Po and Rhine
in late February and early March 1859
MECW Volume 16, p. 215;
First published: as a pamphlet in Berlin, April 1859.
Engels was prompted to write his Po and Rhine by the impending military conflict in Italy and the necessity to determine the stand of the proletarian revolutionaries and the European democrats as opposed to that of the bourgeoisie, above all German, on the ways of unifying Germany and Italy. He also wanted to expose the various chauvinistic theories by which the European ruling circles tried to justify the policy of aggression and conquest, and to show that they were untenable from the point of view of military strategy.
Conceived in February 1859, this work had been written by Engels by March 9 and sent to be read by Marx, who appreciated it highly. “Exceedingly clever,” he wrote to Engels on March 10, 1859, “the political side is also splendidly done and that was damned difficult.” On Marx’s advice Po and Rhine was published in Germany anonymously to avoid a conspiracy of silence. It was printed in April 1859 in Berlin by the publisher Franz Duncker (in 1,000 copies).
See Marx's letters to Lassalle of 25 February, and to Engels on 25 February on the reasoning behind publishing the pamphlet anonymously.
The work exerted a great influence on public opinion in Germany, and was also a success among the military men. No less than ten reviews of it appeared in the German press. All the reviewers approved the military content of the pamphlet and many of them thought it was written by a big military expert. But conflicting opinions were expressed on the author’s political conclusions, particularly the one that a united Germany would not need to hold on to Italian territory for its defence. While liberal newspapers such as the Grenzboten (Leipzig), the Preussische Jahrbücher (Berlin) and Die Reform (Hamburg) agreed — though not quite consistently — with the author’s political arguments, the conservative press — the Augsburg Allgemeine Zeitung, the Aachener Zeitung and the Berliner Revue — adopted a chauvinist standpoint and declared that they would not agree to give up Italian territory.
In May 1859, Marx and Engels decided the time had come to inform the public at large on the origin of the work and wrote in Das Volk, No. 2, that the author of Po and Rhine was a well-known leader of the proletarian party; Engels’ name was not given till later, in issue No. 5 June 4).
In his letter to Lassalle of April 19, 1859, Marx enclosed a list of misprints in the Po and Rhine pamphlet. In this edition they are corrected in accordance with Marx’s instructions.
Since the beginning of this year it has become the slogan of a large part of the German press that the Rhine must be defended on the Po.
This slogan was fully justified in the face of Bonaparte’s war preparations and threats. It was sensed in Germany, with correct instinct, that although the Po was Louis Napoleon’s pretext, in any circumstances the Rhine could not but be his ultimate goal. Nothing except a war for the Rhine border could provide a lightning-conductor against the two factors inside France that threatened Bonapartism: the “superabundant patriotism” of the revolutionary masses and the seething discontent of the “bourgeoisie”. It would engage the former in a national undertaking and give the latter the prospect of a new market. That is why the talk about liberating Italy could not be misunderstood in Germany. It was a case of the old proverb: He beats the sack and means the donkey. If Italy was to play the part of the sack, Germany had no desire in this case to act as the donkey.
In the present case, the maintenance of the Po therefore meant merely that Germany, threatened by an attack involving, in the last instance, the possession of some of its best provinces, could not by any means dream of giving up one of its strongest, in fact its strongest military position without striking a blow. In this sense the whole of Germany was indeed interested in the defence of the Po. On the eve of a war, as in war itself, one occupies every position that can be used to threaten the enemy and do him damage, without engaging in any moral speculations as to whether it is consonant with eternal righteousness and the principle of nationality. One simply fights for one’s life.
However, this way of defending the Rhine on the Po should be clearly distinguished from the tendency on the part of very many German military men and politicians to regard the Po, that is, Lombardy and Venice, as an indispensable strategic complement and, so to speak, an integral part of Germany. This view has been put forward and defended theoretically particularly since the campaigns in Italy in 1848 and 1849, for example, by General von Radowitz in St. Paul’s Church and by General von Willisen in his Italienischer Feldzug des Jahres 1848. In non-Austrian South Germany the theme has been treated particularly by Bavarian General von Hailbronner, with a predilection bordering on enthusiasm. The main argument is always a political one: Italy is totally incapable of staying independent; either Germany or France must rule in Italy; if the Austrians were to pull out of Italy today, the French would be in the Adige valley and at the gates of Trieste tomorrow and the entire southern border of Germany would be exposed to the “hereditary enemy”. Therefore, Austria holds Lombardy in the name and the interests of Germany.
As we see, the military authorities for this opinion are among the foremost in Germany. Nonetheless, we must decidedly oppose it.
Yet this opinion has become an article of faith defended with true fanaticism in the Augsburg Allgemeine Zeitung, which has set itself up as the monitor of German interests in Italy. This Christian-Teutonic paper, for all its hatred of Jews and Turks, would rather see itself circumcised than the “German” region of Italy. What is after all only defended by politicking generals as a splendid military position in Germany’s hands is in the Augsburg Allgemeine Zeitung an essential component of a political theory. We mean the “Central European great power theory”, which would make Austria, Prussia and the rest of Germany into a federal state under the predominant influence of Austria, Germanise Hungary and the Slavic-Romanian Danubian countries by means of colonisation, schools and gentle violence, thus shift the centre of gravity of this complex of countries more and more to the southeast, towards Vienna, and incidentally reconquer Alsace and Lorraine as well. The “Central European great power” is intended to be a kind of rebirth of the Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation and seems, among other things, to aim at incorporating the once Austrian Netherlands and also Holland as vassal states. The German’s Fatherland would extend about twice as far as the German tongue is now heard; and when all this had come to pass, Germany would be the arbiter and master of Europe. Moreover, the conditions for all this coming to pass have already been assured. The Romanic peoples are in an acute state of decadence: the Spanish and Italians are already totally ruined, and the French are now also experiencing their disintegration. On the other hand, the Slavs are incapable of forming a genuine modern state and have the world-historical vocation of being Germanised, in which case a rejuvenated Austria is once again the principal instrument of Providence. The Teutons are therefore the only race that still has moral strength and historical capacity, and among them the English are sunk so deep in insular egoism and materialism that their influence, trade and industry have to be kept off the mainland of Europe by powerful protective tariffs, by a kind of rational continental system. In this way German moral earnestness and the youthful Central European great power can hardly fall to attain world supremacy on land and sea in a short time and inaugurate a new era in history, in which Germany would at long last play first fiddle again and the other nations would dance to its music.
The land belongs to the Russians and French,
The English own the sea.
But we in the airy realm of dreams
Hold sovereign mastery.
We would not dream of going into the political aspect of these patriotic fantasies here. We have only outlined them in context in order that all these wonderful things might not, at some later time, be brought up against us as new proofs of the necessity of “German” rule in Italy. The only thing that concerns us here is the military question: Does Germany require for its defence permanent rule over Italy and in particular total military possession of Lombardy and Venice?
Reduced to its most essential military expression the question is: In order to defend its southern border, does Germany require possession of the Adige, the Mincio and the Lower Po, with the bridgeheads of Peschiera and Mantua?
Before we undertake to answer this question, we state expressly that when we speak of Germany here we mean by that a single power whose military forces and actions are directed from a single centre — Germany as a real, not an ideal, political body. On any other presuppositions there can be no question of the political and military requirements of Germany.
Footnotes from MECW
183 Under the Peace Treaty of Westphalia of 1648, which ended the Thirty Years’ War, Alsace and part of Lorraine, which had hitherto belonged to the Habsburgs, were transferred to France; Lorraine as a whole was annexed to France in 1766.
The Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation (982-1806) included, at different times, German, Italian, Austrian, Hungarian and Bohemian lands, Switzerland and the Netherlands, forming a motley conglomeration of feudal kingdoms and free towns with different political structures, legal standards and customs.
The Austrian Netherlands — the territory of the present Belgium and Luxemburg, which belonged to the Austrian Habsburgs from 1714 to 1797.
For hundreds of years Upper Italy has been, even more than Belgium, the battle-field on which the Germans and the French have fought out their wars. For the aggressor, possession of Belgium and the Po valley is a necessary condition for either a German invasion of France or a French invasion of Germany; it is only by virtue of such possession that the flanks and rear of the invasion are fully secure. The only exception could be a completely reliable neutrality of these two regions, and that case has never yet arisen.
If the fate of France and Germany has been decided indirectly on the battlefields of the Po valley ever since the day of Pavia, the fate of Italy has been simultaneously decided there directly. With the huge standing armies of modern times, with the growing power of France and Germany, and with the political disintegration of Italy, old Italy proper, the region south of the Rubicon, lost all military importance, and possession of the old Cisalpine Gaul inevitably brought with it mastery of the long narrow peninsula. In the basins of the Po and Adige, on the Genoese, Romagnese and Venetian coasts, was the densest population, and there was concentrated Italy’s most flourishing agriculture, most active industry and liveliest trade. The peninsula, Naples and the Papal States, remained relatively stationary in their social development; their military power had not counted for centuries. Whoever held the Po valley cut off the peninsula’s land communications with the rest of the Continent and could easily subdue it if the occasion arose, as the French did twice during the revolutionary war and the Austrians did twice in this century. Accordingly, only the basins of the Po and the Adige are of military importance.
Enclosed on three sides by, the unbroken chain of the Alps and Apennines and on the fourth, from Aquileia to Rimini, by the Adriatic Sea, this basin forms a region very clearly demarcated by nature, with the Po flowing through it from west to east. The southern, or Apennine, boundary does not interest us here; the northern. or Alpine, boundary interests us all the more. Its snow-clad ridge has only a few passes with paved roads; even the number of wagon-tracks, bridle-paths and footpaths is limited; long narrow gorges lead to the passes over the high peaks.
The German frontier bounds North Italy from the mouth of the Isonzo to the Stelvio Pass; from there to Geneva the border is with Switzerland; from Geneva to the mouth of the Var it is with France. Going west from the Adriatic to the Stelvio Pass, each pass leads deeper into the heart of the Po basin than the previous one and hence outflanks any positions of an Italian or French army lying further to the east. The border-line of the Isonzo is immediately outflanked by the first pass from Caporetto to Cividale; the Pontebba Pass goes round the position on the Tagliamento, which is also outflanked by two unpaved passes from Carinthia and Cadore. The Brenner Pass outflanks the line of the Piave by the Peutelstein Pass from Bruneck to Cortina d'Ampezzo and Belluno, the line of the Brenta by the Val Sugana to Bassano, the line of the Adige by the Adige valley, the Chiese by the Giudicaria, the Oglio by unpaved roads over Tonale, and finally all the territory east of the Adda by the Stelvio Pass and the Valtellina.
One could say that with such a favourable strategic position, actual possession of the plains down to the Po would not matter too much to us Germans. Given forces of equal strength, where could the enemy army take a stand east of the Adda or north of the Po? All its positions would be outflanked; even if it crossed the Po or the Adda, its flank would be threatened; if it moved south of the Po, its communications with Milan and Piedmont would be threatened; if it went beyond the Ticino, it would endanger its connections with the entire peninsula. If it were reckless enough to advance in an offensive in the direction of Vienna, it could be cut off any day and forced to give battle with its rear towards enemy country and its front facing Italy. If it were beaten, it would be a second Marengo with the roles reversed; if it beat the Germans, the latter would have to behave very stupidly to be deprived of their retreat to the Tyrol.
