A BATTLE is a combat in warfare between two or more armed forces , or
combatants . A war sometimes consists of many battles. Battles
generally are well defined in duration, area, and force commitment. A
battle with only limited engagement between the forces and without
decisive results is sometimes called a skirmish .
Wars and military campaigns are guided by strategy , whereas battles
take place on a level of planning and execution known as operational
mobility . German strategist
Carl von Clausewitz
Carl von Clausewitz stated that "the
employment of battles ... to achieve the object of war" was the
essence of strategy . The
Battle of Waterloo
Battle of Waterloo by William Sadler II
* 1 Etymology
* 2 Characteristics
* 4 Factors
* 5 Types
* 5.1 Land
* 5.2 Naval
* 5.3 Aerial
* 6 Naming
* 7 Effects
* 8 See also
* 9 References
Battle is a loanword from the
Old French bataille, first attested in
Late Latin battualia, meaning "exercise of soldiers and
gladiators in fighting and fencing", from
Late Latin (taken from
Germanic) battuere "beat", from which the English word battery is also
Middle English batri.
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The defining characteristic of the fight as a concept in Military
science has been a dynamic one through the course of military
history, changing with the changes in the organisation, employment and
technology of military forces.
While the English military historian Sir
John Keegan suggested an
ideal definition of battle as "something which happens between two
armies leading to the moral then physical disintegration of one or the
other of them", the origins and outcomes of battles can rarely be
summarized so neatly.
In general a battle during the 20th century was, and continues to be,
defined by the combat between opposing forces representing major
components of total forces committed to a military campaign , used to
achieve specific military objectives . Where the duration of the
battle is longer than a week, it is often for reasons of staff
operational planning called an operation. Battles can be planned,
encountered , or forced by one force on the other when the latter is
unable to withdraw from combat.
A battle always has as its purpose the reaching of a mission goal by
use of military force. A victory in the battle is achieved when one
of the opposing sides forces the other to abandon its mission, or to
surrender its forces, or routs the other, i.e., forces it to retreat
or renders it militarily ineffective for further combat operations .
However, a battle may end in a
Pyrrhic victory , which ultimately
favors the defeated party. If no resolution is reached in a battle, it
can result in a stalemate . A conflict in which one side is unwilling
to reach a decision by a direct battle using conventional warfare
often becomes an insurgency .
Until the 19th century the majority of battles were of short
duration, many lasting a part of a day. (The
Battle of Nations (1813)
Battle of Gettysburg
Battle of Gettysburg (1863) were exceptional in lasting three
days.) This was mainly due to the difficulty of supplying armies in
the field, or conducting night operations . The means of prolonging a
battle was typically by employment of siege warfare . Improvements in
transportation and the sudden evolving of trench warfare , with its
siege-like nature during World
War I in the 20th century, lengthened
the duration of battles to days and weeks. This created the
requirement for unit rotation to prevent combat fatigue , with troops
preferably not remaining in a combat area of operations for more than
Trench warfare had become largely obsolete in conflicts
between advanced armies by the start of the Second World
The use of the term "battle" in military history has led to its
misuse when referring to almost any scale of combat, notably by
strategic forces involving hundreds of thousands of troops that may be
engaged in either a single battle at one time (
Battle of Leipzig
Battle of Leipzig ) or
multiple operations (
Battle of Kursk
Battle of Kursk ). The space a battle occupies
depends on the range of the weapons of the combatants. A "battle" in
this broader sense may be of long duration and take place over a large
area, as in the case of the
Battle of Britain
Battle of Britain or the
Battle of the
Atlantic . Until the advent of artillery and aircraft , battles were
fought with the two sides within sight, if not reach, of each other.
The depth of the battlefield has also increased in modern warfare with
inclusion of the supporting units in the rear areas; supply,
artillery, medical personnel etc. often outnumber the front-line
Battles are, on the whole, made up of a multitude of individual
combats, skirmishes and small engagements within the context of which
the combatants will usually only experience a small part of the events
of the battle's entirety. To the infantryman , there may be little to
distinguish between combat as part of a minor raid or as a major
offensive, nor is it likely that he anticipates the future course of
the battle; few of the British infantry who went over the top on the
first day on the Somme , July 1, 1916, would have anticipated that
they would be fighting the same battle in five months' time.
Conversely, some of the Allied infantry who had just dealt a crushing
defeat to the French at the
Battle of Waterloo
Battle of Waterloo fully expected to have
to fight again the next day (at the
Battle of Wavre ).
Battlespace is a unified strategy to integrate and combine armed
forces for the military theatre of operations , including air ,
information , land , sea and space . It includes the environment,
factors and conditions that must be understood to successfully apply
combat power, protect the force, or complete the mission. This
includes enemy and friendly armed forces ; facilities; weather;
terrain; and the electromagnetic spectrum within the operational areas
and areas of interest.
