Principles of War


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When we are defending ourselves, any obstacle on our front is of great value. Mountains are occupied only for this reason. For an elevated position seldom has any important influence, often none at all, on the effectiveness of arms. But if we stand on a height, the enemy, in order to approach us, must climb laboriously. He will advance but slowly, become separated, and arrive with his forces exhausted. Given equal bravery and strength, these advantages may be decisive. On no account should we overlook the moral effect of a rapid, running assault.

It is, therefore, always very advantageous to put our first line of infantry and artillery upon a mountain. Often the grade of the mountain is so steep, or its slope so undulating and uneven, that it cannot be effectively swept by gun-fire. In that case we should not place our first line, but at the most only our sharp-shooters, at the edge of the mountain. Our full line we should place in such a way that the enemy is subject to its most effective fire the moment he reaches the top and reassembles his forces.

All other obstacles to approach, such as small rivers, brooks, ravines, etc. He will have to re-form his lines after passing them and thus will be delayed. These obstacles must, therefore, be placed under our most effective fire, which is grape-shot to paces , if we have a great deal of artillery or musket-shot to paces , if we have little artillery at this point. It is, therefore, a basic law to place all obstacles to approach, which are to strengthen our front, under our most effective fire. Should we be very weak, therefore, we must place only our firing-line, composed of riflemen and artillery, close enough to keep the obstacle under fire.

The rest of our troops, organized into columns, we should keep to paces back, if possible under cover. Another method of using these obstacles to protect our front is to leave them a short distance ahead. They are thus within the effective range of our cannon to paces and we can attack the enemy's columns from all sides, as they emerge. Something like this was done by Duke Ferdinand at Minden.

Principles of war

Thus far we have considered the obstacles of the ground and country primarily as connected lines related to extended positions. It is still necessary to say something about isolated points. On the whole we can defend single, isolated points only by entrenchments or strong obstacles of terrain.

We shall not discuss the first here. The only obstacles of terrain which can be held by themselves are:. Here entrenchments are likewise indispensable; for the enemy can always move against the defender with a more or less extended front. And the latter will always end up by being taken from the rear, since one is rarely strong enough to make front towards all sides.

By this term we mean any narrow path, through which the enemy can advance only against one point. Bridges, dams, and steep ravines belong here. We should observe that these obstacles fall into two categories: Or we are not absolutely sure that the enemy can not turn the obstacle, as with bridges across small streams and most mountain defiles. With very brave troops, who fight enthusiastically, houses offer a unique defense for few against many. But, if we are not sure of the individual soldier, it is preferable to occupy the houses, gardens, etc.

These isolated posts serve in large operations partly as outposts, in which case they serve not as absolute defense but only as a delay to the enemy, and partly to hold points which are important for the combinations we have planned for our army. Also it is often necessary to hold on to a remote point in order to gain time for the development of active measures of defense which we may have planned.

But, if a point is remote, it is ipso facto isolated. Two more observations about isolated obstacles are necessary. The first is that we must keep troops ready behind them to receive detachments that have been thrown back. The second is that whoever includes such isolated obstacles in his defensive combinations should never count on them too much, no matter how strong the obstacle may be.

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On the other hand, the military leader to whom the defense of the obstacle has been entrusted must always try to hold out, even under the most adverse circumstances. For this there is needed a spirit of determination and self-sacrifice, which finds its source only in ambition and enthusiasm.

We must, therefore, choose men for this mission who are not lacking in these noble qualities. Using terrain to cover the disposition and advance of troops needs no detailed exposition. We should not occupy the crest of the mountain which we intend to defend as has been done so frequently in the past but draw up behind it. We should not take our position in front of a forest, but inside or behind it; the latter only if we are able to survey the forest or thicket.

We should keep our troops in columns, so as to find cover more easily. We must make use of villages, small thickets, and rolling terrain to hide our troops. For our advance we should choose the most intersected country, etc. In cultivated country, which can be reconnoitered so easily, there is almost no region that can not hide a large part of the defender's troops if they have made clever use of obstacles.

To cover the aggressor's advance is more difficult, since he must follow the roads. It goes without saying that in using the terrain to hide our troops, we must never lose sight of the goal and combinations we have set for ourselves. Above all things we should not break up our battle-order completely, even though we may deviate slightly from it.

If we recapitulate what has been said about terrain, the following appears most important for the defender, i. But no defiles too near as at Friedland , since they cause delay and confusion. It would be pedantic to believe that all these advantages could be found in any position we may take up during a war.

