Front Page Titles (by Subject) APPENDIX SUMMARY OF THE INSTRUCTION GIVEN BY THE AUTHOR TO HIS ROYAL HIGHNESS THE CROWN PRINCE IN THE YEARS 1810, 1811, AND 1812 - On War, vol. 3
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APPENDIX SUMMARY OF THE INSTRUCTION GIVEN BY THE AUTHOR TO HIS ROYAL HIGHNESS THE CROWN PRINCE IN THE YEARS 1810, 1811, AND 1812 - 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
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SCHEME WHICH WAS LAID BEFORE GENERAL VON GAUDY
Presuming that it is only a preliminary knowledge of the Art of War which His Royal Highness the Crown Prince is to receive from me, with a view to His Royal Highness being enabled to understand modern military history, it is of the first importance that I should give the Prince a clear idea of War, and that I should do so in such a manner as to avoid diffuseness, or taxing the Prince’s faculties too much.
In order to acquire a thorough knowledge of a science, it is necessary to apply one’s mind chiefly to the study of it for some time, and it appears to be too soon for the Prince to do this.
For these reasons I have adopted the following course, which appears to me most in accordance with the natural direction of the ideas of a young man.
In carrying it out my chief endeavour will be, in the first place, to make myself always intelligible to the Prince, as otherwise the most attentive pupil must soon become wearied, confused and disgusted; secondly, in every case to avoid giving any erroneous ideas, through which his further instruction or the progress of his own studies might be impeded or interfered with.
For the sake of the first of these objects, I shall endeavour to keep the subject always in correspondence with the natural understanding as much as possible, and in this effort shall often deviate from the scientific spirit and scholastic forms.
I now submit to your Excellency the plan I have sketched hastily, and beg you will do me the favour to correct my view in any points in which it may not be in accordance with your own.
Next to a preparatory knowledge of weapons and the different kinds of troops, some conception of applied or higher tactics, as they are called, and Strategy, is principally necessary in order to comprehend military history. Tactics, or the theory of fighting, is in reality the principal thing, partly because battles are decisive, partly because it comprises the most of what can be taught. Strategy, or the theory of the combination of separate battles towards the object of the campaign, is a subject more of natural and matured power of judgment; still, we must at least point out clearly the subjects which are therein to be found, and show their mutual connection and relation to the whole.
Field fortification in such a synoptical course will be most suitably placed with the theory of the defensive in tactics, permanent fortification in or after Strategy.
Tactics itself comprises two different classes of subjects. One class may be understood without having an acquaintance with the strategic relations of the whole; to this belong the formation for tactical purposes, and the mode of fighting of all the smaller parts, from the Company or Squadron up to a Brigade of all arms, and in all kinds of country. Those of the other class are in intimate connection with strategic conceptions; to this class belong the usual action of whole Corps and Armies in battle, outpost services, and the minor operations of War, &c. &c., because in such there are introduced conceptions of position, battle, march, &c., which cannot be understood without previous conceptions of the combination of the whole campaign.
I shall, therefore, separate the two classes of subjects; begin with a concise and very general description of War, pass on to tactics, or the action of the smaller divisions in battle, and then stop short when I reach the position (order of battle) of whole Corps or Armies, in order to return to the general view of the campaign, and to explain more in detail the connection of things; then the remaining chapters on tactics will follow.
Lastly, I shall begin Strategy again, with the idea of the course of a campaign, in order to consider the subject from this new point of view.
From this now follows the arrangement as under:
Powder, small arms, rifles, cannon, and all appertaining thereto
Theory of charges for horizontal and vertical firing.
Service of cannon of all kinds.
Organisation of a Battery.
Expense of guns and ammunition, &c.
Effect of artillery—ranges—probability of hitting.
Other kinds of Troops
Applied or Higher Tactics.
A general conception of War—battles. Position of smaller divisions, and their mode of fighting.
A Company of Infantry with or without Artillery on all kinds of ground.
A Squadron of Cavalry the same.
The two together.
Ditto in different kinds of ground.
Order of battle for a Corps of several Brigades.
Ditto of an Army of several Corps.
The two last sections without relation to ground, because otherwise the idea of position would be introduced.
More detailed explanation of a campaign.
Organisation of Army at the commencement of a campaign.
Whilst it marches, and takes up positions, it requires measures of security—outposts—patrols—reconnaissances—detachments—minor warfare.
When an Army chooses a position, such arrangements must be made that the Army can defend itself in the same—tactical defensive—field fortification.
Attack of the enemy in such positions—conduct to be observed in the combat itself—battle—retreat—pursuit.
Marches—defence of rivers—passage of rivers—lines of posts—cantonments.
View of a campaign and of a whole War in Strategy respects.
What determines the result in War.
Plan of operations.
Plan of operations—arrangements for subsistence.
Positions—lines of posts—battles—marches—defence and passage of rivers.
System of War, &c. &c.
Permanent fortification and siege operations either precede Strategy or form a conclusion to the whole.
THE MOST IMPORTANT PRINCIPLES OF THE ART OF WAR TO COMPLETE MY COURSE OF INSTRUCTION OF HIS ROYAL HIGHNESS THE CROWN PRINCE
Although these principles are the result of much reflection and an assiduous study of military history, they have only been drawn up hastily on the present occasion, and the form in which they appear will not bear any stringent criticism. Besides, from the multiplicity of subjects, only the most important have been selected, a certain conciseness being essentially necessary. These principles, therefore, do not constitute a complete course of instruction for your Royal Highness. They are only intended as a foundation for reflection on your own part, and to serve as a guide in these reflections.
GENERAL PRINCIPLES TO BE OBSERVED IN WAR
(1) The great object of the theory of War is to guide us to the way of obtaining a preponderance of physical force and advantages at the decisive points; but if this is not possible, theory teaches also how to speculate upon the moral powers; upon the probable errors of the enemy, upon the impression made by a bold spirit of enterprise, &c. &c.—even upon our own desperation. All this is by no means beyond the province of the Art of War and its theory, for that theory is nothing but rational reflection upon all situations in which we can be placed in War. The most dangerous positions in which we can be placed are just those which we should look upon as most likely to occur, and those about which we should most distinctly make up our minds. That leads to heroic resolves founded on reason.
Whoever represents the affair to your Royal Highness in any other manner is a pedant, who can only do harm by the views he advances. In the critical moments of life, in the tumult of battle, you will one day feel clearly that no other view can give any help when help is most necessary, and when a dry pedantry of figures leaves us to our fate.
(2) Naturally in War we always seek to have the probability of success on our side, whether it be that we count upon a physical or moral superiority. But this is not always possible; we must often undertake things when the probability of our succeeding is against us, if, for instance, we can do nothing better. If, in such a case, we despair, then our rational reflection and judgment leave us just when most wanted, when everything seems to conspire against us.
Therefore, even when the probability of success is against us, we must not, on that account, consider our undertaking as impossible or unreasonable; reasonable it will always be if we can do nothing better, and if we employ the few means we have to the best advantage.
In order that in such cases we may never lose equanimity and firmness, two qualities which in War are always the first to be in peril, which, in such a situation, are difficult to maintain, but without which, with the most brilliant qualities of the mind, we can effect nothing, we must familiarise ourselves with the idea of falling with honour; cherish that idea constantly and completely accustom ourselves to it. Be convinced, most noble Prince, that without this firm determination nothing great can be effected in the most fortunate War, to say nothing of an unfortunate one.
We may be certain that this idea often occupied the mind of Frederick II. during his first Silesian campaign; and because he was accustomed to it he made the attack at Leuthen on that memorable December 5, not because he had made a calculation that with the oblique order of battle he would in all probability beat the Austrians.
(3) Amongst all the operations left to your choice in any given case, amongst all the measures which are open to adoption, there will always be a choice between the bold and the prudent. Some people think that theory is always on the side of the prudent. That is false. If theory could give advice in the matter, it would counsel the most decisive, consequently the boldest, as that is most consistent with the nature of War; but it leaves to the General to choose according to the measure of his own courage, of his spirit of enterprise, and confidence in himself. Choose then according to the measure of these inner powers; always remembering that there never was a great General who was wanting in boldness.
TACTICS OR THE THEORY OF COMBAT
War consists of a combination of many distinct battles. Now, although this combination may be either skilful or the reverse, and the result in a great measure depends upon that point, still the battle itself stands before it in point of importance, for nothing but a combination of successful battles gives a good result. Therefore, the thing of the highest importance in War will always be the art of conquering the enemy in battle. On this your Royal Highness cannot bestow too much attention and thought. The following principles I hold to be the most important:
FOR THE DEFENCE
(1) To keep troops on the defensive under cover from fire as long as possible. As we may be attacked, consequently may have to defend ourselves at any moment, except when we are ourselves acting on the offensive; we must therefore always take up a position as much under cover as possible.
(2) Not to bring the whole force into action at once. If this fault is committed, all rational guidance of the combat is at an end; it is only with disposable troops that we can turn the course of a battle.
(3) To trouble ourselves little about the width of our front, as it is a matter of little consequence in itself, and the depth of the position (that is, the number of troops placed one behind the other) is diminished by an extension of the front. Troops which are in rear of the front line are disposable; they can either be used to restore the combat at that point or be brought forward at other adjacent points. This principle follows from the preceding.
(4) As the enemy, whilst he attacks some part of the front, often seeks to outflank and envelop at the same time, therefore the troops placed in rear are available to repel such attempts, and accordingly supply the want of local obstacles on which to rest the flanks. They are better placed for that purpose than if they stood in line and extended the width of the front, for in such case they themselves would be easily turned by the enemy. This point also further establishes the second.
(5) If there are many troops to be posted in the rear, only a part should be placed directly behind the front, the rest are placed in an oblique direction (in echelon) to the rear, beyond either flank.
From this last position, the enemy’s columns approaching to turn our flank can in turn be taken in flank.
(6) It is a first maxim never to remain perfectly passive, but to fall upon the enemy in front and flank, even when he is in the act of making an attack upon us. We adopt the defensive therefore on a certain line only to compel the enemy to develop his forces for the attack of that line, and we then pass over to the offensive with troops which have been kept in reserve. As your Royal Highness once justly remarked, The art of field fortification is not to serve the defender like a wall behind which he can stand in greater security, but to aid him in attacking the enemy with more success,—the same applies to every passive defence: it is always only the means of attacking the enemy with advantage on ground that we have looked out and prepared for ourselves, and where we have drawn up our troops.
(7) This attack, belonging to the defensive, may be made either at the moment the enemy opens his attack on us, or whilst he is on the march to do so. It may also be arranged so that, when the enemy commences his attack, we draw back and thus lure him on to ground of which he is ignorant, in order to fall upon him on all sides. For all dispositions of this kind, the deep formation of an Army, that is, an order in which only two-thirds or the half, or even less, are in front, and the rest posted directly and obliquely in rear, under cover if possible, is very well suited; and, therefore, this order of battle is a point of infinite importance.
(8) Therefore, if we have two Divisions, it is better to place one behind the other than to place them in line; with three Divisions, one at least should be placed in rear; with four, probably two; with five, at least two, in many cases, three, &c. &c.
(9) At the points where we remain passive, we should make use of field fortification, but only in separate enclosed works of bold profile.
(10) In forming a plan of battle, we should have a great object in view, as, for example, the attack of a strong column of the enemy, and a complete victory over it. If we only choose a small object, whilst the enemy pursues a great one, we shall evidently be the losers. We play with thalers against pfennings.
(11) If our plan of defence is aimed at some great object (the destruction of a column of an enemy, &c.), we must follow it up with the utmost energy, expend upon it all our forces. In most cases, the efforts of the assailant will be in some other direction; whilst we fall upon his right wing, he will be seeking to gain an advantage with his left. If we slacken our efforts sooner than the enemy, if we follow up our object with less energy than he does, he will attain his object, he will gain his advantage completely, whilst we shall only half reach ours. Thus the enemy obtains the preponderance, thus the victory becomes his, and we must give up even our half advantage gained. If your Royal Highness reads attentively the account of the Battles of Ratisbonne and Wagram, you will see both the truth and importance of this.
In both these battles the Emperor Napoleon attacked with his right wing, standing on the defensive with the left. The Archduke Charles did the same. But the one did it with full resolution and energy, the other was undecided, and always stopped half-way. The successes gained by that portion of the Archduke’s Army which was victorious were unimportant; those which the Emperor Napoleon gained in the same time at the opposite point were decisive.
(12) If I may be allowed to bring forward once more the two last principles, the combination of them yields a maxim which, in the modern Art of War, may be regarded as the first among all causes of victory, that is: to follow up a great and decisive object with energy and perseverance.
(13) Danger in case of failure is increased thereby, it is true; but prudence increased at the cost of victory is no Art; it is a false prudence which, as already said, is opposed to the very nature of War; for great ends we must venture much. True prudence is, if we risk anything in War, to select and apply carefully the means to our end, and to neglect nothing through indolence or want of consideration. Of this kind was the prudence of the Emperor Napoleon, who never followed great objects timidly and with half measures through over-prudence.
Among the few victorious defensive battles that are noted in history, you will find, noble Sir, that the greatest were fought in the spirit of these principles, for they are principles derived from the study of history.
At Minden, the Duke Ferdinand suddenly appeared on a field of battle on which the enemy did not expect him, and proceeded to the attack; whilst at Tannhausen he defended himself passively behind entrenchments.
At Rossbach, Frederick II. threw himself on the enemy at a point and at a time where his attack was not expected.
At Leignitz, the Austrians found the King in the night in quite a different position from that in which they had seen him the day before; he fell upon a column of the enemy with the whole weight of his Army, and defeated it before the others could take part in the engagement.
At Hohenlinden, Moreau had five Divisions in his front and four behind him, either directly or obliquely to the rear; he turned the enemy, and fell upon the right-flank column before it could carry out its intended attack.
At Ratisbonne, Marshal Davoust defended himself passively, while Napoleon with the right wing attacked the fifth and sixth Austrian Corps, and completely defeated them.
At Wagram the Austrians were, in reality, on the defensive, still as they attacked the Emperor on the second day with the greater part of their force, we may look upon the latter as acting on the defensive. With his right wing he attacked the Austrian left, turned and beat it, not troubling himself meanwhile about his weak left wing (consisting of a single Division), resting on the Danube; but by means of his strong reserves (deep position) he prevented the victory of the Austrian right wing from having any influence on the victory he had gained on the Rossbach. With these reserves he re-took Aderklaa.
All the foregoing principles are not plainly exemplified in each of the battles enumerated, but all are examples of an active defensive.
The mobility of the Prussian Army under Frederick II. was a means to victory for him, upon which we can no longer build, as other Armies are as capable of moving as ours now.* On the other hand, at that time the turning a flank was less generally in vogue, and, therefore, the deep order of battle was less imperative.
FOR THE ATTACK
(1) We try to fall upon a point in the enemy’s position; that is, a part of his Army (a Division, a Corps), with a great preponderance of force, whilst we keep the other parts in unce tainty, that is to say, occupy them. It is only in this way that when our forces are equal or inferior we can fight with the superiority on our side, that is, with a probability of success. If we are very weak, then we can only spare very few troops to occupy the enemy at other points, that we may be as strong as possible at the decisive point. Unquestionably Frederick II. only gained the battle of Leuthen because he had his small Army on one spot and well concentrated, as compared with the enemy.
(2) The principal blow is directed against a wing of the enemy’s force by an attack in front and flank, or by completely going round it and attacking it in rear. It is only if we push the enemy off his line of retreat by the victory that we gain a great success.
(3) Even when in strong force we often choose only one point for the great shock, and give the blow against that point the greater strength; for to surround an Army completely is seldom possible, or supposes an immense preponderance both physically and morally. But the enemy may also be cut off from his line of retreat by an attack directed against a point in one of his flanks, and that is generally sufficient to ensure great results.
(4) Generally the certainty (high probability) of the victory—that is, the certainty of being able to drive the enemy from the field of battle, is the principal point. Upon this, as an object or end, the plan of the battle must be formed, for a victory once gained, even if it is not decisive, is easily made so by energy in pursuit.
(5) We endeavour to make our attack concentrically on that wing of the enemy which is to receive the shock of our main body, that is, in such a form that his troops find themselves engaged on all sides at once. Allowing that the enemy has troops enough to show a front in all directions, still the troops, under such circumstances, become more easily discouraged; they suffer more, are sooner thrown into disorder, &c.; in short, we may expect to make them give way sooner.
(6) This turning of the enemy compels the assailant to develop a greater force in front than the defender.
If the units a, b, c are to fall concentrically (or by converging lines) on the part e of the enemy’s force, they must naturally stand on lines contiguous to each other. But this development of our force in front must never be carried so far that we do not retain strong reserves. That would be the greatest error possible, and would lead to defeat, if the enemy is only in some measure prepared against being out-flanked.
If a, b, c are units intended to attack e, a part of the enemy’s Army, then the units f, g must be kept in reserve. With this deep formation we can incessantly renew our attacks upon the same point, and if our troops are repulsed at the opposite extremity of the enemy’s position, we are not obliged to give up the day at this, because we have a set-off to any success the enemy may have gained. It was thus with the French at Wagram. The left wing, which was opposed to the Austrian right resting on the Danube, was extremely weak and was totally defeated. Even their centre at Aderklaa was not very strong, and was obliged to give way to the Austrians on the first day. But that did not signify, because the Emperor’s right, with which he attacked the Austrian left in front and flank, had such a depth that he brought a heavy column of cavalry and horse artillery to bear upon the Austrians in Aderklaa, and if he did not beat them, was able, at all events, to stop their progress.
(7) As in the defensive, so in the offensive, that part of the enemy’s Army which, in its destruction, will yield decisive advantages should be the object of attack.
(8) As in the defensive, so here, we must not relax our efforts till we have attained our object, or that our means are entirely exhausted. If the defender is also active if he attacks us at other points, we have no chance of the victory except by surpassing him in energy and boldness. If he remains passive, then, in that case, we run no great danger.
(9) Long, continuous lines of troops are to be particularly avoided, they only lead to parallel attacks which are now no longer to the purpose.
Each Division makes its own attack, although in conformity with the plans of higher authority, and consequently so that they accord with each other. But one Division (8000 to 10,000 men) is never now formed in one line, always in three or four; from this it follows that no long, continuous lines can be used any more.
(10) The attacks of Divisions or Corps in concert must not be combined with the intention of their being under one guidance, so that, although at a distance from each other and perhaps even separated by the enemy, they still remain in communication, even aligning themselves on each other, &c. . This is an erroneous method of carrying out a co-operation, which is liable to a thousand accidents, through which nothing great can ever be effected, and by which one is almost certain to be well beaten if we have to deal with an active, vigorous enemy.*
The true way is to give each Corps or Division Commander the general control of his march, to give him the enemy as the point on which his march is to be directed, and the victory over the enemy as the object of his march.
Each Commander of a column has, therefore, the order to attack the enemy where he finds him, and to do so with all his strength. He must not be made answerable for the result, for that leads to indecision; he must be responsible for nothing more than that his Corps joins in the fight with all its energies and makes any sacrifice that may be necessary.
(11) A well-organised independent Corps can resist the attacks of a vastly superior force for a certain length of time (some hours) and is, therefore, not to be destroyed in a moment; therefore, if it has even been engaged too soon with the enemy and is beaten, still its action is not lost on the whole; the enemy must have deployed his forces, and expended a certain portion of them on this Corps, and thus given our other Corps a favourable opportunity for attack.
Of the organisation of a Corps for this purpose, we shall speak hereafter.
We ensure the harmonious action of the whole in concert when each Corps has in this manner a certain independence, and seeks out the enemy and attacks him at any cost.
(12) One of the most important principles for offensive War is the surprise of the enemy. The more the attack partakes of the nature of a surprise, the more successful we may expect to be. The surprise which the defender effects by the concealment of his dispositions, by the covered position in which he places his troops, the offensive can only effect by the unexpected march to the attack.
This is an occurrence which rarely happens in modern Warfare. This is partly owing to better measures for the security of an Army; partly owing to campaigns being now prosecuted with more vigour, so that there are not now those long pauses in the operations which lulled the one party to sleep, and gave the other a favourable opportunity to make a sudden attack.
Under these circumstances, except by a regular night-surprise (as at Hochkirch), which is always possible, the only way now to surprise an enemy is to make a march to the flank or the rear, and then suddenly return upon him; or if we are at a distance, then by forced marches, and by great efforts, to reach the enemy’s position sooner than he expects.
(13) The regular surprise (by night, as at Hochkirch), affords the best chance of doing something when our Army is small; but it is attended with more risks for the assailant, if the defender knows the country better than he does. The less we know of the country and of the enemy’s arrangements the greater these risks are; therefore, such attacks, in many instances, can only be regarded as desperate means.
(14) In such attacks, all the arrangements must be more simple, and we must keep still more concentrated than by day.
PRINCIPLES FOR THE USE OF TROOPS
(1) Since we cannot dispense with the use of fire-arms (if we could, why should we carry them at all?) we must open the combat with them, and the cavalry should not be employed until the enemy has suffered considerably by the action of infantry and artillery. From this follows:
(a) That the cavalry should be posted behind the infantry.
(b) That we must not be induced to bring the cavalry into action too soon. The cavalry should not be launched boldly to the attack until such disorder prevails in the enemy’s ranks that we may hope for success by his hasty retreat.
(2) The fire of artillery produces greater effect than that of infantry. A battery of eight six-pounders does not occupy a third part of the front of a battalion of infantry, is worked by an eighth of the number of men composing a battalion, and does certainly twice, if not three times, as much execution with its fire.* On the other hand, artillery has the disadvantage of not being so easily moved as infantry. This applies in general, even to the lightest description of horse artillery, for it cannot be used like infantry upon any ground. From the commencement, therefore, the artillery must be kept united at the most important points, because it cannot, like infantry, concentrate itself at those points during the progress of the battle. A great battery of twenty or thirty guns is in most cases decisive at the point where it is placed.
(3) From the particulars just specified and others which are evident, the following rules present themselves for the use of the different arms of the service respectively.
(a) The battle is commenced by artillery. The greater proportion of that arm being brought into use from the very first, it is only with large masses of troops that both horse and foot artillery are kept in reserve. Artillery is used in large masses brought together at single points. Twenty or thirty guns defend the principal point in one great battery, or batter the point in the enemy’s line which it is intended to attack.
(b) We next use light infantry—either marksmen, riflemen, or fusiliers—principally in order not to bring too many troops into action at once; we try first to feel what there is in our front (for that can seldom be properly examined), we want to see which direction the fight as likely to take.
If we can maintain an equal fight with the enemy with this line of skirmishers, and that there is no reason for hastening the affair, we should do wrong to hurry forward other forces; we should weary out the enemy with this kind of fight as much as possible.
(c) If the enemy brings so many troops into the combat as to overpower our line of skirmishers, or if we cannot delay any longer, we bring forward a full line of infantry, which deploys itself at 100 or 200* paces from the enemy, and either opens fire or advances to the attack, according to circumstances.
(d) This is the chief purpose for which the infantry is destined: if we are drawn up in such deep formation that we have still a line of infantry in column in reserve, we are tolerably well master of the combat at this point. This second line of infantry should, if possible, be used only in columns, to decide the day.
(e) The cavalry during this time keeps in rear of the troops engaged in action, as near as it can, without suffering much loss, that is beyond the reach of grape and musketry. It must, however, be at hand, that we may be able to profit by any success which takes place in the course of the combat.
(4) In following these rules more or less strictly, we must keep in view the following principle, on which I cannot insist too strongly, viz., not to make a venture with all our forces at once, because we thus throw away all means of directing them; to weary our adversary with as few troops as possible, and keep in hand a considerable mass for the last decisive moment. Once this last reserve is staked, it must be led with the utmost boldness.
(5) An order of battle, that is, a method of drawing up the troops before and during the battle, must be established for the whole campaign. This order of battle is to be observed in all cases when there is not time to make special dispositions. It must, therefore, be based chiefly with a view to the defensive. This order of battle will reduce the form or manner in which the Army fights to a kind of method, which is very necessary as well as salutary, because a great number of the Generals of second order, and other officers at the head of smaller units, have little knowledge of tactics, and no special aptitude at all for War.
By this, a certain methodicism is instituted which takes the place of art, where the latter is wanting. My persuasion is that this exists to the greatest degree in the French Army.
(6) According to what has been said respecting the use of the different arms of the service, this order of battle for a Brigade would be something like the following:
According to the same principles, a similar disposition may be established for a Corps of larger proportions: at the same time it is not essential that the order adopted should be precisely that now laid down, it may differ in some respects, so that it is in conformity with the foregoing principles. Thus, for instance, the usual position of the cavalry, g, h, may be in the line l, m, and then it is only brought forward when it is found to be too far in rear at l, m.
