Lectures on Land Warfare; A tactical Manual for the Use of Infantry Officers
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In retiring, losses are generally heavier than in advancing, or in maintaining a fire-fight from the position gained until a diversion by supporting troops enables a further bound to be made. The enemy is generally able to deliver a well-directed stream of lead against retiring troops, mainly because he is less harassed by the return fire. Retirements must therefore be carried out on the principle of alternate bounds under covering fire of co-operating bodies, which withdraw, in their turn, under covering fire from the troops they have protected. {41} Such alternate retirements are the essence of rear-guard tactics, but, although certain other phases of battle action justify the withdrawal of troops, it must always be remembered that a position held against counter-attack is better than a position captured by assault, for it is a position that does not require to be assaulted. It is often impossible to predict the value of resistance at a particular point, and the fate of a nation may depend upon a platoon commander's grit in holding on at all costs. In the campaign of 1814, Brigadier-General Moreau was sent to the Fortress of Soissons, with instructions to hold the town. His garrison consisted of about 1,200 all arms, with 20 guns. At 10.30 a.m. on March 2, the fortress was bombarded by Winzingerode's Russians and Buelow's Prussians, and at 8 p.m. an assault was delivered. This was easily repulsed and a counter-attack threw back the assailants to their own lines. The bombardment was resumed until 10 p.m., when the garrison had a total loss of 23 killed and 123 wounded. During the night the besiegers sent a flag of truce to Moreau, and on March 3 that general capitulated with all the honours of war "in order to preserve 1,000 fighting men for the Emperor." His action cost Napoleon his throne, for had Moreau held out the Emperor would have crushed his most implacable foe, Bluecher (who escaped from the toils in which he was enmeshed, via the bridge at Soissons), and the campaign would have been at an end. If Moreau had exhausted all the means of defence, as the regulations of war ordain, he could certainly have held out for another 48 hours, and as heavy firing was audible in the vicinity it should have been clear to him that help was at hand. At the First Battle of Ypres (October 20-November 20, 1914) the Regular Army of the United Kingdom, at the outset, was filling so extensive a gap in the defensive line, that in many parts there was but one rifle for 17 yards of front, and there were neither local nor general reserves. The {42} assaulting German forces greatly outnumbered the defenders and brought up machine guns and artillery in overpowering strength. The British artillery was not only overweighted but was so short of ammunition that Marshal French was compelled to limit their daily number of rounds. But the line was held, and a counter-attack, headed by the 2nd Battalion of the Worcestershire Regiment, on October 31, with the bayonet, restored the line at Gheluvelt, at the most critical moment of the battle, and the Germans did not get through the defences. This stubborn resistance threw the Germans behind their entrenchments, and the "Advance to Calais" was stemmed by French's "Contemptible Little Army." At the Second Battle of Ypres (April 22-May 18, 1915) surprise in the time and nature of the attack, by the secret concentration of forces and the introduction of poison gas, gained an initial advantage for the Germans and left the British flank uncovered. A Canadian division counter-attacked on the German flank, and by May 18 the Allies had regained many of the captured positions. During the First Battle of the Somme troops of the Royal West Kent and the Queen's Regiments effected a lodgment in Trones Wood (July 14, 1916). They maintained their position all night in the northern corner of the wood, although completely surrounded by the enemy, and assisted in the final capture and clearance of the wood at 8 a.m. the next day. Similar instances occurred in Bourlon Village (November 25-27, 1917) when parties of the 13th East Surrey Regiment held out in the south-east corner of the village, during a German counter-attack, and maintained their position until touch was re-established with them 48 hours later; and in a group of fortified farms south of Polygon Wood (September 26, 1917) during the Third Battle of Ypres, when two companies of the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders held out all night, although isolated from the rest of the 33rd and 39th Divisions, until a renewed attack {43} cleared the district of hostile forces. On April 9, 1918, during the Germans' desperate endeavours to break through the investing Allies' lines, the ruins of Givenchy were held by the 55th West Lancashire (Territorial) Division, and the right edge of the neck through which von Arnim and von Quast hoped to extend, in order to widen the wedge into the Valley of the Lys, was firmly held, while the left edge (the Messines Ridge) was recaptured by a counter-attack by the 9th Division. The centre of the line was also stoutly held by the Guards' and other divisions, many of which had suffered heavy losses in the V. Army during the German attack in the last week of March. After 21 days of the most stubborn fighting (March 21-April 11, 1918) of which the Attack on the Lys had formed part, Marshal Sir D. Haig issued an order of the day emphasising the value of holding each position at all costs. "Every position must be held to the last man. There must be no retirement. . . . The safety of our homes and the freedom of mankind depend alike upon the conduct of each one of us at this critical moment. . . . Victory will belong to the side which holds out longest." Sir D. Haig's after-order, on April 23, 1918 (St. George's Day), awarded special praise to the troops under his command. The number of divisions employed by the Germans from March 21 to April 23, 1918, against the British alone was 102 (approximately 1,500,000 troops), and many of them were thrown in twice or three times. "In resisting the heavy blows which such a concentration of troops has enabled the enemy to direct against the British Army, all ranks, arms, and services have behaved with a gallantry, courage, and resolution for which no praise can be too high" (Haig's Dispatch).

COVERING FIRE.—The energetic and determined support of the infantry by fire is the main duty of machine-gun units throughout the whole course of the battle. In the attack, machine-gun platoons, Lewis gun sections, {44} or rifle sections detailed to give covering fire, must take care to select as targets those bodies of the enemy whose fire is chiefly checking the advance. Machine-gun platoons are sometimes brigaded, and at others left to battalion commanders, and their action after a temporary success in providing covering fire may depend upon their tactical distribution at the time. Infantry platoons detailed to give covering fire must join in the advance as soon as their own fire ceases to be effective in aiding the forward troops, unless definite orders to the contrary have been received.

FIRE AND MOVEMENT.—It is thus seen that Fire and Movement are inseparably associated, and judiciously employed in combination they enable infantry to achieve its object in battle, to bring such a superiority of fire to bear as to make an advance to close quarters possible, so that the enemy may be induced to surrender or may be overwhelmed by a bayonet assault; and to prepare by similar means for further advances, until the enemy is entirely hemmed in or completely routed.

[1] In fiction, this point (that the generalissimo must not allow his sense of proportion to be distorted by local successes or reverses) is clearly brought out in The Point of View, a story in "The Green Curve" by Ole-Luk-Oie (General Swinton).



A battle must practically always be of the nature of Attack and Defence, but the attitude originally assumed by either of the opposing forces may be reversed during an engagement. A vigorous counter-attack by an army offering battle in a defensive position may throw the adversary on the defensive, while an assailant may fight a delaying action in one part of the field, although in another part his action may be essentially offensive. There are three distinct systems of Battle Action: the entirely defensive; the entirely offensive; and the combined, or defensive-offensive system.

THE DEFENSIVE BATTLE has seldom effected positive results, except, perhaps, at Gettysburg (July 1-3, 1863), where Meade permitted Lee to break his forces against a strong position, with the result that the Army of Northern Virginia had to withdraw, and the invasion of the North came to an end. It must, however, be borne in mind that General Lee was badly served by his subordinate, and General Meade's success was largely due to this factor. On the second day of Gettysburg (July 2, 1863), General J. B. Hood's 1st Division of General J. Longstreet's I. Army Corps was deploying round the left of the Federal Army south of the Round Tops. He saw a chance to strike and requested permission from Longstreet. Hood's plan was the only one which gave a reasonable chance of decisive victory with the troops available. Longstreet, in obedience to the letter of his orders, but contrary to their spirit, refused to sanction Hood's advance. Longstreet's failure to seize a fleeting opportunity sounded the death-knell of the Confederate cause.


Burnside was defeated at Fredericksburg (December 10-16, 1862) by purely defensive tactics, but Lee had intended to follow up his victory by a decisive counter-blow, which Burnside escaped by extricating the Army of the Potomac before the blow fell. Success, even to the limited degree achieved by Meade or Lee, seldom follows the adoption of purely defensive tactics. "There is no such thing as an 'impregnable position,' for any position the defence of which is merely passive is bound to be carried at last by a manoeuvring enemy" (Marshal Foch).

THE OFFENSIVE BATTLE.—The Entirely Offensive system has been employed by many of the greatest commanders, including Marlborough at Blenheim (August 2, 1704), Ramillies (May 23, 1706), and Malplaquet (September 11, 1709); Frederick the Great, notably at Leuthen (December 5, 1757); Napoleon, Wellington, and Grant, as also by the Prussian generals at almost every engagement in the campaigns of 1866 and 1870-71. The disadvantage of the system is that lack of success may entail not only a local disaster but the wreck and annihilation of the whole army.

