Ambush - an opponent usually involves surprise.
An ambush is a long established military tactic in which an ambushing force uses concealment to attack an enemy that passes its position. Ambushers strike from concealed positions such as among dense underbrush or behind hilltops. Ambushes have been used consistently throughout history, from ancient to modern warfare. An ambush predator is an animal who uses similar tactics to capture prey without the difficulty and wasted energy of a chase.
In modern warfare, an ambush is most often employed by ground troops up to platoon size against enemy targets which may be other ground troops or possibly vehicles. However in some situations especially ones deep behind enemy lines, although the actual attack will be carried out by a platoon, a company-sized unit will be deployed to support the attack group, setting up and maintaining a forward patrol harbour from which the attacking force will deploy and to which they will retire after the attack. During ancient warfare, an ambush often might involve thousands of soldiers on a large scale, such as over a mountain pass.
Ambushes are complex multi-phase operations and are therefore usually planned in some detail. First a suitable “killing zone” is identified. This is the place where the ambush will be laid. It is generally a place where enemy units are expected to pass, and which gives reasonable cover for the deployment, execution, and extraction phases of the ambush patrol. A path along a wooded valley floor would be a stereotypical example.
Ambush can be described geometrically as:
Linear, when a number of firing units are equally distant from the linear kill zone.
L-shaped, when a short leg of firing units are placed to enfilade the sides of the linear kill zone
V-shaped, when the firing units are distant from the kill zone at end that the enemy enters, so the firing units lay down band of intersecting and interlocking fire. This ambush is normally triggered only when the enemy is well into the kill zone. The intersecting bands of fire stop any attempt to move out of the kill zone.
To be successful an ambush patrol must deploy into the area covertly, ideally under the cover of darkness. The patrol will establish secure and covert positions overlooking the killing zone. Usually, two or more “cut-off” groups will be sent out a short distance from the main ambushing group into similarly covert positions. Their job is twofold; first to give the ambush commander early warning of the approaching enemy (usually by radio or cellphone), and second, when the ambush is initiated, to prevent any enemies from escaping. Another group will cover the front and rear of the ambush position (blocking force) and thus give all round defence to the ambush patrol.
Care must be taken by the ambush commander to ensure that fire from any weapon cannot inadvertently hit any other friendly unit.
Having set the ambush, the next phase is to wait. This could be for a few hours or a few days depending on the tactical and supply situation. It is obviously much harder for an ambush patrol to remain covert and alert if sentry rosters, shelter, sleeping, sanitary arrangements, food and water, have to be considered, so this should be done in a patrol harbour away from the site chosen for the ambush. Ambush patrols will almost always have to be self-sufficient as re-supply would not be possible without compromising their covert position.
The arrival of an enemy in the area should be signalled by one of the cut-off units. This may be done by radio or by some other signal, but the enemy must not detect the signal. If radio silence is necessary the pre-electronic expedient of a cord linking the groups, tugged once or twice as a signal, may be employed. The ambush commander will have given a clear instruction for initiating the ambush. This might be a burst from an automatic weapon, use of an explosive device (such as a Claymore mine or other directional weapon), or possibly a simple whistle blast. In US practice, whistles are not favored since they do nothing to inflict damage on the enemy. The ambush commander may judge when the ambush will be most effective and give the signal manually, or the ambush patrol may rely on tripwire or pressure-detonated mines in the kill zone to initiate firing.
Against vehicles, the lead and rear vehicles are the primary targets; this traps the remaining vehicles in the kill zone for as long as possible. Targets are prioritised to rapidly destroy the target's unit cohesion. It is vital to obtain fire superiority as rapidly as possible to prevent enemy counter-ambush tactics from being executed. The order of priorities against an enemy infantry unit is the enemy radio operator (in the past identified by the whip aerial of the backpack radio unit such as the British Army's Clansman system), the enemy's unit commander (a more difficult task today when officers and NCOs are dressed and armed in an identical manner to the rest of the infantry squad), and the platoon or section machine-gunner
After the firefight has been won, the now compromised ambush patrol must leave the area as soon as it is practical to do so. In hit and run operations, especially against superior numbers and forces, the ambush force will begin disengaging even before the firefight has been won.
In the past, accepted protocol was to check bodies for intelligence, take prisoners, and treat any wounded enemy. Once this was accomplished the ambush patrol would leave then exfiltrate the area by a pre-determined route.
If time has allowed, the ambush force will have prepared their exit, for example placing land mines to cover their retreat, the members of the force making and following a safe route through the mines. If possible a subsidiary ambush may be planned along the exit route to catch pursuing troops, and if available the egress may be covered by mortar or artillery fire.
By definition, the ambush contains the element of total surprise, which means the victims of the ambush have no knowledge of how it has been constructed, or what measures may have been employed to prevent escape. Therefore—and this has been proven by the experience of war—the only sure method of survival is withdrawal from the killing zone “the way you came in.” All other routes out of the killing zone may be blocked, and in a very well-planned and well-executed ambush, even the “back door” will have been closed by the time the ambush is sprung. The military doctrines are “to attack the ambush,” but this is very likely to have been anticipated by the ones who set the ambush, and often plays into their hands. The value of withdrawal is the preservation of the force to “fight another day,” when not taken by surprise.
The best way to survive an ambush is not to run in to them, in order for this to happen movement must not be predictable in timing or route, avoiding the most obvious routes. Rather than moving at a constant speed and direction, the patrol should vary these, with occasional stops to observe both the route ahead and changes behind. Units should move in such a way that they are close enough together for mutual support but far enough apart that one burst of automatic fire will not take out the entire unit. When on foot if possible the patrol should move in such a way to maximise their firepower, for example the arrowhead and spearhead formation, they should not allow themselves to be skylined. Units on foot should have a point man some way ahead of the main body and if possible a rearguard as well. Those travelling in vehicles follow the same procedures with lead and trailing vehicles ahead and behind the main body of vehicles.
In the modern day warfare, this is a lot easier than before, since a route can be sanitized beforehand by aerial assets and any obvious ambush sites noted and counter measures takes. In Afghanistan Hind gunships were used to locate concentrations of Mujahideen and then these would be attacked by the Hinds themselves or by artillery using the aircraft as spotters.
Blitzkrieg - A bombardment immediately followed by a lightning swift attack by mobile forces, named after the German World War II strategy.
Blitzkrieg (Lightning War) is a popular name for an offensive operational-level military doctrine which involves an initial bombardment followed by the employment of motorized mobile forces attacking with speed and surprise to prevent an enemy from implementing a coherent defense. The founding principles of these types of operations were developed in the 20th century by various nations, and adapted in the years after World War I, largely by the German Wehrmacht, to incorporate modern weapons and vehicles as a method to help avoid the stalemate of trench warfare and linear warfare in future conflicts. The first practical implementations of these concepts coupled with modern technology were instituted by the Wehrmacht in the opening theatres of World War II.
The strategy was particularly effective in the invasions of Western Europe and initial operations in the Soviet Union. These operations were dependent on surprise penetrations, general enemy unpreparedness and an inability to react swiftly enough to German offensive operations.
The generally accepted definition of blitzkrieg operations include the use of manoeuvre rather than attrition to defeat an opponent, and describe operations using combined arms, concentration of mobile assets at a focal point, armour closely supported by mobile infantry, artillery, and close air support assets. These tactics required sheer speed, specialized support vehicles, new methods of communication, new tactics, and an effective decentralized command structure. Broadly speaking, blitzkrieg operations required the development of mechanized infantry, self-propelled artillery and engineering assets that could maintain the rate of advance of fast tanks. German forces avoided direct combat in favor of interrupting an enemy's communications, decision-making, logistics and morale. In combat, blitzkrieg left little choice for the slower defending forces but to clump into defensive pockets that were encircled and then reduced by slower-moving German infantry reserves.
Once the point of attack was identified, the 'schwerpunkt' ('focus point', literally 'heavy point'), tactical bombers, and motorised artillery units struck at enemy defences. This avoided the setup time and revealing nature of field artillery. These bombardments were then followed by probing attacks to reveal defensive detail and allow the most effective employment of the main armoured spearhead and combined arms groups. The goals were the deepest possible penetration and minimal engagement, while avoiding an enemy counterattack. Once the main force broke through the designated strike area, motorized infantry would then fan out behind the armoured spearhead to capture or destroy any enemy forces encircled by panzer(tanks) and mechanised infantry units, and to prevent flanking attacks. Less mobile infantry were designated for "mopping up" operations or to participate in the initial breakthrough.
"Blitzkrieg" is a German compound literally meaning "lightning war", but in context "blitz[schnell]" is a synonym for rush, quick or fast (contrary to the "Stellungskrieg" or trench warfare). The word did not enter official terminology of the Wehrmacht either before or during the war, even though it was already used in the military Journal "Deutsche Wehr" in 1935, in the context of an article on how states with insufficient food and raw materials supply can win a war. Another appearance is in 1938 in the "Militär-Wochenblatt", where Blitzkrieg is defined as a "strategic attack", carried out by operational use of tanks, air force, and airborne troops. Karl-Heinz Frieser in his book Blitzkrieg-Legende, who researched the origin of the term and found the above examples, points out that the pre-war use of the term is rare and that it practically never entered official terminology throughout the war.
It was first popularised in the English-speaking world by the American newsmagazine TIME describing the 1939 German invasion of Poland. Published on September 25, 1939, well into the campaign, the account reads:
The battlefront got lost, and with it the illusion that there had ever been a battlefront. For this was no war of occupation, but a war of quick penetration and obliteration —Blitzkrieg, lightning war. Swift columns of tanks and armored trucks had plunged through Poland while bombs raining from the sky heralded their coming. They had sawed off communications, destroyed animals, scattered civilians, spread terror. Working sometimes 30 miles (50 km) ahead of infantry and artillery, they had broken down the Polish defenses before they had time to organize. Then, while the infantry mopped up, they had moved on, to strike again far behind what had been called the front.
Military historians have defined blitzkrieg as the employment of the concepts of maneuver and combined arms warfare developed in Germany during both the interwar period and the Second World War. Strategically, the ideal was to swiftly effect an adversary's collapse through a short campaign fought by a small, professional army. Operationally, its goal was to use indirect means, such as mobility and shock, to render an adversary's plans irrelevant or impractical. To do this, self-propelled formations of tanks; motorized infantry, engineers, artillery; and ground-attack aircraft operated as a combined-arms team. Historians have termed it a period form of the longstanding German principle of Bewegungskrieg, or movement war.
"Blitzkrieg" has since been extended to express multiple meanings in popular usage. From its original military definition, "blitzkrieg" may be applied to any military operation emphasizing the surprise, speed, or concentration stressed in accounts of the Invasion of Poland. During the war, the Luftwaffe terror bombings of London came to be known as The Blitz. Similarly, blitz has come to describe the "blitz" (rush) tactic of American football, and the blitz form of chess in which players are allotted very little time. Blitz or blitzkrieg is used in many other non-military contexts.
Blitzkrieg's immediate development began with Germany's defeat in the First World War. Shortly after the war, the new Reichswehr created committees, within the Truppenamt, of veteran officers to evaluate 57 issues of the war.
The reports of these committees formed doctrinal and training publications which were the standards by the time of the Second World War. The Reichswehr was influenced by its analysis of pre-war German military thought, in particular its infiltration tactics of the war, and the maneuver warfare which dominated the Eastern Front.
German military history had been influenced heavily by Carl von Clausewitz, Alfred von Schlieffen and von Moltke the Elder, who were proponents of maneuver, mass, and envelopment. Their concepts were employed in the successful Franco-Prussian War and attempted “knock-out blow” of the Schlieffen Plan. Following the war, these concepts were modified by the Reichswehr in the light of WWI experience. Its Chief of Staff, Hans von Seeckt, moved doctrine away from what he argued was an excessive focus on encirclement towards one based on speed. Speed gives surprise, surprise allows exploitation if decisions can be reached quickly and mobility gives flexibility and speed.
Von Seeckt advocated effecting breakthroughs against the enemy's centre when it was more profitable than encirclement or where encirclement was not practical. Under his command a modern update of the doctrinal system called “Bewegungskrieg” and its associated leadership system called “Auftragstaktik” was developed which resulted in the popularly known blitzkrieg effect. He additionally rejected the notion of mass which von Schlieffen and von Moltke had advocated. While reserves had comprised up to four-tenths of German forces in pre-war campaigns, von Seeckt sought the creation of a small, professional (volunteer) military backed by a defense-oriented militia. In modern warfare, he argued, such a force was more capable of offensive action, faster to ready, and less expensive to equip with more modern weapons. The Reichswehr was forced to adopt a small and professional army quite aside from any German plans, for the Treaty of Versailles limited it to 100,000 men.
Bewegungskrieg required a new command hierarchy that allowed military decisions to be made closer to the unit level. This allowed units to react and make effective decisions faster, which is a critical advantage and a major reason for the success of Blitzkrieg.
German leadership had also been criticized for failing to understand the technical advances of the First World War, having given tank production the lowest priority and having conducted no studies of the machine gun prior to that war.
In response, German officers attended technical schools during this period of rebuilding after the war.
Infiltration tactics invented by the German Army during the First World War became the basis for later tactics. German infantry had advanced in small, decentralised groups which bypassed resistance in favour of advancing at weak points and attacking rear-area communications. This was aided by co-ordinated artillery and air bombardments, and followed by larger infantry forces with heavy guns, which destroyed centres of resistance. These concepts formed the basis of the Wehrmacht's tactics during the Second World War.
On Eastern Front of World War I, combat did not bog down into trench warfare. German and Russian armies fought a war of maneuver over thousands of miles, giving the German leadership unique experience which the trench-bound Western Allies did not have.
Studies of operations in the East led to the conclusion that small and coordinated forces possessed more combat worth than large, uncoordinated forces.
During this period, all the war's major combatants developed mechanized force theories. The official doctrines of the Western Allies differed substantially from those of the Reichswehr. British, French, and American doctrines broadly favored a more prepared set-piece battle, using mechanized forces to maintain the impetus and momentum of an offensive. There was less emphasis on combined arms, deep penetration or concentration. In short, their philosophy was not too different from that which they had at the outset of World War 1. Early Reichswehr periodicals contained many translated works, though they were often not adopted. Technical advances in foreign countries were, however, observed and used in-part by the Weapons Office. Foreign doctrines are widely considered to have had little serious influence.
Col. Charles de Gaulle, in France, was a known advocate of concentration of armor and airplanes. His opinions were expressed in his book, “Vers l'Armee de Metier” (“Towards the professional army”). Like von Seeckt, he concluded that France could no longer maintain the huge armies of conscripts and reservists with which World War I had been fought, and sought to use tanks, mechanised forces and aircraft to allow a smaller number of highly trained soldiers to have greater impact in battle. His views little endeared him to the French high command, but are claimed by some to have influenced Heinz Guderian.
British theorists J.F.C. Fuller and Captain B. H. Liddell Hart have often been associated with blitzkrieg's development, though this is a matter of controversy. The British War Office did permit an Experimental Mechanised Force, formed on 1 May 1927, that was wholly motorized including self propelled artillery and motorised engineers.
It is argued that Guderian, a critical figure in blitzkrieg's conception, drew some of his inspiration from Liddell Hart. This was based on a paragraph in the English edition of Guderian's autobiography in which he credits Liddell Hart. In opposition, it is argued that Liddell Hart, as editor of the autobiography's English edition, wrote that paragraph himself or, more broadly, that his influence on Guderian was not as significant as held. The paragraph is missing in other language versions. Fuller's influence is clearly recognised by Guderian. During the war, he developed plans for massive, independent tank operations and was subsequently studied by the German leadership. It is variously argued that Fuller's wartime plans and post-war writings were an inspiration, or that his readership was low and German experiences during the war received more attention. The fact that the Germans saw themselves latterly as losers may be linked to the root and branch review, learn and rewrite of all Army doctrine and training manuals by senior and experienced officers, the UK's response was much weaker.
What is clear is the practical implementation of this doctrine in a wide and successful range of scenarios by Guderian and other Germans during the war. From early combined-arms river crossings and penetration exploitations during the advance in France in 1940 to massive sweeping advances in Russia in 1941, Guderian showed a mastery and innovation that inspired many others. This leadership was supported, fostered and institutionalised by his supporters in the Reichswehr General Staff system, which worked the Army to greater and greater levels of capability through massive and systematic Movement Warfare war games in the 1930s.
The Reichswehr and Red Army collaborated in war games and tests in Kazan and Lipetsk beginning in 1926. During this period, the Red Army was developing the theory of Deep operations, which would guide Red Army doctrine throughout World War II. Set within the Soviet Union, these two centers were used to field test aircraft and armored vehicles up to the battalion level, as well as housing aerial and armored warfare schools through which officers were rotated. This was done in the Soviet Union, in secret, to evade the Treaty of Versailles's occupational agent, the Inter-Allied Commission.
Some precursors of Blitzkrieg style were used in the First World War – most notably by General Alexei Brusilov in Russia's Brusilov Offensive of 1916 and Britain's General Allenby in the Battle of Megiddo in September 1918. Both relied on achieving surprise; Brusilov by merely omitting the usual clumsy preparations, Allenby by laboriously painting a false intelligence picture for the enemy commanders. Brusilov pioneered the use of infiltration by small groups of specially-picked infantry to dislocate enemy artillery and headquarters; the Germans themselves used a variation of such tactics in their 1918 Spring Offensive. Allenby used cavalry to seize railway and communication centres deep in the enemy rear, unhinging the entire defence, while aircraft disrupted enemy lines of communication and thwarted counter-moves.
A comparatively less-discussed development was the recognition by Allied industrial and political figures (rather than military leaders), that maintenance of momentum required new methods and equipment. Realising that armies based on horsed transport and relying on telephones for communications were not able to maintain an advance faster than the defenders could move reserves to a threatened sector and construct new defensive lines, the British Ministry of Munitions under Winston Churchill was seeking in 1918 to develop mechanical means of achieving this. They planned to construct large numbers of vehicles with cross-country mobility, but the war ended before their efforts bore fruit.