The construction of the road over the Stelvio Pass is proof that the Austrians learned their lesson from their defeat at Marengo.
Napoleon built the Simplon road in order to have a protected route into the heart of Italy; the Austrians supplemented their system of offensive defence in Lombardy by the road from Stelvio to Bormio. It may be said that this pass is too high to be practicable in winter; that the entire route is too difficult since it goes without relief through inhospitable high mountain country for a distance of at least fifty German Miles [1 German mile = 7.42 km] (from Füssen in Bavaria to Lecco on Lake Como), including three mountain passes; finally, that it can easily be blocked in the long defile along Lake Como and in the mountains themselves. Let us look into this.
To be sure, the pass is the highest practicable one in the entire chain of the Alps, 8,600 feet, and may be heavily snowed up in winter. But if we recall Macdonald’s winter campaign of 1800-01 in the Splilgen and Tonale, we will not give too much weight to such obstacles. All the Alpine passes are snowed up in winter and are passable nonetheless. Armstrong’s production of efficient breech-loading rifled cannon has made reorganisation of all artillery something that can hardly be put off; it will introduce lighter guns into field artillery as well, increasing their mobility. A more serious obstacle is the long march in the high mountains and getting over one range after another. The Stelvio Pass does not cross the divide between the northern and southern Alpine rivers, but between the Adige and the Adda, two rivers that flow into the Adriatic, and therefore presupposes that the main range of the Alps is crossed by the Brenner or the Finstermünz Pass in order to get from the Inn valley into that of the Adige. Since in the Tyrol the Inn flows pretty much from west to east between two mountain ridges, troops from Lake Constance and Bavaria must also cross the more northerly of these ridges, so that there will be a total of two or three mountain passes on this route alone. Laborious though this may be, it is not a decisive obstacle to leading an army into Italy by this route. This difficulty will soon be reduced to a minimum by a railway in the Inn valley, which is already partly completed, and a projected line in the valley of the Adige. Napoleon’s route over the St. Bernard Pass from Lausanne to Ivrea involved no more than about 30 miles through high mountains; but the route from Udine to Vienna, along which Napoleon advanced in 1797 and along which Eugène and Macdonald joined him at Vienna in 1809, goes through high mountains for over 60 miles, and likewise over three Alpine passes. The way from Pont-de-Beauvoisin over the Little St. Bernard to Ivrea, the route that goes directly from France. furthest into Italy, without touching Switzerland, and is therefore the best for outflanking, also leads for more than 40 miles over high mountains, as does the Simplon route from Lausanne to Sesto Calende.
Finally, as for blocking the road in the pass itself or on Lake Como, one is no longer so inclined, after the campaigns of the French in the Alps, to rely on the efficacy of roadblocks. Commanding heights and the possibility of outflanking make them rather futile; the French stormed many of them and were never seriously held up by the fortifications in the passes. Any fortifications of the passes on the Italian side can be flanked via Cevedale, Monte Corno and Gavia, and the Tonale and Aprica. From the Valtellina there are many bridle-paths to the Bergamo region, and roadblocks on the long defile by Lake Como can be outflanked along those paths or from Dervio or from Bellano through Val Sassina. In mountain warfare, advancing in several columns is advisable in any case, and if one of them gets through, the purpose is usually attained.
How practicable even the most difficult passes are at virtually any time of year, provided good troops and resolute generals are employed; how even minor auxiliary passes not negotiable by vehicles can be used as good operational lines, especially for flanking purposes; and how little roadblocks can do to block the advance — all this is best shown by the campaigns in the Alps from 1796 to 1801. At that time not a single Alpine pass had been paved, and nonetheless armies crossed the mountains in every direction. In 1799, as early as the beginning of March, Loison with a French brigade crossed the divide between the Reuss and the Rhine by footpaths, while Lecourbe went over the Bernardino and the Viamala, then crossed the Albula and Julier Passes (7,100 feet high) and by March 24 took the Martinsbruck defile by a flanking movement, sending Dessolle through the Milnster valley over Pisoc and the Worms Pass (a footpath 7,850 feet high) to the Upper Adige valley and thence to the Reschen-Scheideck. At the beginning of May Lecourbe pulled back over the Albula again.
Suvorov’s campaign followed in September of the same year; during it, as the old soldier expressed it in his vigorous figurative language, the Russian bayonet forced its way through the Alps (Ruskij sztyk prognal crez Alpow). He sent most of his artillery over the Splilgen, had a flanking column go through Val Blegno over the Lukmanier (footpath, 5,948 feet) and thence over the Sixmadun (about 6,500 feet) into the Upper Reuss valley, while he himself
went through the St. Gotthard, which at that time was hardly passable for vehicles (6,594 feet). He took the roadblock of Teufelsbrücke by storm on September 24-26; but when he got to Altdorf, with the lake in front of him and the French on every other side, there was nothing left for him to do but to go up the Schächen valley over the Kinzig-Kulm into the valley of the Muota. Arriving there, after leaving all his artillery and baggage in the Reuss valley, he found the French in superior force before him again, while Lecourbe was on his heels. Suvorov went over the Pragel Pass into the valley of the Klön in order to reach the Rhine plain by that route. He met with insurmountable resistance in the Näfels defile and the only thing left him was to take the footpath through the Panix Pass, 8,000 feet high, to reach the upper valley of the Rhine and the link with the Splügen. The passage began on October 6 and on October 10 the headquarters were in Ilanz. This passage was the most impressive of all Alpine crossings in modern times.
We shall not say much about Napoleon’s crossing of the Great St. Bernard. It does not come up to other similar operations of that period. The season was favourable and the only noteworthy thing was the skilful way in which the strong point of Fort Bard was outflanked.
On the other hand, Macdonald’s operations in the winter of 1800-01 were remarkable. With the assignment of taking 15,000 men as the left wing of the French army of Italy to outflank the Austrian right wing on the Mincio and the Adige, he crossed the Splügen (6,510 feet) in the depth of winter with all kinds of arms. With the greatest of difficulty, often halted by avalanches and snowstorms, he led his army over the pass between December 1 and 7 and marched up along the Adda through the Valtellina to the Aprica. Nor were the Austrians frightened off by winter in the high mountains. They held the Albula, the Julier and the Braulio (Worms Pass), and at the last named even made a surprise attack in which they captured a detachment of dismounted French hussars. After Macdonald had surmounted the Aprica Pass from the Adda valley into the valley of the Oglio, he climbed the very high Tonale Pass by footpaths, and on December 22 attacked the Austrians, who had obstructed the defile in the pass with blocks of ice. Thrown back on that day as well as in the second attack (December 31-thus he remained in the high mountains for nine days!), he went down the Val Camonica to the Lago d'Iseo, sent his cavalry and artillery through the plain and with the infantry climbed the three ranges leading to Val Trompia, Val Sabbia and the Giudicaria, where lie reached Storo as early? as January 6. Meanwhile Baraguay d'Hilliers had gone over the ReschenScheideck (Finstermiinz Pass) from the valley of the Inn into the Upper Adige valley. — If such manoeuvres were possible sixty years ago, What can we not do today, when we have excellent paved roads in most of the passes!
Even from these sketches we can see that the only roadblocks that had any sort of ability to hold out were those that were not outflanked, whether from lack of skill or lack of time. For example, the Tonale was untenable once Baraguay d'Hllliers appeared in the Upper Adige valley. The other campaigns show that they were taken either by a flanking operation or, frequently, by storm. Luziensteig was stormed two or three times, and likewise Malborghetto in the Pontebba Pass in 1797 and 1809. The Tyrolean strong points did not stop Joubert in 1797 or Ney in 1805. It is known, as Napoleon stated, that outflanking can be accomplished on paths that a goat can negotiate. And ever since people have waged war on this basis, any and all strong points can be bypassed.
Consequently, we cannot see how, given equality of forces, a hostile army can defend Lombardy east of the Adda in the open field against a German army advancing over the Alps. Its only chance would be to take up a position between existing or newly erected fortifications and to manoeuvre between them. This possibility will be examined later.
What passes are now open to France for penetrating into Italy? Whereas Germany surrounds a full half of Italy’s northern border, the French frontier runs in almost a straight line from north to south, surrounds nothing and outflanks nothing. It is only after taking Savoy and a part of the Genoese coast that flanking movements can be prepared via the Little St. Bernard and some passes in the Maritime Alps, and even then the effect will extend only to the Sesia and the Bormida and will not reach Lombardy and the duchies, let alone the peninsula. Only a landing in Genoa, which. would have its difficulties for a large army, could bring about a flanking of all of Piedmont; a landing further east, e.g., at La Spezia, could no longer be based on Piedmont and France, but only on the peninsula, and would therefore be outflanked as much as itself doing the outflanking.
Thus far we have assumed that Switzerland would be neutral. In the event that it was drawn into the war, France would have one more pass available, the Simplon (the Great St. Bernard, which leads to Aosta as the Little St. Bernard does, would yield no new advantages beyond the shorter line). The Simplon leads to the Ticino and therefore covers Piedmont for the French. In the same way, the Germans would obtain the relatively minor, Splilgen, which meets the Stelvio road on Lake Como, and the Bernardino, whose effect extends as far as the Ticino. The St. Gotthard could serve either side, depending on the circumstances, but would riot give them many new opportunities for flanking operations. Thus we see that the effect of a French flanking manoeuvre over the Alps, on the one hand, and of a German flanking manoeuvre, on the other, extends to the present border between Lombardy and Piedmont, the Ticino. But if the Germans are on the Ticino, even if they are only at Piacenza and Cremona, they bar the French from the land route into the Italian peninsula. In other words, if France dominates Piedmont, Germany dominates all the rest of Italy.
The Germans have moreover a tactical advantage. Along the entire German frontier, the watershed is on the German side for all the important passes, with the exception of the Stelvio. The Fella in the Pontebba Pass rises in Carinthia, and the Boite in the Peutelstein Pass in the Tyrol. In the Tyrol this advantage is decisive. The Upper Brenta valley (Val Sugana), the Upper Chiese valley (Giudicaria) and more than half of the course of the Adige belong to the Tyrol. Although in any particular case it cannot be known, without a close study of the locality, whether possession of the watershed in mountain passes gives actual tactical advantage, this much is certain, that as a rule the party occupying the ridge and some of the slope towards the enemy will have the better chance of outflanking the other side and dominating the enemy from above. Furthermore, that party will be in a position to make the most difficult stretches of the auxiliary passes negotiable for all arms, even before war breaks out; this can be of decisive importance for communications in the Tyrol. If this projection of our territory on the enemy side has the extent that the zone of the German Confederation has in the South Tyrol; if, as here, the two main passes, the Brenner and the Finstermünz, are far removed from the enemy frontier; if, in addition, decisive auxiliary passes, such as those through the Giudicaria and the Val Sugana, are entirely within German territory, the tactical conditions for an invasion of Upper Italy are facilitated so enormously that in the event of war they need only be judiciously employed to ensure victory.