At the Battle of Blenheim (August 2, 1704), Marlborough, "the greatest captain of his age," had concentrated his forces with those of Prince Eugene of Savoy the previous day and commanded an army of 56,000 men with 52 guns. He was confronted by the joint armies of Marshal Tallard and the Elector of Bavaria, amounting to 60,000 men with 61 guns. It was necessary for Marlborough to attack before Villeroy joined the enemy, or to withdraw until a more favourable opportunity presented itself. The right flank of his opponents rested on high hills, which were protected by detached posts, and the left flank on the Danube, while opposite the centre was the marshy valley of the River Nebel, with several branches running through the swampy ground. Marlborough decided that a battle {47} was absolutely necessary and he attacked the next day. Like Hannibal, he relied principally on his cavalry for achieving his decisive success, and this predilection was known to the opposing commanders. He attacked the enemy's right and left wings, and when heavily engaged with varying fortunes launched his decisive attack against the centre, where the difficulties of the ground caused it to be least expected. Marlborough lost 5,000 killed and 8,000 wounded. The vanquished armies were almost destroyed, at least 40,000 being accounted for, with 12,000 killed, 14,000 wounded and missing, and 14,000 prisoners.

THE DEFENSIVE-OFFENSIVE BATTLE.—The Defensive-Offensive system consists in taking up a position which the enemy must attack, and in delivering a decisive counter-stroke when the adversary has exhausted his strength. This system has been employed in almost every campaign. By such means Napoleon achieved his classic victories of Marengo (June 14, 1800), Austerlitz (December 2, 1805), and Dresden (August 27, 1813); and Wellington his Peninsular victories at Vittoria (June 21, 1813), Orthez (February 27, 1814), and Toulouse (April 10, 1814), in addition to his final triumph at Waterloo (June 18, 1815); and it was the method adopted by Marshal Foch in the decisive campaign of 1918, which endured from March until the Armistice in November.

At the Battle of Waterloo (June 18, 1815), the decisive counter-stroke was delivered, in accordance with Wellington's pre-arranged plan, by a force coming from a distance to the scene of action. On the morning of June 17, when Wellington resolved to make a stand at Waterloo, he was aware that the Prussians, who were mostly young troops, had been beaten at Ligny; that Napoleon had, before that battle, over 120,000 men, and that he himself had, all told, 68,000, of whom 31,000, including the King's German Legion, were {48} British. Yet he withdrew from Quatre Bras with the full determination of standing at Waterloo and of fighting Napoleon's army, if Marshal Bluecher would come to his assistance with one Army Corps. Napoleon attacked on June 18 with 72,000 men and 246 guns, against Wellington's 68,000 men with 156 guns, at 11 a.m., but he was unable to shift the line or break through the squares. At 4.30 p.m. one of Bluecher's corps was delivering the promised counter-attack against Napoleon's line of communications. Soon after 9 p.m. Wellington and Bluecher met at La Belle Alliance, Napoleon's headquarters before the battle, and the pursuit was in full swing.

Opportunities for restoring the battle and for turning impending defeat into a crushing victory are frequently offered during an engagement. General Lee's thin lines at Antietam or Sharpsburg (September 17, 1862), slowly fed by men jaded by heavy marching, were sorely pressed, but there was a lull in the Federal attack when Hooker's advance was checked. Had General McClellan at that moment thrown in "his last man and his last horse" in a vigorous reinforcing attack, Antietam would not have been a drawn battle, and Lee would not have retired at his leisure into Virginia. Lee's great victory at Chancellorsville (May 2-3, 1863), although marred by the accident which deprived him of Stonewall Jackson, was a striking instance of the success of the Defensive-Offensive system at the hands of a great commander, who defeated 90,000 troops with less than half that number, by a containing defence with 13,000 men and a decisive counter-stroke with the remainder.

But while this combined system is regarded by most authorities as the best, when circumstances warrant its adoption, it is the highest test of generalship to seize the right moment to pass from the guard to the thrust. This is the problem which confronted Marshal Foch, the generalissimo of the Allied Forces, during the great {49} German offensive movement on the Western Front in 1918. The defensive role endured from March 21 until July 17, 1918, and although many local counter-attacks were made along the whole battle front, the Allies did not pass from the guard to the thrust until the decisive counter-stroke was commenced in the Second Battle of the Marne (July 18, 1918) on a front of 27 miles from Fontenoy to Belleau, which drove the Germans back across the Marne on July 20.

THE SECOND BATTLE OF THE MARNE (July 18, 1918).—The great German offensive of March-June, 1918, was renewed on July 15, when the artillery preparation opened shortly after midnight and troops were poured across the Marne in small boats and over pontoon bridges. The attack was not unexpected. Adequate reserves were ready and in place, and a heavy counter-bombardment on the German troops in their positions of assembly, close to their front-line trenches, caused heavy casualties. The Germans succeeded in penetrating the French and American positions in parts of the 50-mile front to a maximum depth of 4 miles south-west of Reims, but on the Plains of Champagne little progress was made and the attack lost its momentum. During the attack of March 21, 1918, the advance was not held up until it was within striking distance of its ultimate objective, and the offensive on the Aisne in May, 1918, secured an advance of 12 miles. Captured documents showed that the attack of July east of Reims was intended to reach the Marne at Eperney and Chalons, an advance of 21 miles. A feature of the earlier days of the battle was a spirited counter-attack near Fossoy (on the extreme left of the German forces) by a division of the American Army which thrust the Germans behind their first line and captured upwards of 1,000 prisoners, the ground regained in the river bend being consolidated and held by the American division. The battle continued for three days before the German {50} attack was brought to a standstill, and at 4.80 a.m. on July 18 a counter-attack by the French, American, and Italian forces changed the whole aspect of the campaign, and led to the final triumph of the Allies and to the downfall of the Central Powers.



"Surprise is at all times the assailant's strongest weapon."—"Field Service Regulations," vol. ii. (1920).

The aim of every commander who possesses the power of manoeuvre is to seek out the enemy and destroy his organised forces. The Attack is the culminating point of all manoeuvres to this end, and every commander will endeavour to achieve his aim by a sudden and unexpected assault on a part of the enemy's defences.

The achievement of this aim is only possible when a commander has assembled a sufficient force for his purpose, and has obtained, by reconnaissance and by fighting, information as to the vulnerability of the hostile position. The commander will then endeavour to break the enemy's formation so suddenly as to disconcert all his plans; to retain a compact force with which to follow up the blow without giving the enemy a moment's breathing space; to drive a wedge into the heart of his disordered masses, forcing his wings asunder; and to pursue and annihilate the scattered forces of the enemy.

"Unless a decision is quickly obtained in the opening weeks of a modern campaign the opposing armies tend to become immobile, chiefly owing to the great power conferred on the defence by modern armaments. The armies will then be distributed in great depth, and the attackers are faced with the necessity of breaking through not one position only, but a series of positions, extending back to a depth of several miles" ("Infantry Training, 1921").

Penetration, followed by the sundering of the Franco-British Armies, was clearly the intention of the German {52} High Command in the Second Battle of the Somme, which opened on March 21, 1918. The German Armies had entrenched themselves after the First Battle of the Marne (September, 1914), and for 43 months had been confronted by the Allied Nations of Britain, France, and Belgium, reinforced at the close by Portuguese troops and by the National Army of the United States.

Within the investing lines of the Western Front the German Armies were besieged, the barrier reaching from the Belgian coast to the frontier of Switzerland, while the armies of Austria-Hungary were similarly penned in by the army of Italy, from Switzerland to the Adriatic. The internal collapse of Russia, in 1917, enabled von Hindenburg to assume the offensive, with upwards of 1,500,000 men released from the Eastern Front, and part of this reserve power was projected, with the Austro-Hungarian Armies, in a fierce attack on the Italian lines. The success of this manoeuvre continued until reinforcements were dispatched from other parts of the Allied lines, and a diversion in the region of Cambrai by the British III. Army, under Sir Julian Byng (November 20, 1917), prevented the dispatch of further German reserve power to the Italian Front, and necessitated a counter-thrust in France. The battlefields of France again resumed their importance as the vital point in the theatre of operations, and in the spring of 1918, profiting by the improved positions and prospects in the West, Ludendorff attempted to break through the investing lines on a 50-mile front. The attack was heralded by a terrific bombardment, and culminated in a desperate thrust against the British Armies north and south of the River Somme, the points of penetration aimed at being the British right, where it was linked up with the French on the River Oise, in the neighbourhood of La Fere, and the British line of communications in the neighbourhood of Amiens. The whole British line opposite the thrust was hurled back and the territory regained by the Franco-British {53} advance on the Somme in July, 1916, was recaptured by the German Armies. But this was not a battle for towns or territory, as the German hammer blows were intended to drive a wedge between the British and French Armies, to roll up the British flank northwards to the sea-coast and the French flank southwards to Paris, and to capture the main line of communication between these Northern and Southern Armies. By skilful reinforcement of threatened points, Marshal Haig frustrated the primary object of the attack, and by the aid of the French Armies the whole line fell back, disputing the ground with the utmost resolution, and maintaining the line without losing touch between the south and north. The German wedge was thrust in, but every attempt to effect a breach and to pour through the line was frustrated by the Allies. During the battle the French and British Armies became intermingled, and to preserve unity of control a Generalissimo was appointed in the person of General Foch, who had commanded the French IX. Army at the First Battle of the Marne in September, 1914, and the French Armies of the Somme during the advance in July, 1916. General Pershing, commanding the Army of the United States, gave a free hand to the Generalissimo to incorporate American troops wherever they might be needed in the field, and Marshal Haig and General Retain remained in command of the British and French Armies.

