In Strategy, B.H. Liddell Hart provides an accounting of how the indirect approach has been the more successful strategy in the history of warfare.

Data: Liddell Hart, B.H. Strategy. 2nd ed. (New York: Penguin, 1991)

Author: Liddell Hart


Builds Upon Class XXI review.  Class XXII was responsible for reading 3-6, 144-147 and 151-370.

(Bond and Alexander, “Liddell Hart and De Gaulle: The Doctrines of Limited Liability and Mobile Defense” in Paret’s Makers of Modern Strategy)

Germany’s revival and determination to overthrow the humiliations of Versailles constituted the focal point for French military thinkers throughout the interwar period. France had not so much won the Great War as survived. French security policies and doctrines became defensive and returned to a faith in the trinity of a fortified eastern border, foreign alliances, and universal conscription.

Britain demobilized rapidly – from 3.5M+ in November 1918 to just 370,000 two years later. The British had no systematic effort to record the main lessons of the unprecedented national war effort of 1914 – 1918. The Ten Year Rule issued in 1919 stated, “It should be assumed, for framing revised Estimates, that the British Empire will not be engaged in any great war during the next ten years, and that no Expeditionary Force is required for this purpose.” Britain’s leaning theorist has experienced the incompetence and waste of First World War operations, mostly as junior officers.

Fuller was the bolder, more dynamic, and original thinker; Liddell Hart was more balanced, tactful and less extravagant as a military polemicist. Liddell Hart advanced more detailed and realistic plans for the gradual conversion to a “New Model” army though he did not complete allow for the rigid restrictions imposed by the Treasury. Though giving precedence to the tank, he always stressed the need for infantry (“tank marines”) as an integral part of the mechanized force, whereas for the most part Fuller relegated infantry to a strictly subordinate role of protecting lines of communication and fixed bases.

Remarkable experimental trials with mechanized and mixed units took place between 1927 and 1931. These exercises were on a comparatively small scale and proved to be a false dawn, they did arouse considerable foreign interest and admiration at the time. In 1929, the first official manual on mechanized warfare was published – Broad’s booklet Mechanized and Armored Formations, popularly known as the “Purple Primer.” The primer asserted tanks should be used primarily to exploit their firepower and shock action in attack and that they should ideally be employed in independent formations.

The early 1930s were also rich in technical and doctrinal reflection and experimentation in France.

In the mid-1930s, the War Office opted for the gradual mechanization of the traditional arms. However, the army’s leadership at that time was unimaginative. Further, leading military thinkers and generals were themselves opposed to a European role for a variety of reasons. Liddell Hart was the outstanding advocate of the limited liability policy – the commitment of the fewest possible troops and ideally none at all to a European alliance. Liddell Hart argued defense was markedly superior to the attack in modern land warfare and that weapon development actually increased this superiority.

In France, de Gaulle’s campaign for an autonomous, professionally manned, mechanized corps was politically contentious. There might have been widespread support for an increased role of mobile warfare if de Gaulle and Reynaud had trumpeted a straightforward clarion call for urgent rearmament centered on the primacy of armored and motorized equipment.

Liddell Hart had progressive ideas on the need for mechanization and the kind of mobile operations to which it could lead, but tended to deny the need for a Continental commitment that could have justified higher expenditure in the Army to create a thoroughly equipped Field Force capable of taking part in operations against a first-class European power.

The thesis that contrasts the unimaginative and obsessively defense-oriented British and French military establishments with the brilliant “outsiders” Fuller, Liddell Hart, and de Gaulle, whose concepts of blitzkrieg were rejected by their own countries but eagerly adopted by Germany is oversimplified. Rejection of the “outsiders’” ideas was due to more complex reasons that the reactionary mentality of the British and French military establishments. The type of armies and the strategic concepts the champions of armor advocated were politically unacceptable, while in military terms they did not take account, or were simply ignorant of, many of the financial, material, and manpower problems confronting the British and French general staffs. It should not be assumed that the critics’ vision of future warfare was wholly borne out by the early campaigns of the Second World War. In revulsion against the static trench deadlock of WWI, they sought to restore mobility, minimize casualties, and secure a speedy victory be means of a small, elite, professional mechanized armies.