Following Germany's military reforms of the 1920s, Heinz Guderian emerged as a strong proponent of mechanized forces. Within the Inspectorate of Transport Troops, Guderian and colleagues performed theoretical and field exercise work. There was opposition from many officers who gave primacy to the infantry or simply doubted the usefulness of the tank. Among them was Chief of the General Staff Ludwig Beck (1935–38), who was skeptical that armored forces could be decisive. Nonetheless, the panzer divisions were established during his tenure.
Guderian argued that the tank was the decisive weapon of war. “If the tanks succeed, then victory follows”, he wrote. In an article addressed to critics of tank warfare, he wrote “until our critics can produce some new and better method of making a successful land attack other than self-massacre, we shall continue to maintain our beliefs that tanks—properly employed, needless to say—are today the best means available for land attack.” Addressing the faster rate at which defenders could reinforce an area than attackers could penetrate it during the First World War, Guderian wrote that “since reserve forces will now be motorized, the building up of new defensive fronts is easier than it used to be; the chances of an offensive based on the timetable of artillery and infantry co-operation are, as a result, even slighter today than they were in the last war.” He continued, “We believe that by attacking with tanks we can achieve a higher rate of movement than has been hitherto obtainable, and—what is perhaps even more important—that we can keep moving once a breakthrough has been made.
Guderian additionally required that tactical radios be widely used to facilitate co-ordination and command by having one installed in all tanks.
After becoming head of state in 1934, Adolf Hitler ignored the Versailles Treaty provisions. A command for armored forces was created within the German Wehrmacht—the Panzertruppe, as it came to be known later. The Luftwaffe, or air force, was re-established, and development begun on ground-attack aircraft and doctrines. Hitler was a strong supporter of this new strategy. He read Guderian's book Achtung! Panzer! and upon observing armored field exercises at Kummersdorf he remarked “That is what I want—and that is what I will have.
Heinz Guderian probably was the first who fully developed and advocated the principle of blitzkrieg. He summarized the tactics of blitzkrieg as the way to get the mobile and motorized armored divisions to work together and support each other in order to achieve decisive success. In his book, Panzer Leader, page 13, he said,
“In this year of 1929 I became convinced that Tanks working on their own or in conjunction with infantry could never achieve decisive importance, My historical studies; the exercises carried out in England and our own experience with mock-ups had persuaded me that the tanks would never be able to produce their full effect until weapons on whose support they must inevitably rely were brought up to their standard of speed and of cross country performance. In such formation of all arms, the tanks must play primary role, the other weapons beings subordinated to the requirements of the armor. It would be wrong to include tanks in infantry divisions: what was needed were armored divisions which would include all the supporting arms needed to fight with full effect”
Guderian believed that certain development in technology must be developed in conjunction with Blitzkrieg to support the entire theory; especially in communications with which the armored divisions, and tanks especially should be equipped (Wireless Communications). Guderian insisted in 1933 to the high command that every tank in the German armored force must be equipped with radio.
German volunteers first used armor in live field conditions during the Spanish Civil War of 1936. Armor commitments consisted of Panzer Battalion 88, a force built around three companies of PzKpfw I tanks that functioned as a training cadre for Nationalists. The Luftwaffe deployed squadrons of fighters, dive-bombers, and transports as the Condor Legion.
Guderian called the tank deployment “on too small a scale to allow accurate assessments to be made.
The true test of his “armored idea” would have to wait for the Second World War. However, the German Air Force also provided volunteers to Spain to test both tactics and aircraft in combat, including the first combat use of the Stuka.
Blitzkrieg sought decisive actions at all times. To this end, the theory of a schwerpunkt (focal point) developed; it was the point of maximum effort. Ground, mechanised and Luftwaffe forces were used only at this point of maximum effort whenever possible. By local success at the schwerpunkt, a small force achieved a breakthrough and gained advantages by fighting in the enemy's rear. It is summarized by Guderian as “Nicht kleckern, klotzen!” (“Don't fiddle, smash!”)
To achieve a breakout, armored forces would attack the enemy's defensive line directly, supported by their own infantry (Panzergrenadiers), artillery fire and aerial bombardment in order to create a breach in the enemy's line. Through this breach the tanks could break through without the traditional encumbrance of the slow logistics of a pure infantry regiment. The breaching force never lost time by “stabilising its flanks” or by regrouping; rather it continued the assault in towards the interior of the enemy's lines, sometimes diagonally across them. This point of breakout has been labeled a “hinge”, but only because a change in direction of the defender's lines is naturally weak and therefore a natural target for blitzkrieg assault.
In this, the opening phase of an operation, air forces sought to gain superiority over enemy air forces by attacking aircraft on the ground, bombing their airfields, and seeking to destroy them in air to air combat.
A final element was the use of airborne forces beyond the enemy lines in order to disrupt enemy activities and take important positions (such as Eben Emael). While the taking of the position does not constitute part of blitzkrieg, the disruptive effect this can cause in combination with earlier elements would fit well.
Having achieved a breakthrough into the enemy's rear areas, German forces attempted to paralyze the enemy's decision making and implementation process. Moving faster than enemy forces, mobile forces exploited weaknesses and acted before opposing forces could formulate a response. Guderian wrote that “Success must be exploited without respite and with every ounce of strength, even by night. The defeated enemy must be given no peace.”
Central to this is the decision cycle. Every decision made by German or opposing forces required time to gather information, make a decision, disseminate orders to subordinates, and then implement this decision through action. Through superior mobility and faster decision-making cycles, mobile forces could take action on a situation sooner than the forces opposing them.
Directive control was a fast and flexible method of command. Rather than receiving an explicit order, a commander would be told of his superior's intent and the role which his unit was to fill in this concept. The exact method of execution was then a matter for the low-level commander to determine as best fit the situation. Staff burden was reduced at the top and spread among commands more knowledgeable about their own situation. In addition, the encouragement of initiative at all levels aided implementation. As a result, significant decisions could be effected quickly and either verbally or with written orders a few pages in length.
An operation's final phase, the Kesselschlacht (literally translated as ”basin battle”), was a concentric attack on an encircled force. It was here that most losses were inflicted upon the enemy, primarily through the capture of prisoners and weapons. The term saw heavy use during the Russian campaign, where the Russian defenders drew together into isolated pockets of resistance while the German armies swept past them without engaging, in order to get to Stalingrad as soon as possible before the Russian winter set in. Later this proved to be their downfall, as the Russian pockets surrendered en masse, leading to an influx of POWs, and depleting German supplies.
Blitzkrieg tactics often affected civilians in a way perceived by some to be negative — sometimes intentionally, and sometimes not. Whereas more traditional conflict resulted in a well-defined, slow moving front line, giving civilians time to be evacuated to safety, the new approach did not allow this.
Despite the term blitzkrieg being coined during the Invasion of Poland of 1939, historians generally hold that German operations during it were more consistent with more traditional methods. The Wehrmacht's strategy was more inline with Vernichtungsgedanken, or a focus on envelopment to create pockets in broad-front annihilation. Panzer forces were deployed among the three German concentrations without strong emphasis on independent use, being used to create or destroy close pockets of Polish forces and seize operational-depth terrain in support of the largely un-motorized infantry which followed. The Luftwaffe gained air superiority by a combination of superior technology and numbers.
The understanding of operations in Poland has shifted considerably since the Second World War. Many early postwar histories incorrectly attribute German victory to “enormous development in military technique which occurred between 1918 and 1940”, incorrectly citing that “Germany, who translated (British inter-war) theories into action...called the result Blitzkrieg.
More recent histories identify German operations in Poland as relatively cautious and traditional. Matthew Cooper wrote that
“...(t)hroughout [the Polish Campaign], the employment of the mechanized units revealed the idea that they were intended solely to ease the advance and to support the activities of the infantry....Thus, any strategic exploitation of the armored idea was still-born. The paralysis of command and the breakdown of morale were not made the ultimate aim of the ... German ground and air forces, and were only incidental by-products of the traditional maneuvers of rapid encirclement and of the supporting activities of the flying artillery of the Luftwaffe, both of which had has their purpose the physical destruction of the enemy troops. Such was the Vernichtungsgedanke of the Polish campaign.
He went on to say that the use of tanks “left much to be desired...Fear of enemy action against the flanks of the advance, fear which was to prove so disastrous to German prospects in the west in 1940 and in the Soviet Union in 1941, was present from the beginning of the war.
John Ellis further asserted that “...there is considerable justice in Matthew Cooper's assertion that the panzer divisions were not given the kind of strategic mission that was to characterize authentic armored blitzkrieg, and were almost always closely subordinated to the various mass infantry armies.”
In fact, “Whilst Western accounts of the September campaign have stressed the shock value of the panzers and Stuka attacks, they have tended to underestimate the punishing effect of German artillery on Polish units. Mobile and available in significant quantity, artillery shattered as many units as any other branch of the Wehrmacht.”
The German invasion of France, with subsidiary attacks on Belgium and the Netherlands, consisted of two phases, Operation “Yellow” (Fall Gelb) and Operation “Red” (Fall Rot). Yellow opened with a feint conducted against the Netherlands and Belgium by two armoured corps and paratroopers. The Germans had massed the bulk of their armoured force in “Panzer Group von Kleist”, which attacked through the comparatively unguarded sector of the Ardennes and achieved a breakthrough at Sedan with air support.
The group raced to the coast of the English Channel at Abbéville, thus isolating the British Expeditionary Force, Belgian Army, and some divisions of the French Army in northern France. The armoured and motorized units under Guderian and Rommel initially advanced far beyond the following divisions, and indeed far in excess of that with which German high command was initially comfortable. When the German motorized forces were met with a counterattack at Arras, British tanks with heavy armour (Matilda I & IIs) created a brief panic in the German High Command. The armoured and motorized forces were halted, by Hitler, outside the port city of Dunkirk which was being used to evacuate the Allied forces. Hermann Göring had promised his Luftwaffe would complete the destruction of the encircled armies but aerial operations did not prevent the evacuation of the majority of Allied troops (which the British named Operation Dynamo); some 330,000 French and British were saved.
Overall, “Yellow” succeeded beyond almost anyone's wildest dreams, despite the claim that the Allies had 4,000 armoured vehicles and the Germans 2,200, and the Allied tanks were often superior in armour and calibre of cannon.
It left the French armies much reduced in strength (although not demoralised), and without much of their own armour and heavy equipment. Operation “Red” then began with a triple pronged panzer attack. The XV Panzer Corps attacked towards Brest, XIV Panzer Corps attacked east of Paris, towards Lyon, and Guderian's XIX Panzer Corps completed the encirclement of the Maginot Line. The defending forces were hard pressed to organize any sort of counter-attack. The French forces were continually ordered to form new lines along rivers, often arriving to find the German forces had already passed them.
Ultimately, the French army and nation collapsed after barely two months of blitzkrieg operations, in contrast to the four years of trench warfare of the First World War.
When Italy entered the war in 1940, a large Italian force faced the British Western Desert Force under Richard O'Connor on the frontier between Egypt and Libya. The British force included a substantial mechanised contingent, the Mobile Force (Egypt). The concepts of operations of the Mobile Force had been worked out by its former commander, Percy Hobart, a comparatively little-known theorist of armoured operations. The British Commander in Chief in the Middle East, General Archibald Wavell, had been a staff officer under Allenby in Palestine and had extensively analysed his operations.
In Operation Compass, launched in December 1940, O'Connor's forces effectively destroyed the Italian armies in Libya. The British mobile force several times outflanked and isolated the Italian front line troops, and ultimately drove across the desert to intercept and capture the retreating Italians at Beda Fomm. At this point, British forces were diverted to campaigns in Greece and elsewhere, being replaced by comparatively inexperienced units, and German armoured forces under Erwin Rommel landed in Africa to reinforce the Italians. Rommel launched a Blitzkrieg offensive which destroyed many British armoured formations and drove the remaining forces back towards Egypt and the starting point of Operation Compass. The offensive was only halted when Rommel's forces were unable to capture fortress of Tobruk near the Egyptian border. Tobruk possessed an excellent port that could have been used to drastically shorten Rommel's drawn out supply lines. Without Tobruk any further advance would have risked strategic collapse. Rommel's forces besieged Tobruk and he lost the momentum of his offensive.
From this point onwards, pure blitzkrieg operations played less part. The resulting battles in the open desert terrain have been compared to naval encounters, rather than land battles. The great distances involved imposed logistical limitations on movements, and made it difficult to seize any objective which would cripple the enemy ability to resist.
The large British armoured force which mounted Operation Crusader, the final attempt to relieve Tobruk in late 1941, had a vague mission which amounted to seeking out and destroying Rommel's armoured forces. Rommel, having temporarily knocked out many British armoured formations, did launch an armoured raid into the British rear areas in an attempt to induce a strategic collapse among his opponents but this did not occur and he was forced to withdraw. Once again, British forces were diverted from the Middle East (on Japan's entry into the war), and once again the German Afrika Korps mounted a small-scale blitzkrieg counter-attack which recovered most of the ground lost in Crusader. Rommel's subsequent attack against the British rear at the Battle of Gazala failed, and nearly left his forces stranded and isolated. In the event, Rommel was able to restore his position, capture Tobruk and advance far into Egypt as a result of British failures at a tactical, rather than strategic level. Supply problems and stiff resistance at the El Alamein position, the last defensive line before Alexandria and the Nile, halted Rommel's forces. Rommel's last attempted blitzkrieg operation in Egypt, the Battle of Alam el Halfa, failed because the Allies had plenty of warning of his intentions through ULTRA decryption of German signals, and even “canalised” his advance into a head-on attack against dug-in British forces.
Most of the subsequent Allied offensives were set-piece battles, with little attempt at pursuit. Rommel had one final opportunity to use Blitzkrieg methods in Tunisia, when a spoiling attack launched at Kasserine resulted in the collapse of the American front. Denied reinforcements to exploit the opening, the Germans rejected the option to advance deep into the Allied rear. The Americans were reinforced and were able to rally, and subsequent German attacks were indecisive. The North African campaign ended with a final Allied set-piece attack which broke through the lines in front of Tunis.
Use of armored forces was crucial for both sides on the Eastern Front. Operation Barbarossa, the German invasion of the Soviet Union in 1941, involved a number of breakthroughs and encirclements by motorized forces. Its stated goal was “to destroy the Russian forces deployed in the West and to prevent their escape into the wide-open spaces of Russia.”
This was generally achieved by four panzer armies which encircled surprised and disorganized Soviet forces, followed by marching infantry which completed the encirclement and defeated the trapped forces. The first year of the Eastern Front offensive can generally be considered to have had the last successful major blitzkrieg operations.
After Germany's failure to destroy the Soviets before the winter of 1941, the strategic failure above the German tactical superiority became apparent. Although the German invasion successfully conquered large areas of Soviet territory, the overall strategic effects were more limited. The Red Army was able to regroup far to the rear of the main battle line, and eventually defeat the German forces for the first time in the Battle of Moscow.
In the summer of 1942, when Germany launched another offensive in the southern USSR against Stalingrad and the Caucasus, the Soviets again lost tremendous amounts of territory, only to counter-attack once more during winter. German gains were ultimately limited by Hitler diverting forces from the attack on Stalingrad itself and seeking to pursue a drive to the Caucasus oilfields simultaneously as opposed to subsequently as the original plan had envisaged.
As the war progressed, Allied armies began using combined arms formations and deep penetration strategies that Germany had used in the opening years of the war. Many Allied operations in the Western Desert and on the Eastern Front relied on massive concentrations of firepower to establish breakthroughs by fast-moving armoured units. These artillery-based tactics were also decisive in Western Front operations after Operation Overlord and both the British Commonwealth and American armies developed flexible and powerful systems for utilizing artillery support. What the Soviets lacked in flexibility, they made up for in number of multiple rocket launchers, cannon and mortar tubes. The Germans never achieved the kind of response times or fire concentrations their enemies were capable of by 1944.
After the Allied landings at Normandy, Germany made attempts to overwhelm the landing force with armored attacks, but these failed for lack of co-ordination and Allied air superiority. The most notable attempt to use deep penetration operations in Normandy was at Mortain, which exacerbated the German position in the already-forming Falaise Pocket and assisted in the ultimate destruction of German forces in Normandy. The Mortain counter-attack was effectively destroyed by U.S. 12th Army Group with little effect on its own offensive operations.
The Allied offensive in central France, spearheaded by armored units from George S. Patton's Third Army, used breakthrough and penetration techniques that were essentially identical to Guderian's prewar “armoured idea.” Patton acknowledged that he had read both Guderian and Rommel before the war, and his tactics shared the traditional cavalry emphasis on speed and attack. A phrase commonly used in his units was “haul ass and bypass.”
Germany's last offensive on its Western front, Operation Wacht am Rhein, was an offensive launched towards the vital port of Antwerp in December 1944. Launched in poor weather against a thinly-held Allied sector, it achieved surprise and initial success as Allied air power was stymied by cloud cover. However, stubborn pockets of defence in key locations throughout the Ardennes, the lack of serviceable roads, and poor German logisitics planning caused delays. Allied forces deployed to the flanks of the German penetration, and Allied aircraft were again able to attack motorized columns. However, the stubborn defense of US units and German weakness led to a defeat for the Germans.
The terrain and logistical infrastructure in the areas of Asia in which Japanese forces were engaged presented far fewer opportunities for wide-ranging mechanised operations, but a few battles were noted for fast-moving attacks which resulted in the dislocation of the defences.