Battles are decided by various factors. The number and quality of
combatants and equipment, the skill of the commanders of each army,
and the terrain advantages are among the most prominent factors. A
unit may charge with high morale but less discipline and still emerge
victorious. This tactic was effectively used by the early French
Revolutionary Armies .
Weapons and armour can be a decisive factor. On many occasions armies
have achieved victories largely owing to the employment of more
advanced weapons than those of their opponents. An extreme example was
Battle of Omdurman
Battle of Omdurman , in which a large army of Sudanese Mahdists
armed in a traditional manner were destroyed by an Anglo-Egyptian
force equipped with Maxim guns .
On some occasions, simple weapons employed in an unorthodox fashion
have proven advantageous, as with the
Swiss pikemen who gained many
victories through their ability to transform a traditionally defensive
weapon into an offensive one. Likewise, the
Zulus in the early 19th
century were victorious in battles against their rivals in part
because they adopted a new kind of spear, the iklwa . Even so, forces
with inferior weapons have still emerged victorious at times, for
example in the
Wars of Scottish Independence
Wars of Scottish Independence and in the First
War . Discipline within the troops is often of
greater importance; at the
Battle of Alesia
Battle of Alesia , the Romans were greatly
outnumbered but won because of superior training.
Battles can also be determined by terrain. Capturing high ground, for
example, has been the central strategy in innumerable battles. An army
that holds the high ground forces the enemy to climb, and thus wear
themselves down. Areas of dense vegetation, such as jungles and
forest, act as force-multipliers, of benefit to inferior armies.
Arguably, terrain is of less importance in modern warfare, due to the
advent of aircraft, though terrain is still vital for camouflage,
especially for guerrilla warfare .
Generals and commanders also play a decisive role during combat.
Julius Caesar ,
Khalid ibn Walid and Napoleon Bonaparte
were all skilled generals and, consequently, their armies were
extremely successful. An army that can trust the commands of their
leaders with conviction in its success invariably has a higher morale
than an army that doubts its every move. The British in the naval
Battle of Trafalgar
Battle of Trafalgar , for example, owed its success to the reputation
of celebrated admiral
Lord Nelson .
Battle of Poltava
Battle of Poltava between Russia and Sweden, by Denis
Martens the Younger
Battles can be fought on land, at sea and, in the modern age, in the
air. Naval battles have occurred since before the 5th century BC. Air
battles have been far less common, due to their late conception, the
most prominent being the
Battle of Britain
Battle of Britain in 1940. However, since the
War land or sea battles have come to rely on air support.
Indeed, during the
Battle of Midway
Battle of Midway , five aircraft carriers were sunk
without either fleet coming into direct contact. Battle
Scene-Detail from Deccan miniature painting. c. 19th century.
There are numerous types of battles:
* A battle of encounter (or encounter battle) is a meeting
engagement where the opposing sides collide in the field without
either having prepared their attack or defence.
* A battle of attrition aims to inflict losses on an enemy that are
less sustainable compared to one's own losses. These need not be
greater numerical losses – if one side is much more numerous than
the other than pursuing a strategy based on attrition can work even if
casualties on both sides are about equal. Many battles of the Western
Front in the First World
War were intentionally (Verdun ) or
unintentionally (Somme ) attrition battles.
* A battle of breakthrough aims to pierce the enemy's defences,
thereby exposing the vulnerable flanks which can be turned.
* A battle of encirclement—the
Kesselschlacht of the German
Blitzkrieg —surrounds the enemy in a pocket .
* A battle of envelopment involves an attack on one or both flanks ;
the classic example being the double-envelopment of the
* A battle of annihilation is one in which the defeated party is
destroyed in the field, such as the French fleet at the
Battle of the
Battles frequently do not fit one particular type perfectly, and are
usually hybrids of different types listed above.
A decisive battle is one of particular importance; often by bringing
hostilities to an end, such as the
Battle of Hastings
Battle of Hastings or the
Hattin , or as a turning point in the fortunes of the belligerents ,
such as the
Battle of Stalingrad
Battle of Stalingrad . A decisive battle can have
political as well as military impact, changing the balance of power or
boundaries between countries. The concept of the decisive battle
became popular with the publication in 1851 of
Edward Creasy 's The
Fifteen Decisive Battles of the World . British military historians
J.F.C. Fuller (The Decisive Battles of the Western World) and B.H.
Liddell Hart (Decisive Wars of History), among many others, have
written books in the style of Creasy's work.
There is an obvious difference in the way battles have been fought
throughout time. Early battles were probably fought between rival
hunting bands as disorganized mobs. However, during the
Megiddo , the first reliably documented battle in the fifteenth
century BC, actual discipline was instilled in both armies. However,
during the many wars of the
Roman Empire , barbarians continued using
mob tactics .