Theorists can play a role as “gadflies” or catalysts. In practice, “outsiders” can seldom exert a direct influence on military reform because they lack full knowledge of the difficulties and of the options available. The interwar period bears out the Clausewitzian perception that political attitudes, priorities, and constraints exert a dominating influence of the development of armed forces and strategic doctrines.



Central Proposition: Indirect approach

· Throughout the ages, effective results in war have rarely been attained unless the approach has had such indirectness as to ensure the opponent’s unreadiness to meet it… In strategy, the longest way round is often the shortest way home. (5)

· Even if a decisive battle be the goal, the aim of strategy must be to bring about this battle under the most advantageous circumstances. And the more advantageous the circumstances, the less, proportionally, will be the fighting. The perfection of strategy would be, therefore, to produce a decision without any serious fighting.” (324)

Other Major Propositions:

· Strategy is the art of distributing and applying military means to fulfill the ends of policy. It is concerned not merely with the movement of forces – as its role is often defined – but with the effect. (321)

· The role of grand strategy is to coordinate and direct all the resources of a nation, or band of nations, toward the attainment of the political object of the war – the goal defined by fundamental policy… [Grand strategy] should take account of and apply the power of financial pressure, of diplomatic pressure, of commercial pressure, and not least of ethical pressure, to weaken the opponent’s will.(322)

· Strategy depends for success, first and most, on a sound calculation and coordinate of the end and the means. (322)


· Internal Consistency and Comprehensiveness –defined, categorized, xplain, connect, complete?

· External Validity –

Comparison and Synthesis:


Personal Significance:

Strategy from Fifth Century BC to Twentieth Century AD

History as Practical Experience

-        “Fools say that they learn by experience. I prefer to profit by others’ experience. – Bismarck.” (3)

-       “History is universal experience’-the experience not of another, but of many others under manifold conditions” (4)

-       The greater value of indirect experience lies in its greater variety and extent.” (4)

-       “Throughout the ages, effective results in war have rarely been attained unless the approach has had such indirectness as to ensure the opponent’s unreadiness to meet it” (5)

Greek Wars

· “Historically, it is worth note that the use of strategic mobility for an indirect approach was realized and exploited much earlier in sea than in land warfare.” (10)

Roman Wars

· “Normal soldiers always prefer the known to the unknown. Hannibal was an abnormal general and hence, like other Great Captains, chose to face the most hazardous conditions rather than the certainty of meeting his opponents in a position of their own choosing.” (25)

· “The strategy of Fabius (Fabian strategy) was not merely an evasion of battle to gain time, but calculated for its effect on the morale of the enemy – and, still more, for its effect on their potential allies. It was thus primarily a matter of war-policy, or grand strategy. Fabius recognized Hannnibal’s military superiority too well to risk a military decision.” (26)

· “Attrition is a two-edged weapon and, even when skillfully wielded, puts a strain on the users.” (27)

Byzantine Wars

· “Belisarius had no lack of audacity, but his tactics were to allow – or tempt – the other side to do the attacking. If that choice was, in part, imposed on him by his numerical weakness, it was also a matter of subtle calculation, both tactical and psychological.” (40)

Medieval Wars

· “William of Normandy’s invasion of England profited from a strategic distraction, and thereby gained at the outset the virtues of an indirect approach.” (51)

· “In scale and in quality, in surprise and in mobility, in the strategic and in the tactical indirect approach, [the Mongols’] campaigns rival or surpass any in history.” (61)

Seventeenth Century

· “The interminable series of wars between the close of the Thirty Years’ War and the opening of the War of the Spanish Success… were notably indecisive. Objects were often limited, and objectives followed suit. Two deeper causes of this indecisiveness were first that the development of fortification had outpaced the improvement of weapons and given the defensive a preponderance such as was restored to it in the early twentieth century by the development of the machine-gun; second, that armies were not yet organized in permanently self-contained fractions, but usually moved and fought as a single piece, a condition which limited their power of distraction – of deceiving the opponent and cramping his freedom of movement.” (71)

