85th Annual Meeting of the Society for Military History
Landscapes of War and Peace
April 5 - 8, 2018, Louisville, Kentucky
Dr. James Campbell will assess the largely Indian-manned British expedition as part of the coalition that fought the Boxer rebellion in 1900. He will explored how innovative, robust logistical planning and infrastructure to support and maintain "expeditionary operations" much better than many of their contemporaries.
Bill Dean will explore the overlooked technological/logistical innovations that enabled the expansion of French empire in the high age of colonization. He will attempt to counter the idea
that it was superior military hardware that made the difference in most cases; rather it was improved medicine and food that gave the French colonial army its heightened room for action.
Finally, Will Waddell will examine the intersection of economics, logistics and strategy in the relatively forgotten French campaign in the far south of Indochina in the first half of the First Indochina War. He will contend that it was chiefly logistical arrangements and economic warfare that made the difference in that contest.
More than a generation ago, Daniel Headrick in his famous Tools of Empire argued that modern rifles and machine guns were essential to the victory of colonial powers in Africa and Asia. This work over-emphasizes the British experience and was based mostly on secondary sources. My work based on documents from the French War Archives at the Chateau de Vincennes (in Paris) makes a different argument. I contend that it was logistical innovations like tinned meat in West Africa that played a key role in the conquest of this region not machine guns or the latest weapon technology. In fact, French machine guns were highly unreliable and heavy artillery was impracticable.
In medicine, the French were fairly effective in West Africa and Indo-china but because of the absence of training and standard operating procedures, the use of prophylactic drugs failed in Madagascar. Here nearly 5,000 men died of disease and the rear area was described as a vast cemetery. It was only in Morocco 1907-1914 that new weapons technology was highly effective and prepared the French Army for the Great War. This paper will be based on French archival sources, published primary sources (eg. memoirs of key leaders) and secondary sources.
The international response to this crisis involved the first twentieth century manifestation of the now-common practice of "coalition" expeditionary military operations, with troops from most major European nations along with Japanese and American contingents attacking from Dagu, up the Peiho River to relieve beleaguered foreigners first at Tianjin, and finally in Beijing. The battlefield actions of this multi-national force against the Boxer insurgents have been well-documented. What has not been carefully examined is the nature and composition of the various national contingents, their interactions, and most importantly for this panel, the deployment and logistical arrangements they used to make the expedition possible.
The British force in China was actually not very "British" at all. As a result of this crisis of military manpower, British authorities made the decision to have their contribution to the force in China come entirely from the Indian Army. The Indian Army had extensive experience in mobilizing overseas expeditions, and in logistically supporting itself in austere combat conditions. This broad level of experience and expertise led to a force in China that was not only well-supported and maintained, but which was in a position to assist allied forces when their own support was inadequate or failed. An examination of the planning and arrangements for deploying and sustaining Britain's first twentieth century overseas military expedition sheds light on the ways in which the imperial Indian military experience was central to broader British operational success in fighting across the globe, from the late 19th century through the post-World War Two period of decolonization.