METHODS OF ATTACK.—The object of every attack is to break down the enemy's resistance by the weight and direction of fire and to complete his overthrow by assault, by the delivery of a decisive blow with as large a portion as possible of the attacking force against a selected point or portion of the enemy's position. The term "Decisive Attack" does not imply that the influence of other attacks is indecisive, but rather that it is the culmination of gradually increasing pressure relentlessly applied to the enemy from the moment when contact with him is first obtained.


TWO PLANS OF ATTACK.—There are two plans of attack. In the first, the direction in which the decisive blow is to be delivered is determined beforehand; an adequate force is detailed and pushed forward for this purpose, and at the same time another part of the force is detailed to attack another portion of the enemy's position, to keep his attention there, to pin his troops in position, to prevent him sending reinforcements to the part mainly threatened, and ultimately to drive home with the successful assault of the main attack. The rest of the force is small and is retained in General Reserve to meet emergencies.

In the second plan, a general action is developed by a part of the attacking force and the remainder is retained in General Reserve, to be thrown in when the opportunity arrives, at the right time and in the right place. In this case, the "remainder" is not less than half the available force.

The first plan can be adopted when the commander of the attacking force has definite information as to the extent of the enemy's position, when he knows where its flanks rest and when he knows the approximate strength of the forces arrayed against him. It must also be possible, without undue risk, to divide the attacking force into parties of such strength that neither can be overwhelmed by the enemy in detail, and it is to be noted that in the case of a serious check there is only a small General Reserve to restore the battle. The second plan can be adopted when information is incomplete, and owing to the strong force retained by the commander in General Reserve, the situation can be exploited and developed by fighting without undue risk.

STRENGTH OF THE ATTACK.—It must always be remembered that a commander can never be too strong when making an attack, for he can never be perfectly sure of what force he may encounter, or at what moment the adversary may make a counter-attack. An attack {55} on an enemy presupposes a superiority of force at the place where the attack is made, for war is but the art of being stronger than the enemy at the right place at the right time, and for an attack to have a reasonable hope of success the attackers, at the point where the penetration takes place, must be superior.

DISPOSITION OF THE TROOPS.—Each phase of the Attack will normally require three separate bodies of troops for its execution: a Forward Body to seek out for, and when located attack, the enemy along the whole front of the sector allotted to it and by relentless pressure to wear down the enemy's resistance in order to discover the weak portions of the defence; Supports to penetrate the weak portions of the defence and forthwith to attack the flanks and rear of those portions of the defence which are holding up the Attack; with Local Reserves for dealing with local counter-attacks; and a General Reserve by means of which the commander exploits success or retrieves failure.

THE FORWARD BODY, THE SUPPORTS, AND THE LOCAL RESERVES.—The paramount duty of all leaders in the firing line is to get their troops forward, and if every leader is imbued with the determination to close with the enemy, he will be unconsciously assisting his neighbour also, for, as a rule, the best method of supporting a neighbouring unit is to advance. But an attack is often held up by well-directed machine-gun fire, and by determined and well-trained riflemen in concealed or well-prepared positions. The tactics to be pursued under these circumstances are thus outlined in "Infantry Training, 1921": "When forward troops are held up by the enemy's organised fire at close ranges they must keep him pinned to his ground and absorb his attention by maintaining a vigorous fire and working their way closer when opportunity offers. It will be the duty of the Supports to turn the flank of, and enfilade, that portion of the enemy's defences where a garrison is opposing {56} the Forward Body. To achieve this, Supports may have to quit their direct line of advance and follow in the wake of a neighbouring unit, which is able to advance. It must constantly be borne in mind that pressure should be brought on the enemy by supporting troops in places where the attack is progressing rather than where it is held up, never by the mere reinforcement or thickening up of a line of troops who have been unable to advance. There must be no slackening of pressure, meanwhile, by the forward troops who are temporarily held up, or the defenders will be able to turn their attention to the flanking attacks which are being directed against them." The Local Reserves are for local counter-attacks by fire or movement against similar efforts by the Local Reserves of the enemy. In modern campaigns this work is effectively carried out by the overhead fire of machine guns distributed in depth, and the mobile Local Reserves may thus consist of smaller units detached for the purpose by the Forward Body or by the Supports. During the great German offensive in the spring of 1918 the Attacks on the Somme and the Lys were constantly held up by the vigour and tenacity of the Franco-British defence, and to meet the necessities of the case the following instructions were issued by the German General Staff: "If the assaulting troops are held up by machine-gun fire they are to lie down and keep up a steady rifle fire, while Supports in the rear and on the flank try to work round the flanks and rear of the machine-gun nests which are holding up the Attack. Meanwhile, the commander of the battalion which is responsible for the Attack is to arrange for artillery and light trench-mortar support, and should protect his own flanks from machine-gun fire by means of smoke."

THE GENERAL RESERVE.—In a modern campaign against civilised troops it will seldom, or never, happen that the efforts of the Forward Body, Supports, and Local Reserves will annihilate the enemy and so prevent him from regaining cohesion and fighting power. Even if {57} every part of the position against which an assault is delivered is captured and held, the enemy will not, by that means alone, cease to exist as a fighting force, and if he is permitted to withdraw with a semblance of order and moral the work of the Attacking Force will be of little avail. The destruction of the enemy and not the mere capture of the ground of the encounter is the ultimate aim of the commander. He will, therefore, accept the best available opportunity for the destruction of the enemy by overwhelming them in some part of the battlefield during the successful operations of his Attacking Force. It may, however, happen that the efforts of the Attacking Force are generally unsuccessful and the enemy may be on the point of gaining the upper hand. By means of the General Reserve the commander exploits the success or retrieves the failure of the Attacking Force. The commander will have selected some point or position in the enemy's defensive system against which he can direct his decisive attack. This point cannot, as a rule, be determined until it has been revealed by the successes of the Forward Body and the Supports, and when it has been selected it must be struck unexpectedly and in the greatest possible strength. While, therefore, the Forward Body, Supports, and Local Reserves must be adequate in numbers for the task allotted to them, a commander will generally retain about half his available force for the delivery of the Decisive Attack, and when this decisive blow has been delivered the Reserve will carry on the pursuit of the beaten enemy until such time as other Infantry, or Cavalry, or Tanks, have caught up and passed them. If the attacking troops fail to obtain their objective the commander has at his disposal the means of relieving exhausted troops and of dealing with the "decisive counter-attack" of the enemy.

THE COMMANDER'S PLANS.—Once troops are committed to the assault the commander is powerless to divert them to another purpose. His control is exercised in {58} the correct interpretation or adaptation of his original plan by his subordinate commanders. Before launching his troops to the attack in accordance with the decisions arrived at from information received, the commander will assemble his subordinates and the representatives of co-operating arms or formations in order that his plans may be explained. This conference should be held at such a time as will enable his subordinates to explain their role to the sub-unit commanders. Wherever possible the conference should be preceded by a personal reconnaissance of the ground over which the attack is to be made, otherwise a map of the district concerned must be substituted for the actual view.

The commander will be influenced in his plans by the state of the campaign at the time of the decision to attack. In the opening stages of a campaign in a thickly populated country, and generally throughout a campaign in less settled districts, a war of manoeuvre will lead to the "Encounter Battle," and the objective to be aimed at will be limited only by the power of endurance of his troops, the weather conditions, and the possibility of supplying his victorious troops with ammunition and food. Under other conditions, the objective will be subject to further limitations, as the defensive position will be organised in great depth, and while effective penetration will thus be more difficult to achieve it must, of necessity, be accompanied by widening in proportion to its depth in order that space for manoeuvre and facility for communication may be secured. The Infantry Attack will be conducted on the same lines in both forms of battle, but the greater the organisation of the defensive position the more limited will be the depth to which the attack can be carried on and the greater difficulty will there be in launching reserves in pursuit.

