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Title: A General's Letters to His Son on Minor Tactics
Author: Anonymous
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.

*** Start of this LibraryBlog Digital Book "A General's Letters to His Son on Minor Tactics" ***

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Transcriber’s Notes

The Table of Contents was added by the Transcriber.

The maps just below most chapter headings originally were on the pages
before those headings, but were moved by the Transcriber.


  Letter I                  9
  Letter II                19
  Letter III               25
  Letter IV                31
  Letter V                 43
  Letter VI                53
  Letter VII               59
  Letter VIII              63
  Letter IX                73
  Letter X                 77
  Letter XI                81
  Letter XII               89






  _Copyright, 1918
  By George H. Doran Company_

  _Printed in the United States of America_


It has very forcibly been brought home to me that not only young
officers joining their units from training establishments, but also
those who have been in France and have come back wounded, are often
very ignorant on those points in minor tactics which they have not
learnt through actual experience on the battlefield, and that this is
especially the case with regard to the proper control of fire. The
battlefield is an expensive place to acquire knowledge which can be
gained elsewhere, and it behooves us to do all we possibly can to train
our young commanders under peace conditions for the ordeals they will
have to encounter in the presence of the enemy.

Training which in ordinary times would form the course of study for
years now has to be crammed into a few months, and it stands to reason
that much which is essential remains unlearnt.

I have generally found that the best way to train young officers in
minor tactics is by giving them as realistically as possible little
problems to solve, and afterwards in the presence of their comrades to
discuss their proposed dispositions and then to tell them clearly what
they ought to have done, giving reasons for every step taken.

Where it is possible actually to carry out the exercise with troops,
this is still better, so long as it is all done quickly, as this
impresses the lesson to be learnt more strongly on the minds of the

Many men who are in other ways excellent instructors have not the
facility for constructing problems with _a point_, and this being
the case, it has occurred to me that I may be generally helping the
training of young officers by publishing these letters which are
written in continuation of those I addressed to my son on obtaining
his commission. The importance of the subject with which they deal is
self-evident. Unless the arrow-head, the platoon, be sharp, that is,
unless the leader be skilful as well as brave, the little combat will
not be won, and it is the sum of the little combats which spells the
result of the battle.

There is not a word in this little book which transgresses the spirit
of the training manuals and official instructions now in force.

            “X. Y. Z.”





            _December 1, 1917._


It is now nearly nine months since I wrote the last of my letters of
advice to you, and since then you have yourself been in France and have
had many experiences and hairbreadth escapes.

I am very thankful that your wound is only a slight one, and am glad
that within a couple of months you will probably once more be able to
take your place in the fighting-line, for that is where your country
demands your presence. It behoves you, in the meantime, to seize every
opportunity of studying your profession and familiarising yourself
as far as possible with the different positions in which you may be
placed, so that when you meet a similar situation in the field you may
recognise it for what it really is, in spite of the surroundings in
which it is dressed, and may thus be more likely to solve it properly
than would be the case if you were dealing with a problem which you
had never thought over before. It would be difficult to exaggerate the
importance of the results which may depend on your correctly answering
the questions put to you on the field of battle. These questions become
more complex and more varied as the responsibility of an officer’s
position increases, but in the case of a junior officer they are seldom
very difficult, and all that is required to deal with them properly
is a little common sense and a cool head combined with courage and

It is on the result of the many little fights of which an action is
composed that the result of a battle depends. The brilliant strategy
of a commander-in-chief and the fine tactics of a divisional commander
cannot bear fruit unless the troop-leading of the companies is well
carried out, and in the same way good troop-leading will prevent
a defeat being turned into a rout. Individual gallantry, valuable
as it may be, is bound to be thrown away if unaccompanied by skill.
The experiences you have undergone should render you more capable of
assimilating the requisite knowledge than you were nine months ago.

Before I proceed further, I will mention a few axioms which can seldom
be neglected without bad results accruing. Some of these seem so
self-evident that it would appear to be unnecessary to state them,
nevertheless they are all of them continually transgressed.

1. Impress on your men the importance of adjusting their sights
correctly. On a peace field-day this axiom is sometimes neglected, and
in the excitement of action it is often entirely forgotten.

2. Keep your men together unless there is some very definite object
for not doing so, and only detach them for protective services, _i.e._
advance guards, etc.

3. Infantry mounted officers are apt to forget that their horses are
given to them in order to give them more mobility. There are many
occasions on which, by cantering on and making arrangements previous to
the arrival of the unit which they command, they can save a great deal
of valuable time and often much marching and counter-marching.

4. Never allow the pace in front to be hurried on a march. It is much
easier to march at the head than at the rear of a column.

5. Before opening fire, carefully consider the situation. If you feel
certain of being able to deal with the enemy, let him approach close
before disclosing yourself, and then destroy him. If, on the contrary,
he is so much superior to you that you cannot hope to be able to do
this, you should open at a long range, but in these circumstances do
not hurry the rate of fire to begin with. It takes an exceptional man
to fire more than 200 rounds in a short space of time without being

6. It is a sound rule always to pursue the line of action which
your opponent does not wish you to pursue. If, for instance, in the
circumstances mentioned in the above paragraph the enemy open fire on
you at a long range, you may presume that he does so in order to keep
you at arm’s length, and if you halt you are probably doing what he
wishes you to do.

7. However small your party may be when acting independently, it is
responsible for its own protection, and it should always have an
advance guard or its equivalent.

8. Whenever you have an opportunity of doing so, and the tactical
situation allows of it, check your ranges by firing at an auxiliary
mark where you can see the splash of your bullet, such as a dusty road
or water.

9. When you have ascertained the correct distances of the object, make
a range-card and pass on your information to neighbouring troops.

10. If you see a good opportunity of inflicting loss on the enemy, but
it is impracticable to check the range, use combined sights.

11. Remember that if the target you are shooting at is large enough
and you know the range, you can inflict heavy losses with rifle and
machine-gun fire at ranges well over 2,000 yards.

12. Do not forget to make use of the map when estimating a range.

13. Although the secret of success in an engagement is the proper
co-operation of the different arms of the service, the platoon
commander must not cry out for artillery assistance when he has the
means of carrying out his task in his own platoon, which, with its
riflemen, its Lewis gunners, its bombers, and its rifle bombers,
is, in itself, a miniature division. In an action where telephonic
communication has broken down this rule applies with special force.

14. Above all things, impress on your men the enormous power of their
rifle. I have heard many stories of men not firing at all because they
hoped the enemy would come within _bombing range_. I have also heard of
bodies of German troops streaming across the open unfired at because no
order was given. I have also heard of machine guns stopping a German
advance, whilst infantry who were lying down beside them did not fire a

15. Rifle grenades and bombs both have their proper uses, and in
trench fighting it would be difficult to get on without them. The
former are also excellent for giving covering fire whilst a post is
being rushed; but if the infantryman’s worth be 100, of this 100, 85
per cent. belongs to his rifle and bayonet, 10 per cent. to his rifle
grenade, and 5 per cent. at the outside to his bomb.

