Attack And Defense
Categories: THE SERVICE OF SECURITY
Military Handbooks: The Plattsburg Manual
The European War has demonstrated more clearly than ever before two
points in attack and defense. First, no people, or group of people, can
claim a monopoly on bravery. They all move forward and give up their
lives with the same utter abandon. Courage being equal, the advantage
goes to him in the attack who possesses superior leaders, greater
training, and better equipment. Second, a man's training and courage,
r eye and steady nerve, his soul's blood and iron, constitute a
better defense than steel and concrete.
A soldier has little business attacking or defending anything in this
day unless he is an athlete, unless he is skilled in the technique of
manoeuver, unless he is a good shot, unless he knows the value of many
features of the terrain (which means the nature of the country--its
hills, rivers, mountains, depressions, etc.--considered from a military
point of view), unless he is disciplined to a splendid degree, and
unless his training has imbued him with an irresistible desire to push
forward, to get at his opponent. Assuming, at least, as much as this, we
are prepared to consider the subject of the attack (the offensive).
To have your troops superior in number, condition, training, equipment,
and morale to that of your enemy; to be at the right place, at the right
time, and there to deliver a smashing, terrific blow--this is the
greatest principle of the attack. And history shows that victory goes
more often to him who attacks.
Initiative in war is no less valuable than in business life. Become at
once imbued with the desire to put the other fellow on the defensive.
That makes him somewhat dependent upon your own actions. That gives you
opportunities to fool him that he does not so fully enjoy. Your
commander can elect to attack any point of the defensive line. Your dead
and wounded--always a demoralizing element--are left behind. Your target
is stationary. Your side is closing in. The enemy is straining every
nerve to fire faster and more effectively, and still your side is
closing in. There is the thrill of motion.
To attack, you will usually require a greater number of troops than the
defense. Why so? Because you will be more exposed. You will have to move
forward, however dangerous the ground. Your enemy, for his protection,
will be certain to utilize and improve every advantage of cover. Your
losses will be greater. You should have a greater number of reserves to
fill the depleted ranks. If the defensive can maintain a better
(superior) fire, that is to say, a fire that kills and wounds a greater
number than the opposing fire (this we call fire superiority), he will
stop the advance of the attacking force unless that force is so superior
in numbers that it can send forward reinforcements after reinforcements
as an ocean sends shoreward its series of waves.
Suppose that you were in command of a group of men and that you were
ordered to attack. Just what principal points should you weigh? First,
you should avail yourself of every opportunity to obtain all information
of military value, such as the enemy's strength, his position, and
intentions. For this you would have to send out groups of reconnoitering
patrols exceptionally skilled in woodcraft, or trained to gather
information. As soon as such information as is available is reported to
you, you should at once begin the consideration of all the important
elements that affect your problem. You must not lose sight of what you
were sent out to do (your mission). Consider how this and that fact bear
upon your course of action (estimate the situation). For instance: the
enemy's force is reported to be greatly inferior to your own. He is out
of supplies. He is greatly fatigued with forced marches. His morale is
shattered on account of recent and frequent reverses. His camp is
disorganized. It is poorly guarded. Certain roads are in fine condition.
Others are very poor. Your troops are in splendid shape and excellent
spirits. They believe that they can crush the enemy and want to attack.
As you easily see, all such points have great significance in sizing up
the case (estimating the situation).
Having estimated the situation, you should investigate and consider all
possible courses of attack that are open to you. Don't ask any advice
from any one. Select the course that appears to offer the greatest
chance of success. Make up your mind what you are going to do (come to a
Having come to a decision, stick to it, right or wrong. Your next and
final thing to do is to put your decision into action. To do that, give
your subordinates the information they should possess; tell them what
you are going to do and how you are going to do it; i.e., issue your
A study of the orders of successful generals in history teaches us that
we will be greatly aided in issuing them, if we will observe a system.
We understand an order more easily and quickly if it conforms to some
plan with which we are familiar.
In order to give your group an opportunity to act with a greater degree
of teamwork, and intelligence in case of an emergency, it is necessary
to give it data (information) concerning the enemy. Your men should know
where there are friendly troops. Now tell them what you are going to do
(your plan), whether it be to attack, retire, or assume the defensive.
And then order the execution of that plan by assigning to each group its
task. Next tell (direct) what is to be done with the wagons (trains),
and last, state where you may be found at any time in case of need or
where messages may be sent to you.
Having issued the order, let us now observe the progress of the attack.
