Front Page Titles (by Subject) BOOK VIII: PLAN OF WAR - On War, vol. 3
The Online Library of Liberty
A project of Liberty Fund, Inc.
Search this Title:
Also in the Library:
BOOK VIII: PLAN OF WAR - Carl von Clausewitz, On War, vol. 3 
On War, trans. Col. J.J. Graham. New and Revised edition with Introduction and Notes by Col. F.N. Maude, in Three Volumes (London: Kegan Paul, Trench, Trubner & C., 1918). Vol. 3.
Part of: On War
About Liberty Fund:
Liberty Fund, Inc. is a private, educational foundation established to encourage the study of the ideal of a society of free and responsible individuals.
The text is in the public domain.
Fair use statement:
This material is put online to further the educational goals of Liberty Fund, Inc. Unless otherwise stated in the Copyright Information section above, this material may be used freely for educational and academic purposes. It may not be used in any way for profit.
PLAN OF WAR
In the chapter on the essence and object of War, we sketched, in a certain measure, its general conception, and pointed out its relations to surrounding circumstances, in order to commence with a sound fundamental idea. We there cast a glance at the manifold difficulties which the mind encounters in the consideration of this subject, whilst we postponed the closer examination of them, and stopped at the conclusion, that the overthrow of the enemy, consequently the destruction of his combatant force, is the chief object of the whole of the action of War. This put us in a position to show in the following chapter, that the means which the act of War employs is the combat alone. In this manner we think we have obtained at the outset a correct point of view.
Having now gone through singly all the principal relations and forms which appear in military action, but are extraneous to, or outside of, the combat, in order that we might fix more distinctly their value, partly through the nature of the thing, partly from the lessons of experience which military history affords, purify them from, and root out, those vague ambiguous ideas which are generally mixed up with them, and also to put prominently forward the real object of the act of War, the destruction of the enemy’s combatant force as the primary object universally belonging to it; we now return to War as a whole, as we propose to speak of the Plan of War, and of campaigns; and that obliges us to revert to the ideas in our first book.
In these chapters, which are to deal with the whole question, is contained Strategy, properly speaking, in its most comprehensive and important features. We enter this innermost part of its domain, where all other threads meet, not without a degree of diffidence, which, indeed, is amply justified.
If, on the one hand, we see how extremely simple the operations of War appear; if we hear and read how the greatest Generals speak of it, just in the plainest and briefest manner, how the government and management of this ponderous machine, with its hundred thousand limbs, is made no more of in their lips than if they were only speaking of their own persons, so that the whole tremendous act of War is individualised into a kind of duel; if we find the motives also of their action brought into connection sometimes with a few simple ideas, sometimes with some excitement of feeling; if we see the easy, sure, we might almost say light manner, in which they treat the subject—and now see, on the other hand, the immense number of circumstances which present themselves for the consideration of the mind; the long, often indefinite distances to which the threads of the subject run out and the number of combinations which lie before us; if we reflect that it is the duty of theory to embrace all this systematically, that is with clearness and fulness, and always to refer the action to the necessity of a sufficient cause, then comes upon us an overpowering dread of being dragged down to a pedantic dogmatism, to crawl about in the lower regions of heavy abstruse conceptions, where we shall never meet any great captain, with his natural coup d’œil. If the result of an attempt at theory is to be of this kind, it would have been as well, or rather, it would have been better, not to have made the attempt; it could only bring down on theory the comtempt of genius, and the attempt itself would soon be forgetten. And on the other hand, this facile coup d’œil of the General, this simple art of forming notions, this personification of the whole action of War, is so entirely and completely the soul of the right method of conducting War, that in no other but this broad way is it possible to conceive that freedom of the mind which is indispensable if it is to dominate events, not to be overpowered by them.
With some fear we proceed again; we can only do so by pursuing the way which we have prescribed for ourselves from the first. Theory ought to throw a clear light on the mass of objects, that the mind may the easier find its bearings; theory ought to pull up the weeds which error has sown broadcast; it should show the relations of things to each other, separate the important from the trifling. Where ideas resolve themselves spontaneously into such a core of Truth as is called Principle, when they of themselves keep such a line as forms a rule, Theory should indicate the same.
Whatever the mind seizes, the rays of light which are awakened in it by this exploration amongst the fundamental notions of things, that is the assistance which Theory affords the mind. Theory can give no formulas with which to solve problems; it cannot confine the mind’s course to the narrow line of necessity by Principle set up on both sides. It lets the mind take a look at the mass of objects and their relations, and then allows it to go free to the higher regions of action, there to act according to the measure of its natural forces, with the energy of the whole of those forces combined, and to grasp the True and the Right, as one single clear idea, which, shooting forth from under the united pressure of all these forces, would seem to be rather a product of feeling than of reflection.
ABSOLUTE AND REAL WAR
The Plan of the War comprehends the whole Military Act; through it that Act becomes a whole, which must have one final determinate object, in which all particular objects must become absorbed. No War is commenced, or, at least, no War should be commenced, if people acted wisely, without first seeking a reply to the question, What is to be attained by and in the same? The first is the final object; the other is the intermediate aim. By this chief consideration the whole course of the War is prescribed, the extent of the means and the measure of energy are determined; its influence manifests itself down to the smallest organ of action.
We said in the first chapter, that the overthrow of the enemy is the natural end of the act of War; and that if we would keep within the strictly philosophical limits of the idea, there can be no other in reality.
As this idea must apply to both the belligerent parties, it must follow, that there can be no suspension in the Military Act, and peace cannot take place until one or other of the parties concerned is overthrown.
In the chapter on the suspension of the Belligerent Act, we have shown how the simple principle of hostility applied to its embodiment, man, and all circumstances out of which it makes a War, is subject to checks and modifications from causes which are inherent in the apparatus of War.
But this modification is not nearly sufficient to carry us from the original conception of War to the concrete form in which it almost everywhere appears. Most Wars appear only as an angry feeling on both sides, under the influence of which, each side takes up arms to protect himself, and to put his adversary in fear, and—when opportunity offers, to strike a blow. They are, therefore, not like mutually destructive elements brought into collison, but like tensions of two elements still apart which discharge themselves in small partial shocks.
But what is now the non-conducting medium which hinders the complete discharge? Why is the philosophical conception not satisfied? That medium consists in the number of interests, forces, and circumstances of various kinds, in the existence of the State, which are affected by the War, and through the infinite ramifications of which the logical consequence cannot be carried out as it would on the simple threads of a few conclusions; in this labyrinth it sticks fast, and man, who in great things as well as in small, usually acts more on the impulse of ideas and feelings, than according to strictly logical conclusions, is hardly conscious of his confusion, unsteadiness of purpose, and inconsistency.
But if the intelligence by which the War is decreed could even go over all these things relating to the War, without for a moment losing sight of its aim, still all the other intelligences in the State which are concerned may not be able to do the same; thus an opposition arises, and with that comes the necessity for a force capable of overcoming the inertia of the whole mass—a force which is seldom forthcoming to the full.
This inconsistency takes place on one or other of the two sides, or it may be on both sides, and becomes the cause of the War being something quite different to what it should be, according to the conception of it—a half-and-half production, a thing without a perfect inner cohesion.
This is how we find it almost everywhere, and we might doubt whether our notion of its absolute character or nature was founded in reality, if we had not seen real warfare make its appearance in this absolute completeness just in our own times. After a short introduction performed by the French Revolution, the impetuous Buonaparte quickly brought it to this point. Under him it was carried on without slackening for a moment until the enemy was prostrated, and the counter stroke followed almost with as little remission. Is it not natural and necessary that this phenomenon should lead us back to the original conception of War with all its rigorous deductions?
Shall we now rest satisfied with this idea, and judge of all Wars according to it, however much they may differ from it—deduce from it all the requirements of theory?
We must decide upon this point, for we can say nothing trustworthy on the Plan of War until we have made up our minds whether War should only be of this kind, or whether it may be of another kind.
If we give an affirmative to the first, then our Theory will be, in all respects, nearer to the necessary, it will be a clearer and more settled thing. But what should we say then of all Wars since those of Alexander up to the time of Buonaparte, if we except some campaigns of the Romans? We should have to reject them in a lump, and yet we cannot, perhaps, do so without being ashamed of our presumption. But an additional evil is, that we must say to ourselves, that in the next ten years there may perhaps be a War of that same kind again, in spite of our Theory; and that this Theory, with a rigorous logic, is still quite powerless against the force of circumstances. We must, therefore, decide to construe War as it is to be, and not from pure conception, but by allowing room for everything of a foreign nature which mixes up with it and fastens itself upon it—all the natural inertia and friction of its parts, the whole of the inconsistency, the vagueness and hesitation (or timidity) of the human mind: we shall have to grasp the idea that War, and the form which we give it, proceeds from ideas, feelings, and circumstances which dominate for the moment; indeed, if we would be perfectly candid we must admit that this has even been the case where it has taken its absolute character, that is, under Buonaparte.
If we must do so, if we must grant that War originates and takes its form not from a final adjustment of the innumerable relations with which it is connected, but from some amongst them which happen to predominate, then it follows, as a matter of course, that it rests upon a play of possibilities, probabilities, good fortune and bad, in which rigorous logical deduction often gets lost, and in which it is in general a useless, inconvenient instrument for the head; then it also follows that War may be a thing which is sometimes War in a greater, sometimes in a lesser degree.
All this, theory must admit, but it is its duty to give the foremost place to the absolute form of War, and to use that form as a general point of direction, that whoever wishes to learn something from theory, may accustom himself never to lose sight of it, to regard it as the natural measure of all his hopes and fears, in order to approach it where he can, or where he must.
That a leading idea, which lies at the root of our thoughts and actions, gives them a certain tone and character, even when the immediately determining grounds come from totally different regions, is just as certain as that the painter can give this or that tone to his picture by the colours with which he lays on his ground.
Theory is indebted to the last Wars for being able to do this effectually now. Without these warning examples of the destructive force of the element set free, she might have talked herself hoarse to no purpose; no one would have believed possible what all have now lived to see realised.
Would Prussia have ventured to penetrate into France in the year 1798 with 70,000 men, if she had foreseen that the reaction in case of failure would be so strong as to overthrow the old balance of power in Europe?
Would Prussia, in 1806, have made War with 100,000 against France, if she had supposed that the first pistol shot would be a spark in the heart of the mine, which would blow it into the air?
INTERDEPENDENCE OF THE PARTS IN WAR
According as we have in view the absolute form of War, or one of the real forms deviating more or less from it, so likewise different notions of its result will arise.
In the absolute form, where everything is the effect of its natural and necessary cause, one thing follows another in rapid succession; there is, if we may use the expression, no neutral space; there is—on account of the manifold reactionary effects which War contains in itself,* on account of the connection in which, strictly speaking, the whole series of combats† follow one after another, on account of the culminating point which every victory has, beyond which losses and defeats commence‡ —on account of all these natural relations of War there is, I say, only one result, to wit, the final result. Until it takes place nothing is decided, nothing won, nothing lost. Here we may say indeed: the end crowns the work. In this view, therefore, War is an indivisible whole, the parts of which (the subordinate results) have no value except in their relation to this whole. The conquest of Moscow, and of half Russia in 1812, was of no value to Buonaparte unless it obtained for him the peace which he desired. But it was only a part of his Plan of campaign; to complete that Plan, one part was still wanted, the destruction of the Russian Army; if we suppose this, added to the other success, then the peace was as certain as it is possible for things of this kind to be. This second part Buonaparte missed at the right time, and he could never afterwards attain it, and so the whole of the first part was not only useless, but fatal to him.
To this view of the relative connection of results in War, which may be regarded as extreme, stands opposed another extreme, according to which War is composed of single independent results, in which, as in any number of games played, the preceding has no influence on the next following; everything here, therefore, depends only on the sum total of the results, and we can lay up each single one like a counter at play.
Just as the first kind of view derives its truth from the nature of things, so we find that of the second in history. There are cases without number in which a small moderate advantage might have been gained without any very onerous condition being attached to it. The more the element of War is modified the more common these cases become; but as little as the first of the views now imagined was ever completely realised in any War, just as little is there any War in which the last suits in all respects, and the first can be dispensed with.
If we keep to the first of these supposed views, we must perceive the necessity of every War being looked upon as a whole from the very commencement, and that at the very first step forwards, the Commander should have in his eye the object to which every line must converge.
If we admit the second view, then subordinate advantages may be pursued on their own account, and the rest left to subsequent events.
As neither of these forms of conception is entirely without result, therefore theory cannot dispense with either. But it makes this difference in the use of them, that it requires the first to be laid as a fundamental idea at the root of everything, and that the latter shall only be used as a modification which is justified by circumstances.
If Frederick the Great in the years 1742, 1744, 1757, and 1758, thrust out from Silesia and Saxony a fresh offensive point into the Austrian Empire, which he knew very well could not lead to a new and durable conquest like that of Silesia and Saxony, it was done not with a view to the overthrow of the Austrian Empire, but from a lesser motive, namely, to gain time and strength; and it was optional with him to pursue that subordinate object without being afraid that he should thereby risk his whole existence.* But if Prussia in 1806, and Austria in 1805, 1809, proposed to themselves a still more moderate object, that of driving the French over the Rhine, they would not have acted in a reasonable manner if they had not first scanned in their minds the whole series of events which, either in the case of success or of the reverse, would probably follow the first step, and lead up to peace. This was quite indispensable, as well to enable them to determine with themselves how far victory might be followed up without danger, and how and where they would be in a condition to arrest the course of victory on the enemy’s side.
An attentive consideration of history shows wherein the difference of the two cases consists. At the time of the Silesian War in the eighteenth century, War was still a mere Cabinet affair, in which the people only took part as a blind instrument; at the beginning of the nineteenth century the people on each side weighed in the scale. The Commanders opposed to Frederick the Great were men who acted on commission, and just on that account men in whom caution was a predominant characteristic; the opponent of the Austrians and Prussians may be described in a few words as the very God of War himself.
Must not these different circumstances give rise to quite different considerations? Should they not in the years 1805, 1806, and 1809 have pointed to the extremity of disaster as a very close possibility, nay, even a very great probability, and should they not at the same time have led to widely different plans and measures from any merely aimed at the conquest of a couple of fortresses or a paltry province?
They did not do so in a degree commensurate with their importance, although both Austria and Prussia, judging by their armaments, felt that storms were brewing in the political atmosphere. They could not do so because those relations at that time were not yet so plainly developed as they have since been from history. It is just those very campaigns of 1805, 1806, 1809, and following ones, which have made it easier for us to form a conception of modern absolute War in its destroying energy.
Theory demands, therefore, that at the commencement of every War its character and main outline shall be defined according to what the political conditions and relations lead us to anticipate as probable. The more that, according to this probability, its character approaches the form of absolute War; the more its outline embraces the mass of the belligerent States and draws them into the vortex—so much the more complete will be the relation of events to one another and the whole, but so much the more necessary will it also be not to take the first step without thinking what may be the last.
OF THE MAGNITUDE OF THE OBJECT OF THE WAR AND THE EFFORTS TO BE MADE
The compulsion which we must use towards our enemy will be regulated by the proportions of our own and his political demands. In so far as these are mutually known they will give the measure of the mutual efforts; but they are not always quite so evident, and this may be a first ground of a difference in the means adopted by each.
The situation and relations of the States are not like each other; this may become a second cause.
The strength of will, the character and capabilities of the Governments are as little like; this is a third cause.
These three elements cause an uncertainty in the calculation of the amount of resistance to be expected, consequently an uncertainty as to the amount of means to be applied and the object to be chosen.
As in War the want of sufficient exertion may result not only in failure but in positive harm, therefore, the two sides respectively seek to outstrip each other, which produces a reciprocal action.
This might lead to the utmost extremity of exertion, if it were possible to define such a point. But then regard for the amount of the political demands would be lost, the means would lose all relation to the end, and in most cases this aim at an extreme effort would be wrecked by the opposing weight of forces within itself.
In this manner, he who undertakes War is brought back again into a middle course, in which he acts to a certain extent upon the principle of only applying so much force and aiming at such an object in War as is just sufficient for the attainment of its political object. To make this principle practicable he must renounce every absolute necessity of a result, and throw out of the calculation remote contingencies.
Here, therefore, the action of the mind leaves the province of science, strictly speaking, of logic and mathematics, and becomes in the widest sense of the term an Art, that is, skill in discriminating, by the tact of judgment among an infinite multitude of objects and relations, that which is the most important and decisive. This tact of judgment consists unquestionably more or less in some intuitive comparison of things and relations by which the remote and unimportant are more quickly set aside, and the more immediate and important are sooner discovered than they could be by strictly logical deduction.