16. Never miss an opportunity to reorganise your company or platoon, as
the case may be, ready for the next emergency.

17. After capturing a trench or work, get your Lewis guns into position
without any delay. From a small front they can bring a great fire to
bear, and they must be given the best position. Under the protection
given by them, the remainder of your command must consolidate.

(For consolidation, see note to Scheme 7.)

18. Your duty towards the enemy is your duty towards your neighbour
reversed. Think how he could make himself most objectionable to you and
act in this manner towards him.

19. Always be certain that you understand your orders, and if you
are in doubt never hesitate to ask and make certain, even should your
commanding officer have a short temper.

20. If you are detached for any specific purpose you should always
rejoin your unit when you have accomplished what you were told to do.

21. Do not fail to give negative information. Young officers are very
apt to neglect this. It may be of great importance to a commanding
officer to know that a certain place is not held by the enemy, and this
is just the kind of information that his patrol leaders are apt to
forget to send him.

22. Always insist on any verbal order you may give being repeated to
you by the recipient before he leaves your presence.

23. In a retirement you send men to the rear with orders to take up
another position to protect your retirement; always see that they are
accompanied by a competent leader, or when the last party falls back
they will very likely find that their retirement is unsupported.

Try to remember these axioms. My subsequent letters will be founded on
their application.

        Your affectionate father,
                           “X. Y. Z.”



  W X Y are Pill Boxes
  W & Y have been captured by us      X still holds out

            _December 7, 1917._


I will now proceed to set you a few problems in illustration of the
axioms which I gave you at the end of my last letter.

The first will be on the subject of taking a German pill-box, for I
have heard of many instances of a pill-box holding up the advance of
a whole brigade for a very considerable period. I have also heard how
many gallant but badly devised attempts to carry it have failed, and
the lives of officers and men have been sacrificed in vain, and how
eventually a better commanded platoon has succeeded in taking it with
very little loss.


_W_, _X_, and _Y_ are three pill-boxes about 150 yards apart. We are
attacking in the direction of the arrows, that is, in a northerly

Our men following close behind the barrage took pill-boxes _W_ and _Y_;
but, partly owing to the conformation of the ground and partly for
other reasons, we failed to take _X_, and this pill-box is now holding
up the whole of our advance between _W_, wood, and _Y_, knoll, with a
machine gun, which is being fired from the inside of the pill-box, and
which sweeps the whole ground between these points so effectively that
directly we attempt to advance our men are mown down.

It is apparent that _X_ has only one machine gun in action, though this
is a very efficient one.

From the contours on the sketch, it is evident that the ground is
convex in formation, that is, that it is nearly flat between _X_ and
_H_¹, but that it slopes rapidly between _H_¹ and _H_, between _B_¹ and
_B_, and between _C_¹ and _C_.

The slopes are covered with brushwood. The ground between contour 120
and the pill-box is meadow land.

The platoon originally told off to attack _X_ was wiped out.


You have been ordered to take _X_ with your platoon and to do so as
quickly as possible. When you receive these orders you are yourself at
_H_, and, as you will see from the sketch, are not under fire from _X_.

What steps will you take to carry out your orders?

Do not enter into an elaborate dissertation, but give short, concise
orders, and if you desire to do so, append a short statement saying why
you gave these orders.

_Action considered Correct._

As there is only one machine gun in action, if _X_ be attacked
simultaneously from _B_¹ and _C_¹, either one party or the other should
succeed in getting to the rear of the pill-box and blowing in the door.


No. 4 Section with the Lewis gun will choose a position somewhere to
the north of _H_, and on my signal will open a rapid fire on the
loopholes of the pill-box at _X_. No. 3 Section will choose a position
near _B_¹, and when the Lewis gun opens fire, they will open a rapid
rifle-grenade fire on _X_. One minute after the Lewis gun has opened,
No. 1 Section will rush in from _C_¹ and No. 2 Section from _B_¹.

       *       *       *       *       *

I am aware that in the foregoing problem I have made the task of the
platoon commander a very simple one. I wished, however, to avoid any
points of controversy. If the ground should not be so advantageous
for your attack as that above depicted, the principle, viz. movement
combined with fire, still remains the same. You should bring a
converging attack to bear and advance your men under cover of the fire
of your rifle grenades and Lewis guns, and by pushing men forward from
one shell-crater to another, you should generally be able to achieve
your object if your plan be evolved on sound principles. It is also
possible that smoke bombs could be used with advantage if the wind be

The above problem is one which has often been put to young officers
on the battlefield, and they have not by any means always given a
satisfactory answer to it, simple as it is.

        Your affectionate father,
                           “X. Y. Z.”



            _December 15, 1917._


Since the early days of the campaign there has been but little fighting
in towns or villages which have not previously been so knocked about
that they could better be designated ruins than habitable places, but
in the event of an advance on a large scale towns and villages are
certain to be the scenes of severe combats. I will therefore give you
three little problems in street-fighting. When you have read them, the
points I call attention to will probably seem to you so self-evident
that you will wonder that I have considered it worth while to comment
on them. Nevertheless, I am not quite sure that you will give what I
consider to be the correct answers to all of them, if you do not turn
over the page and look at the solutions I have given, before stating
your own.


The brigade to which you belong has entered a town from a southerly
direction, and you are opposed by an enemy who has entered it from a
northerly direction.

The company of which you are in command has been allotted the ground
between the roads _B F_, _C G_, both inclusive, your flanks are
protected, the streets are about thirty feet broad with pavements five
feet broad, houses run all along the streets.

_Answer the following Questions._

(_a_) If you were to tell off a section to prevent the enemy advancing
along the street _B F_ from a northerly direction, which side of the
street would it be best for them to occupy, and why?

(_b_) Your men occupy the streets _B D_ and _D C_, but no man can show
his face in the street _A H_, which is covered by machine guns and
snipers firing from near _A_, and all men attempting to cross the road
at _D_ have been shot. Several houses in the street _B D_ have been
knocked down by shell fire.

In this street there are six empty wagons and in the houses in the
street there is to be found furniture of all descriptions, as well as
ropes, harness, and stables, with some horses in them. You are anxious
to place a barricade across the street _A H_ at _D_, so as to enable
you to use the crossing at _D_. How should you set about making this

(_c_) There is a house at _H_ looking right down the street _A H_.
Whereabouts in this house should you put your Lewis gun, and why?


(_a_) On the western side, because your men, shooting out of the
windows in a northerly direction, would then fire from their right
shoulders without exposing their bodies.