So long as Switzerland remains neutral, the Tyrol is the most direct route for a German army operating against Italy; if Switzerland is no longer neutral, the Tyrol and the Grisons (the Inn and the Rhine valleys) are the most direct. It was along this line that the Hohenstaufens moved against Italy; there is no other route by which a Germany acting militarily as a single state can operate decisively with rapid blows in Italy. For this line, however, not Inner Austria, but Upper Swabia and Bavaria, from Lake Constance to Salzburg, is the operational base. This was true throughout the Middle Ages. Only when Austria had consolidated on the Middle Danube, when Vienna became the central point of the monarchy, when the German Empire fell apart and merely Austrian wars, not German wars, were waged in Italy, was the old, short, straight line from Innsbruck to Verona and from Lindau to Milan abandoned; only then was it replaced by the long, crooked, bad line from Vienna through Klagenfurt and Treviso to Vicenza, a line that a German army would formerly have relied on only in the extreme emergency of a threatened retreat, but never for an offensive.
So long as the German Empire existed as a real military power and hence based its attacks against Italy on Upper Swabia and Bavaria, it could strive to conquer Upper Italy on political, never purely military grounds. In the long struggles for Italy, Lombardy was at various times German, independent, Spanish or Austrian; but it should not be forgotten that Lombardy was separate from Venice and Venice was independent. And although Lombardy held Mantua, it did not include the Mincio line and the region between the Mincio and the Isonzo, without possession of which, we are now told, Germany cannot sleep in peace. Germany (through the intermediary of Austria) has had full possession of the Mincio line only since 1814. And although Germany, as a political body, did not play the most brilliant of roles in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, this was not due to its not possessing the Mincio line.
In any case, the strategic rounding-out of states and their provision with defendable frontiers has come more to the forefront since the French Revolution and Napoleon created armies with greater mobility and traversed Europe with those armies in every direction. While during the Seven Years’ War"’ the field of operations of an army was confined to a single province, and manoeuvres would go on for months around individual fortresses, positions or operational bases, in any war today the configuration of the terrain of entire countries is involved, and the importance previously attached to individual tactical positions is now given only to large groups of fortresses, long river lines or high, prominent mountain chains. In this connection, such lines as the Mincio and the Adige are certainly much more important than in the past.
Let us therefore examine these lines.
All the rivers cast of the Simplon that flow from the Alps into the Po in the Upper Italian plain or directly into the Adriatic make a concave arc with the Po or by themselves to the cast. They are therefore more favourable for defence by an army to the east of them than by one to the west. If we look at the Ticino, the Adda, the Oglio, the Chiese, the Mincio, the Adige, the Brenta, the Piave or the Tagliamento, each of these rivers, alone or with the adjacent portion of the Po, forms an arc whose centre is to the east. This enables an army on the left (east) bank to take up a central position from which it can reach any seriously threatened point on the river in a relatively short time; it holds Jomini’s “internal line”,’ and marches on the radius or the chord, whilst the enemy has to manoeuvre on the periphery, which is longer. If the army on the right bank is on the defensive, on the other hand, this situation is unfavourable to it; the enemy is supported in his feinting attacks by the terrain, and the shorter distances from the various points on the periphery that favour him in defence add decisive weight to his attack. Accordingly, the lines of the Lombard and Venetian rivers are favourable in every way to a German army, whether for defence or offence, and unfavourable for an Italian or Italian-French army; and if we add the circumstance discussed above, that the Tyrolean passes outflank all these lines, there is really no reason to be concerned for the security of Germany, even if there were not a single Austrian soldier on Italian soil; for the soil of Lombardy is ours whenever we want it.
Furthermore, these Lombard river lines are for the most part quite insignificant and unsuited to serious defence. Apart from the Po itself, which will be discussed below, there are only two positions in the entire basin that are really important for France or Germany; the relevant general staffs have realised the strength of these zones and fortified them, and they will undoubtedly play a decisive role in the next war. In Piedmont, a mile below Casale, the Po, which has an easterly course up to that point, turns southward, runs south-southeast for a good three miles and then bends eastward again. At the northern bend the Sesia flows in from the north; at the southern bend the Po is joined by the Tanaro, coming in from the southwest. The Tanaro is joined, just before its confluence, near Alessandria, by the Bormida, the Orba and the Belbo, forming a system of radial river lines converging at a central point; this important junction is covered by the fortified camp of Alessandria. From Alessandria as a base, an army can take either bank of the smaller rivers, can defend the line of the Po in front of it, or can cross the Po at Casale (likewise a fortress) or operate downstream along the right bank of the Po. This position, which is strengthened by sufficient fortifications, is the only one that covers Piedmont or can serve as the base for offensive operations against Lombardy and the duchies. It has the drawback that it lacks depth, a highly unfavourable circumstance since it can be either outflanked or broken through frontally; a strong and skilful attack would soon reduce it to the as yet uncompleted fortified camp of Alessandria, and we have no basis for judging to what extent that camp could protect the defenders from having to give battle under unfavourable conditions, since neither the nature of the latest fortifications there nor the extent to which they have been completed is known. Napoleon already realised the importance of this position for the defence of Piedmont against attack from the east, and had Alessandria refortified. In 1814 the position did not maintain its protective power; how far it can do so today may be apparent to us soon.
The second position, which protects the Venetian region against attack from the west as much as or more than Alessandria does Piedmont, is that of the Mincio and the Adige. The Mincio, after leaving Lake Garda, flows south for four miles to Mantua. There it becomes a sort of lagoon bordered by swamps and then flows southeast to the Po. The stretch of river below the Mantua swamps to the confluence is too short to be used as a crossing by an army, since the enemy could take them from the rear by a sortie from Mantua and compel them to give battle under the most unfavourable conditions. A flanking movement from the south would have to go further, and cross the Po at Revere or Ferrara. On the north the position on the Mincio is broadly protected by Lake Garda from being outflanked, so that the actual length of the Mincio line that has to be defended, from Peschicra to Mantua, is only four miles long, with a fortress at either end ensuring a débouché onto the right bank of the river. The Mincio itself is no great obstacle, and one bank or the other is higher, depending on the locality. That discredited the line more or less before 1848 and it would hardly ever have become very famous were it not significantly strengthened by a special circumstance. This circumstance is that four miles further back the Adige, the second largest river of Upper Italy, flows in an arc roughly parallel to the courses of the Mincio and the Lower Po and thereby forms a second, stronger position, which is reinforced by the two Adige fortresses of Verona and Legnago. The two river lines, with their four fortresses, constitute such a strong defensive position for a German or Austrian army attacked by Italy or France that no other complex in Europe can be compared with it; an army that can still take the field after leaving garrisons in the strong points will easily be able to stand up to a force twice as strong, if based on this position. Radetzky showed in 1848 what could be got out of the position. After the March revolution in Milan, the desertion of the Italian regiments and the crossing of the Ticino by the Piedmontese, he withdrew to Verona with the rest of his troops, about 45,000 men. After leaving garrisons of 15,000 men he had somewhat more than 30,000 men available. Against him, between the Mincio and the Adige, were about 60,000 Piedmontese, Tuscans, Modenese and Parmesans. In his rear appeared the army of Durando, about 45,000 Papal and Neapolitan troops and volunteers. The only line of communication he had left was through the Tyrol, and even that was threatened, although only lightly, by Lombard irregulars in the mountains. Nevertheless Radetzky held on. Keeping Peschiera and Mantua in check drew off so many troops from the Piedmontese that when they attacked the Verona position (battle of Santa Lucia) on May 6 they could put only four divisions, 40,000 to 45,000 men, in the field. Radetzky could utilise 36,000 men, including the garrison at Verona. Considering the tactically strong defensive position of the Austrians, equilibrium Was already i-eestablished on the battlefield, and the Piedmontese were beaten. The counter-revolution in Naples on May 15 freed Radetzky from the presence of 15,000 Neapolitans and cut down the army of the Venetian mainland to about 30,000; of these only 5,000 Papal Swiss and about the same number of Papal Italian troops of the line could be used in the open field, the rest being irregulars. Nugent’s reserve army, which had been formed in April on the Isonzo, easily broke through these troops and joined Radetzky near Verona on May 25, almost 20,000 strong. Now at last the old field marshal could go beyond passive defence. In order to relieve Peschicra, which the Piedmontese were besieging, and to give himself more freedom of action, he made the celebrated flanking march to Mantua with his entire army (May 27), then from here debauched on the right bank of the Mincio on the 29th, stormed the enemy line on the Curtatone and pressed on towards Goito on the 30th, in the rear and on the flank of the Italians. But Peschiera fell on the same day; the weather turned unfavourable and Radetzky did not yet feel himself strong enough for a decisive battle. So on June 4 he marched back through Mantua again to the Adige, sent the reserve corps to Verona and with the rest of his troops moved via Legnago against Vicenza, which Durando had fortified and occupied with 17,000 men. On the 10th he attacked Vicenza with 30,000 men; on the 11th Durando capitulated, after a stout resistance. The Second Army Corps (d'Aspre) conquered Padua, the Upper Brenta valley and the Venetian mainland in general and then followed the First Corps to Verona; a second reserve army under Welden came up from the Isonzo. During this time and until the end of the campaign the Piedmontese, with superstitious obstinacy, concentrated all their attention on the Rivoli plateau which, since Napoleon’s victory, they seem to have regarded as the key to Italy but which had lost its importance by 1848 since the Austrians had restored safe communication with the Tyrol through the Vallarsa and in particular had reestablished direct connection with Vienna across the Isonzo. At the same time something had to be done against Mantua, and so a block was set up on the right bank of the Mincio-an operation that could not have had any other purpose than to document the perplexity prevailing in the Piedmontese camp, to disperse the army all along the eight-mile stretch from Rivoli to Borgoforte and into the bargain to split it into two halves by the Mincio, halves which could not support each other.
When the attempt was now made to blockade Mantua on the left bank as well, Radetzky, who had got 12,000 of Welden’s troops in the interim, decided to break through the Piedmontese in their weakened centre and then defeat the assembling forces separately. On July 22 he ordered Rivoli to be attacked, and the Piedmontese evacuated it on the 23rd; on the 23rd he himself started from Verona with 40,000 men against the position of Sona and Sommacampagna, which was defended by only 14,000 Piedmontese, took it, and thereby broke the entire enemy front. The Piedmontese left wing was completely driven back over the Mincio on the 24th, and the right wing, which had reformed in the meantime and was advancing on the Austrians, was defeated at Custozza on the 25th; on the 26th the entire Austrian army crossed the Mincio and defeated the Piedmontese once again at Volta. This ended the campaign; the Piedmontese withdrew behind the Ticino almost without any resistance.
This brief account of the 1848 campaign is better proof than any theoretical reasoning could give of the strength of the position on the Mincio and the Adige. Once the Piedmontese had entered the quadrilateral between the four fortresses, they had to detach so many troops that their offensive power was thereby broken, as the battle of Santa Lucia shows, while Radetzky, as soon as his first reinforcements arrived, could move between the fortresses with complete freedom, base himself now on Mantua and then on Verona, threaten the rear of the enemy on the right bank of the Mincio today and a few days later capture Vicenza and constantly hold the initiative in the campaign. The Piedmontese committed error after error, it is true; but it is precisely the strength of a position that puts the enemy in a quandary and almost compels him to make errors. Holding the individual fortresses in check, let alone besieging them, forces him to divide his forces and weaken his available offensive strength; the rivers compel him to repeat the division and make it more or less impossible for his various corps to come to each other’s assistance. What forces would be needed to besiege Mantua so long as an army ready for action in the field could break out of the detached forts of Verona at any instant?
