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Posted on Jun 1, 2007 in Front Page Features, Tactics101

Tactics 101: 016 – The Deliberate Attack

By Rick Baillergeon and John Sutherland



The difference between a hasty attack and a deliberate attack is time and intelligence available.  You need to know where the enemy is and how he is deployed in order to organize a deliberate attack.  The ‘rule of thumb’ is to get 80% of the enemy’s locations and obstacles.  This information is then applied to the extra time available in order to allow the planner to precisely orchestrate the attack.  This is the difference between the detailed plans for the Normandy Landings and the brilliant but hasty 3rd Army attack on the Bulge.

All attacks are characterized by surprise, concentration, tempo, and audacity.  Surprise is the province of the attacker in that he selects the time and place for the engagement.  Sure, the defender owns the ground and prepares it but the attacker selects the specific point where he will focus his efforts.  This leads to the second characteristic of the offense; concentration.  The attacker concentrates his combat power at a specific point in the enemy defense whereas the defender has to disperse in order to protect all potential avenues of approach.  Tempo is the rate of military action and the attacker is in charge of this aspect of the engagement.  The attacker will move slowly as he shapes the battlefield and once he achieves the conditions he is looking for he then accelerates his execution to take advantage of the opportunities he has created.  Lastly, the attacker should be audacious in the selection of a manner of attack for which the enemy is unprepared.


General Grant’s Vicksburg operation is an excellent example of the characteristics of the offense.  He surprised the confederates time and time again by running the guns of the fort to executing a daring cavalry raid while marching south to crossing the river south of the fort rather than north of it.  He concentrated his forces at the critical moments at Champion Hill and for the siege.  He regulated the tempo of his campaign by using the five wet months to harass Pemberton then took only twenty days to bottle up his forces once he managed to cross the river south of the fort.  Grant plan was audacious.  He severed his supply lines when crossing the river then he attacked east towards Jackson before turning back west on the fort.  


The execution of an attack follows a general pattern.  However, there are several ways to describe this pattern.  We like to describe the execution of the attack in a four-step sequence.  These are: 1) Intelligence/Surveillance/Reconnaissance (ISR) Operations  2) Approach to the Objective 3) Actions on the Objective, 4) Follow-on Operations.  Below we will look at each step in the sequence.  Remember that these steps can overlap in some form. 

 ISR Operations – Certainly, one of the keys to conducting a deliberate attack is to acquire the intelligence needed.  As we discussed, the main difference between a deliberate and hasty attack is in the amount of intelligence obtained and analyzed.  We will discuss more specifics in this area later, but here are a few things to remember.  First, you must get your recon elements out early in your planning.  Don’t let your opponent win this race.  Second, your recon assets are limited.  Use them where you truly need them.  Do not waste these assets in gathering information that is not critical.

Approach to the Objective – Before you achieve your objective, you must get to the objective.  Many deliberate attacks are doomed to fail because the maneuver to the objective is not well thought out.  The commander must select maneuver techniques, task organization and formations that facilitate security, speed and flexibility. If this is not done, the unit is likely to arrive near the objective in chaotic fashion.  This is not the recipe for success.  You must plan for contingencies on your approach just as you do on the objective.

Actions on the Objective – You are maneuvering closer to your objective and now is the time to perform.  Your actions on the objective include the things you do before any vehicles or soldiers psychically arrive there.  This includes artillery preparation of the objective, use of smoke, and confusing your enemy as to your true intentions.  The actual assault of the objective is all based on the situation.  It could be mounted, dismounted, or a combination of the two.  The key thing is that it is synchronized and well-orchestrated.  Again, success is achieved through utilizing all your assets in concert with one another.       Actions on the objective end with your reorganization and consolidation efforts.  These efforts will directly affect your ability to conduct the next step.



Follow-on Operations – As the master tactician Yogi Berra once said, “It ain’t over until it’s over.”  The professional knows that the seizure of his objective is not the end of his operation.  The commander must determine if he should exploit success and continue the attack or discontinue offensive operations and develop a hasty defense and prepare for future operations.  In either case, logistics is critical.  Obviously, you must anticipate these operations and have logistics in place to facilitate your next mission.

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