In order to ascertain the real scale of the means which we must put forth for War, we must think over the political object both on our own side and on the enemy’s side; we must consider the power and position of the enemy’s State as well as of our own, the character of his Government and of his people, and the capacities of both, and all that again on our own side, and the political connections of other States, and the effect which the War will produce on those States. That the determination of these diverse circumstances and their diverse connections with each other is an immense problem, that it is the true flash of genius which discovers here in a moment what is right, and that it would be quite out of the question to become master of the complexity merely by a methodical study, it is easy to conceive.
In this sense Buonaparte was quite right when he said that it would be a problem in algebra before which a Newton might stand aghast.
If the diversity and magnitude of the circumstances and the uncertainty as to the right measure augment in a high degree the difficulty of obtaining a right result, we must not overlook the fact that although the incomparable importance of the matter does not increase the complexity and difficulty of the problem, still it very much increases the merit of its solution. In men of an ordinary stamp freedom and activity of mind are depressed, not increased, by the sense of danger and responsibility; but where these things give wings to strengthen the judgment, there undoubtedly must be unusual greatness of soul.
First of all, therefore, we must admit that the judgment on an approaching War, on the end to which it should be directed, and on the means which are required, can only be formed after a full consideration of the whole of the circumstances in connection with it: with which therefore must also be combined the most individual traits of the moment; next, that this decision, like all in military life, cannot be purely objective, but must be determined by the mental and moral qualities of Princes, Statesmen, and Generals, whether they are united in the person of one man or not.
The subject becomes general and more fit to be treated of in the abstract if we look at the general relations in which States have been placed by circumstances at different times. We must allow ourselves here a passing glance at history.
Half-civilised Tartars, the republics of ancient times, the feudal lords and commercial cities of the Middle Ages, kings of the eighteenth century, and, lastly, princes and people of the nineteenth century, all carry on War in their own way, carry it on differently, with different means, and for a different object.
The Tartars seek new abodes. They march out as a nation with their wives and children, they are, therefore, greater than any other Army in point of numbers, and their object is to make the enemy submit or expel him altogether. By these means they would soon overthrow everything before them if a high degree of civilisation could be made compatible with such a condition.
The old republics, with the exception of Rome, were of small extent; still smaller their Armies, for they excluded the great mass of the populace; they were too numerous and lay too close together not to find an obstacle to great enterprises in the natural equilibrium in which small separate parts always place themselves according to the general law of nature: therefore their Wars were confined to devastating the open country and taking some towns in order to ensure to themselves in these a certain degree of influence for the future.
Rome alone forms an exception, but not until the later period of its history. For a long time, by means of small bands, it carried on the usual warfare with its neighbours for booty and alliances. It became great more through the alliances which it formed, and through which neighbouring peoples by degrees became amalgamated with it into one whole, than through actual conquests. It was only after having spread itself in this manner all over Southern Italy, that it began to advance as a really conquering power. Carthage fell, Spain and Gaul were conquered, Greece subdued, and its dominion extended to Egypt and Asia. At this period its military power was immense, without its efforts being in the same proportion. These forces were kept up by its riches; it no longer resembled the ancient republics, nor itself as it had been; it stands alone.
Just as peculiar in their way are the Wars of Alexander. With a small Army, but distinguished for its intrinsic perfection, he overthrew the decayed fabric of the Asiatic States; without rest, and regardless of risks, he traverses the breadth of Asia, and penetrates into India. No republics could do this. Only a King, in a certain measure his own condottiere, could get through so much so quickly.
The great and small monarchies of the Middle Ages carried on their Wars with feudal levies. Everything was then restricted to a short period of time; whatever could not be done in that time was held to be impracticable. The feudal force itself was raised through an organisation of vassaldom; the bond which held it together was partly legal obligation, partly a voluntary contract; the whole formed a real confederation. The armament and tactics were based on the right of might, on single combat, and therefore little suited to large bodies. In fact, at no period has the union of States been so weak, and the individual citizen so independent. All this influenced the character of the Wars at that period in the most distinct manner. They were comparatively rapidly carried out, there was little time spent idly in camps, but the object was generally only punishing, not subduing the enemy. They carried off his cattle, burnt his towns, and then returned home again.
The great commercial towns and small republics brought forward the condottieri. That was an expensive, and therefore, as far as visible strength, a very limited military force; as for its intensive strength, it was of still less value in that respect; so far from their showing anything like extreme energy or impetuosity in the field, their combats were generally only sham-fights. In a word, hatred and enmity no longer roused a State to personal activity, but had become articles of trade; War lost a great part of its danger, altered completely its nature, and nothing we can say of the character it then assumed would be applicable to it in its reality.
The feudal system condensed itself by degrees into a decided territorial supremacy; the ties binding the State together became closer; obligations which concerned the person were made the subject of composition; by degrees gold became the substitute in most cases, and the feudal levies were turned into mercenaries. The condottieri formed the connecting-link in the change, and were therefore, for a time, the instrument of the more powerful States; but this had not lasted long when the soldier, hired for a limited term, was turned into a standing mercenary, and the military force of States now became an Army, having its base in the public treasury.
It is only natural that the slow advance to this stage caused a diversified interweaving of all three kinds of military force. Under Henry IV. we find the feudal contingents, condottieri, and standing Army all employed together. The condottieri carried on their existence up to the period of the Thirty Years’ War, indeed there are some slight traces of them even in the eighteenth century.
The other relations of the States of Europe at these different periods were quite as peculiar as their military forces. Upon the whole this part of the world had split up into a mass of petty States, partly republics in a state of internal dissension, partly small monarchies in which the power of the government was very limited and insecure. A State in either of these cases could not be considered as a real unity; it was rather an agglomeration of loosely connected forces. Neither, therefore, could such a State be considered an intelligent being, acting in accordance with simple logical rules.
It is from this point of view we must look at the foreign politics and Wars of the Middle Ages. Let us only think of the continual expeditions of the Emperors of Germany into Italy for five centuries, without any substantial conquest of that country resulting from them, or even having been so much as in view. It is easy to look upon this as a fault repeated over and over again—as a false view which had its root in the nature of the times, but it is more in accordance with reason to regard it as the consequence of a hundred important causes which we can partially realise in idea, but the vital energy of which it is impossible for us to understand so vividly as those who were brought into actual conflict with them. As long as the great States which have risen out of this chaos required time to consolidate and organise themselves, their whole power and energy is chiefly directed to that point; their foreign Wars are few, and those that took place bear the stamp of a State unity not yet well cemented.
The Wars between France and England are the first that appear, and yet at that time France is not to be considered as really a monarchy, but as an agglomeration of dukedoms and countships; England, although bearing more the semblance of a unity, still fought with the feudal organisation, and was hampered by serious domestic troubles.
Under Louis XI., France made its greatest step towards internal unity; under Charles VIII. it appears in Italy as a power bent on conquest; and under Louis XIV. it had brought its political state and its standing Army to the highest perfection.
Spain attains to unity under Ferdinand the Catholic; through accidental marriage connections, under Charles V. suddenly arose the great Spanish monarchy, composed of Spain, Burgundy, Germany, and Italy united. What this colossus wanted in unity and internal political cohesion, it made up for by gold, and its standing Army came for the first time into collision with the standing Army of France. After Charles’s abdication, the great Spanish colossus split into two parts, Spain and Austria. The latter, strengthened by the acquisition of Bohemia and Hungary, now appears on the scene as a great power, towing the German Confederation like a small vessel behind her.
The end of the seventeenth century, the time of Louis XIV., is to be regarded as the point in history at which the standing military power, such as it existed in the eighteenth century, reached the zenith. That military force was based on enlistment and money. States had organised themselves into complete unities; and the Governments, by commuting the personal obligations of their subjects into a money payment, had concentrated their whole power in their treasuries. Through the rapid strides in social improvements, and a more enlightened system of government, this power had become very great in comparison to what it had been. France appeared in the field with a standing Army of a couple of hundred thousand men, and the other powers in proportion.
The other relations of States had likewise altered. Europe was divided into a dozen kingdoms and two republics; it was now conceivable that two of these powers might fight with each other without ten times as many others being mixed up in the quarrel, as would certainly have been the case formerly. The possible combinations in political relations were still manifold, but they could be discerned and determined from time to time according to probability.
Internal relations had almost everywhere settled down into a pure monarchical form; the rights and influence of privileged bodies or estates had gradually died away, and the Cabinet had become a complete unity, acting for the State in all its external relations. The time had therefore come when a suitable instrument and a despotic will could give War a form in accordance with the theoretical conception.
And at this epoch appeared three new Alexanders—Gustavus Adolphus, Charles XII., and Frederick the Great, whose aim was, by small but highly disciplined Armies, to raise little States to the rank of great monarchies, and to throw down everything that opposed them. Had they only had to deal with Asiatic States they would have more closely resembled Alexander in the parts they acted. In any case, we may look upon them as the precursors of Buonaparte as respects that which may be risked in War.
But what War gained on the one side in force and consistency was lost again on the other side.
Armies were supported out of the treasury, which the Sovereign regarded partly as his private purse, or at least as a resource belonging to the Government, and not to the people. Relations with other States, except with respect to a few commercial subjects, mostly concerned only the interests of the treasury or of the Government, not those of the people; at least ideas tended everywhere in that way. The Cabinets, therefore, looked upon themselves as the owners and administrators of large estates, which they were continually seeking to increase without the tenants on these estates being particularly interested in this improvement. The people, therefore, who in the Tartar invasions were everything in War, who, in the old republics, and in the Middle Ages (if we restrict the idea to those possessing the rights of citizens), were of great consequence, were in the eighteenth century absolutely nothing directly, having only still an indirect influence on the War, through their virtues and faults.
In this manner, in proportion as the Government separated itself from the people, and regarded itself as the State, War became more exclusively a business of the Government, which it carried on by means of the money in its coffers and the idle vagabonds it could pick up in its own and neighbouring countries. The consequence of this was, that the means which the Government could command had tolerably well-defined limits, which could be mutually estimated, both as to their extent and duration; this robbed War of its most dangerous feature: namely, the effort towards the extreme, and the hidden series of possibilities connected therewith.
The financial means, the contents of the treasury, the state of credit of the enemy, were approximately known as well as the size of his Army. Any large increase of these at the outbreak of a War was impossible. Inasmuch as the limits of the enemy’s power could thus be judged of, a State felt tolerably secure from complete subjugation, and as the State was conscious at the same time of the limits of its own means, it saw itself restricted to a moderate aim. Protected from an extreme, there was no necessity to venture on an extreme. Necessity no longer giving an impulse in that direction, that impulse could only now be given by courage and ambition. But these found a powerful counterpoise in the political relations. Even Kings in command were obliged to use the instrument of War with caution. If the Army was dispersed, no new one could be got, and except the Army there was nothing. This imposed as a necessity great prudence in all undertakings. It was only when a decided advantage seemed to present itself that they made use of the costly instrument; to bring about such an opportunity was a General’s art; but until it was brought about they floated to a certain degree in an absolute vacuum, there was no ground of action, and all forces, that is, all designs, seemed to rest. The original motive of the aggressor faded away in prudence and circumspection.
Thus War, in reality, became a regular game in which Time and Chance shuffled the cards; but in its signification it was only diplomacy somewhat intensified, a more vigorous way of negotiating, in which battles and sieges were substituted for diplomatic notes. To obtain some moderate advantage in order to make use of it in negotiations for peace was the aim even of the most ambitious.
This restricted, shrivelled-up form of War proceeded, as we have said, from the narrow basis on which it was supported. But that excellent Generals and Kings, like Gustavus Adolphus, Charles XII., and Frederick the Great, at the head of Armies just as excellent, could not gain more prominence in the general mass of phenomena—that even these men were obliged to be contented to remain at the ordinary level of moderate results, is to be attributed to the balance of power in Europe. Now that States had become greater, and their centres further apart from each other, what had formerly been done through direct perfectly natural interests, proximity, contact, family connections, personal friendship, to prevent any one single State among the number from becoming suddenly great was effected by a higher cultivation of the art of diplomacy. Political interests, attractions and repulsions developed into a very refined system, so that a cannon shot could not be fired in Europe without all the Cabinets having some interest in the occurrence.
A new Alexander must therefore try the use of a good pen as well as his good sword; and yet he never went very far with his conquests.
But although Louis XIV. had in view to overthrow the balance of power in Europe, and at the end of the seventeenth century had already got to such a point as to trouble himself little about the general feeling of animosity, he carried on War just as it had heretofore been conducted; for while his Army was certainly that of the greatest and richest monarch in Europe, in its nature it was just like others.
Plundering and devastating the enemy’s country, which play such an important part with Tartars, with ancient nations, and even in the Middle Ages, were no longer in accordance with the spirit of the age. They were justly looked upon as unnecessary barbarity, which might easily induce reprisals, and which did more injury to the enemy’s subjects than the enemy’s Government, therefore, produced no effect beyond throwing the Nation back many stages in all that relates to peaceful arts and civilisation. War, therefore, confined itself more and more, both as regards means and end, to the Army itself. The Army, with its fortresses and some prepared positions, constituted a State in a State, within which the element of War slowly consumed itself. All Europe rejoiced at its taking this direction, and held it to be the necessary consequence of the spirit of progress. Although there lay in this an error, inasmuch as the progress of the human mind can never lead to what is absurd, can never make five out of twice two, as we have already said and must again repeat, still upon the whole this change had a beneficial effect for the people; only it is not to be denied that it had a tendency to make War still more an affair of the State, and to separate it still more from the interests of the people. The plan of a War on the part of the State assuming the offensive in those times consisted generally in the conquest of one or other of the enemy’s provinces; the plan of the defender was to prevent this; the particular plan of campaign was to take one or other of the enemy’s fortresses, or to prevent one of our own from being taken; it was only when a battle became unavoidable for this purpose that it was sought for and fought. Whoever fought a battle without this unavoidable necessity, from mere innate desire of gaining a victory, was reckoned a General with too much daring. Generally the campaign passed over with one siege, or, if it was a very active one, with two sieges, and winter quarters, which were regarded as a necessity, and during which the faulty arrangements of the one could never be taken advantage of by the other, and in which the mutual relations of the two parties almost entirely ceased, formed a distinct limit to the activity which was considered to belong to one campaign.
If the forces opposed were too much on an equality, or if the aggressor was decidedly the weaker of the two, then neither battle nor siege took place, and the whole of the operations of the campaign pivoted on the maintenance of certain positions and magazines, and the regular exhaustion of particular districts of country.
As long as War was universally conducted in this manner, and the natural limits of its force were so close and obvious, so far from anything absurd being perceived in it, all was considered to be in the most regular order; and criticism, which in the eighteenth century began to turn its attention to the field of art in War, addressed itself to details without troubling itself much about the beginning and the end. Thus there was eminence and perfection of every kind, and even Field-Marshal Daun—to whom it was chiefly owing that Frederick the Great completely attained his object, and that Maria Theresa completely failed in hers—could still pass for a great General. Only now and again a more penetrating judgment made its appearance, that is, sound common sense acknowledged that with superior numbers something positive should be attained or War is badly conducted, whatever art may be displayed.
Thus matters stood when the French Revolution broke out; Austria and Prussia tried their diplomatic Art of War; this very soon proved insufficient. Whilst, according to the usual way of seeing things, all hopes were placed on a very limited military force in 1793, such a force as no one had any conception of made its appearance. War had again suddenly become an affair of the people, and that of a people numbering thirty millions, every one of whom regarded himself as a citizen of the State. Without entering here into the details of circumstances with which this great phenomenon was attended, we shall confine ourselves to the results which interest us at present. By this participation of the people in the War instead of a Cabinet and an Army, a whole Nation with its natural weight came into the scale. Henceforward, the means available—the efforts which might be called forth—had no longer any definite limits; the energy with which the War itself might be conducted had no longer any counterpoise, and consequently the danger for the adversary had risen to the extreme.
If the whole War of the Revolution passed over without all this making itself felt in its full force and becoming quite evident; if the Generals of the Revolution did not persistently press on to the final extreme, and did not overthrow the monarchies in Europe; if the German Armies now and again had the opportunity of resisting with success, and checking for a time the torrent of victory—the cause lay in reality in that technical incompleteness with which the French had to contend, which showed itself first amongst the common soldiers, then in the Generals, lastly, at the time of the Directory, in the Government itself.
After all this was perfected by the hand of Buonaparte, this military power, based on the strength of the whole nation, marched over Europe, smashing everything in pieces so surely and certainly, that where it only encountered the old-fashioned Armies the result was not doubtful for a moment. A reaction, however, awoke in due time. In Spain, the War became of itself an affair of the people. In Austria, in the year 1809, the Government commenced extraordinary efforts, by means of Reserves and Landwehr, which were nearer to the true object, and far surpassed in degree what this State had hitherto conceived possible. In Russia, in 1812, the example of Spain and Austria was taken as a pattern, the enormous dimensions of that Empire on the one hand allowed the preparations, although too long deferred, still to produce effect; and, on the other hand, intensified the effect produced. The result was brilliant. In Germany, Prussia rose up the first, made the War a National Cause, and without either money or credit and with a population reduced one-half, took the field with an Army twice as strong as that of 1806. The rest of Germany followed the example of Prussia sooner or later, and Austria, although less energetic than in 1809, still came forward with more than its usual strength. Thus it was that Germany and Russia, in the years 1813 and 1814, including all who took an active part in, or were absorbed in these two campaigns, appeared against France with about a million of men.