(_b_) Fill the wagons with rubble from the houses which have been
knocked down. Fasten sacking or sheets on to the wagon, so as to give
cover from view between the body of the wagon and the ground. Throw a
string attached to a brick across the street. By means of this, pull
over a rope and attach the wagons to this rope, and thus pull them into
the position you require.

(_c_) At the back of a room in the house, where you can see but cannot
be seen, firing through the window. If you choose a window near the top
of the house and put the Lewis gun on a table some distance back in the
room, you will probably be able to fire over the barricade which you
are thinking of constructing at _D_.

I have put you three definite and very simple questions with regard to
street-fighting, for it may often happen that correct action on the
spur of the moment when a village is first entered may result in ground
being easily gained which would otherwise entail heavy fighting and
serious loss to capture.

Street-fighting is a very big subject, and as a rule it gradually
develops into underground warfare.

Villages entered during a battle often have snipers in the top stories
or on the roofs of the houses, and these are places in which you
may also place a few good shots with great advantage. This is an
illustration of the advisability of doing to the enemy what you do not
like his doing to you.

I will send you another problem next week.

        Your affectionate father,
                           “X. Y. Z.”



            _December 22, 1917._


You have told me that you have once or twice temporarily commanded a
company and have asked me whether I think there is any advantage in a
young and active company commander being mounted.

In another part of your letter you ask whether I think a defensive
position should be taken up on a forward or on a reverse slope.

This latter is a very big question and one on which many pages could
be written, but I shall confine myself here to saying that it is
imperative to hold the crest line in order to get observation, but
that, owing to the crest line and forward slope being so much more
vulnerable by artillery fire than is the reverse slope, there are many
advantages in constructing the main line of defence well behind the

I find now that I have tried in a few words to answer your second
question before dealing with the first one. The object of giving you
a horse is, firstly, to enable you to move about more rapidly, and
consequently to do your duty better; and secondly, because a company
commander’s work really begins when the march is over. It is infinitely
more important that he should be fresh than that any other man in
the company should be so. Again, by riding on in front and making
proper arrangements for bivouacs or billets, he may save weary men
much marching and counter-marching, and, what is even more important,
he will on other occasions, by being able to push on in front, save
half an hour by thinking out proper tactical dispositions before
his men arrive. I will now give you a little problem which will, I
think, illustrate the two questions which you have asked me. You must,
nevertheless, remember that there can be no hard-and-fast rule as to
where a position should be taken up. We cannot alter the ground to suit
our formation, and therefore our formations must be made to suit the
ground. The proper way to hold ground when the object is to fight a
rearguard action is quite different from the way it should be held to
fight a battle _à l’outrance_, and all I will commit myself to doing is
to give my advice as to how a certain piece of ground should be held in
certain given circumstances. I hope that the following problem will, to
a certain extent, answer both your questions.


An advance guard, of which the company you command forms part, has been
pushed forward to seize a position of which the ridge _B-I_ forms a
part. The main body should reach the position some eight hours after
your arrival there. You have been told that your first object is to
prevent the enemy’s cavalry seizing the position. The enemy’s cavalry,
accompanied by horse artillery, may be expected in the proximity of the
position within an hour or so after your arrival, but it is unlikely
that his infantry and field artillery will arrive much before your
own main body. The time of the year is July, the hour is 4 p.m. The
soil is sandy, but covered with grass. You are riding at the head
of your company, and are about two miles from the crest when a staff
officer accompanied by the adjutant rides up to you and you receive the
following instructions:

“Our cavalry have reached the crest of the ridge _B C D E F G H I_
without encountering opposition. You will be responsible for the front
from _E_ to _I_, both inclusive, until the main body arrives, and must
make immediate arrangements for securing it against attack by hostile
cavalry and horse artillery. Not a minute is to be lost. You will also
do your best to prepare the front allotted to you for defence against
a strong infantry attack which the enemy will probably deliver, though
it is unlikely that be will be in a position to do so before dawn

_Question 1._

What would you do on receipt of these orders?

_Action considered Correct._

You should save time by handing over command of your company and
yourself cantering on so as to examine the ground and carefully
consider your plans before your company arrives. The line of argument
you should adopt on arrival on the ridge should be: “My first object is
to prevent cavalry, assisted by horse artillery, reaching the ridge,
and not a single moment is to be lost in doing this.

“My second object is to consider carefully how the ground can best
be prepared to resist a determined infantry attack early to-morrow
morning. It is possible that the ridge may be subjected to shell fire
soon after the arrival of my company, and I must make hay whilst the
sun shines.”

The conclusions you would come to as a result of this reasoning would
probably be: “It is improbable that I shall be able to entrench the
whole of my company before the enemy opens fire, but at all events
I will try to make emplacements for my four Lewis guns on the ridge
between _E_ and _I_. They will thus be about eighty yards apart.

“I will use intensive labour to get these emplacements completed

By intensive labour is meant telling off three men to each tool used
and ordering the man to dig with all his might and main for a couple
of minutes or until he is tired, and then to hand his tool over to
another man who is ready to receive it. By this means more work can
be done in half an hour than is usually done in an hour. For periods
of under an hour, when men are working against time to achieve some
important object, intensive labour is an excellent method to adopt, but
it is not suited for long tasks where its use would wear men out. It is
especially applicable where the task worked at is so small that only a
very limited number of men can work simultaneously.

“I will, at the same time, construct trenches connecting these Lewis
gun posts. It is possible that the arrival of the enemy’s guns will
oblige me to relinquish work until the night, but the fact that the
trenches have been commenced in the daytime will very much assist the
men in their night work. I will afterwards construct supporting points
at the farm _L_ and between _M_ and _N_ on the reverse slope.”

_Question 2._

If you concur with these conclusions, what principle will govern your
action in putting the farm into a state of defence? You will notice
that the farm shows a bigger front to the east and the west than it
does to the north and the south. It is constructed of strong masonry
and has two stories.

_Action which is considered Correct._

You should use the southern rooms in the farm for your machine guns
rather than the northern ones, as you will there be more protected
from shell fire. You must keep your defence as much below ground as
possible, using cellars if they are available, and otherwise digging
trenches inside the walls so as to have your loopholes a few inches
above the ground level.

Construct head cover with strong baulks close over your heads, so
that in the event of the whole building being brought down, it will
not affect you, but only give you more cover from high-angle fire. If
possible put wire round the northern end of the building. Arrange to
flank the work between _M N_, which should in turn protect your front.

[Illustration: _Work for 40 men & 2 m. gs. or Lewis guns. It only
requires 40 to hold it, but would give cover to twice as many_

_Angles at B & C arbitrary to suit ground._]

_Question 3._

What description of work will you make between _M_ and _N_?

