||Combined Arms Research Library
U.S. Army Command & General Staff College
Fort Leavenworth, Kansas
This is a local back-up copy, with some
formatting changes to enhance readability.
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but CSI's links are constantly changing/breaking.
CARL VON CLAUSEWITZ:
TWO LETTERS ON STRATEGY
Edited and translated by
Peter Paret and Daniel Moran
NOTE from CSI: The original edited and translated version
of Carl von Clausewitz: Two Letters on Strategy was published earlier
by the U.S. Army War College Art of War Colloquium in November 1984. This
edition has retained the editing style of the original. The present text,
however, rejoins the original letters into whole documents, contradicting
what the translators indicate as their intentions in paragraph 3, "A Note
on the Text," page 7. Professor Paret has granted his kind permission
to allow us to revise the first pages of Clausewitz's text in accordance
with the translation found in Peter Paret, Understanding War: Essays
on Clausewitz and the History of Military Power (Princeton, 1992).
The portrait of Clausewitz [in the CS PDF] is taken from a lithograph in
the possession of Peter Paret. [The version of the portrait above is of a poster designed by Clausewitz.com and available from Cafe Press.] The portrait of Roeder was originally published
in the fifth volume of Kurt von Priesdorff, Soldatisches Führerrum, [1938?]. The page of Clausewitz's letter of 22 December 1827 was first
published as an example of Clausewitz's handwriting in Rudolf von Caemmerer, Clausewitz, Berlin, 1905.
TABLE OF CONTENTS
Copyright © 1984 by Army War College Foundation, Inc.
The introduction, copyright © by Peter Paret, 1984.
This edition of Carl von Clausewitz's Two Letters on Strategy was made possible by the Army War College Foundation and by the Art of War
Colloquium of the Army War College, which sponsors the volume as part of
its program of republishing military classics for the professional development
of the officer corps. The Army War College wishes to express its gratitude
to the co-editors and translators, Professor Peter Paret, Spruance Professor
of International History at Stanford University, and Dr. Daniel Moran.
In recent years, Carl von Clausewitz's On War has
attracted many new readers in this country, stimulated in large part by
the publication in 1976 of a new translation and edition of the work by
Professors Michael Howard and Peter Paret. Generally readers have concentrated
on Clausewitz's philosophy, theory, and strategic concepts, as developed
in Books One, Two, Three, and Eight of On War. His views on operations,
on the other hand, have been largely neglected. The present work provides
us with an opportunity to study Clausewitz's thinking on operational issues
in a specific strategic context.
Two Letters on Strategy deals with the planning
and conduct of a campaign, based on problems set by the Chief of Prussian
General Staff in 1827. In reading Clausewitz's discussion, we must remember
that he generally used the term "strategy" in its normal 19th-century
connotation, which he himself was instrumental in establishing - that
is the conduct of major operations and not the more comprehensive definition
found in the Army's Field Manual 100-5.1 Three levels of war
are defined in FM 100-5:
Strategic, operational, and tactical levels are
the broad divisions of activity in preparing for and conducting war.
Military strategy employs the armed forces of a nation
to secure the objectives of national policy by applying force or the
threat of force. Military strategy sets the fundamental conditions for
The operational level of war uses available military
resources to attain strategic goals within a theater of war. Most simply,
it is the theory of larger unit operations. It also involves planning
and conducting campaigns.2
Clausewitz discusses the operational level of war in Book
Five, Chapter Two of On War, where he relates the factors of space,
mass, and time to theater of operations, the army, and the campaign. He
makes the distinction between levels of military action when he relates
them to time and space. He states, "the concepts characteristic of time-war,
campaign and battle-are parallel to those of space-country, theater of
operations and position...."4 Clausewitz also says: "Tactically,
every engagement ... at the strategic level the campaign replaces the
engagement and the theater of operations takes the place of the position.
At the next stage, the war as a whole replaces the campaign, and the whole
country the theater of operations."5 Clausewitz, although recognizing
the three levels of war, generally uses the term strategy to describe
the operational level. An outline of his concept of the levels of war
|referred to as the
next stage (strategy)
||the theater of operations
The terms in parenthesis are used today to describe these
In Book Three, Chapter Two of On War, Clausewitz
lists the elements of strategy: moral, physical, mathematical, geographical
and statistical (logistics).6 In Book Four, Chapter One, he
calls them the operative elements in war.7 He states that strategy
"presents extraordinary difficulties, and it is fair to say that very
few people have clear ideas about its details."8 Clausewitz
then goes on to list some of the obvious facts about strategy: "that success
is always greatest at the point where the victory was gained, and that
consequently changing from one line of operations, one direction, to another
can best be regarded as a necessary evil, that a turning movement can
only be justified by general superiority or by having better lines of
communications or retreat than the enemy's; that flank-positions are governed
by the same consideration; that every attack loses impetus as it progresses."9 Books Six and Seven of On War cover the conduct of operations within
a theater, discussing such concepts as base of operations, lines of communications,
and turning movements. Two Letters on Strategy relates these concepts
to a particular campaign plan.
Two Letters on Strategy expands on many of the ideas
expressed in On War, particularly those that deal with campaign
plans. For this reason, Two Letters on Strategy should be of value
to the US Army in its effort to study large unit operations. This work
deals with the positioning and maneuver of corps as well as the evaluation
of campaign plans. Although written for a hypothetical situation in 1827,
the principles discussed are as timeless as those covered by Clausewitz
in On War. The serious reader must follow the text on the maps
at the back of the volume in order to understand the arguments put forward
by Roeder and Clausewitz. The relationship of time, distance, and mass
in these problems and solutions can only be appreciated through a knowledge
of the geography of this theater of operation.
References to On War in the introductory material
and in the endnotes are to the revised and expanded edition by Michael
Howard and Peter Paret, published by Princeton University Press in 1984.
Wallace P. Franz
US Army War College
ENDNOTES TO PREFACE
1. Carl von Clausewitz, On War, rev. ed., edited
and translated by Michael Howard and Peter Paret, Princeton University
Press, 1984, p. 70.
2. Field Manual (FM) 100-5, Operations, Department
of the Army, Washington, D.C., 20 August 1982, p. 2-3.
General Hugo von Freytag-Loringhoven discusses the levels
of war as understood in the German Army at the end of World War I:
In the German Army, then, starting in the general
staff, the employment of the term 'strategisch' (strategical) has fallen
more and more into disuse. We replace it, as a rule, by the term 'operativ'
pertaining to operations and thereby define more simply and clearly the
difference from everything that is referred to as 'taktisch' (tactical).
All that pertains to operations as such takes place, on the whole, independently
of actual combat, whereas in the term 'strategisch' (strategical) things
become easily confused, as has been proved by the example of our enemies
who are wont to speak of strategical conditions when it is merely a question
of purely local matters. At any rate, the term 'strategy' ought to be
confined to the most important measures of high command.
Baron von Freytag-Loringhoven, Generalship in the World
War, translated by the Army War College, Washington, D.C., 1934, p.
3. Ibid., pp. 280-281.
4. Ibid., p. 379.
5. Ibid., p. 358.
6. Ibid., p. 183.
7. Ibid., p. 225.
8. Ibid., p. 70.
9. Ibid., p. 71.
In 1827 the Prussian general-staff officer, Major von Roeder,
requested Clausewitz's comments on solutions of two operational problems
that had been set by his superior, Lieutenant-General von Müffling,
Chief of the General Staff. Müffling, best known for his service as
Prussian liaison officer in Wellington's headquarters during the Waterloo
campaign, never freed himself from the cautious strategic concepts current
in the Prussian Army before 1806. Position warfare and the occupation of
territory dominated his thinking, rather than the defeat of the enemy's
forces. But he was an efficient peacetime chief of staff, who took the training
of his officers seriously, and whose operational exercises, war games on
the map and on the ground, and innovations in communications and map-making,
contributed to the growing professionalization of the general staff.
by Peter Paret
At the time, the general staff was still far from the army's
central planning and, in effect, executive organ it became some forty
years later under Moltke. In 1821 it had been detached from the Ministry
of War; but the Chief of Staff continued to report to the minister on
all major business, and his right to report directly to the monarch was
severely circumscribed; he was still an advisor, who responded rather
than initiated. The staff itself was small for a major power with a peacetime
army of some 127,000 officers and men, which could be expanded to over
400,000 if the reserves were called up. The central body, or Great General
Staff, in Berlin numbered 19 officers, including the chief; 27 officers
served with the guards, the eight army corps, and the artillery inspectorate
general. Five officers holding other assignments were attached to the
staff and kept informed of its work, though they participated in it only
when their special expertise was needed. The senior in this group was
Clausewitz, since 1818 Director of the War Academy.
Trigonometric and topographic sections, an archive, and
a duplicating office completed the organization.1
Roeder was the head of the General Staffs "Central Theater
of War," the section that dealt with operations against Austria. Born
in 1787, seven years younger than Clausewitz, he had been Scharnhorst's
student at the Academy for Young Officers in 1804 and 1805, during which
time he first met Clausewitz. After serving in the War of 1806 he resigned
his commission and studied at the Universities of Berlin and Heidelberg,
before re-entering, the Prussian Army as a second lieutenant at the beginning
of the Wars of Liberation in 1813. In the battle of Grössgorschen
he was severely wounded, but recovered to participate in the fighting
that autumn and in the campaign of 1814. During the Hundred Days, Roeder,
by then a captain on the general staff, was assigned to one of the brigades
in III Corps, whose chief of staff was Clausewitz. He fought in the battles
of Ligny and Wavre, in which the corps, by tying down Grouchy's far stronger
force, helped make the victory of Waterloo possible. After the war Roeder
continued to serve as a general staff officer and royal adjutant until
he retired with the rank of major-general in 1841. Six years later he
was promoted to the nominal rank of lieutenant-general.2
While not a man of striking originality, Roeder was an
intelligent officer, broadly experienced as a planner and in the field.
His early association with Scharnhorst and other members of the reform
movement left a permanent mark on his ideas and attitudes. He was one
of the men who carried a hint of the reform era's idealism and independence
of judgment to the army's peacetime routine in the sluggish, conservative
decades after 1815. His memoirs indicate that he looked up to Clausewitz,
who in turn liked him and--as the following letters show--trusted him
sufficiently to express his opinions at length and frankly, to the point
of openly criticizing Müffling's operational and strategic views.
