The "Man-in-the-Dark" Theory of Infantry Tactics and the "Expanding Torrent" System of Attack.

By Captain B.H. Lidell-Hart, K.O.Y.L.I.

[Presented] On Wednesday, November 3rd, 1920, at 3 p.m. and published in the Journal of The Royal United Service Institution; February, 1921

Lieut.-General Sir Ivor Maxse; K.C.B., C.V.O., D.S.O., in the Chair.

THE CHAIRMAN: Ladies and Gentlemen, I can introduce the Lecturer to you in a very few words, and having read his lecture twice, can tell you that there is a great deal of "meat" in it. The Lecturer's ideas are not commonplace, and they deserve attention, as I think you will find when the lecture is printed. You will then be able to appreciate its importance. One reason why I am proud to preside here to-day is that Captain Hart brings regimental experience to bear on the subject with which he deals. Others have written about infantry tactics, but some of us who have done so are too aId to have had regimental experience of our own in the late War. Now Captain Hart has commanded a platoon, he has commanded a company in France, and he was Adjutant of his battalion over a long period of time. That, to my mind, makes what he has learned of more value than anything I could say on the subject.


"Simplicity is the Key to Victory."

This vital truth has scarcely been fully valued in the tactical teaching of the Infantry Leader. Too many text books on tactics dealt with war in a series of watertight compartments, explaining the points of difference rather than the points of similarity. The junior Infantry commander was taught many excellent precepts dealing with each phase of action, but his path was not smoothed for him by any framework of fundamental principles, upon which he could build as he acquired practical experience of ground and weapons. To simplify the task of the junior commander we require to establish the essential principles of tactics and their relation to the varying phases of battle. We must then fit them into their correct place, both in chronological and tactical sequence, in order to form a simple and truly scientific theory.

The family tree is an ancient institution, and yet graphically clear as a chart of the various degrees of kinship. Let us endeavour to establish a simple and scientific tactical tree, which will clearly convey to the military student the essential principles and their broad application to the phases of war. To understand these principles of tactics, we must simplify and reduce it to the essential elements which are true of any fighting, whether between two individual men, two platoons, or two armies. We will examine the simplest form of combat: that between two individuals. From their correct course of action, we can deduce the essential principles, and can then apply them to the conduct of war.

But it may be argued that the conditions of war are entirely different from those of a straightforward fight between two men; that in war the enemy's movements and location are hidden from us until we are actually at grips with him.

Certainly, we agree, but the situation in war will resemble that of two men fighting under similar conditions, such as in the dark, wherein a man can only locate and reconnoitre his enemy by actually touching and feeling him. Thus the man-in-the-dark resembles the commander in modern war. Let us examine the correct principles of action which a man seeking to attack an enemy in the dark would naturally adopt.

"The Man Fighting in the Dark."

1.     In the first place he must seek his enemy. Therefore, the man stretches out one arm to grope for his enemy, keeping it supple and ready to guard himself from surprise.

This may be termed the principle of "protective formation."

2.     When his outstretched arm touches his enemy, he would rapidly feel his way to a highly vulnerable spot, such as the latter's throat.

This is the principle of "reconnaissance."

3.     The man will then seize his adversary firmly by the throat, holding him at arm's length so that the latter can neither strike back effectively, nor wriggle away to avoid or parry the decisive blow.

This is the principle of "fixing."

4.     Then while his enemy's whole attention is absorbed by the menacing hand at his throat, with his other fist the man strikes his opponent from an unexpected direction in an unguarded spot, delivering out of the dark a decisive knock-out blow.

This is the principle of "decisive manoeuvre."

5.     Before his enemy can recover the man instantly follows up his advantage by taking steps to render him finally powerless.

This is the principle of full and immediate "exploitation" of success.

To follow these principles is the only sure path to victory. We can only neglect the fixing phase, if our enemy commits some mistake, such as the neglect of his own security, by which he fixes himself without our intervention and so exposes himself to our decisive blow.

Now the whole action of our man-in-the-dark can be simplified into two categories:-

When the man has fixed his enemy, he delivers a decisive knockout blow. It will be obvious that the harder this blow the more likely it is to be decisive. Hence the man must put his maximum possible force into it, while he only uses the necessary minimum of strength to carry out the preparatory operations. This is the principle of "Economy of Force." But the man can increase the effect of his available strength by surprising the enemy; by his speed; by the momentum or "follow through" behind his blows; by striking his opponent's most vulnerable spots; by full exploitation of every opening or advantage; by husbanding his energy; and by moving his limbs and muscles in harmony like the parts of a well-oiled machine. All these are means to promote economy of force, and therefore can be grouped under that principle.

Thus we see that there are two, and only two, supreme governing principles - Security and Economy of Force.

These two principles govern the execution of the five battle principles, and may be said to cut laterally across them.

A diagram may simplify the idea:-

Battle principles diagram

The Application to Infantry Tactics of the Two Governing Principles Deduced from the “Man Fighting in the Dark”

A. - Security.

In war, as in individual combat, there are two kinds of security: Material and Tactical. The former is security against direct loss, such as casualties inflicted by the actual blows of the enemy; the latter is security against the indirect damage which we suffer if the enemy is able to avoid or parry our decisive blow, so that we weaken and expose ourselves to his counter-blow.

How does one obtain security? Exactly as did the man-in-the-dark. He pushed out one arm, which in war, means adopting a formation of security. He used his outstretched arm to grope for and feel the enemy, which in war means reconnaissance. When the enemy is located, we fix him so firmly by an attack from one direction that he is unable to avoid or turn to meet our decisive attack delivered from another direction - normally a flank.