Not all positions are of equal importance: It is here that we should try to have all these advantages, while in others we only need part. The two main points which the aggressor should consider in regard to the choice of terrain are not to select too difficult a terrain for the attack, but on the other hand to advance, if possible, through a terrain in which the enemy can least survey our force. I close these observations with a principle which is of highest significance, and which must be considered the keystone of the whole defensive theory:. For if the terrain is really so strong that the aggressor cannot possibly expel us, he will turn it, which is always possible, and thus render the strongest terrain useless.

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We shall be forced into battle under very different circumstances, and in a completely different terrain, and we might as well not have included the first terrain in our plans. But if the terrain is not so strong, and if an attack within its confines is still possible, its advantages can never make up for the disadvantages of passive defense.

All obstacles are useful, therefore, only for partial defense, in order that we may put up a relatively strong resistance with few troops and gain time for the offensive, through which we try to win a real victory elsewhere. This term means the combination of individual engagements to attain the goal of the campaign or war. If we know how to fight and how to win, little more knowledge is needed.

For it is easy to combine fortunate results. It is merely a matter of experienced judgment and does not depend on special knowledge, as does the direction of battle. The few principles, therefore, which come up in this connection, and which depend primarily on the condition of the respective states and armies, can in their essential parts be very briefly summarized:.

To accomplish the first purpose, we should always direct our principal operation against the main body of the enemy army or at least against an important portion of his forces. For only after defeating these can we pursue the other two objects successfully. In order to seize the enemy's material forces we should direct our operations against the places where most of these resources are concentrated: On the way to these objectives we shall encounter the enemy's main force or at least a considerable part of it.

Public opinion is won through great victories and the occupation of the enemy's capital. The first and most important rule to observe in order to accomplish these purposes, is to use our entire forces with the utmost energy. Any moderation shown would leave us short of our aim.

Even with everything in our favor, we should be unwise not to make the greatest effort in order to make the result perfectly certain. For such effort can never produce negative results. Suppose the country suffers greatly from this, no lasting disadvantage will arise; for the greater the effort, the sooner the suffering will cease. The moral impression created by these actions is of infinite importance. They make everyone confident of success, which is the best means for suddenly raising the nation's morale. The second rule is to concentrate our power as much as possible against that section where the chief blows are to be delivered and to incur disadvantages elsewhere, so that our chances of success may increase at the decisive point.

This will compensate for all other disadvantages. The third rule is never to waste time. Unless important advantages are to be gained from hesitation, it is necessary to set to work at once. By this speed a hundred enemy measures are nipped in the bud, and public opinion is won most rapidly. Surprise plays a much greater role in strategy than in tactics. It is the most important element of victory. Finally, the fourth rule is to follow up our successes with the utmost energy. Only pursuit of the beaten enemy gives the fruits of victory.

The first of these rules serves as a basis for the other three. If we have observed it, we can be as daring as possible with the last three, and yet not risk our all. For it provides us with the means of constantly creating new forces in our rear, and with fresh forces any misfortune can be remedied. Therein lies the caution which deserves to be called wise, and not in taking each step forward with timidity. Small states cannot wage wars of conquest in our times. But in defensive warfare even the means of small states are infinitely great.

I am, therefore, firmly convinced that if we spare no effort to reappear again and again with new masses of troops, if we use all possible means of preparation and keep our forces concentrated at the main point, and if we, thus prepared, pursue a great aim with determination and energy, we have done all that can be done on a large scale for the strategic direction of the war.

And unless we are very unfortunate in battle we are bound to be victorious to the same extent that our opponent lags behind in effort and energy. In observing these principles little depends on the form in which the operations are carried out. I shall try, nevertheless, to make clear in a few words the most important aspects of this question. In tactics we always seek to envelop that part of the enemy against which we direct our main attack. We do this partly because our forces are more effective in a concentric than in a parallel attack, and further because we can only thus cut off the enemy from his line of retreat.

But if we apply this to the whole theater of war and consequently to the enemy's lines of communication , the individual columns and armies, which are to envelop the enemy, are in most cases too far away from each other to participate in one and the same engagement. The opponent will find himself in the middle and will be able to turn against the corps one by one and defeat them all with a single army.

Frederick II's campaigns may serve as examples, especially those of and The individual engagement, therefore, remains the principal decisive event. Consequently, if we attack concentrically without having decisive superiority, we shall lose in battle all the advantages, which we expected from our enveloping attack on the enemy.

For an attack on the lines of communication takes effect only very slowly, while victory on the field of battle bears fruit immediately. In strategy, therefore, the side that is surrounded by the enemy is better off than the side which surrounds its opponent, especially with equal or even weaker forces. Colonel Jomini was right in this, and if Mr. To cut the enemy's line of retreat, however, strategic envelopment or a turning movement is very effective. But we can achieve this, if necessary, through tactical envelopment.