THE POSITION OF ASSEMBLY.—A column in march formation will very rarely move to its attack position, or "jumping-off place," from column of route except {59} where there are concealed lines of approach to the spot. A Position of Assembly will therefore be assigned, and this will be chosen with a view to cover for the troops and facilities for the issue of food and hot drink, the distribution of ammunition and the filling of water bottles. As a general rule, it is left to the battalion commander to select Positions of Assembly for each of his companies. When large bodies of troops are assembled with a view to immediate action, it must always be remembered that large forces cannot be moved by a single road if all arms are to be brought into action at the right moment. In April, 1864, General Banks, with 25,000 U.S. troops, moved from Grand Ecore to Pleasant Hill in the Red River Valley. Although lateral roads existed, his column marched on one main road only, and twenty miles separated his front and rear. As he came into action with General Forrest, of the Confederate Army, the head of his column was defeated and thrown back again and again by forces inferior in total strength, but superior on the field of the encounter. Had General Banks used two or more parallel roads, which were available for his use, the Confederates on the spot would have been quickly overpowered.

THE ATTACKING FORCE.—The commander must decide against which portion or portions of the hostile position, or along which lines of advance, his Fire Attack shall be developed. As the object of this movement is to pin the enemy to his position, to wear down his resistance generally, and particularly at the point where the Decisive Attack is to be delivered, as well as to effect a lodgment in the position, it is clear that the greater the extent of the objective the better, and one or both flanks should be threatened if possible. But whenever a Fire Attack is developed it must be in sufficient strength to occupy the enemy's attention fully and it must be carried through with vigour once begun. One {60} to three rifles per yard of the objective to be assailed is generally regarded as the requisite strength of the Forward Body, Supports, and Local Reserves. At St. Privat (August 18, 1870) a first and second line made a frontal attack and came under fire of the French chassepots, to which their own shorter-ranged rifles could make no effective reply. The lines pressed on, but were ultimately brought to a standstill through lack of reinforcements, which could have been sent up against the flank of the fire position which was holding up the attack, under cover of the fire of the troops in position, and would thus have carried the Forward Body to the assault.

Equally unsuccessful was Osman Pasha's attempt to break through the investing lines at Plevna (December 10, 1877). With 15,000 troops he pierced the Russian lines, and another resolute effort would have carried the sortie through the investing forces. But the 15,000 Supports could not get out of the town as the bridges and gates were blocked with fugitives and wagons.

THE DECISIVE ATTACK.—The commander must also decide the point and direction of the Decisive Attack. This will be made on a part of the front or on a flank, and it may be predetermined in accordance with information concerning the hostile dispositions, or it may have to be ascertained by further fighting. The advantages of a Frontal Attack are that, if successful, the enemy's force is broken in two parts, the separated wings may be driven back in divergent directions and overwhelmed in detail, and a decisive victory is thus obtained. The disadvantages are that the force assaulting a part of the enemy's front draws upon itself the concentrated fire of the whole hostile line, and unless the Fire Attack can master this fire the decisive blow will be held up, while an unsuccessful frontal attack invites the enemy to advance and to envelop the assailants. The advantages of a Flank Attack are that {61} the enemy's line of retreat is threatened, and only the threatened flank can concentrate its fire on the assailant. The disadvantages of a Flank Attack are that the enveloping troops have to face a similar danger on their own outer flank, for upon this point the defender will almost certainly direct his counter-stroke, and for this reason a decisive blow on the enemy's flank must be followed up by strong reserves. The flank chosen for attack will be that which affords the best opportunities for converging fire from the supporting artillery, which gives the best line of advance for the infantry, and where success will have the most decisive results, the last depending mainly on the extent to which the enemy's line of retreat is threatened. Where the various requisites are in conflict, the flank affording the greatest advantages for converging fire from the artillery will be chosen. Nothing destroys the moral of men in action so speedily and effectually as a flank attack, and except by this method good infantry will seldom be beaten.

A decisive attack, to be completely successful, must be followed up by fresh troops before the assaulting waves have been checked. Lee had crossed the Potomac and desired "to defeat the last army of the Federals in the east and drive the Northern Government from Washington." The battle of Gettysburg lasted three days (July 1-3, 1863). On the first, the army of Northern Virginia was uniformly successful; on the second, the fortunes of battle swayed to and fro; on the third, Lee decided to make a Napoleonic decisive attack with half his available troops against Meade's centre. But the spirited attack of the first 15,000, after penetrating the line, was checked, and the remaining 15,000 did not arrive in support, so that the attack died down, was repulsed, and withdrew in disorder.

At Chattanooga (November 25, 1868) Grant's decisive attack was successful, although delivered against a part of the position which appeared to be impregnable, on account of the strength of the attack, through {62} distribution in depth; 25,000 men were hurled against the entrenchments in three lines, and the support of the third line carried the waves of the attack through the defences.

DETAILING THE UNITS.—The commander will detail the units for carrying out the Fire Attack, which will generally require one to three rifles per yard of the objective. This force will be placed under a definite commander, who will distribute it into a Forward Body to develop the attack in the firing line; Supports, to enable the Forward Body to assault the position; and Local Reserves to maintain or restore the advantages gained, their main function being to repel counter-attacks by similar bodies of the enemy and to maintain the offensive spirit.

The commander will also detail the units for carrying out the Decisive Attack, which will require three to five rifles per yard of the portion of the position against which it is projected. This force, under a definite commander, is distributed for the attack in depth, so that the strength and weight of the blow carries it home against all opposition. The force is retained by the commander of the whole attacking troops, to be thrown in at the right time and in the right place. It also remains in hand to restore the battle in case of an unexpected check, or to cover the withdrawal of the remainder of the troops if it is desired to break off the engagement.

THE ARTILLERY.—The position of the artillery will be settled in consultation with the artillery commander, the decision resting on the objects in view, which are, to assist the infantry in its advance by keeping down hostile gun and rifle fire—therefore, in the initial stages, a commanding position is required; during the decisive stage concentration on the objective of the decisive blow is required; and after the successful assault guns may be required to be hurried forward to repel {63} counter-attacks, to break down protracted opposition, and to complete the rout by harassing the fleeing enemy. When the attack is directed against a position the defence of which is known to have been elaborately organised, a pre-arranged covering fire in the form of an artillery barrage, lifted in successive stages as the attack advances, may require to be organised some time before the attack is launched. It will be necessary to detail an escort for the guns, unless the distribution of the troops for the attack already provides such protection. At the Battle of Verneville (August 18, 1870) the 9th Prussian Corps Artillery had been pushed forward against the French position at Armandvillers-Folie. The fire of the French infantry caused a loss of 13 officers and 187 other ranks, and one battery was disabled, before the guns were withdrawn. There was no infantry escort to keep the attacking riflemen at a distance. At the Battle of Colenso (December 15, 1899) two batteries of field artillery advanced into action without an escort, and without previous reconnaissance unlimbered on a projecting spit of land in a loop of the Tugela River. Frontal fire from hidden trenches on the opposite bank and enfilade fire from a re-entrant flank killed all the horses and the greater part of the personnel, and although the utmost gallantry was shown by all ranks ten of the twelve guns were left in Boer hands. Infantry regimental officers and battalion commanders must be acquainted with the amount of ammunition carried by their accompanying artillery, in order that ammunition may not be wasted by calling for fire on targets of secondary importance. All reserves, whether they have been specially detailed or not for the purpose, must of their own accord make every effort to assist in getting forward guns and ammunition. One of the outstanding lessons of the War of 1914-1918 is the possibility of placing even the heaviest artillery close behind the infantry fighting line owing to the mobility afforded by motor traction and to the security against {64} counter-attack provided by the deadly fire of the magazine rifles and machine guns of their escort, and of the Lewis guns allotted to the batteries themselves.

