Aftermath of Japanese counterattack on Saipan

U.S. Marine Corps. Via

The U.S. Department of Defense defines a counterattack as:

Attack by part or all of a defending force against an enemy attacking force, for such specific purposes as regaining ground lost or cutting off or destroying enemy advance units, and with the general objective of denying to the enemy the attainment of the enemy's purpose in attacking. In sustained defensive operations, it is undertaken to restore the battle position and is directed at limited objectives. See also countermove; counteroffensive.

A counterattack can be carried out while the original attack is still taking place or shortly afterwards. The former is likely to be effective only when surprise can be achieved, since otherwise the defenders are ill-advised to break cover in the face of a likely numerically superior enemy. However, under ideal conditions, such as a surprise counterattack from favorable ground against the enemy flank, a counterattack can stop the attackers cold.

More commonly, a counterattack is launched immediately after the original attack is spent. The attackers are likely at this point to be relatively disorganized and unprepared for defense. Timing is important, as an experienced attacker is likely to dig in and otherwise make preparations to defend the seized ground as quickly as possible.

Closely related to the counterattack is the spoiling attack, which is a preemptive attack on the assembly areas of an enemy who is preparing a major attack. A spoiling attack depends on surprise and the enemy assembling near the front line and is best carried out by mobile units such as armor.


Dictionary of Military and Associated Terms (accessed 2010-9-8)

Dupuy et al. (1986)

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