How Great Generals Win:
The 13 Rules of War from Ancient Greece to the War on Terror
History 361, Longwood University, Farmville, Virginia
Following are questions + answers that cover some of the most important facts to remember about this course.
Q. The development in recent years of the satellite-directed Global Positioning System (GPS) has caused a profound change in warfare because the system
A. Allows bombs, missiles, and other weapons to be targeted to precise locations on earth.
Q. The attack on U.S. Rangers by clansmen in Mogadishu, Somalia, on October 3, 1993, that killed eighteen Americans and wounded seventy-three, was an example of
A. An ambush.
Q. There is much evidence that the traditional battlefield, such as those of World War II and Korea, will disappear in coming wars. One of the reasons this will happen is that
A. Weapons have become so accurate that soldiers cannot survive on traditional battlefields.
Q. The new theory of “swarming” in battle postulates “pods” and “clusters” that attack an enemy force from all directions at once. A pod is of the approximate size of a present-day infantry
A. Platoon (that is about thirty to forty men).
Q. What is the concept of “swarming”?
A. Because weapons are now so powerful and accurate that heavy concentrations of troops are no longer possible, all warfare now will be extended over wide areas. Since forces now are also moving largely by air or by fast-moving land vehicles, they can “swarm” on all sides of an enemy element. Various “pods” each with separate tasks can be employed as needed, disperse when the job is done, then recombine for another strike as necessary. Thus some pods might be light infantry, other pods artillery, others attack helicopters, or others AC-130 gunships overhead that fire cannons and machine guns at targets.
Q. By the start of World War I in 1914, infantry weapons, artillery, and field fortifications had become so effective that offensive movements were paralyzed and belligerents faced each other on immobile trench lines. In 1915 a German captain Willy Martin Rohr developed an effective new method of attack called “storm-troop” or “infiltration” tactics. Briefly describe how the system worked.
A. A small force on the line directed heavy machine-gun, mortar, and sometimes light artillery fire on a selected part of the enemy trench ahead, with the aim of holding the enemy in place, while one or more other small units slipped around to the enemy trench and “rolled it up” with grenades, and sometimes flamethrowers. This became the “convergent assault” tactic that has remained a standard maneuver to this day.
Q. Lawrence of Arabia—referring to the Arab bands that repeatedly broke the Damascus-Medina railroad during World War I and then disappeared into the desert—wrote that the Bedouin “might be a vapor, blowing where he listed,” whereas conventional armies were “like plants, immobile, firm-rooted, nourished through long stems to the head.” What did Lawrence mean by these two metaphors? State briefly what they say about guerrilla forces as compared to conventional armies.
A. That guerrilla forces are not bound to a particular location, but can move wherever they wish to strike, whereas conventional forces are tied to a supply line and line of communications back to their base, usually in their home country, and are thus hobbled in mobility.
Q. The Chinese Communist leader Mao Zedong developed a method of guerrilla warfare that involved sharp, unexpected surprise attacks on isolated enemy detachments, and swift withdrawal into hidden lairs or into the surrounding population. This system was adopted by the Vietnamese Communists in their wars against France and the U.S. Why is this method of warfare only truly effective when fought within one’s own country?
A. Because it depends on a sympathetic home population that will feed and protect soldiers.
Q. What are some examples of guerrilla successes throughout history?
A. Romans under Fabius against Hannibal (p. 40); Scottish independence secured by relying on the “testament” of Robert Bruce (p. 40); French under Bertrand du Guesclin counter English longbow (pp.40-42); guerrillas neutralize Napoleon’s army in Spain (pp. 42-43); guerrillas against British in Boer War (p. 43), and Lawrence of Arabia’s attacks on Turkish weakness in World War I (pp. 43-45).