The problems Müffling assigned to Roeder and others
on the staff toward the end of 1827 were, like the majority of his exercises,
defensive in nature. Prussia had become a major power, her territory now
stretching from the Niemen and the Republic of Cracow in the east to the
Rhine and beyond in the west; but larger, richer, better armed neighbors
lay on her borders. Neither a preventive strike nor an offensively waged
defensive were part of Müffling's thinking. In any future war, he
expected "an enemy to invade Prussia from west, east, or south. Political
weakness [would] compel Prussia to fight on the defensive on her own territory."3 Within these constraints, Roeder worked out his answers, and then forwarded
Müffling's exercises to Clausewitz, together with his solutions and
a solution to the first problem by another officer, who signed himself
merely with the initial M-possibly First-Lieutenant Count Monts
of the Great General Staff.
In a first reply, dated 22 December, Clausewitz critically
discussed the terms of Müffling's problem and then turned to the
solutions by M and Roeder. In a further letter two days later,
he analyzed Müffling's second exercise and Roeder's solution. Together
the two letters were well over 8,000 words in length. Clausewitz never
found it difficult to express his thoughts in writing, but the timing
of Roeder's request may have contributed to the extensiveness and thoroughness
of his response. Only a few months earlier he had decided that the manuscript
of On War, which had occupied him for nearly a decade, should be
"thoroughly reworked once more." The revisions he had in mind, would,
he hoped, "bring out the two types of war with greater clarity at every
point." By this he meant, on the one hand, wars waged for major objectives,
which can be achieved only by the far-reaching destruction of the enemy's
powers and will of resistance; and, on the other, limited wars waged for
limited ends. He also wanted his revisions to develop more fully another,
related point: "that war is nothing but the continuation of policy with
other means."4 Roeder's request thus reached Clausewitz during
a period of intense intellectual reappraisal, and he seems to have welcomed
the opportunity to apply his ideas on fundamental issues of war to specific
The opening paragraphs of Clausewitz's letter of the 22nd
criticize Müffling's first problem for its failure to indicate the
political purposes of the antagonists, and to establish the level of significance
the military operations possessed for the opposing governments. Without
this information, sensible strategic and operational planning was out
of the question. That this was not mere pedantry on Clausewitz's part,
that a limited conflict between Prussia and Austria lay as much in the
realm of the possible as the desperate struggles of the Silesian and Seven
Years Wars, is shown by the Campaign of 1778, the so-called "Potato War,"
between the two powers, which consisted primarily in feints and armed
demonstrations while a diplomatic settlement was worked out. Then, and
at all times, political interest largely determined-or should determine-the
scale and type of military effort. In the rather casual context of a private
letter to a younger comrade, Clausewitz tests and applies hypotheses that
eventually receive their ultimate formulation in the polished, compact
prose of the revised opening chapter of Book I of On War.
Since Clausewitz wrote in reaction to Müffling's exercises,
his letters focus on problems of defense, a circumstance that led the
German editor, when the letters were published in Berlin in 1937, to give
his edition the subtitle Thoughts on Defense. Actually, their scope
is far broader. Among important themes - besides the political nature
of war - are Clausewitz's arguments for the need for flexible planning,
balancing the geographic, economic, and social givens with the constantly
changing political situation, the strengths and weaknesses of the political
and military leadership, and other imponderables; his thesis of the reciprocal
relationship of attack and defense; his rejection of Müffling's static
doctrine in favor of an aggressive, active defense. Another recurring
theme is the dismissal of pet phrases such as "freedom of action" or "mobile
operations," which he feared were too often substitutes for hard thinking
about the realities of specific situations.
Today, over a century-and-a-half since the exchange between
Clausewitz and Roeder, we recognize the two letters as a valuable gloss
on major themes of On War. That On War does not, and should
not, contain the kind of extensive, systematic analysis of a particular
operational problem that is developed in the letters, further increases
their significance. Certainly, in many respects war has changed almost
beyond recognition. But the reader who takes the trouble to imagine the
realities of war at the beginning of the industrial revolution, will find
Clausewitz's analysis interesting in its own terms. Beyond that, the two
letters suggest how Clausewitz might have dealt with the different and
yet related problems of war today and in the future. If we take account
of the technological and tactical conditions of the 1820s, and think or
play through the strategic and operational solutions Clausewitz proposes
to Roeder, we will find ourselves face to face with the theorist in his
workshop. In new form we encounter, and perhaps come to understand better,
the interaction of practical knowledge, political and psychological insights,
and the ability to abstract and generalize without ever departing from
the hard facts, that lies at the core of Clausewitz's unique and lasting
ENDNOTES TO INTRODUCTION
1. The figures, which do not precisely coincide with the
number of positions authorized at the time, are taken from the Army List
for 1827: Rang- und Quartier-Liste der Königlich Preussischen
Armee, Berlin, 1827.
2. Roeder's memoirs, Für Euch, meine Kinder!, published
posthumously in Berlin in 1861, are an interesting source for the conduct
of operations in the Prussian army from the perspective of a junior staff
officer. They repeatedly mention Clausewitz; see, for instance, pp. 56,
305, 306, 314, 315, and 319.
3. Herbert von Böckmann, "Das geistige Erbe der Befreiungskriege,"
in Von Scharnhorst zu Schlieffen, ed. Friedrich von Cochenhausen,
Berlin, 1933, p. 122. Böckmann's essay contains a good analysis of
Müffling's ideas. See also "C. v. W." [i.e. Philipp Friedrich Karl
von Müffling], Betrachtungen über die grossen Operationen
und Schlachten der Feldzüge von 1813 und 1814, Berlin and Posen,
1825; and the discussion of Müffling as Chief of Staff in Kurt von
Priesdorff, Soldatisches Führertum, IV, Hamburg, [1937?],
4. Carl von Clausewitz, "Note of 10 July 1827," On War,
rev. ed., edited and translated by Mchael Howard and Peter Paret, Princeton,
1984, p. 69.
5. For a more extensive discussion of Clausewitz's thinking
at the time he received Roeder's letter, see Peter Paret, Clausewitz
and the State, Oxford and New York, 1976, pp. 378-81.
A NOTE ON THE TEXT
Our edition is based on Zwei Briefe des Generals von Clausewitz:
Gedanken zur Abwehr, a special issue of the Militärwissenschaftliche
Rundschau, a periodical published by the Ministry of War and the General
Staff of the Army, Berlin, 1937. The editor of the issue was not identified.
The originals of Clausewitz's letters were in the possession of the General
Staff archives (Kriegsarchiv des Grossen Generalstabes, Manuskripte, Kap.
IV, Nr. 243), and disappeared or were destroyed during the Second World
The German edition printed Clausewitz's letters verbatim,
but modernized his orthography and made a few changes in his punctuation.
Müffling's problems and the solutions by Roeder and M were
partly quoted, partly paraphrased. We have translated all quoted material,
but have restated the paraphrased passages in our own words.
With some adjustments, we have adopted the German editor's
practice of printing Clausewitz's letters in sections, each part after
the text by Müffling, Roeder, and M to which it refers.[*See
note on page vi.] The arrangement involves neither
deletions of, nor changes in, Clausewitz's wording, but should assist
the reader in following his argument.
Clausewitz's German, though precise and supple, is sufficiently
complex to demand a relatively free translation. He wrote in the sophisticated
idiom of the Goethe period, many of whose terms and expressions have undergone
some change in meaning in the intervening century-and-a-half, and should
not be translated literally. To convey the logical and rhetorical links
between sentences, which reflect Clausewitz's dialectic, often calls for
the substitution of words or the rephrasing of sentences.
In a very few instances, which we mark, we were unable
to resolve an ambiguity of meaning. Occasionally, to clarify an antecedent
or the meaning of a term, we have added an explanatory word or two in
brackets. Several footnotes were taken over from the 1937 German edition,
and identified as such. The remaining notes, signed "Eds.," are by the
present editors. Italicized words and phrases are Clausewitz's own.
Brief passages from the opening part of Clausewitz's first
letter are quoted in Peter Paret, Clausewitz and the State, Oxford
and New York, 1976, pp. 379-80; and in the same author's "The Genesis
of On War," in Carl von Clausewitz, On War, rev., ed., edited
and translated by Michael Howard and Peter Paret, Princeton, 1984, p.
7. A longer segment from the same letter is printed as an appendix in
Alexander Atkinson; Social Order and the General Theory of Strategy,
London, 1981, pp. 284-92, a version that is close to a literal translation
and consequently contains numerous errors and infelicities. These segments
aside, the present edition, to the best of our knowledge, is the first
publication of the material in English.
1. THE FIRST PROBLEM
The following conditions should be assumed [map 1]:
Relations between Austria and Prussia are strained. Saxony
is allied to Austria.
Austria has assembled her forces in Bohemia, Moravia, and
her German territories, and established magazines in Komotau, Aussig,
Gabel, Arnau, and Jung-Bunzlau.
Prussia has mobilized the Guards; the 2nd, 3rd, 4th, and
6th Army Corps; and the Silesian Division of the 5th Corps.1 The fortresses at Erfurt, Magdeburg, Wittenberg, Torgau, Küstrin,
Glogau, Schweidnitz, Silberberg, Neisse, and Kosel are supplied for six
On June 1 news arrives that the Austrian forces on the
Danube have set out for Bohemia. It is certain that Austria will take
the offensive once these units have reached their destinations. Austrian
strength is assumed to be 130,000 men; Saxon strength, 20,000.
Prussia can put five corps (150,000 men) in the field.
An additional half a corps and some reserve formations will garrison these
fortresses that are threatened.
Prepare a memorandum discussing the following:
a) Possible operations by Austria and her ally.
b) Analysis of these in time and space.
c) Which operation is most dangerous to Prussia?
d) The overall disposition of Prussian forces, from which
each of the Austrian moves can be countered.
e) A detailed assessment of each possible operation,
paying particular attention to the one deemed most dangerous.
2. M'S SOLUTION
The Austrians can advance 1. through Silesia; 2. between
the Oder and the Elbe, along the shortest route to Berlin; or 3. along
the left bank of the Elbe. Inferior to these three main options "are all
others, which seek to achieve their purpose by [dividing the army into]
a main and a subsidiary force."