_Action considered Correct._

The best form of work to construct will be one made on the principle
of that shown in the annexed diagram. As will be seen, this consists
of a series of island traverses strung together more or less in the
shape of an “S.” The advantage of this is not only that it is suitable
for all-round defence, but that the whole of the garrison can fire
simultaneously in almost any direction, the weakest points being
_A_ and _D_. The work shown in the diagram would require a garrison
of about forty men, but it could give cover to eighty. It is less
vulnerable by artillery fire than almost any other form of work. It
is an easy work to construct in so far that a large number of men
can work at it at the same time without interfering with each other.
The acuteness or obtuseness of the angles at _B_ and _C_ must depend
entirely upon the ground, but it stands to reason that the more the
angles approach right angles, the more is the work suitable for
all-round defence.

The “crucifix” strong point is also a good pattern, but I think that
the one that I have given you is better, as it is in every way a less
satisfactory mark for the enemy artillery, and also gives you quite
as good, if not better, opportunity of using all your rifles in every

My next letter will contain a problem for a rearguard commander.

        Your affectionate father,
                           “X. Y. Z.”



            _January 1, 1918._


The last scheme I gave you dealt with the taking up of a position when
an attack by a weak force was probable within an hour or so of your
occupying it, and also with the strengthening of the same position for
an expected attack by a stronger force twelve hours later. This one
deals with a rearguard action. It is straightforward and plain. The
object that troops fighting a rearguard action should have in mind is
to keep the enemy at arm’s length, to punish him severely if he is too
bold, and at the same time not to compromise their own retreat, unless
duty requires them to sacrifice themselves in order to save the main
body. I will now set you the problem before I make my own solution too
evident by my remarks. It is my intention to add a few more words at
the end of this letter, but I do not wish you to look at them until you
have written your own solution.


The banks of the River Lea are steep, the river is about four feet six
inches deep, except near the ford. The bottom is muddy. At the ford
it is forty yards broad, in most other places about twenty yards. The
fields on either side are firm. The roads shown on the sketch are dry
and dusty. The soil is chalky. The depth of the river at the ford is
two feet six inches. The date is June 20.

One of the orderlies attached to you reports that at Slag Farm there is
a large quantity of wire, some of it barbed.

The brigade to which you belong is retiring in a southerly direction.
The baggage moved in front of the brigade. The time is 5.30 p.m. You
with your company, to which six mounted orderlies have been attached,
are near Home Farm, the remainder of your battalion, which is in rear
of the brigade, is passing through Silverton, when the adjutant rides
up to you and gives you the following order:

“Information has been received that a hostile cavalry brigade is
pursuing. You will take such steps as you may consider necessary to
prevent the enemy crossing the River Lea between Stone Bridge and Slag
Farm, both inclusive, until 7 p.m., at which hour you will be relieved
by cavalry. You will be careful not to compromise your own retreat.
Having accomplished your task, you will rejoin your unit.”


How do you appreciate the situation, and what steps will you take to
carry out your instructions?

_Solution considered Correct._

The River Lea is in all places within 800 yards of the ridge, and as
the conditions are particularly favourable for fire action from the
ridge, there is no necessity for you to place your men down the forward
slope. The circumstances which render the situation so favourable for
fire action are that it is practically impossible for the enemy’s
cavalry to cross the River Lea, except at the bridge or at the ford.
The bridge and the road, with ponds on either side of it, just to the
north of the bridge, form a defile 150 yards long, through which the
enemy must pass. The ponds and the river also afford you an excellent
opportunity to check the range by the splash of your bullets.

By filling the ford with wire you should also succeed in making that
very difficult to cross. The great objection to putting men on the
forward slope is that they will come under severe fire from the horse
artillery which will accompany the cavalry, and that under cover of
this fire the cavalry are much more likely to be able to cross than
they would be if fired at from a concealed position on the ridge.
Besides which all movement by men on the forward slope would be seen
and the men themselves would not be able to retire until dark.


1. Nos. 3 and 4 Platoons will proceed under Lieutenant Smith to
the neighbourhood of Cross Farm, where they will take up the best
positions they can find with the object of protecting the crossing of
the River Lea.

It has been reported that a large quantity of wire, some of it barbed,
is to be found at Slag Farm. Lieutenant Smith will take steps to
obstruct the ford with this with the object of denying its use to the

2. No. 1 Platoon will take up a position near Home Farm and No. 2
Platoon near Hope Farm, also with the object of preventing the crossing
of the River Lea.

3. No. 2 Platoon from Hope Farm will fire ranging shots on to the ford
at Slag Farm, Chalk Pit, and the two road junctions to the north of the
ford, and when the officer commanding the platoon is certain by the
observation of his fire that he has obtained the correct ranges, he
will pass this information to the officer commanding No. 1 Platoon.

The officer commanding No. 1 Platoon will range on the ponds near
the bridge and on the road junction to the north of them, and will
similarly pass the range chart to the officer commanding No. 2
Platoon. This ranging will be carried out at once in order that the
ranging by Nos. 1 and 2 Platoons may be finished before the ranging is
commenced by the officers commanding Nos. 3 and 4 Platoons, which will
be carried out under the orders of Lieutenant Smith.

N.B.--I am quite aware that a company is supposed to carry a Barr &
Stroud range-finder. Although this is an excellent instrument when it
is in thorough order, there is really no such reliable range-finder as
a rifle fired at a mark which will show the impact of the bullet.

       *       *       *       *       *

In the proper solution of the foregoing scheme, everything really
depends upon your fire orders. I am presuming that your men are fairly
well trained with the rifle. I wish, of course, that all our men were
trained up to the standard of the Old Contemptibles, but “Rome was not
built in a day,” nor can discipline and good marksmanship become part
of a man’s second nature as a result of only a few months’ training.
If, however, your men are reasonably good shots and can fire at
least fifteen rounds a minute (they ought to fire twenty under peace
conditions), in such cases as the above much more will depend upon
whether you give correct fire orders than upon whether the men are
first-class marksmen or only moderately good shots. You can compare
a company of first-class marksmen to a Choke-bore gun which shoots
farther and harder but requires a skilled game shot to use with
advantage, whereas a company of moderately-trained shots would resemble
an ordinary scatter gun, with which the ordinary shot would probably
do more execution. If you give a range as 1,200 yards when it is only
1,000 yards and you have marksmen, no shots will fall on the object;
whereas if your company were composed of third-class shots, the chances
are that it would be well sprinkled with bullets. Do not think from
this that I prefer the third-class shots, for that is very decidedly
not the case; but if you have a highly finished weapon, you want a good
man behind it, although in the hands of such a one it will do brilliant
execution. If you have a company of good shots and are not certain of
a range, your best plan is to fire with combined sights and thus to
increase the depth of the fire-swept ground. This method, although in
many cases the best to adopt, is bound to diminish the efficacy of your
fire, for if the correct range be 1,200 yards and you fire one platoon
at 1,000 yards, one at 1,100, one at 1,200, and one at 1,300, it stands
to reason that you can only hope to get a quarter as many hits as you
would do if you gave the whole four platoons the correct range; but
even that is better than giving the range at 1,000 and missing the mark
altogether. It is a bad plan to go “Nap” before you have looked at your
hand. I shall later on give you certain little problems for solution
in which I am of opinion that combined sights should be used. In the
problem under consideration, however, their use would be absolutely
wrong. You can check all the ranges by seeing the splash of the bullets
either in the ponds, in the river, or on the Chalk Pit, and you should
be content with nothing except the correct range. Young officers
are always apt to consider that so long as they have taught their
company to shoot fairly well, they have done their duty with regard to
musketry. This is, in reality, by no means the case. The company is
simply the sportsman’s gun; the commander has to learn how to use it.

