The Historical Journal


VIII. The Importance of Energy in the First and Second World Wars

W. G. Jensena1

a1 National Coal Board

Modern technical and scientific development has altered war from a contest between men into a combat between machines. Even the development of firearms did not bring about a change of this magnitude, since firearms went into combat propelled by animal energy (of man and beast). This change-over occurred first at sea when steam engines started to propel ships of war. In days of sail at sea a great deal depended on the purely human factor of seamanship. With the introduction of ships moved by machinery all came depend on the quality and power of this machinery. Drake, De Ruyter Nelson, with all their skill or experience, could have done nothing against steam man-of-war. On land this development took longer. Throughout nineteenth century railways carried men and beasts to the scene of combat and brought them their supplies, but on the battlefield men and horses carried the weapons of war into battle. The invention of the petroleum-driven internal combustion engine changed all that. For the first time man commanded the power necessary to propel engines freely over land and in the air, an invention which had already occupied the imagination of Leonardo da Vinci and appeared in the prophetic writings of Jules Verne and H. G. Wells.