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Frederick II ("the Great") of Prussia, "General Principles of War," 134-Page Manuscript in French (1748), issued as Confidential Instructions to his Generals in 1753 (1748/1753)

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Chapter 2

Campaign plans

As soon as one intends to go to war, campaign plans are drawn up. Since the neighbors of a prince are usually his enemies, we shall regard the Russians, the Saxons, and especially the Austrians as such. Politics and the art of war must join hands in designing the campaign plans. One must know the strength of the ruler against whom one is waging war, his allies, and the land that will be the stage of your glory or your shame. As far as the number of troops is concerned, it must be enough for you if you can put 75,000 men against 100,000 in the field. As far as the allies of the enemy are concerned, one either spares the powers that he approaches for help, or one crushes them before they can unite their strengths with the others. The land into which you intend to carry the war must be known to you as precisely as a chessboard is to a chess player.

In general, all wars in which we move too far from our borders are useless. Have we not seen all wars waged by other nations in this way end unhappily! Charles XII’s fame went down in the wasteland of Pultava. Emperor Charles VI was not able to hold his ground in Spain, nor were the French able to in Bohemia (1742). All campaign plans that are aimed at distant advances must therefore be dismissed as bad.

Different plans are devised for defense than for attack

A plan that centers exclusively on defense is useless. It forces you to occupy fortified camps; the enemy goes around you, and since you do not dare to fight, you withdraw. The enemy goes around you again, and when all is said and done it turns out that you have lost more territory by your withdrawal than through a lost battle. Also, your army shrinks more from desertion than it would from the bloodiest battle. The kind of exclusive defense I am talking about is of no use; for with it, everything can be lost and nothing gained. Thus, I prefer the boldness of a general who would rather hazard a battle at the right time; then he has everything to hope for, and even if things go wrong, he still has a means of defense.

An offensive campaign plan requires a precise study of the enemy’s borders. After careful consideration of where to begin the attack, one determines accordingly the army’s staging ground and, finally, procures the foodstuffs.

For the sake of greater clarity, I will illustrate my principles from examples and devise attack plans against Saxony, Bohemia, and Moravia.

[ . . . ]

Even if I disapprove of a campaign plan that is limited to pure defense, I am well aware that one cannot always wage an entirely offensive war. I merely demand that the general on defense does not have his hands bound through some kind of orders, but that defense is used instead as a ruse that stimulates the enemy’s sense of self-regard and tempts him into mistakes from which a skillful general can draw his advantage.

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