Mantua alone was able to hold up General Bonaparte’s victorious army in 1797. Only twice did a fortress impede him: Mantua and, ten years later, Danzig. In the entire second part of the campaign of [1796 and] 1797: Castiglione, Medole, Calliano, Bassano, Arcole, Rivoli -everything revolves around Mantua, and only after this fortress had fallen did the victor venture to advance eastward and over the Isonzo. At that time Verona was not fortified; in 1848 only the circle of walls was completed on the right bank of the Adige at Verona, and the battle of Santa Lucia was fought on terrain where Austrian redoubts were put up immediately thereafter, and permanent detached forts subsequently; only as a result of this did the fortified camp of Verona become the core, the citadel of the entire position, which thus gained enormously in strength.
It will be seen that we have no intention of impugning the importance of the Mincio line. But let us not forget: This line only became important when Austria began waging war in Italy on its own account and the line of communication Bolzano-InnsbruckMunich was pushed into the background by the Treviso-Klagenfurt-Vienna line. And for Austria, as presently constituted, possession of the Mincio line is ‘ indeed a matter of life and death. Austria as an independent state, which wishes to operate as a European great power independent also of Germany, must either control the Mincio and the Lower Po or abandon defence of the Tyrol; otherwise the Tyrol would be outflanked on both sides and linked to the rest of the Empire only by the Toblach Pass (the road from Salzburg to Innsbruck goes through Bavaria). Now the opinion is held by elderly military men that the Tyrol has great defensive capacities and controls both the Danube and the Po basins. But this opinion is based entirely on fantasy and has never been confirmed by experience, for an insurrectional war, as in 1809, proves nothing for the operations of a regular army.
The source of this opinion is Bülow, he expresses it, among other places, in his history of the Hohenlinden and Marengo campaigns. A copy of the French translation of this book, belonging to Emmett, an English engineer officer assigned to, St. Helena while Napoleon was a prisoner there, came into the hands of the exiled general in 1819. He made copious marginal notes in it and Emmett had the book reprinted in 1831 with Napoleon’s notes.’ Napoleon obviously started reading the book in a favourable frame of mind. At Bülow’s proposal to break all the infantry up into skirmishers, he remarks benevolently: “ Order, always order — skirmishers should always be supported by troops of the line.” Then we have a few times: “ Good — this is good “ and again: “Good!” But from the twentieth page on it gets to be too much for Napoleon when he sees the unfortunate Billow working his head off, with rare futility and clumsiness, to explain all the vicissitudes of warfare by his theory of eccentric withdrawals and .concentric attacks, and rob the -most masterful moves of their meaning by schoolboyish interpretation. First a few: “Bad — this is bad — bad principle”, and then “This is not true — absurd — bad plan, very dangerous — stay united if you want to win — one should never separate one’s army by a river — all this scaffolding is absurd”, etc. And when Napoleon finds that Bülow keeps on praising bad operations and condemning good ones, that he attributes the silliest motives to generals and gives them the most comical advice, and finally that he wants to do away with the bayonet and arm the second line of the infantry with lances, he cries out: “Unintelligible chatter, what absurd chatter, what an absurdity, what miserable chatter, what ignorance of war.”
Bülow here reproaches the Austrian Danube army under Kray for going to Ulm instead of to the Tyrol. The Tyrol, he said, that impregnable bastion of rocks and mountains, dominates both Bavaria and a part of Lombardy if it is occupied by enough troops (Napoleon: “One does not attack mountains, neither the Tyrol nor Switzerland, one keeps them under observation and goes around them by the plains”) . Then Bülow reproaches Moreau for letting himself be held up by Kray at Ulm, instead of leaving him there and conquering the Tyrol which was weakly held: Conquest of the Tyrol would have overthrown the Austrian monarchy (Napoleon: Absurd, even if the Tyrol had been open, it should not have been entered”).
After finishing reading the book, Napoleon characterised the system of eccentric withdrawals and concentric attacks and the control of the plains by the mountains in the following words: “If you want to learn how to have a stronger army defeated by a weaker army, study this writer’s maxims; you will have ideas on the science of war, he prescribes the opposite of what should be taught.”
Napoleon repeated, three or four times, the warning: “Mountain countries should never be attacked.” This fear of the mountains obviously dates from his later years, when his armies had reached such colossal size and were tied down to the plains by reasons of supply and tactical development. Spain and the Tyrol may also have contributed to this. Formerly he had not been so afraid of mountains. The first half of his campaign of 1796 was all fought in the mountains, and in the following years Masséna and Macdonald proved adequately that even in mountain warfare — and precisely there more than anywhere else — great things can be accomplished with small forces. But in general it is clear that our modern armies can develop their power best in the mixed terrain of plains and foothills, and that a theory is false that prescribes throwing a large army into high mountain regions — not in transit but to take up permanent positions there — so long as there are free-lying plains like those of Bavaria and Lombardy on either side, in which the war can be decided. How long can an army of 150,000 men be fed in the Tyrol? How soon would hunger drive them down into the plain, where in the meantime the enemy, would have been given time to dig in and where they could be forced to fight under the most unfavourable circumstances? And where in the narrow valleys could they find a position in which they could develop their entire strength?
Once Austria no longer controlled the Mincio and the Adige, the Tyrol would be a lost position, which it would have to give up as soon as it was attacked either from the north or the south. For Germany, the Tyrol flanks Lombardy up to the Adda by means of its passes; for an Austria acting separately, Lombardy and Venctia up to the Brenta outflank the Tyrol. The Tyrol is only tenable for Austria when it is shielded by Bavaria in the north and possession of the Mincio line in the south. The establishment of the Confederation of the Rhine made it impossible for Austria by itself to make a serious defence of both the Tyrol and Venetia, and thus it was quite consistent for Napoleon to detach both provinces from Austria in the Treaty of Pressburg.
For Austria, therefore, possession of the Mincio line with Peschicra and Mantua is an absolute necessity. For Germany as a whole, possession of it is not at all necessary, although still a great military advantage. What this advantage is, is obvious: simply that it ensures us, in advance, a strong position in the plain of Lombardy, one that we do not have first to conquer, and that it rounds out our defensive position comfortably while significantly supporting our offensive power.
But what if Germany does not hold the Mincio line?
Let us assume that all of Italy is independent, unified and allied with France for an offensive war against Germany. It follows from everything we have said so far that in that event the operational and withdrawal line of the Germans would be not Vienna-Klagenfurt-Treviso but Munich-Innsbruck-Bolzano and Munich-Füssen-Finstermünz-Glorenza, and that their débouchés on the plain of Lombardy lie between the Val Sugana and the Swiss border. Where then is the decisive point of attack? Obviously, that part of Upper Italy that affords communication of the peninsula with Piedmont and France, the Middle Po from Alessandria to Cremona. But the passes between Lake Garda and Lake Como are quite sufficient to provide the Germans with access to that region and keep open a way of retreat on the same route or, if the worst comes to the worst, over the Stelvio Pass. In that case fortresses on the Mincio and the Adige, which we have assumed to be in the hands of the Italians, would lie far off from the decisive field of battle. Occupation of the entrenched camp of Verona with suitable forces sufficient for an offensive would only be a useless dispersion of the enemy troops. Or is it expected that the Italians massed on the beloved Rivoli plateau would deny the Adige valley to the Germans? Since the Stelvio road (over the Stelvio Pass) has been built, the outlet from the Adige valley has lost much of its importance. But assuming that Rivoli should once more be the key to Italy and that the Germans should be drawn strongly enough by the power of attraction of the Italian army stationed there to make the attack-what purpose would Verona serve in that case? It does not blockade the Adige valley, or else the march of the Italians to Rivoli would be pointless. Peschiera is sufficient to cover a withdrawal in the event of defeat; it provides a safe crossing over the Mincio and so ensures a further advance to Mantua or Cremona. Massing the entire Italian striking force between the four fortresses, perhaps to wait for the French to arrive there, and refusing to he provoked into fighting, would split the forces opposed to us at the very outset of the campaign and would enable us first to move concentrated forces against the French along the line of their join-up and after defeating them to undertake the somewhat tedious process of dislodging the Italians from their fortifications. A country like Italy, whose national army is confronted at any successful attack from the north and east with the dilemma of choosing between Piedmont and the peninsula as its base of operations, must obviously have its major defensive facilities in the region where its army may encounter this dilemma. Here the confluences of the Ticino and the Adda with the Po constitute points of support. General von Willisen (Italienischer Feldzug des Jahres 1848) wanted both points to be fortified by the Austrians. Apart from the fact that this will not work, if only for the reason that the land needed does not belong to them (at Cremona the right bank of the Po is Parmesan and at Piacenza they have only garrison rights), both points are too far forward for a major defensive position in a country in which the Austrians would be surrounded by insurrections in any war; furthermore, Willisen, who can never see two rivers join without straightaway making plans for a great entrenched camp, forgets that neither the Ticino nor the Ad(la are defensible lines and so, even according to his own views, do not cover the region behind them. But what would be useless expenditure for the Austrians is undoubtedly a good position for the Italians. For them, the Po is the principal line of defence; the Pizzighettone-Cremona-Piacenza triangle, with Alessandria to the left and Mantua to the right, would provide effective defence of this line and enable the army either to wait in security for the arrival of distant allies or if need be to advance offensively in the decisive plain between the Sesia and the Adige.
General von Radowitz said in the Frankfurt National Assembly: If Germany no longer held the Mincio line, it would be placed in the same position in which it would be today after an entire unsuccessful campaign. The war would then be fought immediately on German soil; it would begin on the Isonzo and in the Italian Tyrol and all of South Germany up to Bavaria would be outflanked, so that the war even in Germany would have to be fought on the Isar rather than on the Upper Rhine.
General von Radowitz seems to have evaluated the military knowledge of his public accurately enough. It is true that if Germany gives up the Mincio line, it gives up as much, in terrain and positions, as an entire successful campaign might bring the French and Italians. But that does not signify that Germany would thereby be put in the position in which an unsuccessful campaign would put it. Or is a strong, intact German army which assembles at the Bavarian foot of the Alps and marches over the Tyrolean passes to invade Lombardy in the same situation as an army ruined and demoralised by an unsuccessful campaign and fleeing towards the Brenner, pursued by the enemy? Are the chances of a successful offensive from a position that in many respects dominates the point of juncture of the French and Italians equal to the chances that a defeated army has to get its artillery over the Alps? We conquered Italy much more often before we had the Mincio line than since we have had it; who can doubt that we can perform the trick again if need be?
As for the point that without the Mincio line the war would at once be shifted to Bavaria and Carinthia, that too is incorrect. The upshot of our entire exposition is that without the Mincio line, defence of the southern border of Germany can only be conducted offensively. One reason for that is the mountainous nature of the border provinces of Germany, which cannot serve as a decisive battlefield; another is the favourable position of the Alpine passes. The battlefield lies in the plains in front of them. There is where we have to descend, and no power on earth can prevent us from doing so. It is hard to conceive of any more favourable prelude to an offensive than that available to us here in the most unfavourable case of a Franco-Italian alliance. It can be strengthened by improving the Alpine roads and fortifying the road junctions in the Tyrol enough, if not to hold up the enemy entirely in the event of a retreat, at least to compel him to detach strong contingents to guard his communications. So far as the roads through the Alps are concerned, all the wars in the Alps prove that most of the unpaved main roads and many bridle-paths are practicable for all classes of arms without excessive difficulty. Under these circumstances it should be possible to organise a German offensive into Lombardy in such a way as to have every prospect of success. We could still be beaten, to be sure; and then we should have the case that Radowitz speaks of. In that case, what about the exposure of Vienna and the outflanking of Bavaria through the Tyrol?
