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Making Convergent Tactical Blows

Excerpt from How Great Generals Win, by Bevin Alexander, pages 304-05

This is the essential formula for actual battle, achieved by dividing the attacking force into two or more segments and attacking the target simultaneously. One of the greatest examples of this formula was at Cannae in 216 B.C. Hannibal advanced his less dependable Gauls and Spanish soldiers in the center, while holding back his more reliable African infantry on each flank. When the Romans pressed this convex line backward, Hannibal launched his Africans against both Roman flanks. Meanwhile the Carthaginian cavalry, having driven away the Roman horse, fell on the Roman rear, cutting off retreat. It was the greatest battle of annihilation in history: 70,000 of the 76,000 Romans died. (See page 46.)

At Ilipa in Spain in 206 B.C., Scipio Africanus unexpectedly formed his army, half as wide and strong as the Carthaginian line opposing him, with his undependable Spanish levies in the center and his solid Roman legionaries on each wing. Hasdrubal Gisgo had lined up his Carthaginian regulars in the center and his weaker Spanish infantry on the wings. Scipio ordered his Spaniards to advance on the regulars, but slowly, holding them in place, while sending his Roman legionaries forward at a fast pace. When close to the opposing line, the legionaries wheeled obliquely half left and half right and fell on the front and flanks of the Spaniards, shattering them and forcing the Carthaginian regulars in the center—who had not been engaged at all—to fall back in defeat. (See page 55.)

At Castiglione in northern Italy in 1796, Napoleon unveiled his “strategic battle,” using “envelopment, breakthrough, and exploitation,” by which he won numerous victories. First he pinned the enemy down with a frontal attack designed to draw all enemy reserves forward. Then he sent a strong force around the flank onto the enemy line of supply and retreat. The enemy commander, obliged to get troops quickly to defend against this thrust, thinned a part of his line closest to the flank threat. Napoleon could locate this point prior to the battle and assembled a strong masse de rupture opposite it in advance. This force cracked a hole in the weakened point. Cavalry and infantry then poured through, breaking the enemy’s equilibrium and causing defeat or disintegration. (See page 110.)

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