There are many circumstances under which a man has to pick out his
own target, as, for instance, when the enemy is attacking, and here
everything depends upon his individual marksmanship. There are,
however, many other occasions in which if 10 per cent. of the effect
depends upon whether the men are first-class marksmen or only ordinary
decent shots, 90 per cent. will depend upon whether the officer gives
fire orders properly adapted to the situation. The above problem is an
illustration of this principle.

You should notice that in my solution I carefully arranged that
the party comprised of Nos. 2 and 3 Platoons should not commence
ranging until Nos. 1 and 2 Platoons had finished. Were they to fire
simultaneously, confusion in the splashes made by the bullets would be
the result.

Don’t forget to hand over your range card to your relief.

        Your affectionate father,
                           “X. Y. Z.”



            _January 7, 1918._



I will set you another problem.

The force to which you belong has made a night march. Your platoon now
forms part of a new outpost line. You halted in a ditch at line marked
_D_, with a thin hedge on the enemy’s side of it, which gives you good
cover from view. Your idea was to use this place as the headquarters
of your picket, and as soon as it was thoroughly light to throw groups
out in front. Your platoon consists of forty men and a Lewis gun. Soon
after dawn and when your men are still in the trench at _D_, you see
what you take to be a strong platoon of the enemy advancing straight
towards you from the north; a couple of groups of men are fifty yards
in front, and the remainder of the platoon is advancing in fours along
a country road, which passes close to your position. You see the
platoon when it is at _A_ about 1,000 yards off.

What action will you take?

_Action considered Correct._

There seems to be every chance of your being able to ambuscade this
party, and you should let it advance until the groups which the main
body has in front of it are within fifty yards of your picquet. You
should tell off a few men on the flanks to deal with these groups,
and turn the fire of the whole of the rest of your platoon on to the
main body. You must be careful to see that all your men lie down, that
no one but yourself has his head above ground level, and you must
camouflage yourself. The suspense in such a situation as this makes
great demands on the men’s discipline, and they are apt to look up and
be seen by the enemy, thus destroying all hope of surprise.


The situation is exactly the same as in Problem 5_a_, except that
instead of a platoon advancing towards you, there is a whole company
marching in fours, with four groups 100 yards in front of it.

What action would you take?

_Action considered Correct._

Exactly the same as in Problem 5_a_. The enemy is in this case four
times as strong as you are, but the effect of surprise should more
than make up for this, and the first minute after you open fire should
decide the action in your favour.


The situation is again exactly the same as in 5_a_ and 5_b_, except
that a whole battalion with eight groups 200 yards in front of it is

What action would you take?

_Action considered Correct._

In this case the situation is changed. You are an outpost, and your
first duty is to warn your main body in case of an attack and to give
it time to prepare itself. It is just possible that if you allow the
battalion to approach to within 300 yards you might deal it such a
blow as to almost destroy it; but if, on the contrary, the covering
groups were composed of really good soldiers and the companies were
well commanded, there would be a great chance of your being rushed, and
this is a risk which you ought not to take, for it would compromise
the whole situation. In these circumstances you should therefore take
steps to open a rapid fire on the enemy immediately with your men and
your Lewis gun. Your object in doing this would be to keep him at arm’s
length and delay his advance as much as possible so as to give your
supports and reserves time to prepare themselves.

        Your affectionate father,
                           “X. Y. Z.”



            _January 15, 1918._



In this letter I am going to set you another fire problem. It is one
in which, presuming that the men are fairly well trained in musketry,
everything depends on the orders given by the company commander.

You are in command of a company and are marching in a northerly
direction along the road _W B E_, with scouts in front of you. On
reaching the top of the ridge at _B_ your scouts halt and beckon to
you. You go forward and see what appears to be an enemy’s battalion at
_X_, by the bank of the River Spate. The battalion is in close column
and the men are lying down resting. The country all round the battalion
is open. There is a thin hedge on the top of the ridge _A B C_ through
which you can see and through which you could fire, but which gives
you cover from view.

State how the situation presents itself to you and also give your exact

_Solution considered Correct._

You should reason with yourself as follows:

“If I advance beyond the hedge I shall be seen and my company will be
opposed by a battalion. There seems to be an excellent opportunity of
surprising the enemy, who shows no sign of moving, with my concentrated
fire, and I shall consequently make my plans deliberately. From my map
I judge the distance from the top of the ridge to the bridge over the
River Spate to be 1,300 yards, and the centre of the battalion about
1,400 yards, but as I want to be quite sure of getting the battalion
into my bracket, I shall use combined sights. I shall first line up the
whole company 30 yards behind the hedge, and then order No. 1 Platoon
to fix their sights at 1,300, No. 2 at 1,400, No. 3 at 1,500, and
No. 4 at 1,600 yards, with the Lewis gun of No. 1 Platoon at 1,350,
that of No. 2 at 1,400, that of No. 3 at 1,450, and that of No. 4 at
1,500 yards. I shall then order the whole company to creep up into
position, and when the target has been properly pointed out I shall
blow my whistle, on which every man will fire twenty rounds rapid and
each Lewis gun six drums. At the end of the twenty rounds I can, if
necessary, correct my ranges. Men are, as a rule, more apt to fire
high than low, and I should have given the ranges 1,200, 1,300, 1,400,
1,500, instead of 1,300, 1,400, 1,500, 1,600, had it not been that the
river will prevent the enemy rushing straight towards me if he finds
the fire is high, whereas if my ranges are short he could get out of
range by retiring.”

        Your affectionate father,
                           “X. Y. Z.”



            _January 22, 1918._



The following is a problem in trench warfare such as you may be called
upon to solve any day in the trenches.