Eighteenth Century

· “Quebec is an illuminating example of the truth that a decision is produced even more by the mental and moral dislocation of the command than by the physical dislocation of its forces.” (88)

· “[Frederick] regarded the indirect approach as a matter of pure maneuver with mobility, instead of a combination of maneuver with mobility and surprise. Thus, despite all his brilliance, his economy of force broke down.” (93)

French Revolution

· “It is curious how the possession of a blank cheque on the bank of man-power had so analogous an effect in 1807-14 and in 1914-18… The explanation may be that lavish expenditure breeds extravagance, the mental antithesis of economy of force – to which surprise and mobility are the means.” (109)

· “[Wellington’s] strategy was essentially that of indirect approach to a military economic object and objective.” (114)

· “The Peninsular War was an outstanding historical example achieved by instinctive common sense even more than by intention, of the type of strategy which a century later Lawrence evolved into a reasoned theory, and applied in practice – although without so definite a fulfillment.” (119)

· “The Russian campaign of 1812 was the natural climax to the tendencies already seen to be growing in Napoleon’s strategy – that of relying more on mass than on mobility, and on strategic formation rather than on surprise.” (119 – 120)

1854 -1914

· “The decisive effects [leading to the Northern victory in the Civil War] came from the West [not the repulse of Lee’s invasion at Gettysburg].” Two key victories were Farragut’s taking of New Orleans and Grant’s capture of Vicksburg. (129)

· “By the verdict of historians, Sherman’s capture of Atlanta in September [1864] was the instrument of [Lincoln’s] salvation.” (131)

· “Dependent on the support and confidence of his employers, [the strategist who is the servant of a democratic government] has to work with a narrower margin of time and cost than the ‘absolute’ strategist, and is more pressed for quick profits. Whatever the ultimate prospected he cannot afford to postpone dividends too long. Hence it may be necessary for him to swerve aside temporarily from his objective, or at least to give it a new guise by changing his line of operations. Faced with these inevitable handicaps, it is fitting to ask whether military theory should not be more ready to reconcile its ideals with the inconvenient reality that its military effort rests on a popular foundation – that for the supply of men and munitions, and even for the chance of continuing to fight at all, it depends on the consent of the ‘man in the street.’” (132)

· “The theory of the indirect approach which has evolved from [this survey and analysis of history] must rest on the concrete evidence of actual experience than the direct approach tends to be indecisive.” (142)

Conclusions from Twenty-Five Centuries

-       “The most consistently successful commanders when faced by an enemy in a position that was strong naturally or materially, have hardly ever tackled it in a direct way. And when, under pressure of circumstance, they have risked a direct attack, the result has commonly been to blot their record with a failure.” (145)

-       “History shows that rather than resign himself to a direct approach, a Great Captain will take even the most hazardous indirect approach… He prefers to face any unfavorable condition rather than accept the risk of frustration inherent in a direct approach.” (146)

-       “We find that in almost all [the decisive victories of history] the victor had his opponent at a psychological disadvantage before the clash took place.” (146)

-       Whatever the form, the effect  to be sought is the dislocation of the opponents mind and dispositions-such an effect is the true gauge of an indirect approach. (147)

-       Two maxims – “In the face of the overwhelming evidence of history, no general is justified in launching his troops to a direct attack upon an enemy firmly in position… Instead of seeking to upset the enemy’s equilibrium by one’s attack, it must be upset before a real attack is, or can be successfully launched.” (147)

Part II – Strategy of the First World War

The Plans

-       “The long-overlooked lesson the American Civil War was repeated – that the development of railways, and armies’ dependence on such communications, both fixed and fragile, fostered the development of larger numbers than could be maintained in long-range operations without risk of breakdown.” (156)