Q. What was the first application of horses to warfare?
A. The horse-pulled chariot of about 1700 B.C., manned by driver and archer.
Q. When did men begin to ride on the backs of horses? And what did this signify?
A. Around 900 B.C., probably in the present-day Ukraine, when horses were at last bred strong enough to bear the weight of a man. The result was cavalry, both a lance-wielding armored warrior on a heavy horse, and a compound-bow-wielding unarmored rider on a lighter, faster horse. Horses gave human beings mobility on a continental scale.
Q. When cannons became strong enough around 1450 to knock down castle walls, fortifications ceased to be the dominant factor in European warfare, and the battlefield once again became the decisive arena. Describe briefly how the Swedish king Gustavus Adolphus created the first modern field army in the early decades of the seventeenth century.
A. The Spanish developed the tercio, ten men deep, made up of one-third musketeers (carrying heavy matchlock muskets) and two-thirds pikemen (to protect the musketeers). But this formation depended upon the “snail”—a musketeer in front would fire, then move to the rear to reload, while the next musketeer moved up to fire, etc. Cavalry also adopted the snail, using pistols. Cavalry would ride up to an enemy, stop, fire their pistols, and retire to reload. Since cavalry were thus highly exposed, cavalry lost its role as a breakthrough weapon. Gustavus adopted the lighter wheel-lock musket, eliminated the snail, and formed his troops in ranks three-men deep—so that all could fire at once. This dramatically increased the firepower of his army. He also developed lighter artillery, especially a light cannon that moved up with the infantry and spewed out canister fire on the enemy at close range. Finally, he eliminated the cavalry’s reliance on pistols and directed that they charge with the saber, thereby restoring shock action to cavalry. Gustavus thus had three superior weapons, a better infantry handgun (with troops in a better formation), a better artillery piece, and better cavalry. With these he won the battles of Breitenfeld in 1631 and Lützen in 1632, both in Saxony.
Q. The rule of war of driving a stake in the enemy’s heart requires that one eliminate the factors that the enemy possesses to continue to resist. Describe briefly three examples of this rule—that of Winfield Scott in Mexico in 1847, William Tecumseh Sherman in Georgia in 1864, and Adolf Hitler at Stalingrad and the Caucasus in1942.
A. In the Mexican War of 1846-48, deserts prevented a march on Mexico City from the north. Accordingly Scott landed at Veracruz on the coast, and advanced along the National Road on the capital. After losing at Cerro Gordo, the Mexican commander Antonio López de Santa Anna failed to harass the Americans or block their way. Nevertheless, guerrillas restricted flow of supplies from the coast, causing Scott to resolve to live entirely off the country. Exhibiting great concentration on the main task, Scott drove straight to Mexico City, overcoming all resistance. The Civil War was threatening to become a stalemate in 1864 when Sherman launched a move south along the railway from Chattanooga to Atlanta. Sherman swept around the defensive positions of Confederate general Joseph E. Johnston, forcing him to retreat repeatedly. Johnston did not see that, to succeed, he had to cut Sherman’s umbilical cord, the railway supply line. He was replaced by John Bell Hood, who sacrificed the Rebel army in headlong attacks, and was forced to abandon Atlanta. Sherman then honed down his army to a highly mobile field force and marched on Savannah, cutting the Confederacy in two and shattering any hope of a Southern victory. In 1942, Hitler could not choose between the Caucasus and the city of Stalingrad on the Volga river. His original aim of seizing the oil fields of the Caucasus would have driven a stake in the Soviet Union, because it would have eliminated its means of resistance. But Hitler insisted on capturing Stalingrad as well, thus fatally dividing his forces. The Germans were too weak to capture both the oil fields and the city. Hitler compounded his error by insisting on remaining in Stalingrad, even after the Russians swept around the city. Hitler’s blindness caused the 250,000 German army to die or surrender. This ended his last chance at a stalemated ending of World War II, and ensured his defeat.
Q. The Confederate general Stonewall Jackson, facing a much-superior Union army, developed a method of battle that would bring victory, an idea summarized by the term “defend, then attack.” Describe briefly how the method advocated by Jackson worked.