THE CAVALRY.—The opportunities for cavalry action in an attack depend upon the character of the defensive operations. Against a highly organised defensive position there will be no openings for mounted troops until a wide penetration gives space for manoeuvre. Before the attack during an "Encounter Battle" the cavalry will have been out on reconnaissance in front of the attacking force; during the attack they may be called on to assist by dismounted fire action, and by local counter-strokes as mounted troops (against cavalry, or against infantry disorganised by the breakdown of a movement), but must not be allowed to impair their speed or freshness; after the successful assault the Pursuit is their special duty, not necessarily on the heels of the enemy, but on lines parallel to their retreat, to hamper his movements, to round up stragglers, and to threaten their communications. Generally speaking, such a position as is required will be found on a flank, or slightly in advance of a flank of the attacking force. "Cavalry make it possible for a general to adopt the most skilful of all manoeuvres, the converging attack, and properly handled, as at Appomattox or Paardeberg, to bring about the crowning triumph of Grand Tactics, the hemming in a force so closely that it has either to attack at a disadvantage or to surrender" (Henderson). In the Mesopotamian campaign a surprise attack of General Sir S. Maude's forces on September 27-29, 1917, against the Turkish forces assembling near Ramadie, 65 miles north-west of Baghdad, was converted into the surrender of the Turkish commander and about 4,000 all arms by the enveloping tactics of the Anglo-Indian Cavalry Division. A similar manoeuvre on March 26, 1918, by the cavalry of the Mesopotamian Field Force (commanded at that time by General Sir W. R. Marshall, {65} who succeeded after General Maude's death from cholera), resulted in the surrender of over 5,000 Turks, including a divisional commander, 22 miles north-west of Hit. The prisoners were fugitives from the battle of Baghdadieh, and the cavalry were astride their communications. "On the morning of the Armistice (November 11, 1918) two British Cavalry Divisions were on the march east of the Scheldt, and before orders to stop reached them they had already gained a line 10 miles in front of our infantry outposts. There is no doubt that, had the advance of the cavalry been allowed to continue, the enemy's disorganised retreat would have been turned into a rout" (Sir D. Haig's Dispatches). The absence of cavalry at the critical moment has often decided the issue of a campaign. After the action of Gaines's Mill (June 27, 1862) General J. E. B. Stuart was dispatched by Lee with the Confederate cavalry on a false scent to White House, south of the York River, to which base Lee believed McClellan to be retreating. But McClellan had shifted his base to Harrison's Landing, on the James River, and the Confederate cavalry did not regain touch with the Army of the Potomac until July 3, two days after the failure of Lee's attack on Malvern Hill. Had Stuart been available with his cavalry throughout that critical period McClellan's huge trains would have fallen an easy prey to the Confederate horsemen, and the roads through the forests and swamps to Malvern Hill could have been blocked. Absence of cavalry before the first day of Gettysburg (July 1, 1863) hampered the Confederate leaders, and lack of information caused them to act with unnecessary caution when boldness would have carried everything before them. General Stuart had once more been sent away on a raiding expedition. After the victorious attack of General Early's division a handful of General Buford's U.S. cavalry enabled the defeated 1st Corps of Meade's army to save their guns and to retire unmolested. A thousand {66} Confederate sabres would have brushed Buford aside, and July 1 would have been disastrous to the National cause.

During the German offensive of March-July, 1918, "even two or three well-trained cavalry divisions might have driven a wedge between the French and British Armies. Their presence could not have failed to have added greatly to the difficulties of our task" (Sir D. Haig's Dispatches). During the Battle of Cambrai (November 20, 1917) a squadron of the Fort Garry Horse crossed the Scheldt Canal, and after capturing a German battery and dispersing a large body of infantry, maintained itself by rifle fire in a sunken road until nightfall, when it withdrew to the British lines with its prisoners. During the Battle of Amiens (August 8-18, 1918) the cavalry were concentrated behind the battle front by a series of night marches, and on the first day of the battle they advanced 23 miles from their position of assembly. Throughout the battle they rendered most gallant and valuable service. During the Second Battle of Le Cateau (October 6-12, 1918) cavalry were instrumental in harassing the enemy in his retreat and preventing him from completing the destruction of the railway, and when the infantry were held up by heavy machine-gun fire from Cattigny Wood and Clary "a dashing charge by the Fort Garry Horse gained a footing in Cattigny Wood and assisted our infantry to press forward. Further east, Dragoon Guards and Canadian Cavalry were instrumental in the capture of Hennechy, Reumont, and Troisvilles" (Sir D. Haig's Dispatches). In the early stages of the campaign in North Russia (August-September, 1918) a handful of cavalry on either bank of the North Dwina River could have kept the Bolshevik forces constantly on the run, and could have prevented the successive reorganisation of their demoralised forces, which the slower progress of the pursuing infantry was unable to accomplish. A few squadrons of cavalry could have dispersed the whole {67} Bolshevik force in the Archangel Province. Tanks are usefully employed in the pursuit, as artillery, the only effective enemy of the tank, is unlikely to remain in action with the rearward troops of a disorganised enemy; and a new terror has been added to the pursuit by the advent of self-propelled, man-carrying Aircraft, armed with machine guns and bombs, and possibly even with light quick-firing artillery. During the final stages of the victorious Allied Advance in November, 1918, the retreating German Armies were continuously harassed from the air. "Throughout the day (November 5, 1918) the roads, packed with the enemy's troops and transport, afforded excellent targets to our airmen, who took full advantage of their opportunities, despite the unfavourable weather. Over 30 guns, which bombs and machine-gun fire from the air had forced the enemy to abandon, were captured by a battalion of the 25th Division in the field near Le Presau" (Sir D. Haig's Dispatches).

THE ROYAL ENGINEERS.—The position and employment of the Royal Engineers will be determined by the commander who issues orders for the Attack, and as the main function of this corps in the Attack is the removal or bridging of obstacles to the advance, and the strengthening of the position when captured, the Royal Engineers will probably remain with the troops to which the decisive attack is entrusted.

MEDICAL ARRANGEMENTS.—The position of hospitals and clearing stations will be settled in consultation with the S.M.O. Aid posts and advanced dressing stations will be established under battalion arrangements in connection with the medical officer of the units concerned.

SUPPLY.—The position of the Train, with its reserve supplies of ammunition and of food for men and horses, will depend upon facilities for communication with the attacking force and upon security against artillery fire {68} or surprise attack from the air or land. The position will probably be well in rear, and at the junction of roads leading forward to the attacking troops. Rations will be brought up to units under arrangements by the commanders of the battalion or other units concerned.

THE COMMANDER'S POSITION.—The position of the commander who issues the orders for the Attack must be fixed, and must be made known to subordinate commanders, as it will be the place to which reports will be sent. In the case of a small force the commander will generally stay with the General Reserve; if the force is fairly large, and composed of all arms, he will probably be on the main artillery position; but in the case of a large force he should be well out of reach of the distraction of local incidents. If the commander of a large force moves from his stated position he must leave a senior officer of his staff to represent him on the spot and to forward urgent communications to him in his changed position. In the case of a small force a commander who vacates his stated position must arrange to leave a runner in the position stated as his headquarters, in order that messages may reach him without delay.

BATTLE REPORTS.—The successful exploitation of success depends largely on the accuracy of the information gained by the commander from all parts of the battlefield. Reports are required from all who have information to impart and they should be made out on previously prepared message cards, stating the exact position of the sender at the time of the report; the progress made by the unit under the command of the sender, or by neighbouring or other units whose action has been observed; the degree of the enemy's resistance; enemy movements; and the plans of the officer making the report and the method to be adopted in carrying out such plans.


REORGANISATION AND PURSUIT.—Once a successful assault has been delivered, subordinate commanders must immediately regain control of their commands, and must see that the fleeing enemy is pursued by fire, while local reserves follow up and secure the position against counter-attack. Superior commanders must take steps to organise the pursuit, to cut off the enemy's line of retreat, and to complete his overthrow. No victory is ever complete if the enemy is permitted to retire unmolested from the field of battle, and given time to recover order and moral. "Never let up in a pursuit while your troops have strength to follow" was a favourite maxim of Stonewall Jackson. The pursuit is the task of the infantry until it is taken over by aircraft, cavalry, and tanks, and the limits to which the infantry will carry the pursuit will be fixed by the commander, who will bear in mind the principle that "Success must be followed up until the enemy's power is ruined" ("Field Service Regulations," vol. ii. (1920)). If the fruits of victory are to be secured the work must be put in hand whilst the enemy is still reeling under the shock of defeat. A few hours' delay gives him time to recover his equilibrium, to organise a rearguard, and to gain several miles on his rearward march. In modern warfare motor transport may enable the comparatively immobile infantry to achieve the mobility of cavalry, if arrangements for embussing them have previously been made, and in a few hours infantry may thus be transported beyond the reach of pursuit.



"Only by the rifle and bayonet of the infantryman can the decisive victory be won."—MARSHAL HAIG.

The formations in which Infantry move to the Attack must be such as will enable them to achieve their object by the combination of Fire and Movement. For this purpose, the forward troops must be furnished with supports belonging to the same unit as themselves, in order that a connected leading may produce a joint action of the whole.

THE PLATOON.—The smallest unit which can be divided into independent bodies, each capable of Fire and Movement, is the platoon, the four sections of which can pin the enemy to his position by fire and can manoeuvre round his flanks. The normal distribution of the platoon for the Attack is either the Square or the Diamond Formation. In the Square Formation, two sections are forward covering the frontage allotted to the platoon, and the remaining two sections are in support, in such formation as may keep them in readiness for instant manoeuvre with due regard to the avoidance of unnecessary loss. In the Diamond Formation, one section leads to reconnoitre and to pin down the enemy, while the remaining three sections are held in readiness to manoeuvre for the decisive attack at the point in the enemy's defence which offers the best prospect of success. The Diamond Formation is that best suited to an Attack in an Encounter Battle, when the nature of the enemy's dispositions are imperfectly known. It possesses the great advantage of preserving {71} the power of manoeuvre for three-quarters of the platoon until the action of the leading section has developed the situation.

