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

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If its opening battle allows the position of the enemy to be identified, then the main body's march should already be directed toward that point where the main attack is supposed to take place. For we have shown that every lateral movement within the adversary's field of vision, leaving aside the fact that his offensive would bring it to a standstill, entails a detour that rules out any impact from surprise and provides plenty of time for countermeasures. This – "on s'engage partout et puis l'on voit"* – would come at the cost of very great sacrifice, where the advance and the withdrawal at such distances take place under fire.

For our attack we shall choose that terrain which enables the most shielded approach to the enemy position that is possible and that permits seeing its masses, and consequently also reaching [them] with our rifled guns. In the rarest of cases will this lead to a frontal attack.

Among the few rules that can be provided in advance is that we never attack villages, forest plots, etc. in which the enemy has ensconced himself for defense if it is not absolutely necessary. Occasionally, though, this will be the case.

With rifled artillery we possess the means to destroy, within a very short time, every kind of building, to lay low walls, set fire to villages and cities, [and] scatter reserves as soon as their position has been estimated. Our infantry rifle is superior to all others, so that our marksmen outfitted with the same weapon and occupying a sheltered position must win the upper hand even against the enemy in a sheltered position during a lengthy fire fight supported by artillery. Should our marksmen go without cover, if the adversary has the advantage of ranges he knows exactly, and, additionally, an open front of 600 to 800 paces, then the gun battle will lead to extremely high casualties, but not to a corresponding weakening and disruption of the enemy.

In this case, where success is admittedly dubious, the most daredevil confrontation will nonetheless cost fewer victims than holding under fire. The only thing that then remains is to lead the marksmen on in taking a swift run against the field's edge, whose defenders are to be involved in hand-to-hand combat, so as to prevent them from directing their fire against the following troops advancing in close formation. The formation of the company column is the appropriate one for this attack. A cavalry detachment has to remain at hand in order to confront the enemy's. We would wish for a scuffle in front of the enemy position, since it will prevent enemy fire and allow our columns to approach in the meantime.

* "You engage and then you see what happens." This was a favorite motto of Napoleon – trans.

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