Roads of War: Engineers as a Force Multiplier for Troop Movement and Logistics

From the USAES Historian’s Office
by Jason E. Patrick

1280px-2006_0814Histria_Road_Market20060416Throughout history, an army’s ability to wage war has rested squarely on the ground commander’s ability to place soldiers and equipment in the areas that will have the most impact on the battle space. Also critical to waging a successful campaign is the ability to adequately provide the logistical capability for those commanders to properly supply their forces. From the Greek Hoplites to the Mongol Hordes to the maneuver battalions of today’s modern modular Army the ability to move and the ability to put forces into action quickly and effectively can determine the outcome of an entire war; It is roads, just as much as air lift and air mobility, that make that difference. One of the earliest examples, still very tangible and in some instances still travelable, are the Roman roads. The Romans created a massive network of roads that radiated and stretched out to all points in the empire and consisted of both improved and unimproved roadways. Over 50,000 miles of this network was paved and in several areas of the world the roads are still passable. The Romans made them as straight and flat as possible. Working on the concept that the shortest distance between two points is a straight line and that the straighter the road is the more quickly materiel, personnel and equipment could be moved to a location. They were constructed by first digging two trenches that were 8 to ten feet apart and then between these two ditches a wide flat bottomed trench, called an Agger, was dug. This trench would be lined with a series of stone fillers beginning with stones that were 6 to 8 inches in size and then on top of that would be fist sized stones with coarse sand or sometimes volcanic cement to fill in the gaps between the stones. This would then be covered by what was called Pave Stones. These were large flat stones that were cut to fit tightly together. These construction methods lead to a very durable road surface that could withstand the test of time as well as large volumes of military traffic. There are a Number of sections of the old Roman roads that still exist today including 10 miles of the Appian Way leading out of Rome.

While today the method of constructing roads has changed some based on newer technology and capabilities, the major principles are the same, and so is their purpose: Moving equipment and personnel over long distances in the most efficient method possible. We saw it in the mid-1930s up through the 40’s with the development and construction of the Autobahn in Nazi Germany and then here in the United States during the 1950’s with the start of the Eisenhower Interstate System and other similar highway projects around the globe. In Iraq and Afghanistan the need to maintain and improve local roadways was critical to our ability to project combat power to areas where it is needed. It also allowed us to improve the ability of the local populations to travel and move goods and supplies safely and effectively as well which helped to support the local economy and encourage growth and development.

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