(7) The Army consists of several such independent Corps, which have their Generals and Staff. They are drawn up in line, or one behind another, according as that may be prescribed by the general principles for the combat. One thing we have still to add, which is, that if we are not too weak in cavalry, we should form a special reserve of that arm, which naturally will be placed quite in rear, and is for the following purposes:
(a) To press upon the enemy, if he retreats from the field, and to attack the cavalry which he employs in covering his retreat. If the enemy’s cavalry is beaten at that moment, great results must follow, unless the enemy’s infantry performs prodigies of valour. Small bodies of cavalry will not answer the purpose on such an occasion.
(b) To hasten the pursuit of the enemy if, without being beaten, he makes a retreat; or if, after a lost battle, he continues to retire on the following day. Cavalry marches quicker than infantry, and is more dreaded by troops that are retreating. And next to beating the enemy, the pursuit is the most important thing in War.
(c) If our object is to make a great turning movement (to turn the enemy Strategically), and on account of the détour we must employ an arm which marches quicker, then we may take this reserve cavalry for the purpose.
In order to make this Corps more independent, horse artillery should be attached to it; for there is greater strength in a combination of several arms.
(8) The order of battle for the troops has relation to the battle; it is their disposition for that end.
The order of march is, in its essentials, as follows:
(a) Each complete unit (whether Brigade or Division) has its own advance- and rear-guard, and forms a column of itself; that does not, however, prevent several such units from marching on the same road one after another, and thus, to a certain extent, forming as a whole one great column.
(b) The units march according to their position in the general order of battle; that is to say, according as their appointed place in that order may happen to be in line with, or in rear of, each other, so they march.
(c) In the columns themselves the following order is invariably observed: the light infantry form the advance- and rear-guards, accompanied by a proportion of cavalry; then follows the infantry; then the artillery; last of all, the rest of the cavalry.
This order is kept, whether we move against the enemy—in which case it is the natural order—or parallel with the enemy, in which case, properly, those who in the order of battle are to stand behind one another should march side by side. If we have to form line of battle, there can never be want of time to such a degree that we cannot withdraw the cavalry and the second line by one flank or the other.
PRINCIPLES FOR THE USE OF GROUND
(1) The terrain (the ground or country) gives two advantages in War.
The first is, that obstacles to approach are thus presented which either render it impossible for an enemy to reach certain points, or compel him to march slowly to keep in column, &c.
The second is, that obstacles of ground enable us to conceal the position of our troops.
Both advantages are very important, but the second appears to me the greatest: at all events it is certainly the one which we can most frequently make use of, because, even the most level country, in most cases, still allows of drawing up troops more or less under cover.
Formerly, the first of these advantages was almost the only one known, and very little use was made of the second. Now the mobility of all Armies is such, that the first is of less service, and just on that account we must make use the more frequently of the second. The first of these two advantages is only serviceable in the defensive, the second, in both attack and defence.
(2) The ground, considered as an obstacle to approach, is of use chiefly in the following points: (a) as a support for the flanks, (b) as a means of strengthening the front.
(3) As a fit support for a flank, an obstacle should be quite impassable—such as a large river, a lake, an impassable swamp. These are all impediments which are rarely met with, and therefore perfect supports for the flanks are seldom to be found, and the want of them is felt now more frequently than formerly, because Armies move more, do not remain so long in one position, consequently require a greater number of positions in the theatre of War.
If the obstacle to approach is not an impassable barrier, then it is, properly speaking, no point d’appui for a flank, it is only a point which strengthens the position. Troops must then be placed behind it, and then again it becomes in relation to these an obstacle to approach.
It is certainly always of advantage to strengthen the flanks in this manner, as fewer troops are then required at those points; but we must take precautions against two things: the first is, placing too much reliance on such supports for the flank, and thus neglecting to have strong reserves behind them; the second is, covering both wings with obstacles of this description, for as they do not completely secure either, they do not prevent the possibility of a combat on both flanks; this may easily become a most disadvantageous defensive, for the obstacles will not allow us easily to sally forth with an active defence on one wing, and thus we may be reduced to defend ourselves in the most unfavourable of all forms, with both flanks thrown back, a d, c b.
(4) These considerations lead again to the deep order
of battle. The less we are able to find secure support for the wings, the more troops we must have in rear, with which we may in turn outflank any portion of the enemy’s army which shall seek to act against our flank.
(5) All kinds of ground which cannot be passed by troops marching in line, all villages, all enclosures of parcels of ground by hedges and ditches, marshy meadows, lastly, all hills which can only be mounted with some difficulty, come under the head of hindrances of this kind, that is, of obstacles that cannot be passed except with difficulty, and slowly; and which, therefore, add greatly to the strength of the troops posted behind them in the combat. Woods can only be included in this category when the underwood is very thick and the ground marshy. A common wood of high trees is as easy to pass as a plain. There is one point, however, in respect to a wood which must not be overlooked, that is, that it may serve to conceal the enemy. If we place ourselves inside it, then there is the same disadvantage for both sides; but it is very dangerous, and at the same time a great mistake to have woods in front or on the flank.* Such a thing can never be allowable unless there are very few roads by which they can be traversed. Abattis intended to bar the passages are so easily removed that they are not of much use.
(6) From all this it follows that we should endeavour to make use of such obstacles upon one flank, in order to offer there a relatively strong resistance with few troops, whilst we carry out our intended offensive on the other flank. With these obstacles, the use of entrenchments may be combined with great advantage, because then, if the enemy passes the obstacle, the fire from the entrenchments may secure our weak force from being overwhelmed by superior numbers, and thrown back too suddenly.
(7) When we are on the defensive, every obstacle covering our front is of great value.
All hills on which positions are taken up are only occupied on this account; for an elevated position has seldom any important influence, often none at all, on the effect of the arms in use. If we stand above the enemy as he approaches, he must ascend with difficulty, therefore he advances only slowly, his ranks get into disorder, and he reaches us with his physical powers exhausted, advantages for us which, with equal bravery and numbers on each side, ought to be decisive. The great effect morally of a rapid charge at full speed is a point which must not on any account be overlooked. The soldier who is advancing becomes insensible even to danger, the one who is standing still loses his presence of mind. It is therefore always advantageous to place the first lines of infantry and artillery on high ground.
If the slope of the hill is so steep, its declivity so broken and uneven, that we cannot sweep it well with our fire, which is often the case, then, instead of placing our front line on the summit ridge, that part should at most only be occupied by skirmishers, and the full line should be so placed on the reverse slope, that at the moment when the enemy reaches the summit ridge and begins to rally his ranks he is exposed to the greatest fire.*
All other local features which form obstacles to approach, such as small rivers, streams, hollow ways, &c., serve to make breaks in the enemy’s front. He must, after passing them, halt to re-form, and that delays him; therefore he should then be brought within range of our most effectual fire. The most effectual fire is case (400 to 600 yards), if there is plenty of artillery available; the fire of musketry (150 to 200 yards), if there is little artillery at hand.
(8) Through this it becomes a rule to include within the zone of our most effective fire every obstacle to approach with which we wish to strengthen our front. But, at the same time, it is important to observe that our whole defence should never depend entirely on our fire, but a considerable portion of our troops (one-third to one-half) should always be kept ready to attack with the bayonet. Therefore, if we are very weak, we must merely place the line of fire (riflemen and artillery) near enough to cover the obstacle with their fire, and place the rest of the troops in columns 600 or 800 yards further back, and if possible under cover.
(9) Another way of making use of obstacles to approach in front is to let them be a little further in front of our line, so that they shall be within the effective range of cannon-shot (1000 to 2000 yards), and if the enemy’s columns pass them, then to attack him from all sides. (At Minden, the Duke Ferdinand did something like this.) In this manner an obstacle of ground is favourable to the plan of actively defending ourselves; and this active defence, of which we have already spoken elsewhere, then takes place on our front.
(10) In the preceding observations, obstacles of ground and country have been considered chiefly as connected lines in relation to extensive positions, but it is necessary to say something about single points.
Isolated points in general can only be defended either by entrenchments or by a strong natural obstacle of ground. Of the first we do not speak at present. Obstacles of ground which, standing isolated, may have to be defended can only be—
(a) Isolated steep Heights.
In this case, entrenchments are indispensable, because the enemy can always advance against the defender with a front more or less extended, and the defender must then at last be taken in rear, because he will rarely be strong enough to show a front on all sides.
Under this term we include every narrow way forming the only approach by which the enemy can reach a particular point. Bridges, embankments, rocky gulleys with precipitous sides, belong to this class.
In respect to all these cases it is to be observed, that either it is impossible for the assailant to turn the obstacle—as, for instance, a bridge over a great river, in which case the defender may then boldly use all his force in order to bring as much fire as possible to bear on the point of passage—or we are not secure against the obstacle being turned—as in the case of bridges over small streams, and the greater number of mountain defiles; then it is necessary to reserve a considerable part of the force (one-third to one-half) for an attack in close order.
(c) Buildings and Enclosures, Villages, small Towns, &c.
If troops are brave, and carry on a War with enthusiasm, there is no place or condition of things in which a few can so well resist many as in the defence of houses. But if we are not quite certain of the men individually, it is better only to occupy the houses, gardens, &c., with riflemen, and to plant guns at the approaches, and to draw up the greater part of the troops (one-third to one-half) in close column, in the place itself, or behind it under cover, in order to rush upon the enemy with this reserve when he attempts to enter.
(11) These isolated posts serve the great operations partly as outposts, not intended to offer an absolute defence, but mostly only to detain the enemy, partly as points which are of importance in the combinations planned for the whole Army. It is also often necessary to hold a distant point, in order to gain time for the development of active defensive measures which we have in view. If the point is remote, it is naturally on that account isolated.
(12) It is only now necessary to add two remarks concerning isolated points, the first is, that we must hold troops in readiness behind these points for the detachments to rally upon in case of being driven out; the second is, that whoever includes such a defence in the series of his combinations should never reckon too much upon it, let the strength of the natural obstacles of ground be ever so great; that, on the other hand, whoever is entrusted with the defence must determine to carry out the object, let circumstances be ever so adverse to him. For this, a spirit of resolution and self-devotion is required which can only spring from a thirst for glory and from enthusiasm: for this reason, men must be chosen for such duties who are not deficient in these noble qualities of the soul.
(13) All that concerns the use of the ground as a means for covering our position and our march up to occupy it requires no elaborate exposition.
We do not now place ourselves on a hill we wish to defend (as was often done formerly) but behind it: we do not place ourselves before a wood, but in it, or behind it; the latter only when we can overlook the wood or thicket. We keep our troops in columns that they may be the more easily concealed; we take advantage of villages, plantations, all undulations of the ground, in order to conceal our troops behind them; in advancing we choose the most broken intersected country,* &c.
In cultivated countries there are hardly any localities so much overlooked that it is not possible by a skilful use of such obstacles and features as the ground presents to keep a great part of the troops on the defensive from being seen. For the assailant, there is more difficulty in keeping a march secret, because he must follow the main loads.
Of course, when the ground is made use of for purposes of concealment of troops, this must be done with a due regard to the end and the combinations which have been decided upon; therefore, in this we must take care above all things that we do not pull to pieces the order of battle, although some small deviations may be allowable.
(14) If we sum up what has now been said on ground, we deduce from it as respects the defensive, that is, the choice of positions, that the following points are those of most importance:
(a) Support of one or both flanks.
(b) Open view before front and flanks.
(c) Obstacles to the approach in front.
(d) Masked positions for troops.
To this is to be added—
(e) A broken country in rear, because that makes pursuit difficult in case of disaster; but no defiles too near (as at Friedland), for that causes delay and confusion.
(15) It would be pedantic to suppose that all these advantages are to be obtained at every position which it is necessary to take up in War. All positions are not of equal importance; their importance increases in proportion to the probability of our being attacked in them. It is only in the most important that we try to combine, if possible, all these advantages; in others we try to do so more or less.
(16) The considerations which the assailant has to study in respect to ground are principally embraced in two leading points: not to choose an over difficult country for the point of attack; and next, on all occasions to advance through the country so that the enemy can see as little as possible of our movements.
(17) I close these observations on the use of ground with a maxim of the highest importance for the defence, and which is to be regarded as the key-stone of the whole theory of defence, which is: Not to expect everything from the strength of the ground, consequently never to be enticed into a passive defence by a strong country. For if the country is in reality so strong that it is impossible for the assailant to drive us out of our position, he will turn it, which is always possible, and then the strongest country is useless; we are then compelled to fight under quite different circumstances, in quite a different country; and we might as well not have included the other locality in our combinations. But if the ground is not of such strength, if it is possible to attack it, still the advantages of such a position will never outweigh the disadvantages of a passive defence. All obstacles of ground must therefore only be taken advantage of for a partial defensive, in order to offer a relatively great resistance with few troops, and to gain time for the offensive, by which the real victory is to be gained at other points.
This is the combination of the singles battles of a War, in order to attain to the object of the campaign.
If we know how to fight, if we know how to conquer, there is not much more wanted; to combine successful results is easy, because it is merely an affair of a well-practised judgment, and does not depend, like the direction of a battle, on special knowledge.
All that is essential in the few principles which there are, and which depend chiefly on the constitution of States and Armies may, therefore, be brought within a small compass.
(1) There are three principal objects in carrying on War:
(a) To conquer and destroy the enemy’s armed force.
(b) To get possession of the material elements of aggression, and of the other sources of existence of the hostile Army.
(c) To gain public opinion.
(2) To attain the first of these objects, the chief operation must be directed against the enemy’s principal Army, or at least against a very important portion of the hostile force; for it must be beaten before we can follow up the other two objects with success.
(3) In order to seize the material forces, operations are directed against those points at which those resources are chiefly concentrated: principal towns, magazines, great fortresses. On the road to these, the enemy’s principal force, or a considerable part of his Army, will be encountered.
(4) Public opinion is ultimately gained by great victories, and by the possession of the enemy’s capital.
(5) The first and most important maxim which we can set before us for the attainment of these objects is: to employ all the forces which we can make available with the utmost energy. In every modification which manifests itself in these respects, there is a shortcoming as respects the object. Even if the result is tolerably certain in itself, it is extremely unwise not to use the utmost efforts to make it perfectly certain; for these efforts can never produce injurious effects. Let the country suffer ever so much by it, no disadvantage can arise from that, because the pressure of the War is the sooner removed.
The moral impression produced by vigorous preparations is of infinite value; every one feels certain of success: this is the best means of raising the spirits of the Nation.
(6) The second principle is to concentrate our force as much as is possible at the point where the decisive blows are to be struck, to run the risk even of being at a disadvantage at other points, in order to make sure of the result at the decisive point. The success at that point will compensate for all defeats at secondary points.
(7) The third principle is: not to lose time. If no special and considerable advantage will arise by delay, it is important to commence work as quickly as possible. By rapidity, many measures of the enemy are nipped in the bud, and public opinion is gained in our favour.
Surprise plays a much greater part in Strategy than in tactics; it is the most powerful element of victory; Alexander, Hannibal, Cæsar, Gustavus Adolphus, Frederick II., Napoleon, owe the brightest rays of their fame to their promptitude.
(8) Lastly, the fourth principle is: to follow up the success we gain with the utmost energy.
The pursuit of the enemy when defeated is the only means of gathering up the fruits of victory.
(9) The first of these principles is the foundation of the three others. If we have followed the first principle, we can venture any length with respect to the others, without risking our all. It gives the means of continually creating new forces behind us, and with fresh forces every disaster may be repaired.
In this, and not in going forward with timid steps, lies that prudence which may be called wise.
(10) Small States, in the present day, cannot make any Wars of conquest; but, at the same time, for a defensive War, even their means are very great. Therefore I am perfectly convinced that hoever calls forth all his powers in order to appear incessantly with new masses, whoever adopts every imaginable means of preparation, whoever concentrates his force at the decisive point, whoever thus armed pursues a great object with resolution and energy, has done all that can be done in a general way for the strategical conduct of the War, and that unless he is altogether unfortunate in battle, he will undoubtedly be victorious in the same measure as his adversary has fallen short of this exertion and energy.
(11) Due attention being paid to these principles, the form in which the operations are carried on is in the end of little consequence. I shall, however, try to explain, in a few words, what is most important.
In tactics, we always seek to get round the enemy, that is to say, that portion of his force against which our principal attack is directed, partly because the convergent action of the combatant force is more advantageous than the parallel, partly because it is the only method of cutting the enemy off from his line of retreat.
If this, which relates to the enemy and his position tactically, issued strategically, and applied to the enemy’s theatre of War (therefore also to his subsistence lines), then the separate columns, or Armies, which should envelop the enemy, will be in most cases so far apart from each other that they cannot take part in one and the same battle. The enemy will be in the middle, and may be able to turn with the mass of his forces against these Corps singly, and beat them in detail. Frederick II.’s campaigns furnish examples of this, more especially those of 1757 and 1758.
Now as the battle is the principal affair, the decisive one, the party acting on converging lines, unless he has a most decisive superiority in numbers, will lose by battles all the advantages which the enveloping movement would have gained for him; for an operation against the lines of communication only takes effect very slowly, but victory in the battle very quickly.
Therefore, in Strategy, he who finds himself in the midst of his enemies is better off than his opponent who tries to envelop him, particularly if the forces on each side are equal, and of course still more so if there is an inferiority on the enveloping side.
A strategic enveloping or turning movement is no doubt a very effective means of cutting the enemy off from his line of retreat; but as this object may also just as well be attained by a tactical turning movement, the strategic enveloping movement is therefore never advisable unless we are (physically and morally) so superior, that we shall be strong enough at the decisive point, and yet can at the same time dispense with the detached corps.
Napoleon never engaged in attempts to turn his enemy strategically, although he was so often, indeed almost always, both physically and morally superior.
Frederick II. only did it once, in the attack on Bohemia, 1757. Certainly by that means the Austrians were prevented from bringing on a battle until they got to Prague; but what was the benefit to him of the conquest of Bohemia as far as Prague, without a decisive battle? The battle of Kollin forced him to give it up again—a proof that battles decide all. At Prague he was obviously in danger of being attacked by the whole of the Austrian forces before the arrival of Schwerin. He would not have exposed himself to this danger if he had marched through Saxony with all his forces united. The first battle would in that case probably have been fought at Budin on the Eger, and that would have been as decisive as the Battle of Prague. This concentric march into Bohemia was unquestionably a consequence of the Prussian Army having been broken up during the winter in cantonments in Silesia and Saxony, and it is of importance to observe, that reasons of this kind, in most cases, are more influential than the advantages in the form of the disposition itself, for the facility of operations is favourable to their rapid execution, and the friction inherent in the immense machinery of a great armed force is in any case so great that we should never add to it except from necessity.
(12) Besides this, the principle just stated, of concentrating as much as possible at the decisive point, is opposed to the idea of enveloping strategically, and the order of battle for our troops naturally springs from that principle of itself. On that account I said, with reason, that the form of the order of battle is of little consequence. There is, however, one case in which the operating strategically against the enemy’s flank leads to great results, similar to those of a battle; that is, when in a poor or impoverished country the enemy, by great exertions, has formed large magazines, on the preservation of which his operations entirely depend. In such a case it may perhaps be advisable not to march with the mass of our forces against the enemy’s principal force, but to push forward against his base. For this there are, however, two conditions requisite:
(a) That the enemy is so far from his base that he will be forced by this means to make a long retreat; and
(b) That with a few troops and the help of natural and artificial obstacles we shall be able to harass him in such a manner on the road which his principal force must take, that no conquests he can make in that direction will compensate for the loss of his base.
(13) The subsistence of troops being a condition which is indispensable in the conduct of War, it has a great influence on the operations of the War, particularly in this way, that it will only allow of the concentration of troops to a certain degree; and as it must be considered in the choice of the line of operations, therefore it has an influence in determining the theatre of War.
(14) The subsistence for troops is provided, whenever the state of a country allows of it, at the cost of the country, by requisitions.
According to the present mode of making War, Armies take up considerably more space than formerly. The formation of separate independent corps has made this possible without our being placed at a disadvantage if opposed to an enemy who is concentrated in the old manner (with 70,000 to 100,000 men) at one spot; for one of these Corps, organised as they now are, can sustain itself for some time against an enemy twice or three times superior in numbers; during this time other Corps arrive, and therefore, even if this Corps is actually beaten, it will not have fought in vain, as we have already observed elsewhere.
Accordingly, now, single Divisions or Corps take the field, marching separately either in line with each other, or in succession one after another, and only so far in connection that, if they belong to the same Army, they can take part in any battle which may occur.
This makes it practicable to subsist an Army for a time without magazines. It is facilitated by the organisation of the Corps itself, by its staff and its commissariat department.
(15) When important reasons (as for instance the position of the enemy’s principal Army) do not decide otherwise, one should choose the richest and most productive provinces to operate in, for facility of subsistence promotes rapidity of movement. There is nothing which in importance surpasses the subsistence, except the position of the enemy’s principal Army, which we are seeking, the situation of the capital city, or strong place which we wish to take. All other considerations, for instance, the advantageous form of drawing up the armed force (order of battle), of which we have already spoken, are, as a rule, much less important.
(16) In spite of this new method of subsisting, we are very far from being able to dispense with all magazines, and a wise Commander, even if the resources of the province are quite sufficient, will not neglect to form magazines behind him as a provision against unforeseen events, and so as to be able the more readily to concentrate his strength at certain points. This is one of those measures of precaution which are no detriment to the main object.
(1) In political language, a defensive War is one which a State carries on to maintain its independence: in Strategy, a defensive War is a campaign in which we limit ourselves to contending with the enemy in a theatre of War which has been prepared by us for the purpose. Whether the battles we fight in this theatre of War are offensive or defensive makes no difference in this respect.
(2) We choose the strategic defensive chiefly when the enemy is superior in force. Naturally fortresses and entrenched camps, which are to be regarded as the chief preparations of a theatre of War, afford great advantages, to which may be added knowledge of the country and the possession of good maps and surveys. With these advantages, a small Army, or an Army which is based on a small State and limited resources, will be more in a condition to oppose the enemy than without the aid of such assistance.
There are besides the two following grounds upon which we may choose the defensive form of War by preference:
First.—If the poverty of the provinces surrounding our theatre of War makes our operations extremely difficult on account of the question of subsistence. In that case we escape the disadvantage, and the enemy must submit to it. This is, for instance, at this moment (1812) the case of the Russian Army.
Secondly.—If the enemy has greater advantages for carrying on the War. In a prepared theatre of War—which we know, where all the surrounding circumstances are in our favour—War is more easily conducted; there will not be so many faults committed. In this case, that is, when the little dependence to be placed on our troops and Generals compels us to resort to the defensive, we gladly combine the tactical defensive with the strategic, that is, we give battle in positions prepared beforehand; we do so further because there is less risk of our committing faults.
(3) In defensive War, just as much as in the offensive, a great object should be pursued. This can be nothing else than to annihilate the enemy’s Army, either in a battle, or by making his subsistence so difficult as to produce disorganisation and compel him to retreat, by which he must necessarily suffer considerable losses. Wellington’s campaign in the years 1810 and 1811 is an instance of this.
The defensive War, therefore, does not consist in an indolent waiting for events; we must only pursue the waiting-for system where there is a palpable and decisive utility in that mode of procedure. That sort of calm before a storm, whilst the offensive is gathering up new force for great blows, is extremely dangerous for the defender.
If the Austrians, after the battle of Aspern, had reinforced themselves to three times the strength of the French Emperor, which they certainly might have done, then the time of rest which took place before the battle of Wagram might have been advantageous to them, but only on that condition; as they did not do so, it was so much lost time for them, and it would have been wiser if they had taken advantage of Napoleon’s critical position to reap the fruits of their success at Aspern.
(4) Fortresses are intended to occupy an important part of the enemy’s Army in besieging them. This period must, therefore, be taken advantage of to beat the rest of the Army. Our battles should be fought behind our fortresses, not in front of them. At the same time, however, we must not quietly look on at their being captured, as Benningsen did during the siege of Dantzig.
(5) A great river, that is, one we cannot build a bridge across without considerable difficulty—rivers like the Danube below Vienna, and the Lower Rhine—affords a natural line of defence of which we can avail ourselves, not by distributing our forces equally along its banks, and seeking to hinder the passage absolutely, which is a dangerous measure, but by watching it, and when the enemy passes, then falling upon him from all sides just at the moment when he has not yet got all his forces under command, and is still hemmed in within a narrow space close to the river. The battle of Aspern is an instance. At the battle of Wagram the Austrians, without any necessity, allowed the French to get possession of far too much space, by which means they did away with the disadvantages peculiarly inherent to the passage of a river.