A. He held that one’s army should take a readily defended position, with at least one open flank, and induce the enemy to attack. Since defensive weapons were stronger than offensive weapons, the enemy would inevitably fail in his attack, leading to heavy losses and a great loss of morale. One’s own army then could advance on the flank of the enemy and force its defeat.
Q. The battle of Gettysburg July 1-3, 1863, was the decisive defeat for the Confederacy. Describe briefly how the Southern commander, Robert E. Lee, failed to apply the rule of “defend, then attack” in this campaign.
A. The Confederate army had reached a superb strategic position—with forces at Carlisle and at Wrightsville on the Susquehanna—when Lee discovered that the Union army was at Frederick, Maryland. Lee’s best move would have been to strike for undefended Philadelphia, requiring the Union army to pursue and fight a desperate battle under conditions set by Lee. If Lee had decided this was too bold a move, he should have pulled up his army somewhere in the vicinity of Carlisle, chosen a readily defensible position with at least one open flank, and waited for the Union army to attack. It would almost assuredly have lost, giving Lee the opportunity they to swing around the defeated Union army and either force it into disorganized retreat, or oblige it to surrender. Instead, Lee rushed back to Gettysburg, with no idea what the conditions were there, and then attacked the Union army in strong defensive positions—thus directly violating the rule.
Q. At the battle of Crécy in France in 1346, the English defeated the French army of mounted armored knights by employing a superior weapon. What was this weapon?
A. The longbow. They also used dismounted armored knights formed in a defensive phalanx and wielding lances (a tactical innovation). But the key was the longbow whose shafts penetrated armor of French knights attacking on horseback.
Q. The ancient Chinese strategist Sun Tzu postulated two elements designed to defeat the enemy, the zheng element and the qi element. Zheng is the
A. Direct force that fixes the enemy in place. Qi is the maneuver element which achieves a decision.
Q. In the Jena campaign of 1806, Napoleon planned for his main or zheng attack to be directed against the Prussians at Jena-Weimar-Erfurt, and his flanking or qi attack to be launched to the north by Davout at Naumburg. In fact, however, these roles were reversed. Why?
A. The Prussians unexpectedly moved the bulk of their army northward to Auerstädt, near Naumburg, forcing Davout to launch the main holding attack, and obliging Napoleon to launch the flanking or rear attack at Jena.
Q. In the first days of the Korean War, two weak American regiments placed most of their troops directly around the broken bridges at Kongju and Taepyong-ni on the Kum river, in hopes of keeping the North Koreans from crossing the river. Few or no forces were located on either of the flanks. Why was the decision to concentrate most American forces at just two points almost a guarantee of defeat?
A. Because the enemy could advance on either flank of both American positions, and force retreat and disorder. The proper decision of the commander at each location was to form all of his forces into a “hedgehog” or complete-circle defense, with his guns and mortars in the center. This would not have prevented the enemy from crossing the Kum river, but would have slowed his movement, giving American forces at Taejon to the south more time to prepare defenses. Then the “hedgehogs” could have retreated, using their guns and American air power to defend themselves.
Q. Feigned retreat was an effective tactic practiced by warriors on the Eurasian steppes many centuries ago. What is the primary purpose of conducting a feigned retreat?
A. To induce the enemy to pursue in order to break up his formation and then strike back.
Q. When Napoleon moved his army to Charleroi in Belgium in June 1815 with the intention of occupying the crossroads of Quatre Bras between Brussels on the west and Namur on the east, why did this signify that he was moving into the central position? In other words, Quartre Bras was the central position between what?
A. Between the British army centered on Brussels and the Prussian army centered on Namur.
Q. In the Shenandoah Valley campaign in spring 1862, Stonewall Jackson employed the rule of the central position twice, each with dramatic effect. Describe briefly Jackson’s use of the central position in this campaign.