Under these circumstances, the energy thrown into the conduct of the War was quite different; and, although not quite on a level with that of the French, although at some points timidity was still to be observed, the course of the campaigns, upon the whole, may be said to have been in the new, not in the old, style. In eight months the theatre of War was removed from the Oder to the Seine. Proud Paris had to bow its head for the first time; and the redoubtable Buonaparte lay fettered on the ground.
Therefore, since the time of Buonaparte, War, through being first on one side, then again on the other, an affair of the whole Nation, has assumed quite a new nature, or rather it has approached much nearer to its real nature, to its absolute perfection. The means then called forth had no visible limit, the limit losing itself in the energy and enthusiasm of the Government and its subjects. By the extent of the means and the wide field of possible results, as well as by the powerful excitement of feeling which prevailed, energy in the conduct of War was immensely increased; the object of its action was the downfall of the foe; and not until the enemy lay powerless on the ground was it supposed to be possible to stop or to come to any understanding with respect to the mutual objects of the contest.
Thus, therefore, the element of War, freed from all conventional restrictions, broke loose, with all its natural force. The cause was the participation of the people in this great affair of State, and this participation arose partly from the effects of the French Revolution on the internal affairs of countries, partly from the threatening attitude of the French towards all Nations.
Now, whether this will be the case always in future, whether all Wars hereafter in Europe will be carried on with the whole power of the States, and, consequently, will only take place on account of great interests closely affecting the people, or whether a separation of the interests of the Government from those of the people will again gradually arise, would be a difficult point to settle; least of all shall we take it upon ourselves to settle it. But every one will agree with us, that bounds, which to a certain extent existed only in an unconsciousness of what is possible, when once thrown down, are not easily built up again; and that, at least, whenever great interests are in dispute, mutual hostility will discharge itself in the same manner as it has done in our times.
We here bring our historical survey to a close, for it was not our design to give at a gallop some of the principles on which War has been carried on in each age, but only to show how each period has had its own peculiar forms of War, its own restrictive conditions, and its own prejudices. Each period would, therefore, also keep its own theory of War, even if everywhere, in early times as well as in later, the task had been undertaken of working out a theory on philosophical principles. The events in each age must, therefore, be judged of in connection with the peculiarities of the time, and only he who, less through an anxious study of minute details than through an accurate glance at the whole, can transfer himself into each particular age, is fit to understand and appreciate its Generals.
But this conduct of War, conditioned by the peculiar relations of States and of the military force employed, must still always contain in itself something more general, or rather something quite general, with which, above everything, theory is concerned.
The latest period of past time, in which War reached its absolute strength, contains most of what is of general application and necessary. But it is just as improbable that Wars henceforth will all have this grand character as that the wide barriers which have been opened to them will ever be completely closed again. Therefore, by a theory which only dwells upon this absolute War, all cases in which external influences alter the nature of War would be excluded or condemned as false. This cannot be the object of theory, which ought to be the science of War, not under ideal but under real circumstances. Theory, therefore, whilst casting a searching, discriminating and classifying glance at objects, should always have in view the manifold diversity of causes from which War may proceed, and should, therefore, so trace out its great features as to leave room for what is required by the exigencies of time and the moment.
Accordingly, we must add that the object which every one who undertakes War proposes to himself, and the means which he calls forth, are determined entirely according to the particular details of his position; on that very account they will also bear in themselves the character of the time and of the general relations; lastly, that they are always subject to the general conclusions to be deduced from the nature of War.
ENDS IN WAR MORE PRECISELY DEFINED
OVERTHROW OF THE ENEMY
The aim of War in conception must always be the overthrow of the enemy; this is the fundamental idea from which we set out.
Now, what is this overthrow? It does not always imply as necessary the complete conquest of the enemy’s country. If the Germans had reached Paris in 1792, there—in all human probability—the War with the Revolutionary party would have been brought to an end at once for a season; it was not at all necessary at that time to beat their Armies beforehand, for those Armies were not yet to be looked upon as potent powers in themselves singly. On the other hand, in 1814, the Allies would not have gained everything by taking Paris if Buonaparte had still remained at the head of a considerable Army; but as his Army had nearly melted away, therefore, both in the years 1814 and 1815, the taking of Paris decided all. If Buonaparte in the year 1812, either before or after taking Moscow, had been able to give the Russian Army of 120,000 on the Kaluga road a complete defeat, such as he gave the Austrians in 1805, and the Prussian Army, 1806, then the possession of that capital would most probably have brought about a peace, although an enormous tract of country still remained to be conquered. In the year 1805 it was the battle of Austerlitz that was decisive; and, therefore, the previous possession of Vienna and two-thirds of the Austrian States was not of sufficient weight to gain for Buonaparte a peace; but, on the other hand also, after that battle of Austerlitz, the integrity of Hungary, still intact, was not of sufficient weight to prevent the conclusion of peace. In the Russian campaign, the complete defeat of the Russian Army was the last blow required: the Emperor Alexander had no other Army at hand, and, therefore, peace was the certain consequence of victory. If the Russian Army had been on the Danube along with the Austrian in 1805, and had shared in its defeat, then probably the conquest of Vienna would not have been necessary, and peace would have been concluded in Linz.
In other cases the complete conquest of a country has not been sufficient, as in the year 1807, in Prussia, when the blow levelled against the Russian auxiliary Army, in the doubtful battle of Eylau, was not decisive enough, and the undoubted victory of Friedland was required as a finishing blow, like the victory of Austerlitz eighteen months before.
We see that here, also, the result cannot be determined from general grounds; the individual causes, which no one knows who is not on the spot, and many of a moral nature which are never heard of, even the smallest traits and accidents, which only appear in history as anecdotes, are often decisive. All that theory can here say is as follows: That the great point is to keep the overruling relations of both parties in view. Out of them a certain centre of gravity, a centre of power and movement, will form itself, on which everything depends; and against this centre of gravity of the enemy, the concentrated blow of all the forces must be directed.
The little always depends on the great, the unimportant on the important, and the accidental on the essential. This must guide our view.
Alexander had his centre of gravity in his Army, so had Gustavus Adolphus, Charles XII., and Frederick the Great, and the career of any one of them would soon have been brought to a close by the destruction of his fighting force: in States torn by internal dissensions, this centre generally lies in the capital; in small States dependent on greater ones, it lies generally in the Army of these Allies; in a confederacy, it lies in the unity of interests; in a national insurrection, in the person of the chief leader, and in public opinion; against these points the blow must be directed. If the enemy by this loses his balance, no time must be allowed for him to recover it; the blow must be persistently repeated in the same direction, or, in other words, the conqueror must always direct his blows upon the mass, but not against a fraction of the enemy. It is not by conquering one of the enemy’s provinces, with little trouble and superior numbers, and preferring the more secure possession of this unimportant conquest to great results, but by seeking out constantly the heart of the hostile power, and staking everything in order to gain all, that we can effectually strike the enemy to the ground.
But whatever may be the central point of the enemy’s power against which we are to direct our operations, still the conquest and destruction of his Army is the surest commencement, and in all cases the most essential.
Hence we think that, according to the majority of ascertained facts, the following circumstances chiefly bring about the overthrow of the enemy:
(1) Dispersion of his Army if it forms, in some degree, a potential force.
(2) Capture of the enemy’s capital city, if it is both the centre of the power of the State and the seat of political assemblies and factions.
(3) An effectual blow against the principal Ally, if he is more powerful than the enemy himself.
We have always hitherto supposed the enemy in War as a unity, which is allowable for considerations of a very general nature. But having said that the subjugation of the enemy lies in the overcoming his resistance, concentrated in the centre of gravity, we must lay aside this supposition and introduce the case in which we have to deal with more than one opponent.
If two or more States combine against a third, that combination constitutes, in a political aspect, only one War, at the same time this political union has also its degrees.
The question is whether each State in the coalition possesses an independent interest in, and an independent force with which to prosecute, the War; or whether there is one amongst them on whose interests and forces those of the others lean for support. The more that the last is the case, the easier it is to look upon the different enemies as one alone, and the more readily we can simplify our principal enterprise to one great blow; and as long as this is in any way possible, it is the most thorough and complete means of success.
We may, therefore, establish it as a principle, that if we can conquer all our enemies by conquering one of them, the defeat of that one must be the aim of the War, because in that one we hit the common centre of gravity of the whole War.
There are very few cases in which this kind of conception is not admissible, and where this reduction of several centres of gravity to one cannot be made. But if this cannot be done, then indeed there is no alternative but to look upon the War as two or more separate Wars, each of which has its own aim. As this case supposes the substantive independence of several enemies, consequently a great superiority of the whole, therefore in this case the overthrow of the enemy cannot, in general, come into question.
We now turn more particularly to the question, When is such an object possible and advisable?
In the first place, our forces must be sufficient—
(1) To gain a decisive victory over those of the enemy.
(2) To make the expenditure of force which may be necessary to follow up the victory to a point at which it will no longer be possible for the enemy to regain his balance.
Next, we must feel sure that in our political situation such a result will not excite against us new enemies, who may compel us on the spot to set free our first enemy.
France, in the year 1806, was able completely to conquer Prussia, although in doing so it brought down upon itself the whole military power of Russia, because it was in a condition to cope with the Russians in Prussia.
France might have done the same in Spain in 1808 as far as regards England, but not as regards Austria. It was compelled to weaken itself materially in Spain in 1809, and must have quite given up the contest in that country if it had not had otherwise great superiority, both physically and morally, over Austria.
These three cases should therefore be carefully studied, that we may not lose in the last, the cause which we have gained in the former ones, and be condemned in costs.
In estimating the strength of forces, and that which may be effected by them, the idea very often suggests itself to look upon time by a dynamic analogy as a factor of forces, and to assume accordingly that half efforts, or half the number of forces would accomplish in two years what could only be effected in one year by the whole force united. This view, which lies at the bottom of military schemes, sometimes clearly, sometimes less plainly, is completely wrong.
An operation in War, like everything else upon earth, requires its time; as a matter of course we cannot walk from Wilna to Moscow in eight days; but there is no trace to be found in War of any reciprocal action between time and force, such as takes place in dynamics.
Time is necessary to both belligerents, and the only question is: Which of the two, judging by his position, has most reason to expect special advantages from time? Now (exclusive of peculiarities in the situation on one side or the other) the vanquished has plainly the most reason, at the same time certainly not by dynamic, but by psychological laws. Envy, jealousy, anxiety for self, as well as now and again magnanimity, are the natural intercessors for the unfortunate; they raise up for him on the one hand friends, and on the other hand weaken and dissolve the coalition amongst his enemies. Therefore, by delay something advantageous is more likely to happen for the conquered than for the conqueror. Further, we must recollect that to make right use of a first victory, as we have already shown, a great expenditure of force is necessary; this is not a mere outlay once for all, but has to be kept up like housekeeping, on a great scale; the forces which have been sufficient to give us possession of a province are not always sufficient to meet this additional outlay; by degrees the strain upon our resources becomes greater, until at last it becomes insupportable; time, therefore, of itself may bring about a change.
Could the contributions which Buonaparte levied from the Russians and Poles, in money and in other ways, in 1812, have procured the hundreds of thousands of men that he must have sent to Moscow in order to retain his position there?
But if the conquered provinces are sufficiently important, if there are in them points which are essential to the well-being of those parts which are not conquered, so that the evil, like a cancer, is perpetually of itself gnawing further into the system, then it is possible that the conqueror, although nothing further is done, may gain more than he loses. Now in this state of circumstances, if no help comes from without, then time may complete the work thus commenced; what still remains unconquered will, perhaps, fall of itself. Thus time may also become a factor of his forces, but this can only take place if a return blow from the conquered is no longer possible, a change of fortune in his favour no longer conceivable, when, therefore, this factor of his forces is no longer of any value to the conqueror; for he has accomplished the chief object, the danger of the culminating point is past, in short, the enemy is already subdued.
Our object in the above reasoning has been to show clearly that no conquest can be finished too soon, that spreading it over a greater space of time than is absolutely necessary for its completion, instead of facilitating it, makes it more difficult. If this assertion is true, it is further true also that if we are strong enough to effect a certain conquest, we must also be strong enough to do it in one march without intermediate stations. Of course we do not mean by this without short halts, in order to concentrate the forces, and make other indispensable arrangements.
By this view, which makes the character of a speedy and persistent effort towards a decision essential to offensive War, we think we have completely set aside all grounds for that theory which, in place of the irresistible continued following up of victory, would substitute a slow methodical system as being more sure and prudent. But even for those who have readily followed us so far, our assertion has, perhaps, after all so much the appearance of a paradox—is at first sight so much opposed and offensive to an opinion which, like an old prejudice, has taken deep root, and has been repeated a thousand times in books—that we considered it advisable to examine more closely the foundation of those plausible arguments which may be advanced.
It is certainly easier to reach an object near us than one at a distance, but when the nearest one does not suit our purpose it does not follow that dividing the work, that a resting-point, will enable us to get over the second half of the road easier. A small jump is easier than a large one, but no one on that account, wishing to cross a wide ditch, would jump half of it first.
If we look closely into the foundation of the conception of the so-called methodical offensive War, we shall find it generally consists of the following things:
(1) Conquest of those fortresses belonging to the enemy which we meet with.
(2) Laying in the necessary supplies.
(3) Fortifying important points, as magazines, bridges, positions, &c.
(4) Resting the troops in quarters during winter, or when they require to be recruited in health and refreshed.
(5) Waiting for the reinforcements of the ensuing year.
If for the attainment of all these objects we make a formal division in the course of the offensive action, a resting-point in the movement, it is supposed that we gain a new base and renewed force, as if our own State was following up in the rear of the Army, and that the latter laid in renewed vigour for every fresh campaign.
All these praiseworthy motives may make the offensive War more convenient, but they do not make its results surer, and are generally only make-believes to cover certain counteracting forces, such as the feelings of the Commander or irresolution in the Cabinet. We shall try to roll them up from the left flank.
(1) The waiting for reinforcements suits the enemy just as well, and is, we may say, more to his advantage. Besides, it lies in the nature of the thing that a State can place in line nearly as many combatant forces in one year as in two; for all the actual increase of combatant focre in the second year is but trifling in relation to the whole.
(2) The enemy rests himself at the same time that we do.
(3) The fortification of towns and positions is not the work of the Army, and therefore no ground for any delay.
(4) According to the present system of subsisting Armies, magazines are more necessary when the troops are in cantonments than when they are advancing. As long as we advance with success, we continually fall into possession of some of the enemy’s provision depôts, which assist us when the country itself is poor.
(5) The taking of the enemy’s fortresses cannot be regarded as a suspension of the attack: it is an intensified progress, and therefore the seeming suspension which is caused thereby is not properly a case such as we allude to, it is neither a suspension nor a modifying of the use of force. But whether a regular siege, blockade, or a mere observation of one or other is most to the purpose is a question which can only be decided according to particular circumstances. We can only say this in general, that in answering this question another must be clearly decided, which is, whether the risk will not be too great if, while only blockading, we at the same time make a further advance. Where this is not the case, and when there is ample room to extend our forces, it is better to postpone the formal siege till the termination of the whole offensive movement. We must therefore take care not to be led into the error of neglecting the essential, through the idea of immediately making secure that which is conquered.
No doubt it seems as if, by thus advancing, we at once hazard the loss of what has been already gained. Our opinion, however, is that no division of action, no resting-point, no intermediate stations are in accordance with the nature of offensive War, and that when the same are unavoidable, they are to be regarded as an evil which makes the result not more certain, but, on the contrary, more uncertain; and further, that, strictly speaking, if from weakness or any cause we have been obliged to stop, a second spring at the object we have in view is, as a rule, impossible; but if such a second spring is possible, then the stoppage at the intermediate station was unnecessary, and that when an object at the very commencement is beyond our strength, it will always remain so.
We say this appears to be the general truth, by which we only wish to cut aside the idea that time of itself can do something for the advantage of the assailant. But as the political relations may change from year to year, therefore, on that account alone, many cases may happen which are exceptions to this general truth.
It may appear, perhaps, as if we had left our general point of view, and had nothing in our eye except offensive War; but it is not so by any means. Certainly, he who can set before himself the complete overthrow of the enemy as his object will not easily be reduced to take refuge in the defensive, the immediate object of which is only to keep possession; but as we stand by the declaration throughout, that a defensive without any positive principle is a contradiction in strategy as well as in tactics, and therefore always come back to the fact that every defensive, according to its strength, will seek to change to the attack as soon as it has exhausted the advantages of the defensive, so, therefore, however great or small the defence may be, we still also include in it contingently the overthrow of the enemy as an object which this attack may have, and which is to be considered as the proper object of the defensive, and we say that there may be cases in which the assailant, notwithstanding he has in view such a great object, may still prefer at first to make use of the defensive form. That this idea is founded in reality is easily shown by the campaign of 1812. The Emperor Alexander in engaging in the War did not perhaps think of ruining his enemy completely, as was done in the sequel; but is there anything which makes such an idea impossible? And yet, if so, would it not still remain very natural that the Russians began the War on the defensive?