These means to security will be considered in detail when we discuss the phase of preparation, which comprises the three battle principles which form security.

B. - Economy of Force.

Now let us consider the principle of economy of force as applied to Infantry. One must use the minimum strength for the phase of preparation, essential though it is. One must devote the maximum possible force to the decisive blow and its exploitation. In strategy or grand tactics the distribution of our available forces is a complex problem, but in infantry tactics it is comparatively simple. Each infantry commander, platoon, company, battalion, or brigade has only four fighting sub-units under his command, apart from certain auxiliary fire weapons such as machine guns or mortars.

Hence he has only three possible ways in which he can distribute them, and these are:-

(i)     One sub-unit forward for fixing and three for decisive manoeuvre. This distribution will normally be best when advancing against an unlocated enemy, as in an approach march or encounter attack. Thus he retains the bulk of his strength in hand until the position of the enemy has been discovered, so ensuring better results when the decisive manoeuvre is carried out.

(ii)     Two sub-units forward and two for manoeuvre. This distribution will usually be advisable in a definite attack against an enemy whose positions have been located, in order to ensure that the whole front of the enemy position in his sector is tested thoroughly so that a soft spot may be found. Moreover, it is imperative that the forward body shall not be held up before it has firmly fixed the main resistance of the enemy, otherwise the manoeuvre body may have to be used before the decisive moment, which would be the antithesis of economy of force.

(iii)     Three sub-units forward and one for manoeuvre. This distribution may be advisable when following a creeping barrage, which reduces the need or possibility of manoeuvre. This will ensure that the whole frontage is cleared directly the barrage lifts, and so enable the forward sub-units to keep close behind the barrage. It may also be advisable to adopt this distribution when allotted an unusually broad frontage, in order to cover it with fire. It entails the risk, however, of limiting the force of your manoeuvre.

It must be remembered that while the decisive attack is made by the maximum force, its success depends upon the enemy being really fixed. Hence the manoeuvre body is not necessarily the largest. The "last straw which breaks the camel's back" is a great truth in battle tactics.

It will be noticed that I use the words "forward body" and "manoeuvre body," instead of the recognized terms "firing line" and "supports." This is because these terms are no longer applicable to modern infantry tactics. In order to instill a correct doctrine into the minds of the average Officer and N.C.O. it is advisable to eschew misleading terms, and not to try to reconcile modern ideas with out-of-date phraseology.

The term "firing line" does not convey the idea of the outstretched arm or of distribution in depth. It suggests a broad frontal attack with no attempt to make use of covered ways of approach or to find the soft spots.

In the case of "supports" both the word and the idea are dangerous. It does not inculcate the essential idea of manoeuvre, but rather the obsolete and unsound idea of reinforcing frontally troops who are held up, which means piling the dead in front of the enemy's strongest points.

Reinforcement of units which are held up causes confusion owing to the mixing of units, nor does it produce so great a moral effect as a diversion from a flank, either on the enemy or the troops reinforced. So long as obsolete terms persist, there is a danger of the wrong idea lingering in the minds of the average leader. It is contended, on the other hand, that the terms "forward body" and "manoeuvre body" instinctively suggest the true principles.

When one speaks of weight or force in modern war it is essential to remember that it is weight of fire and not of mere numbers of men. An army composed of highly trained fire units capable of manoeuvre can defeat far larger armies who rely on mere masses of men. Thus highly-fortified enemy defences must be countered by an increase of mechanical fire power, and not by reducing the intervals, and so increasing the casualties, of the infantry.

By what means can one fulfil the principle of economy of force other than by a correct distribution of one's strength? By following the same sub-principles as did the man in the dark, which were:-

(i)     Surprise, striking the enemy from an unexpected direction, at an unexpected moment, in an unguarded spot. This may be achieved by making use of all covered approaches, working round his flanks by the use of ground and smoke, and by taking instant advantage of any opportunities for movement or assault provided by the action of tanks, artillery, and similar weapons.

(ii)     Speed of movement, fire, and eye. Opportunities in battle are fleeting and must be instantly noticed and seized.

(iii)     Momentum, the use of the" expanding torrent "system, which is dealt with later, to maintain the impulsion of the advance.

(iv)     Soft Spot, seeking and striking the enemy's weakest spots instead of dashing one's head against his strongest points. This means taking him in rear or flank, and pushing in our reserves at the points where he is giving way.

(v)     Husbanding our men by the aid of correct tactics and covered approaches, instead of massed frontal attacks in line.

(vi)     Mutual support, whether of brigades or sections, all working together like the muscles of the body or the members of a football team, and covering each other's advance by fire.

(vii)     Exploitation to the full of every advantage gained.

Before going on to deal with the execution of the five battle principles, let us consider certain

New Characteristics of the Infantry Fight.

Infantry tactics have been thrown into the melting pot by the realization, which has been forced upon us, that our former methods are inapplicable and wasteful of force under modern conditions. The outstanding change has been the realization that the weight, or force, of an attack does not increase in proportion to the numbers of men thrown in; that progress can only be made by intelligent manoeuvre of fire power.

Increasing the numbers beyond a certain density adds nothing to the effectiveness of the attack or defence, but only results in greater casualties. Instead of dense lines of bayonet men in attack, or crowded positions in defence, one must use widely dispersed combat groups containing comparatively few men, but well equipped with fire and smoke weapons. These must be allowed ample frontage to manoeuvre and find the enemy's soft spots. Thus the exact intervals will depend on whether the ground is open or close.

