Strategic Logic and Political Rationality: Essays in Honor of Michael I. Handel

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Attrition warfare

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Synopsis About this title One of three volumes in honour of the teaching and scholarship of the late Michael I. About the Author : Lisa Markowitz is a cultural anthropologist with interests in agrifood systems and social movements in the Americas. Typically, when attritional methods have worn down the enemy sufficiently to make other methods feasible, attritional methods are abandoned in favor of other strategies.

In World War I , improvements in firepower but not communications and mobility forced military commanders to rely on attrition, with terrible casualties.

Attritional methods are in themselves usually sufficient to cause a nation to give up a nonvital ambition, but other methods are generally necessary to achieve unconditional surrender. It is often argued that the best-known example of attrition warfare was on the Western Front during World War I. For years, without any opportunity for manoeuvres, the only way the commanders thought that they could defeat the enemy was to repeatedly attack head on and grind the other down.

One of the most enduring examples of attrition warfare on the Western Front is the Battle of Verdun , which took place throughout most of Erich von Falkenhayn later claimed that his tactics at Verdun were designed not to take the city but rather to destroy the French Army in its defense. Falkenhayn is described as wanting to "bleed France white" [5] and thus the attrition tactics were employed in the battle.

Attritional warfare in World War I has been shown by historians such as Hew Strachan to have been used as a post hoc ergo propter hoc excuse for failed offensives. Contemporary sources disagree with Strachan's view on this. While the Christmas Memorandum is a post-war invention, the strategy of "bleeding France white" was the original strategy for the battle. Attrition to the enemy was easy to assert and difficult to refute and thus may have been a convenient facesaving excuse in the wake of many indecisive battles. It is, in many cases, hard to see the logic of warfare by attrition because of the obvious uncertainty of the level of damage to the enemy and of the damage that the attacking force may sustain to its own limited and expensive resources while trying to achieve that damage.

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Historians such as John Terraine and Gary Sheffield have suggested that attritional warfare was, however, a necessary step on the road to eventual victory, a 'wearing down process' that sapped Central Powers strength and left them vulnerable during the Hundred Days campaign of That is not to say that a general will not be prepared to sustain high casualties while trying to reach an objective. An example in which one side used attrition warfare to neutralize the other side's advantage in manoeuvrability and unit tactics occurred during the latter part of the American Civil War , when Union general Ulysses S.


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Grant pushed the Confederate Army continually, in spite of losses; he correctly predicted that the Union 's far superior and more numerous supplies and manpower would overwhelm the Confederacy to the point of collapse, even if the casualty ratio was unfavorable. From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. For other uses, see War of Attrition disambiguation. This article needs additional citations for verification.

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