In each case (except when the Attack is launched against a highly organised defensive position), the forward sections will be preceded by Ground Scouts, to find the most covered line of advance and the best fire positions, and to guard against ambush. These Ground Scouts advance until checked, when they remain in observation until joined by the leading sections. During the early stages of the Attack in an Encounter Battle Flank Scouts may be required until such time as the deployment of the platoon renders them unnecessary.

Against a highly organised defensive system platoons may not be able to advance to the Attack without a barrage, and it is essential that all movements should conform exactly to the timing of the barrage and that the troops should keep under the back edge of the shrapnel curtain, so as to deliver their assault before the enemy has time to bring rifles and machine guns into play. Under such circumstances, Ground scouts must be dispensed with. Such a position will not be attacked without careful previous reconnaissance and the lines of advance will have been chosen beforehand. The Square Formation will be that usually adopted for attacks on highly organised defensive positions, with the two rifle sections forward and the two Lewis-gun sections in support. The Lewis-gun sections are thus able to protect the flanks of the rifle sections, and to deal with isolated enemy machine guns, or concealed bodies of riflemen, which might come into action with reverse or enfilade fire after the forward sections have passed over the occupied ground.

THE PLATOON COMMANDER.—The platoon commander must explain the situation to his subordinates and point out the line of advance. He should usually move with the forward sections during the preparatory {72} phase of an Attack, and when the forward sections have been committed to the Attack he should assume control of the supporting sections and move with them. If his platoon is in support, he will thus be with the forward sections before the platoon is involved in the fight. The success of Infantry in the Attack depends not only on dash, control, and leading, but upon the intelligent co-operation of support commanders, who must keep themselves acquainted with the course of the battle by intelligent observation and will thus possess an "appreciation of the situation" before involving their men in action, and can direct the supports to the right spot at the right time, to influence the battle by fire and by movement, without hesitation or delay.

THE COMPANY.—The normal distribution of the company, when acting with other companies of the battalion, is two platoons forward and two in support. To meet the expectation of a stubborn resistance, or to cover an unusually extensive frontage, three platoons may be forward, with one in support; and where information as to the enemy's dispositions is lacking, but strong opposition is unlikely, one platoon may be forward with three in support, thus enabling the company commander to use any or all the supports to influence the attack on obtaining information as to the point in the enemy's position which offers the best prospect of success. When the frontage allotted to a company is above the normal, the leading platoons should not endeavour to cover the whole front, but gaps should be left between them; otherwise the men will be so widely extended as to deprive the leaders of the power of control.

When a company is acting independently, the normal formation will be two platoons forward, with one in support, and one in reserve.

THE COMPANY COMMANDER.—The company commander will allot the tasks and the frontages of his {73} platoons and give orders as to their distribution, and must state where he will be himself during the Attack. His position will be determined by the necessity of keeping informed throughout the Attack of the situation and of the progress of his platoons, and he is responsible that all essential information on these points is passed back to the battalion commander. He must also keep in touch with companies on his flanks, sending out patrols for this purpose, if necessary; and must use every opportunity afforded by the fire or smoke provided by other units or arms to get forward or round the enemy's flanks. He will use his supporting platoons to push through where the resistance is weak in order to turn the flank of those portions of the enemy which are holding up the advance. As soon as this temporary phase has been brought to a successful conclusion the company commander must reorganise his platoons and secure their advance on the objective. When the objective has been gained the position must be consolidated and patrols sent out to prevent surprise.

THE BATTALION.—The distribution of the battalion depends entirely upon the nature of the task allotted to it. Where the enemy's dispositions are known and considerable resistance is anticipated in the earlier stages of the Attack, the battalion will normally be distributed with two companies forward, one in support and one in reserve. The forward body should thus be strong enough to develop the Attack to such a point that a decisive blow can be delivered by the supports against the main resistance, and the reserve company is in hand for the completing stages of the action or for stabilising the local battle. Where the enemy's dispositions and the degree of resistance are still the subject of conjecture, one company only may be forward, with two in support, so that the main strength of the battalion will not be committed to any definite role before it is needed and before the situation of the enemy is discovered.


THE BATTALION COMMANDER.—"The powers of personal control of a battalion commander upon the field of battle are limited, and success will depend, in a great measure, on the clearness of the orders which commit his leading companies to the Attack" ("Infantry Training, 1921"). The battalion commander should be supplied with any details concerning the enemy and of co-operating troops. He must understand his objective, the limits of his frontage, and the extent of help which he will receive from the other arms. In addition to such information as is supplied regarding the enemy's strength and dispositions, particularly with regard to wire (or other obstacles) and machine guns, he must ascertain the best positions of assembly for his companies, the best lines of approach to the objective, the most covered line of advance for his supports and reserves, and the best position for his own headquarters during each stage of the Attack. In his orders for the Attack he will reveal all information concerning the movements and dispositions of the enemy and of co-operating troops and arms; he will allot tasks to the companies and to the machine-gun platoon (if not brigaded) and will define the frontage of the forward companies; he will also detail the assembly positions, give compass-bearings for the advance, describe the action of other arms in support, make the necessary signalling arrangements, notify the zero hour, arrange for the synchronisation of watches, notify his own position before, during, and after the Attack, and indicate the point to which reports are to be sent, notify the medical arrangements, and issue instructions as to the collection of stragglers, the escort and destination of prisoners, the supply of ammunition, and the equipment to be worn. The quartermaster will receive orders as to the bringing up of rations during the battle. Before issuing to the Attack a proportion of officers and other ranks will be detailed to remain behind, to replace casualties when the engagement is over.


The position of the battalion commander will be chosen with a view to keeping in touch with the progress of the Attack in all its stages and of influencing the fight by means of the reserves. Personal control is difficult to exercise once troops are committed to the fight, but opportunities for rapid decision were frequently offered to battalion commanders in the Great War, and seized with a success which transformed a check into a victory. In 1916 a battalion commander of the Coldstream Guards, seeing his command disorganised by fire and resistance, by personal example rallied and reorganised the waves of the Attack and added the necessary momentum to the assault, which then reached its objective. On April 14, 1917, the commander of a battalion of the Royal Newfoundland Regiment witnessed the launching of a local counter-attack by the Germans on the village of Monchy-le-Preux, and by a rapid advance with the fighting portion of his headquarters, staved off the attack until the arrival of reinforcements from the 88th Brigade enabled it to be driven back in disorder. On November 30, 1917, during the German counter-attack from Fontaine Notre Dame to Tadpole Copse, in the Northern Sector of the Cambrai zone, the Germans forced their way into our foremost positions, and opened a gap between the 1/6th and 1/15th London Regiments. Local counter-attacks led by the two battalion commanders with all available men, including the personnel of their respective headquarters, once more restored the situation. In March, 1918, during the most critical period of the German thrust at Amiens, a battalion commander of the Border Regiment again and again, on horseback and on foot, personally restored the situation.



"The soul of the Defence is the Counter-Attack."—MARSHAL FOCH.

Defensive action may be initiated by a commander in the field, or it may be imposed upon him by the enemy, and a commander may rely upon fortification to assist him in defeating the enemy, or he may employ manoeuvre to effect or to postpone a decision.

A commander may desire to pin the enemy to an attack upon a fortified position, garrisoned by a portion only of his force, while he detaches another (and probably greater) portion to attack the enemy from an unexpected quarter. An outstanding example of this form of action is exhibited in the Battle of Chancellorsville (May 2-3, 1863), where Lee kept at bay Hooker's army of 90,000 with one-third of his force and detached Stonewall Jackson with 30,000 men to attack the Federal rear. Action of this kind is peculiarly effective, but it requires a secrecy which modern aircraft would almost certainly unveil, and if the manoeuvre failed to escape observation it would probably result in disaster both to the retaining force and to the detached troops.

A different form of the combination of defence with manoeuvre is the Defensive-Offensive battle, with examples of which the history of Warfare is amply supplied—Marengo, Austerlitz, and Waterloo being typical battles of this nature. In this form of defensive action a commander invites the enemy to attack a well-chosen position, and after exhausting the enemy's strength and holding up the assault, the commander passes from the guard to the thrust and overwhelms {77} the exhausted foe by an irresistible and sustained counter-attack with all the means at his disposal.

