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Helmuth von Moltke: Memorandum on the Effect of Improvements in Firearms on Battlefield Tactics (1861)

In this memorandum from 1861, Helmuth von Moltke (1800-1891), the first Chief of the Prussian General Staff, discusses new military tactics and technological improvements in warfare, especially the increased firepower of the "needle gun" and artillery pieces. Moltke, who went on to become the most important military figure of the early German Empire, contributed essentially to the victory of Prussian troops in the wars against Denmark in 1864 and Austria in 1866. His comprehensive system of organizational preparation also allowed Prussia to defeat France in 1870-1871.

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Remarks from April 1861 on the influence of improved firearms on tactics.

It is generally acknowledged that the great improvement in firearms will entail a substantial change in fighting methods in future wars.

There are no experiences to draw on yet, because the [new] weapons had not achieved their current perfection during the last campaigns, and they were employed on terrain that reduced the impact of firepower from a distance.

Therefore, the influence of the new firearm on tactics can only be derived in theory from its nature and characteristics. The firearm requires: visibility of the target, knowledge of its distance, and calm delivery of fire.

If these conditions are met, then the Prussians' rifled guns will hit any target within a range of 2500 paces [2000 meters] with approximately equal accuracy, to the extent that the human eye is still capable of clearly recognizing an object. A troop of people or horses, [or] a [piece of] artillery constitute target objects that can be hit at least once with two shots. With this heightened accuracy, the artillery achieves an enhanced effectiveness for its shells from percussion and explosion, so that it will be impossible for troops drawn up in close formation to stay put under fire from a rifled battery at a distance of a quarter mile.

On an open plain the enemy can only find protection by movement and scattered formations.

The Prussian infantry rifle is still capable of combining its great accuracy at up to 600 paces [480 meters] with the possibility of extraordinarily rapid fire, an indisputable advantage if its application is saved for the really decisive moments of battle. Within this extended sphere of activity for infantry, even enemy swarms in loose formation are incapable of holding out when unprotected and at a standstill.

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