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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


As Von Moltke the elder recognized, no plan survives first contact with the enemy.  Having 80% of the intelligence on enemy disposition and all the time in the world to prepare for an attack doesn’t guarantee success.  The commander must retain the flexibility to adjust.  If you’re wedded to the plan you will be too rigid in execution and may overlook opportunity or reinforce failure.  No commander plans to lose a battle therefore you must expect the unexpected such as the huge armor counterattack at Kursk, the arrival of Von Blucher’s Prussians at Waterloo, or the appearance of Sobieski’s cavalry at Vienna.

The commander hedges against these ‘surprises’ by anticipating them.  He looks at the enemy and the units surrounding the objective and thinks through the most likely and most dangerous, viable, actions the enemy could take to win the fight.  These COA’s must be viable not simple flights of fantasy.  The commander uses his experience to select the 3 to 5 options that are reasonable and prepares contingency plans or branches that allow him to detect and respond.  These plans follow the ‘if’ – ‘and’ – ‘then’ methodology.  If enemy unit X displaces and friendly unit Y is in position then we shift our point of penetration from objective 1 to objective 2…   Branch planning allows the commander to prepackage some options should the battle unfold in an alternative manner.  They are critical to success in all operations.


Finally the commander must consider what happens after the fight is over.  If he wins and takes the objective, what’s next?  These plans are called sequels and they are the key to retaining the initiative, exploiting success, or preventing a small local setback from escalating to a catastrophic defeat.   The follow on plan is called a sequel and it is usually planned in anticipation of success as predicted, overwhelming success that exceeds expectations, or some degree of failure.  Following a deliberate attack the commander might want his forces to be postured for a counterattack, to pass another unit forward, or to continue the attack to another decisive point.  He will need his trains to close rapidly in order to re-supply while he consolidates and reorganize.  Failure to have a sequel in the plan will make your unit vulnerable at the very point of victory.   


In a nutshell, the deliberate attack is a rare event given the time and intelligence requirements, but when it comes along it is to be seized and exploited.  If the enemy is going to allow you to recon, plan, and prepare in detail then you should take his generosity and run with it.  Your plan should be as deep as it is wide and as flexible as it is orchestrated.  Posture your capabilities and your units and select your timing and decisive points carefully.  Your attack should be overwhelming at the decisive point and confusing everywhere else.  The enemy should not be able to ascertain who your main effort is and where he’s going until its too late.  Place him upon Sherman’s ‘horns of a dilemma’ where his reaction to one effort or capability exposes him to destruction from another effort or capability.  Be bold and creative and flexible.  Synchronized deliberate attacks often set the tone for the rest of the campaign and can devastate the enemy’s will when executed violently. 


We will put it altogether next month with a focus on breaching operations. Certainly, there are few actions on the battlefield more difficult than breaching an obstacle and ensuring it does not completely unhinge your plan.  We will provide some techniques on how to breach and continue your attack in a well-controlled manner!    Here is the initial enemy set we will fight against:


If you have any questions, let us know on the forum!

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