A position is sometimes occupied as a matter of necessity, sometimes merely as a matter of tactical prudence. At Nachod (June 27, 1866) the Prussian Advanced Guard hurriedly established a defensive position and kept at bay the whole Austrian Army, while the Prussian Army emerged in security from a defile and manoeuvred into battle array. The Pass of Thermopylae was occupied in B.C. 480 by 1,400 Greeks under Leonidas, King of Sparta, to withstand the Persian hosts of Xerxes, and although the Greek force was destroyed by an attack from the rear (through the disclosure of a secret path by a renegade in the Persian service), the resistance offered to the "invincible" Persians emboldened the Greeks in their future encounters, and led to the ultimate defeat of the invaders. According to the legendary history of Rome, Horatius Cocles and two companions defended the Sublician Bridge over the Tiber against Lars Porsena and the whole army of the Etruscans. This legendary heroism was equalled or surpassed during the Second Battle of the Somme (March 21, 1918). "The bridges across the Crozat and Somme Canals were destroyed, though in some cases not with entire success, it being probable that certain of them were still practicable for infantry. Instances of great bravery occurred in the destruction of these bridges. In one case, when the electrical connection for firing the demolition charge had failed, the officer responsible for the destruction of the bridge personally lit the instantaneous fuse and blew up the bridge. By extraordinary good fortune he was not killed" (Sir D. Haig's Dispatches). At Rorke's Drift (January 22, 1879) a force of 80 other ranks of the 24th Regiment, under Lieutenants Chard and Bromhead, with about 40 hospital cases, drove off the repeated attacks of 4,000 Zulus, part of Cetewayo's army which had surprised and annihilated the garrison {78} at Isandhlwana earlier the same day. An astounding feat of arms was performed by a small body of troops during the withdrawal of the British Army in face of the overwhelming German attack at the Second Battle of the Somme. A detachment of about 100 officers and men of the 61st Brigade, 20th Division, was detailed to cover the withdrawal of their division at Le Quesnoy (March 27,1918). Under the command of their Brigade-Major (Captain E. P. Combe, M.C.) the detachment successfully held the enemy at bay from early morning until 6 p.m., when the eleven survivors withdrew under orders, having accomplished their task.

There are many instances of the occupation of an area for an actual or potential tactical purpose. Before the Battle of Salamanca (July 22, 1812) a Spanish force had been detached by Wellington to cover a ford of the River Tormes by occupying the castle of Alba de Tormes, but the force was withdrawn without Wellington's knowledge, and Marmont's defeated army retired unmolested over the ford to the fortress of Valladolid. In the campaign of 1814, Napoleon placed a garrison of 1,200 in the Fortress of Soissons, but on March 3,1814, the garrison capitulated without exhausting all the means of defence as the regulations of War ordain, and the bridge at Soissons enabled Bluecher and Buelow to unite their forces across the River Aisne. In the Waterloo campaign, Wellington stationed 17,000 men at Hal and Tubize, 8 miles from his right on the field of battle at Waterloo, to repel a possible turning movement and to form a rallying point if his centre was broken, and with 67,000 men took up a position astride the Nivelle-Brussels and Charleroi-Brussels roads which met at Mont St. Jean. He was deprived of the services of this detachment and modern criticism has been directed against this disposition of his forces. It is, however, permissible to suggest that the security of his right flank, and the possession of a rallying point, inspired him with the confidence which enabled him to {79} withstand the sustained attacks of Napoleon until the arrival of Bluecher's corps permitted him to overwhelm his adversary.

A further form of defensive action is the occupation of a series of extemporised positions and the orderly withdrawal to a further series before the actual assault of the enemy, resistance being combined with manoeuvre for the purpose of delaying the enemy's advance or of holding up his pursuit. Delaying action of this kind is commonly employed in rearguard fighting, when the object to be gained is time rather than position, and the offensive action of the defender is limited to local counter-attacks at favourable or desperate moments. But the guiding principle in all defensive operations, including delaying action, must be that "when an enemy has liberty of manoeuvre, the passive occupation of a position, however strong, can rarely be justified, and always involves the risk of crushing defeat" ("Field Service Regulations," vol. ii. (1920)).

THE OFFENSIVE SPIRIT.—Although there are many forms of defensive action the soul of the Defence in every case is a vigorous offensive spirit. In the Active Defence, the Decisive Counter-Attack, ending in the overthrow of the enemy, is the manoeuvre originally in view when the defensive role is adopted. In the Passive Defence against superior numbers. Local Counter-Attacks end with the recapture of a tactical point or the repulse of a determined assault, and in the Delaying Action they overwhelm by surprise fire or assault a detached force which has advanced with such rapidity as to enable the defenders, without undue risk, to cut off and annihilate the isolated enemy body. Whatever the tactical situation, it is by the vigour of the offensive spirit alone that success may be achieved in the face of a determined enemy.

MODERN WARFARE.—In modern warfare the defensive position plays a part of increasing importance, owing {80} to the great power conferred on the defence by modern armaments. "Machine guns and barbed wire permit the rapid organisation of defensive points of a value which cannot be disputed. In particular, they have given to a trench, or to a natural obstacle, a solidity which permits a front to be extended in a manner unsuspected before this war; they permit the prompt consolidation of a large system that is easy to hold" (Marshal Foch). "The modern rifle and machine gun add tenfold to the relative power of the Defence as against the Attack. It has thus become a practical operation to place the heaviest artillery in position close behind the infantry fighting line, not only owing to the mobility afforded by motor traction but also because the old dread of losing the guns before they could be got away no longer exists" (Marshal French). It is thus possible to hold the forward positions of a highly organised defensive system with a minimum of exposure to loss, the extra strength of the position counterbalancing the reduction in numbers, but a preference for defensive action of this kind may generally be regarded as an admission that a victorious outcome of the campaign is not anticipated at the time of its adoption in the theatre in which it is employed. "It is of paramount importance that in those parts of a theatre of operations where a commander aims at decision a war of movement must never be allowed to lapse into position warfare so long as a further advance is possible. Position warfare can never of itself achieve victory" ("Field Service Regulations," vol. ii. (1920)). However strong entrenchments may be they will not defeat the adversary's main armies, nor can they withstand indefinitely the attacks of a determined and well-armed enemy. It is scarcely even probable that an army behind entrenchments can by that means alone inflict such losses on its assailants as will enable the initiative, or liberty of manoeuvre, to be regained and the assailant's main armies to be defeated. The operations on both sides {81} are in the nature of a siege, and however prolonged the siege, the advantage will be gained in the long run by superiority of aggressive action in the air and over and under the ground. In addition to the absence of opportunity for the grand offensive there are two further points of difference between defensive action in Position Warfare and the defence in a War of Manoeuvre. The first of these is the inevitable absence of flanks to be assailed, as the operations necessitate a connected line of strong points from sea to sea, or from the sea to the impassable barrier of neutral territory. Mounted troops are therefore doomed to inaction in their most important sphere, until the lines have been breached and the enemy is forced to retreat, and the opportunities for delivering flank attacks are meanwhile confined to the infantry, and will be due to irregularities in the alignment of the strong points, upon which enfilade fire may be brought to bear. The second point of difference is the abundance of time at the disposal of commanders for developing and rehearsing elaborate systems of attack and defence, and for obtaining detailed plans of the hostile works, through continuous reconnaissance by the Air Service. In most countries there must be, of necessity, a prolonged period of inactivity on both sides in a Position War, owing to the severity of winter conditions, or to the occurrence of the rainy season, and during that period it will seldom be possible to penetrate the enemy's main defences on such a scale as to bring about the grand offensive. But this is a period of inactivity in appearance rather than in fact, for no defensive system is ever perfect, no strong point but needs further consolidation, new trenches are constantly constructed or improved, and fresh areas are covered with wire entanglements. Guns of all calibres, underground mines and light mortars are ever at work, demolishing, wounding, and killing, while lachrymatory and asphyxiating shell-fire is to be expected at all times. On a smaller scale, snipers on both sides have a daily bag, and {82} observers are ever at their posts noting every change, however insignificant, and every new piece of work; "listening posts" are detecting hostile plans, while patrols are collecting information and raiding parties are reconnoitring, destroying defences, and inflicting losses, it being the first principle of a raid that it should result in greater losses to the enemy than to the troops which carry it out.

ENTRENCHMENTS.—Entrenchments have been employed in the defence from the earliest times. The Roman walls in Britain, the Great Wall of China, the earthworks in the Russian War of 1854-1855, in the American Civil War of 1861-1864, in the Russo-Turkish War of 1878, and the Russo-Japanese War of 1904-1905 are notable examples. But in no war previous to that of 1914-1918 have they played so important a part.