ENDS IN WAR MORE PRECISELY DEFINED (continued)
In the preceding chapter we have said that, under the expression “overthrow of the enemy,” we understand the real absolute aim of the “act of War”; now we shall see what remains to be done when the conditions under which this object might be attained do not exist.
These conditions presuppose a great physical or moral superiority, or a great spirit of enterprise, an innate propensity to extreme hazards. Now where all this is not forthcoming, the aim in the act of War can only be of two kinds; either the conquest of some small or moderate portion of the enemy’s country, or the defence of our own until better times; this last is the usual case in defensive War.
Whether the one or the other of these aims is of the right kind can always be settled by calling to mind the expression used in reference to the last. The waiting till more favourable times implies that we have reason to expect such times hereafter, and this waiting for, that is, defensive War, is always based on this prospect; on the other hand, offensive War, that is, the taking advantage of the present moment, is always commanded when the future holds out a better prospect, not to ourselves, but to our adversary.
The third case, which is probably the most common, is when neither party has anything definite to look for from the future, when therefore it furnishes no motive for decision. In this case the offensive War is plainly imperative upon him who is politically the aggressor, that is, who has the positive motive; for he has taken up arms with that object, and every moment of time which is lost without any good reason is so much lost time for him.
We have here decided for offensive or defensive War on grounds which have nothing to do with the relative forces of the combatants respectively, and yet it may appear that it would be nearer right to make the choice of the offensive or defensive chiefly dependent on the mutual relations of combatants in point of military strength; our opinion is, that in doing so we should just leave the right road. The logical correctness of our simple argument no one will dispute; we shall now see whether in the concrete case it leads to the contrary.
Let us suppose a small State which is involved in a contest with a very superior power, and foresees that with each year its position will become worse: should it not, if War is inevitable, make use of the time when its situation is furthest from the worst? Then it must attack, not because the attack in itself ensures any advantages—it will rather increase the disparity of forces—but because this State is under the necessity of either bringing the matter completely to an issue before the worst time arrives, or of gaining at least in the meantime some advantages which it may hereafter turn to account. This theory cannot appear absurd. But if this small State is quite certain that the enemy will advance against it, then, certainly, it can and may make use of the defensive against its enemy to procure a first advantage; there is then at any rate no danger of losing time.
If, again, we suppose a small State engaged in War with a greater, and that the future has no influence on their decisions, still, if the small State is politically the assailant, we demand of it also that it should go forward to its object.
If it has had the audacity to propose to itself a positive end in the face of superior numbers, then it must also act, that is, attack the foe, if the latter does not save it the trouble. Waiting would be an absurdity; unless at the moment of execution it has altered its political resolution, a case which very frequently occurs, and contributes in no small degree to give Wars an indefinite character.
These considerations on the limited object apply to its connection both with offensive War and defensive War; we shall consider both in separate chapters. But we shall first turn our attention to another phase.
Hitherto we have deduced the modifications in the object of War solely from intrinsic reasons. The nature of the political view (or design) we have only taken into consideration in so far as it is or is not directed at something positive. Everything else in the political design is in reality something extraneous to War; but in the second chapter of the first book (End and Means in War) we have already admitted that the nature of the political object, the extent of our own or the enemy’s demand, and our whole political relation practically have a most decisive influence on the conduct of the War, and we shall therefore devote the following chapter to that subject specially.
INFLUENCE OF THE POLITICAL OBJECT ON THE MILITARY OBJECT
We never find that a State joining in the cause of another State takes it up with the same earnestness as its own An auxiliary Army of moderate strength is sent; if it is not successful, then the Ally looks upon the affair as in a manner ended, and tries to get out of it on the cheapest terms possible.
In European politics it has been usual for States to pledge themselves to mutual assistance by an alliance offensive and defensive, not so far that the one takes part in the interests and quarrels of the other, but only so far as to promise one another beforehand the assistance of a fixed, generally very moderate, contingent of troops, without regard to the object of the War or the scale on which it is about to be carried on by the principals. In a treaty of alliance of this kind the Ally does not look upon himself as engaged with the enemy in a War properly speaking, which should necessarily begin with a declaration of War and end with a treaty of peace. Still, this idea also is nowhere fixed with any distinctness, and usage varies one way and another.
The thing would have a kind of consistency, and it would be less embarrassing to the theory of War if this promised contingent of ten, twenty, or thirty thousand men was handed over entirely to the State engaged in War, so that it could be used as required; it might then be regarded as a subsidised force. But the usual practice is widely different. Generally the auxiliary force has its own Commander, who depends only on his own Government, and to whom it prescribes an object such as best suits the shilly-shally measures it has in view.
But even if two States go to War with a third, they do not always both look in like measure upon this common enemy as one that they must destroy or be destroyed by themselves. The business is often settled like a commercial transaction; each, according to the amount of the risk he incurs or the advantage to be expected, takes shares in the concern to the extent of 30,000 or 40,000 men, and acts as if he could not lose more than the amount of his investment.
Not only is this the point of view taken when a State comes to the assistance of another in a cause in which it has, in a manner, little concern, but even when both have a common and very considerable interest at stake nothing can be done except under diplomatic reservation, and the contracting parties usually only agree to furnish a small stipulated contingent, in order to employ the rest of the forces according to the special ends to which policy may happen to lead them.
This way of regarding Wars entered into by reason of alliances was quite general, and was only obliged to give place to the natural way in quite modern times, when the extremity of danger drove men’s minds into the natural direction (as in the Wars against Buonaparte), and when the most boundless power compelled them to it (as under Buonaparte). It was an abnormal thing, an anomaly, for War and Peace are ideas which in their foundation can have no gradations; nevertheless it was no mere diplomatic offspring which the reason could look down upon, but deeply rooted in the natural limitedness and weakness of human nature.
Lastly, even in Wars carried on without Allies, the political cause of a War has a great influence on the method in which it is conducted.
If we only require from the enemy a small sacrifice, then we content ourselves with aiming at a small equivalent by the War, and we expect to attain that by moderate efforts. The enemy reasons in very much the same way. Now, if one or the other finds that he has erred in his reckoning—that in place of being slightly superior to the enemy, as he supposed, he is, if anything, rather weaker, still, at that moment, money and all other means, as well as sufficient moral impulse for greater exertions, are very often deficient: in such a case he just does what is called “the best he can”; hopes better things in the future, although he has not the slightest foundation for such hope, and the War in the meantime drags itself feebly along, like a body worn out with sickness.
Thus it comes to pass that the reciprocal action, the rivalry, the violence and impetuosity of War lose themselves in the stagnation of weak motives, and that both parties move with a certain kind of security in very circumscribed spheres.
If this influence of the political object is once permitted, as it then must be, there is no longer any limit, and we must be pleased to come down to such warfare as consists in a mere threatening of the enemy and in negotiating.
That the theory of War, if it is to be and to continue a philosophical study, finds itself here in a difficulty is clear. All that is essentially inherent in the conception of War seems to fly from it, and it is in danger of being left without any point of support. But the natural outlet soon shows itself. According as a modifying principle gains influence over the act of War, or rather, the weaker the motives to action become, the more the action will glide into a passive resistance, the less eventful it will become, and the less it will require guiding principles. All military art then changes itself into mere prudence, the principal object of which will be to prevent the trembling balance from suddenly turning to our disadvantage, and the half War from changing into a complete one.
WAR AS AN INSTRUMENT OF POLICY
Having made the requisite examination on both sides of that state of antagonism in which the nature of War stands with relation to other interests of men individually and of the bond of society, in order not to neglect any of the opposing elements—an antagonism which is founded in our own nature, and which, therefore, no philosophy can unravel—we shall now look for that unity into which, in practical life, these antagonistic elements combine themselves by partly neutralising each other. We should have brought forward this unity at the very commencement if it had not been necessary to bring out this contradict on very plainly, and also to look at the different elements separately. Now, this unity is the conception that War is only a part of political intercourse, therefore by no means an independent thing in itself.
We know, certainly, that War is only called forth through the political intercourse of Governments and Nations; but in general it is supposed that such intercourse is broken off by War, and that a total y different state of things ensues, subject to no laws but its own.
(We maintain, on the contrary, that War is nothing but a continuation of political intercourse, with a mixture of other means. We say mixed with other means in order thereby to maintain at the same time that this political intercourse does not cease by the War itself, is not changed into something quite different, but that, in its essence, it continues to exist, whatever may be the form of the means which it uses, and that the chief lines on which the events of the War progress, and to which they are attached, are only the general features of policy which run all through the War until peace takes place.) And how can we conceive it to be otherwise? Does the cessation of diplomatic notes stop the political relations between different Nations and Governments? Is not War merely another kind of writing and language for political thoughts? It has certainly a grammar of its own, but its logic is not peculiar to itself.
Accordingly, War can never be separated from political intercourse, and if, in the consideration of the matter, this is done in any way, all the threads of the different relations are, to a certain extent, broken, and we have before us a senseless thing without an object.
This kind of idea would be indispensable even if War was perfect War, the perfectly unbridled element of hostility, for all the circumstances on which it rests, and which determine its leading features, viz., our own power, the enemy’s power, Allies on both sides, the characteristics of the people and their Governments respectively, &c., as enumerated in the first chapter of the first book—are they not of a political nature, and are they not so intimately connected with the whole political intercourse that it is impossible to separate them? But this view is doubly indispensable if we reflect that real War is no such consistent effort tending to an extreme, as it should be according to the abstract idea, but a half-and-half thing, a contradiction in itself; that, as such, it cannot follow its own laws, but must be looked upon as a part of another whole—and this whole is policy.
Policy in making use of War avoids all those rigorous conclusions which proceed from its nature; it troubles itself little about final possibilities, confining its attention to immediate probabilities. If such uncertainty in the whole action ensues therefrom, if it thereby becomes a sort of game, the policy of each Cabinet places its confidence in the belief that in this game it will surpass its neighbour in skill and sharpsightedness.
Thus policy makes out of the all-overpowering element of War a mere instrument, changes the tremendous battle-sword, which should be lifted with both hands and the whole power of the body to strike once for all, into a light handy weapon, which is even sometimes nothing more than a rapier to exchange thrusts and feints and parries.
Thus the contradictions in which man, naturally timid, becomes involved by War may be solved, if we choose to accept this as a solution.
If War belongs to policy, it will naturally take its character from thence. If policy is grand and powerful, so also will be the War, and this may be carried to the point at which War attains to its absolute form.
In this way of viewing the subject, therefore, we need not shut out of sight the absolute form of War, we rather keep it continually in view in the background.
Only through this kind of view War recovers unity; only by it can we see all Wars as things of one kind; and it is only through it that the judgment can obtain the true and perfect basis and point of view from which great plans may be traced out and determined upon.
It is true the political element does not sink deep into the details of War. Vedettes are not planted, patrols do not make their rounds from political considerations; but small as is its influence in this respect, it is great in the formation of a plan for a whole War, or a campaign, and often even for a battle.
For this reason we were in no hurry to establish this view at the commencement. While engaged with particulars, it would have given us little help, and, on the other hand, would have distracted our attention to a certain extent; in the plan of a War or campaign it is indispensable.
There is, upon the whole, nothing more important in life than to find out the right point of view from which things should be looked at and judged of, and then to keep to that point; for we can only apprehend the mass of events in their unity from one standpoint; and it is only the keeping to one point of view that guards us from inconsistency.
If, therefore, in drawing up a plan of a War, it is not allowable to have a two-fold or three-fold point of view, from which things may be looked at, now with the eye of a soldier, then with that of an administrator, and then again with that of a politician, &c., then the next question is, whether policy is necessarily paramount and everything else subordinate to it.
(That policy unites in itself, and reconciles all the interests of internal administrations, even those of humanity, and whatever else are rational subjects of consideration is presupposed, for it is nothing in itself, except a mere representative and exponent of all these interests towards other States. That policy may take a false direction, and may promote unfairly the ambitious ends, the private interests, the vanity of rulers, does not concern us here; for, under no circumstances can the Art of War be regarded as its preceptor, and we can only look at policy here as the representative of the interests ge erally of the whole community.)
The only question, therefore, is whether in framing plans for a War the political point of view should give way to the purely military (if such a point is conceivable), that is to say, should disappear altogether, or subordinate itself to it, or whether the political is to remain the ruling point of view and the military to be considered subordinate to it.
That the political point of view should end completely when War begins is only conceivable in contests which are Wars of life and death, from pure hatred: as Wars are in reality, they are, as we before said, only the expressions or manifestations of policy itself. The subordination of the political point of view to the military would be contrary to common sense, for policy has declared the War; it is the intelligent faculty, War only the instrument, and not the reverse. The subordination of the military point of view to the political is, therefore, the only thing which is possible.
If we reflect on the nature of real War, and call to mind what has been said in the third chapter of this book, that every War should be viewed above all things according to the probability of its character, and its leading features as they are to be deduced from the political forces and proportions, and that often—indeed we may safely affirm, in our days, almost always—War is to be regarded as an organic whole, from which the single branches are not to be separated, in which therefore every individual activity flows into the whole, and also has its origin in the idea of this whole, then it becomes certain and palpable to us that the superior standpoint for the conduct of the War, from which its leading lines must proceed, can be no other than that of policy.
From this point of view the plans come, as it were, out of a cast; the apprehension of them and the judgment upon them become easier and more natural, our convictions respecting them gain in force, motives are more satisfying, and history more intelligible.
At all events from this point of view there is no longer in the nature of things a necessary conflict between the political and military interests, and where it appears it is therefore to be regarded as imperfect knowledge only. That policy makes demands on the War which it cannot respond to, would be contrary to the supposition that it knows the instrument which it is going to use, therefore, contrary to a natural and indispensable supposition. But if policy judges correctly of the march of military events, it is entirely its affair to determine what are the events and what the direction of events most favourable to the ultimate and great end of the War.
In one word, the Art of War in its highest point of view is policy, but, no doubt, a policy which fights battles instead of writing notes.
According to this view, to leave a great military enterprise, or the plan for one, to a purely military judgment and decision is a distinction which cannot be allowed, and is even prejudicial; indeed, it is an irrational proceeding to consult professional soldiers on the plan of a War, that they may give a purely military opinion upon what the Cabinet ought to do; but still more absurd is the demand of Theorists that a statement of the available means of War should be laid before the General, that he may draw out a purely military plan for the War or for a campaign in accordance with those means. Experience in general also teaches us that notwithstanding the multifarious branches and scientific character of military art in the present day, still the leading outlines of a War are always determined by the Cabinet, that is, if we would use technical language, by a political not a military organ.
This is perfectly natural. None of the principal plans which are required for a War can be made without an insight into the political relations; and, in reality, when people speak, as they often do, of the prejudicial influence of policy on the conduct of a War, they say in reality something very different to what they intend. It is not this influence but the policy itself which should be found fault with. If policy is right, that is, if it succeeds in hitting the object, then it can only act with advantage on the War. If this influence of policy causes a divergence from the object, the cause is only to be looked for in a mistaken policy.
It is only when policy promises itself a wrong effect from certain military means and measures, an effect opposed to their nature, that it can exercise a prejudicial effect on War by the course it prescribes. Just as a person in a language with which he is not conversant sometimes says what he does not intend, so policy, when intending right, may often order things which do not tally with its own views.
This has happened times without end, and it shows that a certain knowledge of the nature of War is essential to the management of political intercourse.
But before going further, we must guard ourselves against a false interpretation of which this is very susceptible. We are far from holding the opinion that a War Minister smothered in official papers, a scientific engineer, or even a soldier who has been well tried in the field, would, any of them, necessarily make the best Minister of State where the Sovereign does not act for himself; or, in other words, we do not mean to say that this acquaintance with the nature of War is the principal qualification for a War Minister; elevation, superiority of mind, strength of character, these are the principal qualifications which he must possess; a knowledge of War may be supplied in one way or the other. France was never worse advised in its military and political affairs than by the two brothers Belleisle and the Duke of Choiseul, although all three were good soldiers.
If War is to harmonise entirely with the political views and policy, to accommodate itself to the means available for War, there is only one alternative to be recommended when the statesman and soldier are not combined in one person, which is, to make the Commander-in-Chief a member of the Cabinet, that he may take part in its councils and decisions on important occasions. But then, again, this is only possible when the Cabinet, that is, the Government itself, is near the theatre of War, so that things can be settled without a serious waste of time.
This is what the Emperor of Austria did in 1809, and the allied Sovereigns in 1813, 1814, 1815, and the arrangement proved completely satisfactory.