The company of which you are in command has succeeded in getting into a
trench a section of which is given in the diagram. It has only incurred
about 10 per cent. of casualties. The trench is the last of the German
system, and there is a clear field of fire for about 100 yards in the
direction in which the enemy has retired; after that there is a thick

Your telephone communication has broken down and it is evident that you
will for some time have to rely on your own resources. Your flanks are
secured by troops on your right and left. Your company now numbers 120
rank and file. The front allotted to you measures about 150 yards.
The trench which you are now occupying was considerably shelled by us
previous to its capture, and what was the rear of the trench when the
Germans held it, namely _H G F_, has been considerably broken down
in half a dozen places. It is quite possible that the Germans will
counter-attack from the wood without delay. It is evident from the
section of the trench depicted on the diagram that you cannot fire out
of it as it is at present.


What action will you take to prepare for the enemy’s counter-attack?

_Solution considered Correct._

Your position is a difficult one, for there is no place from which your
men can fire. You cannot even use the step _C_, nor the parapet _A K_,
for the parados _H G_ is, as is usually the case, eighteen inches
higher than is the old crest line at _A_. In the short time at your
disposal it will be next to impossible to make a continuous step so
as to enable you to fire over _H_, and in the circumstances the best
thing for you to do is to concentrate the whole of your energies on
getting your Lewis guns into position and to use intensive labour for
the purpose.[1] It is possible that you may be able to get one or two
of the Lewis guns satisfactorily into position at some of the places
in which the revetment in _F G H_ has been knocked down. If, in your
company, you have half a dozen iron or wire grips which you can utilise
to pull down the sandbag revetment, you will find them of the greatest
assistance, for men who only have their hands to work with find it very
difficult to get a grip on a sandbag which is in a revetment.

    [1] See Problem 3, p. 35.

You must at once place look-out men to give you warning of any sign
of the enemy assembling in the edge of the wood to your front and be
prepared to open on them with rifle grenades.

The real advantage that a machine gun or Lewis gun has over a rifle
is that from a small point of vantage one of these weapons can pour a
tremendous hail of fire, and in such circumstances as those depicted
above there is no doubt but that the first consideration should be to
get your Lewis guns into position.

If possible, it is best to place these in pairs, shooting obliquely
and crossing their fire in front of you. As soon as this is done you
should thin out and organise your defence in depth. This being carried
out, you must determine what localities you will hold and where you
will have your gaps. You should generally have a locality in front
of any communication trench leading up from the rear. As soon as you
have determined on your localities, you must set-to and build a fire
step. The next measure to take in order of importance is to collect
ammunition and place it at convenient points. After you have done this,
try to put wire or some other obstacle in front. In advising this, I
am presuming that you have reached your final objective. Be careful
to remove any old German wire behind you which will prevent your own
supports coming up over the open to reinforce you. Try to get your
localities marked by lamps at night, that your own friends in rear can
see where they are.


After hard fighting you have driven the enemy out of the trench
_A B C_, and he has retired up the communication trench _D E F_ in the
direction of his supports. You are in command of a platoon and have
been ordered to take steps to prevent the enemy again advancing along
the communication trench _E D B_. It is not the intention of your
commanding officer to advance at present any farther than the points he
has already reached. The time is an hour before dark.

What steps will you take to carry out the instructions you have

_Solution considered Correct._

Pull knife-rests[2] down into the trench _D E F_, also throw wire
into it if available. At once put a couple of men at the point _D_ to
cover the trench _D E_ with their rifles. As soon as you are able to
do so, dig a short trench from _G_ to _D_ and place a Lewis gun at _G_
to enfilade _D E_. You may have to wait until after dark before you
actually carry this out, but you should make arrangements for doing
it by daylight. It would not be a bad plan to tie a few tins on to the
knife-rests which you have thrown into the trench, so that the rattle,
if they are moved, will give you warning of any one’s approach. The
Lewis gun at _G_ will be practically out of bombing range from _E F_.

    [2] A knife-rest is a portable wire entanglement about 10 feet
        long, made upon a wooden frame-work.


       *       *       *       *       *

There are as many different types of stops as there are different sorts
of trenches. Some of these types are better than others, but there is
no type which is suitable under all circumstances. Everything must
depend on the exact local conditions and on the means at your disposal.
It does not require much ingenuity to devise a good stop for a trench
if you have leisure to think the matter out, but just as a remark which
would be commonplace if given as the result of matured deliberation is
regarded as brilliant if made as a quick repartee, so in tactics to
do what is right under fire is quite a different thing to answering a
question on an examination paper. Nevertheless, to have answered a
similar question on an examination paper, or, still better, to have
done it as a tactical exercise, renders it very much more likely that
you will do the right thing when you are faced by a similar problem in
earnest. I, therefore, counsel you to carefully consider the different
sorts of trenches which you come across and to think out carefully how
you would put a stop in them, or how you turn them to shoot in the
opposite direction. In the diagram I have given you it is just possible
that by cutting down the elbow at _E_, you may be able to enfilade the
section of trench _E F_ from _A_. This would, however, depend on the
ground and on the actual construction of the trenches concerned.

        Your affectionate father,
                           “X. Y. Z.”



            _February 1, 1918._



This week my letter will be a short one, as it only contains one very
simple problem.

You are on outpost duty and have been told that the General is very
anxious to get one or two live prisoners. Your picquet is at some
cross-roads a quarter of a mile south of the road _A B_ marked on the
map. You have reason to believe that it is probable that the enemy will
patrol down the road _A B_. _A B_ is a good road with strong fences on
either side of it, and with ditches on the road side of the fence.

Does any special way of taking prisoners alive in this road suggest
itself to you?


A very good plan to adopt in these circumstances would be what the
Japanese used to call the trap-door. If your post consists of six men,
leave four under the leader at _A_ and tell them to conceal themselves
in the ditch, and place two, also concealed in the ditch, forty yards
in front of the mat _B_. If the enemy’s patrol comes along, the men at
_B_ should allow it to pass them and then give a signal and at the same
time themselves take steps to cut off the patrol’s retreat, whilst the
four men at _A_ prevent it advancing farther.

       *       *       *       *       *

The above little scheme is so simple that I should feel that I ought
to apologise for setting it, were it not that I am quite certain that
three out of four of your comrades to whom you may set it will not give
the proper solution.

I saw a similar little problem given to men of different regiments
in India. The only troops who answered it properly were Pathans. It
apparently much resembles traps which they set for one another in their
inter-tribal fights. Although some twenty teams competed, neither
British troops, Sikhs, Hindustani, Mohammedans, nor Rajputs ever
managed to successfully catch their men.

        Your affectionate father,
                           “X. Y. Z.”



            _February 7, 1918._



The problem I am setting you to-day has to do with fire control.

