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Attrition warfare is a military strategy consisting of belligerent attempts to win a war by wearing down the enemy to the point of collapse through continuous losses in personnel and material. The war will usually be won by the side with greater such resources.The word attrition comes from the Latin root atterere to rub against, similar to the "grinding down" of the opponent's forces in attrition warfare.
Traditionally, military theorists and strategists have viewed attrition warfare as something to be avoided. Attrition warfare represents an attempt to grind down an opponent and its superior numbers, which is the opposite of the usual principles of war in which one attempts to achieve decisive victories by using minimal necessary resources and in minimal amount of time, through manoeuvre, concentration of force, surprise, and related tactics.
On the other hand, a side that perceives itself to be at a marked disadvantage in manoeuvre warfare or unit tactics may deliberately seek out attrition warfare to neutralize its opponent's advantages. If the sides are nearly evenly matched, the outcome of a war of attrition is likely to be a Pyrrhic victory. Sun Tzu has stated, "There is no instance of a nation benefitting from prolonged warfare."
The difference between war of attrition and other forms of war is somewhat artificial since war always contains an element of attrition. One can be said to pursue a strategy of attrition if one makes it the main goal to cause gradual attrition to the opponent eventually amounting to unacceptable or unsustainable levels for the opponent while limiting one's own gradual losses to acceptable and sustainable levels. That should be seen as opposed to other main goals such as the conquest of some resource or territory or an attempt to cause the enemy great losses in a single stroke (such as by encirclement and capture).
Historically, attritional methods are tried only as a last resort, when other methods have failed or are obviously not feasible. Typically, when attritional methods have worn down the enemy sufficiently to make other methods feasible, attritional methods are abandoned in favor of other strategies. In World War I, improvements in firepower but not communications and mobility forced military commanders to rely on attrition, with terrible casualties.
Attritional methods are in themselves usually sufficient to cause a nation to give up a nonvital ambition, but other methods are generally necessary to achieve unconditional surrender.
It is often argued that the best-known example of attrition warfare was on the Western Front during World War I.Both military forces found themselves in static defensive positions in trenches running from Switzerland to the English Channel. For years, without any opportunity for maneuvers, the only way the commanders thought that they could defeat the enemy was to repeatedly attack head on and grind the other down.
One of the most enduring examples of attrition warfare on the Western Front is the Battle of Verdun, which took place throughout most of 1916. Erich von Falkenhayn later claimed that his tactics at Verdun were designed not to take the city but rather to destroy the French Army in its defense. Falkenhayn is described as wanting to "bleed France white"and thus the attrition tactics were employed in the battle.
Attritional warfare in World War I has been shown by historians such as Hew Strachan to have been used as a post hoc ergo propter hoc excuse for failed offensives. Contemporary sources disagree with Strachan's view on this. While the Christmas Memorandum is a post-war invention, the strategy of "bleeding France white" was the original strategy for the battle.
Attrition to the enemy was easy to assert and difficult to refute and thus may have been a convenient facesaving excuse in the wake of many indecisive battles. It is, in many cases, hard to see the logic of warfare by attrition because of the obvious uncertainty of the level of damage to the enemy and of the damage that the attacking force may sustain to its own limited and expensive resources while trying to achieve that damage. Historians such as John Terraine and Gary Sheffield have suggested that attritional warfare was, however, a necessary step on the road to eventual victory, a 'wearing down process' that sapped Central Powers strength and left them vulnerable during the Hundred Days campaign of 1918.
That is not to say that a general will not be prepared to sustain high casualties while trying to reach an objective. An example in which one side used attrition warfare to neutralize the other side's advantage in manoeuvrability and unit tactics occurred during the latter part of the American Civil War, when Union general Ulysses S. Grant pushed the Confederate Army continually, in spite of losses; he correctly predicted that the Union's far superior and more numerous supplies and manpower would overwhelm the Confederacy to the point of collapse, even if the casualty ratio was unfavorable.
A battle is a combat in warfare between two or more armed forces. A war usually consists of multiple battles. In general, a battle is a military engagement that is well defined in duration, area, and force commitment. An engagement with only limited commitment between the forces and without decisive results is sometimes called a skirmish.
The Battle of Verdun, was fought from 21 February to 18 December 1916 on the Western Front in France. The battle was the longest of the First World War and took place on the hills north of Verdun-sur-Meuse. The German 5th Army attacked the defences of the Fortified Region of Verdun and those of the French Second Army on the right (east) bank of the Meuse. Using the experience of the Second Battle of Champagne in 1915, the Germans planned to capture the Meuse Heights, an excellent defensive position with good observation for artillery-fire on Verdun. The Germans hoped that the French would commit their strategic reserve to recapture the position and suffer catastrophic losses at little cost to the Germans.
The Western Front was the main theatre of war during the First World War. Following the outbreak of war in August 1914, the German Army opened the Western Front by invading Luxembourg and Belgium, then gaining military control of important industrial regions in France. The tide of the advance was dramatically turned with the Battle of the Marne. Following the Race to the Sea, both sides dug in along a meandering line of fortified trenches, stretching from the North Sea to the Swiss frontier with France, which changed little except during early 1917 and in 1918.
