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Helmuth von Moltke: Memorandum on the Effect of Improvements in Firearms on Battlefield Tactics (1861)

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The right thing would have to be that we should await the attack quietly in the holding position and up to the very last moment, exploit the terrible impact of the infantry fire at close range as well, and only then have our side respond to the attack decisively after catching its breath. The intention needs to be made completely clear to the soldiers. They would have to be told in advance that the adversary is going to press on with furious screams, that we are intentionally going to let this happen, so that we may ultimately knock him down with butt and bayonet. The troops assigned this task may, while the marksmen continue to fire uninterruptedly, stand ready in close formation, since they will have little to suffer from the fire of the assaulting adversary. The firmest resolve to attack – set against the equally firm resolve not to yield – is bound, by every reasonable calculation [and] under otherwise identical conditions, to fail. For since the advantages of improved firearms only have their proper effect in standing battle, the moving component will turn out to be at a disadvantage, and the first daredevil en avant against our front might easily be the last.

Attacking a position has become fundamentally more difficult than defending it, and defense during the first stage of a battle a decisive advantage. It will be the job of a skillful strategic offensive to force the adversary to attack a position chosen by us, and only when casualties, shock, and fatigue have exhausted him will we even take the tactical offensive.

If, accordingly, positions take on greater significance again, then it must be asked which characteristics determine good defensive equipment under current circumstances.

While the strength of defense lies in the impact of firepower, that is already reason enough to draw our attention toward the plain; i.e. the strongest possible position would be one which would have in front of it the open level field, and behind it an undulating, easily covered, and passable terrain. The frontline obstacle, which was once the main determinant of a position's value, can rightly be dropped. We do not wish for the enemy to be held back from attacking our front. A soft wave of terrain, occupied by marksmen and a rifled battery, with an open shooting field of 3000 to 5000 paces ahead of it, establishes a formidable position. It allows our reserves to be lined up under cover and, even more importantly, to attack unseen and unhindered with our cavalry [and to attack] over their heads, allowing every weapon the greatest possible impact.

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