Generals win battles, resources win wars
Resources and Generals assume a complex relationship during any conflict; Generalship being vital to the effective organisation and preparation of supplies, whilst often relying on them to sustain the war. A war is sustained and won by more than just resources, however; the ‘War’ of the Bavarian Succession being a rare example of resources deciding the outcome. Though the Austrian and Prussian armies never met in battle, they manoeuvred each other into exhaustion, lack of supplies and deadlock. This is uncommon, however.
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More commonly, it takes an effective General to make the sufficient preparation and planning demanded for a victory in warfare. Therefore whilst the use of resources can support and uphold a war, it is the skills of a General to combine the available resources with other factors, such as tactics and strategy, which win the battles and hence the war. A General’s tactical decisions have often been the deciding factor in a battle or war, assuming a higher importance than the supply of resources, such as in World War One.
German tactics such as the ‘Elastic Defence’ meant that the Allies never breached their lines despite having a ‘superiority of 5:1. ‘1 The troops in tight formation, together with the firepower of muskets and artillery at close range also meant that the British defeat of the French at Dettingen was decided in half an hour. Original or uncommon formations of armies, such as the British squares that repelled Napoleon’s cavalry at Waterloo, surprise the enemy and bring easy victories. This tactic was utilised by Frederick the Great with the Oblique Order of Battle during the Seven Years War.
The success of Rossbach, for example, was decided in less than three hours. Similar methods were used at the battle of Leuthen, and also when splitting his armies defending Prussia in its Silesian conquest. The Prussians were also able to use this to their advantage, with Von Moltke using ‘Kesselschlacht’ to attack surprise the enemy. Napoleon also used tactical decisions to his advantage through the use of the ‘ordre mixte,’ interior lines, and the movement towards the rear. This was used with particular success in Austerlitz, with the French tactically enveloping the enemy, as well as at Ulm.
With little fighting, the French were able to defeat the Austrians by marching in an arc to surprise and surround the enemy. Though in these situations the Generals needed resources to initiate and sustain the attack, the battles and wars were won through their skill and superior tactical decisions. Effective planning is a further skill of Generalship, because ‘Mistakes in preliminary deployment are difficult to correct. ‘2 There may be a steady supply of resources, for example, but poor planning could still ensure defeat. The greatest responsibility of the commander was to decide how, when, where and if, the battle would be fought.
Whereas Wellington planned for the need to feed troops, Napoleon often did not. This led to his defeat in 1812 in Russia. Planning was also essential for Frederick William III’s victories. A co-ordinated General Staff and the use of corps and divisions, prompted by the defeat at Jena- Auerstadt, enabled to them to become a strong and successful army. The use of railways enabled the planning of warfare to become easier. Before the Crimean War, for example, Britain was able to transport weapons, supplies and troops to the Crimea in less than three weeks, which enabled them to be at an immediate advantage.
Poor planning, conversely, leads to almost certain defeat. General Custer underestimated the number of Native Americans in 1876, for example. Though he intended to encircle the braves, he ended up being encircled and overwhelmed. This was also evident in the Charge of the Light Brigade, when Lord Lucan’s poor planning and Nolan’s lack of insight led to defeat. A further example is the Schleiffen Plan. Although Kesselschlacht worked during the Franco- Prussian war when planned for appropriately, the Germans underestimated the enemy and the plan failed, despite adequate resources.
A General’s plans, therefore, can significantly influence the outcome of a war. A General must have appropriate insight as well as effective planning and tactical manoeuvres. Carnot made a virtue out of necessity by adopting ‘shock tactics’ to make up for the lack of trained troops. He urged, ‘No more manoeuvres, no more military art but fire, steel and patriotism…. We must exterminate, eliminate to the bitter end. ‘3 Carnot also used his skills of Generalship to support the risk- taking, combining it with effective planning to create columns that presented less of a target to the opposing infantry.
Similar methods were used by Frederick the Great who attacked even against superior numbers. Despite sustaining greater casualties in all but the battles of Rossbach and Leuthen, because he supported the method with the ‘oblique tactic’ he brought mobility and decisiveness back to the battlefield. Grant applied similar tactics. Following Von Klauschwitz’s ideas, luck and imagination, for example during the Vicsburg Campaign, enabled victory by force and determination. This was seen during the Battle of the Wilderness when he made the best use of the resources he had; proving Generalship can win a battle or a war even with poor resources.