A battlefield analysis with the 4th Battalion, Duke of Lancaster’s at Isandlwana

Lt.-Col. Lighten, extreme left, and the visitors from the Duke of Lancaster's 4th Battalion, at Isandlwana - Johann Hamman, Dundee, KZN, South Africa

The Duke of Lancaster’s, on the right, with Lt.-Col. Lighten on the right. We briefly, applied the following principles to each of the two battles mentioned, and discussed and absored it as the day allowed. Permit me to state that if the soldiers of the future, which were you at some point in the past, were to gain any knowledge of war, or increase the stock of actual experience, they must perforce read military history.  This profession is not sculpted entirely by desk-bound theory, and reading must be complemented by succinct and readily assimilable analysis. This checklist of immutable principles of warfare will serve as an aid for a subaltern suddenly faced with the command of a company, or a vade – mecum for a staff officer, if you like.

They are:

1.            The Object, which encompass the need to select the primary target, and not to be deflected from that aim;

2.            The Offensive, which is the stronger form of warfare, and it affirms morale,  and only it can lead to victory. Defensive is a weaker norm, because it disperses resources and yields the initiative to the enemy. Only acceptable as the prelude to a counter-attack;

3.            Security of Forces, the importance of keeping your guard up, while striking the enemy, protecting your own lines of communication, while falling upon the enemy’s ;

4.            Surprise, which is physical or psychological, and ensures moral superiority over the enemy. It must be read in conjunction with Offensive;

5.            Concentration, which is bringing the biggest mass of troops possible to bear on the decisive point;

6.            Economy of effort, which is the level at which the commanding officer decides the upper limit of strength required. This is notwithstanding the concentration principle, and has bearing on the point of using a  sledgehammer to swat a fly;

7.            Flexibility and mobility, important elements in attacking decisively, concentrating effort, and using surprise, with no more effort than is required;

8.            Simplicity of plan, as excessive complexity may overtax training, capability and command structures of the force involved. Carries its own risk of breakdown;

9.            Unity of command, ensuring effective co-operation of various parts of forces involved; and

10.          Morale, probably the most important principle of all. No amount of troops will achieve the primary objective without it.

In order to supply some perspective, I will briefly elaborate on the work of General Roland de Vries, retired and erstwhile Commanding Officer of 61 Mech Battalion, and widely seen as our own Heinz Guderian and Rommel rolled into one.  He is a staunch advocate of the all-important principle of mobility. Under his tutelage we have expounded the principles even further, and below follows a brief outline of what he had in mind:

1.            Selection and maintenance of the aim – The First Principle: – careful consideration of the true aim, well-formulated, clear, concise, unambiguous, decisive and binding. The execution thereof should lie within the grasp of those entrusted with the achievement of the end result;

2.            Concentration of effort – The Critical Principle: – Concentration of forces at the decisive point and time; it is the concentration of strength against weakness, all in one, conceptually, physically and psychologically. Be there first with the most;

3.            Economical use of Force – The Regulating Principle: – Sensible application of military capability, including cost, space and time, in relation to the intermediate objectives and the results stated as achieved in the end. Sustained resilience is implied, the ability to bounce back, where the whole is bigger than the sum of the parts;

4.            Unity of Command – The Force-multiplying Principle: – The cohesive and binding power of dynamic command and leadership in attaining unity of effort at each organisational level, tempered by sound judgement, responsibility, teamwork and mentorship – an unbroken chain of mutual trust, respect and understanding.

5.            Manoeuvre – The Victory Principle: – Seek and maintain the initiative and freedom of action by any means possible. Place the enemy on the horns of a dilemma.  Agility, mobility, flexibility of mind and clever utilisation of combat power;

6.            Offensive Action- The Élan/Audacity Principle:- Aggressiveness, tempered with initiative creates opportunities to be grasped with the aim of winning engagements and battles as to win the war. Set the terms of battle yourself.

7.            Cooperation- The Integration of Effort Principle:- The unvarying quest to achieve interdependence, teamwork, mutual support, spontaneous cooperation and shared responsibility. Implies combined arms integration and decentralisation of control on ground level;

8.            Flexibility- The Setting the Pace Principle:- Acting faster than the enemy, the ability to meet rapidly changing situations head on, tempered by mental agility and ability to improvise;

9.            Surprise- The Physical and Psychological Shock principle:- Mystify, mislead and surprise by means of agility and creative conception. Hit the enemy in his centre of gravity. Simultaneous attacks on his sensory, physical and psychological assets. Pre-emption, disruption and dislocation;

10.          Security – The “Keep our Secrets” Principle:- Deny information to the enemy at all costs, create conditions on the battlefield that will induce greater own initiative and freedom of action. Achieve mission more freely.

11.          Intelligence- The Finger on the Pulse Principle:- Maintenance of information superiority and situational awareness on every level, within sensory, physical and psychological spheres of warfare. Avoid being surprised by the enemies at all cost.

12.          Maintenance of reserves- The Aces High principle:- Adequate reserves to be planned for and provided at each appropriate level of warfare. Reserves allow commanders to influence battles at opportune moments. Soldiers can be reinforced when required, provides comfort and positively influences morale. Momentum can be maintained and opportunity exploited.

13.          Logistical support – The Enabling Principle:- Implies sound balance between the teeth and the tail. Embraces physical and moral components of warfare within sphere of logistics and administration. Adequate support makes mission accomplishment possible.

14.          Maintenance of morale – The Final Principle:- Implies engendering esprit de corps and caring for your people. Embraces tenacity, resilience and confidence in yourself, and others you are fighting with. High discipline, sound leadership, excellent training, skill at arms and comradeship.

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