The first option is improbable because it compels Austria
to reveal her intentions sooner,(1)2 lose "all advantages of
the initiative," (2), and concede the occupation of Saxony, and perhaps
also of parts of Bohemia, in exchange for Silesia.
The second option is the most likely, because if Prussia
places great value on protecting Berlin, she is forced into "the most
disadvantageous defensive" (3).
The Third option is "totally unthinkable," because the
enemy advancing along the left bank of the Elbe below Torgau lacks an
The following are estimates of the distances and times
required for these operations:
An Austrian advance from Vienna through Silesia covers
678 kilometers. After the Austrians cross the Silesian border, their further
intentions would become known in Berlin on about the 15th day of the operation.
An advance between Oder and Elbe covers 542 kilometers.
The Austrians leave Bohemia on the 14th day, and enter Prussian territory
on the 19th. Their further intentions would become known in Berlin on
the 20th day.
In the third case, an offensive along the left bank of
the Elbe covers 633 kilometers. If the enemy advances over Leipzig, and
intends to cross the Elbe at Dessau, he will reach Bitterfeld, halfway
between the Prussian frontier and Dessau, on the 22nd day (4).
The course of the Elbe from Bohemia to Wittenberg is nearly
the same as the route to Berlin. Torgau lies 113 kilometers from the point
where the Elbe crosses the Bohemian-Saxon border, and 113 kilometers from
Berlin. The Austrians can move a siege train by barge to Torgau, a very
considerable advantage for them. If they base their operations on this
possibility, this is the plan that poses the greatest threat to Prussia
The Austrian columns could advance on both banks of the
Elbe, with pontoon bridges between them, until they combine at the Prussian
border and operate jointly, something "the defensive system" (6) cannot
prevent. It follows from this a) that the Prussian army cannot take up
positions far from Torgau (7), and b) that it should not be pushed forward
to the Saxon border, so that "under all circumstances it retains its freedom
The general deployment of the Prussian army should be as
follows [map 2]: the 4th Corps at Eilenburg, the 3rd Corps at Torgau,
the 2nd Corps at Herzberg, the available units of the 5th Corps at Schlieben,
the Guards at Zossen, one half of the 6th Corps at Dobrilugk, the other
half of the 6th Corps will garrison the Silesian fortresses, and initially
is stationed at Neisse [the Silesian town (see map 1), not the river of
the same name. Eds.].
If the Austrians enter Silesia (1st option), the Prussian
right wing is given the mission to occupy Saxony, while the main body
of the army moves east to the Bober River, and for the time being remains
on the defensive. After Saxony has been overcome, an offensive can be
launched against the Austrian advance in Silesia.
In the second case, an Austrian advance between Oder and
Elbe, the Prussian army concentrates between Torgau and Herzberg. If the
enemy bypasses it as he advances on Berlin, which would be unlikely, the
Prussian army remains based on the Elbe (9), and attacks his rear.
In the third case, an Austrian advance on the left bank
of the Elbe, the Prussian army assembles on the right bank, its right
flank at Wittenberg, its left at Torgau. In this impregnable position,
with a bridgehead at each wing, the commanding general would be free to
seize the initiative as soon as he deemed it appropriate (10). If, however,
the enemy advances on both banks of the Elbe, the best area of concentration
for the Prussian army would be at Herzberg. If the Austrians remain divided,
the advance on the right bank should be attacked, since it presents the
greater threat. If the Austrians unite on the right bank, the fortresses
at Torgau and Wittenberg, as well as the Elbe and Elster rivers, offer
ample opportunity for mobile operations, until the time has come to offer
These recommendations presuppose that the loss of Berlin
would have no impact on the outcome of the war, and if necessary could
be tolerated by Prussia. If the Prussian army were ordered to cover Berlin,
which would mean withdrawing from the advantageous position on the Elbe,
its situation would become critical. For instance, a position at Luckau,
with the left wing on the Spreewald, would leave the right wing dangling
(11). The enemy could deny the Prussian army all freedom of movement (12),
or compel it "to resort without hesitation to battle" (13). A general
who wished to risk nothing could withdraw behind the Nuthe and Notte rivers,
but would then be thrown so completely on the defensive that the enemy
could immobilize him there, while laying siege to Torgau. (14). It would
be very difficult to relieve the fortress.
In conclusion, if the army withdraws from the Elbe, it
would not be possible to devise any truly promising defensive strategy
for it. If, on the other hand, the commanding general understands how
to exploit the river position, Austria "can achieve lasting advantages
only by winning a major battle" (15).
3. ROEDER'S SOLUTION
The Austrian army can advance 1. on the right bank of the
Elbe, over Rumburg and Zittau through Lusatia toward Berlin; 2. over the
Erz Mountains on the left bank of the Elbe into Saxony; or 3. through Silesia.
The Saxon army will probably assemble at Dresden, or, if the Prussians enter
the country before the Austrians, withdraw into or behind the Erz Mountains,
or entrench itself around Dresden. In all circumstances it seems advantageous
for the Austrians to join up with the Saxons as soon as possible, and either
the first or the second option would bring about an early junction.
Of these two options, the advance on the right bank of
the Elbe through Lusatia appears the more decisive(1)3 since
it is the shortest route to Berlin, and is free of Prussian fortresses,
which would be difficult to bypass or whose investment would require detaching
troops from the advance.
The second option lacks a definite objective. The Austrians
would probably choose it only if they wish to avoid battle at the beginning
of the campaign, and find it sufficient to control Saxony and the left
bank of the Elbe, and possibly to invest Erfurt (2).
In the third option, the Austrian objective could only
be to invest some of the Silesian fortresses. In that case, the Prussians
will certainly advance and force a battle. Even were the Austrians to
win this battle, they would still not gain the advantages they might derive
from the first option (3).
As to the time required for these operations: In the first
case (a march through Lusatia), the enemy could reach Hoyerswerda on the
21st day after leaving the Danube. In the second case (an advance on the
left bank of the Elbe), he would reach the Erz Mountains before Dresden
on the 20th day. In the third case (an attack on Silesia), if the enemy
were to move through Trautenau, he would reach Landeshut on the 17th day.
These estimates make no allowance for opposition. The situation would
be different if even weak Prussian detachments were to occupy the mountains,
and harass the enemy along his frontier or on the march.
"It must be apparent that the attack on Berlin through
Lusatia presents the greatest danger to Prussia, since, as mentioned above,
it takes the shortest route to the capital, through an area without fortresses"(4).
In considering how Prussia might best counter each of these
threats, we must leave out of account the possibility that Prussian units
stationed near the border enter Saxony and occupy the mountains before
the Austrians. A preventive strategy is excluded by the nature of the
exercise, which stipulates that Prussia must await the Austrian offensive.
Consequently it is proposed that the main Prussian force (the Guards and
the 2nd and 3rd corps) deploys between Hoyerswerda, Senftenberg, Spremberg,
and Kalau [map 2]. The 2nd Corps, particularly its Landwehr units, would
of course arrive later than the others. The 4th Corps assembles between
Elsterwerda and Mückenberg behind the Black Elster River, the Silesian
Division of the 5th Corps at Görlitz. The line units of the 12th
Division (6th Corps) march to Landeshut, while its Landwehr units garrison
the Silesian fortresses [off map 2, south-east of Görlitz].
Should the Austrians advance through Lusatia, the Prussian
commander-in-chief would learn on the evening of the 18th day after the
enemy had left the Danube that the Bohemian-Saxon border had been crossed.
He would then issue the following orders:
1. The division stationed at Hoyerswerda send out a strong
cavalry reconnaissance toward Bautzen, which takes up positions approximately
halfway to the town. It is not to become involved in a decisive action,
but return to Hoyerswerda if it encounters superior forces (6).
If the Austrians press their offensive toward Berlin, they
will be met by three-and-a-half corps (the Guards, 3rd and 4th corps and
the line units of the 2nd Corps), while the Görlitz corps operates
on their right flank. The terrain will determine where the main Prussian
army gives battle, and circumstances will dictate whether it is opportune
to await the arrival of the Landwehr of the 2nd Corps. If that seems necessary,
the battle could be fought between the Nuthe and Notte rivers, or perhaps
already at Luckau.
2. Reconnaissance detachments will be sent out from Senftenberg,
Mückenberg, and Elsterwerda.
3. The division at Senftenberg will deploy east behind
4. The 4th Corps, stationed between Elsterwerda and Mückenberg,
will deploy east between Mückenberg and Senftenberg, while continuing
to hold the river-crossing at Elsterwerda.
5. The line units of the 2nd Corps, having in the meantime
arrived at Luckau, will continue south to Alt-Böbern, and join
forces with the Guards.
6. The corps at Görlitz is ordered to engage weaker
enemy forces, avoid stronger formations, and keep open its line of retreat
into Silesia (7).
Should the Austrians choose the second option (an advance
on the left bank of the Elbe), they might cross the Elbe at Dresden. The
main Prussian army would then block their way behind the Black Elster
River, and the Görlitz corps would operate against their right flank.
If, on the other hand, the enemy proceeds further along the left bank,
the 4th Corps stands ready at Torgau, the rest of the main army withdraws
to the area around Torgau-Herzberg, with the Görlitz corps at Elsterwerda.
If the Austrians were then to cross the Elbe above Dresden, which is unlikely,
they should be attacked. If they do not cross, the Prussian forces on
the right bank must follow the enemy's movement on the left until the
Landwehr of the 2nd Corps arrives, and then take the offensive.
In the event the Austrians proceed over Trautenau to Landeshut
(the third option), their objective would be to lay siege to the Silesian
fortresses. To cover the siege, they would probably deploy along the Katzback
River [map 1]. The Prussians respond as follows: The units of the 12th
Division at Landeshut withdraw to Schweidnitz, to obstruct the enemy advance
as much as possible. "Depending on circumstances,"' they would then "reinforce
the threatened fortresses, and conduct mobile operations among them" (8).
The Görlitz corps confronts the enemy between the Bober and Katzback
rivers, while the main army moves east to join it (9). In the event that
a secondary enemy column is pushed through Zittau, all or part of the
Görlitz corps remains in place against it. An advance between the
Oder and Bober rivers is unlikely, nor would it be dangerous, since its
left flank would be exposed to counterattacks.
Whether a battle should be fought before the Landwehr of
the 2nd Corps arrives from the north by way of Guben, or whether battle
should be avoided until their arrival, depends on circumstances that cannot
be determined in advance (10).