(6) Mountains are the second natural obstacles of ground which afford a good line of defence, as we can either have them in front, and only occupy them with a few light troops, treat them to a certain extent as a river which the enemy must cross, and as soon as he debouches with his single columns, fall upon one of them with our whole weight, or we may ourselves take position in the mountains. In the last case, we must only defend the single passes with small detachments, and a considerable part of the Army (a third or a half) must remain in reserve, in order to fall in superior numbers on any column which forces its way through. This great reserve must, however, not be split up with a view to absolutely preventing all the columns from passing, but we must, from the first, resolve to make use of it to attack that column which we suppose to be the strongest. If, in this way, we rout a considerable part of the enemy’s force, the other columns which have forced their way through will of themselves retire again.
The formation of mountain ranges in general is such that about the centre of the masses there are plateaux or plains at a greater or less elevation, and the sides next to the level country are intersected by deep valleys forming the entrances or avenues. The defender, therefore, has in the mountains a district in which he can make rapid movements right or left, whilst the attacking columns are separated from each other by steep, inaccessible ridges. It is only a mountain mass of this kind that is well adapted for a good defence. If it is rugged and impassable generally throughout, so that the Corps on the defensive must be scattered and disconnected, then to undertake the defence with the principal Army is a dangerous measure, for under such circumstances all the advantages are on the side of the assailant, who can fall upon any of the isolated posts with far superior numbers, as no pass, no single post is so strong that it cannot soon be taken by superior numbers.
(7) With regard to mountain warfare, it is specially to be observed that in it a great deal depends on the aptitude of subordinate officers, but still more on the high spirit which animates the ranks. Great skill in manœuvring is not here requisite, but a military spirit and a heart in the cause, for every one is more or less left to act independently; this is why national levies find their account in mountain warfare, for while they are deficient in the first quality, they possess the other in the highest degree.
(8) Lastly, in respect to the strategic defensive, it is to be observed that, while it is in itself stronger than the offensive, it should only be used to gain the first great result, and that if this object is attained, and peace does not immediately follow upon that, greater results can only be obtained by the offensive; for whoever remains always on the defensive exposes himself to the disadvantage of always carrying on the War at his own expense. No State can endure that for more than a certain time; and therefore, if it exposes itself to the blows of its adversary without ever striking in return, it is almost sure in the end to become exhausted, and be obliged to submit. We should therefore begin with the defensive, that we may with the more certainty end with the offensive.
(1) The strategic attack pursues the aim of the War directly, for it is aimed directly at the destruction of the enemy’s armed force, whilst the strategic defence seeks to obtain this object partly only indirectly. From this it comes that the principles of the attack are already contained in the general principles of Strategy. Only two subjects require special mention.
(2) The first is, keeping the Army constantly complete in men and arms. To the defender, this is relatively easier, from the proximity of his resources. The assailant, although in most cases possessed of the resources of a powerful State, must bring his means more or less from a distance, and therefore, of course, with greater difficulty. That he may not run short in means, he must make such arrangements that the levy of recruits and transport of arms anticipate his wants in these respects. The roads on his line of operations must be incessantly covered with reinforcements and trains of supplies moving to the front; on those roads, military stations must be formed to expedite the transport.
(3) Even in the most prosperous circumstances, and with the greatest moral and physical superiority, the assailant must keep in view the possibility of a great change of fortune. For this reason, he must provide points on the line of operations suitable for refuge, in the event of his Army being beaten. Such are fortresses with entrenched camps, or simply entrenched camps.
Large rivers afford the best means of checking the pursuit of an enemy for a time. We should therefore secure the passages across them with bridge heads, surrounded with a girdle of strong redoubts.
For the defence of these points, and as garrisons for important towns and fortresses, troops, in greater or less number, must be left behind, according as we have to apprehend attacks from the enemy or the hostility of the inhabitants of the country. These, with the reinforcements coming up, form new Corps, which, in case of success, follow the Army, but in case of disaster are stationed at the points which have been fortified to secure the retreat.
Napoleon always showed great foresight in the provision he made in this manner in the rear of his Army; and in that way, even in his boldest operations, he incurred less risks than might be imagined at first sight.
ON THE PRACTICE IN WAR OF THE PRINCIPLES NOW LAID DOWN
(1) The principles of the Art of War are in themselves very simple, and are quite within the compass of sound, common sense; and although in tactics they rest rather more than in Strategy upon special knowledge, still even this knowledge is so limited that it can hardly be compared with any other science, either in diversity or extent. Learning and profound science are, therefore, not at all requisite, nor are even great powers of understanding. If any special faculty of the understanding, besides a practised judgment, is required, it is clear from all that precedes that it is a talent for artifice or stratagem. The exact contrary has been long maintained, but merely from a misplaced feeling of awe regarding the subject, and from the vanity of authors who have written on the subject. An impartial consideration must convince us of this: but experience tends to impress upon us this conviction still more forcibly. In the late Revolutionary War, many men have made themselves conspicuous as skilful Generals, often as Generals of the first order, without having had the benefit of any military education. As regards Condé, Wallenstein, Suwarrow,* and many others it is at least a very doubtful point whether these had enjoyed any either.
That the conduct itself of War is very difficult is a matter of no doubt; but the difficulty is not that special learning, or great genius, is required to comprehend the true principles of conducting War; that can be done by any well-organised head, with a mind free from prejudice, and not altogether ignorant of the subject. Even the application of these principles on a map, and on paper, presents no difficulty; and even a good plan of operations is still no great masterpiece. The great difficulty is to adhere steadfastly in execution to the principles which we have adopted.
The object of this concluding observation, is to fix attention on this difficulty, and to give your Royal Highness a lucid and distinct idea of it, for I look upon that as being the most important point which I can attain by this paper.
The whole conduct of War is like the action of a complicated machine, with an immense amount of friction; so that combinations which are easily made on paper can only be carried into execution by very great exertion.
Therefore the free will, the mind of the General, finds itself impeded in its action at every instant, and it requires a peculiar strength of mind and understanding to overcome this resistance. By this friction many a good idea is lost, and we are obliged to lay down a plain, simple scheme, when by a somewhat more complicated one greater results might be attained.
To enumerate the causes of this friction in full is perhaps not possible, but the following are the greatest:
(1) We always know much less of the actual condition and of the designs of the enemy than we assume on supposition in forming our plans; innumerable doubts rise up at the moment of the execution of a resolution, doubts caused by the dangers to which we see we are exposed, if it should prove that we have been much deceived in the conjectures we have formed. That feeling of anxiety which so easily seizes men in general in the execution of great designs then overpowers us, and from this state of anxiety to a state of irresolution, from that to half measures, is a short step not perceptible.
(2) Not only are we uncertain as to the strength of the enemy, but rumour (all intelligence which we receive through outposts, spies, or by accident) increases his numbers. The great masses of the people are timid by nature, and thereby danger is invariably exaggerated. All the influences brought to bear on the General, therefore, tend to give him a false impression of the strength of the enemy before him; and herein lies a new source of irresolution.
We cannot imagine the full extent of this uncertainty and it is, therefore, important to prepare for it beforehand.
If we have quietly reflected on everything beforehand, if we have impartially considered, if we have sought for and if we have made up our minds on the probabilities of the case, we should not be ready to give up at once the first opinion, but carefully criticise reports as they come in, compare several with each other, send out for further information, &c. Very often, by this means, false intelligence is detected on the spot; often the first information is confirmed; in both cases, therefore, we attain to certainty, and can form a resolution accordingly. If we cannot obtain this certainty, then we must say to ourselves that in War nothing can be carried out without a risk; that the nature of War never allows us thoroughly to see, at all times, which way we are going; that the probable will still always remain the probable, even if it does not strike upon our senses at once; and that if we have made judicious arrangements generally, we shall not be completely ruined at once, even if there is one error.
(3) The uncertainty as to the existing state of things at any given moment applies to our own Army as well as the enemy’s. Our own Army can seldom be kept so concentrated that we can at any moment clearly command a view of all parts. Now, if we are disposed to be anxious, then new doubts will thus arise. We shall wish to wait and see, and a delay in the action of the whole is the inevitable consequence.
We must, therefore, feel so much confidence in the arrangements we have made as to believe that they will meet our expectations. To this belongs in a special manner a reliance on the subordinate Generals; we must, therefore, make it a rule to select officers upon whom we can rely, making every other conside ation give way to that. If we have made the dispositions which are suitable, if we have provided for contingent mishaps, and so arranged that in case such should occur during the execution of our measures we shall not be completely ruined, then we must step boldly forward through the night of uncertainty.
(4) When we want to carry on a War which causes a great strain upon our powers, then subordinate Generals and even the troops (if they are not used to War) will often find obstacles which they represent as insuperable. They will find the march too long, the fatigue too great, the subsistence impracticable. If we should listen to all these difficulties, as Frederick II. called them, we should soon have to succumb to them, and remain powerless and inactive instead of acting with force and energy.
To withstand all this, a degree of confidence in our own sagacity and convictions is requisite, which commonly looks like obstinacy at the moment, but which is that power of the understanding and character which we call firmness.
(5) None of the effects upon which we calculate in War come to pass so exactly as any one would imagine who has not watched War attentively and been accustomed to it in reality.
We often make a mistake of several hours as to the march of a column, and yet we are unable to tell where to fix the cause of the delay; obstacles often present themselves which could not be calculated upon beforehand; often we expect to arrive at a certain point with an Army, and find ourselves obliged to halt some miles short of it; often a post which we have established renders much less service than we expected; one of the enemy’s, on the contrary, much more; often the resources of a province do not amount to as much as we anticipated, &c.
Any such obstruction can only be got over by great efforts, which the General can only succeed in getting by strictness bordering on severity. Only by such means, only when he is certain that the utmost possible will be done, can he feel secure that these little impediments will not exercise a great influence on his operations, that he will not fall short of the object which he proposed to attain.
(6) We may feel certain that an Army is never in the condition in which a person following its operations in a room supposes it to be. If he is in favour of the Army, he will figure it to himself as being from a third to a half stronger and better than it really is. It is natural enough that the Commander should find himself in the same case in relation to the first plan of his operations, that he should afterwards see his Army melt away in a manner he never anticipated, his artillery and cavalry become unserviceable &c. Thus, what appeared to the observer and the General as possible and easy at the opening of the campaign, will often prove difficult or impossible in the execution. Now, if the Commander is a man who, impelled by a lofty ambition, still follows his object with boldness and energetic will, then he will attain it, whilst an ordinary man will think himself fully justified in abandoning it, owing to the condition of his Army.
Massena showed, in Genoa and in Portugal, the power which a General has over his troops through the strength of his will; in the one case by the force, we might say the severity, of his character, he drove the men to extraordinary exertions, which were crowned with success; in the other, in Portugal, he held out, at least, much longer than any one else would have done.
In most cases, the enemy’s Army finds itself in a similar condition; think of Wallenstein and Gustavus Adolphus at Nuremberg, of Napoleon and Benningsen after the battle of Eylau. The state of the enemy we do not see, our own is before our eyes; therefore the latter makes a much greater impression than the former, because in ordinary mortals sensuous impressions are more powerful than the language of the understanding.
(7) The subsistence of the troops in whatever way it may be managed (whether by magazines or requisitions), presents such difficulties that it must always have a very decisive voice in the choice of measures. It is often opposed to the most effectual combination, and an Army is sometimes compelled to go in quest of its subsistence when it might be on the way to victory, to brilliant successes. Through this, chiefly, the whole machine acquires that unwieldiness by which the effects realised fall far short of the flight of great plans.
A General who, with a tyrannical power, demands from his troops the utmost efforts, the most extreme hardships; an Army accustomed to these sacrifices through Wars of long duration—what advantages will they not have over their opponents, how much more rapidly will they pursue their object in spite of all obstacles! With equally good plans, how different will be the result!
(8) Generally, and in all the foregoing cases, we cannot keep our eyes too intently fixed on the following truth:
The sensuous impressions which come before us in the course of execution are more vivid than those obtained previously through mature reflection. They are, however, only first appearances of things, and that, as we know, seldom corresponds exactly with reality. We are, therefore, in danger of sacrificing our mature reflection to first appearances.
That this first appearance, as a rule, produces fear and over caution is owing to the natural timidity of man, who takes only a partial view of everything.
Against this we must, therefore, arm ourselves, and place a firm reliance on the results of our own past mature reflections, in order to fortify ourselves by that means against the weakening impressions of the moment.
In this difficulty of execution a great deal depends on the certainty and firmness of our own convictions; on that account, therefore, the study of military history is important, because by it we learn the thing itself, we see the development of events themselves. The principles which we have learnt by theoretical instruction are only suited to facilitate the study of and direct our attention to the points of greatest importance in military history.
Your Royal Highness must therefore make yourself acquainted with these principles, with a view to proving them by the study of military history, and seeing where they coincide with the course of actual events, and where they are modified or overthrown by the same.
But besides this, the study of military history is the only means of supplying the place of actual experience, by giving a clear idea of that which we have termed the friction of the whole machine.
To this end we must not confine ourselves to the leading events, much less keep to the reasoning of historians, but study details as much as is possible. For historians rarely make perfect fidelity of representation their object: in general, they desire to embellish the deeds of their Army, or to prove a consonance between actual events and some imaginary rules. They invent history, instead of writing it. Much reading of history is not required for the above object. The knowledge of a few separate battles, in their details, is more useful than a general knowledge of several campaigns. On this account it is more advantageous to read particular narratives and journals than regular works of history. The account of the defence of Menin, in the year 1794, in the memoirs of General Scharnhorst, is a pattern of this kind of narration which cannot be surpassed. This narrative, especially the account of the sortie and the mode in which the garrison cut their way through the enemy, will serve your Royal Highness as a criterion for the style in which military history should be written.
No battle in the world has more thoroughly convinced me that in War we should not despair of success up to the last moment, and that the effects of good principles, which can never manifest themselves in such a regular manner as we suppose, will unexpectedly make their appearance, even in the most desperate cases, when we believe any such influences are completely lost.
Some great sentiment must stimulate great abilities in the General, either ambition, as in Cæsar, hatred of the enemy, as in Hannibal, the pride of falling gloriously, as in Frederick the Great.
Open your heart to a feeling of this kind. Be bold and astute in your designs, firm and persevering in executing them, determined to find a glorious end, and destiny will press on your youthful brow a radiant crown—fit emblem of a Prince, the rays of which will carry your image into the bosom of your latest descendants.
ON THE ORGANIC DIVISION OF ARMED FORCES*
That the grounds which determine the division and strength of the different parts of an Army, and which have their root in elementary tactics, are not very distinct, and allow of much that is arbitrary, we must suppose, if we look at the various modes of formation which actually exist; but no great reflection is required to convince us that these grounds cannot determine the matter more exactly. What is usually adduced in relation to the subject, as, for instance, if a cavalry officer tries to prove that a cavalry regiment can never be too strong, because otherwise it is not in a condition to do anything, deserves no serious notice. This is the state of things as regards the small divisions with which elementary tactics is concerned—that is, Companies, Squadrons, Battalions, and Regiments; but it is much worse still with the larger divisions which are beyond elementary tactics, and where the question depends on higher tactics or the theory of the dispositions for a battle in conjunction with Strategy. We shall now take up the subject of these greater divisions—Brigades, Divisions, Corps, and Armies.
Let us first consider for a moment the reasonable grounds (the philosophy) of the thing. Why are the masses, as a universal rule, divided into parts? Plainly because one person can only exercise direct command over a limited number. The General cannot take 50,000 soldiers and place each man upon a particular spot and keep him there, and order him to do this and not to do that, which, if such a thing was conceivable, would plainly be the best thing that could be done; for none of the countless subordinate Commanders ever intensifies (at least it would be an anomaly if he did), but each more or less diminishes the force of the original order, and takes from the first idea something of its original precision. Besides this, if there are a number of subordinate divisions, the order takes considerably more time to reach its destination. From this it follows that the divisions and subdivisions, by reason of which orders must pass through many hands in succession, constitute a necessary evil. Here ends our philosophy, and we enter upon tactics and Strategy.
A mass entirely isolated which is opposed to the enemy as an independent whole, whether great or small, has three parts which are essential, and without which such a body can hardly be imagined, that is to say, one part which it throws out in advance, one which in case of unforeseen events it places in rear, and the main body between these two parts.
Therefore, if the division of the greater whole is made with a view to independence, it must never have less than three parts if the permanent Division is to be in accordance with that constant requirement of independence which must naturally be an object. But it is easy to observe that even these three parts do not constitute quite a natural arrangement; for no one would willingly make his advance and rear guards each of the same strength with the centre or main body. Therefore, it would be more natural to conceive the centre as consisting of at least two parts, consequently, to make a division of the whole into four parts in this order:
But even here it is plain we have not yet got to the most natural point. For, notwithstanding the depth which it is usual now to give an order of battle, all distributions of forces, either tactical or strategic, invariably assume the linear form; consequently, there arises of itself the want of a right wing, of a left wing, and of a centre, and five may therefore now be looked upon as the natural number of divisions in this form:
This formation now allows of one, or in case of urgent necessity, of two parts of the principal mass being detached right or left. Whoever, like myself, is a friend of strong reserves, will perhaps find the part in rear (reserve) too weak in relation to the whole, and, therefore, will add, on that account, another part, in order to have one-third in reserve. Then the whole will be organised as under:
If the force we have to organise is very large, a considerable Army, then Strategy has to remark that such an Army almost always finds it necessary to detach parts to the right and left; that, therefore, on this account with such a force, two more parts must generally be added; we then get the following strategic figure:
From this we deduce as a result, that a whole mass of troops should never be divided into less than three or more than eight parts. But still in this there appears very little that is definite, for what a number of different combinations may be made, if we reflect that we might divide an Army into 3 × 3 × 3, if we should base Corps, Divisions, and Brigades upon that number, which would give twenty-seven Brigades, or into any other possible product of the given factors.
But there are still some important points remaining for consideration.
We have not entered upon the strength of Battalions and Regiments, leaving that for elementary tactics; from what has just been said, it only follows that we should make the Brigades consist of not less than three Battalions. Upon this we certainly insist, and shall probably not encounter any opposition; but it is more difficult to limit the greatest strength which the Brigade should have. As a rule a Brigade is considered to be such a body as can and must be guided by one man directly—that is to say, through the instrumentality of his voice. If we adhere to that, then it should not exceed a strength of 4000 or 5000 men; and, consequently, will consist of six or eight Battalions, according to the strength of the battalion. But here we must bring in another subject, which forms a new element in the inquiry. This element is the combination of the different arms. That this combination should begin in a body of troops lower down the steps than a whole Army is a point on which there is but one opinion throughout Europe. But some would only commence with it in Corps, that is, masses of 20,000 to 30,000 men. Others would have it in Divisions—that is, masses of from 8000 to 12,000 men. We shall not enter into this controversy at present, but confine ourselves to this, which will hardly be disputed, that the independence of any body of troops is chiefly constituted by the combination of the three arms, and that, therefore, at all events for Divisions which are destined to find themselves frequently isolated in War, this combination is very desirable.
Further, we have not only to take into consideration the combination of all three arms, but also that of two of them, namely, artillery and infantry. This combination, according to the generally prevailing custom, takes place very much sooner, although artillerymen, excited by the example of cavalrymen, show no slight inclination to form again a little Army of their own. They have, however, as yet been obliged to content themselves with being divided amongst the Brigades. Through this combination, therefore, of artillery with infantry, the idea of a Brigade takes a somewhat different form, and the only question to be considered is, what should be the minimum size of a body of infantry to which, as a rule, a portion of artillery must always be attached in a permanent manner?
This question is more readily answered than one would at first sight suppose, for the number of guns which, for every 1000 men, we can take into the field, seldom depends on our will, it is settled by a variety of other, partly very remote, causes; then, again, the number of guns which are united in a battery rests upon much more substantial tactical grounds than any other similar organisation; thus it is that we do not ask, How many guns shall this mass of infantry (for instance, a Brigade) have? but, What mass of infantry is to be joined to a battery of artillery? If we have, for example, three guns per 1000 men with the Army, and then deduct one for the reserve, there remain two to distribute amongst the rest of the troops, which allows a mass of 4000 infantry for a battery of eight guns. As this is the ordinary proportion, it is evident that, with our calculation, we come nearly to what has been found to answer best in practice. After this, we shall add no more in regard to the size of a Brigade than that it should consist accordingly of from three to five thousand men.
Although the field of division is limited on one side in this way, and on the other it was already limited by the strength of the Army as a given quantity, a great number of combinations still always remain possible, and we cannot let them be disposed of at once by a rigorous application of the principle of the least possible number of parts; we have still to take into consideration some points of a general nature and we must also allow special considerations in particular cases to have their rights.
First we must observe that great bodies must be split into more parts than smaller ones, in order to be made sufficiently handy (as already noticed), and that small bodies with too many subdivisions or branches are not easy to handle.
If an Army is formed into two principal Corps, each of which has its own special Commander,* that is as much as to neutralise the Command-in-Chief. Every one who has military experience will understand this without any further elucidation. It is not much better if the Army is divided into three parts, for in such a case there can be no expeditious movements, no suitable dispositions for a battle, without an incessant breaking up of these three principal Corps, by which their Commanders are very soon put out of temper.
The greater the number of parts the greater becomes the power of the Commander-in-Chief and the mobility of the whole mass. There is, therefore, a reason for going as far as possible in this direction. As there are more means of putting orders in a train for execution at a headquarters like that of the Commander of an Army than with the limited staff of a Corps or Division, therefore, on general grounds, it is best to divide an Army into not less than eight parts. If other circumstances require it, this number of parts may be increased to nine or ten. If there are more than ten parts, a difficulty arises in transmitting orders with the necessary rapidity and exactitude, for we must not forget that it is not the mere question of the order, else an Army might have as many Divisions as there are heads in a company, but that with orders, many directions and inquiries are connected which it is easier to arrange for six or eight Divisions than for twelve or fifteen.
Again, a Division if it is small as regards absolute strength in numbers, one which therefore may be supposed to form part of a Corps, can always make shift with fewer parts than we have given as the normal number; quite easily with four, in case of urgency with three. Six and eight would be inconvenient, because its means are not sufficient to transmit orders rapidly enough to so many parts.
This revision of our proper normal number gives as a result that an Army should have at least five parts, and not more than ten; that the Division should not have above five, and may be reduced to four. Between the two now lies the Corps, and both the question of its strength and the general question whether it should exist at all, depend on the adjustment of the other two combinations.
Two hundred thousand men in ten Divisions, and the Division split into five Brigades, gives the Brigade a strength of 4000 men. In such a force we could, thereore, do very well with Divisions only.
We could certainly divide this force into five Corps, the Corps into four Divisions, and the Division into four Brigades, then each Brigade would be 2500 men strong.
To me, the first arrangement appears the best; for, in the first place, it has one step less in the gradation of ranks, therefore orders are transmitted quicker, &c. Secondly, five branches are too few for an Army, it is not sufficiently pliable with that number; the same applies to a Corps divided into four Divisions, and 2500 men form a weak Brigade, of which there are in this scheme eighty, instead of which the other organisation makes only fifty, and is therefore simpler. These advantages are sacrificed for the sake of having only to give orders direct to five Generals instead of ten.
So far general considerations extend, but the points which require to be determined in particular cases are of infinite importance.
Ten Divisions may be easily commanded in a level country; in widely extended mountain positions the thing may be perfectly impossible.
A great river which divides an Army creates a necessity for the appointment of a separate Commander on one side. General rules are powerless against the force of circumstances in all such particular cases; however, it is to be remarked that when such special circumstances make their appearance, those disadvantages, which a multiplicity of Divisions otherwise produces, generally disappear at the same time. Certainly, even here abuses may arise, as for instance, if a bad organisation is made to gratify the unseasonable ambition of individuals, or, out of want of firmness, to resist personal considerations. But, however far the requirements of particular cases may extend, still experience teaches us that the system of divisioning as a rule is dependent on general principles.
SKETCH OF A PLAN FOR TACTICS, OR THE THEORY OF THE COMBAT
(N.B.—According to this distribution, this first part is to be revised and completed)
INTRODUCTION: DEFINITION OF THE DISTINCTION BETWEEN THE CONCEPTIONS OF STRATEGY AND TACTICS.
GENERAL THEORY OF THE COMBAT.
(1) Nature of the combat—Active elements in the same—Hatred and hostility—Modification—Other moral forces—Judgment and talent.
(2) More precise definition of a combat—Independent combat—Partial combat—How the latter arise.
(3) Object of the combat: Victory—Degree, splendour, and weight of victory.
(4) Causes of victory, that is, of the enemy leaving the field.
(5) Kinds of combat according to arms—Close combat—Fire combat.
(6) Different acts of the combat—Destructive act—Decisive act.
