Sunday, July 8, 2018

A Primer On Maneuver Warfare

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By Matthew Ellis

There are many options when it comes to military strategy. Key among the strategies that have been widely adopted in the battlefield for hundreds of years is maneuver warfare. It is one that has been practiced from the Napoleonic War era to modern times. In this strategy, the team that deploys it focuses on defeating the enemy by negatively affecting its decision making capability. It adopts a shock and awe technique to do so.

Warfare is all about maneuver and attrition. Both sides make attempts to surprise each other with the endgame being the capture or killing of enemy forces. Over the years, it has been established that the maneuver strategy works best with several small military units that are well trained technically. Smaller units bear a smaller risk of attrition, hence the reason for this. They are also able to deploy a flanking strategy in their attack, thereby creating confusion in the opposing camp.

In a typical battle, success is bound to be determined by how many enemy forces an army kills, the number of equipment it destroys and the amount of territory it seizes. In an attrition battle, both groups show little creativity in attack. An attack that embodies the element of surprise is bound to be successful as it forces the attacked party to panic and retreat. The ensuing melee gives the attackers enough latitude to recapture lost ground and meet their core objectives.

One of the greatest generals to ever deploy the aforementioned strategy to great effect was Napoleon. In fact, he managed to defeat armies that were larger than his using it. His approach involved the use of quick cavalry charges against enemy combatants, shocking them and disabling their movement in the process.

This is an aspect that was well manifested in the France versus Austria war in Northern Italy. Despite the numerical superiority of the Austrian forces, the French overwhelmed them and gave them little chance to reorganize. This victory served as a benchmark for other generals in future battles.

At the turn of the mid 19th century, movement became heavily mechanized, thereby complicating matters for armies that relied on this strategy. Almost every army had the ability to launch rapid attacks. To counter this development, an additional plan was included to maneuver attacks. Troops would quickly encircle their adversaries and obliterate their strong points, leaving them incapacitated in the process.

Much of the success that the German army enjoyed in the first half of the Second World War can be directly attributed to the adoption of rapid maneuvering techniques. By then, tanks were the core of the modern infantry. German panzer units, under the command of Erwin Rommel, would attack enemy infantry units in rapid unexpected bursts. This tactic was later called the Blitzkrieg or Lightning Attack.

Despite its massive success in battlefields, the technique has its own limitations. To be effective, the attacking army must know the precise location of the enemy units, including where their key equipment is stationed. The Israeli army deployed it in 2006 against Hezbollah during the Lebanon War. However, they were unable to obliterate the command structure of Hezbollah despite their overwhelming firepower.

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