A. Superior Union forces were converging on Jackson from the Alleghenies on the west (John C. Fremont) and the north (Nathaniel P. Banks), while another large force (Irwin McDowell) was at Fredericksburg threatening to march on Richmond. Jackson struck a Union force at Kernstown just south of Winchester, lost the battle, but frightened Abraham Lincoln into thinking he might cross the Potomac and attack Washington. This stopped McDowell’s march on Richmond. Jackson then retreated south. To keep Fremont and Banks from joining at Staunton, Jackson crossed the Blue Ridge and moved entirely out of the valley, giving Union leaders the impression he was going to Fredericksburg or Richmond. Jackson then unexpectedly moved his army by rail directly back to Staunton—thus placing him in the central position between Fremont and Banks. He pushed Fremont back into the Alleghenies, then flanked Banks out of his defensive position at Strasburg, and routed him at Winchester. When all three of the Union forces converged on him again, Jackson moved to Port Republic on the South Fork of the Shenandoah river—once again in the central position between Fremont to the west and James Shields to the east. Jackson first stopped Fremont, then defeated Shields, causing both forces to retreat out of the valley.
Q. We speak of “symmetrical” and “asymmetrical” warfare. Explain briefly what these two terms mean.
A. Symmetrical refers to warfare between two forces equipped with more or less comparable weapons. Asymmetrical refers to warfare between one force with one type of weapon and another force with a different type of weapon—such as in one case tanks and heavy artillery, and in the other few vehicles and light weapons like rifles, grenades, and mortars.
Q. When the German general Erwin Rommel opposed the British in Libya and Egypt in 1941, he had many fewer tanks than the British. He was able to overcome this disparity by using another weapon. What was this weapon?
A. The 88mm antiaircraft gun, which had an extremely high muzzle velocity, and could destroy British tanks at ranges far beyond the effective ranges of British tank guns.
Q. Describe briefly what British general Burgoyne hoped to do in the campaign in the American Revolution which led to the American victory at Saratoga in 1777. In other words, where did he plan to march, who was to help him, and what would the effect have been if he had succeeded?
A. He planned to march from Canada to New York City, separating New England from the rest of the colonies. General Howe in New York City was to join him on the Hudson in the vicinity of Albany. The move would have demoralized the Patriots and split the colonies into smaller segments, which might have been conquered one at a time. It failed because Howe took his army instead of Philadelphia, leaving Burgoyne isolated.
Q. In the American Revolution, British general Cornwallis was compelled to surrender to a combined American-French army at Yorktown, Virginia, in October 1781. Why was this necessary? What had happened which made his retreat, resupply, or reinforcement impossible?
A. A French fleet turned back a British fleet off the Virginia capes in September 1781, leaving Cornwallis with no possibility of retreat or supply from the main British base at New York.
Q. In the eighteenth century Frederick the Great of Prussia developed an army that could march faster and fire its muskets more quickly than the enemy. He also developed lighter artillery that could move along with his infantry. He then adopted a battle technique he called the “oblique order,” in which he marched much of his army on one flank of the enemy and attacked it. Why was Frederick able to pull this off? In other words, why were the enemy generals unable to turn their armies about to block this movement in time?
A. Because their troops could not march as fast, nor fire their muskets as often, and because
Frederick threatened one end of the enemy line with attack, while actually striking the other end.
This held the enemy in place and permitted Frederick to strike one wing with superior force. His most famous victory using this method was at Leuthen in Silesia in 1757.
Q. At Austerlitz in Moravia in December 1805, Napoleon achieved one of his greatest victories by maneuvering the Russian and Austrian armies into a situation in which they themselves created a weak spot in their own line. Napoleon then thrust a large part of his army into this weak spot and thereby defeated the enemy. What was it that Napoleon did that induced the Russians and Austrians to open this hole?
A. He established his defensive line along a stream just west of an elevation, the Pratzen, leaving the south end of this line especially weak. When the enemy commander climbed the elevation, he saw the weak end of the line, and directed his troops to march off the elevation and attack this weak spot. This left his center (the elevation) vacant—allowing Napoleon to assault this hill, then drive on the rear of the enemy troops that were attacking his weak spot.