(7) Kinds of combat, according as its motive is positive or negative—Attack and defence.
(8) Plan of the combat—Strategic object of the combat—Its aim—Means—Determination of the kind of combat—Time—Space—Reciprocal action—Conduct.
COMBATS; DEFINITE SUBDIVISIONS IN THE ABSTRACT. (Formation—Order of Battle—Elementary Tactics.)
The Different Arms.
The Different Arms combined in Attack and Defence.
(1) Theory of the combination of arms:
(2) Fixed Divisions which are formed out of them:
BATTLES IN CONNECTION WITH COUNTRY AND GROUND.
On the Influence of Ground and Combat in general.
N.B.—Our reflections must here leave the proper logical chain, on account of practical considerations.The Groundmust be taken into view as soon as possible, and this cannot be done without our at once imagining to ourselves thecombat as taking place under one of the two forms, attack or defence; this is why the two subjects merge into one.
General Theory of the Defence.
Ditto, Ditto, Attack.
Defensive Combats of Definite Bodies.
(1) Of a small number of troops. (2) Of a Brigade. (3) Of a Division. (4) Of a Corps. (5) Of an Army.
Offensive Combats of Definite Bodies.
(1) Of a small number of troops. (2) Of a Brigade. (3) Of a Division. (4) Of a Corps. (5) Of an Army.
COMBATS WITH DEFINITE OBJECTS.
(1) Measures of security.
(a) Guards. (b) Patrols. (c) Supports. (d) Small posts. (c) Chains of advanced posts. (f) Intermediate posts. (g) Advance guards. (h) Rear guards. (i) Advance Corps. (k) Covering the flanks on the march. (l) Detachments to procure intelligence. (m) Detachments of observation. (n) Reconnaissances.
(a) Of single posts. (b) Of convoys. (c) Of foraging parties.
(3) Lines of posts—Diversity of objects:
(a) In mountains. (b) Along rivers. (c) Near morasses. (d) In woods.
(4) Battles—Diversity of objects—Destruction of the enemy’s armed force—Possession of country—Mere moral ascendancy—Credit of arms.
(a) Defensive battle without preparation. (b) In a prepared position. (c) In an entrenched position.
(a) The simple retreat (the retiring) in presence of the enemy; a a, before a battle; a b, in the course of the same; a c, after a battle. (b) Strategic retreat, that is, several consecutive simple retreats, in their tactical dispositions.
(1) Divided and treated according to the objects of the defence.
(2) According to the particular objects of the attack:
(a) Surprise. (b) Cutting through the enemy.
OF CAMPS AND CANTONMENTS.
GUIDE TO TACTICS, OR THE THEORY OF THE COMBAT
GENERAL THEORY OF THE COMBAT
Object of the Combat
(1) What is the object of the combat?
Theory of Victory
(2) Any of these four objects can only be obtained by a victory.
(3) Victory is the retirement of the enemy from the field of battle.
(4) The enemy is moved to this:
(5) In all these cases a Commander may give up the combat, because he has no hope of matters taking a favourable turn, and has to apprehend that his situation will become still worse than it is at present.
(6) Except upon one of these grounds a retreat is not justifiable, and, therefore, cannot be the decision of the General or Commander.
(7) But a retreat can be made in point of fact without his will.
(8) Under these circumstances, the victory may be conceded to the enemy against the will of the Commander, and even when the results springing from the other relations enumerated from a to f incline in our favour.
(9) This case can and must often happen with small bodies of troops. The short duration of the whole act often hardly leaves the Commander time to form a resolution.
(10a) But with large masses, such a case can only occur with parts of the force, not easily with the whole. Should, however, several parts yield the victory thus easily to the enemy, a disadvantageous result for the whole may ensue in those respects noted from a to e, and thus the Commander may be compelled to resolve upon withdrawing from the field.
(10b) With a large mass, the disadvantageous relations specified under a, b, c and d, do not exhibit themselves to the Commander in the arithmetical sum of all partial disadvantages which have taken place, for the general view is never so complete, but they show themselves where, being compressed into a narrow compass, they form an imposing whole. This may be the case either with the principal body, or an important part of that body. The resolution then is decided by this predominant feature of the whole act.
(11) Lastly, the Commander may be prompted to give up the combat, and therefore to retreat for reasons which do not lie in the combat, but which may be regarded as foreign to it, such as intelligence, which does away with the object, or materially alters the strategic relations. This would be a breaking off of the combat, and does not belong to this place, because it is a strategic, not a tactical, act.
(12) The giving up of the combat is, therefore, an acknowledgment of the temporary superiority of our opponent, let it be either physically or morally, and a yielding to his will. In that consists the first moral force of victory.
(13) As we can only give up the combat by leaving the field of battle, therefore the retirement from the field is the sign of this acknowledgment, the lowering of our flag as it were.
(14) But the sign of victory still decides nothing as to its greatness, importance, or splendour. These three things often coincide, but are by no means identical.
(15) The greatness of a victory depends on the greatness of the masses over which it has been gained, as well as on the greatness of the trophies. Captured guns, prisoners, baggage taken, killed, wounded, belong to this. Therefore, over a small body of troops no great victory can be gained.
(16) The importance of the victory depends on the importance of the object which it secures to us. The conquest of an important position may make an insignificant victory very important.
(17) The splendour of a victory depends on the proportion which the number of trophies bears to the strength of the victorious Army.
(18) There are therefore victories of different kinds and of many different degrees. Strictly speaking, there can be no combat without a decision, consequently without a victory; but the ordinary use of language and the nature of the thing require that we should only consider those results of combats as victories which have been preceded by very considerable efforts.
(19) If the enemy contents himself with doing just sufficient to ascertain our designs, and as soon as he has found them out gives way, we cannot call that a victory; if he does more than that, it can only be done with a view to becoming conqueror in reality, and, therefore, in that case, if he gives up the combat, he is to be considered as conquered.
(20) As a combat can only cease by one or other or both of the parties who have been in contact retiring partially, therefore it can never be said, properly speaking, that both parties have kept the field. In so far, however, as the nature of the thing and the ordinary use of language require us to understand by the term battlefield the position of the principal masses of the contending Armies, and because the first consequences of victory only commence with the retreat of the principal masses, therefore there may be battles which remain quite indecisive.
The Combat is the Means of gaining a Victory
(21) The means to obtain victory is the combat. As the points specified in No. 4 from a to g establish the victory, therefore also the combat is directed on those points as its immediate objects.
(22) We must now make ourselves acquainted with the combat in its different phases.
What is an Independent Combat?
(23) In reality, every combat may be separated into as many single combats as there are combatants. But the individual only appears as a separate item when he fights singly, that is, independently.
(24) From single combats the units ascend to fresh units co-ordinately with the ascending scale of subdivisions of command.
(25) These units are bound together through the object and the plan, still not so closely that the members do not retain a certain degree of independence. This always becomes greater the higher the rank of the units. How this gain of independence on the part of the members takes place we shall show afterwards.
(26) Thus every total combat consists of a great number of separate combats in descending order of members (No. 97, &c.) down to the lowest member acting independently.
(27) But a total combat consists also of separate combats following one another in succession.
(28) All separate combats we call partial combats, and the whole of them a total combat; but we connect the conception of a whole combat with the supposed condition of a personal command, and therefore only that belongs to one combat which is directed by one will. (In cordon positions the limits between the two can never be defined.)
(29) What has been said here on the theory of combat relates to the total combat, as well as to the partial combat.
Principles of the Combat
(30) Every fight is an expression of hostility, which passes into combat instinctively.
(31) This instinct to attack and destroy the enemy is the real element of War.
(32) Even amongst the most savage tribes, this impulse to hostility is not pure instinct alone; the reflecting intelligence supervenes, aimless instinct becomes an act with a purpose.
(33) In this manner the feelings are made submissive to the understanding.
(34) But we can never consider them as completely eliminated, and the pure object of reason substituted in their place; for if they were swallowed up in the object of reason, they would come to life again spontaneously in the heat of the combat.
(35) As our Wars are not utterances of the hostility of individuals opposed to individuals, so the combat seems to be divested of all real hostility, and therefore to be a purely reasonable action.
(36) But it is not so by any means. Partly there is never wanting a collective hatred between the parties, which then manifests itself more or less effectively in the individual, so that from hating and warring against a party, he hates and wars against the individual man as well; partly in the course of a combat itself a real feeling of hostility is kindled more or less in the individuals engaged.
(37) Desire of fame, ambition, self-interest, and esprit de corps, along with other feelings, take the place of hostility when that does not exist.
(38) Therefore, the mere will of the Commander, the mere prescribed object, is seldom or never the sole motive of action in the combatants; instead of that, a very notable portion of the emotional forces will always be in activity.
(39) This activity is increased by the circumstance of the combat moving in the region of danger, in which all emotional forces have greater weight.
(40) But even the intelligence which guides the combat can never be a power purely of the understanding, and, therefore, the combat can never be a subject of pure calculation.
(a) Because it is the collision of living physical and moral forces, which can only be estimated generally, but never subjected to any regular calculation.
(b) Because the emotions which come into play may make the combat a subject of enthusiasm, and through that a subject for higher judgment.
(41) The combat may therefore be an act of talent and genius, in opposition to calculating reason.
(42) Now the feelings and the genius which manifest themselves in the combat must be regarded as separate moral agencies which, owing to their great diversity and elasticity, incessantly break out beyond the limits of calculating reason.
(43) It is the duty of the Art of War to take account of these forces in theory and in practice.
(44) The more they are used to the utmost, the more vigorous and fruitful of results will be the combat.
(45) All inventions of art, such as arms, organisation, exercise in tactics, the principles of the use of the different arms in the combat, are restrictions on the natural instinct, which has to be led by indirect means to a more efficient use of its powers. But the emotional forces will not submit to be thus clipped, and if we go too far in trying to make instruments of them, we rob them of their impulse and force. There must, therefore, always be given them a certain room to play between the rules of theory and its practical execution. This entails the necessity of a higher point of view, of great wisdom as respects theory, and great tact of judgment as respects practice.
Two Modes of Fighting—Close Combat and Fire Combat
(46) Of all weapons which have yet been invented by human ingenuity, those which bring the combatants into closest contact, those which are nearest to the pugilistic encounter, are the most natural, and correspond with most instinct. The dagger and the battle-axe are more so than the lance, the javelin, or the sling.
(47) Weapons with which the enemy can be attacked while he is at a distance are more instruments for the understanding; they allow the feelings, the “instinct for fighting” properly called, to remain almost at rest, and this so much the more according as the range of their effects is greater. With a sling we can imagine to ourselves a certain degree of anger accompanying the throw, there is less of this feeling in discharging a musket, and still less in firing a cannon shot.
(48) Although there are shades of difference, still all modern weapons may be placed under one or other of two great classes, that is, the cut-and-thrust weapons, and fire-arms; the former for close combat, the latter for fighting at a distance.
(49) Therefore it follows that there are two modes of fighting—the close combat (hand-to-hand) and the combat with fire-arms.
(50) Both have for their object the destruction of the enemy.
(51) In close combat this effect is quite certain; in the combat with fire-arms it is only more or less probable. From this difference follows a very different signification in the two modes of fighting.
(52) As the destruction in hand-to-hand fighting is inevitable, the smallest superiority either through advantages or in courage is decisive, and the party at a disadvantage, or inferior in courage, tries to escape the danger by flight.
(53) This occurs so regularly, so commonly, and so soon in all hand-to-hand fights in which several are engaged, that the destructive effects properly belonging to this kind of fight are very much diminished thereby, and its principal effect consists rather in driving the enemy off the field than in destroying him.
(54) If, therefore, we look for the practical effect of close combat, we must place our object not in the destruction of the enemy, but in his expulsion from the field. The destruction becomes the means.
(55) As in the hand-to-hand fight, originally, the destruction of the enemy was the object, so in the combat with fire-arms the primary object is to put the enemy to flight, and the destruction is only the means. We fire upon the enemy to drive him away, and to spare ourselves the close combat for which we are not prepared.
(56) But the danger caused by the combat with firearms is not quite inevitable, it is only more or less probable: its effect, therefore, is not so great on the senses of individuals, and only becomes great through continuance and through its whole sum, which, as it does not affect the senses so much, is not such a direct impression. It is therefore not essentially necessary that one of the two sides should withdraw from it. From this it follows that one party is not put to flight at once, and in many cases may not be at all.
(57) If this is the case then, as a rule at the conclusion of the combat with fire-arms, the close combat must be resorted to in order to put the enemy to flight.
(58) On the other hand, the destructive effect gains in intensity by continuance of the fire combat just as much as it loses in the close combat by the quick decision.
(59) From this it follows that instead of the putting the enemy to flight being the general object of the fire combat, that object is to be looked for in the direct effect of the applied means, that is, in the destruction and weakening of the enemy’s forces.
(60) If the object of the close combat is to drive the enemy from the field, that of the combat with fire-arms to destroy his armed force, then the former is the real instrument for the decisive stroke, the latter is to be regarded as the preparation.
(61) In each, however, there is a certain amount of the effect pertaining to both principles. The close combat is not devoid of destructive efforts, neither is the combat with fire-arms ineffectual to drive the enemy off the field.
(62) The destructive effect of the close combat is in most cases extremely insignificant, very often it amounts to nil; it would, therefore, hardly be taken account of it it did not sometimes become of considerable importance by increasing the number of prisoners.
(63) But it is well to observe that these cases generally occur after the fire has produced considerable effect.
(64) Close combat in the existing relation of arms would, therefore, have but an insignificant destructive effect without the assistance of fire.
(65) The destructive force of fire-arms in combat may by continuance be intensified to the utmost extremity, that is, to the shaking and extinction of courage.
(66) The consequence of that is, that by far the greatest share in the destruction of the enemy’s combatant powers is due to the effect of fire-arms.
(67) The weakening of the enemy through the fire combat either—
(a) Causes his retreat, or
(b) Serves as a preparation for the hand-to-hand encounter.
(68) By putting the enemy to flight, which is the object of the hand-to-hand combat, the real victory may be attained, because driving the enemy from the field constitutes a victory. If the whole mass engaged is small, then such a victory may embrace the whole, and be a decisive result.
(69) But when the close combat has only taken place between portions of the whole mass of forces, or when several close combats in succession make up the whole combat, then the result in a single one can only be considered as a victory in a partial combat.
(70) If the conquered division is a considerable part of the whole, then in its defeat it may carry the whole along with it; and, thus, from the victory over a part, a victory over the whole may immediately follow.
(71) Even if a success in close combat does not amount to a victory over the mass of the enemy’s forces, still it always ensures the following advantages
(72) In a partial combat, the fire combat is therefore to be regarded as a destroying act, the close combat as a decisive act. How these points are to be reviewed in relation to the total combat we shall consider at a future time.
Relation of the two Forms of Combat in regard to Attack and Defence
(73) The combat consists, further, of attack and defence.
(74) The attack is the positive intention, the defence the negative. The first aims at putting the enemy to flight; the latter merely at keeping possession.
(75) But this keeping possession is no mere holding out, not passive endurance; its success depends on a vigorous reaction. This reaction is the destruction of the attacking forces. Therefore, it is only the object, not the means, which is to be regarded as negative.
(76) But as it follows of itself that if the defender maintains his position the adversary must give way, therefore, although the defender has the negative object, the retreat, that is, the giving way of the enemy, is the sign of victory also for the defender.
(77) Naturally, on account of a like object, the close combat is the element of attack.
(78) But as close combat contains in itself so little of the destructive principle, the assailant who confines himself to the use of it alone would hardly be considered as a combatant in most cases, and in any case would play a very unequal game.
(79) Except when small bodies only are engaged, or bodies consisting entirely of cavalry, the close combat can never constitute the whole attack. The larger the masses engaged, the more artillery and infantry come into play, the less will it suffice for the end.
(80) The attack must, therefore, also include in itself as much of the fire combat as is necessary.
(81) In this, that is, in the fire combat, both sides are to be regarded as upon an equality, so far as respects the mode of fighting. Therefore, the greater the proportion of fighting with fire-arms as compared with close combat, the more the original inequality between attack and defence is diminished. As regards the remaining disadvantages of the close combat, to which the assailant must ultimately have recourse, they must be compensated for by such advantages as are inherent in that form, and by superiority of numbers.
(82) The fire combat is the natural element of the defensive.
(83) When a successful result (the retreat of the assailant) is obtained by that form of combat, there is no necessity to have recourse to close combat.
(84) When that result is not obtained, and the assailant resorts to close combat, the defender must do the same.
(85) Generally, the defence does not by any means exclude the close combat, if the advantages to be expected from it appear greater than those of the combat with fire-arms.
Advantageous Conditions in both Forms of Combat
(86) We must now examine more closely the nature in general of both combats, in order to ascertain the points which give the preponderance in the same.
(87) The fire combat.
(a) Superiority in the use of arms (this depends on the organisation and the quality of the troops).
(b) Superiority in the formation (tactical organisation) and the elementary tactics as established dispositions. (See Methodicism, p. 63, vol. i.)
In a question of the employment of regularly disciplined troops in the combat, these things do not come into consideration, because they are supposed to belong to the idea of troops. But, as a subject of the theory of the combat in its widest sense, they may and should be considered.
(c) The number.
(d) The form of the line of battle so far as it is not already contained in b.
(e) The ground.
(88) As we are only now treating of the employment of disciplined troops, we have nothing to do with a and b, they are only to be taken into consideration as given quantities.
(89a) Superiority of numbers.
If two unequal bodies of infantry or artillery are drawn up opposite to each other on parallel lines of the same extent, then if every shot fired is directed like a target shot against a separate individual, the number of hits will be in proportion to the number of men firing. The proportion of hits would bear just the same relation if the shots were directed against a full target—therefore if the mark was no longer a single man, but a battalion, a line, &c. This is, indeed, also the way in which the shots fired by skirmishers in War may for the most part be estimated. But here the target is not full; instead of that it is a line of men with intervals between them. The intervals decrease as the number of men increases in a given space; consequently, the effect of a fire combat between bodies of troops of unequal number will be a sum made out of the number of those firing, and the number of the enemy’s troops they are firing against; that is, in other words, the superiority in number in a fire combat produces no preponderating effect, because that which is gained through the number of shots is lost again through a greater number of the enemy’s taking effect.
Suppose that 50 men place themselves upon the same extent of ground as 500 opposite to them. Let 30 shots out of 50 be supposed to strike the target, that is, the quadrilateral occupied by the enemy’s battalion; then, out of the enemy’s 500 shots 300 will strike the quadrilateral occupied by our fifty men. But the 500 men stand ten times as close as the 50, therefore our balls hit ten times as many as the enemy’s, and thus, by our 50 shots, exactly as many of the enemy are hit as are hit on our side by his 500.*
Although this result does not exactly correspond with the reality, and there is a small advantage in general on the side of the superior numbers, still there is no doubt that it is essentially correct; and that the efficacy on either side, that is, the result in a combat with fire-arms, far from keeping exact pace with the superiority in numbers, is scarcely increased at all by that superiority.
This result is of the utmost importance, for it constitutes the basis of that economy of forces in the preparatory destructive act which may be regarded as one of the surest means to victory.
(89b) Let it not be thought that this result may lead to an absurdity; and that, for example, two men (the smallest number who can take up the line of our supposed target) must do just as much execution as 2000, provided that the two men are placed at a distance apart equal to the front of the 2000. If the 2000 always fired directly to their front, that might be the case. But if the number of the weaker side is so small that the stronger directs his concentrated fire upon individuals, then naturally there must follow a great difference in the effect, for, in such a case, our supposition of simple target-firing is set aside. Likewise, a very weak line of fire would never oblige the enemy to engage in a fire-combat: instead of that, such a line would be driven from the field by him at once. We see, therefore, that the foregoing result is not to be carried to an extreme in application, but yet it is of great importance for the reasons given. Hundreds of times a line of fire has maintained its own against one of twice its strength, and it is easy to see what consequences may result from that in the economy of force.
(89c) We may, therefore, say that either of the opposing sides has it in his power to increase or reduce the mutual, that is, the total effect of the fire, according as he brings or does not bring more combatants into the line which is firing.
(90) The form of the line of battle may be:
(a) With parallel fronts of equal length; then it is the same for both sides.
(b) With parallel front, but outflanking the enemy; then it is advantageous (but, as we may easily conceive, the advantage is small, on account of the limited range of fire-arms).
(c) Enveloping. This is advantageous on account of the double effect of the shots, and because the greater extent of front follows of itself from that form.
Forms the reverse of b and c are obviously disadvantageous.
(91) Ground is avdantageous in combat with fire-arms—
(a) By affording cover like a breastwork.
(b) By intercepting the view of the enemy, thus forming an obstacle to his taking aim.
(c) As an obstacle to approach, by which the enemy is kept long under our fire, and impeded in the delivery of his own fire.
(92) In close combat the advantages afforded by ground are the same as in fire combat.
(93) The two first subjects (a and b No. 87) do not come into consideration here. But we must observe that superiority in the use of weapons does not make as great a difference in close combat as in the fire combat; and, on the other hand, courage plays a most decisive part. The subjects touched upon under b (No. 87) are especially important for cavalry, the arm by which most close combats are fought.
(94) In close combat number is much more decisive than in the combat with fire-arms, it is almost the chief thing.
(95) The form of the order of battle is also much more decisive than in the combat with fire-arms, and when the front is parallel, a small instead of a great extent of front is the most advantageous.
(96) The ground—
(a) As obstacle to approach. In this consists by far its greatest efficacy in close combat.
(b) As a means of concealment. This favours a surprise, which is especially important in close combat.
Analysis of the Combat
(97) In No. 23 we have seen that every combat is a whole, composed of many members or parts, in which the independence of the parts is very unequal, inasmuch as it diminishes by a descending scale. We shall now examine this point more closely.
(98) We can easily imagine as a single member, such a number as can be led into the fight by the word of command; for instance, a Battalion, a Battery, or a Regiment of cavalry, if these masses are really in close order.
(99) When the Word of Command no longer suffices, a written or verbal Order commences.
(100) The Word of Command admits of no gradations, in point of fact it is a part of the execution. But the Order has degrees, from the utmost distinctness, approaching to the Word of Command, down to the utmost generality. It is not the execution itself, but only a commission to execute.
(101) No one subject to the Word of Command has any will of his own; but, whenever instead of that Word an Order is given, a certain independence of members begins because the Order is of a general nature, and the will of the Leader must supply any insufficiency in its terms.
(102) If a combat admitted of being perfectly prearranged and foreseen in all its coincident and successive parts and events, if, that is to say, its plan could descend into the minutest details, as in the construction of a piece of inanimate machinery, then the Order would have none of this indefiniteness.
(103) But belligerents do not cease to be men, and individuals can never be converted into machines having no will of their own; and the ground on which they fight will seldom or never be a complete and bare level, which can exercise no influence on the combat. It is, therefore, quite impossible to calculate beforehand all that is to take place.
(104) This insufficiency of plan increases with the duration of the combat, and with the number of the combatants. The close combat of a small troop is almost completely contained in its plan; but the plan for a combat with fire-arms of even very small bodies can never be thoroughly complete to the same degree, on account of its duration and the incidents which spring up. Then again, the close combat of large masses, as, for instance, of a Cavalry Division of 2000 or 3000 horse, cannot be carried out so completely in conformity with the original plan that the will of its single leaders is not frequently obliged to supply something. As for the plan for a great battle, except as regards the preliminary part, it can only be a very general outline.
(105) As this insufficiency of plan (disposition) increases with the time and space which the combat takes, so, therefore, as a rule, a greater margin for contingencies must be allowed to large than to smaller bodies of troops, and the Order will increase in its precision as it descends the scale down to those parts which are governed by Word of Command.
(106) Further, the independence of the parts will also differ according to the circumstances in which they are placed. Space, time, the character of the ground and country, and nature of the duty will diminish or increase this independence as respects one and the same subdivision.
(107) Besides this systematic division of the entire combat into separate parts according to plan, a casual division may also take place thus:
(a) By our views expanding beyond the limits of the original plan.
(b) By an unforeseen separation of parts, which we intended to have kept under Word of Command.
(108) This fresh division depends on circumstances which cannot be foreseen.
(109) The consequence is unequal result in parts which should have been all united as one whole (because, in point of fact, they become placed in different relations).
(110) Thus arises, at certain parts, the necessity for a change not contemplated in the general plan,
(a) That these parts may avoid disadvantages of ground, or of numbers, or of position.
(b) That advantages gained in all these different respects may be turned to account.
(111) The consequence of this is that, involuntarily, often more or less designedly, a fire combat passes into close combat, or the other way, the latter into the former.
