Battle - Types

Types

Battles can be fought on land, 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 in 1940. However since the Second World War land or sea battles have come to rely on air support. Indeed, during the Battle of Midway, five aircraft carriers were sunk without either fleet coming into direct contact.

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 Battle of Cannae.
  • 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 Nile.

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 or the Battle of Hattin, or as a turning point in the fortunes of the belligerents, such as the 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.

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