It is necessary at this point to remember that, in any large action, each of the infantry units will be restricted to a definite sector of the front. At first sight, therefore, it will be confined to a purely frontal attack. But modern destructive weapons have enforced a wide dispersion of the combatants on the battlefield. This dispersion has rendered possible penetration by the fire units--the sections--between the enemy defence posts. It is the role of the section, platoon, and company commander in turn by exploiting this penetration to change their sector of the battle from a mere bludgeon fight into a manoeuvre combat, thus fulfilling the principle of economy of force by striking "from an unexpected direction against an unguarded spot."

Infantry in Attack

We now turn to consider the application of our man-in-the-dark theory to practical tactics. The ideal infantry battalion, company, or platoon, should resemble a human tank, comprising both offensive power and protective armour. Its offensive power rests in its arms and legs, or, in other words, its weapons and manoeuvring power. The protective armour is represented by an open formation, such as a diamond or square, which prevents more than one of the sub-units being surprised by the enemy, and so affords time for the remainder to manoeuvre to take the enemy in flank.

Preparation (Security).

"The man extends one arm to grope for, feel, and seize his enemy by the throat."

I. - Formation.

We deduce from our study of the "man-in-the-dark" that each unit should move with an advanced guard or forward body - the outstretched arm - pushed ahead in the probable direction of the enemy, whilst the main, or manoeuvre body, follows in rear. The latter will thus be ready to manoeuvre against any enemy which the forward body encounters, and by its mere presence will protect the flanks of the forward body. In modern war the defenders can only be definitely located bit by bit by actual attack. Hence the danger of a surprise counter attack is ever present.

An open formation of security is therefore just as vital during the attack as during the approach.

a. - The Advance or Attack Against an Unlocated Enemy.

The best formation for any body advancing against an unlocated enemy is that of the diamond. Whichever point of the diamond encounters the enemy first has the duty of fixing him whilst the other three manoeuvre to take the enemy in flank. Until a unit is committed to an attack on a definite point its commander should move with his forward body in order best to direct the movements of his unit and keep in touch with the situation in front. The diamond, with its solitary leading point, facilitates this direction by the commander, and enables him to make the best use of any covered approaches. Hence it should also be used for all manoeuvre bodies and units in rear until they are committed to a definite role.

Security is the first essential. Hence each unit should move by bounds. In this method each body advances alternately while the other is halted in a position from which it can cover with fire the moving body. The manoeuvre body, in an advance, will only bound as far as a position in rear of the forward body, from which it can cover the next advance of the latter.

When not in the neighbourhood of the enemy speed is more important than security. Therefore, units should move in column of route along roads, with only the actual head of the forward body deployed. Thus in the case of a company serving as advanced guard or forward body to a battalion, only the forward platoon would be deployed in diamond formation, whilst the three manoeuvre platoons move in fours along the road, until in the neighbourhood of the enemy.

b. - The Attack Against a Located Enemy.

Speed is the first essential, and therefore continuous progress must be aimed at, instead of movement by bounds. You will normally have two sub-units forward and two for manoeuvre. The formation will be a modified square. The two forward sub-units should be well apart in order to cover the whole extent of your frontage with fire and to thoroughly explore it for soft spots. The two manoeuvre sub-units should move as close together as the enemy's fire allows, in order to be under quicker control for manoeuvre.

Section Formations

We now turn to consider the formation of the actual fire, or fighting units, which are the sections. The extended line is not a formation of security; it is not under the instant control and direction of the section commander, and thus it prevents full advantage being taken of covered approaches and reduces the power of manoeuvre.

The very idea of a line presupposes a wasteful frontal attack instead of a manoeuvre combat. Hence it should be abandoned in favour of a formation such as arrowhead, with the section commander as the point of the arrow. Arrowhead is no more vulnerable to frontal fire than an extended line, whilst against enfilade fire it is even less vulnerable. It gives the section commander far greater powers of control and manoeuvre, and is capable of firing in any direction. Thus it forms our ideal of a human tank or moving strong point. When advancing through defiles or through woods and thick bush, the arrowhead can be closed in to form worm formation, in file or single file. During the advance the section commander must use his intelligence, and change from one formation to the other as the ground dictates.

II. - Reconnaissance.

Reconnaissance may be divided into two classes - " previous to battle," and "during battle."

a. - Previous Reconnaissance.

This is carried out by three methods:-

(i)     The commander of each infantry unit studies all information regarding the enemy and the ground, which his superiors or the other arms, such as cavalry and aircraft, have been able to obtain.

(ii)     He carries out a personal survey of the ground ahead before committing his unit to an attack on a definite objective or to the defence of a definite position. In this survey he should be accompanied by his sub-unit commanders and any liaison officers.

(iii)     Sending forward specially-trained company scouts to carry out long-distance reconnaissance to obtain information on definite points.

b. - Battle Reconnaissance.

This is carried out by observation and fighting:-

(i)     Observation is achieved mainly by section scouts or patrols moving ahead of, but in touch with, the sections or higher units respectively which they are covering. Each section when it has shaken out from the platoon should send a pair of scouts ahead to ensure protection. Section scouts should move ahead of, but within view of, their sections. It is their role to discover the most covered ways of approach and to give warning of defence posts or parties of the enemy, and thus prevent the section corning under a heavy surprise fire. They should move by bounds, and at the end of each bound one scout should signal back for the section to come on or the reverse, whilst the other remains observing. When held up by the enemy's fire the section scouts should take up a position from which they can cover the section, as it moves up. The section should always move to rejoin its scouts in order that it may become an intact fighting organization once more. Patrols, which should consist of a complete section, or platoon will be used to afford close protection to larger units. They should move in touch with the unit which they are covering, but considerably beyond the radius of action of the section scouts. Like larger units also they should move in a formation of security such as diamond.

