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[76]

Chapter 3: strategy.


Definition and fundamental principle.

the art of war, independently of the parts which we have just succinctly explained, is composed yet, as has been seen above, of five principal branches: strategy, grand tactics, logistics, (la logistique) elementary tactics, (la tactique de detail,) and the art of the engineer. We shall treat only of the first three, for reasons already indicated; it is necessary then to commence by defining them.

In order to do so more surely, we shall follow the order in which the combinations which an army may have to make, present themselves to its chiefs at the moment when war is declared ; commencing naturally with the most important, which constitute in some sort the plan of operations, and proceeding thus the reverse of tactics, which should begin with small details in order to arrive at the formation and the employment of a great army.1

We will suppose then the army about to take the field; the first care of its chief will be to settle with the government upon the nature of the [77] war which it shall make; afterwards it will be his duty to study well the theatre of its enterprises; then he will choose, in concert with the chief of the State, the most suitable base of operations, according as its frontiers and those of its allies shall favor thereto.

The choice of this base, and still more the end which it shall be proposed to attain, will contribute to determine the zone of operations that will be adopted. The generalissimo will take a first objective point for his enterprises; he will choose the line of operations which would lead to this point, whether as a temporary line, or as a definitive line.

The army marching upon this line of operations, will have a front of operations or a strategic front; behind this front it will do well to have a line of defense, to serve as a support in case of need. The transient positions which its army corps will take on the front of operations, or upon the line of defense, will be strategic positions.

When the army shall arrive near its first objective point, and the enemy shall commence to oppose its enterprises, it will attack him, or manoeuvre to constrain him to a retreat; it will adopt to this effect one or two strategic lines of manoeuvres, which being temporary, may deviate to a certain point from the general line of operations, with which they must not be confounded.

To connect the front of operations with the base, one will form as he advances, his staple line and lines of supply, depots, &c.

If the line of operations be somewhat lengthened in depth, and there be hostile corps in reach of disturbing it, choice will have to be made between the attack and expulsion of those corps, and the pursuit of the enterprise against the hostile army, paying no attention to them, or merely observing them; if this latter course be resolved upon, there will result from it a double front of operations and great detachments.

The army being near obtaining its objective point, and the enemy wishing to oppose this, there will be a battle ; when this shock shall be indecisive, it will be resolved to recommence the struggle; if a victory be gained, our enterprises will be carried on for attaining or passing beyond the first objective point and adopting a second.

When the aim of this first objective shall be the taking of an important place of arms, the siege will commence. If the army is not sufficiently numerous for continuing its march, leaving a siege corps behind it, it will take a strategic position for covering it; thus, in 1796, the army of Italy, not numbering fifty thousand combattants, was not able to pass Mantua, in order to penetrate to the heart of Austria, leaving twenty-five thousand [78] men before the place, and having besides forty thousand men in front, upon the double line of the Tyrol and the Frioul.

In the case, on the contrary, where the army should have sufficient forces to obtain greater advantages from its victory, or rather where it should have no siege to make, it would march to a second objective point more important still. If this point be found at a certain distance, it will be necessary to procure an intermediate point of support; an eventual base will then be formed by means of one or two cities secure from insult, which will doubtless have been occupied; in the contrary case, a small strategic reserve will be formed, which will cover the rear and protect the grand depot by field works. When the army shall pass considerable rivers, tetes de ponts will be hastily constructed there, and if the bridges are in cities enclosed by walls, a few intrenchments will be raised to augment the defense of those posts, and to double thus the solidity of the eventual base, or of the strategic reserve which should there be placed.

If, on the contrary, the battle has been lost, there will be a retreat to the end of approaching the base, and of drawing therefrom new forces, as well from the detachments which would be drawn in, as from the places and intrenched camps, which would arrest the enemy or oblige him to divide his means.

