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 Post subject: Offensive vs. Defensive
PostPosted: Sun Mar 24, 2013 7:22 pm 
I think any of these three is far better than just staying 100% on defense. Napoleon once said, "The side that relies on fortifications has already lost the battle." The attacker will usually find a weak spot and exploit it. Gettysburg was the exception where the defender barely won due to Lee's miscalculations.

Recently I had someone write the above in an email.

Thoughts?

When I read it I said to myself, "wait... Fredericksburg, Shiloh, Stones River, Kennesaw Mountain, Malvern Hill, Cold Harbor, Iuka, and Franklin were all battles where the defender really whipped the attackers."

When Napoleon wrote the above it was before the time of rifled muskets which dramtically changed the style of warfare by 1860. Correct?


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PostPosted: Sun Mar 24, 2013 8:06 pm 
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General Blake <salute>

You might say Napoleon had it both right and wrong, or perhaps it was meant in reference to strategically versus tactically.

Strategically, you might point to the Maginot Line as an example where he was correct. Tactically, you might point to Waterloo where he was wrong.

My two cents,

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PostPosted: Sun Mar 24, 2013 8:35 pm 
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In almost all of the examples, the defender utilized counter attacks and/or elastic defense rather than just sitting in his hole and awaiting the onslaught. Napoleon may have been referring more to a mindset rather than a tactical philosophy. I'll see your two cents and raise two more. :x :oops: :oops: :wink:
J Ferry
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Last edited by John Ferry on Mon Mar 25, 2013 9:40 am, edited 1 time in total.

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PostPosted: Sun Mar 24, 2013 9:20 pm 
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Mr Ferry <salute>

Any strategic defense is vulnerable to strategic planning. MacArthtur's "island hopping" campaign being a good example. This fits Napoleon's description of "The side that relies on fortifications has already lost the battle".

Tactically speaking, any fortificatins constructed or occupied meant to face the battle at hand and attempting to influence the outcome are tactical in nature. I don't see these to be "fortifications" in the strategic sense.

I see an angry face in your reply, and I can't understand why. If you have something to say, then say it, otherwise I'd let bygones be bygones.

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PostPosted: Sun Mar 24, 2013 9:25 pm 
The old defensive to offensive tactic! It's always my favorite. Let the enemy exhaust themselves attacking you and then charge them!

Taking the idea of a defensive campaign (Atlanta/Vicksburg/Richmond) than the Napoleonic saying rings true. All were lost after relying on defenses to save them.

Perhaps we should differentiate between battlefield fortifications and tactical fortification.


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PostPosted: Sun Mar 24, 2013 9:43 pm 
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General Blake <salute>

Cemetery Ridge would be a great example of tactical versus strategic. Tactically it was a key point, however strategically it was nothing to the AotP compared to the forts protecting Washington, D.C.

Fredericksburg might be better considered a strategic fortification, and it was against this obstuction that Hooker devised his Chancellorsville campaign. That it failed being mostly his fault doesn't detract from Napoleon's statement on the static defense; it should have been an overwhelming success.

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PostPosted: Sun Mar 24, 2013 9:55 pm 
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The principles of war we learned in the Marine Corps were:

Mass
Offensive
Objective
Surprise
Economy of Force
Maneuver
Unity of command
Security
Simplicity

I think the closest you will find to Defense is Economy of force.

The problem with defense is that you have to spread your force over an area, while the attacker can concentrate a preponderance of force at the point of attack. I think that was what Forrest essentially meant when he elucidated his theory of war as "Get there first with the most men".

Here is the wikipedia entry on Principles of War. You may find them interesting as a means to evaluate historical battles.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Principles_of_War

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PostPosted: Sun Mar 24, 2013 10:13 pm 
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General Mihalik <salute>

Suh, my compliments and thank you for your contribution to the discussion!

I'll offer another example of "fortifications", that being Vicksburg. Is there any greater example of Napleon's statement than that? It was a tactical affair locally, however a strategic loss for the Confederacy of one of its "fortifications".

Highest regards,

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PostPosted: Sun Mar 24, 2013 11:05 pm 
On the other hand Andrew Jackson's fortifications at New Orleans absolutely obliterated the British in the War of 1812.