In the first place, it is clear that no enemy battalion would dare to cross the Iso-nzo until the German army of the Tyrol has been completely and irrevocably thrown back over the Brenner. Once Bavaria is the German operational base against Italy, from that moment on a Franco-Italian offensive in the direction of Vienna is purposeless; it would be a futile dispersion of forces. Even if Vienna were such a vital centre that it would be worth devoting the main power of the enemy army to conquer it, that proves only that Vienna must be fortified. Napoleon’s 1797 campaign and the invasions of Italy and Germany in 1805 and 1809 could have turned out very badly for the French if Vienna had been fortified. An offensive that has been carried forward to such distances always runs the risk of seeing its last forces smashed before a fortified capital city. And even assuming that the enemy had thrown the German army back over the Brenner, what a degree of superiority would be required to make it possible to draw off an effective force against Inner Austria!
But what about the outflanking of all South Germany through Italy? In point of fact, if Lombardy flanks Germany as far as Munich, how far does Germany outflank Italy? At least as far as Milan and Pavia. So far, then, the chances are equal. But because of the much greater width of Germany, an army on the Upper Rhine which is “outflanked” from Italy towards Munich does not for that reason need to withdraw at once. An entrenched camp in Upper Bavaria or a temporarily fortified Munich could receive the defeated army of the Tyrol and soon bring the offensive of the pursuing enemy to a halt, while the army of the Upper Rhine would have the choice of basing itself on Ulm and Ingolstadt or on the Main, that is, at worst it would have to change its base of operations. In Italy, on the other hand, it is entirely different. If an Italian army is outflanked via the Tyrolean passes in the west, it need only be driven from its fortresses and all Italy is won. In a war against France and Italy together, Germany always has several armies, at least three, and victory or defeat will depend on the aggregate result of all three campaigns. Italy has space for only one army; any division would be a mistake; and if this one army is wiped out, Italy has been conquered. For a French army in Italy, communication with France is vital under any and all conditions; and so long as this line of communication is not limited to the Col di Tenda and Genoa, its flank is exposed to the Germans in the Tyrol — and all the more so, the further the French advance into Italy. The possibility of a penetration of Bavaria through the Tyrol by the French and Italians must, to be sure, be guarded against once German wars are waged again in Italy and the base of operations is shifted from Austria to Bavaria. But with suitable fortifications in the modern sense, with the fortresses being there for the sake of the armies, not the armies for the sake of the fortresses, the spearhead of this invasion can be broken much more easily than that of a German invasion of Italy. And therefore we need not have any nightmares about this so-called “outflanking” of all South Germany. An enemy that outflanked a German army on the Upper Rhine through Italy and the Tyrol would have to advance to the Baltic before he could gather the fruits of this outflanking. Napoleon’s march from Jena to Stettin would be hard to repeat in the direction from Munich to Danzig.
We have no intention of denying that Germany yields a very strong defensive position if it gives up the line of the Adige and the Mincio. But we completely deny that this position is necessary for the security of the German southern frontier. If we proceed from the assumption, as the advocates of the opposite view seem to do, that a German army will always be defeated, wherever it makes its appearance, then it may be possible to imagine that the Adige, the Mincio and the Po are absolutely necessary for us. But in that case nothing would be of any use, really; neither fortresses nor armies would avail, and the best thing we could do would be to go at once under the Caudine Forks. We have a different opinion of Germany’s military power, and that makes us quite content to see our southern frontier secured by the advantages for an offensive on Lombard soil that that frontier affords.
Here, however, political considerations come into play which we cannot ignore. Since 1820 the national movement in Italy has emerged from every defeat rejuvenated and more powerful. There are few countries whose so-called natural frontiers coincide so closely with the frontiers of nationality, and are at the same time so clearly marked. Once the national movement has become strong in such a country, which moreover has twenty-five million inhabitants, it can no longer rest so long as one of the best, and politically and militarily most important, parts of the country, with almost a quarter of the population, is under anti-national foreign domination. Ever since 1820 Austria has ruled in Italy by force alone, by suppressing repeated insurrections, by the terrorism of the state of siege. In order to maintain its domination in Italy, Austria is compelled to treat its political opponents, that is, every Italian who regards himself as an Italian, worse than common criminals. The manner in which Italian political prisoners have been treated by Austria, and to some extent still are being treated, is something unheard of in civilised countries. The Austrians have taken particular delight in trying to degrade political offenders in Italy by flogging them, either to extort confessions or under the pretext of punishment. Streams of moral indignation have been poured out over the Italian stiletto, over political assassination, but it seems to have been entirely forgotten that it was Austrian floggings that provoked it. The means that Austria has to use to maintain its rule in Italy are the best possible proof that this rule cannot endure; and Germany, which despite Radowitz, Willisen and Hailbronner does not have the same interest in it that Austria has — Germany must ask itself whether that interest is important enough to outweigh the many disadvantages it entails.
Upper Italy is an appendage that, under any conditions, can be of use to Germany only in war, but in peace can only harm it. The armies required to hold it down have kept growing larger since 1820, and since 1848, in a time of deepest peace, exceed 70,000 men, who are always as if in enemy country, expecting an attack at any moment. The war of 1848 and 1849 and the occupation of Italy down to the present time — despite the Piedmontese war indemnity, despite the repeated Lombard indemnities, forced loans and special taxes — have obviously cost Austria much more than Italy has brought in since 1848. And this despite the fact that from 1848 to 1854 the country has systematically been treated as a mere temporary possession to be drained of everything that can be got out of it before leaving. Since the Oriental war Lombardy has been in a less abnormal status for a few years; and how long will that last with today’s complications and with Italian national feeling pulsating so strongly again?
Much more important, however: Does possession of Lombardy outweigh all the hatred, all the fanatical hostility, that it has brought us throughout Italy? Does it outweigh the complicity in the procedures by which Austria — in the name and on behalf of Germany, as we are assured — maintains its rule there? Does it outweigh the continual meddling in the internal affairs of the rest of Italy, without which, according to previous practice and Austrian assurances, Lombardy cannot be held, and which makes the Italians’ hatred of us Germans even fiercer? In all our military discussions above, we have always assumed the worst possible case, an alliance between France and Italy. As long as we hold Lombardy, Italy will certainly be France’s ally in any French war against Germany. As soon as we leave it, that will no longer be true. Is it really in our interest to hold four fortresses and thereby ensure that 25 million Italians will hate us fanatically and ally themselves with the French?
The disingenuous chatter about the political incompetence of the Italians and their calling to be under German or French domination, and the various speculations as to the possibility or impossibility of a unified Italy, sound a bit strange to us on the lips of Germans. How long is it since we, the great German nation, with twice as many people as the Italians, have escaped the “calling” to be either under French or Russian domination? And have today’s realities solved the question of the unity or disunity of Germany? Are we not today in all likelihood on the eve of events that will mature the question of deciding our future in both directions? Have we completely forgotten Napoleon in Erfurt or the Austrian appeal to Russia at the Warsaw conferences or the battle of Bronzell?
We will grant for the moment that Italy must be under either German or French influence. In that case, the decisive factor is, in addition to particular sympathies, the military-geographical position of the two influencing countries. We will assume that the military forces of France and Germany are of equal strength, although obviously Germany could be far stronger. But now we believe we have proved that even in the most favourable case, that is, if the Valais and the Simplon Pass were open to she French, their immediate military influence would extend only to Piedmont and they would have to win a battle before extending that influence to further areas, whereas our influence extends to all of Lombardy and the point of junction between Piedmont and the peninsula and we would first have to be defeated to deprive us of that influence. But where such a geographical basis for domination exists, the influence of Germany has nothing to fear from French competition.
Recently, General Hailbronner said in the Augsburg Allgemeine Zeitung something like the following: Germany is called to other things than to act as a lightning-conductor for the thunderbolts that are collecting over the head of the Bonaparte dynasty. The Italians could say with equal justification: Italy is called to other things than to serve as a buffer for Germany against French blows, and to get flogged by the Austrians in lieu of thanks, But if Germany has an interest in having such a buffer there, it would in any case be served much better by being on good terms with Italy, doing justice to the national movement, and leaving Italian affairs to the Italians so long as they do not interfere in German affairs. Radowitz’s assertion that France would necessarily rule in Upper Italy tomorrow if Austria departed today was just as baseless at the time as it was three months ago; as things stand today, this assertion seems to be wanting to become true, but in a sense opposite to that of Radowitz. If the twenty-five million Italians cannot assert their independence, the two million Danes, the four million Belgians, the three million Dutch can do so even less. Nevertheless, we do not hear the defenders of German domination in Italy bemoan French or Swedish domination in those other countries or demand that it be replaced by German rule.
So far as the question of unity is concerned, our opinion is: Either Italy can be unified, and then it has a policy of its own, which of necessity will be neither German nor French and hence cannot be more harmful to us than to the French; or it remains divided, and then the division will assure us allies in Italy in any war with France.
In any event, this much is sure: Whether we have Lombardy or not, we shall always have considerable influence in Italy so long as we are strong at home. If we leave it to Italy to manage its own affairs, the Italians’ hatred of us will come to an end automatically, and our natural influence on Italy will be much greater in any case and, eventually, rise to actual hegemony. Instead of seeking our strength in the possession of foreign soil and the oppression of a foreign nationality, whose future only prejudice can deny, we should do better to see to it that we are united and strong in our own house.
Footnotes from MECW
184 See Note 164.
185 The Seven Years’ War (1756-63) — a war between the two European coalitions: the Anglo-Prussian and the Franco-Russo-Austrian. The war was caused by the conflict of interests of the feudal absolutist powers (Prussia, Austria, Russia and France) and the colonial rivalry between France and Britain. The war resulted in the expansion of the British colonial empire at the expense of the French possessions and in the growth of Russia’s might; Austria and Prussia retained in the main their pre-war frontiers.
186 See Note 121.
187 In March 1848, under pressure from the masses who had risen throughout Italy against Austrian rule, Pope Pins IX and Ferdinand II of Naples were compelled to send troops to Northern Italy to fight the Austrians. But the participation of these forces in the liberation struggle was brief for soon Pius IX and Ferdinand II openly went over to the enemies of the Italian revolution.
188 On May 15, 1848 the King Ferdinand II of Naples brutally suppressed a popular uprising in Naples and carried out a coup d'état. He recalled to Naples the Neapolitan corps which was in Lombardy to help the revolutionary army,thus easing Radetzky’s position in Northern Italy.
189 On the siege of Danzig by Napoleon’s troops see Note 163.
Engels enumerates the battles between the French and Austrian armies during the siege of Mantua by the French (see also Note 162) in Napoleon’s Italian campaign of 1796-97. In the battle at Medole the Austrians were defeated; in the first battle at Cailiano, on September 4, 1796, the French were victorious but in the second, on November 6-7, they were driven back by the Austrians; at Bassano on September 8, 1796 the French were victorious but the battle on November 6 was undecisive.