When winter approaches, there will be winter cantonments, or else operations will be continued by that one of the two armies which, having obtained a decided superiority, and finding no serious obstacles in the hostile line of defense, should wish to profit from its ascendancy; there would then be a winter campaign; this resolution, which, in, all cases, becomes equally painful for both armies, presents no special combinations; unless it be the necessity for a redoubled activity in the enterprises, in order to obtain the most prompt denoument.

Such is the ordinary movement of a war; such will also be that which we shall follow, in order to proceed to the examination of the different combinations which those operations lead to.

All those which embrace the ensemble of the theatre of war, are in the domain of strategy, which will thus comprehend:

1. The definition of this theatre and of the different combinations which it might offer;

2. The choice and the establishment of the fixed base, and of the zone of operations;

3. The determination of the objective point to be attained, whether it be offensive or defensive; [79]

4. The determination of the decisive points of the theatre of war;

5. The fronts of operations and lines of defense;

6. The choice of the lines of operations which lead from the aforesaid base to the objective points, or to the front of operations;

7. That of the best strategic lines to take for a given operation; the different manoeuvres for embracing those lines in their divers combinations;

8. The bases of eventual operations, and strategic reserves;

9. The marches of armies considered as manoeuvres;

10. The magazines considered in their relations with the marches of armies.

11. Fortresses regarded as strategical means; as refuges for an army, or as obstacles to its march; the sieges to make and to cover;

12. Intrenched camps, tetes de ponts, &c.;

13. Diversions and great detachments.

Independently of those combinations which enter principally in the projection of the general plan for the first enterprises of the campaign, there are other mixed operations, which participate of strategy for the direction to be given them, and of tactics for their execution; as the passage of rivers, and streams, retreats, winter quarters, surprises, descents, great convoys, &c.

The 2d branch is tactics, that is to say, the manoeuvres of an army on the field of battle, or of, combat, and the different formations for leading troops to the attack.

The 3d branch is logistics, (la logistique) or the practical art of moving armies, the material details of marches and of formations, the situation of non-intrenched camps and cantonments, in a word, the execution of the combinations of strategy and of tactics.

Several futile controversies have had place for determining, in an absolute manner, the line of demarkation which separates those divers branches of the science. I have said that strategy is the art of making war upon the map, the art of embracing the whole of a theatre of war; tactics is the art of combatting on the ground, of placing thereon one's forces according to the localities, and of putting them in action on the different points of the field of battle, that is to say, within a space of four or five leagues, in such a manner that all the acting corps may receive orders and execute them in the course even of the action; finally, la logistique is in substance only the science of preparing the application of the other [80] two. My definition has been criticised without a better one being given; it is certain that many battles have been decided by strategical movements, and have been even but a series of such movements; but that has never been the case except against dispersed armies, which is an exception; now the general definition, being applicable only to pitched battles, is none the less exact.2

Thus, independently of the measures of local execution which are within its province, grand tactics, in my view, will comprehend the following objects:

1. The choice of positions and of defensive lines of battle;

2. The offensive defense in combat;

3. The different orders of battle, or grand manoeuvres for attacking a hostile line;

4. The meeting of two armies in march and unexpected battles;

5. The surprise of armies;3

6. The dispositions for conducting troops to the combat;

7. The attack of positions and intrenched camps;

8. Coups de main.

All the other operations of war enter into the details of petite guerre, such as convoys, foraging, the partial combats of advanced and rear guards, the attack even of small posts, in a word, all that which must be executed by an isolated division or detachment,


Fundamental principle of war.

The essential object of this work is to demonstrate that there excists a fundamental principle of all the operations of war, a principle which [81] ought to preside over all the combinations in order that they be good. It consists:

1. In carrying by strategic combinations the mass of the forces of an army successively upon the decisive points of a theatre of war, and as much as possible upon the communications of the enemy, without endangering its own;

2. In manoeuvering in such a manner as to engage this mass of the forces with fractions only of the hostile army;

3. In directing equally, on the day of battle, by tactical manoeuvres, the mass of one's forces upon the decisive point of the field of battle, or upon that of the hostile line which it would be important to overwhelm;

4. In managing so that those masses be not merely present upon the decisive point, but that they be put in action there with energy and concert, in a manner to produce a simultaneous effort.