4. CLAUSEWITZ TO ROEDER
You have asked me, dear friend, to give you my opinion of
the strategic problems and the two solutions you have sent me. I do so
with the understanding that you will treat my communication, which is
made purely in the interest of scholarship, as entirely confidential.
Forgive me if I start at the very beginning; but nowhere
is a basic understanding, the true and unambiguous recognition of inescapable
facts, so lacking as in the so-called science of strategy.5
War is not an independent phenomenon, but the continuation
of politics by different means. Consequently, the main lines of every
major strategic plan are largely political in nature, and their
political character increases the more the plan encompasses the entire
war and the entire state. The plan for the war results directly from the
political conditions of the two belligerent states, as well as from their
relations to other powers. The plan of campaign results from the war plan,
and frequently-if there is only one theater of operations-may even be
identical with it. But the political element even extends to the separate
components of a campaign; rarely win it be without influence on such major
episodes of warfare as a battle, etc. According to this point of view,
there can be no question of a purely military evaluation of a great
strategic issue, nor of a purely military scheme to solve it. That it
is essential to see the matter in this way, that the point of view is almost self-evident if we only keep the history of war in mind,
scarcely needs proof. Nevertheless, it has not yet been fully accepted,
as is shown by the fact that people still like to separate the purely
military elements of a major strategic plan from its political aspects,
and treat the latter as if they were somehow extraneous. War is nothing
but the continuation of political efforts by other means. In my view
all of strategy rests on this idea, and I believe that whoever refuses
to recognize that this must be so does not yet fully understand what really
matters. It is this principle that makes the entire history of war comprehensible,
which in its absence remains full of the greatest absurdities.
How then is it possible to plan a campaign, whether for
one theater of war or several, without indicating the political condition
of the belligerents, and the politics of their relationship to each other?
Every major war plan grows out of so many individual circumstances, which determine its features, that it is impossible
to devise a hypothetical case with such specificity that it could be taken
as real. We are not referring simply to trivialities, but to the most
important issues, which nevertheless have almost always been ignored.
For instance, Bonaparte and Frederick the Great are often compared, sometimes
without keeping in mind that one man ruled 40 million subjects, the other
5. But let me call attention to another, less noticeable and yet very
significant distinction: Bonaparte was a usurper, who had won his immense
power in a kind of perpetual game of chance, and who, for the greater
part of his perilous career, did not even possess an heir; while Frederick
the Great disposed of a true patrimony. Had nature given both men identical
psychological qualities, would they have acted in the same manner? Certainly
not, and that alone makes it impossible for us to measure them by the
same standard. In short, it is impossible to construct a hypothetical
case in such a way that we can say that what was left out was not essential.
We can of course think of many characteristics of the opposing armies
and states that are identical, and have the effect of canceling each other
out; but solving such problems would be no more than a useful exercise. Our best solutions could not be applied to real conflicts.
If, therefore, such exercises allow us to leave many things
out of consideration because we believe they neutralize each other, we
still cannot ignore those conditions that have brought about the war and
that determine its political purpose. The political purpose and the means
available to achieve it give rise to the military objective. This
ultimate goal of the entire belligerent act, or of the particular campaign
if the two are identical, is therefore the first and most important issue
that the strategist must address, for the main lines of the strategic
plan run toward this, goal, or at least are guided by it. It is one thing
to intend to crush my opponent if I have the means to do so, to make him defenseless and force him to accept my peace terms. It is obviously
something different to be content with gaining some advantage by conquering
a strip of land, occupying a fortress, etc., which I can retain or use
in negotiations when, the fighting stops. The exceptional circumstances
in which Bonaparte and France found themselves since the Wars of the Revolution,
allowed him to achieve major victories on almost every occasion, and people
began to assume that the plans and actions created by those circumstances
were universal norms. But such a view would summarily reject all
of the earlier history of war, which is absurd. If we wish to derive an
art of war from the history of war -and that is undoubtedly the only possible
way-we must not minimize the testimony of history. Suppose we find that
out of fifty wars forty-nine have been of the second kind- that is, wars
with limited objectives, not directed at the total defeat of the enemy
-then we would have to believe that these limitations reside in the nature
of war itself, instead of being in every case brought about by wrong ideas,
lack of energy, or whatever. We must not allow ourselves to be misled
into regarding war as a pure act of force and of destruction, and from
this simplistic concept logically deduce a string of conclusions that
no longer have anything to do with the real world. Instead we must recognize
that war is a political act that is not wholly autonomous; a true political
instrument that does not function on its own but is controlled by something
else, by the hand of policy.
The greater the extent to which policy is motivated by
comprehensive interests, affecting the very existence of the state, and
the greater the extent to which the issue is cast in terms of survival
or extinction, the more policy and hostile feelings coincide. As policy
dissolves into hostility, war becomes simpler; it proceeds according to
the pure concept of force and destruction, and satisfies whatever demands
can be logically developed from this concept, until all its component
parts come to possess the coherence of a simple necessity. Such
a war may seem entirely apolitical, and on that account has been
considered the norm. But obviously the political element exists here no
less than it does in other kinds of war. It merely coincides so completely
with the concept of force and destruction that it vanishes from sight.6
In light of this discussion, I have no need to prove that
wars exist in which the objective is even more circumscribed - a bare
threat, armed negotiations, or in the case of alliances, the mere pretext
of action [by one of the allies]. It would be unreasonable to maintain
that such wars are beneath the art of war. As soon as we concede that
logically some wars may not call for extreme goals, the utter destruction
of the enemy, we must expand the art of war to include all gradations
of military means by which policy can be advanced. War in its relation
to policy has above all the obligation and the right to prevent policy
from making demands that are contrary to the nature of war, to
save it from misusing the military instrument from a failure to understand
what it can and cannot do.
Consequently I must insist that the military goals of both
sides are stated whenever a strategic plan is drawn up. For the most part
these goals arise out of the political relations of the two antagonists
to each other, and to other states that may be involved. Unless these
relations are outlined, a plan can be nothing more than a combination
of temporal and spatial relationships, directed toward some arbitrary goal-a battle, siege, etc. To the extent that this goal cannot be shown
as necessary or superior to others, it can be challenged and contradicted
by other projects, without these coming any nearer the absolute truth
than did the first plan. That is, indeed, the history of all strategic
discussions until today. Everyone rotates within some arbitrary circle.
No one tries to push his argument back to the origins of the war that
is to be fought, to its true motive, to the one and only point where the
logical development and conclusion of the military operations can alone
originate. Whatever correct and effective strategic decisions are made,
result from the instinctive tact of talented commanders, who with a glance
penetrate and assess a mass of circumstances. This instinct suffices for
action, but obviously not for analysis, even though action is something
far greater than the laborious unfolding and laying bare of facts.
You see from this, dear friend, how little I can make of
your assignment.7 Above all, I must ask: do the Austrians intend,
or could they intend, to defeat and disarm Prussia with 150,000 men, or
would they be satisfied with a limited objective? In the Seven Years War
they were unquestionably in a position to achieve the former; their primary
means would, have been an advance through Saxony and Lusatia on Berlin.
They failed to do so, and this failure was rightly counted as a great
error on their part, just as it was considered an error that they directed
their operations more toward Silesia than Lusatia. But if circumstances
are such that the total defeat of the Prussian military monarchy is not possible, then an advance through Lusatia toward Berlin would
no longer be the most suitable operation and consequently no longer
present the greatest danger to Prussia.8
You will agree, of course, that in circumstances in which
Austria has only enough power to seize some territory with one or a few
fortresses, and in which only a modest plan promises success, while
a more ambitious one promises none because it disregards the means
available, the modest Austrian plan would carry the greatest threat to
Prussia. You can see that the question as to which operation is the most
dangerous assumes an aura of universality, in this problem as well as
in both solutions, that it does not really possess, an error that recurs
constantly in a strategic discussion, with the result that general strategic
arguments nearly always prove inapplicable to reality. The greatest threat
for Prussia can only be determined if we know what the Austrian objective
can be or will be. In the present instance this objective must either
result from a definition of the overall political situation, or it must
be arbitrarily specified as a given of the exercise. Both the problem
as well as the solutions ascribe an obscure (that is, unarticulated) importance
to the capital city, which in reality Berlin cannot possess. The Seven
Years War demonstrated this clearly enough.9 Equally obscure
is the notion, involved in the first assumption, that an Austrian thrust
through Lusatia would, so to speak, split the Prussian monarchy into two
parts, because if our army were defeated and relentlessly pursued, it
would have to decide whether to withdraw behind the Oder or escape across
the lower Elbe. This would be a serious crisis -but only in the face of
an enemy able to carry out such a great project. It can hardly
be doubted that for the Austrians such an operation, flanked from Bohemia
by Silesia on the right, and on the left by the Elbe fortresses, would
be very difficult. It could only succeed if the difficulties were
offset by a great preponderance of force. Of this preponderance
the problem has nothing to say; it appears on the contrary to assume a
kind of equilibrium of strength.
Furthermore it seems to me that this problem assigns
undue significance to the question as to which Austrian operation poses
the greatest threat. Attack and defense determine their measures reciprocally.
But surely in theory-that is, for the purposes of general analysis-the
sequence of ideas arising from this interaction must start somewhere?
Quite so. The sequence begins, I am convinced, with the defensive, in
part because peacetime military arrangements are directed primarily toward
defense, which thus precedes the offensive; in part because offensive
plans depend on the disposition of the defense, without which they would
have no factual basis. The defensive, on the other hand, does not lack
the necessary data in the absence of an attack, because these reside in
the overall character and circumstances of the country. At the general
level, then, the main characteristics of defensive operations develop
directly out of existing conditions. In specific cases, however, this
is by no means always necessary, but only if one cannot discover the
enemy's intentions early enough to take the required countermeasures.