Age of Enlightenment
Age of Enlightenment dawned, armies began to fight in highly
disciplined lines. Each would follow the orders from their officers
and fight as a single unit instead of individuals. Each army was
successively divided into regiments , battalions , companies , and
platoons . These armies would march, line up, and fire in divisions.
Native Americans , on the other hand, did not fight in lines,
utilizing instead guerrilla tactics. American colonists and European
forces continued using disciplined lines, continuing into the American
A new style, during World
War I , known as trench warfare , developed
nearly half a century later. This also led to radio for communication
Chemical warfare also emerged with the use of
poisonous gas during World
War II , the use of the smaller divisions, platoons and
companies became much more important as precise operations became
vital. Instead of the locked trench warfare of World
War I, during
War II, a dynamic network of battles developed where small
groups encountered other platoons. As a result, elite squads became
much more recognized and distinguishable.
Maneuver warfare also developed with an astonishing pace with the
advent of the tank , replacing the archaic cannons of the
Artillery has since gradually replaced the use of
frontal troops. Modern battles now continue to resemble those of World
War II, though prominent innovations have been added. Indirect combat
through the use of aircraft and missiles now constitutes a large
portion of wars in place of battles, where battles are now mostly
reserved for capturing cities.
Battle of Scheveningen
Battle of Scheveningen of 1653: episode from the First
One significant difference of modern naval battles as opposed to
earlier forms of combat is the use of marines , which introduced
amphibious warfare. Today, a marine is actually an infantry regiment
that sometimes fights solely on land and is no longer tied to the
navy. A good example of an old naval battle is the
Battle of Salamis
Battle of Salamis .
Most ancient naval battles were fought by fast ships using the
battering ram to sink opposing fleets or steer close enough for
boarding in hand-to-hand combat. Troops were often used to storm enemy
ships as used by Romans and pirates . This tactic was usually used by
civilizations that could not beat the enemy with ranged weaponry.
Another invention in the late
Middle Ages was the use of Greek fire
by the Byzantines, which was used to set enemy fleets on fire. Empty
demolition ships utilized the tactic to crash into opposing ships and
set it afire with an explosion. After the invention of cannons, naval
warfare became useful as support units for land warfare.
During the 19th century, the development of mines led to a new type
of naval warfare. The ironclad , first used in the American Civil War
, resistant to cannons, soon made the wooden ship obsolete. The
invention of military submarines , during World
War I , brought naval
warfare to both above and below the surface. With the development of
military aircraft during World
War II , battles were fought in the sky
as well as below the ocean.
Aircraft carriers have since become the
central unit in naval warfare, acting as a mobile base for lethal
Although the use of aircraft has for the most part always been used
as a supplement to land or naval engagements, since their first major
military use in World
War I aircraft have increasingly taken on larger
roles in warfare. During World
War I, the primary use was for
reconnaissance, and small-scale bombardment.
Aircraft began becoming much more prominent in the Spanish Civil War
and especially World
Aircraft design began specializing,
primarily into two types: bombers, which carried explosive payloads to
bomb land targets or ships; and fighter-interceptors, which were used
to either intercept incoming aircraft or to escort and protect bombers
(engagements between fighter aircraft were known as dog fights ). Some
of the more notable aerial battles in this period include the Battle
of Britain and the
Battle of Midway
Battle of Midway .
Another important use of aircraft came with the development of the
helicopter , which first became heavily used during the Vietnam War,
and still continues to be widely used today to transport and augment
Today, direct engagements between aircraft are rare – the most
modern fighter-interceptors carry much more extensive bombing
payloads, and are used to bomb precision land targets, rather than to
fight other aircraft. Anti-aircraft batteries are used much more
extensively to defend against incoming aircraft than interceptors.
Despite this, aircraft today are much more extensively used as the
primary tools for both army and navy, as evidenced by the prominent
use of helicopters to transport and support troops, the use of aerial
bombardment as the "first strike" in many engagements, and the
replacement of the battleship with the aircraft carrier as the center
of most modern navies.
Battle of Gibraltar of 1607 by
Hendrick Cornelisz Vroom
Hendrick Cornelisz Vroom .
Battles are usually named after some feature of the battlefield
geography , such as the name of a town, forest or river, commonly
Battle of...". Occasionally battles are named after the date
on which they took place, such as
The Glorious First of June
The Glorious First of June .
Middle Ages it was considered important to settle on a
suitable name for a battle which could be used by the chroniclers .
For example, after
Henry V of England
Henry V of England defeated a French army on
October 25, 1415, he met with the senior French herald and they agreed
to name the battle after the nearby castle and so it was called the
Battle of Agincourt
Battle of Agincourt .