A strategic move is, therefore, advisable only if we are so superior physically and morally that we shall be strong enough at the principal point to dispense with the detached corps. The Emperor Napoleon never engaged in strategic envelopment, although he was often, indeed almost always, both physically and morally superior. Frederick II used it only once, in , in his invasion of Bohemia. The battle of Kolin forced him to give up all this territory again, which proves that battles decide everything.

At the same time he was obviously in danger at Prague of being attacked by the whole Austrian force, before Schwerin arrived. He would not have run this risk had he passed through Saxony with all his forces. In that case the first battle would have been fought perhaps near Budin, on the Eger, and it would have been as decisive as that of Prague. The dislocation of the Prussian army during the winter in Silesia and Saxony undoubtedly caused this concentric maneuver. It is important to notice that circumstances of this kind are generally more influential than the advantages to be gained by the form of attack.

For facility of operations increases their speed, and the friction inherent in the tremendous war-machine of an armed power is so great in itself that it should not be increased unnecessarily.

Lead Like A General (The US Army’s Nine Principles of War)

Moreover, the principle of concentrating our forces as much as possible on the main point diverts us from the idea of strategic envelopment and the deployment of our forces follows automatically. I was right, therefore, in saying that the form of this deployment is of little consequence. There is, however, one case in which a strategic move against the enemy's flank will lead to great successes similar to those of a battle: In this case it may be advisable not to march our main forces against those of the enemy, but to attack his base of supply.

For this, however, two conditions are essential:. The provisioning of troops is a necessary condition of warfare and thus has great influence on the operations, especially since it permits only a limited concentration of troops and since it helps to determine the theater of war through the choice of a line of operations.

The provisioning of troops is carried on, if a region possibly permits it, through requisitions at the expense of the region. In the modern method of war armies take up considerably more territory than before. The creation of distinct, independent corps has made this possible, without putting ourselves at a disadvantage before an adversary who follows the old method of concentration at a single point with from 70, to , men. For an independent corps, organized as they now are, can withstand for some time an enemy two or three times its superior.

Then the others will arrive and, even if the first corps has already been beaten, it has not fought in vain, as we have had occasion to remark. Today, therefore, the divisions and corps move into battle independently, marching side by side or behind each other and only close enough to take part in the same battle, if they belong to the same army.

This makes possible immediate provisioning without storehouses. The very organization of the corps with their General Staff and their Commissariat facilitates this. If there are no MORE decisive motives as for example the location of the enemy's main army , we choose the most fertile provinces for our operations; for facility of provisioning increases the speed of our actions. Only the situation of the enemy's main force which we are seeking out, only the location of his capital and the place of arms which we wish to conquer are more important than provisioning.

All other considerations, such as the advantageous disposition of our forces, of which we have already spoken, are as a rule much less important. In spite of these new methods of provisioning, it is quite impossible to do without any depots whatever. Therefore, even when the resources of the region are quite sufficient, a wise military leader does not fail to establish depots in his rear for unexpected emergencies and in order to be able to concentrate his forces at certain points.

This precaution is of the sort which are not taken at the expense of the final goal. Politically speaking defensive war is a war which we wage for our independence. Strategically it is the kind of campaign in which we limit ourselves to fighting the enemy in a theater of war which we have prepared for this purpose.

Whether the battles which we wage in this theater of war are offensive or defensive, makes no difference. We adopt a strategic defensive mainly when the enemy is superior. Fortresses and entrenched camps, which constitute the chief preparations for a theater of war, afford, of course, great advantages, to which may be added the knowledge of the terrain and the possession of good maps.

A smaller army, or an army which is based on a smaller state and more limited resources, will be better able to withstand the enemy WITH these advantages than without them. First, when the regions surrounding the theater of war render operations extremely difficult because of lack of provisions. In this case we avoid a disadvantage which the enemy is forced to undergo. This is the case now with the Russian army.

Second, when the enemy is superior in warfare.

Rules of war (in a nutshell)

In a theater of war which we have prepared, which we know, and in which all minor conditions are in our favor, war is easier to conduct, and we commit fewer mistakes. When lack of trust in our troops and generals forces us to wage defensive war, we often like to combine tactical with strategic defensive. In that case we fight battles in prepared positions because we are thus again exposed to fewer mistakes.

In defensive just as in offensive warfare, it is necessary to pursue a great aim: Thus we shall disorganize it and force it into a retreat, during which it will necessarily suffer great losses. Wellington's campaign in and is a good example. Defensive warfare, therefore, does not consist of waiting idly for things to happen. We must wait only if it brings us visible and decisive advantages.