In the Battle of Malaya in early 1942, Japanese forces with air superiority and spearheaded by a tank regiment, rapidly drove British Commonwealth forces back down the length of the peninsula, aided by outflanking operations launched from the sea. The rapid Japanese offensive into Burma spearheaded by tanks and motorised forces in the same year also caused the Allied defence to collapse, although disunity of Allied command was also a factor.
In the Battle of Central Burma in 1945, the British Fourteenth Army (enjoying air supremacy) launched an armoured and mechanised offensive which captured the major communication centre of Meiktila behind the Japanese lines by surprise. There was no strategic collapse, but the attempted Japanese counter-attack was made at a strategic and tactical disadvantage. The Japanese were forced to break off the battle and withdraw from most of Burma.
In Operation August Storm, the Soviet invasion of Japanese-occupied Manchuria, the Russians made their major attack via a route the Japanese had thought impossible for armoured forces to traverse. The Russians very rapidly overran vast areas, and surrounded most Japanese forces in besieged towns. The Japanese were thinly stretched in static garrisons, and had very few resources with which to counter the Russian attacks.
The concepts associated with the term “Blitzkrieg” – deep penetrations by armour, large encirclements, and combined arms attacks – were largely dependent upon terrain and weather conditions. Where the ability for rapid movement across “tank country” was not possible, armoured penetrations were often avoided or resulted in failure. Terrain would ideally be flat, firm, unobstructed by natural barriers or fortifications, and interspersed with roads and railways. If it was instead hilly, wooded, marshy, or urban, armour would be vulnerable to infantry in close-quarters combat and unable to break out at full speed. Additionally, units could be halted by mud (thawing along the Eastern Front regularly slowed both sides) or extreme snow. Artillery observation and aerial support was also naturally dependent on weather. It should however be noted that the disadvantages of such terrain could be nullified if surprise was achieved over the enemy by an attack through such terrain. During the Battle of France, the German Blitzkrieg-style attack on France went through the Ardennes. There is little doubt that the hilly, heavily-wooded Ardennes could have been relatively easily defended by the Allies, even against the bulk of the German armoured units. However, precisely because the French thought the Ardennes as unsuitable for massive troop movement, particularly for tanks, they were left with only light defences which were quickly overrun by the Wehrmacht. The Germans quickly advanced through the forest, knocking down the trees the French thought would impede this tactic.
Allied air superiority became a significant hindrance to German operations during the later years of the war. Early German successes enjoyed air superiority with unencumbered movement of ground forces, close air support, and aerial reconnaissance. However, the Western Allies' air-to-ground aircraft were so greatly feared out of proportion to their actual tactical success, that following the lead up to Operation Overlord German vehicle crews showed reluctance to move en masse during daylight. Indeed, the final German blitzkrieg operation in the west, Operation Wacht am Rhein, was planned to take place during poor weather which grounded Allied aircraft. Under these conditions, it was difficult for German commanders to employ the “armoured idea” to its envisioned potential.
Blitzkrieg was very effective against static defense doctrines that most countries developed in the aftermath of the First World War. Early attempts to defeat the blitzkrieg can be dated to the Invasion of Poland in 1939, where Polish general Stanisław Maczek, commander of 10th Motorized Cavalry Brigade, prepared a detailed report of blitzkrieg tactics, its usage, effectiveness and possible precautions for the French military from his experiences.
However, the French staff disregarded this report (it was captured, unopened, by the German army). Later, Maczek would become one of the most successful Allied armoured forces commanders in the war.
During the Battle of France in 1940, De Gaulle's 4th Armour Division and elements of the British 1st Army Tank Brigade in the British Expeditionary Force both made probing attacks on the German flank, actually pushing into the rear of the advancing armored columns at times (See Battle of Arras (1940) ). This may have been a reason for Hitler to call a halt to the German advance. Those attacks combined with Maxime Weygand's Hedgehog tactic would become the major basis for responding to blitzkrieg attacks in the future: deployment in depth, permitting enemy forces to bypass defensive concentrations, reliance on anti-tank guns, strong force employment on the flanks of the enemy attack, followed by counter-attacks at the base to destroy the enemy advance in detail. Holding the flanks or 'shoulders' of a penetration was essential to channeling the enemy attack, and artillery, properly employed at the shoulders, could take a heavy toll of attackers. While Allied forces in 1940 lacked the experience to successfully develop these strategies, resulting in France's capitulation with heavy losses, they characterized later Allied operations. For example, at the Battle of Kursk the Red Army employed a combination of defense in great depth, extensive minefields, and tenacious defense of breakthrough shoulders. In this way they depleted German combat power even as German forces advanced. In August 1944 at Mortain, stout defense and counterattacks by the US and Canadian armies closed the Falaise Gap. In the Ardennes, a combination of hedgehog defense at Bastogne, St Vith and other locations, and a counterattack by the US 3rd Army were employed.
The US doctrine of massing high-speed tank destroyers was not generally employed in combat since few massed German armor attacks occurred by 1944.
Although effective in quick campaigns against Poland and France, blitzkrieg could not be sustained by Germany in later years. Blitzkrieg strategy has the inherent danger of the attacking force overextending its supply lines, and the strategy as a whole can be defeated by a determined foe who is willing and able to sacrifice territory for time in which to regroup and rearm, as the Soviets did on the Eastern Front (as opposed to for example the Dutch who had no territory to sacrifice). Tank and vehicle production was a constant problem for Germany; indeed, late in the war many panzer "divisions" had no more than a few dozen tanks.
As the end of the war approached, Germany also experienced critical shortages in fuel and ammunition stocks as a result of Anglo-American strategic bombing and blockade. Although production of Luftwaffe fighter aircraft continued, they would be unable to fly for lack of fuel. What fuel there was went to panzer divisions, and even then they were not able to operate normally. Of those Tiger tanks lost against the United States Army, nearly half of them were abandoned for lack of fuel.
Blitzkrieg's widest influence was within the Western Allied leadership of the war, some of whom drew inspiration from the Wehrmacht's approach. United States General George S. Patton emphasized fast pursuit, the use of an armored spearhead to effect a breakthrough, and then cutting off and disrupting enemy forces prior to their flight. In his comments of the time, he credited Guderian and Rommel's work, notably Infantry Attacks, for this insight. He also put into practice the idea attributed to cavalry leader Nathan Bedford Forrest, "Get there firstest, with the mostest." (Get there fastest, with the most forces).
Blitzkrieg also has had some influence on subsequent militaries and doctrines. The Israel Defense Forces may have been influenced by blitzkrieg in creating a military of flexible armored spearheads and close air support.
The Indo-Pakistani War of 1971 is also considered as a modern example of blitzkrieg style assault by Indian forces that ended in a swift defeat of Pakistan, within a fortnight.
The 1990s United States theorists of "Shock and awe" claim blitzkrieg as a subset of strategies which they term "rapid dominance".
It may also be argued that Napoleon Bonaparte used some form of blitzkrieg tactic when conquering Europe a century prior to the invasion of Poland by Adolf Hitler.
Beginning in the 1970s, the interpretation of Blitzkrieg, particularly with respect to the Second World War, has undergone a shift in the historical community. John Ellis described the shift:
Our perception of land operations in the Second World War has...been distorted by an excessive emphasis upon the hardware employed. The main focus of attention has been the tank and the formations that employed it, most notably the (German) panzer divisions. Despite the fact that only 40 of the 520 German divisions that saw combat were panzer divisions (there were also an extra 24 motorised/panzergrenadier divisions), the history of German operations has consistently almost exclusively been written largely in terms of blitzkrieg and has concentrated almost exclusively upon the exploits of the mechanized formations. Even more misleadingly, this presentation of ground combat as a largely armored confrontation has been extended to cover Allied operations, so that in the popular imagination the exploits of the British and Commonwealth Armies, with only 11 armored divisions out of 73 (that saw combat), and of the Americans in Europe, with only 16 out of 59, are typified by tanks sweeping around the Western Desert or trying to keep up with Patton in the race through Sicily and across northern France. Of course, these armored forces did play a somewhat more important role in operations than the simple proportions might indicate, but it still has to be stressed that they in no way dominated the battlefield or precipitated the evolution of completely new modes of warfare.
Ellis, as well as Zaloga in his study of the Polish Campaign in 1939, points to the effective use of other arms such as artillery and aerial firepower as equally important to the success of German (and later, Allied) operations. Panzer operations in Russia failed to provide decisive results; Leningrad never fell despite an entire Panzer Group being assigned to take it, nor did Moscow. In 1942, panzer formations overstretched at Stalingrad and in the Caucasus, and what successes did take place – such as Manstein at Kharkov or Krivoi Rog – were of local significance only.
Charge - Direct attack, usually by running up to the opponent.
A charge is a maneuver in battle in which soldiers advance towards their enemy at their best speed to engage in close combat. The charge is the dominant shock attack and has been the key tactic and decisive moment of most battles in history. However, modern charges usually involve small groups against individual positions (such as a bunker) instead of large groups of combatants charging another group or a fortified line.
The shock value of a charge attack has been especially exploited in cavalry tactics, both of armoured knights and lighter mounted troops of later eras. Historians such as John Keegan have shown that when correctly prepared against (such as by improvising fortifications) and especially, by standing firm in face of the onslaught, cavalry charges often failed against infantry, with horses balking at ploughing into the dense mass of enemies, or the charging unit itself breaking up. This is famously depicted in the main battle scene of Braveheart. However, when cavalry charges succeeded, it was usually due to the defending formation breaking up (often in fear) and scattering, to be hunted down by the enemy.
In the firearms age, the basic paramaters are speed of advance against rate (or effectiveness) of fire. If the attackers advance at a more rapid rate than the defenders can kill or disable them then the attackers will reach the defenders (though not necessarily without being strongly weakened in numbers). Of course there are many modifiers to this simple comparison - timing, covering fire, organization, formation and terrain, among others. A failed charge will often leave the would-be attackers extremely vulnerable to a counter-charge.
There has been a constant rise in an army's rate of fire for the last 700 years or so, but while massed charges have been successfully broken they have also been victorious. It is only since the mid-19th century that straight charges have become less successful, especially since the introduction of the machine gun and breech-loading artillery. They are often still useful on a far smaller scale in confined areas where the enemy's firepower cannot be brought to bear.
Counterattack - An attack when an enemy has attacked, usually when the enemy is weak or complacent.
A counterattack is a military tactic used by defending forces when under attack by an enemy force. During their assault, the attackers may have become vulnerable through exhaustion, complacency, or placing themselves in unfavorable conditions. At the right moment, the defenders aggressively charge out of their fortifications, meeting and stunning their attackers directly, and gain the initiative. This can break a siege or change the tide of a battle. However, if the wrong moment is chosen, or a counterattack is poorly executed, a military disaster could result for the defending side, since the defenders are no longer protected by their fortifications.
In the history of warfare, the counterattack has been both used effectively and ineffectively.
During the Sicilian expedition from 415 to 413 BC, the Athenians were about to be victorious. However, one Syracusan line held, and pressed the attack, scattering and defeating the invading forces of the Athenian Empire.
At the Battle of Hefei in 217 AD, a defending force of less than 1000 men, led by the Cao Wei officer, Zhang Liao, successfully defeated the invading Sun Wu army of around 80,000 troops through a daring ambush and counterattack which cut the enemy army in half.
Colonel Joshua Chamberlain commanded the Twentieth Maine Regiment on Little Round Top on the second day of the Battle of Gettysburg. The elite Rebel troops of John Bell Hood charged, but Chamberlain refused his lines, and then ordered a right wheel across the hill, with the result of a large destruction of the Confederate lines.
During battle of the Somme in the Great War 1916. Germans used counterattacks to recapture the lost lines.
At the Battle of Kursk in July 1943, German Panther tanks exhausted themselves against Soviet anti-tank artillery. As soon as the Germans ended their advance, Soviet T-34 tanks flooded down a nearby ridge, "like rats" according to General Heinz Guderian. The Wehrmacht was scattered in the battle, with much of their lines destroyed. The Germans would never again launch an assault of that scale against the Soviets, and were on the defensive against the Soviet Union from then on.
The consequence of the counterattack has been decisive throughout history. If the Athenians had won at Syracuse, the Greeks, not the Romans, might have dominated the ancient Mediterranean basin. Had the Soviets not won the Battle of Kursk, the Nazis would have dominated the Eastern Front for probably at least a year longer, delaying pressure on the Third Reich and most likely having a substantial effect on the war, if not its eventual outcome. Other decisive battles, as well, have been won or lost by counterattacks.
Encirclement - To isolate and surround enemy forces.
Encirclement is a military term for the situation when a force or target is isolated and surrounded by enemy forces. This situation is highly dangerous for the encircled force: at the strategic level, because it cannot receive supplies or reinforcements, and on the tactical level, because the units in the force can be subject to an attack from several sides. Lastly, since the force cannot retreat, unless it is relieved or can break out, it must either fight to the death or surrender. Encirclement has been used throughout the centuries by military leaders, including famous generals such as Alexander the Great, Hannibal, Sun Tzu, Wallenstein, Napoléon, Heinz Guderian, von Runstedt, Zhukov, and Patton. Sun Tzu suggests that an army should not be completely encircled, but should be given some room for escape, in order to prevent that 'encircled' army's men lifting their morale and fighting till the death - a more optimal situation would be them considering the possibility of a retreat.
The main form of encircling, the "double pincer," is executed by attacks on the flanks of a battle, where the mobile forces of the era, such as light infantry, cavalry, tanks, or APC's attempt to force a breakthrough to utilize their speed to join behind the back of the enemy force, and complete the "ring", while the main enemy force is stalled by probing attacks. The encirclement of the German Sixth Army at Stalingrad is a typical example of this.
If there is a natural obstacle, such as ocean or mountains on one side of the battlefield, only one pincer is needed ("single pincer"), because the function of the second arm is taken over by the natural obstacle. The German attack into the lowlands of France in 1940 is a typical example of this.
A third and more rare type of encirclement can ensue from a breakthrough in an area of the enemy front, and exploiting that with mobile forces, diverging in two or more directions behind the enemy line. Full encirclement rarely follows this, but the threat of it severely hampers the defender's options. This type of attack pattern is centerpiece to Blitzkrieg operations. By the extreme difficulty of this operation, it can only be executed if the offensive force has a vast superiority, either in technology, organization, or sheer numbers. The Barbarossa campaign of 1941 saw some examples of this.
A special kind of encirclement is the siege. In this case, the encircled force voluntarily allows this to happen at a stronghold location where long-lasting supplies and defensive constructions or fortifications are in place, allowing them to repel attacks. Sieges have taken place in almost all eras of warfare, and was perhaps the most common type of direct encounter between hostile armies before the development of mobile Napoleonic tactics.
Flanking maneuver - This strategy involves attacking the opponent from the side, or rear, flank.
In military tactics, a flanking maneuver, also called a flank attack, is an attack on the sides of an opposing force. If a flanking maneuver succeeds, the opposing force would be surrounded from two or more directions, which significantly reduces the maneuverability of the outflanked force and its ability to defend itself. A psychological advantage may also be present, as flank forces usually do not expect to be attacked.
A larger scaled tactical flanking is called a strategic flanking, where the targets of the flanking could be as large as a state or a group of states.
The flanking maneuver is a basic military tactic, with several variations.
One type is employed in an ambush, where a friendly unit performs a surprise attack from a concealed position. Other units may be hidden to the sides of the ambush site to surround the enemy, but care must be taken in setting up fields of fire to avoid friendly fire.
Another type is used in the attack, where a unit encounters an enemy defensive position. Upon receiving fire from the enemy, the unit commander may decide to order a flank attack. A part of the attacking unit "fixes" the enemy with suppressive fire, preventing them from returning fire, retreating or changing position to meet the flank attack. The flanking force then advances to the enemy flank and attacks them at close range. Coordination to avoid friendly fire is also important in this situation.
The most effective form of flanking maneuver is the double envelopment, which involves simultaneous flank attacks on both sides of the enemy. A classic example is Hannibal's victory over the Roman armies at the Battle of Cannae. Another example of the double envelopment is Khalid ibn al-Walid's victory over the Persian Empire at the Battle of Walaja.
Despite primarily being associated with land warfare, flanking maneuvers have also used to great effect in naval battles.
A famous example of this is the Battle of Salamis, where the combined naval forces of the Greek city-states managed to outflank the Persian navy and won a decisive victory.
Flanking maneuvers played an important role in nearly every major battle in history, and have been used effectively by famous military leaders like Hannibal, Julius Caesar, Khalid ibn al-Walid.
Napoleon and Stonewall Jackson throughout history. Sun Tzu's The Art of War strongly emphasizes the use of flanking, although it does not advocate completely surrounding the enemy force as this may induce it to fight with greater ferocity if it cannot escape.
A flanking maneuver is not always effective, as the flanking force may itself be ambushed while maneuvering, or the main force is unable to pin the defenders in place, allowing them to turn and face the flanking attack.
Flanking on land in the pre-modern era was usually achieved with cavalry (and rarely, chariots) due to their speed and maneuverability, while heavily-armored infantry was commonly used to fix the enemy, as in the Battle of Pharsalus. Armored vehicles such as tanks replaced cavalry as the main force of flanking maneuvers in the 20th century, as seen in the Battle of France in World War II.
The dangers of being flanked have been realised by commanders since the dawn of warfare, and for two millennia and more, part of the art of being a commander was in the choice of terrain to allow flanking attacks or prevent them.
A commander could prevent being flanked by anchoring one or both parts of his line on terrain impassable to his enemies, such as gorges, lakes or mountains, e.g. the Spartans at Thermopylae, Hannibal at the Battle of Lake Trasimene, and the Romans at the Battle of Watling Street. Although not strictly impassable, woods, forests, rivers, broken and marshy ground could also be used to anchor a flank, e.g. Henry V at Agincourt. However in such instances it was still wise to have skirmishers covering these flanks.