This certainly does not seem to be the case here. From the direction of
their advance, the location of their magazines, the mobilization of their
transport, and other information, one would soon learn whether the Austrians
were directing their main force toward Silesia or Saxony. Whether they
intend to advance along one bank of the Elbe or the other, they might
perhaps conceal until the last moment. But this would make very little
difference to us since the slightest movement right or left on our part
would compensate for it. If, as is most natural with respect, to our peacetime
deployment, we assemble our three Silesian divisions at Neisse, Liegnitz,
and Sprottau respectively, the Second and Third Corps and the Guards in
Lower Lusatia, and the Fourth Corps on the right bank of the Elbe at Torgau,
we can await information that we would certainly receive on the, direction
of the enemy's main force, and then lead our main force against it. For
this reason it seems to me that this particular exercise ranges quite
unnecessarily into the realm of speculative reflection. Wherever concrete
conditions are decisive, such speculations, which all too often degenerate
into hair-splitting, are no longer of interest. If the question of Prussia's
greatest military weakness is to be raised, the problem would have to
be totally recast.
Having now shown that the exercise is too incomplete to
permit a solution that is not totally arbitrary and furthermore that the
particular issue that is supposed to be the key to a solution -namely
the question as to the most dangerous line of advance -would in practice
never form a basis for our actions. I shall proceed to the individual
points of the second [M's] solution. I shall analyze these points
historically, since the solution is too illogical to permit a strictly
Critique of M's Solution
1. Why would an attack on Silesia reveal Austrian intentions
sooner than attacks elsewhere? Because the border is somewhat farther
from Berlin? That is too petty and insignificant a consideration to influence
the choice of operational lines. If the Austrians set out from Vienna
and the Danube toward our border, we will certainly grasp that we are
their target, and prepare ourselves to be in the right place at the right
time. We would not delay our measures until the Austrians had crossed
2. The advantage of initiative here means the advantage
of surprise. Only when surprise is present does the initiative confer
an advantage; otherwise, in war as in card games, it is a disadvantage.11 This inheres in the nature of things, but for want of space cannot be
discussed here. If Berlin is to be surprised, this can certainly
be achieved more easily by way of Saxony; if it should be Silesia, that
would not be the case. Obviously the Austrians can attack us much earlier
in southern Silesia than in the Mark Brandenburg.
3. The reason for the Austrians to prefer an advance on
Berlin is that if Prussia places a high value on protecting her
capital she will be forced into a most disadvantageous defensive.
On the mere possibility that Prussia would make this mistake, the Austrians
are supposed to base their line of advance. Again, this consideration
is far too insignificant. And why should Prussia's defensive be most disadvantageous?
What an empty phrase! A strong position behind the Notte and Nuthe rivers,
two fortresses on the enemy's left flank [Torgau and Wittenberg], an entire
province [Silesia] on his right -how can anyone call that disadvantageous?
I do not say that this is where we should make a stand; I merely want
to show that the reason given here itself needs justification.
4. What is the purpose of indicating the three distances
from Vienna to Berlin and to two points on the Prussian frontier? At most
the figures might be used to determine how far forward we could assemble
our forces. But the author does not use them for this purpose, to which,
in any case, the distance from Vienna to Berlin would be irrelevant. It
seems as though this distance is meant to demonstrate the danger for Prussia
of the second option. But the author does not draw this conclusion; rather
he believes the danger to derive from something else -the Elbe and Torgau.12 In the end, however, that maneuver [the siege of Torgau] leaves the importance
of Berlin quite out of the account. If Berlin really were the keypoint
of Prussia's entire, defensive system, its distance from Vienna would
not matter very much, since this situation -unlike some other subordinate
strategic options - demands more than a mere race.13 That Prussia
would not learn the direction of the Austrian offensive until her frontier
had been crossed, is an arbitrary, improbable assumption, totally unsuited
to provide a premise for strategic analysis. I confess, then, that I find
these calculations of time and space unnecessary on the one hand, and
without practical value on the other.
5. The fact that Austria can move a siege train by water
to Torgau is relevant only to a siege of Torgau. Why it should pose the greatest danger to the Prussian state would first have to be demonstrated.
Again this is merely an unsupported assertion. There may be cases
when a siege of Torgau would be more dangerous to the Prussian state than
a siege of Glatz, but the opposite could also be true. If Torgau is invested
without great superiority of force, success would hardly be conceivable.
The then becomes the best means for Prussia to gain a general siege strategic
victory. So long as the relationship between the two sides is not more
fully specified, we cannot really think about these issues in a practical
way. My analysis merely tries to show that the proposition on which the
author's reasoning rests is, as so very often in strategic theorizing,
an entirely unproven thesis, a mere phrase.
6. The Austrians are supposed to be able to proceed safely
on both banks of the Elbe until they reach the vicinity of Dresden.14 This is inferred from the defensive system of Prussia. If by this
term the author means the Prussian intention to fight the campaign on
the strategic defensive, then his inference is false. If circumstances
were as described, nothing would be more compatible with this intention
than to attack one of the Austrian columns before the two could unite.
If the author means a specific defensive system, which might perhaps consist
in a deliberate withdrawal, we would have to assume that this system,
which incidentally is not mentioned in the assignment, had been betrayed
to the Austrians. Otherwise they would always have to accept the possibility
of having to pay a price for separating their forces. If we consider that
while the Austrians are assembling their army on the Eger, the Prussians
assemble theirs on the Elster, it is hard to predict with certainty who
would arrive first in the vicinity of Dresden. And I doubt that the Austrian
commander would risk an advance in two columns on both banks of the Elbe.
Instead of envisioning the situation of both armies shortly before the
campaign begins, and asking what the most advisable course of action for
each would be, a general concept, namely the concept of the defensive, once again is taken as the basis for a conclusion that is not only
without practical value, but also inherently wrong.
7. The conclusion the author now draws, that the Prussians
should place themselves near Torgau, again seems entirely illogical to
me. It is not clear why the Prussians could not occupy more advanced positions
and withdraw from them in time to concentrate on Torgau. Besides, the
conclusion assumes an intention that must at least be discussed, since
it is by no means inevitable -I mean the intention of the Prussian commander
to cover Torgau and prevent a siege. Far from being a universal necessity,
this intention is fundamentally contrary to the nature of things. Fortresses
exist to be besieged. A siege weakens the enemy, and hastens the moment
when we can defeat him more easily. This is a natural sequence in theory,
and in all wars fought over major issues it is also the natural course
of events. On the other hand, in limited wars, the play of balanced forces
frequently causes armies to cover fortresses. The history of war is full
of examples. It would take me too far afield to disentangle this seeming
anomaly here, and to show that it is entirely, natural and justified.
I only assert that in the present case this intention [of preventing a
siege of Torgau] is not justified, and cannot be conceded as a general,
8. What does it mean to say that the Prussian army should
retain its freedom of action? Obviously the farther forward its position,
the greater its freedom of action, since by advancing it will increase
the number of possible lines of retreat in its rear. The phrase "freedom
of action" is among the most pernicious of all strategic cliches, because
it is used more often than any other, and no one feels obliged to define
its actual meaning.
In general, then, the author concludes that the best position
for the Prussian army lies between Herzberg and Torgau, where, in one
way or another, it can offer the most effective resistance. I have no
wish to criticize this conclusion in and of itself, only to point out
that it bears little or no relation to the author's construct of strategic
theorizing and calculations of time and space. The Prussian army is strong
in this position because of the Elbe, the three fortresses, the sheltered
character of the whole deployment, and because the Silesian border runs
parallel to the enemy's lines of communication. These things can be said
in a few words, sound common sense will accept them, and require no ingenious,
long drawn-out strategic deduction.
9. Since so few facts are given [in the problem], it is
impossible to determine whether a flanking position with our back to the
Elbe would be superior to any other. The Prussian army appears to find
itself in such an excellent strategic position here that it can evade
an attack in three directions toward the Elbe, toward Berlin, and toward
Silesia -and still retain the advantage of posing a strategic threat to
the enemy, either on his two flanks or in his rear. Nevertheless, the
army's main line of retreat should certainly be determined, that is, the
line to be used in case of extreme misfortune, with which all other operational,
decisions ought to be correlated. The fact that at Vilna [in 1812] the
Russians were still undecided whether to withdraw their main force toward
St. Petersburg or toward Moscow nearly led to the disaster of the army's
surrender in the open field. If it were considered absolutely necessary
to cover Berlin, a flanking position so near the city would not be appropriate.
I believe, however, that protecting Berlin is not an essential element
of the Prussian defense; consequently in a great many cases, which need
of course to be studied in detail, a flanking position would prove highly
10. A position behind the Elbe, just as behind any large
river, is tactically unassailable. The strength of the position
does not depend on the two fortresses. But we do not gain a favorable
battlefield by deploying behind the Elbe, because we force the enemy to
by-pass us. It is only from this compulsion that our advantages
11. In how many positions do both wings rest on major strategic
strong points? To have one such point is already worth a great
deal. Once again, the reason why we should not deploy at Luckau, the lack
of support for the right wing, is one of those strategic terms that cannot
bear close inspection. Whether we might not find some tactical support
for the right wing [e.g., some farm buildings, a small rise in the ground,
a swamp. Eds.] would have to be discovered on the spot. How many battles
are fought in which only one wing of the defender's position is secure!
12. The enemy could no more determine the movement of the
Prussian army at Luckau than anywhere else. This is one of the most abominable
strategic clichés. Basically it says absolutely nothing, since,
after all, the actions and movements of one commander do always strongly
influence the conduct and movement of the other. If the statement means
anything at all, it can only be that one general can compel the other
to follow him everywhere, to submit to him wholly, to deprive him even
of the possibility of indirect resistance by means of retaliatory countermovements.
This does not in any sense seem to me to hold true for a Prussian army
at Luckau, and we may assume that had the author developed his ideas in
greater detail, their inadequacy and one-sidedness would have become obvious.
13. Battle is here presented as something evil,
at least that battle that is resorted to without hesitation. Here
we enter the morass of muddled concepts that made up the general-staff
science of the Old Regime. Against a determined enemy, who does not shy
away from fighting, battle is the only effective means of resistance.
We may fight him under the most advantageous circumstances possible, but
we must be resolved to fight. In such cases there is no substitute for
battle. If the defender has occupied an exceptionally strong position,
he will force the attacker to bypass him. If this position is well-placed
strategically, to be bypassed offers an advantage to the defense. But
the advantage becomes reality only if it catches the attacker in the process, en flagrant delit, as Bonaparte would say. In short, a battle is
inevitable: either a battle in the tactical defensive, if the attacker
finds bypassing too dangerous, and therefore proceeds to attack our position;
or an offensive battle, if the attacker pursues his [original]
objective and risks bypassing our position. If the tactical features and
strategic location of the defender's position are so strong that the enemy
dares to do neither and gives up his advance entirely, then this success
without battle arises only from the strictly necessary presupposition that the defender was in fact prepared to fight.