(112) The problem, then, is to make these changes fit into the general plan, so that—
(a) If they lead to a disadvantage, it may be remedied in one way or another.
(b) If they lead to a success it may be used as far as possible, short of exposing us to the risk of a reverse.
(113) It is, therefore, the intentional or unintentional division of the total combat into a greater or less number of minor, independent combats, which causes the form of combat to change from close combat to fire combat, as well as from attack to defence, during the total combat.
Now the whole still remains to be considered in this relation.
The Combat consists of two Acts—the Destructive and the Decisive Act
(114) From the fire combat, with its destructive principle, and from the close combat with its principle of putting to flight, according to No. 72, proceed two different acts in the partial combat, the destructive and the decisive act.
(115) The smaller the masses are, the more these two acts will resolve themselves into one simple fire combat, or one close combat.
(116) The greater the masses the more must these two acts be taken in a collective sense, in such manner that the destructive act is made up of a number of simultaneous and successive fire combats; and the decisive act in the same manner, of several close combats.
(117) In this manner the division of the combat not only continues, but also extends itself more and more, the greater the masses brought into conflict; whilst the destructive act and the decisive act are further and further separated from each other in time.
The Destructive Act
(118) The greater the mass of troops, the more important becomes the physical destruction, for—
(a) The influence of the Commander is so much the less. (His influence is greater in close combat than in fire combat.)
(b) The moral inequality is so much less. With large masses, whole Armies for instance, there is nothing but the difference of nationality; whilst in smaller bodies there is to be added that of corps and of individuals; and, lastly, of special accidental circumstances, which in large bodies balance each other.
(c) The order of battle is so much the deeper, that is, there are so many more reserves to renew the combat, as we shall see in the sequel. The number of partial combats, therefore, increases, and consequently the duration of the total combat, and by that means the influence of the first moment, which is so very decisive in putting the enemy to flight, is lessened.
(119) From the preceding number it follows that the greater the mass of the Army, the greater must be the physical destruction as a preparation for the decision.
(120) This preparation consists in this, that the number of combatants diminishes on both sides, but the relation alters in our favour.
(121) The first of these is sufficient, if we are already morally or physically superior; the second is requisite, if such is not the case.
(122) The destruction of the enemy’s combatant force is made up—
(a) Of all that are put physically hors de combat—killed, wounded, and prisoners.
(b) Of whatever part is spent physically and morally.
(123) After a fire combat of several hours’ duration, in which a body of troops has suffered severe loss, for instance, a quarter or one-third of its numbers, the débris may, for the time, be looked upon as a heap of burnt-out cinders, for—
(a) The men are physically exhausted.
(b) They have spent their ammunition.
(c) Their arms want cleaning.
(d) Many have left the field with the wounded, although not themselves wounded.
(e) The rest think they have done their part for the day, and if once they get beyond the sphere of danger do not willingly return to it.
(f) The feeling of courage with which they started has had the edge taken off, the longing for the fight is satisfied.
(g) The original organisation and formation are partly destroyed, or thrown into disorder.
(124) The consequences, e and f, make their appearance, more or less, according as the combat has been successful or the reverse. A body of troops which has gained ground, or successfully maintained the original position assigned to it, can be made further use of more easily than one that has been repulsed.
(125a) There are two deductions from No. 123 which we must bring under notice.
The first is the economy of force, which is made by the use of a smaller number of men in the combat with fire-arms than the enemy employs. For, if the dilapidation of forces in the fire combat consists not only in the loss of those placed hors de combat, but further in this, that all who have fought are lowered in their powers; then, naturally, this lowering of powers will be less on that side which brings the fewest troops into action.
If 500 men* have been able to main ain their ground against 1000, if the losses are equal on each side, say 200 men, then on the one side there will remain 800 men who are fatigued, while the other side will have 800, of whom 300 are fatigued, but 500 are fresh.
(125b) The second deduction is that the weakening of the enemy, consequently the dilapidation of the enemy’s combative power, is of much greater extent than the mere number of killed, wounded, and prisoners would seem to represent. This number amounts to, perhaps, only one-sixth of the whole; there should, therefore, remain five-sixths. But out of that five-sixths, in all probability only the untouched reserve, and some troops, which, although they have been in action, have suffered very little, are, in reality, to be regarded as serviceable, and the remainder (perhaps four-sixths) may be looked upon for the present as a caput mortuum.
(126) This diminution of the efficient mass is the first aim of the destructive act; the real decision can only be accomplished by smaller masses of troops.
(127) But—although the absolute size of the masses is not an unimportant matter, as fifty men opposed to fifty can proceed to a decision on the spot, while 50,000 opposed to 50,000 cannot do so—still it is the relative, not the absolute size of the masses, which is an obstacle to the decision. Thus if five-sixths of the whole have measured their powers in the destructive act, then both Generals, even if they have continued on an equality, will be much nearer to the final resolution which they have to make, and it is only a relatively small impulse which is required to bring on the decisive act. It is all the same whether the sixth part remaining is a sixth of an Army of 30,000, therefore 5000 men, or one-sixth of an Army of 150,000 men, that is, 25,000 men.
(128) The principal object of each side in the destructive act is to work out for itself a preponderance for the decisive act.
(129) This superiority can be obtained by the destruction of the enemy’s physical force, but it may also be obtained by the other causes enumerated under No. 4.
(130) There is, therefore, in the destructive act a natural endeavour to profit by all the advantages which offer as far as circumstances will admit.
(131) Now the combat of large masses is always split into several partial combats (No. 23) which are more or less independent, and therefore must frequently contain in themselves both a destructive and a decisive act, if the advantages obtained from the first of these acts are to be turned to account.
(132) Through the skilful and successful mixture of the close combat, we chiefly obtain the advantages which are to be derived from shaking the enemy’s courage, creating disorder in his ranks, and gaining ground.
(133) Even the physical destruction of the enemy’s forces is very much increased by that means, for prisoners can only be made in close combat.
Thus we may conceive that if an enemy’s Battalion is shaken by our fire, if our bayonet attack drives it out of an advantageous position, and we follow him in his flight with a couple of Squadrons, this partial success may place important advantages of all kinds in the scale of the general result; but then it is a condition that it be done without involving this victorious troop in difficulty, for if our Battalion and our Squadron through this means should fall into the hands of superior forces of the enemy, then this partial decision has been ill-timed.
(134) The utilising of these partial successes is in the hands of the subordinate Commanders, and gives a great advantage to an Army which has experienced officers at the head of its Divisions, Brigades, Regiments, Battalions, Batteries, &c.
(135) Thus each of the two Commanders seeks to obtain for himself in the course of the destructive act those advantages which bring about the decision, and at all events pave the way for it.
(136) The most important of these objects are always captured guns and ground gained.
(137) The importance of the latter is increased if the enemy has made it an object to defend a strong position.
(138) Thus the destructive act on both sides, but especially on that of the assailant, is a cautious advance towards the object.
(139) As numbers are so little decisive in the fire combat (No. 53), therefore the endeavour naturally follows to keep up the combat with as few troops as possible.
(140) As the fire combat predominates in the destructive act, therefore the greatest economy of force must be the prevailing principle in the same.
(141) As numerical force is so essential in close combat, therefore for the decision of partial combats in the destructive act, superior numbers must frequently be employed.
(142) But upon the whole the character of thrift must rule here also, and, in general, only those decisions are to the purpose which realise themselves of themselves as it were, without any great preponderance of numbers.
(143) An inopportune endeavour to gain the decision leads to the following consequences:
(a) If it is undertaken with economy of our forces, we get involved with superior forces.
(b) If the requisite force is used, we get exhausted before the right time.
(144) The question whether it is opportune to try for a decision recurs very frequently during the destructive act, nevertheless, as respects the great ultimate decision, it presents itself at the end of the destructive act.
(145) The destructive act on this account naturally strives at certain points to pass into the decisive act, because no advantage developed in the course of that act will attain completeness except through the decisive act, which is its necessary complement.
(146) The more fruitful in results the means applied in the destructive act are, or the greater the physical and moral superiority, the stronger will be this tendency of the whole.
(147) But when the results are small or negative, or when the enemy has the superiority, this tendency likewise may be so rare and so feeble at isolated points that, as respects the whole, it is much the same as if it did not exist at all.
(148) This natural tendency may lead to ill-timed decisions in partial combats as well as in the total combat, but it is very far from being an evil on that account; it is rather a necessary property of the destructive act, because without it much would be neglected.
(149) The judgment of the Leader at each point, and of the Commander-in-Chief in the total combat, must determine whether an opportunity which presents itself is advantageous for a decisive blow or not, that is, whether it may not lead to a counter blow, and thus to a negative result.
(150) The conduct of a combat in relation to the preparation preceding the decisive stroke, or rather the preparation expressly for that stroke, consists, therefore, in organising a fire combat, and, in a wider sense, a destructive act, and giving to it a proportionate duration, that is, in only proceeding to the decisive stroke when it appears that the destructive act has produced sufficient effect.
(151) The judgment on this point must be guided less by the clock, that is, less by the mere relations of time, than by the events which have taken place, by the evident signs of a superiority having been obtained.
(152) Now as the destructive act, if attended with good results, strives already of itself towards the decisive act, therefore the duty of the Chief consists principally in determining when and where the moment arrives to give the reins to this tendency.
(153) If the tendency towards the decisive act is very weak during the destructive act, that is a tolerably sure sign that victory cannot be calculated on.
(154) In such a case, therefore, the Chief and his Generals will usually not give but receive the decisive shock.
(155) If still it must be given, then it takes place by an express order, which must be accompanied by the use of all the personal means of inspiriting the men, all the stimulating influence which the General has at his command.
The Decisive Act
(156) The decision is that event which produces in one of the Generals a resolution to quit the field.
(157) The grounds for quitting the field we have given in No. 4. These grounds may come forth gradually by one small disaster after another being heaped up in the course of the destructive act, and the resolution may, therefore, be taken without a really decisive event. In such a case no decisive act in particular takes place.
(158) But the resolution may also be produced by one single, very disastrous event, therefore, suddenly, when up to that moment everything has been evenly balanced.
(159) Then that act of the enemy which has called forth this resolution is to be regarded as the decisive act.
(160) The most common case is that the decision ripens gradually in the course of the destructive act, but the resolution of the vanquished gets its final impulse from some particular event. Therefore, in this case also, the decisive act is to be considered as having been given.
(161) If a decisive act is given, then it must be a positive action—
(a) It may be an attack; or
(b) It may be only the advance of reserves hitherto held under cover
(162) With small bodies, close combat by a single charge is often decisive.
(163) When larger masses are engaged, the attack by means of close combat may also suffice, but a single charge will then hardly be sufficient.
(164) If the masses are still larger, there is then a mixture of the fire combat, as in the case of horse artillery supporting the charge of heavy masses of cavalry.
(165) With great bodies composed of all arms, a decision can never result from close combat alone, a renewed fire combat is necessary.
(166) But this renewed fire combat will be of the nature of an attack itself, it will be carried out in close masses, therefore with an action concentrated in time and space, as a short preparation for the real attack.
(167) When the decision is not the result of a particular close combat, but of a number of simultaneous and consecutive combats of both kinds, it then becomes a distinct act belonging to the entire combat, as has been already said in a general way (No. 115).
(168) In this act the close combat predominates.
(169) In the same measure as the close combat predominates, so will also the offensive, although at certain points the defensive may be preserved.
(170) Towards the close of a battle the line of retreat is always regarded with increased jealousy, therefore a threat against that line is always then a potent means of bringing on the decision.
(171) On that account, when circumstances permit, the plan of the battle will be aimed at that point from the very first.
(172) The more the battle, or combat, develops itself in the sense of a plan of this kind, so much the more seriously the enemy’s line of retreat will be menaced.
(173) Another great step towards victory is breaking the order of formation. The regular formation in which the troops commence the action suffers considerably in the long destructive combats, in which they themselves wring out their strength. If this wear and tear and exhaustion has reached a certain point, then a rapid advance in concentrated masses on one side against the line of battle of the other may produce a degree of disorder which forbids the latter any longer to think of victory, and calls in requisition all his powers to place the separate parts of his line in safety, and to restore the connection of the whole in the best way he can for the moment.
(174) From what precedes it is evident that, as in the preparatory acts, the utmost economy of force must predominate, so in the decisive act, to win the mastery through numbers must be the ruling idea.
(175) Just as in the preparatory acts, endurance, firmness, and coolness are the first qualities, so in the decisive act, boldness and fiery spirit must predominate.
(176) Usually only one of the opposing Commanders delivers the deciding stroke, the other receives it.
(177) As long as all continues in equilibrium, he who gives the decisive blow may be—
(178) As the assailant has the positive object, it is most natural that he should deliver it; and, therefore, this is what occurs most frequently.
(179) But if the equilibrium is much disturbed, then the decision may be given—
(180) The first is plainly more natural; and if this Commander is also the assailant, it is still more natural: therefore, there are few cases in which the decision does not emanate from him.
(181) But if the defender is the party who has the advantage, then it is also natural that he should give the decision, so that the relative situation which is produced by degrees has more influence than the original intention of offensive and defensive.
(182) When the decision is given by the assailant, although he has palpably the disadvantage, it looks like a last attempt to gain his original object. If the defender, who has gained advantages, gives him time to do so, it is certainly consistent with the nature of the positive intention of the assailant to make such a last attempt.
(183a) A defender who, although decidedly at a disadvantage, still proceeds to give the decision, does that which is contrary to the nature of things, and which may be regarded as an act of desperation.
(183b) The result in the decisive stage is conformable to the relations just developed; so that, as a rule, it will only be favourable to the side which gives the decision if he is naturally led to do so by the relations in which he stands.
(184) When all is still in a state of equilibrium the result is generally favourable to the side which gives the decision, for at the moment when a battle is ripe for decision, when the forces have worn themselves out on each other, the positive principle is of much greater weight than at the commencement.
(185) The General who receives the decision may either determine on an immediate retreat in consequence, and decline all further combat, or he may continue the combat.
(186) If he continues the engagement he can only do so as—
(a) A commencement of his retreat, because he wants time to make the requisite arrangements; or,
(b) A virtual struggle through which he still hopes for victory.
(187) If the General who accepts the decision stands in very favourable relations, he may in so doing also adhere to the defensive.
(188a) But if the decision proceeds naturally from the advantageous situation of the side giving it, then the General who accepts it must also pass over to a more or less active defence, that is, he must oppose attack by attack, partly because the natural advantages of the defence (position, order, surprise) wear themselves out by degrees in the course of the combat, and, at last, there is not enough of them left; partly because (as we have said in No. 184) the positive principle acquires incessantly more and more weight.
Their Separation as regards Time
(188b) The view here propounded, that every combat is composed of two separate acts, will meet with strong opposition at first sight.
(189) This opposition will proceed partly from a false view of the combat, which has become habitual, partly from an over-pedantic importance being ascribed to the idea of such a division.
(190) We imagine to ourselves the opposition between attack and defence as too decided, the two activities as too completely antithetical, or, rather, we assume the antithesis to be where it is not to be found in practice.
(191) From this it results that we imagine the assailant, from the first moment to the last, as steadily and unremittingly striving to advance, and every modification in that advance as an entirely involuntary and compulsory one, which proceeds directly from the resistance encountered.
(192) According to this idea nothing would be more natural than that every attack should begin with the energy of an assault.
(193) Still even those who adhere to this kind of idea have become accustomed to a preparatory act on the part of the artillery, because it was too plain that without it an assault would generally be useless.
(194) But otherwise that absolute tendency to advance to the attack has been considered so natural that an attack without a shot being fired is looked upon as the ideal of perfection.
Even Frederick the Great, up to the time of the battle of Zorndorf, looked upon fire in the attack as something exceptional.
(195) Although there has since been a disposition to modify that notion, still there are numbers at the present time who think that the assailant cannot make himself master of the important points in a position too soon.
(196) Those who make the greatest concessions to fire, at the same time advocate an immediate advance to the attack, the delivery of a few volleys by Battalions close to the enemy’s position, and then an onset with the bayonet.
(197) But military history and a glance at the nature of our arms show that absolutely to despise the use of fire in the attack is an absurdity.
(198) A little acquaintance with the nature of the combat and, above all, actual experience, teach us also that a body of troops which has been engaged under fire is seldom fit for a vigorous assault. Therefore, the concession mentioned in No. 196 is worth nothing.
(199) Lastly, military history gives instances without number in which, owing to a premature advance, advantages previously gained have had to be abandoned with serious loss. Therefore, the principle mentioned in No. 195 is also not admissible.
(200) We maintain accordingly, that the idea now alluded to of an unmixed kind of attack, if we may use the expression, is entirely false, because it only answers to a very few extremely exceptional cases.
(201) But if a commencement with close combat and a decision without preparation in a great battle are not consistent with the nature of things, then of itself there arises a distinction between the preparation by fire for the decision and the decision itself, therefore, between the two acts which we have been discussing.
(202) We have granted that this distinction may fall to the ground in affairs which are quite of a minor nature (as, for instance, between small bodies of cavalry). The question now is whether it does not also come to an end if the masses attain to certain proportions; not as to whether the employment of fire might cease, for that would be a contradiction in itself, but whether the sharp distinction between the two activities ceases, so that they can no longer be considered as two separate acts.
(203) It may perhaps be maintained that a Battalion should fire before it charges with the bayonet; the one must precede the other, and thus two different acts take place, but only as regards the Battalion, not as respects the greater subdivision of the Brigade, &c. These have no fire period and decision period; they seek to come in contact with the object pointed out to them as speedily as possible, and must leave the way in which it is to be done to the Battalions.
(204) Do we not perceive that in this way all unity would be lost? As one Battalion fights quite close to another, the successes and reverses of one must have a necessary influence on others, and as the effect of our musketry fire is so small that it requires considerable duration to make it efficacious, the influence just noticed must be greater and more decisive through that duration. Even on this ground alone there must be, for the Brigade as well as for the Battalion, a certain general division of time as respects the destructive and the decisive combats.
(205) But another more substantial reason is, that for the decision we are glad to use fresh troops, at least troops that have not been engaged in the destructive act; but these must be taken from the reserve, and the reserves, by their nature, are common property, and on that account cannot be divided beforehand amongst the Battalions.
(206) Now, as the necessity of a division in the combat passes on from the Battalion to the Brigade, therefore from that it passes on to the Division, and from the Division to still larger bodies.
(207) But as the parts of a whole (divisions of the first order) always become more independent the larger the whole is, therefore it is true the unity of the whole will also press less stringently on them, and thus it happens that in the course of a partial combat more decisive acts may and will always take place according as the whole is greater.
(208) The decisions, when Corps are large, will therefore not unite themselves into a whole to the same degree as in the case of Corps of smaller size, but will distribute themselves more as regards time and space; still, between the beginning and the end, a notable distinction between the two different acts is always observable.
(209) Now the parts may be so large, and their separation from each other so wide, that although their action in the combat is certainly still directed by the will of one General (a necessary condition to constitute an independent combat), yet this direction limits itself to instructions at the commencement, or at most to a few orders in the course of the combat; in this case, such a part has in itself almost complete power to organise its whole combat.
(210) The more important the decisions which rest with a Corps by its situation, so much the more they will influence the decision of the whole; indeed, we may even suppose the relation of some parts to be such that in their decisions that of the whole is at once contained, and, therefore, a separate decisive act for the whole is no longer required.
(211) Example.—In a great battle, in which the parts of the Army of the first rank are Corps, a Brigade may receive the order at the commencement to take a village. For this purpose it will make use for itself of its destructive act and its decisive act. Now, the taking of this village may have, more or less, an influence on the ultimate decision of the whole; but it is not in the nature of things that it should greatly influence, and much less that it should effect, that decision of itself, because a Brigade is too small a body to give a decision at the commencement of a battle; but we may very well conceive that the effectual taking of this village forms, nevertheless, part of the destructive measure by which the enemy’s force is to be shattered and reduced.
On the other hand, if we suppose an order given to a considerable Corps, perhaps a third or a half of the whole force, to take a certain important part of the enemy’s position, then the result expected through this Corps may easily be so important as to be decisive for the whole; and if this Corps attains its object, no further decisive act may then be necessary. Now it is easy to conceive further that, owing to distance and the nature of the country, very few orders can be transmitted to this Corps in the course of the battle, consequently that both preparatory and decisive measures must be left to its discretion. In this manner one common decisive act falls to the ground altogether, and it is divided into separate decisive acts of some of the great parts.
(212) This, indeed, frequently takes place in great battles, and a pedantic notion of the severance of the two acts of which we conceive the battle to consist would therefore be in contradiction with the course of such a battle.
(213) Although we set up this distinction in the working of a battle as a point of great importance, it is far from our intention to place importance on the regular severance and division of these two activities, and to insist upon that as a practical principle; we only wish to separate in idea two things which are essentially different, and to show how this inherent difference governs of itself the form of the combat.
(214) The difference in the form shows itself most plainly in small combats, where the simple fire and close combat form a complete contrast to each other. The contrast is less decided when the parts are larger, because then in the two acts the two forms of combat from which they proceed unite themselves again; but the acts themselves are greater, take more time, and consequently are further separated from each other in time.
(215) There may be no separation also as regards the whole in so far that the decision has been already handed over to separate Corps of the first order; but still even then a trace of it will be found in the whole, as it must be our endeavour to bring the decisions of these different Corps into concert in relation to time, whether it be that we consider it necessary that the decisions should take place simultaneously, or that the decisions should take place in a certain order of succession.
(216) The difference between these two acts will, therefore, never be completely lost, as respects the whole, and that which is lost for the whole will reappear in the elements of the first order.
(217) This is the way in which our view is to be understood, and if thus understood, then, on the one hand, it will not come short of the reality, and on the other, it will direct the attention of the leader of a combat (let it be great or small, partial or general) to giving each of the two acts of activity its due share, that there may be neither precipitation nor negligence.
(218) Precipitation there will be if sufficient space and time are not allowed to the destructive act, if things are broken across the knee;* an unfortunate issue of the decision results, which either cannot be repaired at all, or at all events remains a substantial disadvantage.
(219) Negligence in general there will be if a complete decision does not take place, either from want of courage or from a wrong view of the situation; the result of this is always waste of force, but it may further be a positive disadvantage, because the maturity of the decision does not quite depend upon the duration of the destructive act, but on other circumstances as well, that is to say, on a favourable opportunity.
Plan of Battle—Definition
(220a) The plan of the battle makes its unity possible; every action in common requires such unity. This unity is nothing else but the object of the combat; from it proceed the directions which require to be given to all the different parts, in order to attain the object in the best way. The appointment of the object, and the arrangements consequent upon it, form therefore the plan.
(220b) We mean here, by plan, everything which is prescribed respecting the battle, whether beforehand, at the commencement, or in the course of the engagement; consequently, the whole operation of intelligence on matter.
(220c) But there is plainly an essential difference between such directions on the one hand, as must be and can be given previously, and those, on the other hand, which the exigencies of the moment require.
(220d) The first constitutes the Plan in the proper sense, the latter we may call the Conduct (of the battle).
(221) As these determinations which the moment calls forth are chiefly derived from the reciprocal action of the opposing parties, we shall leave the discussion and analysis of this difference until we come to the subject of the “reciprocal action.”
(222) A part of the plan lies ready made in the formation (tactical organisation) of the combatant forces, by which the great number of parts is reduced to a few.
(223) In a partial combat this formation is a thing of more consequence than in the total combat; in the former it often constitutes the whole plan, and the smaller the body, the more this will be the case. A Battalion in a great battle does not use many other dispositions than those prescribed by the regulations and on the drill ground; but that is not sufficient for a Division, there particular directions become more necessary.
(224) But in the total combat the formation is seldom the whole plan, even for the smallest body: the plan often modifies the formation to afford scope for special dispositions. A Squadron undertaking the surprise of one of the enemy’s small posts divides itself into several separate parts just as well as the largest Army.
Aim of the Plan
(225) The object of the combat makes the unity of the plan; we may regard it as its aim, that is, the direction to which all activities should converge.
(226) The object of a combat is victory; in other words, everything which is a condition of victory, and which is included in No. 4.
(227) None of the objects enumerated in No. 4 can be attained in battle, except by the destruction of the enemy’s force, which, therefore, appears to be the means for all.
(228) It is itself in most cases the principal object as well.
(229) If that is the case the plan is aimed at the greatest possible destruction of the enemy’s forces.
(230) When some of the other things named in No. 1 are of greater importance than the destruction of the enemy’s force, it takes a subordinate place as a means; then the greatest possible is no longer demanded, but only a sufficient destruction, and we may then take the nearest way to the aim.
(231a) There are cases in which the points named in No. 4, c, d, e, f, g, which lead to the retreat of the enemy, may be attained without any destruction of the enemy’s armed forces; then the enemy is conquered by a manœuvre and not by a combat. But this is no victory, therefore only for use when we have something else than a victory for an object.