In exceptional circumstances, an army may be fortunate enough to be able to anchor a flank with a friendly castle, fortress or walled city. In such circumstances it was not necessary to fix the line to the fortress but to allow a killing space between the fortress and the battle line so that any enemy forces attempting to flank the field forces could be brought under fire from the garrison. Almost as good was if natural strongholds could be incorporated into the battle line, e.g. the Union positions of Culp's Hill, and Cemetery Hill on the right flank, and Big Round Top and Little Round Top on the left flank, at the Battle of Gettysburg. If time and circumstances allowed field fortifications could be created or expanded to protect the flanks, such as the Allied forces did with the hamlet of Papelotte and the farmhouse of Hougoumont on the left and right flanks at the Battle of Waterloo.
When the terrain favoured neither side it was down to the disposition of forces in the battle line to prevent flanking attacks. For as long as they had a place on the battlefield, it was the role of cavalry to be placed on the flanks of the infantry battle line. With speed and greater tactical flexibility, the cavalry could both make flanking attacks and guard against them. It was the marked superiority of Hannibal’s cavalry at Cannae that allowed him to chase off the Roman cavalry and complete the encirclement of the Roman legions. With equally matched cavalry, commanders have been content to allow inaction, with the cavalry of both sides preventing the other from action.
With no cavalry, inferior cavalry or in armies whose cavalry had gone off on their own (a not uncommon complaint) it was down to the disposition of the infantry to guard against flanking attacks. It was the danger of being flanked by the numerically superior Persians that led Miltiades to lengthen the Athenian line at the Battle of Marathon by decreasing the depth of the centre. The importance of the flank positions led to the practise, which became tradition of placing the best troops on the flanks. So that at the Battle of Platea the Tegeans squabbled with Athenians as to who should have the privilege of holding a flank; both having conceded the honour of the right flank (the critical flank in the hoplite system) to the Spartans. This is the source of the tradition of giving the honour of the right to the most senior regiment present, that persisted into the modern era.
With troops confident and reliable enough to operate in separate dispersed units, the echelon formation may be adopted. This can take different forms with either equally strong “divisions” or a massively reinforced wing or centre supported by smaller formations in step behind it (forming either a staircase like, or arrow like arrangement). In this formation when the foremost unit engages with the enemy the echeloned units remain out of action. The temptation is for the enemy to attack the exposed flanks of this foremost unit, however were this to happen the units immediately echeloned behind the foremost unit would push forward taking the flankers themselves in the flank. If this echeloned unit was to be attacked in turn, the unit behind it, would move forward to again attack the flanks of the would be flankers. In theory a cascade of such engagements could occur all along the line, for as many units as there were in echelon. In practise this almost never happened, most enemy commanders seeing this for what it was, resisting the temptation of the initial easy flanking attack. This prudence was utilised, in the manifestation of the oblique order, in which one wing was massively reinforced, creating a local superiority in numbers that could obliterate that part of the enemy line that it was sent against. The weaker echeloned units being sufficient to fix the greater portion of the enemy troops into inaction. With the battle on the wing won the reinforced flank would turn and roll up the enemy battle line from the flank.
In the Roman chequer board formation, readopted by Renaissance militaries, each of the units in the front line can be thought of as having two lines of units echeloned behind it.
As warfare increased in size and scope and armies got bigger it was no longer possible for armies to hope to have a contiguous battle line. In order to be able to manoeuvre it was necessary to introduce intervals between units and these intervals could be used to flank individual units in the battle line by fast acting units such as cavalry. To guard against this the infantry subunits were trained to be able to rapidly form squares that gave the cavalry no weak flank to attack. During the age of gunpowder, intervals between units could be increased because of the greater reach of the weapons, increasing the possibility of cavalry finding a gap in the line to exploit, and it became the mark of good infantry to be able to form rapidly from line to square and back again.
During the First World War and the wars leading up to it the danger of successful flanking attacks was prevented by attacking on a frontage measuring in the tens of miles, and with a sufficient depth that even if an enemy could take the attacking forces in the flank, it could not damage the attackers enough to prevent them carrying their objectives.
With the arrival of tanks and armoured warfare, commanders found that the best way of avoiding being flanked was to maintain the speed and momentum of the attack. If momentum could be maintained the enemy would be too dislocated and disorganised to be able to mount an effective counter-attack; and that by the time the enemy could react the attackers would already have moved on and would be else where and there would be no flank to attack. The speeding US columns of the 2003 invasion of Iraq being the epitome of such an approach.
On an operational level army commanders may attempt to flank and wrong foot entire enemy armies, rather than just be content with doing so at a tactical battalion or brigade level. The most infamous example of such an attempt is the modified Schlieffen Plan utilized by the Germans during the opening stages of the First World War; this was an attempt to avoid facing the French armies head on, but instead flank them by swinging through neutral Belgium.
It was the desire of both sides to gain the flank of the other in the First World War that led to the 'race to the sea', and marked the lines over which the war in the West would be fought.
Just as at the tactical level a commander will attempt to anchor his flanks, commanders will try to do the same at the operational level. For example the World War II German Winter Line in Italy anchored by the Tyrrhenian and Adriatic Seas, or for example the trench systems of the Western Front which ran from the North Sea to the Alps. Attacking such positions were and would be expensive in casualties, and more than likely to lead to stalemate. To break such stalemates flanking attacks into areas outside the main zone of contention may be attempted.
If successful, such as at Inchon, such operations can be shattering, breaking into the lightly held rear echelons of an enemy, when its front line forces are committed elsewhere. Even when not entirely successful, for example at Anzio these operations can relieve pressure on troops on the main battle front, by forcing the enemy to divert resources to contain the new front.
These operations may have strategic objectives such as the Invasion of Italy itself, the Gallipoli, and the Normandy landings.
Such a strategy is not new. Hannibal for example attacked Rome by going over the Alps, rather than taking the obvious route. In return Scipio Africanus was able to defeat Hannibal by first undermining his powerbase in Spain before attacking his home city Carthage instead of trying to defeat him in Italy.
The ground campaign of Desert Storm during the 1991 Gulf War was characterised by the flanking attack of the Coalition forces, the massive "left hook" which avoided the Iraqi forces dug in along the Kuwait-Saudi border; but instead swept past them in the west.
Flank attacks on the strategic level are seen when a nation or group of nations surround and attack an enemy from two or more directions, such as the Allies surrounding Nazi Germany in World War II. In these cases, the flanked country usually has to fight on two fronts at once, placing it at a disadvantage.
The danger of being strategically flanked has driven the political and diplomatic actions of nations even in peace time. For example the fear of being strategically flanked by the other in The Great Game 'played' by the British and Russian Empires, led to the expansion of both into China, and the British eastwards into South-East Asia. The British feared that British India would be surrounded by a Persia and Central Asia satellite to Russia in the west and north and a Russian dominated China in the east. Whilst to the Russians a China under British influence would mean that the Russian Empire would be penned in from the south and east. Subsequently the Russians were more successful than the British in gaining territorial concessions in China. However the British were able to counteract this through the cultivation of the emerging Empire of Japan as a counterweight to the Russians, a relationship which culminated in the Anglo-Japanese Alliance.
The Cold War version of the Great Game was played on a global scale by the United States and the Soviet Union, each seeking to contain the influence of the other.
Human wave attack - Humans used to attack in continuous waves, almost in a desperation move.
Human wave attack is a military term describing the use of infantry in a shock assault of an enemy, in which soldiers attack in successive line formations, often in dense groups, generally without the support of other arms nor with any sophistication in the tactics used. The tactic is usually found in poorly trained conscript armies, which have little tactical flexibility. The term has come to be used as a pejorative — first, because of the high human costs that came to be considered immoral in the 20th century, and after that, because of the tactic becoming obsolete with increased state of weaponry in even the Third World countries.
This tactic is known as an a prest attack in French and as the Stoßtaktik in German.
Its modern incarnation is as a tactic that developed out of trench warfare, where artillery or aerial attack often proved ineffective at dislodging the enemy from a firmly held defensive position. In a human wave attack there is no attempt to minimize casualties; on the contrary, part of the tactic involves presenting the defender with the shock value of overwhelming numbers of attackers. This dense concentration of troops in the open tends to lead to very high casualty rates.
These attacks can also develop in situations where the defensive position is very strong and the attacker's combined-arms team has been broken up, leaving no alternative. This tactic is colloquially known as a "bum rush."
What today is called 'human wave' tactics was already used as the main infantry tactic on the attack prior to the development of modern skirmishers during the Napoleonic Wars. When infantry firepower was very short-range, massed unsupported attacks worked, and were not considered especially costly compared to other tactics. Infantry maneuvered in very tightly-packed ranks and individual soldiers were not expected to maneuver on their own.
An illustrative example from antiquity is the charge of the Athenian hoplites at the Battle of Marathon. With no missile troops of their own, the hoplites charging of the Persian lines in massed ranks was the best tactic to neutralize the Persians’ superiority in archers and maximize their own superiority in hand-to-hand combat.
Even with the arrival of firearms this same logic could be found in, for example, the French Napoleonic armies. Massed infantry columns, supported by artillery and screened by voltigeur light infantry skirmishers, were seen as a way to produce militarily useful formations out of recruits with a minimum of time and training. The theory was that given the range and rate of fire of the muskets of the day, if an infantry column started its charge just outside the effective range of its opponents, the massed infantry column would be able to smash into its opponents before there had been enough volleys of incoming fire to destroy it.
This threat of a hand-to-hand clash -- at a potential disadvantage against an attacker who still retained at least some of the attack's physical and psychological momentum -- was usually enough to break the defender's morale and drive them into a rout before any actual hand-to-hand contact could happen between the two formations. One common alternative for infantry at this time was to advance to musket range and for the two sides to trade musket volleys until one side broke, but this was (correctly) regarded as being less effective than the idea of turning the attackers' trick on its head and routing them by a well-timed, massed countercharge.
The French tactical system worked very well, as evidenced by Napoleon's victories and heralded the domination of the battlefields by the large conscript armies of citizen-soldiers as opposed to the small specialised/mercenary forces of the Ancien Regime. In the years that followed the Napoleonic Wars, theorists and tacticians devoted themselves to discovering the secrets to those great victories, so as to be able to emulate them. These included the American Dennis Hart Mahan, father of the more famous naval strategist Alfred Thayer Mahan, for many years a senior lecturer at West Point, Napoléon’s general, Antoine-Henri Jomini, and the great Prussian military thinker Carl von Clausewitz. These men would have a great influence on the military leadership, tactical doctrines and military fortunes of their nations, each drawing different conclusions from the same inspiration.
When the tactical failures of the Napoleonic system were acknowledged, such failures were put down as its misapplication by lesser commanders, and at Waterloo to the failure of subsidiary commanders. To the theorists, such failures could be overcome by a little more determination, a little more dash and aggression, by closing with the enemy a little faster. The French would later develop the doctrine of “l’attaque à outrance”, which emphasized attacking and counterattacking at all costs, at the earliest of opportunities. This would be the seed of the massed infantry attacks of World War I.
One theory of why the French infantry column worked for Napoleon and failed for others is that Napoleon was an artilleryman. Since the value of the infantry column was as much in the threat of its attack as it was in the actual attack, the infantry could be used to fix the line of enemy infantry, who had to deploy to receive a possible charge. The enemy infantry could then be rolled up from the flank by the cavalry if it deployed linearly, or be bombarded by artillery if it deployed as a square. The infantry attack, if made, would then be an attack against an enemy already weakened or disorganised by the other arms. The failure of others in emulating Napoleon’s success was in seeing the most spectacular part of his combined arms approach—the infantry attack—as its most important element and neglecting the other arms. Or, if they did realize the importance of a combined arms approach, of mistiming the interplay between the different elements of the army.
The Siege of Sevastopol during the Crimean War, considered an early rehearsal for the First World War, saw the opposing armies face each other; hunkered down in trenches and hasty fortifications, artillery duelling to silence each other, fighting to smash the defences of the other, and to pound the opposition into oblivion. The siege saw furious assaults to possess ground answered by equally furious counter-attacks.
At the Battle of Malakoff, an entire French corps assaulted a strong fortified position in three columns, to a timetable governed by synchronised watches. The fortress fell after heavy hand to hand fighting, costing the attackers 10,000 casualties and the defenders 13,000. The loss of the Malakoff, and with it Sevastopol, won the war for the French allies, thus ensuring the place of such tactics in the playbooks of future generals.
Firepower of all types increased their range, accuracy, and lethality in the nineteenth century. The American Civil War is an example of the incredible human costs resulting from the lag time between advances in technology and development of appropriate tactics. As a social undertaking, development of strategy can be stymied by individual, cultural, institutional, and political factors. Gauging the efficacy of a weapon system is relatively straightforward, as the variables are easily measured and compared (although this doesn't preclude useless weapons from being fielded). The efficacy of military tactical ideas, though, cannot be fully appraised even in the most detailed exercises and simulations; this must wait until their actual use against an enemy.
The smoothbore flintlock musket, not the rifle, was used by both sides at Lexington, Concord, and at Bunker Hill in 1775. The rifle made its first appearance in the American War for Independence when carried by Pennsylvania and Virginia riflemen at the Siege of Boston. Although it had first made its mark in combat in the American Revolutionary War, in the hands of the Continental Army's few riflemen at the Battles of Brooklyn/Long Island, the Pennsylvania rifle was unsuitable as the main infantry weapon for the tactics and formations adopted by the Continental Army. In the rifles of the day there was a steady loss of performance, due to fouling of the rifling by gunpowder residue, and the rate of fire was very much inferior to that of smoothbore muskets. This was caused by the need to use a tightly fitting ball in a leather or linen patch to properly engage the weapon's rifling. The heaviness needed in the iron rifle barrel also meant that a flintlock rifle was far more likely to break under combat conditions than the smoothbore musket, since rifles needed more delicate stocks to balance off the weight of the heavier rifle barrel, in order to make them easily portable. They also did not carry a bayonet, especially useful in close-quarter fighting, infantry charges and in forming square with other soldiers to fend off cavalry attacks. These shortcomings were acceptable in an hunting firearm, but not as a mass weapon in the military systems of the day. As the war evolved, both sides began to fight more like their enemy. Rather than formulate a tactical system to make best use of its advantages, the Continental Army forwent the superiority of its German-derived rifles and native riflemen to fight with muskets in massed formations much like their British adversaries and French allies. (and due in no small part to the large casualties among its riflemen- they literally ran out of riflemen at various points) The British on the other hand learned from the Americans to utilise riflemen as light infantry. In the AWI, the British used various muzzle-loading and breechloading rifles in temporary rifle units (eg the Ferguson Rifle), as well as employing German auxiliary rifle corps. These experiences decades later gave birth in 1797 to the 5th Battalion/60th Regiment of Foot, and later to the 95th (Rifles) Regiment of Foot Rifle Brigade (renamed from the 95th Rifles in 1815). By the war's end, and for most of the century after, the rifle had become firmly a specialist skirmishing weapon, but not without controversy. Both American and British military establishments concentrated more on the musket in doctrine and development, even into the early 19th century.
By the time of the American Civil War however, technical and industrial progress had made the rifled musket the standard weapon of the infantry of both sides. Machine tools and improvements in metallurgy allowed barrels to be accurately bored out, rather than rely on the single piece forging process of iron barrels, and their rifling done by hand, which was often hampered by uneven quality control and slow production. Mass production techniques pioneered by Springfield Armory allowed the North to arm all its troops with Springfield rifled muskets. The adoption of the Minié ball allowed these rifles to be fired at a rate no slower than the old muskets.
A state of affairs as described by the late Civil War author Bruce Catton on the state of the military arts and military sciences as it applied to infantry tactics:
Infantry tactics at that time were based on the use of the smoothbore musket, a weapon of limited range and accuracy. Firing lines that were much more than a hundred yards apart could not inflict very much damage on each other, and so troops which were to make an attack would be massed together, elbow to elbow, and would make a run for it; if there were enough of them, and they ran fast enough, the defensive line could not hurt them seriously, and when they got to close quarters the advange of numbers and the use of the bayonet would settle things. But the Civil War musket was rifled, which made an enormous difference. It was still a muzzle-loader, but it had much more accuracy and a far longer range than the old smoothbore, and it completely changed the conditions under which soldiers fought. An advancing line could be brought under killing fire at a distance of half a mile, now, and the massed charge of Napoleonic tradition was miserably out of date. When a defensive line occupied field entrenchments - which the soldiers learned to dig fairly early in the game - a direct frontal assault became almost impossibile. The hideous casualty lists of Civil War battles owed much of their size to the fact that soldiers were fighting with rifles but were using tactics suited to smoothbores. It took the generals a long time to learn that a new approach was needed. —[from The American Heritage Picture History of The Civil War, by Bruce Catton (1960) chapter "The Armies"]
It is telling that one of the greatest of the Civil War generals, Stonewall Jackson, should say
"But by my opinion is that there ought not to be much firing at all. My idea is that the best method of firing is to reserve your fire till the enemy get-or you get to them-to close quarters. Then deliver one deadly, deliberate volley-and charge."
Such thinking was not an anomaly but the norm, the result of the influence on a generation of officers by the teachings of Dennis Hart Mahan at West Point.
There was little difference between French and German equipment or training; the French had better small arms, the Germans better artillery, and each developed tactics to press their advantage. However, the Prussians triumphed in advocating a scientific and organisational approach to the analysis and execution of war.
In its wars up to the Franco-Prussian War, the Prussians, under their legendary General Staff, had gravitated from a Jominian system of maneuver to Clausewitz’s concept of the “mass of decision” and the idea that nations and armies have a “center of gravity.”