If the attacking army does not advance resolutely, if
it does not plan an energetic offensive, if it has taken the field merely
to await some favorable opportunity, and will only attempt something should
this opportunity arise, then the defense can certainly do likewise.
Against such an opponent, the defense may make it its business to avoid
battle entirely, to regard it as an evil, and to direct all actions
and movements toward ensuring that the advantageous conditions for battle
that the enemy seeks will not occur.
It is important not to confuse the two cases. To expect
favorable results from passive resistance against a determined opponent
goes against the nature of things. On the contrary, nothing is so certain
as that such an approach would lead to half-measures, wasted time, confusion,
and-following this splendid purgatory -to the most complete defeat.
All this being said, the advance on Luckau and Herzberg
surely suggests that the Austrians are seeking a decisive battle.
14. If the Prussian commander retreats north over Torgau
simply to bring this fortress into play, obliging the Austrians to besiege
it, and then, after they have been weakened by the siege, to attack them,
I would find this most sensible. In that case, however, the Prussian commander
has no need to withdraw behind the Nuthe River. Rather he will try to
halt behind the Elster. Should the Austrians want to drive him off and
force him either to withdraw behind the Nuthe or to give battle, the Prussian
commander may prefer to accept battle, even if the enemy had not weakened
himself significantly by laying siege to Torgau. In light of the general
circumstances there seems to be no reason to shrink from this battle,
while a retreat to the vicinity of Berlin would be undertaken only on
the most pressing grounds.
But even supposing such grounds were present, I would not
find the retreat as disadvantageous as the author does. He says that the
Prussian commander would be thrown back on the most disadvadvantageous
defensive, a well known, ready-made figure of speech from the strategist's
workshop.15 If the expression disadvantageous refers
to the defense itself, the statement is clearly wrong, for a defensive
position behind such a line of marshes as exists along the Nuthe cannot
possibly be considered a disadvantage. Should the expression refer to
the fact that if the enemy lays siege to Torgau, defensive operations
would no longer be appropriate, and would therefore be detrimental, then
I cannot persuade myself that our army would find it all that difficult
to advance from this position by one route or another to relieve Torgau.
15. Here we must first ask, what is the meaning of leaving
the Elbe? Does the author mean, evacuate the entire area, and let the
Austrians take Torgau at leisure; or is he merely referring to a situation
in which one wing of the army is not at all times covered by the river?
Again, unfortunately, we are dealing with jargon, which, as usual, bears
only a faint resemblance to well defined, specific concepts. Even a retreat
behind the Nuthe would make the subsequent relief of Torgau neither impossible
nor very difficult, as anyone will agree who thinks of the numerous ways
for doing this that are open to the Prussian army. Only if the Prussians
were to take no steps to relieve the fortress, could the Austrians occupy
Torgau without a battle and so acquire an enduring advantage. But this
is an empty supposition. If, on the other hand, the author means that
as long as we retreat at least one day's march from the Elbe, the Austrians
would succeed in taking Torgau, he lacks all basis in fact. After all,
we can advance from any point to attack them.
In general, it is not clear how an attacking army can achieve
a permanent advantage over a defending force that is its equal physically
and in morale, without defeating it in battle. If such a victory
is necessary to the success of the Austrian campaign, this necessity is
not a consequence of any particular strategic combination on the part
of the Prussians, but follows quite simply from the nature of things. That the author again regards battle as an evil, an incongruity, reflects the same confusion that we have discussed under point 13,
With this I conclude my remarks on Solution M. I
feel only too keenly how cursory they are, and how much they may leave
unclear. But to make good these failings, I would need a great deal more
You see, my dear friend, I have scarcely left any propositions
unchallenged that are meant to yield a solution to the problem. It is
not so much the solution as this type of arguing that I should feel obliged
to attack, were I competent to do so.16 I hate the sort of
technical language that leads us to believe we can reduce the individual
case to a universal, to the inevitable. Strategists manipulate these terminologies
as if they were algebraic formulae, whose accuracy has long been established,
brief formulae that may be used as substitutes for the original reality.
But these phrases do not even represent clear and definite principles.
Rather they are nebulous, ambiguous expressions, whose true meaning remains
open to question. This is no accident. Their vagueness is intended, because
they did not derive from what is essential and could be presented as universal
truth. Consequently the inventors of these terms found it natural to allow
a certain latitude in their meaning.
I recognize that my finding fault with more or less everything
in Solution M conveys a strong impression of a mind already made
up. But I am convinced that I do not hold preconceived opinions, nor could
I, because I do not follow a particular [strategic] system, and demand
nothing but the plain, straightforward truth, the simple linking of cause
and effect. I hope you will not suspect that mere contrariness or, worse,
personal antipathy are involved. Pointless contradiction is utterly repugnant
to me; and with respect to the author, I am truly sorry not to find him
farther along the road toward a natural view of strategic issues, a road
I have pursued for many years with the greatest enthusiasm, because despite
everything I agree with his practical judgments more often perhaps than
with anyone else's.17
Critique of Roeder's Solution
After all this, my analysis of your solution will require
far less time, I fully approve of its simplicity and realism. You set
up no scaffolding of superfluous circumstances; your reasoning is not
based on mere clichés. But let me be more specific about particular
1. You are right to characterize the operation through
Lusatia as the most decisive. This is the way to put it. The most
decisive operation, however, is not always the one that best suits the
enemy's circumstances. Of course, the exercise demands that in planning
the preliminary concentration of the [Prussian] army, you determine [in
the abstract] what attack would be the most decisive. But, as I have already
noted, this would not be necessary in practice.18
2. Your description of this option is accurate. It proves
the soundness of your point of view that you characterize the option as
a possibility and not simply as an outright error, as does Solution M.
3. This also holds true for the third operational option.
But your assertion that for the Austrians a victorious battle would be
more advantageous in Lower Lusatia than at the foot of the Silesian mountains
is based on the one-sided assumption that the Austrians are in the position
to fight a war aiming at major decisions.
4. I have already indicated my objections and qualifications
to this assertion.
5. Your calculations of times are simple and sound, without
the false implications of the other solution. Such calculations are, of
course, always necessary; but in this case they lack the great significance
that the problem seems to attribute to them. Nothing is less likely than
that the Austrians would march from the Danube to our border in one fell
swoop. Therefore we should not be concerned that the Landwehr units of
the 2nd Corps would not be available. But that you have emphasized - or
rather, mentioned - this possibility makes your calculations superior
to those of the other solution, since it is only on account of such
possibilities that these calculations are necessary at all.
6. I have nothing to say against the details of our disposition
given here, except that such specifics cannot reasonably be required or
given in advance. With the information that the enemy has crossed our
border will naturally come much other news about the number and strength
of his columns. Only then will we decide the details of our disposition.
7. I consider this eccentric deployment the one true fault
of your answer.19 In such a confined space, at a moment when
a great battle may be expected, a divided deployment is always an error,
unless it is justified by a preponderance of force. Nothing can
protect such a deployment from the danger that the enemy, with one and
the same army, may defeat the separate parts one after another, as the
famous campaign of 1796 [Napoleon's, in Italy] with its five distinct
phases has shown. Over longer distances such an enveloping form of attack
or defense becomes less dangerous, and if distances are really great,
as in Russia in 1812, a division of forces may cease to be dangerous at
all, and its special characteristic will then naturally become advantageous.
In 1813 the distances were fairly large, and yet there was always the
greatest danger that Blucher would be overwhelmed by the main enemy army,
which, in fact, did defeat Schwarzenberg at Dresden. The enveloping form
of attack is always the more decisive, the one that leads to greatest
success, but for that reason also the riskier, in which success
is less certain. Success and danger always stand side by side,
and form the dynamic law of war. If we wish to increase the first, the
second rises as well, and it then becomes, a question of whether or not
this is in accord with the needs and particular characteristics of our
situation. Thus, if our circumstances do not allow us to take great risks,
we can increase our success only when danger itself is not great, that
is, when we possess a preponderance of physical and moral force. This
utterly simple principle, grounded directly in the concepts [of success
and danger] themselves, allows for clear and definite solutions in a great
variety of strategic questions, over which, in the usual way people argue
It is very tempting, if one of our territories lies to
one side or behind the enemy advance, to base a considerable force there.
This idea has seduced you, but one must resist. That is not to say that
we must give up the advantage of this circumstance entirely. Rather we
ought to detach a few small units of rangers, whose combined strength
is not so essential to the whole that it could not be spared in a decisive
battle.20 In an army of 120,000 men, for instance, 5,000 men
would not be missed. But these 5,000, in combination with the forces in
the area that they could bring into action-Landwehr units, garrison troops,
reservists, etc. -can act very effectively against the enemy's lines of
operation. This type of operation against an attacker's lines of communication,
which arises, in a sense, automatically as he advances, leaving territory
to his left and right that he cannot occupy, is the only kind that offers
an absolute advantage. It is a unique advantage of the strategic defensive,
but it cannot be achieved by detaching significant forces to act against
the enemy's flanks, since those who fight on his flank cannot fight on
8. The division's war of maneuver is one of those miserable
catchphrases. You will forgive me if I say that you did not form a clear
conception of what this would mean.
9. I believe I have already said that if the Austrians
were to advance on Silesia rather than Saxony, we would discover it early
enough to assemble our main army in Silesia itself, rather than first
in Lower Lusatia. The problem is at fault here.
10. Your conclusion is very sensible, and shows that you
regard the major battle from the correct point of view. And now, enough.
Perhaps I have already worn you out. If I have now and again failed to
make myself understood, or if I have not been able to convince you on
every point, we can certainly continue our discussion in person.
5. THE SECOND PROBLEM
For the purposes of this exercise, the conditions described
in the first problem are modified in several respects. First, it is assumed
that the Prussian troops will not cross the Saxon border, but must await
the Austrian attack on their own soil. They must therefore forego all
offensive operations at the start of the campaign, even though, if time
permitted, these might prove most advantageous. Furthermore, it is assumed
that the entire Austrian force will advance between the Elbe and Spree
Analyze two possible deployments for the Prussian army,
which consists of five corps of 30,000 men each [map 3]:
a) Four army corps are stationed between Senftenberg and
Spremberg, with the fifth corps at Görlitz;
b) all five corps assemble along the Elbe near Torgau:
One corps on the left bank, one corps at Torgau, and three corps on
the right bank between the Elbe and Black Elster rivers.