190 The reference is to the national liberation struggle against the Napoleon yoke waged by the Tyrolese peasants under Andreas Hofer in 1809. In this insurrectional war the Tyrolese widely used guerrilla methods of fighting in the mountains. In October 1809 the Austrian Government signed peace with Napoleonic France, in consequence of which the Tyrolese peasants, receiving no support from the Austrian regular army, were routed by the French and Italians in 1810.
191 At the battle of Hohenlinden, that took place on December 3, 1800, during tile war between France and the second European coalition, the French army under Moreau defeated the Austrian army of Archduke John.
192 The reference is to the Spanish people’s national liberation struggle against the French invaders between 1808 and 1814, during which the Spaniards made wide use of the guerrilla methods of fighting in the mountains.
193 The Confederation of the Rhine (Rheinbund) — an association of sixteen states in Southern and Western Germany established in July 1806 under the protectorate of Napoleon 1, after the latter had defeated Austria in 1805. 1,ater twenty other states in Western, Central and Northern Germany joined the (Confederation. It fell apart in 1813, after the defeat of Napoleon’s army in Germany.
194 Under the Treaty of Pressburg (Bratislava) concluded on December 26, 1805 between France and Austria, the latter acknowledged France’s seizure of part of Italian territory (Piedmont, Genoa, Parma, Piacenza, etc.) and yielded to the Kingdom of Italy (i.e. to Napoleon I who became King of Italy) the Adriatic coast-the Venetian region, Istria and Dalmatia — keeping only Triest. The Tyrol was given by Napoleon I to his ally Bavaria.
195 The reference is to the swift and practically unhindered march of Napoleon I’s army in Prussia after its victory over the Prussians at Jena and Auerstädt on October 14, 1806; on October 29 the French entered Stettin (Szczecin).
196 In 321 B.C., during the second Samnite war, the Samnites defeated tile Roir)ati legions in the (,audine pass, near the ancient Roman town of Caudine, and compelled them to go under the “forks”, which was the greatest shame for the defeated army. Hence the expression “to go under the Caudine forks”, i.e. to undergo extreme humiliation.
197 In July 1820 the Carbonari revolted against the absolutist regime in the Kingdom of Naples and succeeded in having a moderate liberal constitution introduced. In March 1821 there was a rising in Piedmont headed by liberals who proclaimed a constitution and attempted to make use of the anti-Austrian movement in Northern Italy to unify the country under the aegis of the Savoy dynasty then ruling in Piedmont. Interference by the powers of the Holy Alliance and the occupation of Naples and Piedmont by Austrian troops fed to the restoration of absolutist regimes in both states.
198 By the autumn of 1808, when Napoleon I arrived in Erfurt to negotiate with the Russian Tsar Alexander I, almost the whole of Germany had been subjected to France. The German Princes assembled in Erfurt confirmed their loyalty to Napoleon.
In May and October 1850 Warsaw was the scene of conferences in which representatives of Russia, Austria and Prussia took part. They were convened on the initiative of the Russian Tsar in view of the intensification of the struggle between Austria and Prussia for mastery in Germany. The Russian Tsar acted as arbiter in the dispute between Austria and Prussia and used his influence to make Prussia abandon its attempts to form a political confederation of German states under its own aegis.
The battle of Bronzell was an unimportant skirmish between Prussian and Austrian detachments on November 8, 1850, during an uprising in Kurhesseil. Prussia and Austria contended for the right to interfere in the internal affairs of Kurhessen to suppress the uprising. In this conflict with Prussia, Austria again received diplomatic support from Russia and Prussia had to yield.
What is sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander. If we demand the Po and the Mincio for protection not so much against the Italians as against the French, we should not be surprised if the French likewise claim river lines for protection against us.
France’s centre of gravity does not lie on the Loire at Orléans but in the north, on the Seine, in Paris; and experience has twice proved that if Paris falls, all France falls. Accordingly, the military significance of the configuration of France’s frontiers is determined primarily by the protection they afford Paris.
Straight lines from Paris to Lyons, Basle, Strasbourg and Lauterbourg are about the same length, some fifty-five miles; but any invasion of France from Italy aimed at Paris must advance between the Rhône and Loire in the Lyons area, or further north, if its communications are not to be endangered. Consequently, France’s Alpine frontier, south of Grenoble, is out of the question in connection with an advance on Paris; on this side Paris is fully covered.
At Lauterbourg the French frontier leaves the Rhine at a right angle and runs northwest; from Lauterbourg to Dunkirk it forms almost a straight line. The arc that we drew using Paris-Lyons as radius and passing through Basle and Strasbourg to Lauterbourg is broken at this point; the northern frontier of France is more like the chord to this arc, and the segment of the circle lying outside this chord does not belong to France. The shortest line from Paris to the northern border, Paris-Mons, is only half as long as the Paris-Lyons or Paris-Strasbourg radius.
These simple geometrical relationships explain why Belgium must be the battlefield of every war fought in the north between Germany and France. Belgium outflanks all Eastern France from Verdun and the Upper Marne to the Rhine. That is to say: An army invading from Belgium can reach Paris sooner than a French army stationed between Verdun or Chaumont and the Rhine; the army advancing from Belgium can therefore, if its offensive is successful, always drive a wedge between Paris and the French army of the Moselle or the Rhine; and all the more so since the way from the Belgian border to the points on the Marne that are decisive for the flanking action (Meaux, Chiteau-Thierry, Epernay) is even shorter than the road to Paris itself.
Not only that. Along the entire line from the Meuse to the sea the terrain does not offer an enemy the slightest obstacle on the way to Paris until he comes to the Aisne and the Lower Oise, the courses of which, however, are rather unfavourable to the defence of Paris against attack from the north. They did not present any serious difficulties to the offensive either in 1814 or 1815. But even conceding that they can be integrated into the defensive system of the Seine and its tributaries and were in part so integrated in 1814, that in itself is a confirmation of the fact that the real defence of Northern France. only begins at Compiègne and Soissons and that the first defensive position protecting Paris from the north is only twelve miles from Paris.
It is hard to imagine a weaker state frontier than the French frontier with Belgium. We know how Vauban laboured to make good the lack of natural means of defence by artificial ones; we also know how in 1814 and 1815 the attack went through the triple ring of fortresses almost without noticing it. We know how in 1815 fortress after fortress fell to the attacks of a single Prussian corps after incredibly brief siege and bombardment. Avesnes surrendered on June 22, 1815 after being shelled by ten field howitzers for half a day. Guise surrendered to ten field guns without firing a shot. Maubeuge capitulated on July 13 after 14 days of open approach trenches. Landrecies opened its gates on July 21 after 36 hours of open approach trenches and two hours of shelling, after only 126 bombs and 52 round shot had been fired by the besiegers. Mariembourg required, only pro forma, the honours of an open approach trench and a single twenty-fourpound ball and capitulated on July 28. Philippeville held out for two days of open approach trenches and a few hours of shelling, Rocroi 26 hours of open trenches and two hours of bombardment. Only Mézières held out for 18 days after the trenches were opened. There was a rage to capitulate among the commanders, not much weaker than in Prussia after the battle of Jena; and if it is argued that these places were out of repair in 1815, weakly garrisoned and badly equipped, it should not be forgotten that with some exceptions these fortresses must always be neglected. Vauban’s triple ring has no value today; it is a positive hindrance to France. None of the fortresses west of the Meuse protects any sector of the terrain by itself, and nowhere can four or five be found which form a group within which an army is protected and at the same time retains its ability to manoeuvre. The reason is that none of the fortresses is located on a large river. The Lys, the Scheldt and the Sambre only become important militarily on Belgian soil, and hence the action of these fortresses scattered in the open field does not extend beyond the range of their artillery. Except for a few large supply depots at the border which could serve as bases for an offensive into Belgium, and some points — If strategic importance on the Meuse and Moselle, all the other strong points and forts on France’s northern frontier have no effect beyond a quite useless scattering of forces. Any government that razed them would do France a service; but what would French traditional superstition say to that?
Thus, France’s northern frontier is highly unfavourable for defence; in fact it is indefensible, and Vauban’s ring of fortresses, instead of reinforcing it, is today only a confession of and monument to its weakness.
Like the Central European great-power theoreticians in Italy, the French too look beyond their northern frontier for a river line that could provide them with a good defensive position. What could it be?
The first line at hand would be that of the Lower Scheldt and the Dyle, continued to where the Sambre joins the Meuse. This line would give the better part of Belgium to France. It would comprise within itself almost all the famous Belgian battlefields on which Frenchmen and Germans have fought each other: Oudenarde, Jemappes, Fleurus, Ligny, Waterloo. But it still ,would not make a line of defence; it would leave a great gap between the Scheldt and the Meuse, through which the enemy could pass without hindrance.
The second line would be the Meuse itself. If France held the left bank of the Meuse, its position would not be even as favourable as that of Germany in Italy if we had only the line of the Adige. The Adige line is fairly well rounded out, that of the Meuse very incompletely. If it flowed from Namur to Antwerp, it would make a much better frontier. Instead, it runs northeast from Namur and only after passing Venlo flows to the North Sea in a great arc.
In wartime the entire region north of Namur between the Meuse and the sea would only be covered by its fortresses; for an enemy crossing of the Meuse would always find the French army in the South Brabant plain, and a French offensive on the German left bank of the Rhine would immediately come up against the strong Rhine line, and quite directly against the entrenched camp of Cologne. The receding angle of the Meuse between Sedan and Liège contributes to making the line weaker, even though the angle is filled by the Ardennes. Thus, the line of the Meuse gives the French too much for good defence of the frontier at one point, and too little at the others. Let us continue.
If we put one point of our compasses on Paris on the map and, with Paris-Lyons as our radius, describe an arc from Basle to the North Sea, we find that the course of the Rhine from Basle to its mouth follows this arc remarkably accurately. Within a few miles, all the important points on the Rhine are equally distant from Paris. This is the actual, real reason for the French desire for the Rhine boundary.
If France has the Rhine, then Paris will, with respect to Germany, really be the centre of France. All the radii from Paris to the attackable frontiers, whether on the Rhine or in the Jura, have the same length. At every point the enemy is faced by the convex periphery of the circle and must manoeuvre on detours behind it, while the French armies move on the shorter chord and can forestall the enemy. The equal lengths of the operational and withdrawal lines of the several armies make concentric withdrawal much easier, rendering it possible to combine two of these armies at a given point for a massive blow at the still divided enemy.