You are probably three or four thousand yards from the enemy. His
position is invisible. His artillery has opened fire. Your artillery is
replying. The troops must advance cautiously over exposed ground. They
are not firing. They are not deployed for action (in battle line). They
are waiting to get within as short a distance of the enemy's line as
possible, for their ammunition is limited; and after troops are actually
launched in the attack, control over them, for ordinary purposes, is
practically lost. The farther from the enemy the attack is launched, the
longer the exposure to their fire and the greater the number of
casualties, so the leaders of the different groups are taking advantage
of all the accidents of the ground, of all cover in advancing. They are
using one formation here, another there, with a view to minimizing the
losses and reaching an advantageous position as soon as possible where
they can open an effective fire on the enemy.
Now the enemy's fire is severe. Casualties are becoming heavy. The men
are growing restless. It is necessary to return the fire. Fire
superiority should be gained at once. Don't move forward until you gain
it. If difficult to gain, use every means at your disposal. When you
have it, keep it. Part of your men can advance when your side has fire
superiority. The remainder of the firing line should fire faster to
maintain that superiority. If you lose fire superiority, regain it. If
necessary, troops from the rear will generally be sent forward.
Now you are approaching the point where the charge is to be made.
Bayonets are fixed; not all at one time, for that would affect the
advantage that you possess with your fire. Groups that have been held
back in support are advanced. These are to be used at decisive moments.
They are held well in hand. The firing line is lost in noise and
confusion. Not so the supports; control is exercised over them. If they
are not used in the attack they can be used to great advantage to
complete the discomfort of the enemy after the clash (shock).
There is at last, if the enemy remains in his position, the clash.
Bayonet against bayonet, man against man, nerve against nerve. Apply the
great principle of attack and decide for yourself who the victor will
be. If successful, then organize your men and prepare for the pursuit or
for the return (counter attack) of the enemy.
Now you are to handle groups on the defense. You must bear in mind that
there are two kinds of defense: first, where you do nothing but defend
(passive defense); second, where you defend, but temporarily, with the
idea of attacking the enemy as soon as a favorable opportunity arises
(active defense). Let us assume that you have been ordered by superior
authority to locate and prepare a definite position to check the advance
of an enemy. Just what main points should you bear in mind? Suppose you
have found an ideal position; what conditions should it fulfil? You
should be able to see the enemy long before he arrives at your position.
Intervening objects and trees would make that impossible. You should be
hidden from his view. The ends of your lines (your flanks) should rest,
if possible, on ground easy to defend; for instance, a high mountain, a
large body of water, or an impassable swamp. A few acres of ground will
not hold tens of thousands of men. Therefore the extent of the ground
must be suitable for the size of your group (force or command). It would
be of great advantage to have such cover that one group (for instance, a
support) could move from this position to that without danger of being
fired upon or observed. A wise general has plans for any contingency. He
is either going to win or he is not going to win. If he loses, he should
have a means of escape (retreat). In selecting his position he should
place it where the enemy must attack or give up his mission. Verdun had
to be attacked before the advance on Paris from the east was
In defense there is a generous allowance of advantages. Usually you have
time to select and prepare your position. By preparing a position we
mean, you can dig trenches, destroy intervening objects that obstruct
the view of what you should see, construct obstacles that will embarrass
the enemy in his advance, estimate (or determine) distances to important
places. You have opportunities for collecting ammunition, arranging
wires for communication, establishing stations for the wounded. Troops
in motion are easier to see. You are not called upon for as much
physical strain as the attacking troops. You are less fatigued. Your
machine guns are better concealed and the gunners know the ranges better
than those of the attack.
But it is most distressing to a man on the defense to see the enemy,
regardless of everything he can do, advance step by step. He begins to
question within himself the efficacy of his fire, which is to doubt his
own ability. The more he questions and worries, the less effective his
aim becomes. His comrades are dead and wounded about him. Their cries of
distress are heard above the noise and confusion of battle. He becomes
less methodical and deliberate in his actions. His shooting becomes high
and wild. This becomes generally true. The attacking force gains fire
Suppose that it is actually your business to construct a defensive
position. Just how will you assign the tasks? What are the important
things to be done at first, and what, if time is pressing, may with
least hardship be omitted? You would first cut down trees, blow up
buildings, destroy crops that prevented you from seeing in any direction
of danger. Next you should provide protection (concealment and cover),
so that there will be as few casualties as possible. Then do what is in
your power to make it most difficult for the enemy to arrive at your
position; i.e., construct some barbwire fences (entanglements) that he
will be unable to cross. Have your expert range finders determine and
make notes of the distances to important points from which the enemy
must advance. Next, dig ditches (trenches) so that your groups (supports
or reserves) may pass from one point to another without danger. Now
take steps to protect your most vital and vulnerable points, your
flanks. Have them so strong, if practicable, that the enemy will leave
them alone. Assign to each group of men a section of the ground to
defend. Having done these important things, then go about those things
that will make you more comfortable in the trenches.