In other cases, the sides adopted different names for the same
battle, such as the
Battle of Gallipoli
Battle of Gallipoli which is known in Turkey as
Battle of Çanakkale . During the American Civil War, the Union
tended to name the battles after the nearest watercourse, such as the
Battle of Wilsons Creek and the
Battle of Stones River, whereas the
Confederates favoured the nearby towns, as in the Battles of
Chancellorsville and Murfreesboro. Occasionally both names for the
same battle entered the popular culture, such as the First and Second
Battle of Bull Run , which are also referred to as the First and
Battle of Manassas.
Sometimes in desert warfare, there is no nearby town name to use; map
coordinates gave the name to the
Battle of 73 Easting
Battle of 73 Easting in the First
Some place names have become synonymous with the battles that took
place there, such as the Passchendaele , Pearl Harbor , the Alamo ,
Thermopylae , or Waterloo .
Military operations , many of which result
in battle, are given codenames , which are not necessarily meaningful
or indicative of the type or the location of the battle. Operation
Market Garden and
Operation Rolling Thunder
Operation Rolling Thunder are examples of battles
known by their military codenames.
When a battleground is the site of more than one battle in the same
conflict, the instances are distinguished by ordinal number , such as
the First and Second Battles of Bull Run . An extreme case are the
Battles of the Isonzo
Battles of the Isonzo —First to Twelfth —between Italy and
Austria-Hungary during the First World War.
Some battles are named for the convenience of military historians so
that periods of combat can be neatly distinguished from one another.
Following the First World War, the British Battles Nomenclature
Committee was formed to decide on standard names for all battles and
subsidiary actions. To the soldiers who did the fighting, the
distinction was usually academic; a soldier fighting at Beaumont Hamel
on November 13, 1916 was probably unaware he was taking part in what
the committee would call the "
Battle of the Ancre
Battle of the Ancre ".
Many combats are too small to merit a name. Terms such as "action",
"skirmish", "firefight", "raid" or "offensive patrol" are used to
describe small-scale battle-like encounters. These combats often take
place within the time and space of a battle and while they may have an
objective, they are not necessarily "decisive". Sometimes the soldiers
are unable to immediately gauge the significance of the combat; in the
aftermath of the
Battle of Waterloo
Battle of Waterloo , some British officers were in
doubt as to whether the day's events merited the title of "battle" or
would be passed off as merely an "action".
Battles affect the individuals who take part, as well as the
political actors. Personal effects of battle range from mild
psychological issues to permanent and crippling injuries. Some
battle-survivors have nightmares about the conditions they
encountered, or abnormal reactions to certain sights or sounds. Some
suffer flashbacks . Physical effects of battle can include scars,
amputations, lesions, loss of bodily functions, blindness, paralysis
— and death.
Battles also affect politics . A decisive battle can cause the losing
side to surrender, while a
Pyrrhic Victory such as the
Asculum can cause the winning side to reconsider its long-term goals.
Battles in civil wars have often decided the fate of monarchs or
political factions. Famous examples include the
War of the Roses , as
well as the
Jacobite Uprisings . Battles also affect the commitment of
one side or the other to the continuance of a war, for example the
Battle of Incheon
Battle of Incheon and the
Battle of Hue
Battle of Hue during the
Tet Offensive .
List of battles
Wikimedia Commons has media related to BATTLES .
* ^ p.65, Dupuy
* ^ p.10, Glantz
* ^ translation of part quote from p.77, Clausewitz
* ^ p.33, Tucker
* ^ pp. 63–64, Dupuy
* ^ p.302, Keegan
* ^ pp. 65–71, Dupuy
* ^ A B p.67, Dupuy
* ^ pp. 62–63, Richardson
* Great Britain Battles Nomenclature Committee (1919–1921) (1993)
. Official Names of the Battles and Other Engagements Fought by the
Military Forces of the British Empire During the Great War,
1914–1919, and the Third Afghan War, 1919. The Naval & Military
Press. ISBN 1-897632-06-1 .
* von Clausewitz, Carl . Hahlweg, Werner, ed. Bemerkungen über die
reine und angewandte Strategie des Herrn von Bülow oder Kritik der
darin enthaltenen Ansichten (in German). Verstreute kleine Schriften .
(Osnabrück: Biblio Verlag, 1979), 77.
* Dupuy, Trevor Nevitt (1992). Understanding war: History and Theory
of combat. London: Leo Cooper. ISBN 0-85052-293-5 .
* Glantz, David M. ; Vuono, Carl E. (1991). Soviet military
operational art: In pursuit of deep battle. Taylor & Francis. ISBN
* Keegan, John (1976).
The Face of Battle . Pimlico. ISBN
* Richardson, F.M.; Hunt, Sir Peter (Forward) (1978). Fighting
spirit: A study of psychological factors in war. London: Leo Cooper.
ISBN 0-85052-236-6 .
* Tucker, T.G. (1976). Etymological dictionary of Latin. Chicago:
Ares Publishers. ISBN 0-8900