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Throughout history great generals have done what their enemies have least expected. Collected here are the stories of the most successful commanders of all time—among them Hannibal, Genghis Khan, Napoleon, Stonewall Jackson, Sherman, Rommel, Mao Zedong—who have demonstrated, at their own points in history, the strategic and tactical genius essential for victory.
- Following a "Plan with Branches"
- Occupying the Central Position
- Making Convergent Tactical Blows
- Operating on the Line of Least Expectation and Least Resistance
- Maneuvering on the Rear of the Enemy
Introduction: The Rules of War Are Simple but Seldom Followed
Great generals don’t repeat what has failed before, they do not send troops directly into a battle for which the enemy is prepared and waiting. Most successful moves are made against the enemy’s flank or rear, either actual or psychological.
Chapter 1: The General Who Beat Hannibal
Description of Hannibal’s stupendous victories in Second Punic War: the march across the Alps; Lake Trasimene, Cannae. The campaigns of Scipio Africanus in Spain and later in North Africa, leading to the battle of Zama, where he defeats Hannibal and Carthage.
Chapter 2: Mongol Secrets
The rise of the horse-archer on the Asian steppes, the compound bow. Genghis Khan and his major commander, Subedei, carry swift steppe tactics to their ultimate perfection. Description of Genghis Khan’s defeat of Khwarezm with its capital at Samarkand, and of Subedei’s conquest of Hungary 1241-42.
Chapter 3: Napoleon and Wars of Annihilation
Napoleon adds genius to improved weapons and patriotic soldiers who come with the French Revolution. Description of his first campaign, in Italy 1796-97, where he applies nearly all of his brilliant ideas, including the central position, the “strategic battle,” and manoeuvres sur les derriéres.
Chapter 4: Stonewall Jackson: “Mystify, Mislead, and Surprise”
Description of Jackson’s Shenandoah Valley campaign of 1862 in which he neutralizes two Union armies and keeps McDowell’s large corps from reinforcing McClellan in his drive on Richmond.
Chapter 5: Sherman: The General Who Won the Civil War
Description of William Tecumseh Sherman’s decision to avoid battle with Joseph E. Johnston in the drive through north Georgia, his capture of Atlanta, and his march to the sea at Savannah in 1864. He avoids strength and strikes at weakness, and splits the Confederacy in half.
Chapter 6: Palestine 1918: Breaking the Deadlock of Trench Warfare
Sir Edmund Allenby’s brilliant strategy, assisted by the spectacular guerrilla war led by Lawrence of Arabia, leads to the defeat of the Turks in Palestine and proves that the murderous stalemate in France and Flanders might have been avoided.
Chapter 7: Mao Zedong: The Winning of China
The leader Mao Zedong takes the principles of the great Chinese strategist, Sun Tzu, builds a military system around a unique guerrilla army, then leads this army on the Long March which guarantees the ultimate victory of Communism in China.
Chapter 8: France 1940: Victory by Surprise
Heinz Guderian takes the ideas of Basil H. Liddell Hart and J.F.C. Fuller, ignored in their native England, and creates revolutionary panzer or armored divisions. Erich von Manstein devises an unexpected strategy against France, but must overcome the German General Staff’s conservatism to bring it about. The result is the greatest military victory in modern times.
Chapter 9: The Desert Fox Rommel and Germany’s Lost Chance
Adolf Hitler sends Rommel to Africa with only tiny forces, but Rommel uses his military genius to overcome British opposition and nearly bring about a victory for the Axis powers.
Chapter 10: MacArthur: A Jekyll and Hyde in Korea
MacArthur has to fight the Joint Chiefs of Staff to get approval for a brilliant landing at Inchon that brings about the abrupt defeat of North Korean invaders in 1950. But he refuses to believe China’s threat to intervene when he moves to conquer North Korea, and he spreads his forces out so widely that they can be defeated at every turn.
Chapter 11: The Enduring Unity of War
The principles of strategy have remained unchanged for millennia. Although the rules are simple, their application requires much care, skill, and caution. Chapter summarizes the most important rules of warfare.