Q. The rule of war to penetrate at a weak spot in the enemy line either discovered or created has always required brilliant commanders. The first recorded example of this method was at the battle at the north-flowing Granicus river in 334 B.C. by Alexander the Great. Describe briefly what Alexander did.
A. The Persians had lined their cavalry along the eastern (high) bank of the Granicus, leaving their Greek mercenary infantry in the rear. Alexander moved his highly visible command party to the southern end of his line, convincing the Persians that the main assault would occur on their left or south. Alexander then sent a strong force of cavalry and infantry diagonally from his center to the Persian left or south in a direct assault over the river. This caused the Persians to pull some of their cavalry in the center to help defend. Alexander then launched his main assault directly at the weakened Persian center, breaking through and shattering the Persian army.
Q. At Antietam on September 17, 1862, Union general George B. McClellan encountered a Confederate army under Robert E. Lee less than half his army’s size. McClellan violated numerous rules of war, thereby allowing Lee to achieve a defensive stalemate. His blindness was not unique. Nineteenth-century author Theodore Dodge wrote: “The maxims of war are but a meaningless page to him who cannot apply them.” Describe briefly a couple of McClellan’s most grievous mistakes.
A. He failed to hold the Confederate army in place with an attack all along its lines. If he had done so, all Southern troops would have been committed, and McClellan could have sent two divisions across the southern reaches of Antietam creek and closed off the Confederate retreat route over the Potomac river just to the south. His assaults (first on the north, then on the south at the stone bridge over the Antietam) were launched at separate times, giving Lee time to move troops from non-threatened locations to defend each place. He stacked up all of his cavalry in the center, leaving him totally unaware of the arrival of A.P. Hill’s division from Harpers Ferry. Hill then turned back a separate Union advance south of the stone bridge. McClellan finally left one entire corps (Porter) and most of another corps (Franklin) entirely out of the fight, thereby increasing Lee’s strength in relative terms.
Q. Describe briefly the difference between a caldron battle and blitzkrieg or lightning war, as practiced in World War II. In other words, what is the essential nature of a caldron battle, and what is the essential nature of a blitzkrieg breakthrough? That is to say, a caldron battle achieves its effectiveness by what? And blitzkrieg achieves its effectiveness by what?
A. A caldron battle achieves its effectiveness by surrounding an enemy force and forcing it to surrender. Blitzkrieg achieves its effectiveness by breaking a hole in the enemy line with great force, then rushing through to the rear to destroy enemy communications and supplies, disrupting the enemy line and forcing the entire position to be vacated.
Q. Describe briefly why Cannae in 216 B.C. is the preeminent example of a caldron battle.
A. When the Carthaginian general Hannibal invaded Italy in 218 B.C., his key to victory was his superior cavalry. The Roman leader Fabius saw this, and downplayed Hannibal’s strength by turning to guerrilla warfare (“Fabian tactics”) in the mountains, where the cavalry was not effective. But the Roman senate was dissatisfied with this defensive approach, and demanded an attack. At Cannae in southern Italy, Hannibal formed his weakest troops in the center, and pushed them forward, creating a convex line with his best infantry on each wing. The Romans attacked this center, and pushed the line back into a grave concave shape. Thinking they were winning, the Romans pressed their attack even harder. Hannibal now launched his best troops directly on the two flanks of the penetrating Romans. Meanwhile Hannibal’s cavalry had scattered the Roman horse on either side, and his heavy cavalry drove directly onto the Roman rear. With nowhere to go, the Romans were massacred. It was the greatest battle of annihilation in history. Only a few Romans survived.
Q. Erich von Manstein’s proposal to send most of Germany’s panzer divisions in a concerted drive on Sedan on the Meuse river in northern France in 1940 was designed to defeat France by
A. Striking where French resistance was weakest, in order to break through and drive straight westward to the English Channel.