The influence of any military man except the General-in-Chief in the Cabinet is extremely dangerous; it very seldom leads to able vigorous action. The example of France in 1793, 1794, 1795, when Carnot, while residing in Paris, managed the conduct of the War, is to be avoided, as a system of terror is not at the command of any but a revolutionary government.
We shall now conclude with some reflections derived from history.
In the last decade of the past century, when that remarkable change in the Art of War in Europe took place by which the best Armies found that a part of their method of War had become utterly unserviceable, and events were brought about of a magnitude far beyond what any one had any previous conception of, it certainly appeared that a false calculation of everything was to be laid to the charge of the Art of War. It was plain that while confined by habit within a narrow circle of conceptions, she had been surprised by the force of a new state of relations, lying, no doubt, outside that circle, but still not outside the nature of things.
Those observers who took the most comprehensive view ascribed the circumstance to the general influence which policy had exercised for centuries on the Art of War, and undoubtedly to its very great disadvantage, and by which it had sunk into a half-measure, often into mere sham-fighting. They were right as to fact, but they were wrong in attributing it to something accidental, or which might have been avoided.
Others thought that everything was to be explained by the momentary influence of the particular policy of Austria, Prussia, England, &c., with regard to their own interests respectively.
But is it true that the real surprise by which men’s minds were seized was confined to the conduct of War, and did not rather relate to policy itself? That is: Did the ill success proceed from the influence of policy on the War, or from a wrong policy itself?
The prodigious effects of the French Revolution abroad were evidently brought about much less through new methods and views introduced by the French in the conduct of War than through the changes which it wrought in state-craft and civil administration, in the character of Governments, in the condition of the people, &c. That other Governments took a mistaken view of all these things; that they endeavoured, with their ordinary means, to hold their own against forces of a novel kind and overwhelming in strength—all that was a blunder in policy.
Would it have been possible to perceive and mend this error by a scheme for the War from a purely military point of view? Impossible. For if there had been a philosophical strategist, who merely from the nature of the hostile elements had foreseen all the consequences, and prophesied remote possibilities, still it would have been practically impossible to have turned such wisdom to account.
If policy had risen to a just appreciation of the forces which had sprung up in France, and of the new relations in the political state of Europe, it might have foreseen the consequences which must follow in respect to the great features of War, and it was only in this way that it could arrive at a correct view of the extent of the means required as well as of the best use to make of those means.
We may therefore say, that the twenty years’ victories of the Revolution are chiefly to be ascribed to the erroneous policy of the Governments by which it was opposed.
It is true these errors first displayed themselves in the War, and the events of the War completely disappointed the expectations which policy entertained. But this did not take place because policy neglected to consult its military advisers. That Art of War in which the politician of the day could believe, namely, that derived from the reality of War at that time, that which belonged to the policy of the day, that familiar instrument which policy had hitherto used—that Art of War, I say, was naturally involved in the error of policy, and therefore could not teach it anything better. It is true that War itself underwent important alterations both in its nature and forms, which brought it nearer to its absolute form; but these changes were not brought about because the French Government had, to a certain extent, delivered itself from the leading-strings of policy; they arose from an altered policy, produced by the French Revolution, not only in France, but over the rest of Europe as well. This policy had called forth other means and other powers, by which it became possible to conduct War with a degree of energy which could not have been thought of otherwise.
Therefore, the actual changes in the Art of War are a consequence of alterations in policy; and, so far from being an argument for the possible separation of the two, they are, on the contrary, very strong evidence of the intimacy of their connection.
Therefore, once more: War is an instrument of policy; it must necessarily bear its character, it must measure with its scale: the conduct of War, in its great features, is therefore policy itself, which takes up the sword in place of the pen, but does not on that account cease to think according to its own laws.
LIMITED OBJECT—OFFENSIVE WAR
Even if the complete overthrow of the enemy cannot be the object, there may still be one which is directly positive, and this positive object can be nothing else than the conquest of a part of the enemy’s country.
The use of such a conquest is this, that we weaken the enemy’s resources generally, therefore, of course, his military power, while we increase our own; that we therefore carry on the War, to a certain extent, at his expense; further in this way, that in negotiations for peace, the possession of the enemy’s provinces may be regarded as net gain, because we can either keep them or exchange them for other advantages.
This view of a conquest of the enemy’s provinces is very natural, and would be open to no objection if it were not that the defensive attitude, which must succeed the offensive, may often cause uneasiness.
In the chapter on the culminating point of victory we have sufficiently explained the manner in which such an offensive weakens the combatant force, and that it may be succeeded by a situation causing anxiety as to the future.
This weakening of our combatant force by the conquest of part of the enemy’s territory has its degrees, and these depend chiefly on the geographical position of this portion of territory. The more it is an annex of our own country, being contiguous to or embraced by it, the more it is in the direction of our principal force, by so much the less will it weaken our combatant force. In the Seven Years’ War, Saxony was a natural complement of the Prussian theatre of War, and Frederick the Great’s Army, instead of being weakened, was strengthened by the possession of that province, because it lies nearer to Silesia than to the Mark, and at the same time covers the latter.
Even in 1742 and 1743, after Frederick the Great had once conquered Silesia, it did not weaken his Army in the field, because, owing to its form and situation as well as the contour of its frontier line, it only presented a narrow point to the Austrians, as long as they were not masters of Saxony, and besides that, this small point of contact also lay in the direction of the chief operations of the contending forces.
If, on the other hand, the conquered territory is a strip running up between hostile provinces and has an eccentric position and unfavourable configuration of ground, then the weakening increases so visibly that a victorious battle becomes not only much easier for the enemy, but it may even become unnecessary as well.
The Austrians have always been obliged to evacuate Provence without a battle when they have made attempts on it from Italy. In the year 1744 the French were very well pleased even to get out of Bohemia without having lost a battle. In 1758 Frederick the Great could not hold his position in Bohemia and Moravia with the same force with which he had obtained such brilliant successes in Silesia and Saxony in 1757. Examples of Armies not being able to keep possession of conquered territory solely because their combatant force was so much weakened, thereby are so common that it does not appear necessary to quote any more of them.
Therefore, the question whether we should aim at such an object depends on whether we can expect to hold possession of the conquest or whether a temporary occupation (invasion, diversion) would repay the expenditure of force required: especially, whether we have not to apprehend such a vigorous counterstroke as will completely destroy the balance of forces. In the chapter on the culminating point we have treated of the consideration due to this question in each particular case.
There is just one point which we have still to add.
An offensive of this kind will not always compensate us for what we lose upon other points. Whilst we are engaged in making a partial conquest, the enemy may be doing the same at other points, and if our enterprise does not greatly preponderate in importance then it will not compel the enemy to give up his. It is, therefore, a question for serious consideration whether we may not lose more than we gain in a case of this description.
Even if we suppose two provinces (one on each side) to be of equal value, we shall always lose more by the one which the enemy takes from us than we can gain by the one we take, because a number of our forces become to a certain extent like faux frais, non-effective. But as the same takes place on the enemy’s side also, one would suppose that in reality there is no ground to attach more importance to the maintenance of what is our own than to the conquest. But yet there is. The maintenance of our own territory is always a matter which more deeply concerns us, and the suffering inflicted on our own State cannot be outweighed, nor, to a certain extent, neutralised by what we gain in return, unless the latter promises a much greater percentage.
The consequence of all this is, that a strategic attack directed against only a moderate object involves a greater necessity for steps to defend other points which it does not directly cover than one which is directed against the centre of the enemy’s force; consequently, in such an attack the concentration of forces in time and space cannot be carried out to the same extent. In order that it may take place, at least as regards time, it becomes necessary for the advance to be made offensively from every point possible, and at the same moment exactly: and therefore this attack loses the other advantage of being able to make shift with a much smaller force by acting on the defensive at particular points. In this way the effect of aiming at a minor object is to bring all things more to a level: the whole act of the War cannot now be concentrated into one principal affair which can be governed according to leading points of view; it is more dispersed; the friction becomes greater everywhere, and there is everywhere more room for chance.
This is the natural tendency of the thing. The Commander is weighed down by it, finds himself more and more neutralised. The more he is conscious of his own powers, the greater his resources subjectively, and his power objectively, so much the more he will seek to liberate himself from this tendency in order to give to some one point a preponderating importance, even if that should only be possible by running greater risks.
The ultimate aim of defensive War can never be an absolute negation, as we have before observed. Even for the weakest there must be some point in which the enemy may be made to feel, and which may be threatened.
Certainly we may say that this object is the exhaustion of the adversary, for as he has a positive object, every one of his blows which fails, if it has no other result than the loss of the force applied, still may be considered a retrograde step in reality, whilst the loss which the defensive suffers is not in vain, because his object was keeping possession, and that he has effected. This would be tantamount to saying that the defensive has his positive object in merely keeping possession. Such reasoning might be good if it was certain that the assailant after a certain number of fruitless attempts must be worn out, and desist from further efforts. But just this necessary consequence is wanting. If we look at the exhaustion of forces, the defender is under a disadvantage. The assailant becomes weaker, but only in the sense that it may reach a turning point; if we set aside that supposition, the weakening goes on certainly more rapidly on the defensive side than on that of the assailant: for in the first place, he is the weaker, and, therefore, if the losses on both sides are equal, he loses more actually than the other; in the next place, he is deprived generally of a portion of territory and of his resources. We have here, therefore, no ground on which to build the expectation that the offensive will cease, and nothing remains but the idea that if the assailant repeats his blows, while the defensive does nothing but wait to ward them off, then the defender has no counterpoise as a set-off to the risk he runs of one of these attacks succeeding sooner or later.
Although in reality the exhaustion, or rather the weakening of the stronger, has brought about a peace in many instances that is to be attributed to the indecision which is so general in War, but cannot be imagined philosophically as the general and ultimate object of any defensive War whatever, there is, therefore, no alternative but that the defence should find its object in the idea of the “waiting for,” which is besides its real character. This idea in itself includes that of an alteration of circumstances, of an improvement of the situation, which, therefore, when it cannot be brought about by internal means, that is, by defensive pure in itself, can only be expected through assistance coming from without. Now, this improvement from without can proceed from nothing else than a change in political relations; either new alliances spring up in favour of the defender, or old ones directed against him fall to pieces.
Here, then, is the object for the defender, in case his weakness does not permit him to think of any important counterstroke. But this is not the nature of every defensive War, according to the conception which we have given of its form. According to that conception it is the stronger form of War, and on account of that strength it can also be applied when a counterstroke more or less important is designed.
These two cases must be kept distinct from the very first, as they have an influence on the defence.
In the first case, the defender’s object is to keep possession of his own country as long as possible, because in that way he gains most time; and gaining time is the only way to attain his object. The positive object which he can in most cases attain, and which will give him an opportunity of carrying out his object in the negotiations for peace, he cannot yet include in his plan for the War. In this state of strategic passiveness, the advantages which the defender can gain at certain points consist in merely repelling partial attacks; the preponderance gained at those points he tries to make of service to him at others, for he is generally hard pressed at all points. If he has not the opportunity of doing this, then there often only accrues to him the small advantage that the enemy will leave him at rest for a time.
If the defender is not altogether too weak, small offensive operations directed less towards permanent possession than a temporary advantage to cover losses, which may be sustained afterwards, invasions, diversions, or enterprises against a single fortress, may have a place in this defensive system without altering its object or essence.
But in the second case, in which a positive object is already grafted upon the defensive, the greater the counterstroke that is warranted by circumstances the more the defensive imports into itself of a positive character. In other words, the more the defence has been adopted voluntarily, in order to make the first blow surer, the bolder may be the snares which the defender lays for his opponent. The boldest, and if it succeeds, the most effectual, is the retreat into the interior of the country; and this means is then at the same time that which differs most widely from the other system.
Let us only think of the difference between the position in which Frederick the Great was placed in the Seven Years’ War, and that of Russia in 1812.
When the War began, Frederick, through his advanced state of preparation for War, had a kind of superiority; this gave him the advantage of being able to make himself master of Saxony, which was besides such a natural complement of his theatre of War that the possession of it did not diminish, but increased his combatant force.
At the opening of the campaign of 1757, the King endeavoured to proceed with his strategic attack, which seemed not impossible as long as the Russians and French had not yet reached the theatre of War in Silesia, the Mark and Saxony. But the attack miscarried, and Frederick was thrown back on the defensive for the rest of the campaign, was obliged to evacuate Bohemia and to rescue his own theatre from the enemy, in which he only succeeded by turning himself with one and the same Army, first upon the French, and then upon the Austrians. This advantage he owed entirely to the defensive.
In the year 1758, when his enemies had drawn round him in a closer circle, and his forces were dwindling down to a very disproportionate relation, he determined on an offensive on a small scale in Moravia; his plan was to take Olmütz before his enemies were prepared; not in the expectation of keeping possession of, or of making it a base for further advance, but to use it as a sort of advanced work, a counter-approach against the Austrians, who would be obliged to devote the rest of the present campaign, and perhaps even a second, to recover possession of it. This attack also miscarried. Frederick then gave up all idea of a real offensive, as he saw that it only increased the disproportion of his Army. A compact position in the heart of his own country in Saxony and Silesia, the use of short lines, that he might be able rapidly to increase his forces at any point which might be menaced, a battle when unavoidable, small incursions when opportunity offered, and along with this a patient state of waiting-for (expectation), a saving of his means for better times became now his general plan. By degrees the execution of it became more and more passive. As he saw that even a victory cost him too much, he tried to manage at still less expense; everything depended on gaining time and on keeping what he had got; he therefore became more tenacious of yielding any ground, and did not hesitate to adopt a perfect cordon system. The positions of Prince Henry in Saxony, as well as those of the King in the Silesian mountains, may be so termed, In his letters to the Marquis d’Argens, he manifests the impatience with which he looks forward to winter quarters and the satisfaction he felt at being able to take them up again without having suffered any serious loss.
Whoever blames Frederick for this, and looks upon it as a sign that his spirit had sunk, would, we think, pass judgment without much reflection.
If the entrenched camp at Bunzelwitz, the positions taken up by Prince Henry in Saxony, and by the King in the Silesian mountains, do not appear to us now as measures on which a General should place his dependence in a last extremity because a Buonaparte would soon have thrust his sword through such tactical cobwebs, we must not forget that times have changed, that War has become a totally different thing, is quickened with new energies, and that therefore positions might have been excellent at that time, although they are not so now, and that in addition to all, the character of the enemy deserves attention. Against the Army of the German States, against Daun and Butturlin, it might have been the height of wisdom to employ means which Frederick would have despised if used against himself.
The result justified this view: in the state of patient expectation, Frederick attained his object, and evaded difficulties in a collision with which his forces would have been dashed to pieces.
The relation in point of numbers between the Russian and French Armies opposed to each other at the opening of the campaign in 1812 was still more unfavourable to the former than that between Frederick and his enemies in the Seven Years’ War. But the Russians looked forward to being joined by large reinforcements in the course of the campaign. All Europe was in secret hostility to Buonaparte, his power had been screwed up to the highest point, a devouring War occupied him in Spain, and the vast extent of Russia allowed of pushing the exhaustion of the enemy’s military means to the utmost extremity by a retreat over five hundred miles of country. Under circumstances on this grand scale, a tremendous counterstroke was not only to be expected if the French enterprise failed (and how could it succeed if the Russian Emperor would not make peace, or his subjects did not rise in insurrection?), but this counterstroke might also end in the complete destruction of the enemy. The most profound sagacity could, therefore, not have devised a better plan of campaign than that which the Russians followed on the spur of the moment.
That this was not the opinion at the time, and that such a view would then have been looked upon as preposterous, is no reason for our now denying it to be the right one. If we are to learn from history, we must look upon things which have actually happened as also possible in the future, and that the series of great events which succeeded the march upon Moscow is not a succession of mere accidents every one will grant who can claim to give an opinion on such subjects. If it had been possible for the Russians, with great efforts, to defend their frontier, it is certainly probable that in such case also the French power would have sunk, and that they would have at last suffered a reverse of fortune; but the reaction then would certainly not have been so violent and decisive. By sufferings and sacrifices (which certainly in any other country would have been greater, and in most cases would have been impossible) Russia purchased this enormous success.
Thus a great positive success can never be obtained except through positive measures, planned not with a view to a mere state of “waiting-for,” but with a view to a decision, in short, even on the defensive, there is no great gain to be won except by a great stake.
PLAN OF WAR WHEN THE DESTRUCTION OF THE ENEMY IS THE OBJECT
Having characterised in detail the different aims to which War may be directed, we shall go through the organisation of War as a whole for each of the three separate gradations corresponding to these aims.
In conformity with all that has been said on the subject up to the present, two fundamental principles reign throughout the whole plan of the War, and serve as a guide for everything else.
