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Offensive vs. Defensive
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Author:  S_Trauth [ Tue Mar 26, 2013 4:38 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Offensive vs. Defensive

The idea that defense was inherently bad came from WW I as the French practiced it.

This caused me a raised eyebrow, are you meaning Plan XVII? The French offensive at the start of the war which relied on élan -or rather bayonets with unloaded rifles -which was brought to grief by the German defences, and the humble Maxim machine gun. However, the point there is that was the result of pre-war doctrine. Or maybe I am addressing that type of offense was good... or better than defense.

Their offensive plan actually is what caused the issues on defence; one can argue that had the Germans actually followed the Schlieffen Plan instead of giving in to the temptation to push the attacking French armies back -and reinforced their right as much as possible -that it may well have worked exactly as designed -as well as maybe bagging the BEF in the bargain.

Author:  John Ferry [ Tue Mar 26, 2013 6:16 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Offensive vs. Defensive

Another example of fighting the present war with the doctrine of the LAST war. The French would do it again in 1940.
J Ferry
2lt 2/20th Corps

Author:  TMiller [ Tue Mar 26, 2013 8:34 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Offensive vs. Defensive

Gentlemen..Gentlemen.....(Oh that includes you too Blake) :shock:

Lets keep it simple......."Veni, vidi, vici"

or as King Jan III stated "Venimus, Vidimus, Deus vicit" ("We came, We saw, God conquered")

Author:  S_Trauth [ Wed Mar 27, 2013 1:02 am ]
Post subject:  Re: Offensive vs. Defensive

Or if you consider Gallipoli and Normandy -you then come the point where you should have been using the tactics of the next war instead of the present one (funny how things can work out that way ;) ).

Author:  Blake [ Wed Mar 27, 2013 1:37 am ]
Post subject:  Re: Offensive vs. Defensive

Basically it seems set fortifications (man-made) are not very reliable. The Chinese built the great Wall of China which was also outflanked by the Mongols and later by the Japanese (who actually attacked it frontally - so little was their respect for the Chinese Army). It seems we all have thought up plenty of examples of set fortifications failing.

Defenses on a battlefield, once the fighting begins, seem to be a different sub-topic here.

In 1861 soldiers practically refused to pick up a shovel and fight from any other position except standing up. By 1864 you couldn't really get them out of their trenches! If one take's Napoleon's words that the defensive side is at a great disadvantage than it seems the events of 1864 and 1865 prove him correct.

But how close were the Confederates to Victory in 1864? What if Sherman had stumbled against Johnston's breastworks just one more time after Kennesaw Mountain? What if Grant's Army suffered another Cold Harbor? Was the defensive really all that bad? Despite abandoning the initiative in 1864 the two main Confederate Armies very nearly turned the tide of the War as Union Armies continued to suffer massive losses against their entrenched foes.

Food for Thought...

Author:  S_Trauth [ Wed Mar 27, 2013 2:32 am ]
Post subject:  Re: Offensive vs. Defensive

In 1861 they thought that dressing up as Algerian tarts was a good idea as well ... -its all relative.

Author:  Mr. Lane [ Wed Mar 27, 2013 12:54 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Offensive vs. Defensive

Good sirs,

Is "Offensive versus Defensive" the right question?

Perhaps "Initiative versus Surprise" is the right question.

A army that anticipates an avenue of attack by the enemy and places troops in the most advantageous defensive posture has taken the initiative and thereby enhanced the chances of ultimate victory. An army that is surprised by an enemy on the march has lost initiative and decreased the chance of ultimate success. Whether defending or attacking, isn't initiative the key?

The Vietnam war is an example of a protracted conflict where an enemy with far superior resources was worn out by a wise defensive strategy executed to perfection. At the armistice table the American general boasted "We were never defeated by you in battle" to which the North Vietnamese general replied "Defeat in battle was irrelevant".

Author:  KWhitehead [ Thu Mar 28, 2013 10:41 am ]
Post subject:  Re: Offensive vs. Defensive

It is one of those only the last battle counts. The British were masters of losing battles and winning wars. Gen. Washington lost most of the battles he fought but won the important ones.

Defense in trenches can prolong a war like Lee did at Petersburg. But it can only win it by the other side getting tired of fighting.

Defense when the commander controls the battlefield can be devastatingly superior to offense. Lee at Fredericksburg and Antietam, and Meade at Gettysburg being examples.

Defense when the enemy controls the battlefield usually through initiative is a sure way to lose. Chancellorville and Seven Days being good examples.

There is also a technology component as well as tactical. World War I became a defensive stalemate due to the machine gun (not the rifle). There were no effective tactics against it until the tank came along shifting the balance back to the offensive. In the Civil War defense had a slight edge over offense because of both technology (superior rifled weapons) and the weakness in command control (verbal and visual commands could not coordinate movement effectively). Command control was probably the larger factor. Defense didn't require as much control as the offense. Once a side started an attack their formations and command control immediately started to fall apart. By the time they reached their objective whether they won or not they no longer had the capacity to finish the job.

Author:  BigJohn [ Thu Mar 28, 2013 5:47 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Offensive vs. Defensive


Should it not be a question of assertive defense or passive defense?

Passive defense = Nah Nah you can't get me.

Assertive defense = Come on then "Make my day". Knowing (hoping) that you have an answer to the attack you expect.

Ideally the forward defense positions should have a fall back defensive position where there are forces waiting to take the offensive once the attackers are lured into a false sense of security.

In these games a lot of the time one side has the disadvantage of starting the game as losing so must attack. The Defensive side can take initial losses falling back to bring the enemy into superior forces. Or replacing front line tired units with fresh ones to face the ever tiring attacking forces.

Just a thought from a very inexperienced newby.

Author:  Blake [ Thu Mar 28, 2013 6:27 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Offensive vs. Defensive

I always loved the "feigning withdraw" tactics of Nathaniel Greene and Daniel Morgan in the American Revolution. Once the enemy is in pursuit and disorganized you punch them right in the nose and counterattack. In small engagements it works wonderfully well.

Author:  John Ferry [ Thu Mar 28, 2013 8:47 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Offensive vs. Defensive

Pat Cleburne did that very thing to Joe Hooker after Chattanooga!

J Ferry
2Lt 2/20th Corps

Author:  Mark Oakford [ Sat Mar 30, 2013 9:46 am ]
Post subject:  Re: Offensive vs. Defensive

I think that tacical efforts in the ACW were always mostly, well, confused. Essentially, the Generals were fighting against Mexico (or Napoleon) again with weapons that were much technologicaly better than either side had before and they still used the tactics of before with these new weapons.

It was those generals who invented better (maybe I should say "new") battlefield strategies and tactics to use these new weapons who seemed to make the victories.

Lee was very good at Napoleonic style battlefield manoeuvre. With experience, Sherman and Grant lost and were able to regain the initiative after each battle (perhaps, at least in Grant's case, deliberately so) with their advances to the sea and Richmond which started to show us what manoeuvre warfare in the later 20th century would take us to.

WWI started with manoeuvre similiar to the slip/slide of Grant's army to Petersberg but soon subsided into the stalemate of trench warfare. Yet again, the Generals had not read the specs of their new weapons - machine guns combined with quick firing and much longer ranged artillery.

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