, 1940-1943

By Richard M. Leighton; Robert W. Coakley | Go to book overview

INTRODUCTORY
Logistics -- The Word and the Thing

Logistics is an ancient word and a still more ancient thing.1 Like many ancient words, it has meant different things at different times, and the thing itself has been, and still is, often called by other names. Yet the several current usages of the word, in military vocabulary, seem to be of rather recent vintage, probably no earlier than 1838 when Antoine Henri Jomini erected a theory of the art of war upon the trinity -- strategy, grand tactics, and logistics.2 While the word had been used occasionally in military parlance before that time, it apparently had had no single or very specific meaning. Since then its uses have been varied, and for long periods it has fallen into almost complete disuse. Meanwhile, the thing itself (whether we define the word narrowly or broadly) has grown from the comparatively humdrum, routine activity it once was into a very complex "Big Business," embracing a considerable part, some would say the greater part, of all the business of modern war.


The Revolution in Warfare

Jomini's attempt to incorporate into a rational theory of war the miscellaneous noncombatant activities on which armies and navies had always depended in order to live and fight occurred at a time when warfare itself was about to undergo a fundamental transformation. Signs of the impending change had already appeared during the long period of almost continuous warfare in Europe from 1792 to 1815 -- most conspicuously, a tremendous increase in mobility and the range of movement of armies, made possible by improved roads and the growing productivity of agriculture. Jomini himself, though most impressed by the tactical symptoms

____________________
1
The original derivation of the word "logistics" was Greek, from logistikos meaning "skilled in calculating." In Roman and Byzantine times there appears to have been a military administrative official with the title logista, whose duties, it is easy to imagine, must have required an intimate familiarity with logistics, the science of mathematical computation -- a meaning still carried in most general dictionaries along with the more modern military meaning. For many centuries European warfare lacked an organized administrative science in anything like the modern sense, and most noncombatant services (as well as certain combatant ones such as siegecraft and the use of artillery) were performed for a long time by civilians. The word "logistics," as applied to military administration, did not appear until the eighteenth century. See articles on logistics in the Enciclopedia universal ilustrada ( Barcelona, 1907-30), Vol. XXX; the Enciclopedia italiana ( Rome, 1934), Vol. XXI; and the Encyclopedia Americana ( New York, 1953), Vol. XVII.
2
See Antoine Henri, Baron de Jomini, Précis de l'art de la guerre, 2 vols. ( Paris, 1838), Vol. II, Ch. VI. Jomini mentioned, but without discussing them, two additional branches of warfare -- engineering and minor tactics.

-3-

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