This general principle has been found so simple that it has not lacked criticisms.4

It has been objected that it were very easy to recommend the carrying one's principal force upon the decisive points, and to know how to engage them thereon; but that the art consists precisely in recognizing these points.

Far from contesting so naive a truth; I own that it would be at least ridiculous to utter a like general principle, without accompanying it with all the developments necessary for causing its different chances of application to be comprehended; I have, therefore, neglected nothing for putting every studious officer in condition to determine easily the decisive points of a strategical or tactical field (un échiquier strategique ou tactique.) There will be found in article 19, the definition of those different points, and there will be recognized in all articles from the 18th to the 22d, those which apply to the divers combinations of a war. Military men who, after having meditated upon them attentively, should still believe that the determination of those decisive points is an insoluble problem, ought to despair of ever comprehending any thing of strategy.

In fact, a theatre of operations never presents but three zones, one to the right, one to the left, and one at the centre. In the same manner each zone, each front of operations, each strategical position and line of [82] defense, as well as each tactical line of battle, has never but those same subdivisions, that is to say, two extremeties and a centre. Now, there will always be one of those three directions which it will be proper to follow, in order to reach the important object desired, one of the other two will be more or less removed from it, and the third will be altogether opposed to it. Hence, in combining hostile positions with geographical points, and with the projects which should be formed, it seems that every question of strategic movement, as well as of tactical manoeuvre, would always be reduced to knowing whether we ought to manoeuvre to the right, to the left, or directly to the front; the choice between three alternatives so simple, could not be an enigma worthy of a new sphinx.

I am far from pretending, nevertheless, that the whole art of war consists merely in the choice of a good direction to be given to masses, but it could not be denied that it is at least the fundamental point of strategy. It will be for talent of execution, skill, energy, and coup d'oeil, to complete what good combinations will have been able to propose.

We are about to apply then the principle indicated, to the different combinations of strategy and tactics, then to prove, by the history of twenty celebrated campaigns, that all their successes or reverses were the result of the application, or of the neglect of this principle.5


Strategical combinations.


Article XVI: system of offensive of defensive operations.

War once resolved upon, the first thing to be decided, is to know whether it is to be offensive or defensive. First of all, it is proper to define well what is understood by these words: [83]

The offensive presents itself under several aspects; if it be directed against a great State, which it embraces entirely, it is then an invasion; if it be applied only to the attack of a province, or of a line of defense more or less limited, it is no longer an invasion, but an ordinary offensive; finally, if it be but an attack upon any position whatever of the hostile army, and limited to a single operation, it is called the initiative of movements. As we have said in the preceding chapter, the offensive considered morally and politically, is almost always advantageous, because it carries the war upon foreign soil, spares your own country, diminishes the resources of the enemy, and augments yours; it elevates the moral of the army, and often imposes dread upon the adversary; meanwhile it happens also that it excites his ardor, when it makes him feel that the question is to save his menaced country.

Under the military relation, the offensive has its good and its bad side; in strategy, if it be pushed to an invasion, it gives lines of operations lengthened in depth, which are always dangerous in an enemy's country. All the theatre of operations, the mountains, the rivers, the defiles, the fortifications, being obstacles favorable to the defense, are thus against the offensive; the inhabitants and the authorities of the country will be hostile to it, instead of being instruments in its favor. But if it obtain a success, it strikes the hostile power to the heart, deprives it of the means of war, and may bring about a prompt denoument to the struggle.