(ii)    Reconnaissance by fighting will be carried out by the advance of the forward bodies, which by actually attacking the enemy's position will feel and test it at all points, and so endeavour to discover or make a breach at some weak spot. Hence it may be best considered as part of the phase of fixing.

III. - Fixing.

Each forward body should advance direct on the enemy in order to reconnoitre him by fighting, discover and penetrate his weak spots and so continue its advance to the objective. If no soft spots can be found in the frontage allotted to it, it should fix him firmly, so that the manoeuvre body can work round his flank and deliver a decisive surprise blow. Thus when the fire of the enemy holds up a forward body, its duty will be to keep the enemy immediately opposing it fixed to his ground and to absorb his attention by maintaining a vigorous fire and working its way closer at every opportunity provided by the fire or smoke of neighbouring units or of the auxiliary arms. Any slackening of pressure by the forward bodies will only result in the defence being able to turn and meet the flanking attack. A resolute and speedy advance shakes the defender's moral and prevents him getting the range, so lessening the accuracy of his fire. The leading ,sections must not delay the advance by halting to fire until no further progress can be made without beating down the hostile fire. The action of the forward infantry in attack must consist of a constant pressing forward to close with the enemy in order to find the weak spots in his defences. To this end they must seize every available cover afforded by the ground, fire or smoke.

The speed of the advance will be vastly quickened if tanks working with the infantry are used to carry the equipment and extra ammunition of the infantry.

The forward sections can often fix the enemy defence posts opposed to them far more effectively by firing smoke to windward of them, than by rifle or Lewis gun fire. The smoke drifting down over the enemy blinds them and so enables the manoeuvre sections to work round their flank unseen to assault them. Moreover, this method economizes ammunition.

To enable him to take instant advantage of any soft spots which are found by the forward companies or platoons, every battalion and company commander should detail an officer or specially selected N.C.O., with runners, to move with each of the forward companies or platoons, and to send back word to him the instant a gap is found or made.

Commanders should keep touch with the units on their flanks by observation or by sending out a patrol or special scout when the necessity for information or communication arises.

B. IV. - Decisive Manoeuvre.

"The man delivers a decisive blow from an unexpected direction against an unguarded spot."

Each manoeuvre body will move close behind. Its normal purpose will be to assist, by means of manoeuvre, the forward body to advance and gain the objective. If the fire of the enemy holds up the forward body it will be the role of the manoeuvre body to turn the flank of, and enfilade, the enemy resistance which is opposing the forward body.

To achieve this a manoeuvre body may have to quit its own sector and follow in the wake of a neighbouring unit which is still advancing. It will pass through the gap thus made, and come in on the flank of the enemy against which it will deliver an immediate blow.

As soon as this manoeuvre has achieved its aim the forward and manoeuvre bodies will mop up, reorganize, and continue the advance until the objective has been gained. They will then consolidate the ground won in the most suitable tactical positions in the vicinity.

If the enemy counter-attacks during the advance the manoeuvre body will be at hand and ready to counter-manoeuvre against him. The commander of the unit must not, however, hold back or hesitate to throw in his manoeuvre body to turn the enemy's flank directly it is clear that the forward body has fixed him.

Company and platoon commanders should always move with their manoeuvre platoons, or sections, directly they have committed their forward body to a definite attack.

Battalion and brigade commanders should also move with their manoeuvre companies, or battalions, but only until they commit them to a definite role. They should subsequently move with their reserve. Thus every infantry commander will be able to keep control of the course of the attack and influence it without delay at the decisive moments.

It is highly desirable that infantry should be systematically trained in deployment and changing direction by signals. These will not only be of great advantage during the approach march, but could be used on many occasions during the actual attack to quicken manoeuvre and direct sub-units to take advantage of covered ways of approach. If thoroughly ingrained in the troops, signals can be used at suitable moments instead of the slower method of messages.

It must be clearly understood that the assault is not necessarily carried out by the manoeuvre body. If the enemy turns to meet the latter, it will be the duty of the forward body to seize the opportunity to rush in and assault the enemy.

In the case of the platoon the Lewis gun sections may often be used for manoeuvre. They are less mobile and present a larger target than the rifle sections, but if covered approaches are available, they are more valuable for manoeuvre, because of the greater surprise and enfilade effect of Lewis gun fire.

C. V. - Exploitation.

"The man instantly follows up his advantage and renders his enemy finally powerless."

a. - The Limited or Unlimited Objective in Attack?

In battle the only true objective is the enemy. But his actual strength and dispositions can only be ascertained by fighting. Hence certain geographical objectives must be allotted beforehand in order to serve as stepping stones by means of which the artillery can co-operate with and support the infantry advance. On the other hand, it is a direct violation of economy of force to limit the advance of unexhausted units which find soft spots and can press on with little opposition. One should only replace those units whose momentum is checked by fatigue and severe opposition. Therefore, these stepping-stones - termed objectives - should be restricted to the battalion or higher formations. The companies, platoons, and sections of each battalion should press on to gain the battalion objective, this objective being the only true one - the enemy wherever they find him in their path.

Hence the battalion will be the smallest unit which needs to carry out pursuit beyond the objective.

b. - The Pursuit.

Thus companies and platoons need only be distributed into two bodies - forward and manoeuvre; but battalions when carrying out a definite attack should be divided into three bodies: forward, manoeuvre, and reserve.

The reserve body is the means whereby the battalion or higher commander exploits success or retrieves failure. At the moment the battalion objective is taken, the enemy will be disorganized and probably demoralized, but if the attacking unit halts on the objective and is content to send out a few patrols only, the golden opportunity of exploiting the enemy's local reverse will be lost. If the troops which carried out the assault have to be reorganized for pursuit, precious minutes will be lost. If a separate unit under a different commander is used for pursuit, delay is bound to occur, and the pressure on the enemy be relaxed, thus affording him a chance to recover.

