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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

“Nobody ever defended anything successfully, there is only attack and attack and attack some more.”
General George S. Patton


Last month, we began a series of articles on the offensive.  We looked at offensive operations very broadly and tried to ensure we covered the basics.  This month, we will get more specific and discuss the attack which comes in two varieties; hasty and deliberate.  We will focus on the latter.

In this article, we will address the following areas: a quick overview of the offense, a discussion on what is the deliberate attack, the phases of the deliberate attack and how the battlefield operating systems can assist the commander in executing a successful deliberate attack.



There are four general forms of the offense: movement to contact, exploitation, pursuit, and attack.  Our focus will be on the attack which also takes on many forms.  This may seem pedantic until you consider the implications of each form of offense or attack.  We’ll start with a brief definition of the forms of the offense.

A movement to contact is an offensive operation designed to gain or maintain contact with then enemy in order to develop the situation.  A movement to contact results in one of three outcomes; a meeting engagement between two moving forces, a hasty attack by our force against an enemy position, or a hasty defense of a position we have selected in anticipation of an enemy arrival.  Buford’s defense of Gettysburg on day one of the battle was the result of a movement to contact in which he found Heth’s division.  Heth’s larger force led Buford to establish a hasty defense for the engagement.

Exploitation is an offensive operation designed to capitalize on success and maintain pressure on the enemy.  When a key position is gained it may be of relatively little value if its possession is not taken advantage of.  Exploitation ensures that doesn’t happen.  The breakout at St. Lo was an operational exploitation.

Pursuit is an operation designed to complete the destruction or capture of a defeated and retreating enemy.  Historically, the greatest amount of damage is inflicted during the pursuit.  This is what Meade failed to do after Pickets charge at Gettysburg.

The attack is the classic form of offense in which the attacker selects the time and the place of the engagement with the purpose of destruction or neutralization of the enemy.  Attacks can be enemy oriented or terrain oriented and just as the offense comes in four forms, the attack comes in six forms; the hasty attack, the raid, the ambush, spoiling attack, the counterattack, and the deliberate attack.  We will focus on the most familiar form attack, the deliberate attack after we briefly examine the other five forms.

– The hasty attack is executed under limited time and intelligence constraints.  The enemy’s general location and disposition may be known but specific details are lacking and time to collect them is unavailable.

– A raid is a limited objective attack in enemy territory that is characterized by having a planned withdrawal.  Raids are normally enemy oriented missions.

– An ambush is a surprise attack from a concealed position designed to inflict maximum damage in a short amount of time.  Withdrawal following the ambush is common but not required.

– A spoiling attack is launched against an enemy in preparation for future operations that is designed to disrupt his timing and execution.

– A counterattack is launched from a defensive posture when the enemy attack is at or near culmination such as Chamberlains charge at the Little Round Top.

– A deliberate attack is executed against a defending enemy where time and intelligence are available in sufficient quantity to allow the attacker to ascertain the enemy’s disposition.   This increased knowledge of the enemy situation allows the attacker to plan all elements of the attack in great detail and to execute a well orchestrated and synchronized attack.

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