Battle - Characteristics

Characteristics

War
Eras
  • Prehistoric
  • Ancient
  • Medieval
  • Gunpowder
  • Industrial
  • Modern
Generations of warfare
  • First
  • Second
  • Third
  • Fourth
Battlespace
  • Air
  • Information
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Weapons
  • Armor
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  • Biological
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  • Conventional
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  • Infantry
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Tactics
  • Aerial
  • Battle
  • Cavalry
  • Charge
  • Cover
  • Counter-insurgency
  • Foxhole
  • Guerrilla warfare
  • Morale
  • Siege
  • Tactical objective
Operational
  • Blitzkrieg
  • Deep battle
  • Maneuver warfare
  • Operational manoeuvre group
Strategy
  • Attrition
  • Deception
  • Defensive
  • Offensive
  • Goal
  • Naval
Grand strategy
  • Containment
  • Economic warfare
  • Military science
  • Philosophy of war
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Organization
  • Command and control
  • Doctrine
  • Education and training
  • Engineers
  • Intelligence
  • Ranks
  • Staff
  • Technology and equipment
Logistics
  • Materiel
  • Supply chain management
Other
  • Asymmetric warfare
  • Cold war
  • Mercenary
  • Military operation
  • Operations research
  • Principles of War
  • Proxy war
  • Trench warfare
  • War crimes
Lists

The defining characteristic of the battle 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 British 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) and the 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 a month. Trench warfare had become largely obsolete in conflicts between advanced armies by the start of the Second World War.

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) or multiple operations (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 occupy a large piece of spacetime, as in the case of the 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 combat troops.

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 fully expected to have to fight again the next day (at the Battle of Wavre).

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