Hence a fresh body, but one which is under the control of the commander who has taken the objective, should be used for pursuit.

The normal purpose of the battalion reserve, therefore, will be to exploit the success and continue pursuit until such time as fast-moving tanks or other mobile troops have caught up and passed through them. In this way a relentless pressure on the yielding enemy will be maintained, so that his retreat may rapidly spread and gain momentum, thus resembling a snowball rolling downhill.

If the forward and manoeuvre companies fail to gain the objective, the battalion commander may use his reserve to relieve them or to meet counter attacks.

The "Expanding Torrent" System of Attack Against Defence Distributed in Depth.

In modern war, armies are distributed in great depth, and the attackers are faced with the problem of breaking through a series of positions extending back in layers to a depth of several miles.

To this problem an effective and scientific solution has yet to be found. Moreover, every defending infantry unit also is itself distributed in depth in successive posts. We need to invent a system which will ensure - as far as is humanly possible - that our attack sweeps through and overwhelms the successive layers of the defence with an unslackening momentum combined with a minimum loss of men.

We have learnt by bitter experience that it is sheer waste of force, when we come against an enemy position, to press our attack equally at all points.

We must feel and test the position everywhere, and endeavour to push in the weight of our reserves where a weak spot is found or made. This principle has been definitely established, and the problem yet to be solved is our tactics when an initial breach has been made at any point in the first layer of the defence.

On the one hand, if we press forward at full speed beyond the gap without attempting to widen it simultaneously, it is risky. We lose the weight of our blow because we cannot push adequate reserves through a bottle neck. We lose time because the passage through a narrow gap causes delay and confusion. We endanger our security because we leave the enemy on our flanks untouched, and so able to cut off the head of our advance.

On the other hand, if we halt our advance while we widen the breach, we lose time, the advantage of surprise, and the opportunity of exploiting our initial success, thus allowing the enemy time to organize strong resistance in rear, and await us. Hence we must create a scientific system of attack which will reconcile and combine speed with security.

The breach must be widened in proportion as the penetration is deepened, by automatically progressive steps, beginning with the platoon and working up to the brigade.

I have endeavoured to deduce such a system by examining and analyzing Nature's method of attack.

If we watch a torrent bearing down on each successive bank or earthen dam in its path, we see that it first beats against the obstacle, feeling and testing it at all points.

Eventually it finds a small crack at some point. Through this crack pour the first driblets of water and rush straight on.

The pent-up water on each side is drawn towards the breach. It swirls through and around the flanks of the breach, wearing away the earth on each side and so widening the gap.

Simultaneously the water behind pours straight through the breach between the side eddies which are wearing away the flanks. Directly it has passed through it expands to widen once more the onrush of the torrent. Thus as the water pours through in ever-increasing volume the onrush of the torrent swells to its original proportions, leaving in turn each crumbling obstacle behind it.

Thus Nature's forces carry out the ideal attack, automatically maintaining the speed, the breadth, and the continuity of the attack. Moreover, the torrent achieves economy of force by progressively exploiting the soft spots of the defence.

By applying this natural system to battle we may deduce these principles for the attack against defence in depth:-

(i)     The forward sub-unit which finds or makes a breach in any of the enemy's positions should go through and press straight ahead so long as it is backed up by the manoeuvre body of the unit.

(ii)     The forward units on its flanks who are held up should send their manoeuvre bodies towards and through the breach. These will attack the enemy in flank, destroy his resistance, and so widen the gap.

(iii)     The units in rear press through the gap and deploy (expand) to take over the frontage and lead the advance in place of the temporarily held-up units.

(iv)     The held-up units, as soon as they have accounted for the enemy opposing them, follow on as manoeuvre units to support the new forward units.

(N.B. - If the forward units are able to clear away the enemy opposing them before the rear units have passed through the gap, they will naturally continue to lead the advance.)

Thus an automatic and interchangeable system of attack will be achieved. This system is applicable to all units and formations from the platoon upwards.

Taking, for example, the infantry attack: the left forward platoon of a company might find or make a gap whilst the right platoon was: held up. It would press straight ahead, whilst the company commander moves towards the gap with his manoeuvre platoons. The held-up platoon is still engaged with the enemy resistance, when the company commander has passed through the gap. He will, therefore, send one of his manoeuvre platoons forward and to the right to take over the frontage of the held-up platoon, and carry on the advance in its place.

If the company commander judges that the held-up platoon can destroy the enemy resistance by its own resources, he will press on at once with his remaining manoeuvre platoon, to back up the forward platoons.

If not, he helps the held-up platoon by a flank attack before following on.

In any case, directly the enemy has been destroyed the checked platoon would follow on as a new manoeuvre platoon.

The company commander would be ready to repeat this method against each successive position of the enemy, thus ensuring the relentless momentum of the torrent.

Likewise the battalion commander may infiltrate his manoeuvre company through the gap made by an advancing forward company to expand the front and replace another forward company whose advance is checked or delayed.

Thus any gap will be progressively enlarged and deepened on the initiative of each successively higher commander.

The battle tactics of infantry will become automatic and depend less and less on fresh orders from superiors in rear. Moreover, artificial geographical objectives will be restored to their right position as mere stepping stones in the advance. We shall fulfil the principle of economy of force by concentrating our efforts on the only true objective - the enemy.

The respective phases of Fixing and Decisive Manoeuvre will be carried out against each successive resistance, whilst the "expanding torrent" will ensure that the momentum of the attack is not lost by the delay caused by the clearing of these enemy defence posts. No forward unit must, however, press on, even if it finds a gap, unless it has cleared, or made arrangements to clear, all enemy resistance within its frontage.