(231b) In such cases, the employment of military force will still always imply the idea certainly of a combat, therefore of a destruction of the enemy’s force, but only as possible not as probable. For inasmuch as our views are aimed at something else than the destruction of the enemy’s forces, we pre-suppose these other things to be effectual, and that they will prevent any serious opposition from taking place. If we cannot make such a pre-supposition, then we ought not to choose these other things for our end, and if we err in the pre-supposition, the plan will miss its aim.
(232) From the preceding number it follows that whenever a considerable destruction of the enemy’s forces is the condition of victory, it must also be the chief object of the plan.
(233) Now, as a manœuvre is not in itself a combat, but a combat takes place if a manœuvre does not succeed, therefore neither can the rules which apply to total combat suit the case of a manœuvre; and the particular things which are efficacious in a manœuvre can contribute nothing to the theory of the combat.
(234) Many mixed relations certainly arise in practice, but that is no reason against separating things in theory which in themselves are essentially different; if we know the nature of each part, then the combination of them may easily be made.
(235) The destruction of the enemy’s armed force is, therefore, in all cases the aim, and the things named in No. 4, b, c, d, e, f, are first called forth by it, but then certainly enter into reciprocal action with it as powers in themselves.
(236) Such of these things as perpetually recur—that is to say, are not the consequence of special relations—ought also properly to be regarded as effects of the destruction of the enemy’s forces.
(237) So far, therefore, as it is possible to establish anything quite general as to the plan of a battle, it can only relate to the most effectual application of our own forces to the destruction of the enemy’s.
Relation between the Magnitude and Certainty of the Result
(238) In War, and therefore, of course, in combat, we have to deal with moral forces and effects which cannot be nicely calculated; there must, consequently, always remain a great uncertainty as to the result of the means applied.
(239) This is still further increased by the number of contingencies with which operations in War are brought into contact.
(240) Wherever there is uncertainty, risk becomes an essential element.
(241) To risk, in the ordinary acceptation, means to build upon things which are more improbable than probable. To risk, in the widest sense, is to suppose things which are not certain. We shall take it here in the latter sense.
(242) Now, if there was in all cases a clearly defined line between probability and improbability, the idea might occur to us to make it the boundary-line of risk, and hold the passing of that line as inadmissible, that is, as risk in the restricted sense of the word.
(243) But, in the first place, such a line is a chimera; and, in the next, the combat is not an act of reflection only, but of passion and courage as well. These things cannot be shut out: if we should try to confine them too closely, we should divest our own powers of the most powerful springs of action in War, and involve ourselves in constant disadvantage; for in most cases the falling short of the (true) line, which is so unavoidable and frequent, is only compensated by our sometimes over-stepping it.
(244) The more favourable our pre-suppositions—that is to say, the greater the risk we run—so much the greater are the results which we expect by these same means, and therefore the objects which we have in view.
(245) The more we risk the less the probability and, consequently, the certainty of the result.
(246) The greatness of the result and the certainty of it stand, therefore, in opposition to each other when the means given are the same.
(247) The first question now is, how much value we should put upon one or other of these two opposite principles.
(248) Upon this nothing general can be laid down; on the contrary, of all questions in War it is the one most dependent on the particular circumstances in each case. In the first place, it is determined by relations which, in many cases, oblige us to run the greatest risks. Secondly, the spirit of enterprise and courage are things purely subjective, which cannot be prescribed. We can require of a Commander that he should judge of his means and relations with professional knowledge, and not overestimate their effects; if he does this, then we must trust to him to turn his means to the best advantage with the aid of his courage.
Relation between the magnitude of the result and the price
(249) The second question in relation to the destruction of the enemy’s forces concerns the price to be paid for it.
(250) With the intention of destroying the enemy’s forces is certainly in general included the idea of destroying more than we shall in turn sacrifice on our own part; but this is by no means a necessary condition, for there may be cases (for instance, when we have a great superiority in numbers) when the mere diminution of the enemy’s forces is an advantage, even if we pay for it by greater loss on our own side.
(251) But even if we aim decidedly at destroying more of the enemy’s force than we sacrifice on our own side, still there always remains the question how great is that sacrifice to be, for according to it the chance of the result naturally rises and falls.
(252) We readily perceive that the answer to this question depends on the value which we place on our forces, therefore on individual interests. To these interests the decision must be left; and we can neither say that it is a rule to spare our own troops as much as possible, or to make a lavish use of them.
Determination of the nature of combat for the separate parts (corps, &c.)
(253) The plan of the battle fixes for each single Division where, when, and how it is to fight—that is, it fixes time, place, and form of the combat.
(254) Here, as well as everywhere, the general relations, that is, those proceeding from the abstract idea, are to be distinguished from those which the particular case brings with it.
(255) The manifold diversity in plans of battles must naturally proceed from the special relations in each case, because when the special advantages and disadvantages are sought for and discovered, the former are brought into use, and the latter are neutralised.
(256) But the general relations also give certain results, and although few in number and simple in form, still they are very important, because they belong to the very essence of the thing, and constitute the basis in all other decisions.
Attack and Defence
(257) In regard to the nature of the combat there are only two distinctions, which always appear and are therefore general; the first arises from the positive or negative intention, and is the distinction between attack or defence; the other arises from the nature of arms, and is the distinction between the fire combat and the close combat.
(258) In the strictest sense, defence should only be the warding off a blow, and should therefore require no other weapon than a shield.
(259) But that would be a pure negation, a state absolutely passive; and making War is anything but patient endurance; the idea of thorough passivity can therefore never be laid at the root of defence.
(260) Strictly considered, fire-arms, the most passive of weapons, have still something positive and active in their nature. Now the defence makes use, in general, of the same weapons, and also of the same forms of combat as the attack, both in fire and close combat.
(261) The defence is therefore to be considered a contest just as much as the attack.
(262) The object of this contest can be nothing but victory; which is, therefore, just as much an object for the defence as for the attack.
(263) There is nothing to justify the conception of the defender’s victory being something negative; if somewhat like it, in certain cases, that lies in particular conditions: into the conception of the defence that notion must not enter, otherwise it reacts logically on the whole idea of combat, and introduces into it contradictions, or leads back again, by strict deduction, to that absurdity, a state of absolute endurance and sufferance.
(264) And yet there is a difference between attack and defence which, while it is the only one in principle, is also a very essential one; it is, that the assailant wills the action (the combat), and calls it into life; whilst the defender waits for it.
(265) This principle runs through all War, therefore through the whole province of combat, and in it all differences between attack and defence have their origin.
(266) But whoever wills an action must aim at something thereby, and this object must be something positive, because the intention that nothing should be done could call forth no action. The offensive must, therefore, have a positive object.
(267) Victory cannot be this object, for it is only a means. Even in a case where victory is sought entirely on account of itself, on account of the mere honour of arms, or to influence political negotiations by its moral weight, still, that effect, and not the victory itself, is always the object.
(268) The defender, just as well as the aggressor, must have victory in view, but in each the desire springs from a different source; in the offensive from the object which the victory is to serve; in the defender, from the mere fact of the combat. The one looks down upon it, as it were, from a higher standpoint; the other looks up to it from a lower position. Whoever fights can only fight for the victory.
(269) Now, why does the defender fight, that is, why does he accept the combat? Because he will not concede the positive object of the offensive; or, in other words, because he wants to maintain the status quo. This is the primary and necessary object of the defender; whatever further may attach itself to this is not necessary.
(270) The necessary intention of the defender, or rather the necessary part of the defender’s intention, is therefore negative.
(271a) Wherever there is this negativity on the part of the defender, that is, wherever and whenever it is his interest that nothing should be done, but that things should remain as they are, he is thereby enjoined not to act, but to wait until his opponent acts; but the moment that the latter acts, the defender can no longer attain his object by waiting and not acting; he, therefore, now acts just as well as his opponent, and the difference ceases.
(271b) If we apply this, in the first place, to the whole combat only, then all difference between attack and defence will consist in this, that the one waits for the other; but the course of the actual combat will not be further influenced by it.
(272) But this principle of the defence may also be applied to partial combats: it may be for the interest of Corps, or parts of an Army, that no change should take place, and in that way they may also be led to adopt an attitude of expectation.
(273) This is not only possible as regards branches and Corps on the side of the defender, but also as respects those on the side of the assailant; it takes place in reality on both sides.
(274) It is natural, however, that it should occur more frequently in the case of the defender than in that of the assailant, but this can only be shown when the particular circumstances in connection with the defensive principle come under consideration.
(275) The more we imagine the defensive principle descending to the smallest branches in a total combat, and the more generally it is diffused throughout all the branches, so much the more passive becomes the whole resistance, so much the more the defence approaches to that point of absolute endurance which we look upon as an absurdity.
(276) The point in this direction at which the advantage to the defender of waiting ceases, that is, the point where its efficacy is exhausted, where, to a certain extent it is satiated, we shall only be able to examine closely hereafter.
(277) For the present, all that we deduce from what has been said is that the offensive or defensive intention not only determines something as to the commencement of the combat, but may also pervade its whole course—that by that means there are therefore in reality two different kinds of combat.
(278) The plan of the combat must therefore determine in every case whether as a whole it is to be an offensive or defensive combat.
(279) It must also determine this point for those Corps which have assigned to them a mission different from that of the general body.
(280) If we now leave out of consideration for the present every particular circumstance which might decide the choice of attack and defence, then there is only one rule which presents itself, namely, that when we wish to defer the solution we must act defensively; when we seek it, offensively.
(281) We shall see this principle come into connection presently with another which will make it plainer.
Fire Combat and Close Combat
(282) The plan of the combat must further determine the choice of the form of combat in its relation to arms—that is, fire combat and close combat.
(283) But these two forms are not so much branches of the combat as essential elements of it. They result from the armament, they belong to each other, and only by the combination of the two together can the full power of the combat be developed.
(284) The truth of this view (which otherwise is not absolute but only approximative, comprehending the majority of cases), shows itself by the combination of arms in the hands of one combatant, and by the intimate union of different kinds of troops which has become a necessity.
(285) But a separation of these two elements and the use of the one without the other is not only possible, but very frequently happens.
(286) In respect to the mutual relations of the two, and their natural order amongst themselves, the plan of the battle has nothing to determine, as these are determined already by conception, by the formation (tactical organisation), and the drill-ground, and therefore, like the formation, belong to the stereotypic part of the plan.
(287) As to the use of these two forms of combat apart from each other, there is no general rule, unless this can pass for such, that such separation must always be regarded as a necessary evil, that is, as a less effective form of action. All cases in which we are obliged to make use of this weaker form belong to the domain of particular circumstances. Occasions for the use of the bayonet alone, such, for instance, as the execution of a surprise, or when there is no time to use fire-arms, or if we are sure of a great superiority of courage on our side are plainly only isolated cases.
Determination of Time and Place
(288) As to the determination of time and place, we have, in the first place, to observe in reference to these two things, that in the total combat the determination of place belongs to the defence alone, the determination of time to the attack.
(289) But for partial combats, the plan either of an offensive or of a defensive combat has to give determinations respecting both.
(290) The appointment of time for a partial combat, which seems at first sight only to affect the subject at most in a few points, takes, however, a different turn on closer examination, and is seen to penetrate it through and through with a ruling idea, decisive in the highest degree, that is, the possibility of a successive use of forces.
Successive Use of Forces
(291) Simultaneous action is, in itself, a fundamental condition of the common action of separate forces. This is also the case in War, and particularly in the combat. For as the number of the combatants is a factor in the product of the same, therefore, ceteris paribus, the simultaneous application of all our forces, that is, the greatest assemblage of them in time against an enemy who does not employ all his at once, will give the victory, certainly in the first instance only, over that part of the enemy’s force which has been employed; but as this victory over a part of the enemy’s forces raises the moral force of the conqueror, and lowers that of the vanquished, it follows, therefore, that although the loss of physical force may be equal on both sides, still this partial victory has the effect of raising the total forces of the conqueror and diminishing those of the vanquished, and that consequently it may determine the result of the total combat.
(292) But the deduction drawn in the preceding number supposes two conditions which do not exist; in the first place, that the number (of troops) must have no maximum; and, secondly, that the use of one and the same force has no limits as long as there is anything left of it.
(293) As regards the first of these points, the number of combatants is limited at once by space, for all that cannot be brought into actual use are superfluous. By it the depth and extent of the formation of all combatants intended to act simultaneously is limited, and consequently the number of combatants.
(294) But a much more important limitation of numbers lies in the nature of the fire combat. We have seen (No. 89c) that in it, within certain limits, the increase of number has only the effect of raising the strength of the fire combat on both sides; that is, its total effects. Now this increased effect, when it brings no advantage in itself for one side, ceases then to be of service to that side; it therefore easily reaches a maximum in that case.
(295) This maximum determines itself entirely by the individual case, by the ground, the moral relations between the opposing troops, and the more immediate object of the fire combat. Here it is enough to say that there is such a thing.
(296) The number of troops to be employed simultaneously has, therefore, a maximum, beyond which a waste takes place.
(297) In the same way the use of one and the same body of troops has its limits. We have seen (in No. 123) how troops under fire gradually become unserviceable; but there is likewise a deterioration in close combat. The exhaustion of physical force is less there than in fire combat, but the moral effect produced by an unsuccessful issue is infinitely greater.
(298) Through this deterioration, which forces used in action suffer, including as well those not actually engaged, a new principle comes into the combat, which is the inherent superiority of fresh troops opposed to those already used.
(299) There is still a second subject for consideration, which consists in a temporary deterioration of forces that have been engaged in the crisis which occurs in every action.
(300) The close combat in practice may be said to have no duration. In the moment that the shock takes place between two cavalry regiments the thing is decided, and the few seconds of actual sword-fight are of no consequence as regards time: it is very much the same with infantry and with large masses. But the affair is not then finished on that account; the state of crisis which has burst out with the decision is not yet quite over; the victorious Regiment pursuing the vanquished at full speed is not the same Regiment lately drawn up on the field of battle in perfect order; its moral force is certainly intensified, but, as a rule, its physical force, as well as that resulting from military order in its ranks, has suffered. It is only by the loss which his adversary has suffered in moral strength, and by the circumstance that he is just as much disordered, that the conqueror retains his superiority, therefore, if a new adversary makes his appearance with his moral force intact, and his ranks in perfect order, there can be no question that, supposing the troops equally good, he will beat the conqueror.
(301) A similar crisis also takes place in the fire combat, to such a degree that the side which has just been victorious by its fire, and has driven back its enemy, still finds itself, for the moment, in a decidedly weakened condition as respects order in its ranks, and physical and moral force, a condition which lasts until all that has been thrown into disorder is once more restored to its normal relations.
(302) What we have said here of smaller units holds good with respect to larger ones as well.
(303) The crisis is in itself greater in smaller units, because it has an effect uniformly throughout the whole, but it is of shorter duration.
(304) The weakest is a general crisis, especially of a whole Army; but it lasts the longest in large Armies, often for several hours.
(305) As long as the conqueror is in the crisis of the combat, the conquered has in that crisis a means of still restoring the combat, that is, of turning its result, if he can bring forward fresh troops in sufficient numbers.
(306) In this manner, therefore, the successive employment of troops is introduced in a second way, as an efficacious principle.
(307) But if the successive employment of troops in a series of combats following one after another is possible; and if the simultaneous use is not unlimited, then it follows of itself that the forces, which cannot be efficacious in simultaneous action, may become so in successive efforts.
(308) By this series of partial combats, one after another, the duration of the whole combat is considerably extended.
(309) This duration now brings into view a fresh motive for the successive use of forces, by introducing a new quantity into the calculation, which is the unforeseen event.
(310) If, in general, a successive use of troops is possible, then it follows that we can no longer know how the enemy will employ his; for only that portion which is brought into action at once comes within the scope of our observation, the rest does not, and therefore we can only form some general conjectures respecting it.
(311) By the mere duration of the action there is brought into our reckoning an increased amount of pure chance, and that element naturally plays a more important part in War than anywhere else.
(312) Unforeseen events require a general system of precaution, and this can consist in nothing else than placing in rear a proportionate force, which is the reserve, properly speaking.*
Depth of the Order of Battle
(313) All battles which are to be fought by bodies of troops in succession require from their very nature that fresh troops should be forthcoming. These may either be quite fresh, that is, troops which have not been engaged at all, or such as have been in action, but by rest have recovered more or less from their exhaustion. It is easy to see that this gives room for many shades of difference.
(314) Both the use of quite fresh troops as well as the use of such as have refreshed themselves supposes that they have been in rear—that is, in a position beyond the region of destruction.
(315) This also has its degrees, for the region of destruction does not end at once, but decreases gradually until at last it ends entirely.
(316) The range of small arms and of grape are well-defined gradations.
(317) The further a body of troops is posted in rear, the fresher they will be when brought into action.
(318) But no body of troops which has been within reach of an effective fire of small arms, or of case, can be considered fresh.
(319) We have, therefore, three reasons for keeping a certain number of troops in rear.
They serve (a) to relieve or reinforce exhausted troops, especially in fire combat.
(b) To profit by the crisis in which the conqueror is placed directly after his success.
(c) As a provision against unforeseen events.
(320) All troops kept back come under these categories whatever arm they belong to, whether we call them a second line or reserve, whether they are part of a Division, or of the whole.
Polarity of the Simultaneous and Successive Use of Troops
(321) As the simultaneous and the successive use of troops are opposed to one another, and each has its advantages, they may be regarded as two poles, each of which attracts the resolution to itself, and by that means fixes it at a point where they are in a state of equilibrium, provided that this resolution is founded on a right estimate of the opposing forces.
(322) Now, we require to know the laws of this polarity—that is, the advantages and conditions of these two applications of force, and thereby also their relations with one another.
(323) The simultaneous employment of forces may be intensified—
(324) Only those forces which are brought into efficient activity at the same time can be regarded as applied simultaneously. When the fronts are equal, such application is therefore limited by the possibility of acting effectively. For instance, in fire combat, three ranks might perhaps fire at the same time, but six cannot.
(325) We have shown (in No. 89) that two lines of fire of unequal strength as regards numbers may be a match for each other, and that a diminution (of numbers) on one side, if it does not exceed certain limits, has only the result of reducing the mutual effect.
(326) But the more the destructive effect of the fire combat is diminished, the more time is required to produce the necessary effect. Therefore, that side which desires chiefly to gain time (commonly the defensive side) is interested in modifying, as much as possible, the total destructive effect of the fire (that is, the sum of the mutual fire).
(327) Further, this must also be an object with the side which is much the weaker in point of numbers, because, when the losses are equal, his are always relatively greatest.
(328) When the conditions are reversed, the interests will be reversed also.
(329) When no special interest for hastening the action predominates, it will be the interest of both sides to do with as few troops as possible, that is, as already said (No. 89b), only to employ so many that the enemy will not be induced to come to close quarters at once, owing to the smallness of our numbers.
(330) In this manner, therefore, the simultaneous employment of forces in fire combat is limited by the want of any advantage, and both sides have to fall back upon the successive use of the spare forces.
(331) In close combat the superiority in numbers is above all things decisive, and the simultaneous employment of troops is on that account so much to be preferred to the successive, that the latter in mere theory is almost completely excluded, and only becomes possible through accessory circumstances.
(332) Close combat is in fact a decision, and one which lasts hardly any time; this excludes the successive use of forces.
(333) But we have already said that the crisis of the close combat affords favourable scope for the successive use of forces.
(334) Further, the decisions in partial close combats belonging to a greater whole are not absolute decisions; therefore the application of our force to the further combats which are possible must also be taken into consideration.
(335) This leads then also to not using at one time more troops in close combat than appear to be just necessary to make certain of the result.
(336) As regards this point there is no other general rule, except that circumstances which obstruct execution (such as a very courageous enemy, difficult ground, &c.) occasion a necessity for a greater number of troops.
(337) But for the general theory, it is of consequence to observe that the employment of more troops than is necessary in close combat is never so disadvantageous as in fire combat, because in the first, the troops only become unserviceable at the time of the crisis, not for a continuance.
(338) The simultaneous employment of forces in the close combat is therefore subject to this rule, that it must in all cases be sufficient to produce the result, and that the successive use can in no way make up for insufficiency, for the results cannot be added together as in fire combat; and further, that when once the point of sufficiency is reached, any greater simultaneous application of force becomes a waste of power.
(339) Now that we have considered the application of large bodies of troops in fire and close combat, by increasing the depth of the same, we come to that which is possible by extending the front, that is, in the enveloping form.
(340) There are two ways in which we may conceive a greater number of combatants brought simultaneously into action through a greater width of front, viz.:
(a) By extending our front so as to cause the enemy to extend his also. This does not give us any superiority over the enemy, but it has the effect of bringing more forces into play on both sides.
(b) By outflanking the enemy’s front.
(341) To bring more forces into action on both sides can in very few cases be of any advantage to one of the two sides, it is also uncertain whether the enemy will respond to this further extension of front.
(342) If he does not respond, then a part of our front, that is of our forces, will be either unemployed, or we must apply the overlapping part of our front to turn the enemy.
(343) It is then only the apprehension of this turning which moves the enemy to extend as far as we have done.
(344) If, however, the enemy is to be turned, it is plainly better to make arrangements for that purpose from the first, and therefore we should consider an extension of front only from that point of view.
(345) Now, in the employment of troops, the enveloping form has this peculiar property, that it not only increases the number of troops simultaneously engaged on the two sides, but it also allows us (the party using it) to bring more of them into activity than the enemy can.
(346) If, for instance, a Battalion with a front 180 paces in length is surrounded, and has to show front on four sides, and if the enemy is at a distance of musketry range, (150 yards) from it, then there would be room for eight Battalions to act with effect against that single Battalion.*
(347) The enveloping form therefore comes in here on account of this peculiarity; but we must at the same time bring under consideration its other specialities also, that is, its advantages and disadvantages.
(348) A second advantage of the enveloping form is the increased effect resulting from the concentration of fire.
(349) A third advantage is its effect in the interception of the enemy’s retreat.
(350) These three advantages of enveloping diminish according as the forces, or rather their fronts, become greater, and they increase the smaller the fronts are.
(351) For as regards the first (No. 345), the range of arms remains the same, whether the masses of troops be great or small (it being understood that they consist of the same arms of the service), the actual difference, therefore, between the enveloping line and the line enveloped is a quantity which always remains the same; and, consequently, its relative value is always diminishing in proportion as the front is extended.
(352) To surround a Battalion, at 150 yards, eight Battalions are required (No. 346); but ten Battalions, on the other hand, might be surrounded by only twenty Battalions.
(353) The enveloping form, however, is seldom, if ever, carried out completely, that is to say, to the complete circle, rarely more than partially, and usually within 180°. Now, if we imagine to ourselves a body of the size of a considerable Army, we see plainly how little will remain of the first of the above advantages under such circumstances.
(354) It is just the same with the second advantage, as may be seen at a glance.
(355) The third advantage, also, of course, notably diminishes by the greater extension of the front; although, here, some other relations also come into consideration.
(356) But the enveloping form has also a peculiar disadvantage, which is, that the troops being, by that form, spread out over a greater space, their efficient action is diminished in two respects.
(357) For instance, the time which is required to go over a certain space cannot, at the same time, be utilised for fighting. Now, all movements which do not lead perpendicularly on the enemy’s line have to be made over a greater space by the enveloping party than by the party enveloped, because the latter moves more or less on the radii of the smaller circle, the former on the circumference of the greater, which makes an important difference.
(358) This gives the side enveloped the advantage of a greater facility in the use of his forces at different points.
(359) But the unity of the whole is also lessened by the greater space covered, because intelligence and orders must pass over greater distances.
(360) Both these disadvantages of enveloping increase with the increase in the width of front. When there are only a few Battalions they are insignificant; with large Armies, on the other hand, they become important—for
(361) The difference between radius and circumference is constant; therefore, the absolute difference becomes always greater, the greater the front becomes; and it is with absolute differences we are now concerned.
(362) Besides, with quite small bodies of troops few or no flank movements occur, whilst they become more frequent as the size of the masses increases.
(363) Lastly, as regards interchange of communications, there is no difference as long as the whole space is only such as can be overlooked.
(364) Therefore, if the advantages of the enveloping form are very great and the disadvantages very small when the fronts are short; if the advantages diminish and the disadvantages increase with the extension of front, it follows that there must be a point where there is an equilibrium.*
(365) Beyond that point, therefore, the extension of front can no longer offer any advantages over the successive use of troops; but, on the contrary, disadvantages arise.
(366) The equilibrium between the advantages of the successive use of forces, and those of a greater extent of front (No. 341) must, therefore, be on this side of that point.