You are on outpost facing in a northerly direction and are in command
of a picquet consisting of the headquarters of a platoon with a Lewis
gun and thirty men at _G_. A man who has been sent in from a group on
your left tells you that a company of the enemy is moving across your
front from left to right along the road _A B C D E F_. He says that the
company is marching with an advanced guard of one platoon about 200
yards in front of it. The platoon has a couple of groups 200 yards in
front of it again. Five minutes after you have received this notice,
you see a group of the enemy marching from the wood at _B_.


How do you appreciate the situation and what action do you intend to


So long as you remain carefully concealed at _G_ and your men do not
show themselves, it is at least as likely as not that the enemy’s
scouts will not discover you. If, however, they should do so, your
danger will come from the enemy’s company and the platoon in front of
it and not from the scouts, and it is with these larger bodies that you
must make your plans to deal. At this close range you ought to be able
to put them out of action in the first minute after opening fire. If
your men conceal themselves properly, even if the scouts do discover
you, they will not do so until the enemy’s main body is nearing the
point _C_. Your orders should consequently be somewhat as follows:

“Let every man conceal himself.

“The Lewis gun and Nos. 1 and 2 Sections of the platoon on my command
to open fire will direct their fire half left on the main body of the
enemy’s company, which will be the rearmost party. No. 3 Section will
deal with the platoon forming the advanced guard, and No. 4 Section,
taking its orders from the section commander, will deal with isolated
groups. No man will put up his head until I give the order to fire. The
whole platoon will use fixed sights.”

You should at once issue these preliminary orders. If you are not
discovered, do not open fire until the head of the main body has
reached _D_.

Napoleon used to say that if you ever saw your enemy making a mistake,
you should give him lots of time to make it thoroughly before punishing
him. Do not pull the bait out of the pike’s mouth until he has properly
gorged it. This maxim applies equally whether you are dealing with
armies or only with platoons. I, myself, remember in my early days
missing a tiger sixty yards off, when, if I had only waited, he would
have walked right under the tree on which I was seated.

        Your affectionate father,
                           “X. Y. Z.”



            _February 10, 1918._


I hope you will master and remember the principles which govern the
problem I am setting you to-day. Although very simple, it requires a
little more thought than most of those which have preceded it.

The Germans have broken through our front line. Your company, with its
four Lewis guns and with four Vickers guns which have been placed under
your command, has been hastily thrown into the trench _B_, which is
well constructed and well concealed, and has a good field of fire to
the east. Four 18-pounder guns were in action at a hundred yards north
of the trench _B_, but two of these guns have already been put out of
action by the enemy’s artillery. The Germans are advancing in great
numbers regardless of sacrifice and are now about a mile distant.
Their object is evidently to take the ridge _A C_, and it is of the
utmost importance that they should be frustrated in their endeavours.
The front allotted to you to defend runs from _Z_ Clump on the north
to _U_ Farm on the south. Other troops are responsible outside these
limits. You have in the trench _B_ 50,000 rounds of ammunition besides
that which the men have on them. You are senior to the officer in
command of the remaining two 18-pounders.

What action would you take? and give your reasons.

_Comments on the Situation and Action adjudged Correct._

Let us first of all consider how many rounds a minute you could expect
the troops under your command to fire in the following circumstances:

(_a_) If the fire were only to be continued for two minutes.

(_b_) If it were to be kept up for half an hour.

  (_a_) If it were to be kept up for two minutes only, you
  might expect 100 infantrymen to fire from fifteen to twenty
  rounds a minute (let us say)                                     3,200

  Four Lewis guns to fire 600 rounds each in the two minutes       2,400

  Four Vickers to fire 750 rounds each in two minutes              3,000

  (_b_) If the fire were to be kept up for half an hour you
  might justly expect infantry to fire at an average rate of
  five rounds a minute                                            15,000

    It would be unwise to attempt to exceed this average rate of
    fire, for even if your men were muscularly able to continue
    firing at a greater rate, it is a known thing that the nervous
    strain of firing is such that there are but few men who can
    fire 200 rounds consecutively without breaking down, and it is
    of paramount importance that you should keep a certain amount
    of reserve force in hand in case the enemy gets to a really
    close range.

    Four Lewis guns would during the half-hour be able to
      fire 600 rounds each, and if these rounds were fired at
      fairly long ranges would still be in a position to fire
      600 rounds rapid when the enemy got to close quarters
      The platoon commanders would, however, be well advised
      to regard these Lewis guns as their reserves and to do
      nothing to risk their being ready to fire 600 rounds at
      the critical moment. They should, therefore, use them
      very sparingly at medium ranges                              2,400

    Four Vickers Maxims should be able to fire at an average
      rate of 200 rounds a minute                                 24,000

In other words, in the two minutes you could fire at the average rate
of over 4,000 rounds a minute, but for half an hour could only keep
up an average rate of about 800 rounds a minute. Another thing to be
considered is that your average of hits at the closer ranges would be
greater than they would be at the farther ranges. There is, however,
no reason why you should not inflict as much loss as possible on the
enemy at medium and long ranges, provided you know at what distance to
fire. We used to consider in South Africa that when we were advancing
against a position held by the enemy, he used to shoot straighter at
500 yards than he did at 200, for, fine shots as the Boers were, their
excitement at our near approach disturbed their accurate shooting. You
may therefore expect that your men will shoot _comparatively_ better
when the enemy is at medium ranges than when he is very close, provided
that they know the distance.

It cannot be expected that you will go in for such a long disquisition
at a moment when you are called upon to act, but you should have
considered these points beforehand, at all events to such an extent
that you would have decided to open fire when the enemy was still
at comparatively long ranges, but to increase this fire as lie got
closer and to reserve the maximum rate of fire until you can pour it
in with deadly effect. You must always remember that you are dealing
with human beings who have nerves and not with machines. As I have
previously said, the above principles should be those on which you
decide to act, but the first thing you should do would be to send to
the officer commanding the section of guns and inquire from him the
ranges of any objects within rifle shot which he has ascertained, and
you should at the same time desire him to obtain for you the ranges of
any other prominent objects near which the enemy must pass, so that if
his remaining guns are knocked out you will know what sights to use.
Whilst this is being done, you should divide your front between your
platoon commanders. The Lewis guns should remain with their platoons,
but you would be wise to keep the Vickers Maxims under your own special
command, so that you can turn them on to any portion of the advancing
line which seems especially to threaten you. In fact, you should look
on these as your reserve. Having thus considered the situation, you
should issue the following orders:

    “Fire fronts are allotted as under:
     No. 1 Platoon to the right of Farm _U_.
     No. 2 Platoon from farm _U_ to _Y_ tree.
     No. 3 Platoon from _Y_ tree to farm _W_.
     No. 4 Platoon to the left of farm _W_.”