To ensure good team work in the confusion of battle, every unit commander, separated from his own superior, who finds another similar unit in front of him engaged in fixing the enemy, must be ready to act as a manoeuvre body to the unit in front. To this end he should get in touch with the unit in front and find out if the latter requires him to aid it by a decisive manoeuvre.

In the case of the platoon, its commander must remember that his sections are not tactical units. This means that they are not composed of interdependent fighting parts and so capable of fixing and manoeuvring simultaneously. They possess no manoeuvre body of their own, and therefore the platoon commander must use his own manoeuvre sections to help any of his forward sections which are held up, before continuing his advance.

The forward section, therefore, which finds or makes a gap should only make a bound as far as the nearest tactical point from which it can cover and hold open the breach. It will not move on until it sees the rest of the platoon coming on to back it up.

In the attack against a large force distributed in depth, the expanding torrent system will abolish the need for battalion pursuit. Hence the battalion commander may use his reserve company, also, for replacing forward companies.

Three outstanding advantages of this system are, firstly, that an automatic continuity of the pressure of the advance is ensured; secondly, that the expanding of the front of the advance rests with the immediately superior commander, thus ensuring that tactical unity is preserved instead of an unorganized dog fight to get forward, with each unit playing for its own hand; thirdly, that the units which lead the advance will automatically be those which have encountered the least opposition. This will mean that the leading infantry are those which are freshest and have the most ammunition. It will be far easier to supply extra ammunition to those who have fallen behind than to those who are leading the advance.

Infantry in Defence.

The defence is simply the attack halted. Any unit which halts its advance is capable on account of its open and self-contained formation of offering an immediate resistance to any hostile attack or counterrattack.

Thus it resembles our simile of the human tank, possessing both the power of offence and defence. It only remains for it to consolidate the ground within its area so as to gain the most cover and best field of fire.

Once we have grasped this obvious truth the whole problem of tactics in general, and defence in particular, will be vastly simplified. Our previous method of creating a complex system of watertight compartments for each tactical action appears truly unscientific.

However sound the precepts, they were too complex and unco-ordinated to be quickly mastered by the junior commander of infantry.

From this realization that defence is the attack halted, we deduce the truth that the principles of protective formation, reconnaissance, fixing, decisive manoeuvre, and exploitation are equally applicable to the defence as to the attack.

A. Preparation.

I. - Formations.

This will be generally similar to that for the attack. The company and platoon will be distributed into a forward body and manoeuvre body. The battalion or higher formation into a forward body, manoeuvre body, and reserve. The reserve will consolidate a final position of resistance for the battalion or brigade.

Each unit in defence should be allotted an area to hold, and not a definite point. Thus, if the enemy takes a defence post at a disadvantage, by crushing shell fire, smoke or manoeuvre, the commander should use his initiative to quit the post and take up a fresh position on the flanks of the post so that he can out-manoeuvre the attacking infantry.

One difference in regard to the formation in defence will be that the manoeuvre bodies can be previously placed in readiness on a rear flank of the forward body.

They should be placed to cover with enfilade fire the flank on which it is most likely that the enemy might break through. They should take up a position from which they can best sweep the breadth of their area with fire.

The actual distribution in defence will depend mainly on the frontage and the field of fire. Two sub-units forward and two for manoeuvre will be normal, but if the field of fire is restricted it will be best to place three sub-units forward and one for manoeuvre. The essential need is to cover the whole area with intersecting rays of fire from the posts of the sub-units. A diamond formation, modified according to the ground, is very suitable for the forward platoons in defence.

It will be advisable for all forward, or stationary defence, platoons to consolidate in section posts in order to cover more ground with fire.

In the case of manoeuvre platoons it will normally be advisable for them to consolidate in platoon posts so that they may be kept more concentrated ready for manoeuvre.

The" Contracting Funnel" in Defence.

Just as manoeuvre is far superior to frontal attack, so manoeuvre fire which enfilades the enemy from a flank is the most damaging, both in material effect and to the attackers' moral. It represents the main sub-principle of Economy of Force, which is surprise. Thus the defence should be so disposed as to develop their greatest fire effect to the flank. To this end it should be our aim so to dispose infantry for defence, that the attacking enemy is encouraged to penetrate into channels in which he can be raked by flanking fire. One step towards this is to site our Lewis and machine gun posts to mutually support each other with fire, rather than to fire direct to the front.

Another is the placing of manoeuvre bodies so that they fire mainly to a flank.

A third way is to echelon backwards the posts of the manoeuvre platoons and companies along the natural channels of approach to form a gradually contracting funnel raked by fire. Thus the further the attacker penetrates the more resistance he encounters and the more confined becomes the space in which he can manoeuvre.

A diagram of a battalion disposed for defence may make the idea clear.

Battalion disposition diagram

If we study such a disposition, it becomes apparent that the only effective counter to such defence is the" continually expanding torrent" system of attack.

II. - Reconnaissance.

(i)     Preparatory reconnaissance will be carried out on similar lines to that for attack. Each commander, both before taking up a definite position and during its occupation, should study all available information, personally survey the ground and the possible ways of manoeuvre, and send out company scouts on special missions.

(ii)     Battle reconnaissance will be carried out mainly by patrols. If not yet in contact with the enemy, they should be sent out to keep watch on all likely lines of approach. When in contact with the enemy as in position warfare, they will be sent out at night, in fog, or in dense country by day to keep his forward defences under observation, discover his dispositions, and give warning of a likely attack. They should usually be supplied by manoeuvre or reserve bodies. In darkness or fog, patrolling is the best means of protection from surprise, and not the massing of more infantry in the forward positions.