Previously, it had been a commonly held assumption that there was an optimum size for an army (approximately 100-120,000 men). Given the technologies of the day, a larger army would be impossible to supply, move, or control. What was desired was to be able to create concentrations of force when and where it mattered. This involved moving a number of smaller forces separately, to allow rapid movement without hindering each other's progress, before concentrating rapidly in overwhelming numbers at a decisive location. Each of these smaller forces being under the command of men trained to operate and think in the same way, so that the briefest of orders from their overall commander would have the same desired results. In this way, the Prussians could achieve a sudden local numerical superiority and dictate where, how and when to engage the enemy. Such a “mass” could be on a strategic level, aimed against a nation’s centre of gravity, or tactical, aimed at an enemy army’s centre of gravity. At either level, the very presence and strength of a Prussian army meant it could not be ignored by an enemy, who in being forced to react could be made to fritter away its manpower and thus invite defeat in detail. Conversely, a Prussian army in the field would be strong enough and well enough supplied to decline to fight if it so wished.
Once in the field, probing forces would be used to find the Schwerpunkt (the critical center) of an enemy, against which the main Prussian strength would be launched; this was not necessarily where the enemy was strongest nor where it was weakest. The Schwerpunkt had a philosophical aspect, embracing the abstract notion of an enemy’s center in terms of time, of motivation and morale, of ability and of action. For example, the Prussians made use of the French emotional and symbolic attachment to Paris and the route to Paris, seeing beyond its mere geographical and industrial value. The basic Prussian plan therefore, the father and grandfather of those used in the First and Second World Wars, was to march its armies against Paris and to engage and destroy the French armies as they were sent out to stop the occupation of their capital. In doing so the French played into the Prussian hands.
One of the tenets of Clausewitz’s system was the destruction of an enemy’s ability to wage war; this could be done through destroying the populace’s will to fight, disabling its political leadership, disrupting its logistical and industrial capacity or most directly of all, by destroying its armies in the field. The Siege of Metz of a French army served as a military Schwerpunkt leading as it did to the Battle of Sedan and the end of effective French military resistance. Whilst the successful conclusion of the Siege of Paris served as a political Schwerpunkt ending the Government of National Defense’s will to fight, and with it the war.
In the Franco-Prussian War, the Prussians, using meticulous planning and the advantage of their railways, were able to achieve and maintain tactical flexibility and local superiority of numbers. This allowed them to use weight of numbers and massed artillery to encircle and destroy the French armies, despite the fact that the French rifles had twice the range of their own. In return the French attempts to break out lacked the “mass” to punch out off the Prussian sieges and encirclements, and just served to speed their own destruction.
The success of the Prussian system led to its adoption and emulation by the nations of continental Europe. The fundamental assumptions being that victory would go to the nation which could bring the largest possible army to bear upon its enemy in the shortest possible time, and that the only way to resist such an army, was to attack first with an even bigger army. This was to lead to the institution of the large conscript army, mobilized and deployed on an autopilot of rigid timetables. These large conscript armies strained to different extents the ability of the continental nations to train, officer and especially in the case of Imperial Russia to equip and arm all its soldiers, leading to armies of various and sometimes dubious qualities. The French, for example, were only able to match the Germans (who had a larger population) in numbers by lengthening the term of conscription and increasing the upper age limit of men in the reserves.
In the modern era, human-wave attacks are often, but not always associated with mass armies of untrained soldiers. The casualty rate is generally enormous, yet such attacks are often successful and therefore remain an accepted combat technique. When the defender is also poorly-trained or of low quality, the shock value of a human-wave attack may be enough to carry the objective.
Early battles of the First World War exhibited both characteristics of human wave attacks, for example the Germans at the Battle of Mons, and incorporated elements of maneuver and infiltration in assaults. There is no contradiction in this as the combatants included both long service professionals and mobilised reservists, troops of differing temperament, ability and training. However, an aggressive, attack at all costs-approach was very much considered the most 'manly' and promising tactic, and was especially espoused by the French.
With the loss of strategic maneuver after the First Battle of the Marne the latter stages of the First World War degenerated into trench warfare. With trench warfare human wave attacks became common, a product of the reappearance of mass conscript armies dealing unsuccessfully with a new combat environment. There was a belief that troops could not handle sophisticated tactics (though counter-evidence was available); means of communication with supporting arms were ineffective; and senior leaders did not always see the battle environment as it really was.
In the British army human wave attacks were adopted by the new armies because a lack of proficiency in musketry led to the doctrine that in the attack the grenade and bayonet would be the prime infantry weapons and tactics were evolved to accommodate this. To this was added a lack of leadership, due to the dilution of the professional officer and NCO corps, for anything more sophisticated than massed attacks. The classic example of the human-wave attacks would be the Battle of the Somme.
Allied forces suffered over 600,000 casualties during the three months of fighting, for no tangible goals other than the attrition of the enemy. Despite these horrendous casualties, this could still be seen as a success, given that the Germans endured casualties at least as severe and the attack relieved pressure on the French at Verdun.
Only towards the end of the war were skirmisher tactics, infiltration tactics, and new combined-arms approaches, re-discovered and developed in raiding and harassing attacks, allowed to flower; coming to a final, though ultimately futile, realisation in the German Spring Offensive of 1918.
Accounts of receiving and making an attack.
It came with a suddenness that was most startling....A grey mass of humanity was charging, running for all God would let them, straight on to us not 50 yards off....and as I fired my rifle the rest all went off almost simultaneously. One saw the great mass of Germans quiver. In reality some fell, some fell over them, and others came on. I have never shot so much in such a short time.....the whole lot came on again...Twenty yard more and they would have been over us in thousands but our fire must have been fearful....Some of the leading people turned to the left for some reason, and they all followed like a great flock of sheep. I don't think one could have missed at the distance and just for one short minute or two we poured the ammunition into them in boxfuls.... —Captain Harry Dillon, 2nd Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire Light Infantry. Saturday 24 October 1914 after First Battle of Ypres.
At 6.30 a.m our artillery were bombarding intensely…..At 7.30 we moved to “the attack” by companies at 200 yard intervals in the order C, D,A, B….A battery of artillery was in action….enemy sending heavy shrapnel all over the place…We had a terrible dose of machine gun fire sweeping us through wood …..across the opening I saw the last platoon of A Coy. going over open ground in front of wood….about 120 yards. Half of the platoon were killed and almost all of remainder wounded in the crossing, and I at once realized that some part of the attack had gone radically wrong, as we were being enfiladed by batteries of enemy machine guns… —Ernest Shepard CSM B Coy 1st Dorsets. writing of 1 July 1916, the Battle of the Somme.
Although they had fought the same war, the participants learnt different lessons from the same experience. The French went from the one extreme of idolizing the all-out attack to the idolizing of the ideal of dogged defense, as exemplified by the Battle of Verdun, leading directly to the building of the Maginot Line.
With its first and last throws of the dice the German Army convinced itself that it had almost had victory in its grasp. In its next attempt it married Hutier tactics and mechanization to the Schlieffen Plan, achieving with Blitzkrieg in the May 1940 during the Fall of France what it could not in August 1914.
For Britain, the horrors and slaughter of First World War made it the “War to end all wars”; determined never to allow such a conflict again, she spent her efforts between the wars trying to avert future wars. The solution to conflict would be disarmament and arms limitations, the banning of so called offensive weapons; in so doing she threw away her lead in armored and mechanized warfare and many hard-earned lessons.
The United States decided to wash its hands of European wars and reverted to a policy of non-interventionism.
In the Winter War, the Finns developed—out of necessity—the motti tactic against the human wave attack. It involved retreating at the face of the human wave, simultaneously advancing at the flanks and enveloping the wave, effectively turning the wave into a salient. Once the onslaught had culminated, the supply lines were cut and encirclement became complete. The attacking Soviet forces were ordered not to retreat; therefore, encircling them and staging a siege proved a highly lethal maneuver against the Soviets.
When Nazi Germany attacked the Soviet Union, the Germans reported that the Red Army used the tactic against both advancing and entrenched German soldiers, sometimes using penal battalions or militia units. It is assumed that the Red Army soldiers were ordered to charge directly in a wide berth to strike every possible point in the German lines simultaneously (see Panfilovtsy). In some battles the Soviets defeated the Germans after sustaining battle losses much higher than the German losses. After 1942, the Red Army developed into a more capable force and used modern tactics.
In the Japanese Army, human wave attacks in the form of Banzai charges were common in the early battles of World War II. Japanese units generally had adequate training and were skilled at infiltration tactics, but were very weak in artillery. Even in the constricted terrain of the Pacific War, however, these attacks generally failed. As this lesson was absorbed, the tactic was abandoned except as a tactic of desperation or last resort.
It is widely believed that such tactics were employed widely and successfully by the North Korean and Chinese armies during the Korean War, because to the UN troops, the enemy seemed to be everywhere, for example at the battles of the Chosin Reservoir and the Imjin River.
However, while massed infantry attacks were used, what the North Korean and Chinese forces actually used is more aptly described as infiltration assault. With UN air superiority, any concentration of Chinese armor or artillery, to support the infantry, would have invited instant air attack and almost as instant annihilation. The Chinese employed infiltration tactics to mitigate their inferiority in terms of available artillery and air support, finding it was necessary to bypass their enemies forward lines and complete an encirclement before heavy fighting began. By beginning their attacks at night and only when in close proximity to their targets, they rendered the UN unable to use its artillery and air power without endangering its own troops.
...The Chinese generally attacked at night and tried to close in on a small troop position — generally a platoon — and then attacked it with local superiority in numbers. The usual method was to infiltrate small units, from a platoon of fifty men to a company of 200, split into separate detachments. While one team cut off the escape route of the Americans, the others struck both the front and the flanks in concerted assaults. —Bevin Alexander, How Wars Are Won
During the 1950s, the Viet Minh, under the command of General Vo Nguyen Giap, enjoying the advantage of superior numbers in artillery and manpower, successfully employed the massed infantry tactics against the entrenched French garrison at Dien Bien Phu. However, whether such organized assaults are human wave attacks is debatable. Similar tactics failed miserably at battle of Khe Sanh against the US Marines.
During the Sino-Vietnamese War, Chinese armies employed a strategy of invading on a broad front, attacking simultaneously with multiple columns in order to hide the main thrusts of attack. The intention was to lure out the defending armies into the open field where they could be annihilated in battles of encirclement and attrition, where Chinese armies' numerical superiority would allow them to prevail. However, Vietnamese forces withdrew to a narrower and more easily defendable front, reducing Chinese freedom of maneuver and forcing them to launch large frontal assaults against enemy positions using artillery and infantry.
Human wave attacks reappeared during the Iran-Iraq War. The Iranians, especially the Pasdaran and the Basij (People's Army) volunteers being the primary user of such tactics, as it had both become less technologically advanced, (its ability to maintain openly its advanced equipment suffering from the arms embargo) and had the less well-trained forces. Those military leaders of the Iranian army who had not fled the country, or facing imprisonment and execution after the 1979 revolution, were mistrusted by the new leadership. and this led to a loss of tactical effectiveness and finesse, an inability to react to changing events without having to seek approval from the political leadership. In addition to the lack of military supplies and leadership, the US, the Europeans, the Soviets and the complete Arab world (except Syria and Libya) were financially, militarily and diplomatically assisting Iraq in one way or another. Human wave attacks were utilized by Iranians at first as a last-ditch effort to check the Iraqi assault, and as the war progressed as a means to match and overtake the increasing material strength of the Iraqi military. In some cases Iranian volunteers, many of them young teenagers, had very little military training. The following is part of an account of these events as seen from a Western perspective.
....in July 1982 Iran launched Operation Ramadan on Iraqi territory, near Basra. Tehran used Pasdaran forces and Basij volunteers in one of the biggest land battles since 1945. Ranging in age from only nine to more than fifty, these eager but relatively untrained soldiers swept over minefields and fortifications to clear safe paths for the tanks. In doing so, the Iranians sustained an immense number of casualties, but they enabled Iran to recover some territory before the Iraqis could repulse the bulk of the invading forces....
....In 1983 Iran launched three major, but unsuccessful, humanwave offensives, with huge losses, along the frontier. On February 6, Tehran, using 200,000 "last reserve" Pasdaran troops, attacked along a 40-kilometer stretch near Al Amarah, about 200 kilometers southeast of Baghdad. Backed by air, armor, and artillery support, Iran's six-division thrust was strong enough to break through. In response, Baghdad used massive air attacks, with more than 200 sorties, many flown by attack helicopters. More than 6,000 Iranians were killed that day, while achieving only minute gains. In April 1983, the Mandali-Baghdad northcentral sector witnessed fierce fighting, as repeated Iranian attacks were stopped by Iraqi mechanized and infantry divisions. Casualties were very high, and by the end of 1983, an estimated 120,000 Iranians and 60,000 Iraqis had been killed. Despite these losses, in 1983 Iran held a distinct advantage in the attempt to wage and eventually to win the war of attrition.....
The 1998-2000 border war between Eritrea and Ethiopia has been described as "combining First World War tactics, Korean war weaponry and Napoleonic field-hospital care" and throughout the conflict both sides were reported to have engaged in human wave attacks.
Taliban tactics in Afghanistan September 2006 would appear to have some of the hallmarks of human wave attacks, featuring massed attacks against prepared positions, with apparently little attempt to minimise casualties, and intense close-quarter fighting including bayonet charges. In the words of one source talking to The Daily Mail, "We're talking Waterloo stuff here."
Countermeasures to such attacks may involve extreme firepower superiority, generally of an organizationally or technologically superior nature.
Although the fire power of an individual smoothbore musket was very weak, being considered by most as being inferior in terms of accuracy, range and rate of fire to the English longbow, the firepower of a military unit could be enhanced by organisation and fire discipline. Organisationally this involved breaking all actions into drills. Musket drill involved breaking the act of loading the musket into a series of individual actions which by dint of constant and repetitive practise became second nature, actions which could be automatically carried out even under the stress and pressure of enemy fire and the death of comrades. Repeated practise of formation drills similarly allowed commanders to be able to reliably move and deploy their troops.
Fire discipline allowed commanders to maximise the firepower available to them. At its simplest this meant holding off firing the first volley until an enemy was well within effective range, a practise neatly encapsulated in the command "Don't shoot until you see the whites of their eyes!" (see Battle of Bunker Hill).
With three or more lines of defenders, individual ranks could stagger reloading and firing so that ideally there would always be one rank with weapons ready to fire. The British Army also evolved a system of volley firing by company and by platoon, with numbered companies or platoons in the battle line firing in turn.
Even with the introduction of magazine rifles into British service, fire discipline remained, allowing officers to control and maximise the firepower available.
For when the enemy charge did arrive, Bayonet drill in the British Army also encouraged its soldiers to fight as units and not as individuals. The bayonet drill was introduced for the Battle of Culloden, in order to defeat the much vaunted Highland charge; it was not for a soldier to protect himself or to attack the enemy in front, but to stab into the unprotected side of the man attacking his neighbour, each man in the battle line relying on his comrades to defend him.
From the Peninsular War onwards, the British Army met the French columns with troops in lines utilizing the reverse slope defence. Where possible these lines were structured to allow the British to rake the sides of the oncoming French columns and not just the head of the column with fire. Two thirds of French casualties in the campaign however, were inflicted by the Spanish irregular forces using guerilla war techniques, rather than by the oft repeated "British line against French column" cliché.
In the Anglo-Zulu War, the British Army used machine guns and organized rifle volleys to great effect against superior numbers of opposing forces armed only with primitive weapons and a few guns.
In the wars from the end of the Napoléonic Wars leading up to the First World War, field fortifications became increasingly important. Long a feature of sieges both in the attack and the defence, field fortifications from the quick and humble foxhole and shell scrape, to the complex Hindenburg Line became a routine practice to all sides in the Great War.
The term can perhaps best be understood when contrasted with other types of deliberate attacks against well-defended points. In general, attacking forces will attempt to weaken the defender through the use of artillery or close air support before or while launching an infantry attack.
In the modern battlefield, individual soldiers maneuver as individuals and as part of very small teams using "Fire and Movement" with a high degree of initiative. Their leaders have communications with supporting arms. In effect, all infantrymen are skirmishers, and there is no need for human-wave attacks except in armies based on conscription, in which training, tactics, and regard for the soldiers' lives is very low. The infantry attack may be more successful when combined with other supporting arms such as tank support, infiltration tactics, night attacks, flanking attacks, and so forth. All of these alternative tactics require some skill in planning and great skill in execution, since disparate units and weapons must be used in a coordinated manner. Often, human-wave attacks are the unplanned result of a poorly-executed conventional attack.
The human wave which historically used massed unidirectional frontal assault is distinct from the military swarming attack which also relies on sudden, massed attack by lightly armed small units. The difference is that swarming involves infiltration, maneuver and sudden massing from many directions, followed by dispersal and regrouping, and is achieved only by highly trained warriors. Both human wave and swarming attacks can be supported by heavy standoff weapons such as missiles, artillery and air support. War strategies currently being researched include omnidirectional attack following small unit infiltration with the added element of networked artificial intelligence, mobile communications and situational awareness at the small unit level to coordinate movement, prevent friendly fire and bring multiple light infantry units together suddenly in a concentrated mass in order to overwhelm enemy targeting capabilities. Swarming attack strategies have been investigated by the United States Army and Marines but are known to be a fairly inexpensive technology, making them just as useful to relatively unsophisticated armies.
The shock value of a human wave attack has parallels to historical cavalry tactics, both of armoured knights and lighter mounted troops of later eras. Historians such as John Keegan have shown that when correctly prepared against (such as by improvising fortifications) and especially, by standing firm in face of the onslaught, cavalry charges often failed against infantry, with horses balking at ploughing into the dense mass of enemies. However, when they succeeded, it was usually due to the defending formation breaking up (often in fear) and scattering, to be hunted down by the enemy. The human wave attack, as part of its value, tries to instill a similar fear in the defender, and cause him to break formation.
Penetration - A direct attack through the enemy lines, then attack the rear once through.
