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Helmuth von Moltke: Memorandum on the Effect of Improvements in Firearms on Battlefield Tactics (1861)
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During the seizure of a village, great confusion is momentarily generated. Leaders no longer have their troops under control. If we are dealing with the French, we can be sure that they will still be holding up in some kind of stable building, in order to enable the recapture of the village. The rifled artillery must then complete the demolition of these redoubts, and the infantry must settle in to defend the back of the village, if possible, before the counterattack takes place. If two stable points of terrain in which the enemy has ensconced himself lie at least 1200 paces apart, then, after the rifled artillery has shaken the center in back, we will push through in the middle between the two, while the attack simultaneously goes on against one of these points in front and flank, and then the attack from the rear will take place.

We shall dispense with following the attack battle in its infinite diversity, for which, anyway, moral impetus is more decisive than cold calculation; yet one should never forget that the greatest bravura runs afoul of an insurmountable obstacle, and one such obstacle is not merely a six-foot deep water ditch, but also a completely accessible but open front, in which firearms can achieve an annihilating impact. The good rider is also one who does not drive the most daring steed against an obstacle that it cannot take.

It would be wrongheaded if one should want to go more or less strictly by the book and assert that a troop may not advance across the plain against an enemy positioned in hiding. Even in the future the offense will keep its influence; it is only a question of letting it happen at the right time [and] not plunging ahead in restless haste when standing still is of momentary advantage.

The first decision would be not to yield; the second, to confront, is self-evident if we keep an eye on the enemy's casualties, exhaustion, and confusion.

[ . . . ]



Source: Helmuth von Moltke, Moltkes militärische Werke [Moltke’s Military Writings], ed., Großer Generalstabe [ed. the General Staff]. Berlin: Ernst Siegfried Mittler und Sohn, 1896-1912, vol. 2, pp. 29-32, 36-39.

Translation: Jeremiah Riemer

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