The first is: to reduce the weight of the enemy’s power into as few centres of gravity as possible, into one if it can be done; again, to confine the attack against these centres of force to as few principal undertakings as possible, to one if possible; lastly, to keep all secondary undertakings as subordinate as possible. In a word, the first principle is, to concentrate as much as possible.
The second principle runs thus—to act as swiftly as possible; therefore, to allow of no delay or detour without sufficient reason.
The reducing the enemy’s power to one central point depends—
(1) On the nature of its political connection. If it consists of Armies of one Power, there is generally no difficulty; if of allied Armies, of which one is acting simply as an ally without any interest of its own, then the difficulty is not much greater; if of a coalition for a common object, then it depends on the cordiality of the alliance; we have already treated of this subject.
(2) On the situation of the theatre of War upon which the different hostile Armies make their appearance.
If the enemy’s forces are collected in one Army upon one theatre of War, they constitute in reality a unity, and we need not inquire further; if they are upon one theatre of War, but in separate Armies, which belong to different Powers, there is no longer absolute unity; there is, however, a sufficient interdependence of parts for a decisive blow upon one part to throw down the other in the concussion. If the Armies are posted in theatres of War adjoining each other, and not separated by any great natural obstacles, then there is in such case also a decided influence of the one upon the other; but if the theatres of War are wide apart, if there is neutral territory, great mountains, &c., intervening between them, then the influence is very doubtful and improbable as well; if they are on quite opposite sides of the State against which the War is made, so that operations directed against them must diverge on eccentric lines, then almost every trace of connection is at an end.
If Prussia was attacked by France and Russia at the same time, it would be as respects the conduct of the War much the same as if there were two separate Wars; at the same time the unity would appear in the negotiations.
Saxony and Austria, on the contrary, as military powers in the Seven Years’ War, were to be regarded as one; what the one suffered the other felt also, partly because the theatres of War lay in the same direction for Frederick the Great, partly because Saxony had no political independence.
Numerous as were the enemies of Buonaparte in Germany in 1813, still they all stood very much in one direction in respect to him, and the theatres of War for their Armies were in close connection, and reciprocally influenced each other very powerfully. If by a concentration of all his forces he had been able to overpower the main Army, such a defeat would have had a decisive effect on all the parts. If he had beaten the Bohemian Grand Army, and marched upon Vienna by Prague, Blücher, however willing, could not have remained in Saxony, because he would have been called upon to cooperate in Bohemia, and the Crown Prince of Sweden as well would have been unwilling to remain in the Mark.
On the other hand, Austria, if carrying on War against the French on the Rhine and Italy at the same time, will always find it difficult to give a decision upon one of those theatres by means of a successful stroke on the other. Partly because Switzerland, with its mountains, forms too strong a barrier between the two theatres, and partly because the direction of the roads on each side is divergent. France, again, can much sooner decide in the one by a successful result in the other, because the direction of its forces in both converges upon Vienna, the centre of the power of the whole Austrian empire; we may add further, that a decisive blow in Italy will have more effect on the Rhine theatre than a success on the Rhine would have in Italy, because the blow from Italy strikes nearer to the centre, and that from the Rhine more upon the flank, of the Austrian dominions.
It proceeds from what we have said that the conception of separated or connected hostile power extends through all degrees of relationship, and that therefore, in each case, the first thing is to discover the influence which events in one theatre may have upon the other, according to which we may afterwards settle how far the different forces of the enemy may be reduced into one centre of force.
There is only one exception to the principle of directing all our strength against the centre of gravity of the enemy’s power, that is, if ancillary expeditions promise extraordinary advantages, and still, in this case, it is a condition assumed, that we have such a decisive superiority as enables us to undertake such enterprises without incurring too great risk at the point which forms our great object.
When General Bülow marched into Holland in 1814, it was to be foreseen that the thirty thousand men composing his corps would not only neutralise the same number of Frenchmen, but would, besides, give the English and the Dutch an opportunity of entering the field with forces which otherwise would never have been brought into activity.
Thus, therefore, the first consideration in the combination of a plan for a War is to determine the centres of gravity of the enemy’s power, and, if possible, to reduce them to one. The second is to unite the forces which are to be employed against the centre of force into one great action.
Here now the following grounds for dividing our forces may present themselves:
(1) The original position of the military forces, therefore also the situation of the States engaged in the offensive.
If the concentration of the forces would occasion detours and loss of time, and the danger of advancing by separate lines is not too great, then the same may be justifiable on those grounds; for to effect an unnecessary concentration of forces, with great loss of time, by which the freshness and rapidity of the first blow is diminished, would be contrary to the second leading principle we have laid down. In all cases in which there is a hope of surprising the enemy in some measure, this deserves particular attention.
But the case becomes still more important if the attack is undertaken by allied States which are not situated on a line directed towards the State attacked—not one behind the other—but situated side by side. If Prussia and Austria undertook a War against France, it would be a very erroneous measure, a squandering of time and force if the Armies of the two Powers were obliged to set out from the same point, as the natural line for an Army operating from Prussia against the heart of France is from the lower Rhine, and that of the Austrians is from the Upper Rhine. Concentration, therefore, in this case, could only be effected by a sacrifice; consequently, in any particular instance, the question to be decided would be, Is the necessity for concentration so great that this sacrifice must be made?
(2) The attack by separate lines may offer greater results.
As we are now speaking of advancing by separate lines against one centre of force, we are therefore, supposing an advance by converging lines. A separate advance on parallel or eccentric lines belongs to the rubric of accessory undertakings, of which we have already spoken.
Now, every convergent attack in Strategy, as well as in tactics, holds out the prospect of great results; for if it succeeds, the consequence is not simply a defeat, but more or less the cutting off of the enemy. The concentric attack, is therefore, always that which may lead to the greatest results; but on account of the separation of the parts of the force, and the enlargement of the theatre of War, it involves also the most risk; it is the same here as with attack and defence, the weaker form holds out the greater results in prospect.
The question therefore is, whether the assailant feels strong enough to try for this great result.
When Frederick the Great advanced upon Bohemia, in the year 1757, he set out from Saxony and Silesia with his forces divided. The two principal reasons for his doing so were, first, that his forces were so cantoned in the winter that a concentration of them at one point would have divested the attack of all the advantages of a surprise; and next, that by this concentric advance, each of the two Austrian theatres of War was threatened in the flanks and the rear. The danger to which Frederick the Great exposed himself on that occasion was that one of his two Armies might have been completely defeated by superior forces; should the Austrians not see this, then they would have to give battle with their centre only, or run the risk of being thrown off their line of communication, either on one side or the other, and meeting with a catastrophe; this was the great result which the King hoped for by this advance. The Austrians preferred the battle in the centre, but Prague, where they took up their position, was in a situation too much under the influence of the convergent attack, which, as they remained perfectly passive in their position, had time to develop its efficacy to the utmost. The consequence of this was that when they lost the battle, it was a complete catastrophe; as is manifest from the fact that two-thirds of the Army with the Commander-in-Chief were obliged to shut themselves up in Prague.
This brilliant success at the opening of the campaign was attained by the bold stroke with a concentric attack. If Frederick considered the precision of his own movements, the energy of his Generals, the moral superiority of his troops, on the one side, and the sluggishness of the Austrians on the other, as sufficient to ensure the success of his plan, who can blame him? But as we cannot leave these moral advantages out of consideration, neither can we ascribe the success solely to the mere geometrical form of the attack. Let us only think of the no less brilliant campaign of Buonaparte, in the year 1796, when the Austrians were so severely punished for their concentric march into Italy. The means which the French General had at command on that occasion, the Austrian General had also at his disposal in 1757 (with the exception of the moral), indeed, he had rather more, for he was not, like Buonaparte, weaker than his adversary. Therefore, when it is to be apprehended that the advance on separate converging lines may afford the enemy the means of counteracting the inequality of numerical forces by using interior lines, such a form of attack is not advisable; and if on account of the situation of the belligerents it must be resorted to, it can only be regarded as a necessary evil.
If, from this point of view, we cast our eyes on the plan which was adopted for the invasion of France in 1814, it is impossible to give it approval. The Russian, Austrian, and Prussian Armies were concentrated at a point near Frankfort-on-the-Maine, on the most natural and most direct line to the centre of the force of the French monarchy. These Armies were then separated, that one might penetrate into France from Mayence, the other from Switzerland. As the enemy’s force was so reduced that a defence of the frontier was out of the question, the whole advantage to be expected from this concentric advance, if it succeeded, was that while Lorraine and Alsace were conquered by one Army, Franche-Comté would be taken by the other. Was this trifling advantage worth the trouble of marching into Switzerland? We know very well that there were other (but just as insufficient) grounds which caused this march; but we confine ourselves here to the point which we are considering.
On the other side, Buonaparte was a man who thoroughly understood the defensive to oppose to a concentric attack, as he had already shown in his masterly campaign of 1796; and although the Allies were very considerably superior in numbers, yet the preponderance due to his superiority as a General was on all occasions acknowledged. He joined his Army too late near Châlons, and looked down rather too much, generally, on his opponents, still he was very near hitting the two Armies separately; and what was the state he found them in at Brienne? Blücher had only 27,000 of his 65,000 men with him, and the Great Army, out of 200,000, had only 100,000 present. It was impossible to make a better game for the adversary. And from the moment that active work began, no greater want was felt than that of reunion.
After all these reflections, we think that although the concentric attack is in itself a means of obtaining greater results, still it should generally only proceed from a previous separation of the parts composing the whole force, and that there are few cases in which we should do right in giving up the shortest and most direct line of operation for the sake of adopting that form.
(3) The breadth of a theatre of War can be a motive for attacking on separate lines.
If an Army on the offensive in its advance from any point penetrates with success to some distance into the interior of the enemy’s country, then, certainly, the space which it commands is not restricted exactly to the line of road by which it marches, it will command a margin on each side; still that will depend very much, if we may use the figure, on the solidity and cohesion of the opposing State. If the State only hangs loosely together, if its people are an effeminate race unaccustomed to War, then, without our taking much trouble, a considerable extent of country will open behind our victorious Army; but if we have to deal with a brave and loyal population, the space behind our Army will form a triangle, more or less acute.
In order to obviate this evil, the attacking force requires to regulate its advance on a certain width of front. If the enemy’s force is concentrated at a particular point, this breadth of front can only be preserved so long as we are not in contact with the enemy, and must be contracted as we approach his position: that is easy to understand.
But if the enemy himself has taken up a position with a certain extent of front, then there is nothing absurd in a corresponding extension on our part. We speak here of one theatre of War, or of several, if they are quite close to each other. Obviously this is, therefore, the case when, according to our view, the chief operation is, at the same time, to be decisive on subordinate points.
But now, can we always run the chance of this? And may we expose ourselves to the danger which must arise if the influence of the chief operation is not sufficient to decide at the minor points? Does not the want of a certain breadth for a theatre of War deserve special consideration?
Here as well as everywhere else it is impossible to exhaust the number of combinations which may take place; but we maintain that, with few exceptions, the decision on the capital point will carry with it the decision on all minor points. Therefore, the action should be regulated in conformity with this principle, in all cases in which the contrary is not evident.
When Buonaparte invaded Russia, he had good reason to believe that by conquering the main body of the Russian Army he would compel their forces on the Upper Dwina to succumb. He left at first only the Corps of Oudinot to oppose them, but Wittgenstein assumed the offensive, and Buonaparte was then obliged to send also the sixth Corps to that quarter.
On the other hand, at the beginning of the campaign, he directed a part of his forces against Bagration; but that General was carried along by the influence of the backward movement in the centre, and Buonaparte was enabled then to recall that part of his forces. If Wittgenstein had not had to cover the second capital he would also have followed the retreat of the Great Army under Barclay.
In the years 1805 and 1809, Buonaparte’s victories at Ulm and Ratisbon decided matters in Italy and also in the Tyrol although the first was rather a distant theatre, and an independent one in itself. In the year 1806, his victories at Jena and Auerstadt were decisive in respect to everything that might have been attempted against him in Westphalia and Hesse, or on the Frankfort road.
Amongst the number of circumstances which may have an influence on the resistance at secondary points, there are two which are the most prominent.
The first is: that in a country of vast extent, and also relatively of great power, like Russia, we can put off the decisive blow at the chief point for some time, and are not obliged to do all in a hurry.
The second is: when a minor point (like Silesia in the year 1806), through a great number of fortresses, possesses an extraordinary degree of independent strength. Yet Buonaparte treated that point with great contempt, inasmuch as, when he had to leave such a point completely in his rear on the march to Warsaw, he only detached 20,000 men under his brother Jerome to that quarter.
If it happens that the blow at the capital point, in all probability, will not shake such a secondary point, or has not done so, and if the enemy has still forces at that point, then to these—as a necessary evil—an adequate force must be opposed, because no one can absolutely lay oper his line of communication from the very commencement.
But prudence may go a step further; it may require that the advance upon the chief point shall keep pace with that on the secondary points, and consequently the principal undertaking must be delayed whenever the secondary points will not succumb.
This principle does not directly contradict ours as to uniting all action as far as possible in one great undertaking, but the spirit from which it springs is diametrically opposed to the spirit in which ours is conceived. By following such a principle there would be such a measured pace in the movements, such a paralysation of the impulsive force, such room for the freak of chance, and such a loss of time, as would be practically perfectly inconsistent with an offensive directed to the complete overthrow of the enemy.
The difficulty becomes still greater if the forces stationed at these minor points can retire on divergent lines.—What would then become of the unity of our attack?
We must, therefore, declare ourselves completely opposed in principle to the dependence of the chief attack on minor attacks, and we maintain that an attack directed to the destruction of the enemy which has not the boldness to shoot, like the point of an arrow, direct at the heart of the enemy’s power, can never hit the mark.
(4) Lastly, there is still a fourth ground for a separate advance in the facility which it may afford for subsistence.
It is certainly much pleasanter to march with a small Army through an opulent country, than with a large Army through a poor one; but by suitable measures and with an Army accustomed to privations, the latter is not impossible, and, therefore, the first should never have such an influence on our plans as to lead us into a great danger.
We have now done justice to the grounds for a separation of forces which divides the chief operation into several, and if the separation takes place on any of these grounds, with a distinct conception of the object, and after due consideration of the advantages and disadvantages, we shall not venture to find fault.
But if, as usually happens, a plan is drawn out by a learned General Staff, merely according to routine; if different theatres of war, like the squares on a chessboard, must each have its piece first placed on it before the moves begin, if these moves approach the aim in complicated lines and relations by dint of an imaginary profundity in the art of combination, if the Armies are to separate to-day in order to apply all their skill in reuniting at the greatest risk in fourteen days—then we have a perfect horror of this abandonment of the direct, simple, common-sense road to rush intentionally into absolute confusion. This folly happens more easily the less the General-in-Chief directs the War, and conducts it in the sense which we have pointed out in the first chapter as an act of his individuality invested with extraordinary powers; the more, therefore, the whole plan is manufactured by an inexperienced Staff, and from the ideas of a dozen smatterers.
We have still now to consider the third part of our first principle; that is, to keep the subordinate parts as much as possible in subordination.
Whilst we endeavour to refer the whole of the operations of a War to one single aim, and try to attain this as far as possible by one great effort, we deprive the other points of contact of the States at War with each other of a part of their independence; they become subordinate actions. If we could concentrate everything absolutely into one action, then those points of contact would be completely neutralised; but this is seldom possible, and, therefore, what we have to do is to keep them so far within bounds, that they shall not cause the abstraction of too many forces from the main action.
Next, we maintain that the plan of the War itself should have this tendency, even if it is not possible to reduce the whole of the enemy’s resistance to one point; consequently in case we are placed in the position already mentioned. of carrying on two almost quite separate Wars at the same time, the one must always be looked upon as the principal affair to which our forces and activity are to be chiefly devoted.
In this view, it is advisable only to proceed offensively against that one principal point, and to preserve the defensive upon all the others. The attack there being only justifiable when invited by very exceptional circumstances.
Further, we are to carry on this defensive, which takes place at minor points, with as few troops as possible, and to seek to avail ourselves of every advantage which the defensive form can give.
This view applies with still more force to all theatres of War on which Armies come forward belonging to different powers really, but still such as will be struck when the general centre of force is struck.
But against the enemy at whom the great blow is aimed, there must be, according to this, no defensive on minor theatres of War. The chief attack itself, and the secondary attacks, which for other reasons are combined with it, make up this blow, and make every defensive, on points not directly covered by it, superfluous. All depends on this principal attack; by it every loss will be compensated. If the forces are sufficient to make it reasonable to seek for that great decision, then the possibility of failure can be no ground for guarding oneself against injury at other points in any event; for just by such a course this failure will become more probable, and it therefore constitutes here a contradiction in our action.
This same predominance of the principal action over the minor must be the principle observed in each of the separate branches of the attack. But as there are generally ulterior motives which determine what forces shall advance from one theatre of War and what from another against the common centre of the enemy’s power, we only mean here that there must be an effort to make the chief action overruling, for everything will become simpler and less subject to the influence of chance events the nearer this state of preponderance can be attained.