That calm before the storm, when the aggressor is gathering new forces for a great blow, is most dangerous for the defender. If the Austrians after the battle of Aspern had increased their forces threefold, as they might have and as the Emperor Napoleon did, then and only then would they have made good use of the lull which lasted until the battle of Wagram.

Principles of warfare - Wikipedia

This they did not do, and consequently the time was lost. It would have been wiser to profit from Napoleon's disadvantageous position, and to gather the fruits of the battle of Aspern. The purpose of fortifications is to keep a considerable part of the enemy's army occupied as siege troops, to give us an opportunity to defeat the rest of his army. Consequently, it is best to fight our battles behind our fortifications and not in front of them. But we must not stand by idly, while they are being conquered, as Bennigsen did during the siege of Danzig.

Large rivers, across which it is difficult to throw a bridge such as the Danube below Vienna and the Lower Rhine , offer a natural line of defense. But we should not distribute our forces evenly along the river bank in order to prevent any crossing whatsoever. That would be most dangerous.

On the contrary, we should watch the river and fall upon the enemy from all sides the minute he crosses, while he has not yet reassembled his forces and is still restricted to a narrow space on the river bank. The battle of Aspern offers a good illustration. At Wagram the Austrians had yielded to the French too much territory without the slightest necessity, so that the disadvantages inherent in a river crossing had disappeared. Mountains are the second obstacle which offers a good line of defense.

There are two ways of using them. The first is to leave them in front of us, occupying them only with light troops and considering them, so to speak, a river which the enemy will have to cross. As soon as his separated columns emerge from the passes, we fall upon one of them with all our force. The second is to occupy the mountains ourselves. We must not divide up this large reserve to prevent completely the penetration of any enemy columns, but must plan from the outset to fall only upon those columns which we suppose to be the strongest.


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If we thus defeat an important part of the attacking army, any other columns which have succeeded in breaking through will withdraw of their own accord. In the midst of most mountain formations we find more or less elevated plains plateaus whose slopes are cut by ravines serving as means of access. Mountains, therefore, offer the defender a region in which he can move rapidly to the right or left, while the columns of the aggressor remain separated by steep, inaccessible ridges. Only mountains of this kind are well adapted for defensive warfare. If, on the other hand, their whole interior is rough and inaccessible, leaving the defender dispersed and divided, their defense by the bulk of the army is a dangerous undertaking.

For under these circumstances all advantages are on the side of the aggressor, who can attack certain points with great superiority, and no pass, no isolated point is so strong that it cannot be taken within a day by superior forces. In regard to mountain warfare in general, we should observe that everything depends on the skill of our subordinate officers and still more on the morale of our soldiers.

Here it is not a question of skillful maneuvering, but of warlike spirit and whole-hearted devotion to the cause; for each man is left more or less to act independently. That is why national militias are especially suited for mountain warfare. While they lack the ability to maneuver, they possess the other qualities to the highest degree.

Finally, it should be observed that the strategic defensive, though it is stronger than the offensive, should serve only to win the first important successes. If these are won and peace does not follow immediately, we can gain further successes only through the offensive. For if we remain continually on the defensive, we run the great risk of always waging war at our own expense.

This no state can endure indefinitely. If it submits to the blows of its adversary without ever striking back, it will very likely become exhausted and succumb. We must begin, therefore, using the defensive, so as to end more successfully by the offensive. The strategic offensive pursues the aim of the war directly, aiming straight at the destruction of the enemy's forces, while the strategic defensive seeks to reach this purpose indirectly.

The principles of the offensive are therefore already contained in the "General Principles" of strategy. Only two points need be mentioned more fully. The first is constant replacement of troops and arms. This is easier for the defender, because of the proximity of his sources of supply. The aggressor, although he controls in most cases a larger state, must usually gather his forces from a distance and therefore with great difficulty.

Lest he find himself short of effectives, he must organize the recruiting of troops and the transport of arms a long time before they are needed. The roads of our lines of operation must be covered constantly with transports of soldiers and supplies. We must establish military stations along these roads to hasten this rapid transport. Even under the most favorable circumstances and with greatest moral and physical superiority, the aggressor should foresee a possibility of great disaster.

He therefore must organize on his lines of operation strong points to which he can retreat with a defeated army. Such are fortresses with fortified camps or simply fortified camps. Large rivers offer the best means of halting the pursuing enemy for a while. We must therefore secure our crossing by means of bridgeheads, surrounded by a number of strong redoubts. We must leave behind us a number of troops for the occupation of these strong points as well as the occupation of the most important cities and fortresses. Their number depends on how much we have to be afraid of invasions or of the attitude of the inhabitants.