One of the most famous series of entrenchments in previous wars were those constructed in 1810 by Colonel R. Fletcher, of the Royal Engineers, at Torres Vedras. These fortifications extended for 50 miles and contained 126 closed works, mounting 247 guns, and behind these lines Wellington amassed stores and reinforcements until the retreat of Massena enabled him to resume the initiative. In front of these lines everything that could support the French armies had been removed; behind them Wellington's forces were well provided in every respect. On October 10, 1810, Massena was confronted by the entrenchments, the existence of which had been kept a profound secret, while their strength prevented them from being carried by assault. Before the end of October a Portuguese spy wrote to Wellington: "Heaven forgive me if I wrong the French in believing they have eaten my cat" (Napier). During the night of November 14-15, Massena broke up his camp and withdrew. But it was not the lines of Torres Vedras which won back the Peninsula. Spain and Portugal were saved by the bold march northwards {83} to Vittoria. "In six weeks Wellington marched, with 100,000 men, 600 miles, passed six great rivers, gained one decisive battle, invested two fortresses, and drove 120,000 veteran French troops from Spain" (Napier).

DEFENSIVE SYSTEMS.—"Whether it is the intention of the commander to resume the offensive at an early date or whether it is likely that the defensive system will be occupied for a considerable period, the principles on which the construction of all defences should be undertaken are the same. All defensive systems should be planned from the outset in such a way that they can easily be adapted to the requirements of a prolonged defence. The ground must be thoroughly reconnoitred and should at the first be divided into a series of tactical posts and defended localities. These posts should be self-supporting, but should be so sited that the garrisons mutually support each other by fire. The gaps between the posts must be covered by the fire of the garrison of the posts, and machine guns may also be sited to bring fire to bear from positions in rear and to the flanks" ("Infantry Training, 1921"). This principle must govern the choice of the position to be defended as well as the organisation of the position for defence, and troops detailed for the defence of an area must continue to improve the defensive arrangements in that area until such time as the offensive is resumed.

CHOOSING A POSITION.—The framework of the modern defence consists of artillery and machine guns; into this framework are fitted the defence posts or defended localities garrisoned by infantry, who are responsible for holding their ground at all costs and for inflicting the greatest possible loss on the enemy. A commander will require a position which affords elasticity for increasing the resistance as the attackers penetrate the defences, and depth will thus be essential. He will require a position wide enough to prevent the whole of his front being masked by a retaining attack of a part of the {84} enemy's forces while a strong flank attack is simultaneously delivered; and in a War of Manoeuvre he will require facilities for the Decisive Counter-Attack.

The depth of the position will develop automatically in a War of Position, but it must always be sufficient to enable troops to assemble in rear of the forward position before moving up and to afford rest to troops when withdrawn from the front line. The width of the position will generally depend upon the strength of the defending force, the guiding principle being to keep about half the force in General Reserve; if, therefore, the remainder of the force is insufficient for the purpose of holding the defences the position is too wide for the tactical requirements of the Active Defence. In Position Warfare, however, a defensive system must necessarily be extended beyond the limits that are practicable in the Active Defence, and the numbers available for the garrison are supplemented by denying ground to the attack by means of obstacles, the removal of which is prevented by machine-gun and rifle fire.

THE OUTPOST ZONE.—For the Active Defence of a position the defensive system will consist of an Outpost Zone and a Battle Position. The Outpost Zone is garrisoned by a protective force which keeps a constant watch on the enemy and absorbs the first shock of the attack, watch being kept by means of well-concealed sentry posts on the Line of Observation, supported by a chain of small self-contained defensive posts, while resistance is offered by a series of self-contained, mutually supporting defence posts on the Outpost Line of Resistance.

THE BATTLE POSITION.—The Battle Position will be established in the area in which the commander decides to fight out the battle and break the enemy's attack. It therefore forms the keystone of the whole defensive position and must be organised in depth to afford elasticity for defensive action. "In principle, in order to protect {85} the battle position from being obliterated by a preliminary bombardment, it should be beyond effective range of the enemy's mortars" ("Field Service Regulations," vol. ii. (1920)).

THE SEMI-PERMANENT SYSTEM.—When a campaign is prolonged in any area without decisive results a War of Position may be developed by one or both of the combatants. In such cases the Outpost Zone is developed into an intricate trench system, with protective avenues leading from front to rear and with deep dugouts to protect the garrison from artillery fire. The Battle Position will probably coincide with the Outpost Zone, the trenches being used for the purposes of observation until the fire positions are manned to resist an assault.

In parts of the line on the Western Front of the Great War, "Pill-box" forts, constructed of concrete, took the place of continuous lines of trenches. These machine-gun forts were garrisoned, according to size, by groups from 5 to 50 strong, and were echeloned in plan, to sweep all approaches, and together to command with their mutually supporting fire the whole area over which they were spread, the intervening ground being entangled with wire so placed as to invite attacking troops into places where flanking fire may be poured into them. The advantages of the pill-box system over the continuous line of strong points are principally defensive. Fewer men are required for them than for the trench systems, and there is less liability of loss from artillery fire. But there are certain grave disadvantages. Well-directed artillery fire is liable to destroy some of the pill boxes, and a direct hit from a heavy gun will possibly put a larger fort out of action, thus crippling the defence by the removal of a peg on which the whole scheme depends. Supports and reserves are necessarily far in rear and must be brought up through the open to repel successful attacks, while a defensive scheme {86} composed entirely on the pill-box plan is less suitable for aggressive action than entrenchments, there being fewer facilities for assembling troops prior to the attack.

COMMON CHARACTERISTICS.—Whatever the system of defence or phase of warfare, every commander must guard his flanks and keep in touch with neighbouring units. He must always be ready to assist a neighbouring commander by enfilade fire or by a relieving counter-attack; or to throw back a defensive flank in the event of a neighbouring post being captured by the enemy. Each post, occupied for the Defence (except in Delaying Actions, where manoeuvre takes the place of a settled resistance), forms a self-contained centre of resistance, capable of all-round fire, and the duty of the garrison is to defend the area allotted to it to the last man and the last round.

THE ACTIVE DEFENCE.—The Active Defence may be considered according to the reason which prompted the commander of the force to occupy the position. It may have been deliberately chosen as a position which the enemy must attack, and in the hope of delivering during that attack a crushing and decisive counter-blow; or it may have been chosen of necessity, to meet an attack by deployment on the ground of the encounter, with the same hope of delivering a decisive counter-stroke when the opportunity arrives.

There is little difference in the steps to be taken by the commander, as in the first case a General Reserve is specially detailed for the counter-stroke; and in the second, the position will be held with as few troops as the tactical situation permits, in order to provide as large a General Reserve as possible for the Grand Offensive. A commander will be influenced by many considerations in his choice of a defensive position:—

(i) The position must suit the plan of operations; it must be "in the enemy's way," and this the commander must be able to judge from the map. It is {87} to be noted that to bar the enemy's way it is not always essential to get astride his lines of advance, as a position on parallel lines, threatening his flank and rear, cannot be ignored by the enemy, unless he is strong enough to detach a part of his force to mask the defender's position, while he proceeds to his objective with his main army. "It was a mistake to assume that in order to cover Turin one had to stand astride the road leading to that town; the armies united at Dego would have covered Turin, because they would have stood on the flank of the road leading to that town" (Napoleon).

(ii) The position must not be too extensive for the troops at the disposal of the commander, and this will be governed by the extent of the line to be actually held. It will consist of a series of mutually supporting tactical points, which can be held as "pivots on which to hinge the defence of the position," and the object must be to obtain the maximum of fire effect on all ground over which the enemy can advance with the minimum of exposure to his fire. A rough-and-ready rule is that unless one rifle per yard of the frontage occupied can be supplied by the "troops to hold the position" (which should not exceed one-half the available force) then the position is too extensive and should be narrowed. On the other hand, too narrow a front may enable the enemy to develop, early in the engagement, strong flank attacks, which may make the position untenable before the time is ripe for the assumption of the offensive. The Conde-Mons-Binche line held on August 22-23, 1914, by Sir J. French's army (I. Corps, General Sir D. Haig; II. Corps, General Sir H. L. Smith-Dorrien) had a total width of 25 miles, and the troops at disposal, including General Sir E. H. H. Allenby's Cavalry Division, consisted of about 75,000 all arms. The frontage actually held did not exhaust half this force at the rate of one rifle per yard, and a position in rear had also been selected, between Jerlain and Maubeuge, with a frontage of 15 miles. The Retreat from Mons was {88} due not to the excessive width of frontage, but to the success of the German attack on the French V. Corps at Charleroi (August 23, 1914), which left the right flank of the British Army "in the air," while two German Corps were working round the left flank. The British III. Corps (General Sir W. P. Pulteney) did not arrive until the retreat was in full swing. At the First Battle of Ypres (October 31, 1914) many parts of the line were held with one rifle for 17 yards, and there were no Supports or Local or General Reserves. Yet the line was not only maintained but a counter-attack at Gheluvelt thrust the attacking Germans behind their entrenchments.

(iii) There must be a clear field of fire to prevent the enemy approaching unmolested within effective range, and particularly within close range, from which the enemy will endeavour to establish an ascendency in the fire-fight.

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