Applied to a mere transient operation, that is to say, considered as the initiative of movements, the offensive is always advantageous, especially in strategy. In fact, if the art of war consist in directing one's forces upon the decisive point, it is comprehended that the first means of applying this principle will be to take the initiative of movements. He who has taken this initiative knows beforehand what he is doing and what he wishes; he arrives with his masses at the point where it is convenient for him to strike. He who waits is anticipated every where; the enemy falls upon fractions of his army; he neither knows where his adversary means to direct his efforts, nor the means which he ought to oppose to him.

In tactics, the offensive has also its advantages; but they are less positive, because the operations not being upon so large a sphere, he who has the initiative cannot conceal them from the enemy, who, discovering this instantly, can, by the aid of good reserves, remedy it upon the spot. Besides that, he who marches upon the enemy has against him all the disadvantages resulting from the obstacles of the ground which he will be obliged to overcome in order to approach the line of his adversary, which leads to the belief, that in tactics especially, the chances of the two systems [84] are pretty nearly balanced. For the rest, whatever advantages could be expected from the offensive strategically and politically, it is obvious that this system could not be adopted exclusively for a whole war, for it is not even certain that a campaign commenced offensively may not finish with the defensive.

Defensive war, as we have already said, has also its advantages when it is wisely combined. It is of two kinds: the inert or passive defense, and the active defense with offensive returns. The first is always pernicious; the second may procure great success. The aim of a defensive war being to cover, as long as possible, the portion of the territory menaced by the enemy, it is evident that all the operations should have for object the retarding of his progress, the thwarting of his enterprises, by multiplying the difficulties of his march, without, meanwhile, allowing the army to be seriously broken. He who decides upon invasion, does it always in consequence of any ascendancy whatever, he should aim then at as prompt a denoument as possible; the defender, on the contrary, ought to put it off until his adversary is weakened by detachments, marches, fatigues, &c.

An army is scarcely reduced to a positive defense but in consequence of reverses or a notable inferiority. In this case it seeks, by the support of its places, and by favor of natural or artificial barriers, the means of re-establishing the equilibrium of chances, by multiplying the obstacles which it can oppose to the enemy.

This sytem, when it is not pushed too far, presents also happy chances but it is in the case only when the general who believes himself compelled to resort to it, has the good sense not to be reduced to an inert defense; that is to say, when he shall take care not to await passively, in fixed posts, all the blows which the enemy should be pleased to deliver him. He must apply himself on the contrary, to redouble the activity of his operations, and to seize every occasion which presents, of falling upon the feeble points of the enemy, by taking the initiative of movements.

This kind of warfare, which I have heretofore named the offensive-defensive,6 may be advantageous in strategy as well as in tactics. In acting thus, you have the advantages of the two systems, for you have that of the initiative, and you are better able to seize the moment when it is suitable to strike, when you find yourself in the midst of a theatre which has been prepared beforehand, at the centre of the resources and supports of your country. [85]

In the first three campaigns of the Seven Years War, Frederick the Great was the aggressor; but in the last four he gave the true model of an offensive defense. It must be confessed also, that he was marvelously seconded by his adversaries, who emulously gave him all the leisure and the occasions for taking the initiative with success.

Wellington also played this part in the greater portion of his career in Portugal, in Spain and in Belgium, and, in fact, it was the only one which suited his position. It is always easy to play the. Fabius, when one does it on an ally's territory, when he has not to trouble himself about the fate of the capital, or of the provinces menaced; in a word, when he is at liberty to consult military convenience only.

Definitively, it appears incontestable, that one of the greatest of a general's talents, is to know how to employ by turns these two systems, and especially, to know how to retake the initiative in the midst even of a defensive struggle.


Article XVII: of the theatre of operations.

The theatre of a war embraces all the countries in which two powers may attack, whether by their own territory, or by that of their allies, or of the secondary powers which they will draw into the vortex through fear or through interest. When a war is complicated with maritime operations, then its theatre is not restrained to the frontiers of a State, but may embrace the two hemispheres, as has happened in the struggles between

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