Patrols and observation posts should be used by manoeuvre and reserve bodies during an enemy attack to obtain information as to the situation in front and flank, and so enable instant and correct action to be taken.

III. - Fixing.

Defence in itself is one method of fixing the enemy. It is incapable of beating him, and therefore a defensive attitude will only be assumed in order to fix and weaken the enemy so that another force may be able to attack the enemy decisively elsewhere, or that you may yourself attack later when his vigour is spent.

In the actual infantry defence the phase of fixing is carried out by the forward bodies. If the forward and manoeuvre companies of a battalion fail to fix and break up the enemy's attack, it will be the duty of the reserve to fix him in order to allow higher formations to decisively manoeuvre against him.

Forward bodies holding positions should defend to the last man and the last round the area allotted to them. To instill this idea that troops who have consolidated should not withdraw, fighting patrols should be detailed from the reserve if it is desired to harass the enemy's attack before the main positions of resistance are reached. Moreover, troops who have consolidated are more likely to hold on too long and so mask the fire of the posts in rear when they do fall back.

The role of forward bodies. is stationary defence by fire. The commander of any forward section must, however, be ready to quit the post and take up a position on its flank, if the enemy takes it at a disadvantage by shells, smoke or manoeuvre.

B. IV. - Decisive Manoeuvre.

The manoeuvre. bodies carry out the decisive manoeuvre in defence as in attack.

If the enemy makes a gap or effects a lodgment in the positions of the forward body, the manoeuvre body will make an immediate counterrattack to throw him back, or manoeuvre by fire to close the breach and destroy him in a contracting funnel.

The function of its commander is manoeuvre, which does not necessarily imply assault. The commander of a manoeuvre company or platoon has a choice of two main alternatives:-

(i)     If the enemy breaks through the forward positions quickly and on a broad front, it will be best for him to man his prepared positions to take the enemy in flank by fire.

(ii)     Otherwise he should manoeuvre either to assault or fire.

A counter-assault which fails is a sheer waste of force. Hence it should not be launched unless the enemy is engaged with other defending units: The Lewis gun sections of a manoeuvre platoon may be used to surprise and fix the enemy with fire while the rifle sections assault.

If he decides to manoeuvre to fire he should move to suitable positions on the flanks of the enemy's breach from which he can enfilade them. Above all he must remember that whether he uses fire or assault, or both, it will be most effective if delivered against the flanks of the enemy's wedge of attack. In this way the sides of the breach will be strengthened and the enemy's advance cut off.

A counter-attack will be carried out according to the same principles as for the attack, but a definite objective should be fixed for it, and it should never be pressed beyond the forward positions of the defence.

The one great advantage which the defence possesses is that every move can be thought out and rehearsed beforehand. Every possible line of enemy advance should be reconnoitred and plans worked out for countering them. The possible routes of manoeuvre and fire positions on them for each manoeuvre company and platoon should also be reconnoitred and marked.

A counter-attack by any unit smaller than a platoon is rarely effective. Hence fire and not counter assault is the best course for manoeuvre sections to adopt.

C. V. - Exploitation.

Exploitation is the counter-offensive when the enemy's attack has failed, and is therefore not true defence.


It should be clear from our analogy of the human tank that outposts are simply a temporary form of defence. When contact with the enemy is unlikely the main consideration is to rest as many troops as possible.

Hence units should usually be disposed with only one sub-unit forward and three for manoeuvre. It will suffice, particularly at night, if the main channels of approach are covered by the forward bodies. With this reservation, the disposition and routine duties of outposts will be similar to those for defence. Only the first stage of consolidation, that of disposition over the ground, for observation ,and resistance, will be needed.


These are simply a mobile defence.

They should be carried out by a series of leapfrog bounds, the forward body retiring covered by the fire of the manoeuvre body to a position behind it, from which, in turn, it can cover the retirement of the manoeuvre body. Thus the strain of holding off the enemy will be evenly distributed between forward and manoeuvre bodies. In flat country zig-zag bounds should be used to avoid the risk that the fire of the covering body may be masked by the retiring body. If the enemy presses the retiring body too hard, a sudden counter-attack should be made by the manoeuvre body to relieve the pressure.


Thus we see that by working out our principles of tactics upwards from the elementary, instead of downwards from, the complexities of large operations, we can simplify infantry tactics to a framework of dear principles which are applicable to all forms of action. This framework provides us with a sound base upon which to build our practical knowledge of ground and weapons. It has been the hope and aim of the author to create a foundation upon which a real science of infantry tactics can be developed.


BRIGADIER-GENERAL W. DUGAN (Commanding 10th Infantry Brigade): Mr. Chairman, Ladies and Gentlemen, I should like to say that I have discussed this lecture with Captain Hart at considerable length, and I have gone into it very carefully, not only on paper but with men on the ground; and I have coupled that test with my experience, short as it was, in France, commanding a battalion and commanding a brigade. I remember well, in the early days of the war, that we went in for what we called "building up the firing line," as thick as one man per yard. You all remember the casualties that resulted. Few of us ever thought of manoevring then; but when we did adopt the system which is described by the lecturer, on the Somme and elsewhere, and had our forward bodies for fixing the enemy, and our rear bodies for manoeuvring round his flank, we not only had the greatest possible success, but we suffered very few casualties. I adopted the system not only in the battalion but in the brigade in attack and defence during the War afterwards, and I was very fortunate in having very few casualties, and to a great extent I had a large measure of success.

