Photograph of tanks and infantry advancing

U.S. Army. Via

An attack is a movement towards the enemy, usually for the purpose of driving him out of a position or destroying his force. Because the attacker usually must break cover to carry out his attack, while the defenders can usually remain under cover while attempting to repel the attack, the attacker is at at a considerable disadvantage, and a successful attack requires a considerable preponderance of force at the Schwerpunkt or point of maximum effort. The usual rule of thumb is that a 3 to 1 advantage is required for a successful attack against entrenched defenders. This can take the form of greater numbers of attacking troops or greater fire support from artillery, armor, and other supporting arms. The quality of troops is also important. However, the square law of combat effectiveness suggests that neither quality of troops nor of fire support can fully compensate for lack of superiority in numbers.

To be successful, the attacker must suppress defensive fire sufficiently to allow his troops to advance and overwhelm the defenders before the defenders can bring in reserves and neutralize the attacker's numerical advantage. An attacker who succeeds in suppressing defensive fire is said to have achieved fire superiority. If defensive fire forces the attackers to take cover or otherwise slow their advance, there is danger that the attack will lose momentum, and once an attack has lost momentum, it is vulnerable to counterattack and loss of the initiative. Once an attacker loses the initiative, he must regain it quickly (possibly by committing his own reserves) or the attack will collapse.

Another factor in successful attacks is shock. The sight of a powerful attacking force making a seemingly unstoppable advance on one's own position is a strong test of morale, particularly when the attack is led by armor. A measure of shock can also be achieved through the sheer momentum of the attack. The Japanese put great emphasis on shock in their tactical doctrine, particularly in the form of massed infantry night attacks. The banzai charge was sometimes a desperate attempt to overcome Allied firepower through shock ("spiritual power"), though more commonly it was an attempt to seek honorable death in battle when the situation had become hopeless.


Dupuy et al. (1986)

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