I don't know. Plenty of examples of defenses working and not working. Maybe it boils down to the commanders involved and the resources available to them.

Remember Bragg's "siege" of Chattanooga? Laughable. But if Bragg had the resources of a Grant that may have turned out much different.


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PostPosted: Sun Mar 24, 2013 11:30 pm 
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General Blake <salute>

There seems to be some confusion of strategic and tactical objectives, in my opinion, and what these objectives might mean.

"Fortresses" such as Island No. 10, Vicksburg, Port Hudson, and New Orleans were points which the Confederacy needed to maintain in order to sustain their war effort. These were exactly the type of fortresses Napoleon was referring to, in my opinion, as their loss severely compromised the ability of the CSA to pursue the war. The Union recognized this and worked to occupy these areas. You could throw in Chattanooga as well as a strategic target.

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PostPosted: Mon Mar 25, 2013 6:19 am 
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Neal--
Good grief! Look again. It was a wink, unless my finger got in the wrong hole, again! I looked. it did! I am sorry. I thought honestly it was a wink. I have no wish other than to let the past bury itself. Stupid icons, anyway!
J Ferry
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PostPosted: Mon Mar 25, 2013 6:30 am 
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Stupid icons lol

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PostPosted: Mon Mar 25, 2013 10:03 am 
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I think that at New Orleans in 1812 Jackson had a series of fortifications blocking the different routes in the City. As with Grant at Vicksburg in 1862-63, the British had several different approaches to the city but once they made a decision to choose a line of advance, there was a limited amount of space for tactical manuover. Whereas Grant was able to use strategic manouver to isolate and starve out Vicksburg, I am not sure if the British, even with naval superiority, could close off New Orleans and I am not sure if they needed to rush the way they did. Certainly Grant made similar mistakes agains fortifications and Vicksburg and Petersburg, where assualted instead of waiting the defender out...


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PostPosted: Tue Mar 26, 2013 11:26 am 
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I think terminology is tripping things up. Defense versus Offense depends on what level tactically and strategically you are looking at. At regiment/brigade level defense trumped offense. It requires a three to one force ratio for an offensive force to break a defensive force at that level. If the defense has entrenchments those numbers could jump up to 6:1 or higher. It was true of Napoleonic battles as well as Civil War. The attacker tended to massed at this level because of the low state of command control (voice, sound, visual). The defender not needing the same level of control had the advantage of position and nothing to do but shoot enemy.

At the next level of command, brigade/division/Corps, it was up to the commander/leader to make sure they had the 3:1 force to achieve victory. It was the defenders objective to make sure this didn't occur. At this level who is the attacker or defender isn't important. Both sides are attempting to either avoid or create this situation.

You can be on the strategic or even grand tactical defensive and still create a localize offensive through initiative. This was what Lee wanted to do at Gettysburg and failed. Napoleon having a much more professional army especially relative to his opponents tended to control the battlefield and stay on the offensive. But Waterloo is what you get when the enemy checks your advantages and you end up with a head on attack without the 3:1 odds.

The ideal use of defense/offense is Lee at Chancellorsville. He used a small force defensively to fix the enemies attention while he created a large offensive force, Jackson, that met the 3:1 criteria even though overall he was out numbered 2:1. At the point of attack he met the Marine Corps principles: Mass, Offensive, Objective, Surprise, Economy of Force, Maneuver, Unity of Command, Simplicity. At Gettysburg on the second day he tried to do it again but it failed mostly because it missed on almost all those principles.

The idea that defense was inherently bad came from WW I as the French practiced it. If you use defense statically eventually the attacker will find a weak point. Fortifications don't work if you can't field a mobile force to support them. But fortification can be used to channel the enemy into poor situations.

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PostPosted: Tue Mar 26, 2013 2:11 pm 
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Let me add another term which fits in between tactics and strategy: Operational. Kind of what Kennon is talking about referring to mid level (division) commanders trying to create conditions to either attack or defend successfully
You know the classic definition of the difference between strategy and tactics, right?
Strategy is how you get a girl to go on a date. Tactics is what you do on the date!
J Ferry
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