The Battle of the Somme, also known as the Somme Offensive, was a battle of the First World War fought by the armies of the British Empire and French Third Republic against the German Empire. It took place between 1 July and 18 November 1916 on both sides of the upper reaches of the River Somme in France. The battle was intended to hasten a victory for the Allies. More than three million men fought in the battle and one million men were wounded or killed, making it one of the bloodiest battles in human history.
Military strategy is a set of ideas implemented by military organizations to pursue desired strategic goals. Derived from the Greek word strategos, the term strategy, when it appeared in use during the 18th century, was seen in its narrow sense as the "art of the general", or "'the art of arrangement" of troops. Military strategy deals with the planning and conduct of campaigns, the movement and disposition of forces, and the deception of the enemy.
Verdun is a small city in the Meuse department in Grand Est in northeastern France. It is an arrondissement of the department.
Trench warfare is a type of land warfare using occupied fighting lines largely comprising military trenches, in which troops are well-protected from the enemy's small arms fire and are substantially sheltered from artillery. Trench warfare lasting for several years took place on the Western Front in World War I. Following that war, "trench warfare" became a byword for stalemate, attrition, sieges, and futility in conflict.
General Erich Georg Sebastian Anton von Falkenhayn was the second Chief of the German General Staff of the First World War from September 1914 until 29 August 1916. He was removed on 29 August 1916 after the failure at the Battle of Verdun, the opening of the Battle of the Somme, the Brusilov Offensive and the entry of Romania into the war on the Allied side undid his strategy to end the war before 1917. He was later given important field commands in Romania and Syria. His reputation as a war leader was attacked in Germany during and after the war, especially by the faction which supported Paul von Hindenburg. Falkenhayn held that Germany could not win the war by a decisive battle but would have to reach a compromise peace; his enemies said he lacked the resolve necessary to win a decisive victory. Falkenhayn's relations with the Chancellor Theobald von Bethmann-Hollweg were troubled and undercut Falkenhayn's plans.
Hans Gottlieb Leopold Delbrück was a German historian. Delbrück was one of the first modern military historians, basing his method of research on the critical examination of ancient sources, using auxiliary disciplines, like demography and economics, to complete the analysis and the comparison between epochs, to trace the evolution of military institutions.
The Fabian strategy is a military strategy where pitched battles and frontal assaults are avoided in favor of wearing down an opponent through a war of attrition and indirection. While avoiding decisive battles, the side employing this strategy harasses its enemy through skirmishes to cause attrition, disrupt supply and affect morale. Employment of this strategy implies that the side adopting this strategy believes time is on its side, but it may also be adopted when no feasible alternative strategy can be devised.
Maneuver warfare, or manoeuvre warfare, is a military strategy which attempts to defeat the enemy by incapacitating their decision-making through shock and disruption.
The Oberste Heeresleitung was the highest echelon of command of the army (Heer) of the German Empire. In the latter part of World War I, the Third OHL assumed dictatorial powers and became the de facto political authority in the empire.
Annihilation is a military strategy in which an attacking army seeks to entirely destroy the military capacity of the opposing army. This strategy can be executed in a single planned pivotal battle, called a "battle of annihilation." A successful battle of annihilation is accomplished through the use of tactical surprise, application of overwhelming force at a key point, or other tactics performed immediately before or during the battle.
The First Battle of the Aisne was the Allied follow-up offensive against the right wing of the German First Army and the Second Army as they retreated after the First Battle of the Marne earlier in September 1914. The Advance to the Aisne consisted of the Battle of the Marne (7–10 September) and the Battle of the Aisne (12–15 September).
The Second Battle of Champagne in World War I was a French offensive against the German army at Champagne that coincided with an Anglo-French assault at north-east Artois and ended with French retreat.
Loss exchange ratio is a figure of merit in attrition warfare. It is usually relevant to a condition or state of war where one side depletes the resources of another through attrition. Specifically and most often used as a comparator in aerial combat, where it is known as a kill-ratio. For example, during the Korean War, American combat jets had a kill-ratio of 4-1. This means for every four aircraft shot down by an American aircraft, one American plane was shot down by an enemy fighter.
The hammer and anvil is a military tactic involving the use of two primary forces, one to pin down an enemy, and the other to smash or defeat the opponent with an encirclement maneuver. It may involve a frontal assault by one part of the force, playing a slower-moving or more static role. The second phase involves a more mobile force that maneuvers around the enemy and attacks from behind or the flank to deliver a decisive blow. The "hammer and anvil" tactic is fundamentally a single envelopment, and is to be distinguished from a simple encirclement where one group simply keeps an enemy occupied, while a flanking force delivers the coup de grace. The strongest expression of the concept is where both echelons are sufficient in themselves to strike a decisive blow. The "anvil" echelon here is not a mere diversionary gambit, but a substantial body that hits the enemy hard to pin him down and grind away his strength. The "hammer" or maneuver element succeeds because the anvil force materially or substantially weakens the enemy, preventing him from adjusting to the threat in his flank or rear. Other variants of the concept allow for an enemy to be held fast by a substantial blocking or holding force, while a strong echelon or hammer, delivers the decisive blow. In all scenarios, both the hammer and anvil elements are substantial entities that can cause significant material damage to opponents, as opposed to light diversionary, or small scale holding units
Roman infantry tactics refers to the theoretical and historical deployment, formation, and manoeuvres of the Roman infantry from the start of the Roman Republic to the fall of the Western Roman Empire.
The following outline is provided as an overview of and topical guide to war: