A favourite expression used frequently by SAS instructors, paraphrasing General George Patton, is: “We must always give the enemy the opportunity to die for his country…..” and to limit exposure to danger to the enemy.
Take your risks early
In other words, don’t adopt a plan in which the most risky part occurs at the every end, when everyone is tired, committed and when alternative options are certain to be less likely. This maxim works in every walk of life and circumstance; and can also be seen as being daring and adventurous – despite actually being prudent. I’m sure readers can imagine how adoption of this maxim might play out advantageously in social situations…
Generals seek to achieve the mission without fighting – if this is at all possible.
Today’s terrorists and assymetrical war fighters (more on this in due course) practice this advice all the time, to excellent effect in places like Afghanistan.
Everyone within a general’s overall plan is given specific tasks, which they broadcast downwards as their unit mission.
As ‘no plan ever survives contact with the enemy’, everyone must be flexible enough to modify what they’ve been told to do, in such a way as to continue implementing the generals’ overall plan, in the light of everything that changes – including the enemy suddenly giving up and not requiring to be fought (the ideal outcome as far as soldiers at all levels are concerned).
Good commanders don’t tell soldiers what to do or how to do it, but what they are to achieve, which very often requires changes of plan when circumstances change. This is the basis of a supposedly ‘new’ concept called ‘effects-based warfare’, in which the perception of the enemy is moulded by offensive operations, as opposed to the more geographical taking and defending of ground of tactical significance. I say ‘supposedly’ because this is in fact what all the best generals have been doing down the centuries; otherwise why flog all through the Alps with elephants for goodness sake….? (A fatuous remark granted, but I hope I make my point.)
After the First World War, the German Army developed the concept of ‘Auftragstaktik’, by which individual soldiers are given more responsibility for the overall mission, encouraged to look for where the main effort of force should be applied, and be ready to respond to sudden enemy collapses. Each man must be aware of the plans and missions three levels higher than his own, and be prepared to take over up to that level until his superiors are in able to take over.
Thus, every soldier ought to be thinking not just about what he’s required to do, but also the missions given to his section commander, platoon commander and company commander as well. When he sees an opportunity to do something outside his personal remit, he must take the opportunity, because in the words of an Israeli general, ‘What is possible today may not be possible tomorrow.’ – General Saad El Shazly, The Crossing of the Suez, 1980
Major General JFC Fuller: All-embracing advice given in 1936
“The object of fighting is to kill without getting killed. Don’t disperse your force; you can’t punch with an open hand; clench your fist; keep your command together.
Fight when holding, advancing or retiring; always fight or be ready to fight.
Aim at surprise; see without being seen. If you meet a man in a dark room, you jump; you should always try to make your enemy jump, either by day or night. A jumping man can’t hit.
Never remain halted without a lookout. Sentries must be posted no matter what troops are supposed to be in front of you.
Guard your flanks and keep in touch with neighbouring units. Try to get at the enemy’s flanks.
Send information back to your immediate commander. Negative information is important as positive. State time and place of your message. You cannot expect assistance of your superiors unless you tell them exactly where you are and how you are situated.
Hold what you have got and what you gain. Never withdraw from a position until ordered to do so.
WHEN IN DOUBT, FIGHT IT OUT.”