-       “A method which requires four years to produce a decision is not to be regarded as a model for imitation.” (162)

The North-Eastern Theater

· Russian front

The South-Eastern Theater

· Mediterranean, Palestinian and Mesopotamian Theaters

The Strategy of 1918

-       “For the navy was the instrument of the blockade, and as the fog of war dispersed in the clearer light of the post-war years that blockade was seen to assume a larger and proportions; to be more and more clearly, the decisive agency in the struggle” (187)

· “The blockade may be classified as a grand strategy of indirect approach to which no effective resistance was possible and of a type which incurred no risk except in its slowness of effect.” (188 – 189)

-       “From the experiences of the vain Allied offensives Ludendorrf had drawn the deduction that ‘tactics have to be considered before purely strategical objects which it is futile to pursue unless tactical success is possible’  ‘Only by this flexibility of aim can strategy be attuned to the uncertainty of war.’ (190)

· “The knowledge brings confirmation of two historical lessons – that a joint is the most sensitive and profitable point of attack, and that a penetration between two forces or units is more dangerous if they are assembled shoulder to shoulder than if they are widely separated and organically separate.” (195)

Part III – Strategy of the Second World War

Hitler’s Strategy

-       “Lenin… enunciated the axiom that ‘the soundest strategy in war is to postpone operations until the moral disintegration of the enemy renders the delivery of the moral blow both possible and easy.’” (208)

-       “To repeat the keynote of the initial chapter: the analysis of war shows that while the nominal strength of a country is represented by its numbers and resources, this muscular development is dependent on the state of its internal organs and nerve-system – upon its stability and control, morale, and supply.” (212)

-       “The true purpose of strategy is to diminish the possibility of resistance. And from this follows another axiom – that to ensure attaining an objective one should have alternative objectives.” (213)

-       “But like Napoleon, [Hitler] had an inadequate grasp of the higher level of grand strategy – that of conducting war with a far-sighted regard to the state of the peace that will follow. To do this effectively, a man must be more than a strategist; he must be leader and a philosopher combined.” (220)

-       “Hitler gave the art of offensive strategy a new development.  He also mastered better than any of his opponents, the first stage of grand strategy—that of developing and coordinating all forms of warlike activity and all the possible instruments which may be used to operate against the enemy’s will. (220)

Hitler’s Run of Victory

-       “For the shattering effect of Hitler’s victories on the position and outlook of western Europe could not be repaired by his ultimate defeat. Moreover the immense effort that America was led to make in turning the scales against Hitler resulted in the reorientation of world-power to the Western hemisphere. The ascendency of Russia on the Eurasian Continent was another disturbing, and epoch-making, result.” (222)

-       “The vital weakness of the French lay, not in quantity nor in quality of equipment, but in their theory. Their ideas had advanced less than their opponents beyond the methods of the First World War. As has happened so often in history, victory had bred a complacency and fostered an orthodoxy which led to defeat in the next war.” (232)

Hitler’s Decline

-       “It was on the place of grand strategy that [Hitler’s] decline began. There lay his fatal flaw. If he had known how to ally the fears that his progress created, and to reassure the neighboring peoples that his ‘New Order’ was beneficent, he might have succeeded where Napoleon failed, and achieved the union of Europe under German leadership… But the ends was frustrated by the means. ” (238)

-       “The result of too successful attack at the outset was to overstretch Japan’s subsequent power of defense beyond the safety limit.” (259)

Hitler’s Fall

-       “The air offensive against Germany’s industrial resources might be termed an indirect approach on the plane of grand strategy, for it undermined the balance of her war-making power as a whole. If the Allies’ bombing strategy had been better designed – to dislocate supplies rather than to devastate populated areas – it could have produced a quicker paralysis of German resistance; but though much of the effort was misdirected, it did spread a creeping paralysis.” (286)