Compare these two deployments.
6. ROEDER'S SOLUTION
Roeder addressed the problem by first analyzing the specific
steps taken at the beginning of the campaign in each of the two cases;
then by comparing the two opening stages of the campaign; and finally
by drawing a conclusion from his comparison.
If, Roeder argued, Austrians were faced with the Prussian
deployment given in the first case (four corps between Senftenberg and
Spremberg, the fifth at Görlitz), they would have to leave a significant
covering force at Görlitz, perhaps as much as one-and-a-half corps,
since the Prussians there threaten the Austrian line of retreat. If the
Austrians were to lose a battle, this threat could become particularly
dangerous. It would probably be impossible to defeat the Prussians at
Görlitz, who would avoid engaging a superior force. (1)21 After detaching the covering force, the Austrians would retain three-and-a-half
corps for their offensive. How should they be employed? To bypass the
left wing of the main Prussian force with an advance between the Spree
and Neisse rivers is out of the question. (2) If they bypass the right
wing, the Austrians could cross the Black Elster between Elsterwerda and
Senftenberg. But the terrain would be difficult for them, and we could
attack them under favorable conditions. If they cross below Elsterwerda,
they would have the Elbe and Torgau to their rear, and a battle would
probably be fought between Senftenberg and Spremberg.
Should the Prussian army lose this battle, it would probably
have to retreat to Berlin. A good position can be taken up on the heights
near the city; if we did not feel strong enough to accept battle there,
we would have to withdraw behind the Havel River. (3) If in the meantime
the enemy lays siege to Torgau with half a corps, and we bring up reinforcements,
we would outnumber him and could take the offensive.
If the entire Prussian army deploys on the Elbe (the second
case), an Austrian advance on the left bank of the river is unlikely.
If, on the other hand, the Austrians cross the Black Elster and advance
on its right bank, they would lose direct communications with their country,
and it isn't clear what they would gain. Consequently this move is also
unlikely. (4) An Austrian advance between the Elbe and the Black Elster
is their most likely move. How should we respond? We can deploy either
between the Elbe and the Black Elster, (5) or before the bridgehead at
Torgau. (6) We might also cross to the left bank of the Elbe, and take
up a position near Torgau. In this case the enemy could bridge the Elbe
at Mühlenberg, cross to the left bank, and advance. The Prussians,
however, would still have the option to avoid battle. If they accept battle
and lose, they might cross to the right bank at Torgau, and retreat to
These two defensive plans are comparable in several respects.
In either case the enemy must win a battle before he can besiege Torgau.
In both cases a Prussian victory would seem to lead to similar results.
A Prussian defeat between Senftenberg and Spremberg would take the army
further from Torgau, because it would have to withdraw to Berlin. But
the retreat would leave the army in touch with the main part of its homeland,
and thus with its reinforcements. Stationing one corps at Gör1itz
seems advisable, because it would threaten the Austrian flank. The force
should, however, be commanded by a skillful, energetic general. If such
a man is not available, it would be preferable not to detach the corps.
It would help us to choose between the two plans, if we
knew the exact lay of the land where battles are likely to occur. One
would also like to know more about the environment of the fortresses at
Torgau and Wittenberg, before deciding whether our forces should be deployed
In conclusion, if Görlitz were fortified it would
offer a position that combines the advantages of both plans. We would
threaten the enemy flank, whatever he might do; we would retain contact
with the main mass of Prussian territory; and we would remain free to
turn toward Silesia. (9) Of course, we would not benefit to the same extent
from the advantages of the Elbe with its two fortresses. The choice of
our deployment would also depend on whether we could expect to be reinforced
by the 1st Corps from East Prussia, and the 7th and 8th corps from the
7. CLAUSEWITZ TO ROEDER
24 December 1827
Believing that I had discharged my debt to our friendship
by the lengthiness of my remarks if by nothing else, I now see that you
call on me for a further exercise. I shall take up pen again, not without
the fear that your patience has already been exhausted by my first letter.
In that letter I pointed out the extent to which the first
problem lacks the specific information that alone would permit a solution
that is not wholly arbitrary.22 The second problem is an extension
of the first. Admittedly, it is more detailed, not as generalized; nevertheless
its terms are such that the specifics I missed in the first exercise would
also be very significant here. On the other hand, we see that as the conditions
of the exercise are presented in greater detail, the specific arrangements
of the enemy assume increasing importance. Since it is impossible to generate
all essential facts in a hypothetical exercise, it is evident that the
more detailed our account, the more illusory it becomes. We make any number
of tacit assumptions, and develop an analysis that in the end might not
be relevant to one case in a hundred. Reasoning of this kind may still
be useful to train our judgment, of course. But it is clear that such
an analysis can never be satisfactorily refuted by equally arbitrary arguments.
If we are contentious we won't be able to reach agreement; if we honestly
seek a solution we will eventually fall into a disagreeable state of perplexity,
in which we might almost despair of the validity of any theory whatever.
By positing two different means of execution, and asking
you to choose between them, the second exercise expects you to criticize
each by means of the other. This seems to me particularly inappropriate
since the two approaches differ only in one unimportant point. In any
strategic problem, but most especially in those that pose alternatives and ask us to choose between them, I feel the need to reduce the issue
to general principles, that is to reveal the relationship between one
or the other option and the facts that inevitably result from the nature
of the situation. In this way, at least, we can recognize the nature of
each measure, and its unique characteristics. In the event that we must
execute one scheme or the other in real life, we can then decide for ourselves
whether the characteristics of one or the other are better suited to our
requirements and circumstances. In short, when we evaluate hypothetical
plans, we must suspend final judgment on many points, while on others
we can be conclusive, because they violate conditions that are set down
clearly enough in the problem. I shall now offer such comments on the
various aspects of your analysis.
You say that a superior enemy force could not defeat the
Prussian corps at Görlitz, or rather, you assume it, and indeed
it is no more than an assumption. Both experience and the nature [or logic]
of the situation teach us that it is very difficult to avoid a developing
battle if we are to maintain contact with the enemy and miss no favorable
opportunities. An enveloping attack (what Jomini calls operating on exterior
lines) is therefore always very dangerous, and is warranted only by a
preponderance of force or the knowledge that the enemy is not seeking
a decisive action. Nor can you be certain that the enemy will always keep
one-and-a-half corps against your corps at Görlitz. When he is about
to attack your main force, he may leave only half a corps there. In any
case, the force at Görlitz does not present all that much of a danger
for him, since in an emergency he can withdraw to the Elbe and by means
of a pontoon bridae cross the river below Dresden as well. The calculations
pertaining to the corps at Görlitz are thus extremely uncertain;
it would be a mistake to trust them rather than the far safer method of
maintaining a unified force.
In strategy we must distinguish between outflanking and bypassing a position. It is one thing to envelop a position
with individual corps or even with the whole army, and attack it from
the flank or rear. It is obviously something quite different to bypass
the position in order to pursue the object of the attack, without regard
to the enemy being left behind. In the first case, the position retains
its strategic effectiveness; indeed, the attack demonstrates that it cannot
be ignored, and it only remains for the tactical features of the position
to prove their strength. In the other case, the position has lost its
strategic effectiveness. It is extremely rare that an attacker can bypass
a position that isn't very badly situated. But it is equally rare that
a position cannot be outflanked. In most cases the defender must be prepared
for this eventuality, and make his arrangements accordingly. A position
that is given up because it is being enveloped, is hardly worth taking
in the first place. I do not think the Austrians could bypass your position
either on the right or the left. They could certainly envelop it
more easily on the right than on the left; but you cannot assert that
enveloping it on the left would be out of the question.
3. A retreat behind the Havel River would indicate that
we intend to base ourselves on the western part of the monarchy. If that
were not the case, the move would be entirely inappropriate.
4. Presumably the real question is whether the Austrians
if they want to carry out their offensive, can do anything other than
fight a battle. My answer is that they can't. First, because they are
not stronger than we are; secondly, because they are entirely surrounded
by our territories, and thus clearly at a disadvantage. Their ability
to force us to withdraw and then to besiege and capture Torgau is reduced
by these two circumstances to such an extent that it would make little
sense for them to base their plans on this possibility. If they want to
fight, they must cross to the right bank of the Elbe where we are, and
naturally they would prefer to cross somewhere out of our reach. But it
is obviously wrong to hold that they could not seek battle by advancing
on the right bank with part or all of their army. Crossing the river would
complicate their communications; but, as I have just indicated, they can
hardly bypass us or force us back [on the left bank].23
5. If we deploy between the Elbe and the Elster, it would
have to be south of Torgau. Hemmed in between two rivers that present
real obstacles to movement, the one because of its size, the other by
the nature of its banks, places us in a situation in which our lines of
retreat are exceptionally limited, a fact that exerts a very undesirable
influence on the conduct of battle. If, to take advantage of a [tactically]
strong position, we choose to fight in this area, we should at least keep
open a line of retreat in Torgau itself. That demands that we deploy south
of the town, and not too near to it.
6. Deploying before Torgau, with our backs against the
town, like a bridgehead of flesh and blood, would mean needlessly resorting
to a measure of despair. Such a position, benefitting from two protected
flanks, but with a front that - being convex - is very weak, and which
in general restricts the defender to extreme passivity, is suitable only
to a force that because of its weakness can no longer stay in field. It
has been driven into a corner; its back is against the wall because it
is on the verge of giving way before the superior strength of the enemy.
7. A large river, flowing in such a direction that the
defense can maintain its lines of communication for several days' march
on both banks, certainly offers the defense some favorable opportunities.
This is even more true when a fortress with a bridgehead protects his
movement from one bank to the other, as Torgau does, and when another
fortress, as Wittenberg, some distance to his rear, multiplies the number
of options. It seems, indeed, that, at the moment the enemy advances,
the defender can avoid battle by crossing to the other side of the river,
without ceasing to cover the area through the overall strategic effectiveness
of his position. At first glance it is not obvious why this game could
not be repeated indefinitely. But, first of all, it must be said that
in most cases the strategic value of a position declines markedly when
a large river separates the defense from the attacker, since this allows
the attacker to divide and maneuver his forces in ways that would not
be possible without this barrier. Secondly, it is rare that the lines
of communication on both banks of the river are of equal value to the
defense, and that either one could be given up at any moment. Thirdly,
the retreat of a large army over a bridge across a river is not a trivial
act; on the contrary, in the presence of the enemy it is barely possible.