A strategic military maneuver much like the Pincer maneuver with a few exceptions. The Penetration Attack goes straight through the enemy's flanks, and once through, each flank turns and attacks the opponent's rear, similar to the Blitzkrieg strategy.
The penetration is carried out as part of the frontal attack when there is no assailable flank available. It takes the form of assaulting the enemy positions, creating a rupture, widening of the gap and finally breakthrough. Separate forces are earmarked for the assault and break-out stages of penetration.
Penetration has the stages of break in, dog fight and break-out. There are no clear cut demarcations between these stages and these tend to overlap.
Flank attack and other forms of maneuver are preferred to the penetration or frontal attack.
In air combat, penetration is a role applied to bomber and attack aircraft. It indicates an ability to penetrate concentrated enemy defenses in enemy-held territory (and survive) in order to strike important military objectives unreachable by other means. Since the area to be penetrated is often heavily guarded by anti-aircraft defenses that would easily and quickly destroy a normal aircraft flying a normal flight profile, penetration bombers use a variety of specific tactics to increase their survivability. These include: extreme high-altitude (eg. the SR-71 Blackbird), extreme low-altitude (nap-of-the-earth flight), tremendous speed (eg. the afterburner-equipped B-1 Lancer and Tu-160 Blackjack), stand-off weaponry to increase attack range (eg. the AGM-84 Harpoon missile), and stealth to increase survivability in these "high-threat" environments.
Pincer maneuver - Allowing the enemy to attack the center, sometimes in a charge, then attacking the flanks of the charge.
The pincer movement or double envelopment is a basic element of military strategy which has been used, to some extent, in nearly every war. The flanks of the opponent are attacked simultaneously in a pinching motion after the opponent has advanced towards the center of an army which is responding by moving its outside forces to the enemy's flanks, in order to surround it. At the same time, a second layer of pincers attacks on the more extreme flanks, so as to prevent any attempts to reinforce the target unit.
Most infantry combat, on every scale, is based in some fashion on this military tactic and it is commonly used by aircraft as well. It was vaguely described in Sun Tzu's The Art of War, but he argued that it was best to allow the enemy a path to escape, as he felt the target army would fight with more ferocity when completely surrounded.
A double envelopment by definition leads to the attacking army facing the enemy in front, on both flanks, and in the rear. If the attacking pincers link up in the enemy's rear, the enemy is encircled. Such battles often end in surrender or destruction of the enemy force, although the encircled force can attempt a breakout, attacking the encirclement from the inside in order to escape, or a friendly external force can attack from the outside to open up an escape route for the encircled force.
Hannibal's double envelopement at the Battle of Cannae in 216 BC is viewed by military historians as one of the greatest battlefield maneuvers in history, and is cited as the first successful use of the pincer movement to be recorded in detail.
A variation of this maneuver was also later used to great effect by Khalid ibn al-Walid against the numerically superior forces of the Sassanid Persian Empire at the Battle of Walaja in AD 633, though Khalid developed his version independently.
Raiding - Attacking with the purpose of removing enemy's supply or provisions.
A raid is a military tactic whereby a sudden attack is effected by a small group behind enemy lines. A raiding group may comprise of personnel specially trained in this tactic (such as commandos or guerilla fighters), regular soldiers, or any organized group of combatants. Raids have a specific purpose and are not normally intended to capture and hold terrain, but instead finish with the raiding force quickly retreating to a previous defended position prior to the enemy forces being able to respond in a co-ordinated manner or formulate a counterattack.
The purposes of a raid may include:
to demoralize, confuse, or exhaust an enemy
to ransack or pillage a location
to obtain property or capture people
to destroy goods or other things with an economic value
to free POWs
to kill or capture specific people
to gather intelligence.
The Royal Air Force first used the term "raid" in the Second World War when referring to an air attack. It included those by one aircraft or many squadrons, against all manner of targets on the ground and the targets defending aircraft. "Raid" was different than "battle", which was used for land, sea, or amphibious conflict. An aircraft "raid" was always planned ahead of time. Aircraft patrols (against U-Boats) and defensive launches of carrier aircraft (against recently detected enemy ships) are differentiated from raids.
Siege - Continuous attack by bombardment on a fortified position, usually by artillery.
A siege is a military blockade of a city or fortress with the intent of conquering by attrition and/or assault. The term derives from the Latin word for "seat" or "sitting." A siege occurs when an attacker encounters a city or fortress that cannot be easily taken by a frontal assault and refuses to surrender. Sieges involve surrounding the target and blocking the reinforcement or escape of troops or provision of supplies (a tactic known as "investment"), typically coupled with attempts to reduce the fortifications by means of siege engines, artillery bombardment, mining (also known as sapping), or the use of deception or treachery to bypass defenses. Failing a military outcome, sieges can often be decided by starvation, thirst or disease, which can afflict both the attacker or defender.
Sieges probably predate the development of cities as large population centers. Ancient cities in the Middle East show archaeological evidence of having had fortified city walls. During the Warring States era of ancient China, there is both textual and archaeological evidence of prolonged sieges and siege machinery used against the defenders of city walls. Siege machinery was also a tradition of the ancient Greco-Roman world. During the Renaissance and the Early Modern period, siege warfare dominated the conduct of war in Europe. Leonardo da Vinci gained as much of his renown from the design of fortifications as from his artwork.
Medieval campaigns were generally designed around a succession of sieges. In the Napoleonic era, increasing use of ever more powerful cannon reduced the value of fortifications. In modern times, trenches replaced walls, and bunkers replaced castles. In the 20th century, the significance of the classical siege declined. With the advent of mobile warfare, one single fortified stronghold is no longer as decisive as it once was. While sieges do still occur, they are not as common as they once were due to changes in modes of battle, principally the ease by which huge volumes of destructive power can be directed onto a static target. Sieges in present day are more commonly either smaller hostage, militant, or extreme resisting-arrest situations such as the Waco Siege.
Generally speaking, siege warfare is a form of low-intensity warfare (until an assault takes place) characterized in that at least one party holds a strong defense position, it is highly static situation, the element of attrition is typically strong and there are plenty of opportunities for negotiations.
The Assyrians deployed large labour forces to build new palaces, temples and defensive walls.
Some settlements in the Indus Valley Civilization were also fortified. By about 3500 B.C., hundreds of small farming villages dotted the Indus floodplain. Many of these settlements had fortifications and planned streets. The stone and mud brick houses of Kot Diji were clustered behind massive stone flood dikes and defensive walls, for neighboring communities quarreled constantly about the control of prime agricultural land. Mundigak (c. 2500 B.C.) in present day south-east Afghanistan has defensive walls and square bastions of sun dried bricks. City walls and fortifications were essential for the defense of the first cities in the ancient Near East. The walls were built by mud bricks, stone, wood or a combination of these materials depending on local availability. City walls may also have served the dual purpose of showing presumptive enemies the might of the Kingdom. The great walls surrounding the Sumerian city of Uruk gained such a wide-spread reputation. The walls were 9.5 km / 6 miles in length, and raised up to 12 metres / 40 feet in height. Later the walls of Babylon, reinforced by towers and moats, gained a similar reputation. In Anatolia, the Hittites built massive stone walls around their cities, taking advantage of the hillsides. In Shang Dynasty China, at the site of Ao, large walls were erected in the 15th century BC that had dimensions of 20 meters / 65 feet in width at the base and enclosed an area of some 2,100 yards (1,900 m) squared. In similar dimensions, the ancient Chinese capital for the State of Zhao, Handan (founded in 386 BC), had walls that were again 20 meters / 65 feet wide at the base, a height of 15 meters / 50 feet tall, with two separate sides of its rectangular enclosure measured at a length of 1,530 yards (1,400 m). The cities of the Indus Valley civilization showed less effort in constructing defenses, and likewise the Minoan civilization on Crete. These civilizations probably relied more on the defense of their outer borders or sea shores. Unlike the ancient Minoan civilization, the Mycenaean Greeks emphasized need for fortifications alongside natural defenses of mountainous terrain, such as the massive 'Cyclopean' walls built at Mycenae during the last half of the 2nd millennium BC.
Although there are depictions of sieges from the ancient Near East in the historical sources and in ancient Near Eastern art, there are very few examples of siege systems that have been found archaeologically. Of the few examples, several are noteworthy:
1) The late 9th cent. BCE siege system surrounding Tell es-Safi/Gath, Israel. This system, which is comprised of a 2.5 km long siege trench, towers and other elements, the earliest evidence of a circumvallation system known in the world, was apparently built by Hazael of Aram Damascus, as part of his siege and conquest of Philistine Gath in the late 9th cent. BCE (mentioned in II Kings 12:18).
2) The late 8th cent. BCE siege system surrounding the site of Lachish (Tell el-Duweir) in Israel. This system, which was built by Sennacherib of Assyria in 701 BCE, is not only evident in the archaeological remains, but is described in the Assyrian and biblical sources and in the reliefs of Sennacherib's palace in Nineveh.
3) The siege of Alt-Paphos, Cyprus by the Persian army in the 4th century BCE.
The earliest representations of siege warfare is dated to the Protodynastic Period of Egypt, c.3000 BC. These show symbolic destruction of city walls by divine animals using hoes. The first siege equipment is known from Egyptian tomb reliefs of the 24th century BC, showing Egyptian soldiers storming Canaanite town walls on wheeled siege ladders. Later Egyptian temple reliefs of the 13th century BC portrays the violent siege of Dapur, a Syrian city, with soldiers climbing scale ladders supported by archers. Assyrian palace reliefs of the 9th to 7th centuries BC display sieges of several Near Eastern cities. Though a simple battering ram had come into use in the previous millennium, the Assyrians improved siege warfare and built huge wooden tower shaped battering rams with archers positioned on top. In ancient China, sieges of city walls (along with naval battles) were portrayed on bronze 'hu' vessels dated to the Warring States (5th century BC to 3rd century BC), like those found in Chengdu, Sichuan, China in 1965.
The most common practice of siege warfare was however to lay siege and wait for the surrender of the enemies inside. The Egyptian siege of Megiddo in the 15th century BC lasted for 7 months before its inhabitants surrendered. The Hittite siege of a rebellious Anatolian vassal in the 14th century BC ended when the queen mother came out of the city and begged for mercy on behalf of her people. If the main objective of a campaign was not the conquest of a particular city, it could simply be passed by. The Hittite campaign against the kingdom of Mitanni in the 14th century BC bypassed the fortified city of Carchemish. When the main objective of the campaign had been fulfilled, the Hittite army returned to Carchemish and the city fell after an eight-day-siege. The well-known Assyrian Siege of Jerusalem in the 8th century BC came to an end when the Israelites bought them off with gifts and tribute, according to the Assyrian account, or when the Assyrian camp was struck by mass death, according to the Biblical account. Due to the problem of logistics, long lasting sieges involving but a minor force could seldom be maintained.
During the Warring States (481–221 BC) era of China, warfare lost its honorable, gentlemen's duty that was found in the previous era of China (Spring and Autumn period), and became more practical, competitive, cut-throat, and efficient for gaining victory. The Chinese invention of the hand-held, trigger-mechanism crossbow during this period revolutionized warfare, giving greater emphasis to infantry and cavalry and less to traditional chariot Chinese warfare. The philosophically-pacifist Mohists (followers of the philosopher Mozi) of the 5th century BC believed in aiding the defensive warfare of smaller Chinese states against the hostile offensive warfare of larger domineering states. The Mohists were renowned in the smaller states (and the enemies of the larger states) for the inventions of siege machinery to scale or destroy walls. This included traction trebuchet catapults, eight foot high ballistas, a wheeled siege ramp with grappling hooks known as the Cloud Bridge (the protractable, folded ramp slinging forward by means of a counterweight with rope and pulley), and wheeled 'hook-carts' used to latch large iron hooks onto the tops of walls to pull and tear them down. When enemies attempted to dig tunnels under walls for mining or entry into the city, the defenders used large bellows (the type the Chinese commonly used in heating up the blast furnace for smelting cast iron) to pump smoke into the tunnels in order to suffocate the intruders.
Although there are numerous ancient accounts of cities being sacked, few contain any clues to how this was achieved. Some popular tales existed on how the cunning heroes succeeded in their sieges. The best-known is the Trojan Horse of the Trojan War, and a similar story tells how the Canaanite city of Joppa was conquered by the Egyptians in the 15th century BC. The Biblical Book of Joshua contains the story of the miraculous Battle of Jericho. A better detailed historical account from the 8th century BC, called the Piankhi stela, records how the Nubians laid siege to and conquered several Egyptian cities using battering rams, archers, slingers and building causeways across moats.
Alexander the Great's Macedonian army was involved in many sieges. There are two which are of particular note: Tyre and Sogdian Rock. Tyre was a Phoenician island-city about 1 km from the mainland, and thought to be impregnable. The Macedonians built a mole (causeway) out to the island. It is said to have been at least 60 m (200 ft) wide. When the causeway was within artillery range of Tyre, Alexander brought up stone throwers and light catapults to bombard the city walls. The city fell to the Macedonians after a seven month siege. In complete contrast to Tyre, Sogdian Rock was captured by guile. The fortress was high up on cliffs. Alexander used commando-like tactics to scale the cliffs and capture the high ground. The demoralized defenders surrendered.
The importance of siege warfare in the ancient period should not be underestimated. One of the contributing causes of Hannibal's inability to defeat Rome was his lack of siege train; thus, while he was able to defeat Roman armies in the field, he was unable to capture Rome itself.
The legionary armies of the Roman Republic and Empire are noted as being particularly skilled and determined in siege warfare. An astonishing number and variety of sieges, for example, formed the core of Julius Caesar's mid-1st century BCE conquest of Gaul (modern France). In his Gallic Wars, Caesar describes how at the Battle of Alesia the Roman legions created two huge fortified walls around the city. The inner circumvallation, 10 miles (16 km), held in Vercingetorix's forces, while the outer contravallation kept relief from reaching them. The Romans held the ground in between the two walls. The besieged Gauls, facing starvation, eventually surrendered after their relief force met defeat against Caesar's auxiliary cavalry.
The Sicarii Zealots who defended Masada in 73 CE were defeated by the Roman Legions who built a ramp 100 meters high up to the fortress's west wall.
The universal method for defending against siege is the use of fortifications, principally walls and ditches to supplement natural features. A sufficient supply of food and water is also important to defeat the simplest method of siege warfare: starvation. During a siege, a surrounding army would build earthworks (a line of circumvallation) to completely encircle their target, preventing food and water supplies from reaching the besieged city. If sufficiently desperate as the siege progressed, defenders and civilians might have been reduced to eating anything vaguely edible—horses, family pets, the leather from shoes, and even each other. On occasion, the defenders would drive 'surplus' civilians out to reduce the demands on stored food and water.
Disease was another effective siege weapon, although the attackers were often as vulnerable as the defenders. In some instances, catapults or like weapons would fling diseased animals over city walls in an early example of biological warfare.
To end a siege more rapidly various methods were developed in ancient and medieval times to counter fortifications, and a large variety of siege engines were developed for use by besieging armies. Ladders could be used to escalade over the defenses. Battering rams and siege hooks could be used to force through gates or walls, while catapults, ballistae, trebuchets, mangonels, and onagers could be used to launch projectiles in order to break down a city's fortifications and kill its defenders. A siege tower could also be used: a substantial structure built as high, or higher than the walls, it allowed the attackers to fire down upon the defenders and also advance troops to the wall with less danger than using ladders.
In addition to launching projectiles at the fortifications or defenders, it was also quite common to attempt to undermine the fortifications, causing them to collapse. This could be accomplished by digging a tunnel beneath the foundations of the walls, and then deliberately collapsing or exploding the tunnel. This process is known as mining. The defenders could dig counter-tunnels to cut into the attackers' works and collapse them prematurely.
Fire was often used as a weapon when dealing with wooden fortifications. The Byzantine Empire used Greek fire, which contained additives that made it hard to put out. Combined with a primitive flamethrower, it proved an effective offensive and defensive weapon.
Advances in the prosecution of sieges in ancient and medieval times naturally encouraged the development of a variety of defensive counter-measures. In particular, medieval fortifications became progressively stronger—for example, the advent of the concentric castle from the period of the Crusades—and more dangerous to attackers—witness the increasing use of machicolations and murder-holes, as well the preparation of hot or incendiary substances. Arrow slits (also called arrow loops or loopholes), sally ports (airlock like doors) for sallies, and deep water wells were also integral means of resisting siege at this time. Particular attention would be paid to defending entrances, with gates protected by drawbridges, portcullises and barbicans. Moats and other water defenses, whether natural or augmented, were also vital to defenders.
In the European Middle Ages, virtually all large cities had city walls—Dubrovnik in Dalmatia is an impressive and well-preserved example—and more important cities had citadels, forts or castles. Great effort was expended to ensure a good water supply inside the city in case of siege. In some cases, long tunnels were constructed to carry water into the city. Complex systems of underground tunnels were used for storage and communications in medieval cities like Tábor in Bohemia (similar to those used much later in Vietnam during the Vietnam War).
Until the invention of gunpowder-based weapons (and the resulting higher-velocity projectiles), the balance of power and logistics definitely favored the defender. With the invention of gunpowder, cannon and (in modern times) mortars and howitzers, the traditional methods of defense became less and less effective against a determined siege.