Q. In the early stages of World War II, the German Stuka dive bomber materialized as the first-ever example of
A. Aerial artillery.
Q. Give one example of the rule of war summarized in the phrase “uproar east, attack west,” and describe what the purpose of each element is, and why your example illustrates both purposes.
A. Here are three: 1) Alexander the Great on the Hydaspes river India 326 B.C.—Alexander feigned an attack at one spot, holding the Indians in place, then moved part of his force upstream, crossed the river, and came down on the Indian flank. 2) James Wolfe at Quebec in the Seven Years War 1759—Wolfe feigned an attack by ships’ guns and a landing by infantry on the main French position just east of Quebec, while making his actual attack by means of a small path up to the heights just west of Quebec. 3) The German attack through Sedan in the defeat of France May-June 1940—the Germans launched a loud attack into Holland and northern Belgium, convincing the Allies that the main attack was coming there, inducing the Allies to move their armies up to the Dyle river east of Brussels. Meanwhile the main attack went through the Ardennes of eastern Belgium and Luxembourg to Sedan, putting the German panzers behind the Allied army with a clear path to the English Channel on the west
Q. Describe briefly how Napoleon Bonaparte’s Marengo campaign of 1800 in Italy—as it actually was carried out (not as originally planned)—illustrates the rule of maneuvers on the enemy rear. Explain why the decision to advance through the more westerly St. Bernard passes was less advantageous strategically than advancing through the more easterly Simplon and St. Gotthard passes.
A. Bonaparte took his army through the St. Bernard passes, ending up at Ivrea, on the rear of the
Austrian army at Alessandria and Genoa and along the Var River in Provence (southern France). Bonaparte could advance either on Milan, the main Austrian base of supply; on Alessandria-Genoa, where the main Austrian army was located, or on the rear of the Austrian army along the Var River. The advance through St. Bernard was less advantageous, because an approach through the more easterly Simplon and St. Gotthard passes would have placed the French army directly at Milan, thereby cutting off the Austrian supply line and route of retreat.
Q. How did the Pacific campaign in World War II exemplify the rule of maneuver on the enemy rear?
A. The Japanese occupied much of the central and south Pacific, along with Thailand, French Indochina, Malaya, Indonesia (Dutch East Indies), and Burma, in late 1941 and early 1942. They were now greatly overextended. After the naval battles of the Coral Sea and Midway in May and June 1942, they passed over to the defensive. Their plan was to fight to the death on all the islands they had occupied. This was exemplified in the gruesome battle for Guadalcanal in the Solomons in late 1942 and early 1943, followed by a similar battle for New Georgia. Admiral William Halsey decided to bypass the next island, and to seize the one beyond, leaving the large Japanese garrison isolated. This formed the basis of the “island-hopping” strategy embodied in the hop-skip movement from Tarawa and Makin in the Gilbert islands to Kwajalein and Eniwetok in the Marshall islands. In June 1944 American forces arrived at the Mariana islands, where the Japanese navy challenged the U.S. Navy. In the “Great Marianas Turkey Shoot” of June 19, 1944, the vast majority of Japanese aircraft were shot down, and American forces landed and finally occupied Saipan, Tinian, and Guam. This gave the U.S. the platform from which to launch its war-ending B-29 fire raids on the Japanese home islands, ending with dropping atomic bombs on Hiroshima on August 6, 1945, and on Nagasaki on August 9, 1945.
Q. Why was Horatio Nelson so successful in his battle against a superior French-Spanish fleet at Trafalgar in 1805?
A. The French commander Pierre de Villenueve formed his fleet in the customary “line of battle” of one ship behind the next. Nelson split his fleet into two elements, a smaller element commanded by himself that struck the enemy center at a right angle, holding it in place, and a larger element commanded by Cuthbert Collingwood that struck the enemy rear, also at a right angle, then swept down on both sides and destroyed it. The choice of locations of the two attacks left the vanguard (in front) unable to turn back and help the center, or the reserve at the extreme end or tail of the allied line to assist the rear before Collingwood had shattered it.Next: Numbers >> << Back to top