Fourth, to break out on the enemy's side of the river, should this become
necessary, is no simple matter, even in the vicinity of a friendly fortress.
Fifth, and finally, it would be very difficult repeatedly to shift all
those elements that constitute the rear of the army into their appropriate
positions. For all these reasons, a defender could scarcely cross the
river more than, a couple of times, even under the most favorable conditions,
before, in his effort to counter the movements and actions of the enemy,
a part or the whole of his army would suddenly find itself on the same
bank as the attacker.
If we apply these considerations to the Prussian army at
Torgau, we must agree that advantages could indeed be obtained by skillful
use of the Elbe in combination with the two fortresses, whether to avoid
battle for a time, or to give it under favorable circumstances. But we
cannot say in advance exactly how this might be done, because no hypothetical
case can specify all the unique, momentary conditions that give rise to
opportunity. It must also be added that we ought not exaggerate the absolute
value of these favorable conditions; they merely provide the opportunity
for auspicious courses of action. If the Prussian commander does not seize
this opportunity with great skill, the advantages of his position would
8. As you have correctly remarked, the position on the
Elbe presupposes that the army will base itself on the western part of
the monarchy, and give up its connection with the east. Should this not
be in accord with the general [political and strategic] circumstances,
the position would be unnatural and of doubtful value.
It seems to me that overall the difference between deploying
behind the Black Elster and at Torgau is not great. If we want to remain
realistic, we would have to say that in the event of a major battle, this
particular difference would be only a minute factor in the final result.
The degree to which both commanders have united their forces for combat,
the good planning and skillful conduct of the battle, the perseverance
of the commanders, the courage of the troops, their confidence in their
leader, the obedience of the subordinate generals-are these not all factors
that have greater significance and that affect the outcome more directly?
Whether the Russians in 1812 withdrew from Moscow to Vladimir
or turned south to Kaluga -this one basic alternative, while not primarily
determining the direction of the French retreat, as is sometimes claimed,
was nevertheless a matter of extraordinary importance.24 There
can be no doubt that the change of a single strategic line may have decisive
influence. But we ought not to suppose that it is therefore important
whether the Prussians fight at Senftenberg or at Torgau, unless we wish
to impute strategic value to things that have nothing to do with strategy.
9. Deploying the main army at Görlitz (assuming the
place is fortified), which is your ultimate conclusion, would put the
army in a flanking position. Naturally the territory that flanking
positions are supposed to cover does not lie directly behind them. Such
positions can therefore be adopted only if the army has a very broad base
of operations, so that the flanking force retains a line of retreat. That
is the case here. But this line of retreat will always be rather constricted,
sometimes more so, sometimes less. The danger that the army will be forced
into an eccentric line of retreat, away from the main part of its home
territory, from the center of gravity of the entire military base, constitutes
a grave disadvantage of positions of this kind. The position must make
up for this flaw by its very great tactical strength, so that the
enemy either cannot attack it at all, being immobilized as it were by
its strategic power, or is unlikely to succeed if he does attack. This
justifies the flanking position, but we still lack the real reason for
it: its strategic effectiveness. If you consider the present case with
these points in mind, you will agree that if the army at Görlitz
were defeated, it would have to retreat on the highway to Breslau, and
would therefore be in danger of being driven south to Silesia. A strategist
of the old school would say: in that case the army is lost. I won't, because
it would be an entirely unjustified assertion. But you will concede that
a thousand serious disadvantages would result from such a retreat. Finally,
a strong tactical position has not yet been located in the area around
Görlitz, and its strategic effectiveness would not be very great
in any case, since the Austrians could base themselves on the Elbe.
Your third study meets my entire approval [Roeder had also
sent Clausewitz a brief memorandum, which treated the following: a) two
armies of equal strength meet, each with a vertical line of retreat; b)
the same armies meet, one with a vertical line of retreat, the other with
a line of retreat that is an extension of one of its wings. What are their
respective advantages and disadvantages?] I would only add that it is
difficult to provide a strategic cover for oblique lines of communication.25
1. A Prussian corps, at war-strength consisted of two divisions,
one artillery brigade, one Jäger detachment of two companies,
and one engineer detachment. A reserve infantry regiment, a reserve Landwehr
[second line] infantry battalion, and a reserve Landwehr squadron might
also be added.
The division consisted of a line infantry brigade and a
Landwehr infantry brigade of two regiments each, and of a cavalry brigade.
Besides the two regular cavalry regiments, the cavalry brigade probably
also included a Landwehr cavalry regiment; at any rate, a corps had a
total of four line and two Landwehr cavalry regiments.
The artillery consisted of nine heavy artillery batteries,
and of three light- or horse-artillery batteries. Ed. of the 1937 German
2. Numerals in parenthesis in Ms text were added
by Clausewitz. His comments are similarly identified, and refer to the
numerals in the text. Eds.
3. Numerals in parenthesis in Roeder's text were added
by Clausewitz. His respective comments are similarly identified. Eds.
4. In peacetime, the 2nd Corps was stationed on the Baltic,
several hundred kilometers farther away from the theater of operations
than the Guards and the 3rd, 4th, 5th, and 6th corps. Eds.
5. Clausewitz writes "wie die sogennannte Strategie," which,
taken literally, would make little sense. The rest of the sentence makes
it apparent that he is referring to the "science" or "discipline" of strategy.
6. Compare On War, Book I, ch. 1, sections 25 and
26 (pp. 87-88). Eds.
7. "Zwei Briefe des Generals von Clausewitz: Gedanken zur
Abwehr," special issue of the Militärwissenschaftliche Rundschau, March 1937, 5-9.
8. The editor of the German text points out that it is
Roeder who calls an Austrian advance through Lusatia on Berlin the most
dangerous threat to Prussia. See p. 22. Eds.
9. During the Seven Years War Berlin was briefly occupied,
once by the Austrians, once by the Russians. Eds.
10. As will be seen, Clausewitz does not mean he will test M's solution against historical examples, though his discussion does
occasionally refer to incidents in the past. He is here using "historical"
in opposition to "a strictly logical," i.e., theoretical, refutation,
to signify a realistic, concrete analysis of M's "individual points."
For Clausewitz's belief that history, as the reflection of reality, is
the only valid basis for a theory of war, see the statement in his letter
to Roeder above, p. 8, and many passages in On War, for example
Book II, ch. 6 (pp. 170-74). Eds.
11. The comparison with games points to the belief that
the cardplayer tends not to play his best cards at once, but gradually
in the course of the game. Ed. of the German text. See also the discussion
of Clausewitzs essay "On Progression and Pause in Military Activity,"
which compares gambling and war, in Peter Paret, Clausewitz and the
State, pp. 361-62. Eds.
12. The reference is to the danger that according to M a siege of Torgau constituted for Prussia. Ed. of the German text.
13. This seems to refer to those cases in which it was
important to occupy a significant area and establish defensive positions
there before the enemy could do so. Ed. of the German text.
14. M wrote "at the Prussian border." Major von
Roeder's solution (p. 15) counted on the possibility that the enemy would
cross the Elbe in the vicinity of Dresden. Ed. of the German text.
15. In this passage M did not refer to "the most
disadvantageous defensive," but to Prussia being "thrown ... completely
on the defensive" (p. 18). That difference does not, however, affect the
sense of Clausewitz's argument. Ed. of the German text.
16. Clausewitz writes "venn ich dazu berufen ware" -which
means either "were I competent to do so," or "were I called upon to do
so." Both versions are possible, though the latter seems close to a tautology:
"I should feel obliged to attack [the argument] were I called upon to
do so." It seems preferable to interpret the statement as an expression
of Clausewitz's habitual courteous self-depreciation. Eds.
17. That Clausewitz, having demolished M's solution,
can claim he agrees with him perhaps more than with anyone else, may seem
strange. In part, the statement is a further expression of the polite,
unassertive manner that he habitually assumed toward his subordinates.
But his overt tolerance covers a good measure of sarcasm, and probably
also a rejection of the conventional military judgment of the day, which
Clausewitz considers so inadequate that even an M might not be
the most competent strategic analyst. Eds.
18. Apparently Clausewitz is again referring to the absence
of specific information on the political situation, which alone would
determine whether an advance through Lusatia would be appropriate. Ed.
of the German text.
19. Roeder makes no provision for uniting the Görlitz
corps with the main Prussian Army concentrated northeast of Hoyerswerda,
rather this corps would be forced northeast into Silesia. Eccentric deployment
is the same as divergent deployment, i.e., away from the center. See On
War, pages 367-369. Eds.
20. Clausewitz writes "Parteigänger," who might be
either elite regulars -Jäger (rangers) or Schützen (sharpshooters) - trained in detached, small unit operations, or regular
line infantry and light cavalry used for this purpose, or irregulars.
21. Numerals in parenthesis in Roeder's text were added
by Clausewitz. His respective comments are similarly identified. Eds.
22. This sentence introduces a characteristic example of
Clausewitz's dialectic method of analysis. Eds.
23. To convey Clausewitz's meaning in this paragraph, a
very free translation of the final sentence seems necessary. The German
reads: "Der Grund, dass sie dann ihre Kommunikationen aufgeben wurden,
bezieht sich auf das Vorbeigehen oder Herausmanovrieren, welches ich eben
als untuhlich gezeight habe." Eds.
24. Vladimir is about 150 miles east of Moscow on the road
to Gorki while Kaluga is about 100 miles southwest of Moscow. By placing
his army at Kaluga, Kutusov was in a position to threaten Napoleon's line
of retreat from Moscow. This maneuver also tended to concentrate Kutusov's
army with Russian forces operating south of the Konigsberg-Vilna-Smolensk-Moscow
line, a move to Vladimir would have continued to drive major Russian armies
25. See On War Book Six, Ch. Four, page 462 for
Clausewitz's discussion of lines of communication.
See also Erich von Manstein's Lost Victories, Henry
Regnery Co., 1958, for WW II examples of divergent lines of operation;
p. 291, pp. 368-369.
pp. 369-370 for an example of oblique lines of communication
for German forces in southern Russia. Eds.
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