(367) In order to find out this point of equilibrium, we must bring the advantages of the enveloping form more distinctly into view. The simplest way to do so is as follows:
(368) A certain front is necessary in order to exempt ourselves from the effect of the first of the two disadvantages of being surrounded.
(369) As respects the convergent (double) effect of fire, there is a length of front where that completely ceases, namely, if the distance between the portions of the line bent back, in case we are surrounded by the enemy, exceeds that of the range of fire-arms.
(370) But, in rear of every position, a space out of reach of fire is required for the reserves, for those who command, &c., whose place is in rear of the front. If these were exposed to fire from three sides, then they could no longer fulfil the objects for which they are intended.
(371) As these details of themselves form considerable masses in large Armies, and, consequently, require more room, therefore, the greater the whole, the greater must be the space out of the reach of fire in rear of the front. Accordingly, on this ground, the front must increase as the masses increase.
(372) But the space (out of fire) behind a considerable mass of troops must be greater, not only because the reserves, &c., occupy more space, but, besides that also, in order to afford greater security; for, in the first place, the effect of stray shots would be more serious amongst large masses of troops and military trains than amongst a few Battalions; secondly, the combats of large masses last much longer, and, through that, the losses are much greater amongst the troops behind the front who are not actually engaged in the combat.
(373) If, therefore, a certain length is fixed for the necessary extent of front, then it must increase with the size of the masses.
(374) The other advantage of the enveloping form (the superiority in the number acting simultaneously) leads to no determinate quantity for the front of a line; we must therefore confine ourselves to saying that it diminishes with the extension of front.
(375) Further, we must point out that the simultaneous action of superior numbers here spoken of chiefly relates to musketry fire; for as long as artillery alone is in action, space will never be wanting, even for the enveloped on his smaller curve to plant as many pieces as the enemy can on the greater curve; because there never is enough artillery with an Army to cover the whole front of a continuous line.*
(376) It cannot be objected that the enemy has still always an advantage in the greater space, because his guns need not stand so close, and therefore are less liable to be struck; for Batteries cannot be thus evenly distributed by single guns at equal intervals over a great space.
(377) In a combat of artillery alone, or in one in which the artillery plays the principal part, the greater extent of the enveloping front gives an advantage, and a great one too, through the great range of artillery, because that makes a great difference in the extent of the two fronts. This case occurs, for example, with single redoubts. But with Armies in which the other arms of the service take the most prominent part, and artillery only a secondary part, there is not this advantage, because, as already said, there is never any want of space even for the side enveloped.
(378) It is, therefore, principally in infantry combats that the advantage which the greater front affords of bringing greater numbers into action simultaneously must show itself. The difference of the two fronts in such a case amounts to three times the range of the musket (if the envelopment reaches an angle of 180°), that is, about 600 paces. Before a front of 600 paces in length, the enveloping line will then be double, which will be sensibly felt; but before a front of 3000 paces the additional length would only be one-fifth, which is no advantage of any importance.
(379) We may say, therefore, respecting this point, that the length of front is sufficient as soon as the difference resulting from the range of a musket shot ceases to give the enveloping line any very marked superiority.
(380) From what has just been said of the two advantages of enveloping, it follows that small masses have a difficulty in obtaining the requisite development of front; this is so true that we know for a fact that they are in most cases obliged to give up their regular order of formation and to extend much more. It rarely happens that a single Battalion, if left to depend on itself, will engage in a combat without extending its front beyond the ordinary length (150 and 200 paces); instead of keeping to that formation it will divide into companies with intervals between them, then again will extend into skirmishers, and after a part is placed in reserve it will take up with the rest, altogether twice, three or four times as much room as it should do normally.
(381) But the greater the masses the easier it is to attain the necessary extension of front, as the front increases with the masses (No. 373), although not in the same proportion.
(382) Great masses have, therefore, no necessity to depart from their order of formation, on the contrary, they are able to place troops in rear.
(383) The consequence of this is, that for large masses a kind of standing formation has been introduced, in which portions of the force are drawn up in rear; such is the ordinary order of battle in two lines; usually there is a third one behind, consisting of cavalry, and besides that, also a reserve of one-eighth to one-sixth, &c.
(384) With very large masses (Armies of 100,000 to 150,000 or 200,000) we see the reserves always get greater (one-quarter to one-third), a proof that Armies have a continual tendency to increase further beyond what is required for the extent of front.
(385) We only introduce this now to show more plainly the truth of our demonstration by a glance at facts.
(386) Such, then, is the bearing of the first two advantages of enveloping. It is different with the third.
(387) The first two influence the certainty of the result by intensifying our forces, the third does that also, but only with very short fronts.
(388) It acts particularly on the courage of those engaged in the front of the enemy’s line by creating a fear of losing their line of retreat, an idea which has always a great influence on soldiers.
(389) This is, however, only the case when the danger of being cut off is so imminent and evident that the impression overpowers all restraints of discipline and of authority, and carries away the soldier involuntarily.
(390) At greater distances, and if the soldier is only led to a sense of danger indirectly by the sound of artillery and musketry in his rear, uneasy feelings may arise within him, but, unless his spirit is already very bad, these will not prevent his obeying the orders of his superiors.
(391) In this case, therefore, the advantage in cutting off the enemy’s retreat, which appertains to the enveloping side, cannot be regarded as one which makes success more secure, that is, more probable, but only as one which increases the extent of a success already commenced.
(392) In this respect, also, the third advantage of enveloping is subject to the counter-principle, that it is greatest with a short front, and decreases with the extension of front, as is evident.
(393) But this does not set aside the principle that greater masses should have a greater extent of front than small ones, because as a retreat is never made in the whole width of a position, but by certain roads, so it follows of itself that great masses require more time for a retreat than small ones; this longer time therefore imposes the necessity of a larger front, that the enemy who envelops this front may not so speedily gain the points through which the line of retreat passes.
(394) If (in accordance with No. 391) the third advantage of enveloping, in the majority of cases (that is, when the fronts are not too short), only influences the extent, but not the certainty, of success, then it follows that it will have a very different value, according to the relations and views of the combatants.
(395) When the probability of the result is otherwise small, the first consideration must be to increase the probability; in such a case, therefore, an advantage which relates principally to the extent of the result cannot be of much consequence.
(396) But if this advantage is quite opposed (No. 565) to the probability of success, in such case it becomes a positive disadvantage.
(397) In such a case, endeavour must be made, through the advantage of the successive use of forces, to counterbalance those of the greater extent of front.
(398) We see, therefore, that the point of indifference (or equilibrium) between the two poles of the simultaneous and successive application of our forces—of extension of front and depth of position—is differently situated, not only according as the masses are large or small, but also according to the relations and intentions of the respective parties.*
(399) The weaker and the more prudent will give the preference to the successive use, the stronger and the bold to the simultaneous employment of the forces.
(400) It is natural that the assailant should be the stronger, or the bolder, whether from the character of the Commander or from necessity.
(401) The enclosing form of combat, or that form which implies the simultaneous use of forces on both sides in the highest degree, is, therefore, natural to the assailant.
(402) The enclosed, that is, one limited to the successive application of forces, and which, on that account, is in danger of being surrounded, is, therefore, the natural form of the defensive.
(403) In the first there is the tendency to a quick solution, in the latter to gain time, and these tendencies are in harmony with the object of each form of combat.
(404) But in the nature of the defensive there lies still another motive, which inclines it to the deeper order of battle.
(405) One of its most considerable advantages is the assistance of the country and ground, and local defence of the same constitutes an important element of this advantage.
(406) Now one would think this should lead to the front being made as wide as possible, in order to make the most of this advantage; a one-sided view, which may be regarded as the chief cause of Commanders having been so often led to occupy extensive positions.
(407) But hitherto we have always supposed the extension of front as either causing the enemy to extend, in like manner, or as leading to outflanking, that is, to an envelopment of the enemy’s front.
(408) As long as we imagine both sides equally active, therefore apart from the point of view of offensive and defensive, the application of a more extended front to envelop the enemy presents no difficulty.
(409) But as soon as we combine more or less local defence with the combat in front (as is done in the defensive), then that application of the overlapping portions of the front ceases; it is either impossible, or very difficult, to combine local defence with outflanking.
(410) In order rightly to appreciate this difficulty, we must always bear in mind the form which the case assumes in reality when our view of an enemy’s measures is intercepted by the natural means of cover which the ground affords, and therefore troops employed to defend any particular locality may be easily deceived and held in inactivity.
(411) From this it follows, that in the defensive it is to be considered a decided disadvantage to occupy a greater front than that which the enemy necessarily requires for the deployment of his forces.
(412) The necessary extent of front for the offensive we shall examine hereafter; here we have only to observe, that if the offensive takes up too narrow a front, the defensive does not punish him for it, through having made his own front wide at first, but by an offensive enveloping counter-movement.
(413) It is, therefore, certain that the defender, in order that he may not, in any case, incur the disadvantage of too wide a front, will always take up the narrowest which circumstances will permit, for by that means he can place the more troops in reserve; at the same time these reserves are never likely to be left inactive, like portions of a too extended front.
(414) As long as the defender is satisfied with the narrowest front, and seeks to preserve the greatest depth, that is to say, as long as he follows the natural tendency of his form of combat, in the same degree there will be an opposite tendency on the part of the assailant; he will make the extent of his front as great as possible, or, in other words, envelop his enemy as far as possible.
(415) But this is a tendency, and no law; for we have seen that the advantages of this envelopment diminish with the lengths of the fronts; and therefore, at certain points, no longer counterbalance the advantage of the successive application of force. To this law the assailant is subject as well as the defender.
(416) Now, here we have to consider extension of front of two kinds; that which the defender fixes by the position which he takes up, and that which the assailant is obliged to adopt with a view to outflanking his enemy.
(417) If the extension in the first case is so great that all the advantages of outflanking vanish or become ineffective, then that movement must be given up; the assailant must then seek to gain an advantage in another way, as we shall presently see.
(418) But if the defenders’ front is as small as can possibly be, if the assailant, at the same time, has a right to look for advantages by outflanking and enveloping, still, again, the limits of this envelopment must be fixed.
(419) This limit is determined by the disadvantages inherent in any enveloping movement which is carried too far (Nos. 356 and 365).
(420) These disadvantages arise when the envelopment is attempted against a front exceeding the length which would justify the movement; but they are evidently very much greater if the fault consists in too wide an envelopment of a short line.
(421) When the assailant has these disadvantages against him, then the advantages of the enemy in the successive employment of force through his short line must tell with more weight.
(422) Now, it certainly appears that the defender who adopts the narrow front and deep order of battle does not thereby retain all the advantages of the successive use of forces on his side: for if the assailant adopts a front as small, and, therefore, does not outflank his enemy, then it is possible for both equally to resort to the successive use of their forces; but if the assailant envelops his opponent, then the latter must oppose a front in every direction in which he is threatened, and, therefore, fight with the same extent of front (except the trifling difference between the extent of concentric circles, which is not worth noticing). With respect to this there are four points which claim our attention.
(423) In the first place, let the assailant contract his front as much as he pleases, there is always an advantage for the defender in the combat changing from the form of one in extended order and which will be quickly decided into one which is concentrated and prolonged, for the prolongation of the combat is in favour of the defensive.
(424) Secondly, the defender, even if enveloped by his adversary, is not always obliged to oppose a parallel front to each of the Divisions surrounding him; he may attack them in flank or rear, for which the geometrical relations are just those which afford the best opportunity; but this is at once a successive use of forces, for in that it is not at all a necessary condition that the troops employed later should be employed exactly as the first used, or that the last brought forward should take up the ground occupied by the first, as we shall see presently more plainly. Without placing troops in reserve it would not be possible to envelop the enveloping force in this manner.
(425) Thirdly, by the short front, with strong reserves in rear, there is a possibility of the enemy carrying his enveloping movement too far (No. 420), of which advantage may then be taken, just by means of the forces placed in rear in reserve.
(426) Fourthly, in the last place, there is an advantage to the defender in being secured by this means against the opposite error of a waste of force, through portions of the front not being attacked.
(427) These are the advantages of a deep order of battle, that is, of the successive employment of forces. They not only check over-extension on the part of the defender, but also stop the assailant from overstepping certain limits in enveloping; without, however, stopping the tendency to extend within these limits.
(428) But this tendency will be weakened or completely done away with if the defender has extended himself too far.
(429) Under these circumstances certainly the defender, being deficient in masses in reserve, cannot punish the assailant for his too great extension in his attempt to envelop, but the advantages of the envelopment are, as it is, too small in such a case.
(430) The assailant will, therefore, now no longer seek the advantages of enveloping if his relations are not such that cutting off is a point of great importance to him. In this way, therefore, the tendency to enveloping is diminished.
(431) But it will be entirely done away with if the defender has taken up a front of such extent that the assailant can leave a great part of it inactive, for that is to him a decided gain.
(432) In such cases, the assailant ceases to look for advantages in extension and developing, and looks for them in the opposite direction, that is, in the concentration of his forces against some one point. It is easy to perceive that this signifies the same as a deep order of battle.
(433) How far the assailant may carry the contraction of the front of his position, depends on—
(434) With small forces it is disadvantageous to leave any part of the enemy’s front inactive; for, as the spaces are small, everything can be seen, and such parts can on the instant be applied to active purposes elsewhere.
(435) From this follows of itself, that also with larger masses and fronts the front attacked must not be too small, because otherwise the disadvantage just noticed would arise, at least partially.
(436) But, in general, it is natural that when the assailant has good reason to seek for his advantage in a concentration of his forces, on account of the excessive extension of front, or the passivity of the defender, he can go further in contracting the extent of his front than the defender, because the latter, through the too great extension of his front, is not prepared for an offensive counteraction against the enveloping movement.
(437) The greater the front of the defender, the greater will be the number of its parts which the assailant can leave unassailed.
(438) The same will be the case the more the intention of local defensive is distinctly pronounced;
(439) And, lastly, the greater the masses are generally.
(440) The assailant will therefore find the most advantage in a concentration of his forces if all these favourable circumstances are combined, namely, large masses, too long a front, and a great deal of local defence on the part of the enemy.
(441) This subject cannot be finished until we examine the relations of space.
(442) We have already shown (No. 291) the use of the successive employment of forces. We have only here to call the attention of our readers to the point that the motives for it relate not only to the renewal of the same combat with fresh troops, but also to every subsequent (or ulterior) employment of reserve troops.
(443) In this subsequent use, there is supreme advantage, as will be seen in the sequel.
(444) From the preceding exposition, we see that the point where the simultaneous and the successive use of troops balance each other is different, according to the mass of troops in reserve, according to the proportion of Force, according to situation and object, according to Boldness and Prudence.
(445) That country and ground have likewise a great influence, is, of course, understood, and it only receives this bare mention, because all application is here left out of sight.
(446) With such manifold connections and complex relations, no absolute numbers can be fixed as normal quantities; but there must still be some unit which serves as a fixed point for these complex changeable relations.
(447) Now there are two such guides, one on each side first a certain depth, which allows of the simultaneous action of all the forces, may be looked upon as one guide. To reduce this depth for the sake of increasing the extension of front must therefore be regarded as a necessary evil. This, therefore, determines the necessary depth. The second guide is the security of the reserve, of which we have already spoken. This determines the necessary extension.
(448) The necessary depth just mentioned lies at the foundation of all standing formations; we shall not be able to prove this until hereafter, when we come to treat specially of the order of the (three) arms.
(449) But before we can bring our general considerations to a final conclusion, in anticipation of the above result, we must inquire into the determination of place, as that has some influence upon it likewise.
Determination of Place.
(450) The determination of place answers the question where the combat is to be, as well for the whole as for the parts.
(451) The place of combat for the whole emanates from Strategy, with which we are not now concerned. We have only here to deal with the construction of the combat; we must, therefore, suppose that both parties have come into contact, the place of the combat will then generally be either where the enemy’s Army is (in the attack), or where we can wait for it (on the defensive).
(452) As regards the determination of place for the members of the whole, it decides the geometrical form which the combatants on both sides should assume in the combat.
(453) We leave out of sight at present the forms of detail which are contained in the regular (normal) formation which we shall consider afterwards.
(454) The geometrical form of the whole may be reduced to two types—namely, to the parallel, and to that in concentric segments of circles. Every other form runs into one of these.
(455) In fact, whatever parts are supposed to be in actual conflict must be supposed in parallel lines. If, therefore, an Army should deploy perpendicularly to the alignment of the other, the latter must either change its front completely, and place itself parallel with the other, or it must at least do so with a portion of its line. But in the latter case, the other Army must then wheel round that portion of its line against which no part of the enemy’s line has wheeled, if it is to be brought into use; and thus arises an order of battle in concentric pieces of circles or polygonal parts.
(456) The rectilinear order is plainly to be considered as indifferent, for the relations of the two parties are precisely alike.
(457) But we cannot say that the rectilinear form only arises from the direct and parallel attack (as appears at first sight); it may also take place by the defensive placing himself parallel to an oblique attack. In this case the other circumstances will not certainly always be alike, for often the new position will not be good, often it will not be quite carried out, &c. We now anticipate this, only in order to guard against a confusion of ideas. The indifference which we see in this case lies only in the form of the order of battle.
(458) The nature of the form in concentric segments of circles (or portions of polygons, which is the same), has been already sufficiently developed; it is the enveloping and enveloped order.
(459) The question of the placing of the parts in space would be fully settled by the geometrical form of the normal order of battle if it was necessary that some of our troops should be opposed to those of the enemy in every direction. This, however, is not necessary; it is much more a question in each particular case: should all parts of the enemy’s line be engaged or not? and in the latter case, which?
(460) If we can leave a part of the enemy’s force unattacked, we become by that means stronger for the contest with the rest, either by the simultaneous or successive use of our forces. By that means a part of the enemy’s force may have to contend with the whole of our Army.
(461) Thus we shall either be completely superior to the enemy at the points at which we want our forces, or we shall at least have a stronger force than the general relations between the two Armies would give.
(462) But these points may be taken to represent the whole, provided that we need not engage the others; there is, therefore, an artificial augmentation of our forces, by a greater concentration of the same in space.
(463) It is evident that this means forms a most important element in any plan of a battle; it is that which is most generally used.
(464) The point now is therefore to examine this subject closer, in order to determine the parts of an enemy’s force which in this sense should be taken to constitute the whole.
(465) We have stated (in No. 4), the motives which determine the retreat of one of the combatants in a battle. It is plain that the circumstances from which these motives arise affect either the whole of the force, or at least such an essential part of it as surpasses all the rest in importance, and therefore carries them along with it in its fate.
(466) That these circumstances affect the whole of the force we can easily conceive if the mass is small, but not if it is large. In such case certainly the motives given under d, f, g concern the whole, but the others, especially the loss, affect only certain parts, for with large masses it is extremely improbable that all parts have suffered alike.
(467) Now those parts whose condition is the cause of a retreat must naturally be considerable in relation to the whole; we shall for brevity’s sake call them the vanquished.
(468) These vanquished parts may either be contiguous to each other, or they may be more or less interspersed through the whole.
(469) There is no reason to consider the one case as more decisive than the other. If one Corps of an Army is completely beaten but all the rest intact, that may be in one case worse, in another better than if the losses had been uniformly distributed over the whole Army.
(470) The second case supposes an equal employment of the opposing forces; but we are only occupied at present with the effect of an unequal application of forces, one that is concentrated more at a single or at certain points; we have, therefore, only to do with the first case.
(471) If the vanquished parts are close to each other, they may be regarded collectively as a whole, and we mean it to be so understood when we speak of the divisions or points attacked or beaten.
(472) If we can determine the situation and relation of that part which dominates over and will carry the whole along with it in its fate, then we have by that means also discovered the part of the whole against which the forces intended to fight the real struggle must be directed.
(473) If we leave out of sight all circumstances of ground, we have only position and magnitude (numbers) by which to determine the part to be attacked. We shall first consider the numbers.
(474) Here there are two cases to be distinguished; the first, if we unite our forces against a part of the enemy’s and oppose none to the rest of his Army; the second, if we oppose to the remaining part a small force merely to occupy it. Each is plainly a concentration of forces in space.
(475) The first of these questions, viz., how large a part of the enemy’s force must we necessarily engage, is evidently the same as to how small can we make the width of our front? We have already discussed that subject in No. 433 and following.
(476) In order the better to explain the subject in the second case, we shall begin by supposing the enemy to be as positive and active as ourselves; it follows in such case that if we take steps to beat the smaller portion of his Army with the larger fraction of our own, he will do the same on his side.
(477) Therefore, if we would have the total result in our favour, we must so arrange that the part of the enemy’s Army which we mean to defeat shall bear a greater proportion to his whole force than the portion of our force which we risk losing bears to the whole of our Army.
(478) If, for instance, we would employ in the principal action three-fourths of our force, and use one-fourth for the occupation of that part of the enemy’s Army not attacked, then the portion of the enemy’s Army which we engage seriously should exceed one-fourth, should be about one-third. In this case, if the result is for us on one side, and against us on the other, still, with three-fourths of our force, we have beaten one-third of the enemy’s; whilst he, with two-thirds of his, has only conquered one-fourth of ours—the advantage is, therefore, manifestly in our favour.
(479) If we are so superior to the enemy in numbers that three-fourths of our force is sufficient to ensure us a victory over half of his, then the total result would be still more to our advantage.
(480) The stronger we are in numbers relatively the greater may be that portion of the enemy’s force which we engage seriously, and the greater will then be the result. The weaker we are, the smaller must be the portion seriously attacked, which is in accordance with the natural law, that the weak should concentrate his forces the most.
(481) But, in all this, it is tacitly supposed that the enemy is occupied as long in beating our weak division as we are in completing our victory over the larger portion of his force. Should this not be so, and that there is a considerable difference in time, then he might still be able to use a further part of his troops against our principal force.
(482) But now, as a rule, a victory is gained quicker in proportion as the inequality between the contending forces is greater; hence, we cannot make the force which we risk losing as small as we please; it must bear a reasonable proportion to the enemy’s force, which it is to keep occupied. Concentration has, therefore, limits on the weaker side.
(483) The supposition made in No. 476, is, however, very seldom realised. Usually, a part of the defender’s force is tied to some locality, so that he is not able to use the lex talionis as quickly as is necessary; when that is the case, the assailant, in concentrating his forces, may even somewhat exceed the above proportion, and, if he can beat one-third of the enemy’s force with two-thirds of his, there is still a probability of success for him in the total result, because the remaining one-third of his force will hardly get into difficulty to an equal degree.
(484) But it would be wrong to go further with this train of reasoning, and draw the conclusion, that if the defensive took no positive action at all against the weaker portion of the assailant’s force (a case which very often happens), victory would likewise follow in that case also in favour of the assailant; for, in cases in which the party attacked does not seek to indemnify himself on the weaker portion of the enemy’s force, his chief reason for not doing so is because he has still the means of making the victory of our principal force doubtful, by bringing into action against it a portion of that part of his Army which has not been attacked.
(485) The smaller the portion of the enemy’s force which we attack, the more possible this becomes, partly on account of spaces and distance being less, partly, and more especially, because the moral power of victory over a smaller mass is so very much less; if the mass of the enemy’s force which is conquered is small, he does not so soon lose head and heart to apply his still remaining means to the work of restoration.
(486) It is only if the enemy is in such a position that he is neither able to do the one nor the other—that is, neither to indemnify himself by a positive victory over our weaker portion, nor to bring forward his spare forces to oppose the principal attack, or if irresolution prevents his doing so—that then the assailant can hope to conquer him with even a relatively very small force, by means of concentration.
(487) Theory must not, however, leave it to be inferred that it is the defender only who is subject to the disadvantage of not being able to indemnify himself properly for the concentration of forces made by his adversary; it has also to point out that either of the two parties, either the assailant or the defender, may be involved in such a situation.
(488) The assemblage of forces more than are proportionate at some one point, in order to be superior in numbers at that point is, in point of fact, always founded on the hope of surprising the enemy, so that he shall neither have time to bring up sufficient forces to the spot nor to set on foot measures of retaliation. The hope of the surprise succeeding, founds itself essentially on the resolution being the earliest made, that is on the initiative.
(489) But this advantage of the initiative has also again its disadvantage, of which more will be said hereafter; we merely remark here, that it is no absolute advantage, the effects of which must show themselves in all cases.
(490) But if we even leave out of consideration the grounds for the success of an intended surprise which are contained in the initiative, so that no objective motive remains, and that success has nothing on its side but luck, still, even that is not to be rejected in theory, for War is a game from which it is impossible to exclude venture. It, therefore, remains allowable, in the absence of all other motives, to concentrate a part of our forces on a venture, in the hope of surprising the enemy with them.