Possession of the Rhine frontier would make France’s defensive system, so far as the natural preconditions are concerned, one of those that General Willisen calls “ideal”, one that leaves nothing to be desired. The strong inner defensive system of the Seine basin, which is formed by the Yonne, Aube, Marne, Aisne and Oise rivers flowing like a fan into the Seine, and on which Napoleon gave the Allies such harsh lessons in strategy in 1814, is thus first given uniform protection in every direction; the enemy will reach it at much the same time from any side and can be held at the rivers until the French armies are in a position to attack each isolated enemy column with united forces; whereas without the Rhine line, the defence can only make a stand at the most decisive point, at Compiègne and Soissons, only twelve miles from Paris. There is no other region in Europe in which defence would be supported by railways in rapidly concentrating large forces so much as in the country between the Seine and the Rhine. Railways radiate from Paris as a centre to Boulogne, Bruges, Ghent, Antwerp, Maastricht, Liège and Cologne, to Mannheim and Mainz via Metz, to Strasbourg, to Basle, to Dijon and Lyons. At whatever point the enemy can be present in greatest strength, the entire strength of the reserve army can be thrown against him by railway from Paris. In particular, the inner defence of the Seine basin is reinforced even more by the fact that all the railway radii within it run through the river valleys (the Oise, the Marne, the Seine, the Aube, in part the Yonne). But that is not all. Three concentric arcs of railways run at roughly equal distances from Paris for a quadrant or more in length: the first is the set of lines on the left bank of the Rhine, which now run almost without a break from Neuss to Basle; the second goes from Ostend and Antwerp through Namur, Arion, Thionville, Metz and Nancy to Epinal, and is also as good as complete; lastly the third extends from Calais via Lille, Douai, St. Quentin, Rheims, Châlons-sur-Marne and St. Dizier to Chaumont. Here everywhere the means are available to concentrate masses of troops at any given point in the shortest time, and nature and skill, without any fortifications, would make the defence so strong by reason of manoeuvrability that an invasion of France would come up against a much different resistance than in 1814 and 1815.
The Rhine would have only one defect as a frontier river. As long as one bank is all German and the other all French, the river is not dominated by either of the two countries. A stronger army, of whichever nation, could nowhere be denied crossing; we have seen that a hundred times, and strategy explains why it must be so. In the face of a German offensive with superior forces the French defence could only call a halt further back: the army of the north on the Meuse between Venlo and Namur; the army of the Moselle on the Moselle, perhaps at the confluence with the Saar; the army of the Upper Rhine on the Upper Moselle and the Upper Meuse. In order to dominate the Rhine fully and be able to oppose an enemy crossing energetically, the French would therefore have to have bridgeheads on the right bank. It was therefore very logical on Napoleon’s part that he summarily incorporated Wesel, Kastel and Kehl into the French Empire. As things stand today, his nephew would ask, as a complement to the fine fortresses the Germans have built for him on the left bank of the Rhine, for Ehrenbreitstein, Deutz and if need be the Germersheim bridgehead as well. In that case France’s military-geographical system would be complete for the offensive or the defensive, and any new annexation would only damage it. And how natural the system seems, how readily understandable, was strikingly shown by the Allies in 1813. France had set up the system only 17 years earlier, and yet it was so much. taken for granted that the high Allies, despite their preponderance of strength and the defencelessness of France, shuddered at the thought of touching it, as if it were a sacrilege; and if they had not been carried along by the German nationalist elements of the movement, the Rhine would still be a French river today.
But if we should cede to the French not only the Rhine but also the bridgeheads on the right bank, the French would have fulfilled the duty to themselves that we are fulfilling to ourselves, as Radowitz, Willisen and Hailbronner see it, by holding the Adige and the Mincio with the Peschicra and Mantua bridgeheads. But therewith we would have made Germany as totally helpless vis-à-vis France as Italy is now vis-à-vis Germany. And then Russia, as in 1813, would he the natural “liberator” of Germany (as France or rather the French Government presents itself as the “liberator” of Italy now) and would only ask, in payment for its unselfish exertions, some small districts to round out Poland-say Galicia and Prussia; for Poland too is “outflanked” by them!
What the Adige and the Mincio are for us, the Rhine is for France, and much more vital. If Venetia in the hands of Italy, and possibly of France, flanks Bavaria and the Upper Rhine and uncovers the road to Vienna, so Belgium and Germany, via Belgium, flank all of Eastern France and uncover the road to Paris much more effectively. From the Isonzo to Vienna there are still sixty miles to go, in a terrain where the defence can still make a stand somehow; from the Sambre to Paris is thirty miles, and it is only twelve miles from Paris, at Soissons or Compiègne, that the defence has any sort of a protective river line. If, as Radowitz says, giving up the Mincio and the Adige would put Germany from the outset in a position it would otherwise reach after losing an entire campaign, France — with its present frontiers is situated as though it had possessed the Rhine line and lost two campaigns, one around the Rhine and Meuse fortifications and the other in the field, on the Belgian plain. Even the strong position of the fortresses of Upper Italy is in a way repeated on the Lower Rhine and the Meuse; would it not be possible to make Maastricht, Cologne, Jillich, Wesel and Venlo, with a little assistance and a couple of intermediate points, into an equally strong system completely covering Belgium and North Brabant that would enable a French army not strong enough for the open field to manoeuvre so as to hold a much stronger enemy army at the rivers and finally to use the railways to withdraw to the Belgian plain or to Douai without hindrance?
Throughout this study we have assumed that Belgium was completely open to the Germans for. attacking France and was an ally of Germany. Since we had to argue from the French standpoint, we had the same right to that assumption as our opponents on the Mincio, when they assumed that Italy, even a free and united Italy, would always he hostile to the Germans. In all such matters it is quite correct to look into the worst case first and get prepared for it as a start; and that is how the French must go about it when considering the defensibility and strategic configuration of their northern frontier today. That Belgium is a neutral country according to European treaties, just like Switzerland, is something we may ignore here. In the first place, it remains to be proved by the actual course of history that in a European war this neutrality amounts to anything more than a sheet of paper, and secondly, France cannot by any means count on it so firmly that it could, militarily, treat the entire frontier with Belgium as if the country formed a protective arm of the sea between France and Germany. Ultimately, the weakness of the frontier remains the same whether it is really actively defended or Whether troops are only dispatched there to occupy it against possible attacks.
We have drawn the parallel between the Po and the Rhine pretty closely. Apart from the larger dimensions at the Rhine, which however would only strengthen the French claim, the analogy is as complete as one could desire. It is to be hoped that in the event of war the German soldiers will defend the Rhine on the Po practically with greater success than the Central European great-power politicians do theoretically. They defend the Rhine on the Po, to be sure, but — only for the French.
As for the rest, in case the Germans should at some time be so unfortunate as to lose their “natural frontier”, the Po and the Mincio, we shall carry the analogy still further. The French possessed their “natural frontier” only seventeen years and by now have had to get along without it for almost forty-five years. During this time their best military men have come to realise, theoretically too, that the uselessness of the Vauban ring of fortresses against invasion is based on the laws of modern warfare, and hence that it was neither accident nor the trahison [treason] they like to invoke that allowed the Allies in 1814 and 1815 to march through between the fortresses undisturbed. Hereafter it was even clearer that something had to be done to protect the exposed northern frontier. Obviously, though, there was no prospect of obtaining the Rhine frontier in the near future. What was to be done?
The French managed in a way that honours a great people: They fortified Paris; for the first time in modern history, they performed the experiment of converting their capital into an entrenched camp on a colossal scale. The military experts of the old school shook their heads over this unwise undertaking. Money thrown away for nothing but French swagger! Nothing behind it, pure humbug; who ever heard of a fortress nine miles in circumference and with a million inhabitants! How is it to be defended, unless half the army is thrown into it as garrison? How are all those people to get their provisions? Madness, French vanity, godless frivolity, a repetition of the Tower of Babel! That is how the military pedants judged the new undertaking, the same pedants who study siege warfare from a Vauban hexagon and whose passive method of defence knows no greater offensive counterblow than the sortie of a column of infantry from the covered way to the foot of the glacis! But the French kept on calmly building and have had the satisfaction that, even though Paris has not yet undergone the test of fire, the unpedantic military men of all Europe agree with them, that Wellington drew up plans for the fortification of London, that, if we are not mistaken, construction of detached forts around Vienna has already begun and the fortification of Berlin is at least under discussion. They themselves must have learned from the example of Sevastopol how tremendously strong a colossal’ entrenched camp is if it is occupied by an entire army and the defence is conducted offensively on a large scale. And Sevastopol had only a rampart, no detached forts, only field works, no walled escarpments!
Ever since Paris has been fortified, France can do without the Rhine frontier. Like Germany in Italy, it will have to conduct its defence on the northern border offensively at first. The arrangement of the railway network shows that this has been understood. If this offensive is repulsed, the army makes its stand, a definitive one, on the Oise and the Aisne; for furtlier advance 1)y the enemy would no longer serve any purpose, since the army of invasion from Belgium would be too weak by itself to act against Paris. Behind the Aisne, in solid communication with Paris, at worst behind the Marne, with its left wing supported on Paris, in an offensive flanking position, the French northern army could await the arrival of the other armies. The enemy would have no alternative but to move on Château-Thierry and operate against the communications of the French Moselle and Rhine armies. But the action would be far from having the decisive importance it would have had before the Paris was fortified. At the worst, the withdrawal of the other French armies behind the Loire cannot be cut off; concentrated there, they will still be strong enough to be dangerous to an invasion army weakened and split by the investment of Paris, or to break through to Paris. In a word: The fortification of Paris has blunted the point of a flanking movement through Belgium; it is no longer decisive; and it is easy to calculate the disadvantages it entails and the means to be employed against it.
We should do well to follow the example of the French. Instead of letting ourselves be deafened by the outcry about the indispensability of a possession outside Germany, which becomes more and more untenable for Germany every day, we should do better to prepare ourselves for the inevitable moment when we give up Italy. The earlier we set up the fortifications that will then be needed, the better. To say more about where and how they are to be set up than the ideas previously suggested, is not our function. Only let us not put up illusory strong points and, relying on them, neglect the only fortifications that can enable a retreating army to make a stand: entrenched camps and groups of fortresses on rivers.
Footnotes from MECW
199 Paris was twice captured by the forces of the anti-Napoleonic coalition. on March 30-31, 1814 and July 6-8, 1815.
200 The battle of Oudenarde took place on July 11, 1708, during the War of the Spanish Succession. The French were defeated by the allied Arigio-Austrian forces.
At the battle of Jemappes on November 6, 1792 the French revolutionary, army won a big victory over the Austrians.
At the battle of Fleurus on June 26, 1794 the French defeated the Austrians. This victory made it possible for the French to enter Belgium and occupy it.
At the battle of Ligny on June 16, 1815 the Prussians were routed by the French. This was the last battle won by Napoleon I.
At the battle of Waterloo on June 18, 1815 Napoleon’s army was defeated by the allied forces of Britain, Holland and Prussia.
201 At the battles of Montmirail, Château-Thierry, Reims and others, in February and March 1814 Napoleon defeated superior forces of the sixth anti-French coalition.
By now we have seen where the theory of natural frontiers advanced by the Central European great-power politicians leads us. France has the same right to the Rhine that Germany has to the Po. If France should not annex nine million Walloons, Netherlanders and Germans in order to obtain a good military position, then neither have we the right to subject six million Italians for the sake of a military position. And this natural frontier, the Po, is after all only a military position and that is the only reason, we are told, why Germany should maintain it.
The theory of natural frontiers puts an end to the Schleswig-Holstein question with a single slogan: Danmark til Eideren! [Denmark up to the Eider!] After all, what are the Danes asking but their Po and their Mincio, whose name is Eider, their Mantua, Friedrichstadt by name?
By the same right that Germany claims the Po, the theory of natural frontiers requires for Russia Galicia and Bukovina and a rounding out to the Baltic Sea, which includes at least the entire Prussian right bank of the Vistula. In a few years it could with equal right demand that the Oder be the natural frontier of Russian Poland.