-       “Germany went far to beat herself. Without what she did in that way her opponents would have found it much harder to beat her. Her too direct approach to the problem of victory became the indirect solution of their problem. Her frustration and distension, together, were of immense help to them in shortening the war. But if the Allied nations had understood the basic conditions of warfare, in the first place, instead of preparing to fight in a conventional way, the length and devastation of the war might have been much less.” (316)

Part VI – Fundamentals of Strategy and Grand Strategy

Theory of Strategy

· “It was an easy step for Clausewitz’s less profound disciples to confuse the means with the end, and to reach the conclusion that in war every other consideration should be subordinated to the aim of fighting a decisive battle.” (319)

· “Strategy [is] the art of distributing and applying military means to fulfill the ends of policy. It is concerned not merely with the movement of forces – as its role is often defined – but with the effect.” (321)

-       “Strategy depends for success, first and most, on a sound calculation and coordination for the end and the means.  The end must be proportioned to the total means, and the means used in gaining each intermediate end which contributes to the ultimate must be proportioned to the value and the needs of that intermediate end—whether it be to gain an objective or to fulfill a contributory purpose.  An excess may be as harmful as a deficiency.” (322-323)

· “[Strategy’s] purpose is to diminish the possibility of resistance, and it seeks to fulfill this purpose by exploiting the elements of movement and surprise.” (323)

-       “the aim of strategy must be to bring about this battle under the most advantageous circumstances.  And the more advantageous the circumstances, the less, proportionately, will be the fighting.  The perfection of strategy would be, therefore, to produce a decision without any serious fighting.” (324)

· “Just as the military means is only one of the means to the end of grand strategy… so battle is only one of the means to the end of strategy.” (325)

-       “It rests normally with the government, responsible for the grand strategy of a war, to decide whether strategy should make its contribution by achieving a military decision or otherwise.  (325)

· “[The strategist’s] true aim is not so much to seek battle as to seek a strategic situation so advantageous that if it does not of itself produce the decision, its continuation by a battle is sure to achieve this. In other words, dislocation is the aim of strategy; its sequel may be either the enemy’s dissolution or his easier disruption in battle.” (325)

· “Only with both [the physical and psychological aspects] are combined is the strategy truly an indirect approach, calculated to dislocate the opponent’s balance.” (327)

· “Strategic art is not so simple.” (327)

· “An army should always be so distributed that its parts can aid each other and combine to produce the maximum possible concentration of force at one place, while the minimum force necessary is used elsewhere to prepare the success of the concentration.” (328)

· “True concentration is the product of dispersion.” (329)

Concentrated Essence of Strategy and Tactics

· Eight axioms: (354 – 356)

o Adjust your ends to your means.

o Keep your object always in mind.

o Chose the line (or course) of least expectation.

o Exploit the line of least resistance.

o Take a line of operation which offers alternative objectives.

o Ensure that both plan and dispositions are flexible – adaptable to circumstances.

o Do not throw your weight into a stroke whilst your opponent is on guard.

o Do not renew an attack along the same line (or in the same from) after it has once failed)

· “The essential truth underlying these maxims is that, for success, two major problems must be solved – dislocation and exploitation. (336)

National Objective and Military Aim

· “The military objective is only the means to a political end. Hence the military objective should be governed by the political objective, subject to the basic condition that policy does not demand what is militarily – that, is practically – impossible.” (338)

· “The object in war is a better state of peace – even if only from your own point of view.” (338)

· “Impressed yet befogged, they grasped at his [Clausewitz’s] vivid leading phrases, seeing only their surface meaning, and missing the deeper current of his thought.” (340)

· “Everyone could catch such ringing phrases as: ‘We have only one means in war – the battle.’” (342)

· “Clausewitz contributed to the subsequent decay of generalship when in an oft-quoted passage he wrote: ‘Philanthropists may easily imagine that there is a skillful method of disarming and overcoming the enemy without great bloodshed, and that this is the proper tendency of the Art of War… That is an error which must be extirpated.’ …Clausewitz’s phrase would henceforth be used by countless blunderers to excuse, and even to justify, their futile squandering of life in bull-headed assaults.” (343)