(491) If the surprise succeeds on either side, whether it be the offensive or defensive side which succeeds, there will follow a certain inability on the part of the force surprised to redress itself by a retaliatory stroke.
(492) As yet we have been engaged in the consideration of the proportions of the part or point to be attacked, we now come to its position.
(493) If we leave out every local and other particular circumstance, then we can only distinguish the wings, flanks, rear and centre, as points which have peculiarities of their own.
(494) The wings, because there we may turn the enemy’s force.
(495) The flanks, because we may expect to fight them upon a spot on which the enemy is not prepared, and to impede his retreat.
(496) The rear, just the same as the flanks, only that the expectation of obstructing or completely intercepting his retreat is here more predominant.
(497) But in this action against flanks and rear, the supposition is necessarily implied that we can compel the enemy to oppose forces to us there; when we are not certain that our appearance there will have this effect, the measure becomes dangerous: for where there is no enemy to attack, we are inactive, and if this is the case with the principal body, we should undoubtedly miss our object.
(498) Such a case as that of an enemy uncovering his flanks and rear certainly occurs very rarely, still it does happen, and most easily, when the enemy indemnifies himself by offensive counter-enterprises (Wagram, Hohenlinden, Austerlitz, are examples which may be quoted here).
(499) The attack of the centre (by which we understand nothing else than a part of the front, which is not a wing), has this property, that it may lead to a separation of parts which is commonly termed breaking the line.
(500) Breaking the line is plainly the opposite of envelopment. Both measures, in the event of victory, have a very destructive effect on the enemy’s forces, but each in a different manner, that is:
(a) Envelopment contributes to the certainty of the result, by its moral effect in lowering the courage of the enemy’s troops.
(b) Breaking the centre contributes to ensure success by enabling us to keep our forces more united together. We have already treated of both.
(c) The envelopment may lead directly to the destruction of the enemy’s Army, if it is made with very superior numbers, and succeeds. If it leads to victory, the early results are in every case greater by that means than by breaking the enemy’s line.
(d) Breaking the enemy’s line can only lead indirectly to the destruction of his Army, and its effects are hardly shown so much on the first day, but rather strategically afterwards.
(501) The breaking through the enemy’s Army by massing our principal force against one point, supposes an excessive length of front on the part of the enemy; for in this form of attack the difficulty of occupying the remainder of the enemy’s force with few troops is greater, because the enemy’s forces nearest to the principal attack may easily join in opposing it. Now, in an attack on the centre, there are such forces on both sides; in an attack on a flank, only on one side.
(502) The consequence of this is, that such a central attack may easily end in a very disadvantageous form of combat, through a convergent counter-attack.
(503) The choice, therefore, between these two points of attack must be made according to the existing relations of the moment. Length of front, the nature and direction of the line of retreat, the military qualities of the enemy’s troops and characteristics of their General, lastly, the ground must determine the choice. We shall consider these subjects more fully in the sequel.
(504) We have supposed the concentration of forces at one point for the real attack; but it may, no doubt, also take place at several points, at two or three, without ceasing to be a concentration of forces against a part of the enemy’s force. At the same time, no doubt, by every increase in the number of points the strength of the principal is weakened.
(505) As yet we have only taken into view the objective advantages of such a concentration, that is, a more favourable relation of force at the capital point; but there is also a subjective motive for the Commander or General, which is, that he keeps the principal parts of his force more in hand.
(506) Although in a battle, the will of the General and his intelligence conduct the whole, still this will and this intelligence can only reach the lower ranks much diluted, and the further the troops are from the General-in-Chief the more will this be the case; the importance and independence of subordinates then increase, and that at the expense of the supreme will.
(507) But it is both natural, and as long as no anomaly arises also advantageous, that the Commander-in-Chief should retain direct control to the utmost extent which circumstances will allow.
(508) In respect to the application of forces in combat, we have now exhausted everything which can be deduced generally from the nature of those forces.
(509) We have only one subject still to examine, which is the reciprocal action of the plans and acts of the two sides.
(510) As the plan of combat, properly so called, can only determine so much of the action as can be foreseen, it limits itself usually to three things, viz.:—
(511) Nothing but the commencement can in reality be laid down completely by the plan: the progress demands new arrangements and orders, proceeding from circumstances: these are the conduct of the battle.
(512) Naturally, it is desirable that the principles of the plan should be followed in the conduct, for means and end always remain the same; therefore, if it cannot always be done, we can only look upon that as an imperfection which cannot be avoided.
(513) The conduct of a battle is undeniably a very different thing to making a plan for one. The latter is done out of the region of danger, and in perfect leisure; the former always takes place under the pressure of the moment. The plan always decides things from a more elevated standpoint, with a wider sphere of vision: the conduct is regulated by, indeed is often forcibly carried away by, that which is the nearest and most individual. We shall speak hereafter of the difference in the character of these two functions of the intelligence, but here we leave them out of consideration, and content ourselves with having drawn a line between them as distinct epochs.
(514) If we imagine both parties in this situation, that neither of them knows anything of the dispositions of his opponent, then each of them can only make his own conformably with the general principles of theory. A great part of this lies already in the formation, and in the so-called elementary tactics of an Army, which are naturally founded only on what is general.
(515) But it is evident that a disposition which only rests upon that which is general can never have the same efficacy with that which is built upon individual circumstances.
(516) Consequently, it must be a very great advantage to combine our dispositions after the enemy, and with reference to those of the enemy, it is the advantage of the second hand at cards.
(517) Seldom, if ever, is a battle arranged without special regard to individual circumstances. The first circumstance, of which there must always be some knowledge, is the ground.
(518) In knowledge of the ground the defender has the advantage in general in an especial degree; for he alone knows exactly and beforehand the spot on which the battle is to take place; and, therefore, has time to examine the locality fully. Here is the root of the whole theory of positions, in as far as it belongs to tactics.
(519) The assailant, certainly, also examines the ground before the fight commences, but only imperfectly, for the defender is in possession of it, and does not allow him to make a full examination everywhere. Whatever he can, in some measure, ascertain from a distance, serves him to lay down his plan.
(520) If the defender, besides the advantage of the mere knowledge of the ground, makes another use of it—if he makes use of it for local defence—the result is a more or less definite disposition of his forces in detail; by that means his adversary may find out his plans, and take them into account in making his own.
(521) This is, therefore, the first calculation made on the enemy’s actual moves.
(522) In most cases this is to be regarded as the stage at which the plans of both parties end; that which takes place subsequently belongs to the conduct.
(523) In combats in which neither of the two parties can be considered as really the defender, because both advance to the encounter, formation, order of battle, and elementary tactics (as regular disposition somewhat modified by ground) come in in place of a plan properly so called.
(524) This happens very frequently with small bodies, seldom with large masses.
(525) But if action is divided into attack and defence, then the assailant, as far as respects reciprocal action, has evidently the advantage at the stage mentioned in No. 522. It is true that he has assumed the initiative, but his opponent, by his defensive dispositions, has been obliged to disclose, in great part, what he means to do.
(526) This is the ground on which, in theory, the attack has been hitherto considered as by far the most advantageous form of combat.
(527) But to regard the attack as the most advantageous, or, to use a more distinct expression, as the strongest form of combat, leads to an absurdity, as we shall show hereafter. This has been overlooked.
(528) The error in the conclusion arises from overvaluing the advantage mentioned in No. 525. That advantage is important in connection with the reciprocal action, but that is not everything. To be able to make use of the ground as an ally, and thereby, to a certain extent, to increase our forces, is in very many cases of greater importance, and might be, in most cases, with proper dispositions.*
(529) But wrong use of ground (very extended positions) and a false system of defence (pure passivity) have no doubt given to the advantage which the assailant has of keeping his measures in the background an undue importance, and to these errors alone the attack is indebted for the successes which it obtains in practice, beyond the natural measure of its efficacy.
(530) As the influence of the intelligence is not confined to the plan properly so called, we must pursue our examination of the reciprocal action through the province of the conduct.
(531) The course or duration of the battle is the province of the conduct of the battle; but this duration is greater in proportion as the successive use of forces is more employed.
(532) Therefore, where much depends on the conduct, there must be a great depth in the order of battle.
(533) Now arises the question whether it is better to trust more to the plan or to the conduct.
(534) It were evidently absurd knowingly to leave unexamined any datum which may come to hand, or to leave it out of account in our deliberations, if it has any value as regards the proposed course of action. But that is as much as to say that the plan should prescribe the course of action as far as there are available data, and that the field of the conduct is only to commence where the plan no longer suffices. The conduct is therefore only a substitute for a plan, and so far is to be regarded as a necessary evil.
(535) But let it be quite understood, we are only speaking of plans for which there are real motives. Dispositions which have necessarily an individual tendency must not be founded upon arbitrary hypothesis, but upon regular data.
(536) Where, therefore, data are wanting, there the fixed dispositions of the plan should cease, for it is plainly better that a thing should remain undetermined, that is, be placed under the care of general principles, than that it should be determined in a manner not adapted to circumstances which subsequently arise.
(537) Every plan which enters too much into the detail of the course of the combat is therefore faulty and ruinous, for detail does not depend merely on general grounds, but on other particulars which it is impossible to know beforehand.
(538) When we reflect how the influence of single circumstances (accidental as well as others) increases with time and space, we may see how it is that very wide and complex movements seldom succeed, and that they often lead to disaster.
(539) Here lies the chief cause of the danger of all very complex and elaborate plans of battles. They are all founded, often without its being known, on a mass of insignificant suppositions, a great part of which prove inexact.
(540) In place of unduly extending the plan, it is better to leave rather more to the conduct.
(541) But this supposes (according to 532) a deep order of battle, that is, strong reserves.
(542) We have seen (525) that as respects reciprocal action, the attack reaches furthest in his plan.
(543) On the other hand, the defensive, through (knowledge of) the ground, has many reasons to determine beforehand the course of his combat, that is, to enter far into his plan.
(544) Were we to stop at this point of view, we should say that the plans of the defensive reach much further than those of the offensive; and that, therefore, the latter leaves much more to the conduct.
(545) But this advantage of the defensive only exists in appearance, not in reality. We must be careful not to forget that the dispositions which relate to the ground are only preparatory measures founded upon suppositions, not upon any actual measures of the enemy.
(546) It is only because these suppositions are in general very probable, and only when they are so, that they, as well as the dispositions based on them, have any real value.
(547) But this condition attaching to the suppositions of the defender, and the measures which he therefore adopts, naturally limits these very much, and compels him to be very circumspect in his plans and dispositions.
(548) If he has gone too far with them, the assailant may slip away, and then there is on the spot a dead power, that is, a waste of power.
(549) Such may be the effect of positions which are too extended, and the too frequent use of local defence.
(550) Both these very errors have often shown the injury to the defender from an undue extension of his plan, and the advantage which the offensive may derive from a rational extension of his.
(551) Only very strong positions give the plans of the defensive more scope than the plan of the assailant can have, but they must be positions which are strong in every point of view.
(552) On the other hand, in proportion as the position available is only indifferently good, or that no suitable one is to be found, or that time is wanting to prepare one, in the same measure will the defender remain behind the assailant in the determination of his plans, and have to trust the more to the conduct.
(553) This result therefore shows again that it is the defender who must more particularly look to the successive use of forces.
(554) We have seen before that only large masses can have the advantage of a narrow front, and we may now perceive additional motives for the defender to guard himself against the danger of an undue extension of his plan—a ruinous scattering of his forces on account of the nature of the ground—and further that he should place his security in the aid which lies in the conduct, that is, in strong reserves.
(555) From this the evident deduction is, that the relation of the defence to the attack improves in proportion as the masses increase.
(556) Duration of the combat, that is, strong reserves, and the successive use of them as much as possible, constitute, therefore, the first condition in the conduct; and the advantage in these things must bring with it superiority in the conduct apart from the talent of him who applies them; for the highest talent cannot be brought into full play without means, and we may very well imagine that the one who is less skilful, but has the most means at command, gains the upper hand in the course of the combat.
(557) Now, there is still a second objective condition which confers in general an advantage in the conduct, and this is quite on the side of the defensive: it is the acquaintance with the country. What advantage this must give when resolutions are required which must be made without examination, and in the pressure of events, is evident in itself.
(558) It lies in the nature of things that the determinations of the plan concern more the divisions of higher order, and those of the conduct more the inferior ones; consequently that each single determination of the latter is of lesser importance; but as these latter are naturally much more numerous, the difference in importance between plan and conduct is by that means partly balanced.
(559) Further, it lies in the nature of the thing that reciprocal action has its own special field in the conduct: and also that it never ceases there because the two parties are in sight of each other; and consequently that it either causes or modifies the greatest part of the dispositions.
(560) Now, if the defender is specially led by his interest to save up forces for the conduct (No. 553), if he has a general advantage in their use (No. 557), it follows that he can, by superiority in the conduct, not only make good the disadvantage in which he is placed by the reciprocal action out of the plans, but also attain a superiority in the reciprocal action generally.
(561) Whatever may be the relation in this respect between the opposing parties, in particular cases, up to a certain point there will always be an endeavour to be the last to take measures, in order to be able, when doing so, to take those of the enemy into account.
(562) This endeavour is the real ground of the much stronger reserves which are brought into use in large Armies in modern times.
(563) We have no hesitation in saying that in this means there is, next to ground, the best principle of defence for all considerable masses.
Character of Command
(564) We have said that there is a difference between the character of the determinations which form the plan and those which form the conduct of a battle: the cause of this is, that the circumstances under which the intelligence does its work are different.
(565) This difference of circumstances consists in three things in particular, namely, in the want of data, in the want of time, and in danger.
(566) Things which, had we a complete view of the situation, and of all the great interrelations, would be to us of primary importance, may not be so if that complete view is wanting; other things, therefore, and, as a matter of course, circumstances more distinct, then become predominant.
(567) Consequently, if the plan of a combat is more a geometrical drawing, then the conduct (or command) is more a perspective one; the former is more a ground plan, the latter more of a picture. How this defect may be repaired we shall see hereafter.
(568) The want of time, besides limiting our ability to make a general survey of objects, has also an influence on the power of reflection. It is less a judicial, deliberative, critical judgment than mere tact; that is, a readiness of judgment acquired by practice, which is then effective. This we must also bear in mind.
(569) That the immediate feeling of danger (to ourselves and others) should influence the bare understanding is in human nature.
(570) If, then, the judgment of the understanding is in that way fettered and weakened, where can it fly to for support?—Only to courage.
(571) Here, plainly, courage of a two-fold kind is requisite: courage not to be overpowered by personal danger, and courage to calculate upon the uncertain, and upon that to frame a course of action.
(572) The second is usually called courage of the mind (courage d’esprit); for the first there is no name which satisfies the law of antithesis, because the other term just mentioned is not itself correct.
(573) If we ask ourselves what is courage in its original sense, it is personal sacrifice in danger; and from this point we must also start, for upon it everything rests at last.
(574) Such a feeling of devotion may proceed from two sources of quite different kinds; first, from indifference to danger, whether it proceeds from the organism of the individual, indifference to life, or habituation to danger; and secondly, from a positive motive—love of glory, love of country, enthusiasm of any kind.
(575) The first only is to be regarded as true courage which is inborn, or has become second nature; and it has this characteristic, that it is completely identified with the being, therefore never fails.
(576) It is different with the courage which springs from positive feelings. These place themselves in opposition to the impressions of danger, and therefore all depends naturally on their relation to the same. There are cases in which they are far more powerful than indifference to the sense of danger; there are others in which it is the most powerful. The one (indifference to danger) leaves the judgment cool, and leads to stedfastness; the other (feeling) makes men more enterprising, and leads to boldness.
(577) If with such positive impulses the indifference to danger is combined, there is, then, the most complete personal courage.
(578) The courage we have as yet been considering is something quite subjective, it relates merely to personal sacrifice, and may, on that account, be called personal courage.
(579) But, now, it is natural that any one who places no great value on the sacrifice of his own person will not rate very high the offering up of others (who, in consequence of his position, are made subject to his will). He looks upon them as property which he can dispose of just like his own person.
(580) In like manner, he who through some positive feeling is drawn into danger, will either infuse this feeling into others or think himself justified in making them subservient to his feelings.
(581) In both ways courage gets an objective sphere of action. It both stimulates self-sacrifice and influences the use of the forces made subject to it.
(582) When courage has excluded from the mind all over-vivid impressions of danger, it acts on the faculties of the understanding. These become free, because they are no longer under the pressure of anxiety.
(583) But it will certainly not create powers of understanding, where they have no existence, still less will it beget discernment.
(584) Therefore, where there is a want of understanding and of discernment, courage may often lead to very wrong measures.
(585) Of quite another origin is that courage which has been termed courage of the mind. It springs from a conviction of the necessity of venturing, or even from a superior judgment to which the risk appears less than it does to others.
(586) This conviction may also spring up in men who have no personal courage; but it only becomes courage, that is to say, it only becomes a power which supports the man and keeps up his equanimity under the pressure of the moment and of danger, when it reacts on the feelings, awakens and elevates their nobler powers; but on this account the expression, courage of the mind, is not quite correct, for it never springs from the intelligence itself. But that the mind may give rise to feelings, and that these feelings, by the continued influence of the thinking faculties, may be intensified every one knows by experience.
(587) Whilst, on the one hand, personal courage supports, and, by that means, heightens the powers of the mind, on the other hand, the conviction of the mind awakens and animates the emotional powers; the two approach each other, and may combine, that is, produce one and the same result in command. This, however, seldom happens. The manifestations of courage have generally something of the character of their origin.
(588) When great personal courage is united to high intelligence, then the command must naturally be nearest to perfection.
(589) The courage proceeding from convictions of the reason is naturally connected chiefly with the incurring of risks in reliance on uncertain things and of good fortune, and has less to do with personal danger; for the latter cannot easily become a cause of much intellectual activity.
(590) We see, therefore, that in the conduct of the combat, that is, in the tumult of the moment and of danger, the feeling powers support the mind, and the latter must awaken the powers of feeling.
(591) Such a lofty condition of soul is requisite if the judgment, without a full view, without leisure, under the most violent pressure of passing events, is to make resolutions which shall hit the right point. This may be called military talent.
(592) If we consider a combat with its mass of great and small branches, and the actions proceeding from these, it strikes us at once that the courage which proceeds from personal devotion predominates in the inferior region, that is, rules more over the secondary branches, the other, more over the higher.
(593) The further we descend the order of this distribution, so much the simpler becomes the action, therefore the more nearly common sense becomes all that is required, but so much the greater becomes the personal danger, and consequently personal courage is so much the more required.
(594) The higher we ascend in this order, the more important and the more fraught with consequences becomes the action of individuals, because the subjects decided by individuals are more or less those on which the whole is dependent. From this it follows that the power of taking a general and comprehensive view is the more required.
(595) Now certainly the higher position has always a wider horizon—overlooks the whole much better than a lower one; still the most commanding view which can be obtained in a high position in the course of an action is insufficient, and it is therefore, also, chiefly there where so much must be done by tact of judgment, and in reliance on good fortune.
(596) This becomes always more the characteristic of the command as the combat advances, for as the combat advances, the condition of things deviates so much the further from the first state with which we were acquainted.
(597) The longer the combat has lasted, the more accidents (that is, events not calculated upon) have taken place in it; therefore the more everything has loosened itself from the bonds of regularity, the more everything appears disorderly and confused here and there.
(598) But the further the combat is advanced, the more the decisions begin to multiply themselves, the faster they follow in succession, the less time remains for consideration.
(599) Thus it happens that by degrees even the higher branches—especially at particular points and moments—are drawn into the vortex, where personal courage is worth more than reflection, and constitutes almost everything.
(600) In this way in every combat the combinations exhaust themselves gradually, and at last it is almost courage alone which continues to fight and act.
(601) We see, therefore, that it is courage, and intelligence elevated by it, which have to overcome the difficulties that oppose themselves to the execution of command. How far they can do so or not is not the question, because the adversary is in the same situation; our errors and mistakes, therefore, in the majority of cases, will be balanced by his. But that which is an important point is that we should not be inferior to the adversary in courage and intelligence, but above all things in the first.
(602) At the same time there is still one quality which is here of great importance: it is the tact of judgment. This is not purely an inborn talent; it is chiefly practice which familiarises us with facts and appearances, and makes the discovery of the truth, therefore a right judgment, almost habitual. Herein consists the chief value of experience in War, as well as the great advantage which it gives an Army.
(603) Lastly, we have still to observe that, if circumstances in the conduct of War always invest what is near with an undue importance over that which is higher or more remote, this imperfect view of things can only be compensated for by the Commander, in the uncertainty as to whether he has done right, seeking to make his action at least decisive. This will be done if he strives to realise all the possible results which can be derived from it. In this manner the whole (of the action), which should always if possible be conducted from a high standpoint, where such a point cannot be attained, will at least be carried in some certain direction from a secondary point.
We shall try to make this plainer by an illustration. When in the tempest of a great battle a General of Division is thrown out of his connection with the general plan, and is uncertain whether he should still risk an attack or not, then if he resolves upon making an attack, in doing so the only way to feel satisfied, both as regards his own action and the whole battle, is by striving not merely to make his attack successful, but also to obtain such a success as will repair any reverse which may have in the meantime occurred at other points.
(604) Such a course of action is called in a restricted sense resolute. The view, therefore, which we have here given—namely, that chance can only be governed in this manner—leads to resolution, which prevents any half-measures, and is the most brilliant quality in the conduct of a great battle.
[* ]Curiously in 1866 the Prussians marched nearly twice as fast as the Austrians, in 1870 nearly three times faster day for day as the French. This superior mobility in both instances conditioned their success. The French had forgotten the secret of marching. The Prussians had learnt it.—Editor.
[* ]The field telegraph and signalling have of course, modified all this.
[* ]The modern quick-fiiring battery of four guns can deliver easily 8000 bullets a minute, and occupies forty yards of front, a battalion of 800 men in line takes roughly 400 yards, and can deliver about the same number of bullets.
[* ]To bring these ideas up to date, all that is necessary is to multiply the number of guns and distances by ten—in the form of the battle—there is no material change. Modern cavalry can cover ten times the distance at speed as when Clausewitz wrote.—Editor.
[* ]Modern practice has altered this. Nothing serves better to hamper unity of command in attacking troops than small woods, whose exits are under close fire from the defender’s position.—Editor.
[* ]This was the British practice in the Peninsula and at Waterloo, At Ligny the Prussians stood on the enemy’s side of the hill. Wellington, seeing this from Bry, said, “Old Blücher will get most damnably mauled.”—Editor.
[* ]This no longer holds good. At St. Privat the Prussians attacking across the open carried the position, at Gravelotte the ground being intersected they failed completely. Unity of command is more essential than cover from fire.—Editor.
[* ]Clausewitz might have added Cromwell, who certainly had had no previous military education, yet even German critics admit that both as a tactician and strategist he was two centuries ahead of his time.—Editor.
[* ]To serve as an elucidation of chap. v. of Book V.
[* ]The command is the true base of division. If a Field-Marshal commands 100,000 men, of which 50,000 are under the orders of a General specially designated, whilst the Field-Marshal in person conducts the other 50,000, formed in five Divisions, a case which often happens, the whole is not in reality divided in two parts, but into six, only that one of them is five times as large as the others.
[* ]See chap. xii. Book III.—Tr.
[* ]This passage should read thus: If “out of a body of 1000 men, 500 have been placed in reserve, and the remaining 500 men,” &c.—Editor.
[* ]Done hand over head.—Trans.
[* ]This again shows that Clausewitz had not grasped the spirit of Napoleon’s conduct of the battle. His express object was, to limit these unpredictable contingencies by compelling his adversary to expend his reserves prematurely.—Editor.
[* ]Note the result of increased range of armament—the range being 1500 yards, eighty battalions could converge their fire on the single one, similarly for artillery. The principle remains unaltered, only its scope is intensified.—Editor.
[* ]Apply the above reasoning to the Boer War, 1900. We were trying to establish the point where this equilibrium set in by experiment. Had we known what we were really trying to discover, we should have found it sooner and at less cost.—Editor.
[* ]Yet even in 1870, Batteries were frequently crowded out of line. Nowadays they will often only find room by deployment one behind the other.—Editor.
[* ]It is clear from all the above that Clausewitz had never contemplated the possibility of a whole Army possessing a great superiority (two- or three-fold) in mobility over its adversary. Neither has the idea come home as yet to any modern writer on tactics. This indicates the direction our reformers should take. A twofold superiority in tactical mobility would upset every tactical prescription in existence, precisely as our methods were upset by Boer mobility in South Africa.
[* ]The enormous increase in range, especially of artillery, has altered this relation materially. Roughly the Attack has gained as the square of the ranges. The Defence has gained only as the range.—Editor.