In the Middle Ages, the Mongol Empire's campaign against China (then comprised of the Western Xia Dynasty, Jin Dynasty, and Southern Song Dynasty) by Genghis Khan until Kublai Khan with their armies was extremely effective, allowing the Mongols to sweep through large areas. Even if they could not enter some of the more well-fortified cities, they used innovative battle tactics to grab hold of the land and the people:
"By concentrating on the field armies, the strongholds had to wait. Of course, smaller fortresses, or ones easily surprised, were taken as they came along. This had two effects. First, it cut off the principal city from communicating with other cities where they might expect aid. Secondly, refugees from these smaller cities would flee to the last stronghold. The reports from these cities and the streaming hordes of refugees not only reduced the morale of the inhabitants and garrison of the principal city, it also strained their resources. Food and water reserves were taxed by the sudden influx of refugees. Soon, what was once a formidable undertaking became easy. The Mongols were then free to lay siege without interference of the field army as it had been destroyed... At the siege of Aleppo, Hulegu used twenty catapults against the Bab al-Iraq (Gate of Iraq) alone. In Jûzjânî, there are several episodes in which the Mongols constructed hundreds of siege machines in order to surpass the number which the defending city possessed. While Jûzjânî surely exaggerated, the improbably high numbers which he used for both the Mongols and the defenders do give one a sense of the large numbers of machines used at a single siege."
Another Mongol tactic was to use catapults to launch corpses of plague victims into besieged cities. The disease-carrying fleas from the person's body would then infest the city, and the plague would spread allowing the city to be easily captured, although this transmission mechanism was not known at the time.
On the first night while laying siege to a city, the leader of the Mongol forces would lead from a white tent: if the city surrendered, all would be spared. On the second day, he would use a red tent: if the city surrendered, the men would all be killed, but the rest would be spared. On the third day, he would use a black tent: no quarter would be given.
However, the Chinese weren't completely defenseless, and from 1234 until 1279 AD the Southern Song Chinese held out against the enormous barrage of Mongol attacks. Much of this success in defense lay in the world's first use of gunpowder (ie. with early flamethrowers, grenades, firearms, cannons, and land mines) to fight back against the Khitans, the Tanguts, the Jurchens, and then the Mongols. The Chinese of the Song period also discovered the explosive potential of packing hollowed cannonball shells with gunpowder. Written later around 1350 in the Huo Long Jing, this manuscript of Jiao Yu recorded an earlier Song-era cast-iron cannon known as the 'flying-cloud thunderclap eruptor' (fei yun pi-li pao). The manuscript stated that (Wade-Giles spelling):
The shells (phao) are made of cast iron, as large as a bowl and shaped like a ball. Inside they contain half a pound of 'magic' gunpowder (shen huo). They are sent flying towards the enemy camp from an eruptor (mu phao); and when they get there a sound like a thunder-clap is heard, and flashes of light appear. If ten of these shells are fired successfully into the enemy camp, the whole place will be set ablaze...
During the Ming Dynasty (1368–1644 AD), the Chinese were very concerned with city planning in regards to gunpowder warfare. The site for constructing the walls and the thickness of the walls in Beijing's Forbidden City were favored by the Chinese Yongle Emperor (r. 1402–1424), because they were in pristine position to resist cannon volley and were built thick enough to withstand attacks from cannon fire.
The introduction of gunpowder and the use of cannons brought about a new age in siege warfare. Cannons were first used in Song Dynasty China during the early 13th century, but did not become significant weapons for another 150 years or so. By the 16th century, they were an essential and regularized part of any campaigning army, or castle's defenses.
The greatest advantage of cannons over other siege weapons was the ability to fire a heavier projectile, further, faster and more often than previous weapons. They could also fire projectiles in a straight line, so that they could destroy the bases of high walls. Thus, 'old fashioned' walls—that is high and, relatively, thin—were excellent targets and, over time, easily demolished. In 1453, the great walls of Constantinople were broken through in just six weeks by the 62 cannon of Mehmet II's army.
However, new fortifications, designed to withstand gunpowder weapons, were soon constructed throughout Europe. During the Renaissance and the Early Modern period, siege warfare continued to dominate the conduct of war in Europe.
Once siege guns were developed the techniques for assaulting a town or a fortress became well known and ritualized. The attacking army would surround a town. Then the town would be asked to surrender. If they did not comply the besieging army would surround the town with temporary fortifications to stop sallies from the stronghold or relief getting in. The attackers would then build a length of trenches parallel to the defences and just out of range of the defending artillery. They would then dig a trench towards the town in a zigzag pattern so that it could not be enfiladed by defending fire. Once within artillery range another parallel trench would be dug with gun emplacements. If necessary using the first artillery fire for cover this process would be repeated until guns were close enough to be laid accurately to make a breach in the fortifications. In order to allow the forlorn hope and support troops to get close enough to exploit the breach, more zigzag trenches could be dug even closer to the walls with more parallel trenches to protect and conceal the attacking troops. After each step in the process the besiegers would ask the besieged to surrender. If the forlorn hope stormed the breach successfully the defenders could expect no mercy.
The castles that in earlier years had been formidable obstacles were easily breached by the new weapons. For example, in Spain, the newly equipped army of Ferdinand and Isabella was able to conquer Moorish strongholds in Granada in 1482–92 that had held out for centuries before the invention of cannons.
In the early 15th century, Italian architect Leon Battista Alberti wrote a treatise entitled De Re aedificatoria which theorized methods of building fortifications capable of withstanding the new guns. He proposed that walls be "built in uneven lines, like the teeth of a saw." He proposed star-shaped fortresses with low thick walls.
However, few rulers paid any attention to his theories. A few towns in Italy began building in the new style late in the 1480s, but it was only with the French invasion of the Italian peninsula in 1494–95 that the new fortifications were built on a large scale. Charles VIII invaded Italy with an army of 18,000 men and a horse-drawn siege-train. As a result he could defeat virtually any city or state, no matter how well defended. In a panic, military strategy was completely rethought throughout the Italian states of the time, with a strong emphasis on the new fortifications that could withstand a modern siege.
The most effective way to protect walls against cannon fire proved to be depth (increasing the width of the defenses) and angles (ensuring that attackers could only fire on walls at an oblique angle, not square on). Initially walls were lowered and backed, in front and behind, with earth. Towers were reformed into triangular bastions.
This design matured into the trace italienne. Star-shaped fortresses surrounding towns and even cities with outlying defenses proved very difficult to capture, even for a well equipped army. Fortresses built in this style throughout the 16th century did not become fully obsolete until the 19th century, and were still in use throughout World War I (though modified for 20th century warfare).
However, the cost of building such vast modern fortifications was incredibly high, and was often too much for individual cities to undertake. Many were bankrupted in the process of building them; others, such as Siena, spent so much money on fortifications that they were unable to maintain their armies properly, and so lost their wars anyway. Nonetheless, innumerable large and impressive fortresses were built throughout northern Italy in the first decades of the 16th century to resist repeated French invasions that became known as the Italian Wars. Many stand to this day.
In the 1530s and 1540s, the new style of fortification began to spread out of Italy into the rest of Europe, particularly to France, the Netherlands, and Spain. Italian engineers were in enormous demand throughout Europe, especially in war-torn areas such as the Netherlands, which became dotted by towns encircled in modern fortifications. For many years, defensive and offensive tactics were well balanced leading to protracted and costly wars such as Europe had never known, involving more and more planning and government involvement.
The new fortresses ensured that war rarely extended beyond a series of sieges. Because the new fortresses could easily hold 10,000 men, an attacking army could not ignore a powerfully fortified position without serious risk of counterattack. As a result, virtually all towns had to be taken, and that was usually a long, drawn-out affair, potentially lasting from several months to years, while the members of the town were starved to death. Most battles in this period were between besieging armies and relief columns sent to rescue the besieged.
At the end of the 17th century, Marshal Vauban, a French military engineer, developed modern fortification to its pinnacle, refining siege warfare without fundamentally altering it: ditches would be dug; walls would be protected by glacis; and bastions would enfilade an attacker. He was also a master of planning sieges himself. Before Vauban, sieges had been somewhat slapdash operations. Vauban refined besieging to a science with a methodical process that, if uninterrupted, would break even the strongest fortifications.
Examples of Vauban-style fortresses in North America include Fort McHenry in Baltimore, Maryland, Fort Ticonderoga in New York State, and La Citadelle in Quebec City.
Planning and maintaining a siege is just as difficult as fending one off. A besieging army must be prepared to repel both sorties from the besieged area and also any attack that may try to relieve the defenders. It was thus usual to construct lines of trenches and defenses facing in both directions. The outermost lines, known as the lines of contravallation, would surround the entire besieging army and protect it from attackers. This would be the first construction effort of a besieging army, built soon after a fortress or city had been invested. A line of circumvallation would also be constructed, facing in towards the besieged area, to protect against sorties by the defenders and to prevent the besieged from escaping.
The next line, which Vauban usually placed at about 600 meters from the target, would contain the main batteries of heavy cannons so that they could hit the target without being vulnerable themselves. Once this line was established, work crews would move forward creating another line at 250 meters. This line contained smaller guns. The final line would be constructed only 30 to 60 meters from the fortress. This line would contain the mortars and would act as a staging area for attack parties once the walls were breached. It would also be from there that miners working to undermine the fortress would operate.
The trenches connecting the various lines of the besiegers could not be built perpendicular to the walls of the fortress, as the defenders would have a clear line of fire along the whole trench. Thus, these lines (known as saps) needed to be sharply jagged.
Another element of a fortress was the citadel. Usually a citadel was a "mini fortress" within the larger fortress, sometimes designed as a last bastion of defense, but more often as a means of protecting the garrison from potential revolt in the city. The citadel was used in wartime and peacetime to keep the residents of the city in line.
As in ages past, most sieges were decided with very little fighting between the opposing armies. An attacker's army was poorly served incurring the high casualties that a direct assault on a fortress would entail. Usually they would wait until supplies inside the fortifications were exhausted or disease had weakened the defenders to the point that they were willing to surrender. At the same time, diseases, especially typhus were a constant danger to the encamped armies outside the fortress, and often forced a premature retreat. Sieges were often won by the army that lasted the longest.
An important element of strategy for the besieging army was whether or not to allow the encamped city to surrender. Usually it was preferable to graciously allow a surrender, both to save on casualties, and to set an example for future defending cities. A city that was allowed to surrender with minimal loss of life was much better off than a city that held out for a long time and was brutally butchered at the end. Moreover, if an attacking army had a reputation of killing and pillaging regardless of a surrender, then other cities' defensive efforts would be redoubled.
Siege warfare dominated in Western Europe for most of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. An entire campaign, or longer, could be used in a single siege (for example, Ostend in 1601–04; La Rochelle in 1627–28). This resulted in extremely prolonged conflicts. The balance was that while siege warfare was extremely expensive and very slow, it was very successful—or, at least, more so than encounters in the field. Battles arose through clashes between besiegers and relieving armies, but the principle was a slow grinding victory by the greater economic power. The relatively rare attempts at forcing pitched battles (Gustavus Adolphus in 1630; the French against the Dutch in 1672 or 1688) were almost always expensive failures.
The exception to this rule were the English. During the English Civil War anything which tended to prolong the struggle, or seemed like want of energy and avoidance of a decision, was bitterly resented by the men of both sides. In France and Germany, the prolongation of a war meant continued employment for the soldiers, but in England:
"we never encamped or entrenched... or lay fenced with rivers or defiles. Here were no leaguers in the field, as at the story of Nuremberg, 'neither had our soldiers any tents, or what they call heavy baggage.' Twas the general maxim of the war: Where is the enemy? Let us go and fight them. Or... if the enemy was coming... Why, what should be done! Draw out into the fields and fight them."
This passage from the Memoirs of a Cavalier, ascribed to Daniel Defoe, though not contemporary evidence, is an admirable summary of the character of the Civil War. Even when in the end a regular professional army developed, the original decision-compelling spirit permeated the whole organisation as was seen when pitched against regular professional continental troops the Battle of the Dunes during the Interregnum.
Sixty year later during the War of the Spanish Succession the Duke of Marlborough preferred to engage the enemy in pitched battles rather than engage in siege warfare, although he was very proficient in both types of warfare.
In the early nineteenth century, two factors changed this method of warfare.
In the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars, new techniques stressed the division of armies into all-arms corps that would march separately and only come together on the battlefield. The less concentrated army could now live off the country and move more rapidly over a larger number of roads. Fortresses commanding lines of communication could be bypassed and would no longer stop an invasion. Since armies could not live off the land indefinitely, Napoleon Bonaparte always sought a quick end to any conflict by pitched battle. This military revolution was described and codified by Clausewitz.
Advances in artillery made previously impregnable defenses useless. For example, the walls of Vienna that had held off the Turks in the mid-seventeenth century were no obstacle to Napoleon in the late eighteenth. Where sieges occurred (such as the Siege of Delhi and the Siege of Cawnpore during the Indian Rebellion of 1857), the attackers were usually able to defeat the defenses within a matter of days or weeks, rather than weeks or months as previously. The great Swedish white-elephant fortress of Karlsborg was built in the tradition of Vauban and intended as a reserve capital for Sweden, but it was obsolete before it was completed in 1869. (It was said that the Prussian General von Moltke, a great exponent of the art of mobile warfare, smiled only twice in his life; when he saw the fortress of Karlsborg, and when his wife's mother died.)
Railways, when they were introduced, made possible the movement and supply of larger armies than those that fought in the Napoleonic Wars. It also reintroduced siege warfare, as armies seeking to use railway lines in enemy territory were forced to capture fortresses which blocked these lines. During the Franco-Prussian War, the battlefield front-lines moved rapidly through France. However, the Prussian and other German armies were delayed for months at the Siege of Metz and the Siege of Paris, due to the greatly increased firepower of the defending infantry, and the principle of detached or semi-detached forts with heavy-caliber artillery. This resulted in the later construction of fortress works across Europe such as the massive fortifications at Verdun. It also led to the introduction of tactics which sought to induce surrender by bombarding the civilian population within a fortress rather than the defending works themselves.
The Siege of Sevastopol (1854–1855) during the Crimean War and the Siege of Petersburg (1864–1865) during the American Civil War showed that modern citadels, when improved by improvised defences, could still resist an enemy for many months. The Siege of Pleven during the Russo-Turkish War (1877–1878) proved that hastily-constructed field defences could resist attacks prepared without proper resources, and were a portent of the trench warfare of World War I.
Advances in firearms technology without the necessary advances in battlefield communications gradually led to the defense again gaining the ascendancy. An example of siege during this time, prolonged during 337 days due to the isolation of the surrounded troops, was the Siege of Baler, in which a reduced group of Spanish soldiers, was besieged in a small church by the Philippine rebels, in the course of the Philippine Revolution and the Spanish-American War, until months after the Treaty of Paris, the end of the conflict.
Mainly as a result of the increasing firepower (such as machine guns) available to defensive forces, First World War trench warfare briefly revived a form of siege warfare. Although siege warfare had moved out from an urban setting because city walls had become ineffective against modern weapons, trench warfare was nonetheless able to utilize many of the techniques of siege warfare in its prosecution (sapping, mining, barrage and, of course, attrition) but on a much larger scale and on a greatly extended front.
More traditional sieges of fortifications took place in addition to trench sieges. The Siege of Tsingtao was one of the first major sieges of the war, but the inability for significant resupply of the German garrison made it a relatively one sided battle. The Germans and the crew of an Austro-Hungarian protected cruiser put up a hopeless defense and after holding out for more than a week surrendered to the Japanese, forcing the German East Asia Squadron to steam towards South America for a new coal source.
The other major siege outside Europe during the First World War was in Mesopotamia, at the Siege of Kut. After a failed attempt to move on Baghdad, stopped by the Ottomans at the bloody Battle of Ctesiphon, the British and their large contingent of Indian sepoy soldiers were forced to retreat to Kut, where the Ottomans under German General Baron Colmar von der Goltz laid siege. The British attempts to resupply the force via the Tigris river failed, and rationing was complicated by the refusal of many Indian troops to eat cattle products. By the time the garrison fell on 29 April 1916, starvation was rampant. Conditions did not improve greatly under Turkish imprisonment. Along with the the Battle of Tanga, the Battle of Sandfontein, the Battle of Gallipoli and the Battle of Namakura, it would be one of Britain's numerous embarrassing colonial defeats of the war.
The largest sieges of the war, however, took place in Europe. The initial German advance into Belgium produced four major sieges, the Battle of Liege, the Battle of Namur, the Siege of Maubeuge and the Siege of Antwerp.
All three would prove crushing German victories, at Liege and Namur against the Belgians, at Maubeuge against the French and at Antwerp against a combined Anglo-Belgian force. The weapon that made these victories possible were the German Big Berthas and the Skoda 305 mm Model 1911 siege mortars on loan from Austria-Hungary. These huge guns were the decisive weapon of siege warfare in the 20th century, taking part at Przemysl, the Belgian sieges, on the Italian Front and Serbian Front, and even being reused in World War II.
At the second Siege of Przemysl the Austro-Hungarian garrison showed an excellent knowledge of siege warfare, not only waiting for relief, but sending sorties into Russian lines and employing an active defense that resulted in the capture of the Russian General Kornilov. Despite its excellent performance, the garrison's food supply had been requisitioned for earlier offensives, a relief expedition was stalled by the weather, ethnic rivalries flared up between the defending soldiers and a breakout attempt failed. When the commander of the garrison Hermann Kusmanek finally surrendered, his troops were eating their horses and the first attempt of large scale air supply had failed. It was one of the few great victories obtained by either side during the war, 110,000 Austro-Hungarian prisoners were marched back to Russia.
The largest siege of the war, and the arguably the roughest, most gruesome battle in history, was the Battle of Verdun. Whether the battle can be considered true siege warfare is debatable. Under the theories of Erich von Falkenhayn it is more distinguishable as purely attrition with a coincidental presence of fortifications on the battlefield. When considering the plans of Crown Prince Wilhelm, purely concerned with taking the citadel and not with French casualty figures, it can be considered a true siege. The main fortifications were Fort Douaumont, Fort Vaux and the fortified city of Verdun itself. The Germans, through the use of a huge artillery bombardments, flamethrowers and infiltration tactics were able to capture both Vaux and Douaumont, but were never able to take the city, and eventually lost most of their gains. It was a battle that, despite the French ability to fend off the Germans, neither side won. The German losses were not worth the potential capture of the city and the French casualties were not worth holding the symbol of her defense.