The theory of natural frontiers, applied to Portugal, must extend that country to the Pyrenees and include all of Spain in Portugal.
The natural frontier of Reuss-Greiz-Schleiz-Lobenstein will likewise have to be extended at least to the border of the German Confederation and beyond that to the Po and perhaps to the Vistula, if the laws of eternal righteousness are to be carried out, and Reuss-Greiz-Schleiz-Lobenstein has as much claim to its rights as Austria has.
If the theory of natural frontiers, that is, frontiers based exclusively on military considerations, is correct, what shall we call the German diplomats who at the Congress of Vienna brought us to the brink of a war of Germans against Germans, lost us the Meuse line, exposed Germany’s eastern frontier and left it to foreigners to set the borders of Germany and divide it? Truly, no country has so much reason to complain of the Congress of Vienna as Germany has; but if we apply the rule of natural frontiers, what does the reputation of the German statesmen of that time look like? And it is precisely the same people who defend the theory of natural frontiers on the Po that live on the legacy of the diplomats of 1815 and continue the tradition of the Congress of Vienna.
Would you like an instance?
When Belgium broke away from Holland in 1830,’ the same people who are now making the Mincio a question of life and death raised their voices. They raised a hue and cry over the dismemberment of the strong Dutch border power that was to have been a bulwark against France and in fact-what superstition remains after all the experiences of twenty years!-had to undertake to erect a thin band of fortresses to surround Vauban’s ring of fortresses, which at least is an imposing example of its kind. As if the great powers feared that one fine day Arras and Lille and Douai and Valenciennes would march into Belgium, with all their bastions, demilunes and lunettes, and make themselves at home there! At that time the spokesmen for the same narrowminded trend we are opposing moaned that Germany was in danger, since Belgium was nothing more than a helpless appendage of France, an inevitable enemy of Germany, and that the valuable fortresses built with German money (i.e., money taken from the French) to be a protection against the French are now open to the French against us. The French border had been advanced to the Meuse and the Scheldt, and beyond; how long would it take until it was pushed forward to the Rhine? Most of us still remember these lamentations very clearly. And what happened? Since 1848, and particularly since the Bonapartist restoration, Belgium has turned more and more resolutely away from France and towards Germany. By now it might even count as a foreign member of the German Confederation. And what did the Belgians do as soon as they got into a kind of opposition to France? They razed all the fortresses which the wisdom of the Congress of Vienna had imposed on the country, as being completely useless against France, and erected atound Antwerp an entrenched camp large enough to take in the entire army and enable it, in the event of a French invasion, to wait there for English or German help. And they were right.
The same wise policy that in 1830 wanted to keep Catholic, mainly French-speaking Belgium chained by force to Protestant, Dutch-speaking Holland, that same wise policy has sought since 1848 to keep Italy by force under Austrian oppression and make us Germans responsible for Austria’s actions in Italy. And all this only through fear of the French. All the patriotism of these gentlemen seems to consist in falling into a state of feverish agitation as soon as France is mentioned. They seem never to have recovered from the blows the old Napoleon dealt them fifty and sixty years ago. We are certainly not among those who underestimate the military power of France. We know very well, for example, that so far as light infantry is concerned and experience and skill in waging a small war, and certain aspects of artillery, no army in Germany can compare with the French. But when people start throwing phrases around about Germany’s twelve hundred thousand soldiers, as though those soldiers were standing there all ready and prepared like chessmen with which Doctor Kolb can play a game with France over Alsace and Lorraine  — and when these same people then tremble in their boots at anything that happens, as if it went without saying that those twelve hundred thousand men could not help being cut to pieces by half the number of Frenchmen, unless the said twelve hundred thousand slunk into impregnable positions — then it is really high time to lose patience. It is high time to remember, as against this policy of passive defence, that even if Germany may by and large depend on a defence with offensive counterblows, still no defence is more effective than an active, offensively conducted one. It is time to remember that we have often enough shown ourselves better in attack than the French and other nations.
“Moreover, it is the inherent nature of our soldiers to attack; and that is quite right,”
said Frederick the Great of his infantry; Rossbach, Zorndorf and Hohenfriedberg can testify as to how his cavalry could attack. How accustomed the German infantry of 1813 and 1814 was to being aggressive can be best seen from Blücher’s well-known instructions for the beginning of the 1815 campaign:
“Since experience has shown that the French army cannot stand up to the bayonet attacks of our massed battalions, the rule is always to make such attacks when the object is to overrun the enemy or take a position.”
Our finest battles have been offensive battles, and if there is one definite quality of the French soldier that the German soldier is lacking, it is demonstrably the art of holding up defensively in villages and houses; in the attack the German compares well with the French soldier, and has shown that often enough.
As for the policy itself, apart from the motives underlying it, it consists of the following: First, under the pretext of defending alleged or absurdly exaggerated German interest, to make us hated by all the smaller countries on our borders, and then to be indignant that they tend more to attach themselves to France. It took five years of Bonapartist restoration to divorce Belgium from the French alliance into which the policy of 1815, continued in 1830, the policy of the Holy Alliance,  had forced it; and in Italy we have created a position for the French that certainly outweighs the line of the Mincio. And yet the French policy towards Italy has always been narrow, selfish, exploitative, so that with any kind of honourable treatment on our part the Italians would unquestionably have been more on our side than on France’s. It is well known how from 1796 to 1814 Napoleon and his governors and generals drained them of money, produce, art treasures and men. In 1814 the Austrians came as “liberators” and were greeted as liberators. (just how they freed Italy is shown by the hatred that every Italian has for the Tedeschi today.) So much for the actual practice of French policy in Italy; as for the theory, we need only say that it has a single basic principle: France can never tolerate a unified and independent Italy. This principle has held good down to Louis Napoleon, and to make sure there is no misunderstanding, La Guéronnière has to proclaim it now once again as an eternal verity. And in the face of such a narrow-minded philistine policy on the part of France, a policy that claims the right to intervene at will in the internal affairs of Italy, in the face of such a policy do we Germans need to fear that an Italy no longer under direct German domination will always be an obedient servant of France against us? It is really laughable. It is the old hue and cry of 1830 over Belgium. For all that, Belgium came over to us, came unasked, and Italy would have to come to us in the same way.
It must also be kept definitely in mind that the question of the possession of Lombardy is a question between Italy and Germany, but not between Louis Napoleon and Austria. Vis-à-vis a third party like Louis Napoleon, a third party intervening in his own interest, which in other respects is anti-German, what it comes to is simply holding a province that will only be given up under compulsion, a military position that will only be abandoned if it can no longer be held. In this case the political question retreats immediately behind the military question; if we are attacked, we defend ourselves.
If Louis Napoleon wants to appear as Paladin of Italian independence, he can get along without a war against Austria. Charité bien ordonnée commence chez soi-même. The “department” of Corsica is an Italian island, Italian despite the fact that it is the fatherland of Bonapartism. If Louis Napoleon were first to cede Corsica to his uncle Victor Emmanuel, we might then be ready to talk. Until he has done that, he would be well advised to keep his enthusiasm for Italy to himself.
There is no power of any importance in Europe that has not incorporated parts of other nations into its territory. France has Flemish, German and Italian provinces. England, the only country that has really natural frontiers, has gone out beyond them in every direction, has made conquests in every country and is now in conflict with one of its dependencies, the Ionian Islands, just after putting down a colossal rebellion in India with authentically Austrian methods. Germany has half-Slavic provinces and Slavic, Magyar, Wallachian and Italian annexes. And over how many languages is the White Tsar in Petersburg master!
Nobody will venture to say that the map of Europe is definitively established. But any changes, if they are to endure, must increasingly tend by and large to give the big and viable European nations their real natural frontiers to be determined by language and fellow-feeling, while at the same time the remnants of peoples that can still be found here and there and that are no longer capable of national existence, remain incorporated into the larger nations and either merge into them or are conserved as merely ethnographic relics with no political significance. Military considerations can apply only secondarily.
But if the map of Europe is to be revised, we Germans have the right to demand that it be done thoroughly and impartially, and that Germany should not be asked, as has been the custom, to make all the sacrifices alone, while all the other nations benefit without giving up anything whatever. We can do without a good deal that lies at our borders and involves us in matters in which we should do better not to meddle directly. But the same applies to others, in exactly the same way; let them show us the example of unselfishness, or be silent. But the sum and substance of this entire study is that we Germans would make a very good deal if we could trade the Po, the Mincio, the Adige and all the Italian rubbish for unity, which would protect us from a repetition of Warsaw and Bronzell, and which alone can make us strong internally and externally. If we have this unity, the defensive can come to an end. We shall no longer need any Mincio; “our inherent nature” will once more be “to attack”; and there are still some sore points where this will be necessary enough.
Footnotes from MECW
202 Denmark up to the Eider! — the slogan advanced by the members of the Danish liberal party of the 1840s to 1860s (Eider Danes) who supported the union of Schleswig (up to the River Eider), populated mainly by Germans, with Denmark.
203 Under this name Engels ironically unites here two dwarf German states, Reuss-Greiz and Reuss-Gera-Schiciz-Lobenstein-Ebersdorf, belonging to the elder and younger branches of the Reuss dynasty.
204 By decision of the Vienna Congress of 1815 Belgium and Holland were incorporated into the united Kingdom of the Netherlands, Belgium being actually under the control of Holland. Belgium became an independent constitutional monarchy as a result of the 1830 revolution.
205 The Augsburg Allgemeine Zeitung, whose editor-in-chief was Dr. Gustav Koll), was at the time in favour of Germany seizing Alsace and Lorraine.
206 At the battle of Rossbath on November 5, 1757 during the Seven Years’ War (1756-63), Prussian King Frederick II’s army defeated the Franco-Austrian forces.
On August 25, 1758, at Zorndorf, Frederick II gave battle to the Russian army, as a result of which both armies suffered serious losses without achievinganything.
At the battle of Hohenfriedeberg on June 4, 1745, during the War ol tile Austrian Succession (1740-48), the Prussian army commanded by Frederick I defeated the Austro-Saxon forces.
Prussian cavalry played an important role in all these battles.
207 The Holy Alliance — an association of European monarchs founded in September 1815 on the initiative of the Russian Tsar Alexander I and the Austrian Chancellor Metternich to suppress revolutionary movements and preserve feudal monarchies in the European countries.
208 On the national liberation movement in the Ionian islands, see Note 103.
In 1857-59 India was the scene of a big popular uprising against the British. It flared up in the spring of 1857 among the Sepoy units of the Bengal army and spread to large areas in Northern and Central India. Its main strength was in the peasants and the poor urban artisans. Directed by local feudal lords it was put down owing to the country’s disunity, religious and caste differences and also because of the military and technical superiority of the colonisers.
209 Engels’ views on the historical destiny of small nations were inaccurate: he held that as a rule small nations were not capable of independent national existence and were bound to be absorbed, in the course of centralisation, by larger, more viable nations. Correctly noting the tendency towards centralisation and the creation of large states, which is inherent in capitalism, Engels did not give due consideration to another tendency, namely, the struggle of small nations against national oppression, for their independence and the establishment of their own states. History has shown that many small nations proved capable of independent national development and played a considerable role in the progress of humanity.