_Order_ No. 2.--“Ranges are being ascertained from the artillery and
will be passed to platoon commanders. Platoon commanders can open fire
at their own discretion, but must bear in mind the enormous importance
of being ready in all respects to use the full power of their fire
should the enemy succeed in getting to close ranges. The four Vickers
Maxim guns will, under my orders, fire at any portion of the enemy’s
advance which appears to be especially threatening.”

The majority of regimental officers now serving do not at all
appreciate the enormous effect of rifle and machine-gun fire at medium
and long ranges, nor the importance of taking every step in their
power to obtain the accurate ranges as soon as they have taken up a
position. The effect of the fire of a fairly good company in such
circumstances as those above depicted and acting on the above carefully
considered fire orders would be enormous, whereas if the fire fronts
were not properly allotted and if ranges were unknown, it would be of
comparatively little value.

        Your affectionate father,
                           “X. Y. Z.”



            _February 20, 1918._


What would you do in the following circumstances?

A force is retiring in a north-westerly direction. The River Lea shown
on the map is unfordable. Two companies are acting as the point of the
rearguard. Their orders are to hold the bridges at _A_ and _B_. The
bridge at _B_ is to be held until 10 a.m. and the bridge at _A_ until
10.30 a.m. If they can hold out until these hours, it is estimated that
it will enable the main body to get away unmolested. The trees shown
on the map are mostly oak, and are on an average forty feet high. The
roads marked on the map are metalled and good. The farm buildings at
_D_ are strong. You are commanding B Company of your battalion, which
is at _B_ bridge, and are senior to Captain A., a reliable officer,
who is occupying _A_ trench just south of _A_ wood. At 9.15 a.m. two
scouts mounted on motor bicycles inform you that they have patrolled
to the front and that none of the enemy are within three miles of you
except a few companies near _E_, who are acting as support to an attack
which is being made against _A_ bridge. At 9.20 a.m. you receive the
following message from Captain A., dated 9 a.m.: “Please do whatever
you can to support me. I am being heavily shelled, and infantry are
trying to push across _A_ bridge. I fear that there is no chance of my
being able to hold out until 10.30 a.m.”

What action would you take? State your reasons for the manner in which
you would act and then definitely say what you intend to do.

_Comments on the Situation and Action adjudged Correct._

What you should always aim at is to obey the spirit of an order rather
than its letter. You know Captain A. to be a reliable officer, and he
says that he fears that he cannot hold out until 10.30. If the enemy
seize _A_ trench before that hour, not only will your retreat be cut
off, but the object of ordering A and B Companies to hold the bridges
so as to enable the main body to get a good start will be defeated.
The nearest hostile infantry to you, at _E_, is some two miles off,
that is to say, some forty minutes’ march. In the circumstances it is
your duty to go to the assistance of A Company. The next thing is to
consider how you can best help him to carry out his retirement and also
how you can best prevent the enemy from following up your main body.
If you were to march straight to _A_ wood, it is doubtful whether you
would help him very materially. The artillery firing from the south of
the river would deal with the reinforcements you brought up and placed
in _A_ trench, similarly to the way it dealt with B Company. By far
your better plan will be to march as quickly as possible to _D_ wood
and occupy the strong buildings at _D_ farm. From the farm buildings
you will be able to prevent the enemy marching along the road from _A_
to _X_, and should be able to comply with the spirit of the order, and
by the delay you will thus entail on the enemy’s movements you will be
able to effect the same purpose as if you had actually prevented him
from crossing _A_ bridge before 10.30. You should be able to hold on to
_D_ farm until artillery are brought up to _A_ wood, and should then be
able to slip away along the road _B X_. Without aeroplane observation,
hostile artillery could not observe the effect of their fire from the
S. of the river, as trees intercept their view.


B Company will at once march to _D_ wood and occupy _D_ farm.

_Order to Officer Commanding A Company._

I am marching immediately to _D_ farm, which I hope to reach before
10 a.m. From this place I shall be in a position to facilitate your
retreat and prevent your being pursued farther than _A_ wood. You may
retire as soon as you see that I have established myself in the farm
buildings. Having accomplished the object for which we have been sent
out, I shall continue my retirement to _X_.

       *       *       *       *       *

These twelve little schemes I have set you are, as I think you will
admit, all very simple, but I am willing to wager that you have not
answered all of them correctly, even though they were only applications
of the axioms which I gave in the letter which preceded them. The
difficulty is, in the heat of the moment, to decide correctly which of
the axioms deals with the special situation, and nothing but practice
will get over this difficulty.

You should always take every opportunity of discussing with your
comrades little tactical situations which have occurred, or those which
may occur. In talking over the former, do not do so with the object of
passing censure, but merely with the view of learning what to do and
what not to do should you find yourself in a similar situation.

Whenever you have an opportunity, carefully explain the situation
to your men. This is necessary if you expect them to co-operate
intelligently in bringing about your designs.

In the solution of any little scheme which you may set to your
subordinates, insist on definite orders being given and do not be
content with vague disquisitions. When any little problem which you
have set has been unsatisfactorily solved, let another leader fall
in, take command, and do it again properly. This is the best way to
ensure the proper solution being thoroughly understood and remembered
for application on a future occasion. So long as you do not censure a
superior in front of his men, it is a good thing to make your remarks
in such a way that everybody can hear them.

You must guard against technical instructors giving wrong impressions.
The bombing sergeant is inclined to impress on the men that there is
no such weapon as the bomb. The instructors in the rifle grenade and
the Lewis gun are also apt to talk so much of the value of the weapons
in which they instruct that their pupils come away with very false
ideas. The Lewis-gun sergeant, although he never fails to tell the men
that the Lewis gun can fire at the rate of 600 rounds a minute, very
often does forget to inform them that after firing 600 rounds it takes
twenty minutes or half an hour to cool before it is capable of firing
any more. It is all very well for these men to be enthusiasts, but you
must see that they abide strictly by the truth and avoid giving false

I will close this letter with a few remarks on the moral forces. As
Napoleon said, these are, compared with the physical, as three is to
one. Men’s courage and determination and the will to conquer are more
than half the battle. The situation to-day is no less serious than it
was when I ended the last of my Twelve Letters to you, and it behoves
you to devote the whole of your time and your energy to making yourself
in every way efficient, and you must always bear in mind that it is
possible that the little action in the winning or losing of which
your right or wrong decision may be the principal factor may be the
turning-point of a great battle.

        Your affectionate father,
                           “X. Y. Z.”

Transcriber’s Notes

Punctuation, hyphenation, and spelling were made consistent when a
predominant preference was found in this book; otherwise they were not

Simple typographical errors were corrected; one unbalanced quotation
mark was remedied.

Ambiguous hyphens at the ends of lines were retained.

*** End of this LibraryBlog Digital Book "A General's Letters to His Son on Minor Tactics" ***

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