These troops, together with reinforcements, form new corps, which, in case of success, follow the advancing army, but in case of misfortune, occupy the fortified points in order to secure our retreat. Napoleon always took great care with these measures for the protection of the rear of his army, and therefore, in his most audacious operations, risked less than was usually apparent. The principles of the art of war are in themselves extremely simple and quite within the reach of sound common sense.

Even though they require more special knowledge in tactics than in strategy, this knowledge is of such small scope, that it does not compare with any other subject in extent and variety. Extensive knowledge and deep learning are by no means necessary, nor are extraordinary intellectual faculties. If, in addition to experienced judgment, a special mental quality IS required, it would be, after all that has been said cunning or shrewdness. For a long time the contrary has been maintained, either because of false veneration for the subject or because of the vanity of the authors who have written about it.

Unprejudiced reflection should convince us of this, and experience only makes this conviction stronger. Mahan joined the U.

Principles of warfare

Military Academy in , and for the next forty years taught engineering and operational strategy to a host of future Civil War generals. Lee , Henry W.


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  • McClellan , and other commanders became very familiar with Jominian concepts. Both as a student and as one of West Point 's commandants, General Lee was aware of Jomini's principles, and when the opportunity arose, he applied them. For example, during the Battle of Chancellorsville —outnumbered nearly two to one—Lee reconfigured his forces to block the Union army 's left and center flanks.

    Then, finding the enemy's critical point, he sent Gen. Chancellorsville was reminiscent of the way Jomini described Napoleon's use of these same maneuvers in the Marengo campaign in Italy of During the later half of the nineteenth century, Jomini's theories became popular at the U.

    Dennis Mahan's son, Alfred T. Mahan , joined the college in and a year later became its president. Never divide the fleet, Mahan admonished. Seek out your opponent and strike him down in an overwhelming display of massive and concentrated seapower. Among naval officers, Mahan's seapower themes remained popular well into the twentieth century. For the most part, not until the demise of the Soviet Navy in the late s did the U. Navy begin looking beyond Jomini and Mahan for other strategic concepts.

    On occasion, strict adherence to the Mahanian principles proved to be unproductive. During the Battle of Leyte Gulf , Adm. Halsey elected to sail his main fleet from the San Bernadino Straits and throw it, in mass, upon the Japanese carriers, which proved to be decoys. In an effort never to divide the fleet, Halsey vacated San Bernadino, allowing a second Japanese force to sail through the straits, defeated surprisingly by a small if aggressive U.

    Based on the above, Clausewitz went on to suggest principles for tactics, the scale of combat that dominated European warfare at the time:. Clausewitz also included in the essay general principles of strategy by saying that Warfare has three main objects:. Applied to specific forms of warfare , such as naval warfare , Corbett argued that. By maritime strategy we mean the principles which govern a war in which the sea is a substantial factor. Variations exist and differences are minor and semantic or reflect a cultural persuasion for a particular approach. A closer examination of the values and culture of origin reveals its war priorities.

    The definition of each principle has been refined over the following decades and adopted throughout the British armed forces. The tenth principle, added later, was originally called Administration. The first principle has always been stated as pre-eminent and the second is usually considered more important than the remainder, which are not listed in any order of importance. They are enduring, but not immutable, absolute or prescriptive, and provide an appropriate foundation for all military activity.

    The relative importance of each may vary according to context; their application requires judgement, common sense and intelligent interpretation. Commanders also need to take into account the legitimacy of their actions, based on the legal, moral, political, diplomatic and ethical propriety of the conduct of military forces, once committed. The ten principles as listed and defined in the edition, unchanged from the edition, of BDD which also provides explanation are:. These principles of war are commonly used by the armed forces of Commonwealth countries such as Australia.

    Soviet adoption of the principles of war is considered a part of Military Art , and is therefore a system of knowledge that is. As such it includes the following principles [6]. Similar principles continue to be followed in CIS countries. Thus it can be seen that in Military art, the Soviet and Western systems are similar, but place their emphasis in wildly differing places. Western systems allow more control and decision-making at lower levels of command, and with this empowerment comes a consistent emphasis.

    Offensive, mass, and maneuver principles for the western commander all place a sense of personal responsibility and authority to ensure these principles are followed by appropriate action. In contrast the Soviet system stresses preparedness, initiative, and obedience. This places more responsibility at the better prepared and informed centers of command, and provide more overall control of the battle. The United States Armed Forces use the following nine principles of war:. Officers in the U. According to a United States Government document from , the rule governing targeting in a non-international armed conflict is the international humanitarian law which is commonly known as the laws of war.

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