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Some General Hints

Military Handbooks: The Plattsburg Manual

Clear and decisive orders are the logical result of definite and sure

decisions. To guage[B] a man's caliber read his orders.

You must not be hazy and indefinite in your order. You must be clear and

definite. Be careful about your phrasing and expressions. An order

should be like a cablegram: convey every idea but contain no unnecessary


Don't break up the squads or platoons or the com
anies. Keep the

tactical units together as much as possible.

It is marvelous how many mistakes can occur on the battlefield. Attempt

a complicated plan and its failure is reasonably assured. Have your plan

simple. The enveloping attack is the best. That is to say, have your

line longer than the enemy's so that you can attack one of his flanks.

He knows this quite as well as you and he will endeavor to perform the

same operation upon you. The leader, all else being equal, who has the

wit to out-manoeuver the other will win the engagement.

As a rule, an affirmative form of expression is used. Such an order as:

The supply train will not accompany the division, is defective,

because the gist of the order depends upon the single word not.

Write your order so it can be read. Don't go about it as though you were

a doctor writing a prescription. Things will go wrong if you do. You

will find some of your troops moving in the wrong direction when you

need them badly.

Be brief. Short sentences are good. They are clear. Conjectures,

expectations, and reasons for measures adopted are weak. They do not

inspire confidence. They should be avoided.

Accept the entire responsibility of your command. If things go wrong,

it's your fault. Correct them. A large number of military men make it

their particular business to find faults in others, with scarcely a

thought for their own. Don't join this club. Reverse the matter.

Avoid such expressions as attempt to capture, try to hold, as far

as possible, as well as you can, etc. Tell a man what he is to do.

Don't divide any responsibility with any one.

Officers and men of all ranks and grades are given a certain

independence in the execution of the tasks to which they are assigned

and are expected to show initiative in meeting the different situations

as they arise. Every individual, from the highest commander to the

lowest private, must always remember that inaction and neglect of

opportunities will warrant severe censure. Do something that will help

carry out the plans of your commander. The Japanese regulations caution

their commanders to avoid inaction and hesitation.

If you were hunting tigers and permitted a wounded one to move to your

rear and spring upon you, unaware of its presence, you would probably

pay a heavy price for not being on the alert. For a military leader to

be caught unawares is unpardonable.

Napoleon said in another of his maxims: if the enemy's army were to

appear on my front, or on my right or left, what would I do? If the

question is difficult for the commander to answer, his troops are not

only poorly placed but are poorly led.

Don't let your force be divided up into detachments and roam all over

the country. This is a very common error with beginners. Avoid

dispersion. Keep your troops together.

You cannot fire on the battlefield with the same accuracy as you do on

the target range. Fear dilates the pupil of the eye. Men cannot shoot

well when they are under great excitement. Don't count on killing too

many of the enemy with a carload of ammunition.

Never forget that Fire Superiority is the thing that wins battles. If

you let the other fellow get it and keep it, he's going to win, not you.

Don't trespass upon the province of a subordinate. He will handle his

job if you will handle yours.

Remember that your flanks are just as vulnerable as the enemy's. He has

his eyes on your flanks just as much as you are observing and

considering his own.

Keep cool about starting the action. Don't put all your men in before

you understand thoroughly the condition confronting you. Hold a large

part of your force out as supports and reserves until you know

definitely the enemy's position.

Don't get killed unless necessary; your usefulness to the State comes to

an end when that occurs. Take advantage of cover, hug the ground. Learn

what is good and what is poor cover.

It is a common fault to forget about the service of information once the

action has begun. Keep up your patrolling. Keep yourself posted on what

the enemy is about. Otherwise he may have some unpleasant surprise for


Be particularly careful about details of time and place. Regulate your

watch by the time kept at headquarters.

When you've got the enemy on the run don't let up for an instant. Pursue

him without mercy. Turn his retreat into a rout. Capture or destroy his


Scarcely any of these things we are telling you are new. They are as old

as war itself. The boxer of a thousand years from now may know a little

more about the technique of the game, but the essentials will not

change. To wear the champion's belt, he will have to suffer some lusty

blows and be able himself to deliver some more powerful. There will be

no easy road to the title. So it is with all wars.