THE CHAIRMAN: Gentlemen, does anyone in this audience believe in "waves" of live men being put against machine guns? We would like to hear his views if he will state them because his remarks would interest the audience. However, as nobody else desires to speak, I have a few remarks to make because I find in reading the lecture, that it is one which requires careful digestion on the part of infantry officers who have to train units for the next war. We, who have had experience in this War, have got to formulate working methods for the next and the thing I like best about Captain Hart's lecture is that, instead of flying up into the clouds and explaining at length some admirable theories about the mass of our infantry, he has come down with his feet flat on the ground, and has suggested how platoons and sections should act. In that respect I think his lecture will be of real value to the whole army when they read it. Whilst the big theoretical side of war is one on which people can talk with ease, it is difficult to come down as Captain Hart has done, to the small units, and to give the poor corporal commanding his section of six men, and the platoon commanders, and the company commanders a working doctrine for their guidance. I am, therefore, personally grateful to Captain Hart for his lecture, because it helps some of us who are trying to produce a simple system of fire tactics, to realize our facts. There is a great deal of what I have called modern "meat" in this lecture, and it might interest the audience to glance for a moment at what happened a century ago. We have read what little was written about the tactics adopted at Waterloo, but it is a curious thing that, as far as I know, the practical fire tactics which won that battle were never described in lectures at the Royal United Service Institution by a Captain Hart of that day. I believe there was no such Institution in existence at the time. At any rate the war was over; the country was fed up with twenty years of fighting, and no one put on paper what the small units did during the Napoleonic Wars. They must have had a good working doctrine, acquired by practical war experience, but they did not pass it on to the next generation of officers. Thus in the Crimea we began again from the beginning. We have just had a great war, and a strenuous war it was, and I think it is an admirable thing that an officer of the rank of Captain Hart should come and give us the benefit of what he himself learned in that war, so that we now have it down on paper for guidance. In that way we hope that, in the next war, the smaller units will benefit. Indeed, this question of minor tactics does require a lot of thought. The old parrot-drill was admirable in its day as a teacher of discipline, but the system which taught our men to go barging forward in a straight line or in thick waves over hill and down dale, whether desert or wooded, and treating all ground to the same tactics, has got to be killed. Yet as an active commander I still find a number of battalion commanders and seconds in command who would revert to what they call skirmishing drill, which merely results in moving forward in lines. I was glad to hear General Dugan mention that dreadful phrase we used to use, namely, "Building up the firing line," in other words, crowding the men, mixing up the units, and putting forward men's bodies merely to stop bullets, Without any idea of manoeuvring. They used to talk in the newspapers, and I am sorry to say in Orders and in our Manuals, about "putting weight into the attack," but when you come to analyze what putting weight into the attack really meant you discover that it is a mere phrase for overcrowding the ground. By “putting weight into the attack” we ought to mean adding more tanks, trench mortars, artillery of all kinds and aeroplanes. There is another point I should like to make. and that is the difficulty some battalion commanders experience in visualizing the sort of attack which has been described in the lecture, namely, a succession of small fire units (sections) going forward and some of them making or finding a soft spot somewhere. Of course, that requires a great deal of training of the commander of a section is usually a corporal or a lance-corporal; and therefore when I talk to battalion commanders in my command, I advise them to spend their thought, their brains, and their time in trying to teach their junior leaders, namely, their corporals and platoon commanders, how to lead. It is a most difficult job for them to keep en leading straight forward in their own sector. There are sixty-four section commanders in a battalion - we ought never to have any fewer - and there are therefore sixty-four corporals who have got to learn this difficult job of leading their units on in a straight line, and fighting as the lecturer has described. I do hope that when the lecture is printed many battalion commanders and brigade commanders will do what General Dugan did, viz., take the whole battalion out and try it on the ground. I do not think there is any harm in saying that in the condition in which we are now, in regard to the infantry, we are hardly doing any tactics at all. We are employed, to a great extent, as policemen, housemaids, orderlies, gardeners, and grooms; I could give you a list of other things which we are learning to do with energy. Even those who do wish to practice tactics have few opportunities of doing so at present. It is a big bit of work for a brigadier or a battalion commander to get hold of his men and put them out in the formation which we have had described to us to-day. If any words of mine carry any weight, I should like to say that I hope this lecture will induce some commanders to make an effort next summer to go out and put this lecture into practice on the ground. I hope they will put the troops out as for an attack and thus visualize what it looks like, and also make all their officers and N.C.O.s look at a battalion so disposed and thus learn by demonstration.

Gentlemen, I am grateful to you for allowing me to preside here to-day, and for so kindly listening to my remarks, and I am certain I shall be doing what you wish when I thank Captain Hart very sincerely on behalf of the audience for giving us such an excellent lecture.

The resolution of thanks was carried by acclamation.

COLONEL GREEN (Commanding London Scottish): Gentlemen, I am sure you would not like to leave this meeting without according a very hearty vote of thanks to our Chairman, who has not only occupied the position of Chairman in such an able manner, but has also helped us out, to a very large extent, by enlarging on what the lecturer has told us this afternoon. I am perfectly certain that most of us, at any rate, have followed most keenly the various points which the lecturer has put before us, and I personally wish to thank him most sincerely for giving us subject for thought, which is what we want in the future. We have got to think out all these things for ourselves, because all the old stereotyped manoeuvres and so on are very much of a "wash-out." I agree with the Chairman that the best thing commanding officers can do is to take out their battalions and try on the ground the theories which have been put before us this afternoon. I now ask you, Gentlemen, to give a very hearty vote of thanks to the Chairman for presiding so ably, as he has done, this afternoon.

The resolution of thanks was carried by acclamation.

THE CHAIRMAN: Colonel Green and Gentlemen, thank you very much for your kindness.

The meeting then terminated.

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