· “If war be a continuation of policy, as Clausewitz had elsewhere declared, it must necessarily be conducted with a view to post-war benefit. A state which expends its strength to the point of exhaustion bankrupts its own policy.” (343)

· “The teachings of Clausewitz, taken without understanding, largely influenced both the causation and the character of World War I. Thereby it led on, all too logically to World War II.” (344)

· “That one side ultimately collapsed was due more to emptiness of stomach, produced by the economic pressure of sea-power, than to loss of blood.” (345)

· “It became evident there was something wrong with the theory, or at least with its application – alike on the planes of tactics, strategy, and policy.” (345)

· “Air action against an object that is primarily ‘civil’ is action on the plane of grand strategy. It is called into question on that very account. By the test of its own nature, it is seen to be an unsound objective. It would be an unwise choice as a military aim even if its ability to decide a war were more conclusively proved, or at least more clearly demonstrated, than it actually has been.” (350)

· “I came to realize that an air attack on industrial centers was unlikely to have an immediate decisive effect, and more likely to produce another prolonged war of attrition in a fresh form… But then one began to point this out, one soon found that the Air Staff was far less receptive to the revised conclusion than to the original conclusion!” (351)

· “The true aim is not so much to seek battle as to seek a strategic situation so advantageous that if it does not of itself produce the decision, its continuation by a battle is sure to achieve this.” (352)

Grand Strategy

· “The object in war is to attain a better peace – even if only from your own point of view. Hence it is essential to conduct war with constant regard to the peace you desire… A State which expends its strength to the point of exhaustion bankrupts its own policy, and future.” (353)

· “Self-exhaustion in has has killed more States than any foreign assailant.” (355)

· “A long series of mutually exhausting and devastating wars, above all the Thirty Years’ War, had brought statesmen by the eighteenth century to realize the necessity, when engaged in war, of curbing both their ambitions and their passions in the interests of their purpose… Their ambitions and passion frequently carried them too far, so that the return to peace found their countries weakened rather than strengthened, but they had learnt to stop short of national exhaustion.” (356)

· “Although war is contrary to reason, since it is a means of deciding issues by force when discussion fails to produce an agreed solution, the conduct of war must be controlled by reason it its object is to be fulfilled. For – (1) While fighting is a physical act, its direction is a mental process. The better your strategy, the easier you will gain the upper hand, and the less it will cost you. (2) Conversely, the more strength you was the more you increase the risk of the scales of war turning against you; even if you succeed in winning the victory, the less strength you will have to profit by the peace. (3) The more brutal your methods the more bitter you will make your opponents, with the natural result of hardening the resistance you are trying to overcome… (4) The more intent you appear to impose a peace entirely of your own choosing, by conquest, the stiffer the obstacle you will raise in your path. (5) If an when you reach your military goal, the more you ask of the defeated side the more trouble you will have, and the more cause you will provide for an ultimate attempt to reverse the settlement achieved by the war.” (356 – 357)

· “The experience of history brings ample evidence that the downfall of civilized States tend to come not from the direct assaults of foes but from internal decay, combined with the consequences of exhaustion in war.” (359)

Guerrilla War

· “[The policy of ‘Massive Retaliation’ did not make sense, and the natural effect was to stimulate and encourage the forms of aggression by erosion to which nuclear weapons were an inapplicable counter.” (363)

· “For guerrillas the principle of ‘concentration’ has to be replaced by that of ‘fluidity of force.’” (365)

· “War is always a matter of doing evil in the hope that good may come of it, and it is very difficult to show discrimination without failing in determination.” (368)

· “Worse still was its wider effect on the younger generation as a whole. It taught them to defy authority and break the rules of civic morality in the fight against the occupying forces. This left a disrespect for ‘law and order’ that inevitably continued after the invaders had gone.” (369)

· “I was beginning to have doubts – not of [guerrilla warfare’s] immediate efficacy, but of its long-term effects.” (369)

· “It is not too late to learn from the experience of history.” (370)

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