The second principle concerns the rapid use of the forces.
Every unnecessary expenditure of time, every unnecessary détour, is a waste of power, and therefore contrary to the principles of Strategy.
It is most important always to bear in mind that almost the only advantage which the offensive possesses is the effect of surprise at the opening of the scene. Suddenness and irresistible impetuosity are its strongest pinions; and when the object is the complete overthrow of the enemy, it can rarely dispense with them.
By this, therefore, theory demands the shortest way to the object, and completely excludes from consideration endless discussions about right and left here and there.
If we call to mind what was said in the chapter on the subject of the strategic attack respecting the pit of the stomach in a State, and further, what appears in the fourth chapter of this book, on the influence of time, we believe no further argument is required to prove that the influence which we claim for that principle really belongs to it.
Buonaparte never acted otherwise. The shortest high road from Army to Army, from one capital to another, was always the way he loved best.
And in what will now consist the principal action to which we have referred everything, and for which we have demanded a swift and straightforward execution?
In the fourth chapter we have explained as far as it is possible in a general way what the total overthrow of the enemy means, and it is unnecessary to repeat it. Whatever that may depend on at last in particular cases, still the first step is always the same in all cases, namely: The destruction of the enemy’s combatant force, that is, a great victory over the same and its dispersion. The sooner, which means the nearer our own frontiers, this victory is sought for, the easier it is; the later, that is, the further in the heart of the enemy’s country, it is gained, the more decisive it is. Here, as well as everywhere, the facility of success and its magnitude balance each other.
If we are not so superior to the enemy that the victory is beyond doubt, then we should, when possible, seek him out, that is his principal force. We say when possible, for if this endeavour to find him led to great détours, false directions, and a loss of time, it might very likely turn out a mistake. If the enemy’s principal force is not on our road, and our interests otherwise prevent our going in quest of him, we may be sure we shall meet with him hereafter, for he will not fail to place himself in our way. We shall then, as we have just said, fight under less advantageous circumstances—an evil to which we must submit. However, if we gain the battle, it will be so much the more decisive.
From this it follows that, in the case now assumed, it would be an error to pass by the enemy’s principal force designedly, if it places itself in our way, at least if we expect thereby to facilitate a victory.
On the other hand, it follows from what precedes, that if we have a decided superiority over the enemy’s principal force, we may designedly pass it by in order at a future time to deliver a more decisive battle.
We have been speaking of a complete victory, therefore of a thorough defeat of the enemy, and not of a mere battle gained. But such a victory requires an enveloping attack, or a battle with an oblique front, for these two forms always give the result a decisive character. It is therefore an essential part of a plan of a War to make arrangements for this movement, both as regards the mass of forces required and the direction to be given them, of which more will be said in the chapter on the plan of campaign.
It is certainly not impossible, that even battles fought with parallel fronts may lead to complete defeats, and cases in point are not wanting in military history; but such an event is uncommon and will be still more so the more Armies become on a par as regards discipline and handiness in the field. We no longer take twenty-one battalions in a village, as they did at Blenheim.
Once the great victory is gained, the next question is not about rest, not about taking breath, not about considering, not about reorganising, &c. &c., but only of pursuit of fresh blows wherever necessary, of the capture of the enemy’s capital, of the attack of the Armies of his Allies, or of whatever else appears to be a rallying-point for the enemy.
If the tide of victory carries us near the enemy’s fortresses, the laying siege to them or not will depend on our means. If we have a great superiority of force it would be a loss of time not to take them as soon as possible; but if we are not certain of the further events before us, we must keep the fortresses in check with as few troops as possible, which precludes any regular formal sieges. The moment that the siege of a fortress compels us to suspend our strategic advance, that advance, as a rule, has reached its culminating point. We demand, therefore, that the main body should press forward rapidly in pursuit without any rest; we have already condemned the idea of allowing the advance towards the principal point being made dependent on success at secondary points; the consequence of this is, that in all ordinary cases, our chief Army only keeps behind it a narrow strip of territory which it can call its own, and which therefore constitutes its theatre of War. How this weakens the momentum at the head, and the dangers for the offensive arising therefrom, we have shown already. Will not this difficulty, will not this intrinsic counterpoise come to a point which impedes further advance? Certainly that may occur; but just as we have already insisted that it would be a mistake to try to avoid this contracted theatre of War at the commencement, and for the sake of that object to rob the advance of its elasticity, so we also now maintain, that as long as the Commander has not yet overthrown his opponent, as long as he considers himself strong enough to effect that object, so long must he also pursue it. He does so perhaps at an increased risk, but also with the prospect of a greater success. If he reaches a point which he cannot venture to go beyond, where, in order to protect his rear, he must extend himself right and left—well, then, this is most probably his culminating point. The power of flight is spent, and if the enemy is not subdued, most probably the opportunity is lost.
All that the assailant now does to intensify his attack by conquest of fortresses, defiles, provinces, is no doubt still a slow advance, but it is only of a relative kind, it is no longer absolute. The enemy is no longer in flight, he is perhaps preparing a renewed resistance, and it is therefore already possible that, although the assailant still advances intensively, the position of the defence is every day improving. In short, we come back to this, that, as a rule, there is no second spring after a halt has once been necessary.
Theory therefore only requires that, as long as there is an intention of destroying the enemy, there must be no cessation in the advance of the attack; if the Commander gives up this object because it is attended with too great a risk, he does right to stop and extend his force. Theory only objects to this when he does it with a view to more readily defeating the enemy.
We are not so foolish as to maintain that no instance can be found of States having been gradually reduced to the utmost extremity. In the first place, the principle we now maintain is no absolute truth, to which an exception is impossible, but one founded only on the ordinary and probable result; next, we must make a distinction between cases in which the downfall of a State has been effected by a slow, gradual process, and those in which the event was the result of a first campaign. We are here only treating of the latter case, for it is only in such that there is that tension of forces which either overcomes the centre of gravity of the weight, or is in danger of being overcome by it. If in the first year we gain a moderate advantage, to which in the following we add another, and thus gradually advance towards our object, there is nowhere very imminent danger, but it is distributed over many points. Each pause between one result and another gives the enemy fresh chances: the effects of the first results have very little influence on those which follow, often none, often a negative only, because the enemy recovers himself, or is perhaps excited to increased resistance, or obtains foreign aid; whereas, when all is done in one march, the success of yesterday brings on with itself that of to-day, one brand lights itself from another. If there are cases in which States have been overcome by successive blows—in which, consequently, Time, generally the patron of the defensive, has proved adverse—how infinitely more numerous are the instances in which the designs of the aggressor have by that means utterly failed. Let us only think of the result of the Seven Years’ War, in which the Austrians sought to attain their object so comfortably, cautiously, and prudently, that they completely missed it.
In this view, therefore, we cannot at all join in the opinion that the care which belongs to the preparation of a theatre of war, and the impulse which urges us onwards, are on a level in importance, and that the former must, to a certain extent, be a counterpoise to the latter; but we look upon any evil which springs out of the forward movement as an unavoidable evil which only deserves attention when there is no longer hope for us ahead by the forward movement.
Buonaparte’s case in 1812, very far from shaking our opinion, has rather confirmed us in it.
His campaign did not miscarry because he advanced too swiftly, or too far, as is commonly believed, but because the only means of success failed. The Russian Empire is no country which can be regularly conquered, that is to say, which can be held in possession, at least not by the forces of the present States of Europe, nor by the 500,000 men with which Buonaparte invaded the country. Such a country can only be subdued by its own weakness, and by the effects of internal dissension. In order to strike these vulnerable points in its political existence, the country must be agitated to its very centre. It was only by reaching Moscow with the force of his blow that Buonaparte could hope to shake the courage of the Government, the loyalty and steadfastness of the people. In Moscow he expected to find peace, and this was the only rational object which he could set before himself in undertaking such a campaign.
He therefore led his main body against that of the Russians, which fell back before him, trudged past the camp at Drissa, and did not stop until it reached Smolensk. He carried Bagration along in his movement, beat the principal Russian Army, and took Moscow. He acted on this occasion as he had always done: it was only in that way that he made himself the arbiter of Europe, and only in that way was it possible for him to do so.
He, therefore, who admires Buonaparte in all his earlier campaigns as the greatest of Generals, ought not to censure him in this instance.
It is quite allowable to judge an event according to the result, as that is the best criticism upon it (see fifth chapter, second book), but this judgment, derived merely from the result, must not then be passed off as evidence of superior understanding. To seek out the causes of the failure of a campaign is not going the length of making a criticism upon it; it is only if we show that these causes should neither have been overlooked nor disregarded that we make a criticism and place ourselves above the General.
Now we maintain that any one who pronounces the campaign of 1812 an absurdity merely on account of the tremendous reaction in it, and who, if it had been successful, would look upon it as a most splendid combination, shows an utter incapacity of judgment.
If Buonaparte had remained in Lithuania, as most of his critics think he should, in order first to get possession of the fortresses, of which, moreover, except Riga, situated quite at one side, there is hardly one, because Bobruisk is a small insignificant place of arms, he would have involved himself for the winter in a miserable defensive system: then the same people would have been the first to exclaim, This is not the old Buonaparte! How is it, he has not got even as far as a first great battle? he who used to put the final seal to his conquests on the last ramparts of the enemy’s States, by victories such as Austerlitz and Friedland. Has his heart failed him that he has not taken the enemy’s capital, the defenceless Moscow, ready to open its gates, and thus left a nucleus round which new elements of resistance may gather themselves? He had the singular luck to take this far-off and enormous colossus by surprise, as easily as one would surprise a neighbouring town, or as Frederick the Great entered the little state of Silesia, lying at his door, and he makes no use of his good fortune, halts in the middle of his victorious career, as if some evil spirit laid at his heels!—This is the way in which he would have been judged after the result, for this is the fashion of critics’ judgments in general.
In opposition to this, we say, the campaign of 1812 did not succeed because the Government remained firm, the people loyal and steadfast, because it therefore could not succeed. Buonaparte may have made a mistake in undertaking such an expedition; at all events, the result has shown that he deceived himself in his calculations, but we maintain that, supposing it necessary to seek the attainment of this object, it could not have been done in any other way.
Instead of burthening himself with an interminable costly defensive War in the east, such as he had on his hands in the west, Buonaparte attempted the only means to gain his object: by one bold stroke to extort a peace from his astonished adversary. The destruction of his Army was the danger to which he exposed himself in the venture; it was the stake in the game, the price of great expectations. If this destruction of his Army was more complete than it need have been through his own fault, this fault was not in his having penetrated too far into the heart of the country, for that was his object and unavoidable, but in the late period at which the campaign opened, the sacrifice of life occasioned by his tactics, the want of due care for the supply of his Army, and for his line of retreat, and lastly, in his having too long delayed his march from Moscow.
That the Russians were able to reach the Beresina before him, intending regularly to cut off his retreat, is no strong argument against us. For in the first place, the failure of that attempt just shows how difficult it is really to cut off an Army, as the Army which was intercepted in this case, under the most unfavourable circumstances that can be conceived, still managed at last to cut its way through; and although this act upon the whole contributed certainly to increase its catastrophe, still it was not essentially the cause of it. Secondly, it was only the very peculiar nature of the country which afforded the means to carry things as far as the Russians did; for if it had not been for the marshes of the Beresina, with its wooded impassable borders lying across the great road, the cutting off would have been still less possible. Thirdly, there are generally no means of guarding against such an eventuality except by making the forward movement with the front of the Army of such a width as we have already disapproved; for if we proceed on the plan of pushing on in advance with the centre and covering the wings by Armies detached right and left, then if either of these detached Armies meets with a check, we must fall back with the centre, and then very little can be gained by the attack.
Moreover, it cannot be said that Buonaparte neglected his wings. A superior force remained fronting Wittgenstein, a proportionate siege-corps stood before Riga, which at the same time was not needed there, and in the south Schwartzenberg had 50,000 men with which he was superior to Tormasoff and almost equal to Tschitschagow: in addition, there were 30,000 men under Victor, covering the rear of the centre. Even in the month of November, therefore, at the decisive moment when the Russian Armies had been reinforced, and the French were very much reduced, the superiority of the Russians in rear of the Moscow Army was not so very extraordinary. Wittgenstein, Tschitschagow, and Sacken made up together a force of 100,000. Schwartzenberg, Regnier, Victor-Oudinot, and St. Cyr had still 80,000 effectives. The most cautious General in advancing would hardly devote a greater proportion of his force to the protection of his flanks.
If out of the 600,000 men who crossed the Niemen in 1812, Buonaparte had brought back 250,000 instead of the 50,000 who repassed it under Schwartzenberg, Regnier, and Macdonald, which was possible, by avoiding the mistakes with which he has been reproached, the campaign would still have been an unfortunate one, but theory would have had nothing to object to it, for the loss of half an Army in such a case is not at all unusual, and only appears so to us in this instance on account of the enormous scale of the whole enterprise.
So much for the principal operation, its necessary tendency, and the unavoidable risks. As regards the subordinate operations, there must, above all things, be a common aim for all; but this aim must be so situated as not to paralyse the action of any of the individual parts. If we invade France from the Upper and Middle Rhine and Holland with the intention of uniting at Paris, neither of the Armies employed to risk anything on the advance, but to keep itself intact until the concentration is effected, that is what we call a ruinous plan. There must necessarily be a constant comparison of the state of this threefold movement causing delay, indecision, and timidity in the forward movement of each of the Armies It is better to assign to each part its mission, and only to place the point of union wherever these several activities become unity of themselves.
Therefore, when a military force advances to the attack on separate theatres of War, to each Army should be assigned an object against which the force of its shock is to be directed. Here the point is that these shocks should be given from all sides simultaneously, but not that proportional advantages should result from all of them.
If the task assigned to one Army is found too difficult because the enemy has made a disposition of his force different to that which was expected, if it sustains a defeat, this neither should, nor must have, any influence on the action of the others, or we should turn the probability of the general success against ourselves at the very outset. It is only the unsuccessful issue of the majority of enterprises or of the principal one which can and must have an influence upon the others: for then it comes under the head of a plan which has miscarried.
This same rule applies to those Armies and portions of them which have originally acted on the defensive, and, owing to the successes gained, have assumed the offensive, unless we prefer to attach such spare forces to the principal offensive, a point which will chiefly depend on the geographical situation of the theatre of War.
But under these circumstances, what becomes of the geometrical form and unity of the whole attack, what of the flanks and rear of detachments when those bodies next to them are beaten?
That is precisely what we wish chiefly to combat. This glueing down of a great offensive plan of attack on a geometrical square is losing one’s way in the regions of fallacy.
In the fifteenth chapter of the third book we have shown that the geometrical element has less influence in Strategy than in tactics; and we shall only here repeat the deduction there obtained, that in the attack especially, the actual results at the various points throughout deserve more attention than the geometrical figure, which may gradually be formed through the diversity of results.
But in any case it is quite certain, that looking to the vast spaces with which Strategy has to deal, the views and resolutions which the geometrical situation of the parts may create should be left to the General-in-Chief; that, therefore, no subordinate General has a right to ask what his neighbour is doing or leaving undone, but each is to be directed peremptorily to follow out his object. If any serious incongruity really arises from this, a remedy can always be applied in time by the supreme authority. Thus, then, may be obviated the chief evil of this separate mode of action, which is, that in the place of realities, a cloud of apprehensions and suppositions mix themselves up in the progress of an operation, that every accident affects not only the part it comes immediately in contact with, but also the whole, by the communication of impressions, and that a wide field of action is opened for the personal failings and personal animosities of subordinate commanders.
We think that these views will only appear paradoxical to those who have not studied military history long enough or with sufficient attention, who do not distinguish the important from the unimportant, nor make proper allowance for the influence of human weaknesses in general.
If even in tactics there is a difficulty, which all experienced soldiers admit there is, in succeeding in an attack in separate columns where it depends on the perfect connection of the several columns, how much more difficult, or rather how impossible, must this be in Strategy where the separation is so much wider. Therefore, if a constant connection of all parts was a necessary condition of success, a Strategic plan of attack of that nature must be at once given up. But on the one hand, it is not left to our option to discard it completely, because circumstances which we cannot control may determine in favour of it; on the other hand, even in tactics, this constant close conjunction of all parts at every moment of the execution is not at all necessary, and it is still less so in Strategy. Therefore in Strategy we should pay the less attention to this point, and insist the more upon a distinct piece of work being assigned to each part.
We have still to add one important observation: it relates to the proper allotment of parts.
