Engines for empire

The Victorian army and its use of railways

The railway represented one of pivotal technological developments of the nineteenth century. This book reviews the way in which the British army exploited the potential of railways from the 'dawn of the railway age' to the outbreak of the First World War. It explores the use of railways when the army was acting in aid of the civil power, as a factor in the planning for home defence, and as an increasingly efficient means of supporting the army on active service. If the early Victorian army welcomed railways as an ancillary means of responding to domestic emergencies, it encountered similar challenges in fulfilling its role in home defence. Over nearly thirty years from the Crimean War to the intervention in Egypt, the Victorian army both experimented with railways and observed the employment of railways. The Sudan Military Railway was regarded as 'astounding in conception'. The book reveals that the army monitored the use of railways in foreign wars, experimented in the use of railways within rear areas, designed and built railways for strategic defence in India, and later exploited railways to transform the prospects of military success in the Sudan and South Africa. The Victorian army demonstrated a capacity to integrate the railway into its logistic planning, to grasp the imperative of operational management, and to envisage it as a key element in mobilisation and strategic planning.

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‘…a recent addition to Manchester University Press's well-established, ever imaginative, and field-defining Studies in Imperialism series.'
Douglas M. Peers, University of Waterloo
Victorian Studies, Vol. 59, No. 4

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