The development of the armoured tank and improved infantry tactics at the end of World War I swung the pendulum back in favour of maneuver, and with the advent of Blitzkrieg in 1939, the end of siege warfare was near its end. The Maginot Line would be the prime example of the failure of immobile fortifications post World War One. Although sieges would continue, it would be in a totally different style and on a reduced scale.
The Blitzkrieg of the Second World War truly showed that fixed fortifications are easily defeated by maneuver instead of frontal assault or long sieges. The great Maginot Line was bypassed and battles that would have taken weeks of siege could now be avoided with the careful application of air power (such as the German paratrooper capture of Fort Eben-Emael, Belgium, early in World War II).
The most important siege was the Siege of Leningrad, that lasted over 29 months, about half of the duration of the entire Second World War. Along with the Battle of Stalingrad, the Siege of Leningrad on the Eastern Front was the deadliest siege of a city in history. In the west apart from the Battle of the Atlantic the sieges were not on the same scale as those on the European Eastern front; however, there were several notable or critical sieges: the island of Malta for which the population won the George Cross, Tobruk and Monte Cassino. In the South-East Asian Theatre there was the siege of Singapore and in the Burma Campaign sieges of Myitkyina, the Admin Box and the Battle of the Tennis Court which was the high water mark for the Japanese advance into India.
The air supply methods which were developed and used extensively in the Burma Campaign for supplying the Chindits and other units, including those in sieges such as Imphal, as well as flying the Hump into China, allowed the western powers to develop air lift expertise which would prove vital during the Cold War Berlin Blockade.
During the Vietnam War the battles of Dien Bien Phu (1954) and Khe Sanh (1968) possessed siege-like characteristics. In both cases, the Vietminh and NLF were able to cut off the opposing army by capturing the surrounding rugged terrain. At Dien Bien Phu, the French were unable to use air power to overcome the siege and were defeated. However, at Khe Sanh a mere 14 years later, advances in air power allowed the United States to withstand the siege. The resistance of US forces was assisted by the PAVN and PLAF forces' decision to use the Khe Sanh siege as strategic distraction to allow their mobile warfare offensive, the first Tet offensive to unfold securely. The Siege of Khe Sanh displays typical features of modern sieges, as the defender has greater capacity to withstand siege, the attacker's main aim is to bottle operational forces, or create a strategic distraction, rather than take a siege to conclusion.
From 1980 to 11 April 1991 During the Soviet war in Afghanistan, and subsequent Afghan Civil War, the city of Khost was under siege for more than 11 years. It is considered the longest siege in modern history.
From 5 April 1992 to 29 February 1996 the Siege of Sarajevo took place, where Sarajevo, then controlled by the Bosnian government, was besieged by the Serb paramilitary.
In 2004, United States forces laid siege to the Iraqi city of Fallujah.
The Siege of Sangin, that lasted between June 2006 and April 2007, during which time Taliban insurgents attempted to besiege the district centre of Sangin District in Helmand Province, Afghanistan, occupied by British ISAF soldiers.
Despite the overwhelming might of the modern state, siege tactics continue to be employed in police conflicts. This has been due to a number of factors, primarily risk to life, whether that of the police, the besieged, bystanders or hostages. Police make use of trained negotiators, psychologists and, if necessary, force, generally being able to rely on the support of their nation's armed forces if required.
One of the complications facing police in a siege involving hostages is the Stockholm syndrome where sometimes hostages can develop a sympathetic rapport with their captors. If this helps keep them safe from harm this is considered to be a good thing, but there have been cases where hostages have tried to shield the captors during an assault or refused to co-operate with the authorities in bringing prosecutions.
The 1993 police siege on the Branch Davidian church in Waco, Texas, lasted 51 days, an atypically long police siege. Unlike traditional military sieges, police sieges tend to last for hours or days rather than weeks, months or years.
In Britain if the siege involves perpetrators who are considered by the British Government to be terrorists, then if an assault is to take place, the civilian authorities hand command and control over to the military. The threat of such an action ended the Balcombe Street Siege in 1975 but the Iranian Embassy Siege in 1980 ended in a military assault and the death of all but one of the hostage takers.
A withdrawal is a type of military operation, generally meaning retreating forces back while maintaining contact with the enemy. A withdrawal may be undertaken as part of a general retreat, to consolidate forces, to occupy ground that is more easily defended, or to lead the enemy into an ambush. It is considered a relatively risky operation, requiring discipline to keep from turning into a disorganized rout.
A withdrawal may be anticipated, as when a defending force is outmatched or on disadvantageous ground, but must cause as much damage to an enemy as possible. In such a case, the retreating force may employ a number of tactics and strategies to further impede the enemy's progress. This could include setting mines or booby traps during or before withdrawal, leading the enemy into prepared artillery barrages, or the use of scorched earth tactics.
In ancient warfare, the main goal of an army was demoralizing an enemy and routing them from the battlefield. Once a force had become disorganized, losing its ability to fight, the victors could chase down the remnants and attempt to cause as many casualties or take as many prisoners as possible. Ironically, undisciplined troops could not be prevented from breaking ranks and chasing the routed enemy, making themselves completely vulnerable to counterattack by a reserve force. Thus there was value in a feigned retreat.
The act of feigning a withdrawal or rout in order to lure an enemy away from a defended position or into a prepared ambush is an ancient tactic, and has been used throughout the history of warfare. Ancient Mongols were famed for, among other things, their extensive use of feigned retreats during their conquests, as their fast, light cavalry made successful pursuit by an enemy almost impossible.
In the heat and middle of a battle, the Mongol army would pretend to be defeated, exhausted, and confused, and would suddenly retreat from the battlefield. The opposing force, thinking they had routed the Mongols, would give chase. The Mongol cavalry would, while retreating, fire upon the pursuers, disheartening them. When the pursuing forces stopped chasing the (significantly faster) Mongol cavalry, the cavalry would then turn and charge the pursuers, generally succeeding. Such a tactic was used partly as divide and conquer approach as well as a method to defeat larger armies by breaking them down to smaller groups.
Withdrawal of a military occupation is anticipated and therefore tactical but may be subject to political rather than operational variables. The purpose of 'Troop withdrawal' from occupied territories may not involve engagement with an enemy and may be conducted during a period of ceasefire or relative peace.
Fortifications are military constructions and buildings designed for defense in warfare. Humans have constructed defensive works for many thousands of years, in a variety of increasingly complex designs. The term is derived from the Latin fortis ("strong") and facere ("to make").
Many military installations are known as forts, although they are not always fortified. Larger forts may class as fortresses, smaller ones formerly often bore the name of fortalices. The word fortification can also refer to the practice of improving an area's defense with defensive works. City walls are fortifications but not necessarily called fortresses.
The art of laying out a military camp or constructing a fortification traditionally classifies as castrametation, since the time of the Roman legions. The art/science of laying siege to a fortification and of destroying it has the popular name of siegecraft and the formal name of poliorcetics. In some texts this latter term also applies to the art of building a fortification.
Fortification is usually divided into two branches, namely permanent fortification and field fortification. Permanent fortifications are erected at leisure, with all the resources that a state can supply of constructive and mechanical skill, and are built of enduring materials. Field fortifications are extemporized by troops in the field, perhaps assisted by such local labor and tools as may be procurable and with materials that do not require much preparation, such as earth, brushwood and light timber, or sandbags (see sangar). There is also an intermediate branch known as semipermanent fortification. This is employed when in the course of a campaign it becomes desirable to protect some locality with the best imitation of permanent defences that can be made in a short time, ample resources and skilled civilian labor being available.
Medieval-style fortifications were largely made obsolete by the arrival of cannons on the 14th century battlefield. Fortifications in the age of blackpowder evolved into much lower structures with greater use of ditches and earth ramparts that would absorb and disperse the energy of cannon fire. Walls exposed to direct cannon fire were very vulnerable, so were sunk into ditches fronted by earth slopes.
This placed a heavy emphasis on the geometry of the fortification to allow defensive cannonry interlocking fields of fire to cover all approaches to the lower and thus more vulnerable walls. Fortifications also extended in depth, with protected batteries for defensive cannonry, to allow them to engage attacking cannon to keep them at a distance and prevent them bearing directly on the vulnerable walls. The result was star shaped fortifications with tier upon tier of hornworks and bastions, of which Bourtange illustrated to the left is an excellent example. There are also extensive fortifications from this era in the Nordic states and in Britain, the fortifications of Berwick-upon-Tweed being a fine example.
The arrival of explosive shells in the nineteenth century led to yet another stage in the evolution of fortification. Star forts of the cannon era did not fare well against the effects of high explosive and the intricate arrangements of bastions, flanking batteries and the carefully constructed lines of fire for the defending cannon could be rapidly disrupted by explosive shells. Worse, the large open ditches surrounding forts of this type were an integral part of the defensive scheme, as was the covered way at the edge of the counter scarp. The ditch was extremely vulnerable to bombardment with explosive shells.
In response, military engineers evolved the polygonal style of fortification. The ditch became deep and vertically sided, cut directly into the native rock or soil, laid out as a series of straight lines creating the central fortified area that gives this style of fortification its name.
Wide enough to be an impassable barrier for attacking troops, but narrow enough to be a difficult target for enemy shellfire, the ditch was swept by fire from defensive blockhouses set in the ditch as well as firing positions cut into the outer face of the ditch itself.
The profile of the fort became very low indeed, surrounded outside the ditch by a gently sloping open area so as to eliminate possible cover for enemy forces, while the fort itself provided a minimal target for enemy fire. The entrypoint became a sunken gatehouse in the inner face of the ditch, reached by a curving ramp that gave access to the gate via a rolling bridge that could be withdrawn into the gatehouse.
Much of the fort moved underground, with deep passages to connect the blockhouses and firing points in the ditch to the fort proper, with magazines and machine rooms deep under the surface.
The guns however, were often mounted in open emplacements and protected only by a parapet - both in order to keep a lower profile and also because experience with guns in closed casemates had seen them put out of action by rubble as their own casemates were collapsed around them.
Steel-and-concrete fortifications were common during the 19th and early 20th centuries, however the advances in modern warfare since World War I have made large-scale fortifications obsolete in most situations. Only underground bunkers are still able to provide some protection in modern wars. Many historical fortifications were demolished during the modern age, but a considerable number survive as popular tourist destinations and prominent local landmarks today.
The downfall of permanent fortifications had three causes. The ever escalating power of artillery and air power meant that almost any target that could be located could be destroyed, if sufficient force was massed against it. As such, the more resources a defender devoted to reinforcing a fortification, the more combat power that fortification justified being devoted to destroying it, if the fortification's destruction was demanded by an attacker's strategy. The second weakness of permanent fortification was its very permanency. Because of this it was often easier to go around a fortification, and with the rise of mobile warfare in the beginning of World War II this became a viable offensive choice. When a defensive line was too extensive to be entirely bypassed, massive offensive might could be massed against one part of the line allowing a breakthrough, after which the rest of the line could be bypassed. Such was the fate of the many defensive lines built before and during World War II, such as the Maginot Line, the Siegfried Line, the Stalin Line and the Atlantic Wall. (In the case of the Atlantic Wall, the purpose of the fortification was to delay an invasion to allow reinforcement.) The third weakness is that modern firepower has progressed far beyond the strength of permanent fortifications, as a simple artillery or bombing barrage can easily destroy the most complex modern fortification. It is also much easier and cheaper to produce those modern siege weapons than to build any kind of fortification.
Instead field fortification rose to dominate defensive action. Unlike the trench warfare which dominated World War I these defenses were more temporary in nature. This was an advantage because since it was less extensive it formed a less obvious target for enemy force to be directed against. If sufficient power was massed against one point to penetrate it, the forces based there could be withdrawn and the line could be re-established relatively quickly. Instead of a supposedly impenetrable defensive line, such fortifications emphasized defense in depth, so that as defenders were forced to pull back or were over-run, the lines of defenders behind them could take over the defense.
Because the mobile offensives practiced by both sides usually focused on avoiding the strongest points of a defensive line, these defenses were usually relatively thin and spread along the length of a line. The defense was usually not equally strong throughout however. The strength of the defensive line in an area varied according to how rapidly an attacking force could progress in the terrain that was being defended--both the terrain the defensive line was built on and the ground behind it that an attacker might hope to break out into. This was both for reasons of the strategic value of the ground, and its defensive value.
This was possible because while offensive tactics were focused on mobility, so were defensive tactics. The dug in defenses consisted primarily of infantry and antitank guns. Defending tanks and tank destroyers would be concentrated in mobile "fire brigades" behind the defensive line. If a major offensive was launched against a point in the line, mobile reinforcements would be sent to reinforce that part of the line that was in danger of failing. Thus the defensive line could be relatively thin because the bulk of the fighting power of the defenders was not concentrated in the line itself but rather in the mobile reserves. A notable exception to this rule was seen in the defensive lines at the Battle of Kursk during World War II, where German forces deliberately attacked into the strongest part of the Soviet defenses seeking to crush them utterly.
The terrain that was being defended was of primary importance because open terrain that tanks could move over quickly made possible rapid advances into the defenders' rear areas that were very dangerous to the defenders. Thus such terrain had to be defended at all cost. In addition, since in theory the defensive line only had to hold out long enough for mobile reserves to reinforce it, terrain that did not permit rapid advance could be held more weakly because the enemy's advance into it would be slower, giving the defenders more time to reinforce that point in the line. For example the battle of the Hurtgen Forest in Germany during the closing stages of World War II is an excellent example of how impassable terrain could be used to the defenders' advantage.
Forts in modern usage often refer to space set aside by governments for a permanent military facility; these often do not have any actual fortifications, and can have specializations (military barracks, administration, medical facilities, or intelligence). In the United States usage, forts specifically refer to Army installations; Marine Corps installations are referred to as camps.
Fabian Strategy (Attrition warfare)
The Fabian strategy is a military strategy where pitched battles are avoided in favor of wearing down an opponent through a war of attrition. While avoiding decisive battles, the side employing this strategy harasses its enemy to cause attrition and loss of morale (aka the Lewkowicz grind). Employment of this strategy implies that the weaker side believes time is on its side, but it may also be adopted when no feasible alternative strategy can be devised.
This strategy derives its name from Quintus Fabius Maximus, the dictator of the Roman Republic given the thankless task of defeating the great general of Carthage, Hannibal, in southern Italy during the Second Punic War (218-202 BC). At the start of the war, Hannibal boldly crossed into Italy by traversing the Alps during winter-time and invaded Italy. Due to Hannibal's skill as a general, he repeatedly inflicted devastating losses on the Romans despite the quantitative inferiority of his army — quickly achieving two crushing victories over the Romans at the Battle of Trebbia and the Battle of Lake Trasimene. After these disasters the Romans appointed Fabius Maximus as dictator. Well-aware of the military superiority of the Carthaginians and the ingenuity of Hannibal, Fabius initiated a war of attrition which was designed to exploit Hannibal's strategic vulnerabilities.
Hannibal suffered from one particular weakness: as a commander of an invading foreign army on Italian soil, effectively cut off from the home country by a lack of seaborne resupply ability, his only hope of destroying Rome was by enlisting the support of her allies. As long as the Italians remained loyal to Rome, then there was no hope that Hannibal would win; but should the Romans keep on losing battles to him, their allies’ faith in them would weaken. Therefore, Fabius calculated that the only way to defeat Hannibal was to avoid engaging with him in pitched battles, so as to deprive him of any victories. He determined that Hannibal's extended supply lines, and the cost of maintaining the Carthaginian army in the field, meant that Rome had time on its side. Rather than fight, Fabius shadowed Hannibal's army and avoided battle. While seeking to avoid battle, Fabius instead sent out small detachments against Hannibal’s foraging parties, and always maneuvered the Roman army in hilly terrain, so as to nullify Hannibal’s decisive superiority in cavalry. Residents of small northern villages were encouraged to post lookouts, so that they could gather their livestock and possessions and take refuge into fortified towns. He used interior lines to ensure that at no time could Hannibal march on Rome without abandoning his Mediterranean ports, while at the same time inflicting constant, small, debilitating defeats on the North Africans. This, Fabius knew, would wear down the invaders’ endurance and discourage Rome’s allies from going over to the enemy, without having to challenge the Carthaginians to a decisive battle.
The strategy, though a military success, was a political failure. His inactive policies, while tolerable among wiser minds in the Roman Senate, were deemed unpopular, because the Romans had been long accustomed to facing their enemies in the field. The strategy was in part ruined because of a lack of unity in the command of the Roman army. The magister equitum, Minucius, was a political enemy of Fabius, who is famously quoted exclaiming, “Are we come here to see our allies butchered, and their property burned, as a spectacle to be enjoyed? And if we are not moved with shame on account of any others, are we not on account of these citizens... a Carthaginian foreigner, who was advanced even this far from the remotest limits of the world, through our dilatoriness and inactivity?". In fact, the more the Roman people recovered from the shock of Hannibal’s initial victories, the more they began to question the wisdom of the Fabian strategy, which had given them the chance to recover. Fabius’s strategy was especially frustrating to the mass of the people, who were eager to see a quick conclusion to the war. Moreover, it was widely believed that if Hannibal continued plundering Italy unopposed, the terrified allies, believing that Rome was incapable of protecting them, might defect and pledge their allegiance to the Carthaginians. Since Fabius won no large-scale victories, the Roman senate removed him from command. Their chosen replacement led the Roman army into the debacle at the Battle of Cannae. The Romans, after experiencing this catastrophic defeat and losing countless other battles, had at this point learned their lesson. They utilized the strategies Fabius had taught them, and which, they finally realized, were the only feasible means of driving Hannibal from Italy.
This strategy of attrition earned Fabius the cognomen "Cunctator" (the Delayer).