In the years 1793 and 1794 the principal Austrian Army was in the Netherlands, that of the Prussians on the upper Rhine. The Austrians marched from Vienna to Condé and Valenciennes, crossing the line of march of the Prussians from Berlin to Landau. The Austrians had certainly to defend their Belgian provinces in that quarter, and any conquests made in French Flanders would have been acquisitions conveniently situated for them, but that interest was not strong enough. After the death of Prince Kaunitz, the Minister Thugut carried a measure for giving up the Netherlands entirely, for the better concentration of the Austrian forces. In fact, Austria is about twice as far from Flanders as from Alsace; and at a time when military resources were very limited, and everything had to be paid for in ready money, that was no trifling consideration. Still, the Minister Thugut had plainly something else in view; his object was, through the urgency of the danger to compel Holland, England, and Prussia, the powers interested in the defence of the Netherlands and Lower Rhine, to make greater efforts. He certainly deceived himself in his calculations, because nothing could be done with the Prussian Cabinet at that time, but this occurrence always shows the influence of political interests on the course of a War.
Prussia had neither anything to conquer nor to defend in Alsace. In the year 1792 it had undertaken the march through Lorraine into Champagne in a sort of chivalrous spirit. But as that enterprise ended in nothing, through the unfavourable course of circumstances, it continued the War with a feeling of very little interest. If the Prussian troops had been in the Netherlands, they would have been in direct communication with Holland, which they might look upon almost as their own country, having conquered it in the year 1787; they would then have covered the Lower Rhine, and consequently that part of the Prussian monarchy which lay next to the theatre of War. Prussia on account of subsidies would also have had a closer alliance with England, which, under these circumstances, would not so easily have degenerated into the crooked policy of which the Prussian Cabinet was guilty at that time.
A much better result, therefore, might have been expected if the Austrians had appeared with their principal force on the Upper Rhine, the Prussians with their whole force in the Netherlands, and the Austrians had left there only a force of proportionate strength.
If, instead of the enterprising Blücher, General Barclay had been placed at the head of the Silesian Army in 1814, and Blücher and Schwartzenberg had been kept with the Grand Army, the campaign would perhaps have turned out a complete failure.
If the enterprising Laudon, instead of having his theatre of War at the strongest point of the Prussian dominions, namely, in Silesia, had been in the position of the German States Army, perhaps the whole Seven Years’ War would have had quite a different turn. In order to examine this subject more narrowly, we must look at the cases according to their chief distinctions.
The first is, if we carry on War in conjunction with other powers, who not only take part as our Allies, but also have an independent interest as well.
The second is, if the Army of the Ally has come to our assistance.
The third is, when it is only a question with regard to the personal characteristics of the General.
In the two first cases the point may be raised, whether it is better to mix up the troops of the different powers completely, so that each separate Army is composed of troops of different powers, as was done in the Wars 1813 and 1814, or to keep them separate as much as possible, so that the Army of each power may continue distinct and act independently.
Plainly, the first is the most salutary plan; but it supposes a degree of friendly feeling and community of interests which is seldom found. When there is this close good fellowship between the troops, it is much more difficult for the Cabinets to separate their interests; and as regards the prejudicial influence of the egotistical views of Commanders, it can only show itself under these circumstances amongst the subordinate Generals, therefore, only in the province of tactics, and even there not so freely or with such impunity as when there is a complete separation. In the latter case, it affects the Strategy, and therefore makes decided marks. But, as already observed. for the first case there must be a rare spirit of conciliation on the part of the Governments. In the year 1813, the exigencies of the time impelled all Governments in that direction; and yet we cannot sufficiently praise this in the Emperor of Russia, that although he entered the field with the strongest Army, and the change of fortune was chiefly brought about by him, yet he set aside all pride about appearing at the head of a separate and an independent Russian Army, and placed his troops under the Prussian and Austrian Commanders.
If such a fusion of forces cannot be effected, a complete separation of them is certainly better than a half and half state of things; the worst of all is when two independent Commanders of Armies of different powers find themselves on the same theatre of War, as frequently happened in the Seven Years’ War with the Armies of Russia, Austria, and the German States. When there is a complete separation of forces, the burdens which must be borne are also better divided, and each suffers only from what is his own, consequently is more impelled to activity by the force of circumstances; but if they find themselves in close connection, or quite on the same theatre of War, this is not the case, and besides that the ill-will of one paralyses also the powers of the other as well.
In the first of the three supposed cases, there will be no difficulty in the complete separation, as the natural interest of each State generally indicates to it a separate mode of employing its force; this may not be so in the second case, and then, as a rule, there is nothing to be done but to place oneself completely under the auxiliary Army, if its strength is in any way proportionate to that measure, as the Austrians did in the latter part of the campaign of 1815, and the Prussians in the campaign of 1807.
With regard to the personal qualifications of the General, everything in this passes into what is particular and individual; but we must not omit to make one general remark, which is, that we should not, as is generally done, place at the head of subordinate Armies the most prudent and cautious Commanders, but the most enterprising; for we repeat that in Strategic operations conducted separately, there is nothing more important than that every part should develop its powers to the full, in that way faults committed at one part may be compensated for by successes at others. This complete activity at all points, however, is only to be expected when the Commanders are spirited, enterprising men, who are urged forward by natural impulsiveness by their own hearts, because a mere objective, coolly reasoned out, conviction of the necessity of action seldom suffices.
Lastly, we have to remark that, if circumstances in other respects permit, the troops and their Commanders, as regards their destination, should be employed in accordance with their qualities and the nature of the country—that is regular Armies; good troops; numerous cavalry; old, prudent, intelligent Generals in an open country;—Militia; national levies; young enterprising Commanders in wooded country, mountains and defiles;—auxiliary forces in rich provinces where they can make themselves comfortable.
What we have now said upon a plan of a War in general, and in this chapter upon those in particular which are directed to the destruction of the enemy, is intended to give special prominence to the object of the same, and next to indicate principles which may serve as guides in the preparation of ways and means. Our desire has been in this way to give a clear perception of what is to be, and should be, done in such a War. We have tried to emphasise the necessary and general, and to leave a margin for the play of the particular and accidental; but to exclude all that is arbitrary, unfounded, trifling, fantastical,or sophistical. If we have succeeded in this object, we look upon our problem as solved.
Now, if any one wonders at finding nothing here about turning rivers, about commanding mountains from their highest points, about avoiding strong positions, and finding the keys of a country, he has not understood us, neither does he as yet understand War in its general relations according to our views.
In preceding books we have characterised these subjects in general, and we there arrived at the conclusion that they are much more insignificant in their nature than we should think from their high repute. Therefore, so much the less can or ought they to play a great part, that is, so far as to influence the whole plan of a War, when it is a War which has for its object the destruction of the enemy.
At the end of the book we shall devote a chapter specially to the consideration of the Chief Command; the present chapter we shall close with an example.
If Austria, Prussia, the German Confederation, the Netherlands and England, determine on a War with France, but Russia remains neutral—a case which has frequently happened during the last one hundred and fifty years—they are able to carry on an offensive War, having for its object the overthrow of the enemy. For powerful and great as France is, it is still possible for it to see more than half its territory overrun by the enemy, its capital occupied, and itself reduced in its means to a state of complete inefficiency, without there being any power, except Russia, which can give it effectual support. Spain is too distant and too disadvantageously situated; the Italian States are at present too brittle and powerless.
The countries we have named have, exclusive of their possessions out of Europe, above 75,000,000 inhabitants,* whilst France has only 30,000,000; and the Army which they could call out for a War against France, really meant in earnest, would be as follows, without exaggeration:
Should this force be placed on a War footing it would, in all probability, very much exceed that which France could oppose; for under Buonaparte the country never raised troops of the like strength.* Now, if we take into account the deductions required as garrisons for fortresses and depôts, to watch the coasts, &c., there can be no doubt the Allies would have a great superiority in the principal theatre of War, and upon that the object or plan of overthrowing the enemy is chiefly founded.
The centre of gravity of the French power lies in its military force and in Paris. To defeat the former in one or more battles, to take Paris and drive the wreck of the French across the Loire, must be the object of the Allies. The pit of the stomach of the French monarchy is between Paris and Brussels, on that side the frontier is only one hundred and fifty miles from the capital. Part of the Allies—the English, Netherlanders, Prussians, and North German States—have their natural point of assembly in that direction, as these States lie partly in the immediate vicinity, partly in a direct line behind it. Austria and South Germany can only carry on their War conveniently from the Upper Rhine. Their natural direction is upon Troyes and Paris, or it may be Orleans. Both shocks, therefore, that from the Netherlands and the other from the Upper Rhine, are quite direct and natural, short and powerful; and both fall upon the centre of gravity of the enemy’s power. Between these two points, therefore, the whole invading Army should be divided.
But there are two considerations which interfere with the simplicity of this plan.
The Austrians would not lay bare their Italian dominions, they would wish to retain the mastery over events there, in any case, and therefore would not incur the risk of making an attack on the heart of France, by which they would leave Italy only indirectly covered. Looking to the political state of the country, this collateral consideration is not to be treated with contempt; but it would be a decided mistake if the old and oft-tried plan of an attack from Italy, directed against the South of France, was bound up with it, and if on that account the force in Italy was increased to a size not required for mere security against contingencies in the first campaign. Only the number needed for that security should remain in Italy, only that number should be withdrawn from the great undertaking, if we would not be unfaithful to that first maxim, Unity of plan, concentration of force. To think of conquering France by the Rhône would be like trying to lift a musket by the point of its bayonet; but also as an auxiliary enterprise, an attack on the South of France is to be condemned, for it only raises new forces against us. Whenever an attack is made on distant provinces, interest and activities are roused, which would otherwise have lain dormant. It would only be in case the forces left for the security of Italy were in excess of the number required, and, therefore, to avoid leaving them unemployed, that there would be any justification for an attack on the South of France from that quarter.
We therefore repeat that the force left in Italy must be kept down as low as circumstances will permit; and it will be quite large enough if it will suffice to prevent the Austrians from losing the whole country in one campaign. Let us suppose that number to be 50,000 men for the purpose of our illustration.
Another consideration deserving attention is the relation of France in respect to its sea coast. As England has the upper hand at sea, it follows that France must, on that account, be very susceptible with regard to the whole of her Atlantic coast; and, consequently, must protect it with garrisons of greater or less strength. Now, however weak this coast defence may be, still the French frontiers are tripled by it; and large drafts, on that account, cannot fail to be withdrawn from the French Army on the theatre of War. Twenty or thirty thousand troops disposable to effect a landing, with which the English threaten France, would probably absorb twice or three times the number of French troops; and, further, we must think not only of troops, but also of money, artillery, &c. &c., required for ships and coast batteries. Let us suppose that the English devote 25,000 to this object.
Our plan of War would then consist simply in this:
(1) That in the Netherlands:
of whom about 50,000 should be set aside to garrison frontier fortresses, and the remaining 300,000 should advance against Paris, and engage the French Army in a decisive battle.
(2) That 200,000 Austrians and 100,000 South German troops should assemble on the Upper Rhine to advance at the same time as the Army of the Netherlands, their direction being towards the Upper Seine, and from thence towards the Loire, with a view, likewise, to a great battle. These two attacks would, perhaps, unite in one on the Loire.
By this the chief point is determined. What we have to add is chiefly intended to root out false conceptions, and is as follows:
(1) To seek for the great battle, as prescribed, and deliver it with such a relation, in point of numerical strength and under such circumstances, as promises a decisive victory is the course for the chief Commanders to follow; to this object everything must be sacrificed, and as few men as possible should be employed in sieges, blockades, garrisons, &c. If, like Schwartzenberg in 1814, as soon as they enter the enemy’s provinces they spread out in eccentric rays all is lost. That this did not take place in 1814 the Allies may thank the powerless state of France alone. The attack should be like a wedge well driven home, not like a soap-bubble, which distends itself till it bursts.
(2) Switzerland must be left to its own forces. If it remains neutral it forms a good point d’appui on the Upper Rhine; if it is attacked by France, let her stand up for herself, which in more than one respect she is very well able to do. Nothing is more absurd than to attribute to Switzerland a predominant geographical influence upon events in War because it is the highest land in Europe. Such an influence only exists under certain very restricted conditions, which are not to be found here. When the French are attacked in the heart of their country they can undertake no offensive from Switzerland, either against Italy or Swabia, and, least of all, can the elevated situation of the country come into consideration as a decisive circumstance. The advantage of a country which is dominating in a strategic sense is, in the first place, chiefly important in the defensive, and any importance which it has in the offensive may manifest itself in a single encounter. Whoever does not know this has not thought over the thing and arrived at a clear perception of it, and in case that at any future council of potentates and Generals, some learned officer of the General Staff should be found who, with an anxious brow, displays such wisdom, we now declare it beforehand to be mere folly, and wish that in the same council some true Soldier, some child of sound common sense, may be present who will stop his mouth.
(3) The space between two attacks we think of very little consequence. When 600,000 assemble one hundred and fifty to two hundred miles from Paris to march against the heart of France, would any one think of covering the Middle Rhine as well as Berlin, Dresden, Vienna, and Munich? There would be no sense in such a thing. Are we to cover the communications? That would not be unimportant; but then we might soon be led into giving this covering the importance of an attack, and then, instead of advancing on two lines, as the situation of the States positively requires, we should be led to advance upon three, which is not required. These three would then, perhaps, become five, or perhaps seven, and in that way the old rigmarole would once more become the order of the day.
Our two attacks have each their object; the forces employed on them are very probably superior to the enemy in numbers. If each pursues his march with vigour, they cannot fail to react advantageously upon each other. If one of the two attacks is unfortunate because the enemy has not divided his force equally, we may fairly expect that the result of the other will of itself repair this disaster, and this is the true interdependence between the two. An interdependence extending to (so as to be affected by) the events of each day is impossible on account of the distance; neither is it necessary, and therefore the immediate or rather the direct connection is of no such great value.
Besides, the enemy attacked in the very centre of his dominions will have no forces worth speaking of to employ in interrupting this connection; all that is to be apprehended is that this interruption may be attempted by a co-operation of the inhabitants with the partisans, so that this object does not actually cost the enemy any troops. To prevent that, it is sufficient to send a body of 10,000 or 15,000 men, particularly strong in cavalry, in the direction from Treves to Rheims. It will be able to drive every partisan before it, and keep in line with the Grand Army. This corps should neither invest nor watch fortresses, but march between them, depend on no fixed basis, but give way before superior forces in any direction, no great misfortune could happen to it, and if such did happen, it would again be no serious misfortune for the whole. Under these circumstances, such a force might probably serve as an intermediate link between the two attacks.
(4) The two subordinate undertakings, that is, the Austrian Army in Italy, and the English Army for landing on the coast, might follow their object as appeared best. If they do not remain idle, their mission is fulfilled as regards the chief point, and on no account should either of the two great attacks be made dependent in any way on these minor ones.
We are quite convinced that in this way France may be overthrown and chastised whenever she thinks fit to put on that insolent air with which she has oppressed Europe for a hundred and fifty years. It is only on the other side of Paris, on the Loire, that those conditions can be wrung from her which are necessary for the peace of Europe. In this way alone the natural relation between 30 millions of men and 75 millions will quickly make itself known, but not if the country from Dunkirk to Genoa is to be surrounded in the way it has been for 150 years by a girdle of Armies, whilst fifty different small objects are aimed at, not one of which is powerful enough to overcome the inertia, friction, and extraneous influences which spring up and reproduce themselves everywhere, but more especially in allied Armies.
How little the provisional organisation of the German Federal Armies is adapted to such a disposition will strike the reader. By that organisation the federative part of Germany forms the nucleus of the German power, and Prussia and Austria, thus weakened, lose their natural influence. But a federative State is a very brittle nucleus in War—there is in it no unity, no energy, no rational choice of a Commander, no authority, no responsibility.
Austria and Prussia are the two natural centres of force of the German Empire; they form the pivot (or fulcrum), the forte of the sword; they are monarchical States, used to War; they have well-defined interests, independence of power; they are predominant over the others. The organisation should follow these natural lineaments, and not a false notion about unity, which is an impossibility in such a case; and he who neglects the possible in quest of the impossible is a fool.
[* ]Book I., Chapter I.
[‡ ]Book VII., Chapters IV. and V. (Culminating Point of Victory).
[* ]Had Frederick the Great gained the Battle of Kollin, and taken prisoners the chief Austrian Army with the two Field-Marshals in Prague, it would have been such a tremendous blow that he might then have entertained the idea of marching to Vienna to make the Austrian Court tremble, and gain a peace directly. This, in these times, unparalleled result, which would have been quite like what we have seen in our day, only still more wonderful and brilliant from the contest being between a little David and a great Goliath, might very probably have taken place after the gain of this one battle; but that does not contradict the assertion above maintained, for it only refers to what the King originally looked forward to from his offensive. The surrounding and taking prisoners the enemy’s Army was an event which was beyond all calculation, and which the King never thought of, at least not until the Austrians laid themselves open to it by the unskilful position in which they placed themselves at Prague.
[* ]This chapter was probably written in 1828, since which time the numerical relations have considerably changed.—A. d. H.
[* ]That is, recruited them in France itself. In the Grand Army, 1812, only one-third of the units were in fact French; the remainder came from the countries Napoleon had occupied.