The New York Times, on Smokeless Powder

I ran across this brief article from the September 17, 1896 edition of the New York Times. They seem to have gotten things pretty well figured out…


Change of Tactics Made Necessary to the Army – Effect on Artillery and Cavalry

From The Baltimore Sun

The adoption of the new powder by the army will necessitate alterations in the tactics applying to operations on the field of battle. The infantryman who fires with this powder at once obtains the advantage of having a clear field of fire. But, on the other hand, if he is unprovided with cover, either natural or artificial, there will be no protecting cloud of smoke to conceal him, and should the enemy have found cover, he, on his side, is more vulnerable than when the smoke showed his position. The supposition that troops can be exposed to fire without knowing whence it comes is more or less fanciful in the opinion of Gen. Miles and the best military tacticians in Washington.

It is admitted that with the suppression of smoke the advance against a position will no doubt be somewhat more difficult than formerly, but the danger will not be greater until within 500 or 600 yards of the enemy. Beyond this point, when distances can be judged with less difficulty, when the errors of aiming are small, and where the trajectory of the bullets of the new army gun [ed: the .30-40 Krag] will be altogether dangerous it will make little difference, the experts say, whether smokeless or non-smokeless powder is used. With high-powered guns, capable of terrific velocities and greater accuracy than the old wartime pieces, it will be of the greatest benefit to soldiers to have a clear field, without a cloud of smoke, so that long-distance aiming can be done and a good target made of the enemy. The absence of smoke, the Army says, will be of material advantage to the defender, who can occupy positions which give cover, while those attacking must very often, if not always, advance unconcealed. In some cases formations of the ground might enable them to approach under cover, but these are admitted to be exceptional, and sooner or later he must disclose himself.

Whatever result smokeless powder may have when infantry is fighting it is quite clear to the army that it will exercise considerable influence on the other two arms, the artillery and cavalry. The advantages which it will confer on the artillery are set forth by ordnance officers as follows: it leaves a clear field of fire, and will render it possible, therefore, when firing upon artillery to distinguish the guns from the intervals and to keep the fire of one’s own guns directed on the former. The observation of the fire will also be simplified, while with the new powder the effect of projectiles which burst in the rear of the smoke caused by the enemy’s guns could not be seen. The effect of long-range fire will also be as easily observed as at short. When the artillery is employed in an open country, it will be more difficult to conceal it, while the smoke formerly screened it from view. The movements of batteries, it is claimed, will be more difficult, since no advantage can be taken of the smoke to conceal them.

It is possibly an exaggeration to say, as many officers have who look upon the introduction of smokeless powder as necessitating a direct change in the present tactics, that the cavalry will be rendered valueless on the battlefield. This same opinion was expressed, the army men say, when firearms were introduced, and still the cavalry remains an important factor in all military organizations. Some of the closest students of the art of war contend that the cavalry will not appear on the battlefield in the next great wars,but will be reserved solely to screen the infantry and for reconnoitering purposes. Others contend that as men on horses are higher above the ground than infantrymen, they have better opportunities of seeing what is before them regardless of smoke clouds and that when the time comes for the cavalry to act it makes no difference whether the enemy is concealed by waves of black smoke or standing in plain view.