ONE of the most conspicuous and advantageous departures from the so-called rules of warfare is the independent action of men acting separately against men huddled together in a mass. Such independent activity is always seen in a war that assumes a national character. In this kind of warfare, instead of forming in a crowd to attack a crowd, men disperse in small groups, attack singly and at once fly, when attacked by superior forces, and then attack again, when an opportunity presents itself. Such were the methods of the guerillas in Spain; of the mountain tribes in the Caucasus, and of the Russians in 1812.
War of this kind has been called partisan warfare on the supposition that this name defined its special significance. But this kind of warfare does not follow any rules of war, but is in direct contradiction to a well-known rule of tactics, regarded as infallible. That rule lays it down that the attacking party must concentrate his forces in order to be stronger than his opponent at the moment of conflict.
Partisan warfare (always successful, as history testifies) acts in direct contradiction of this rule.
Military science assumes that the relative strength of forces is identical with their numerical proportions. Military science maintains that the greater the number of soldiers, the greater their strength. Les gros bataillons ont toujours raison.
To say this is as though one were in mechanics to say that forces were equal or unequal simply because the masses of the moving bodies were equal or unequal.
Force (the volume of motion) is the product of the mass into the velocity.
In warfare the force of armies is the product of the mass multiplied by something else, an unknown x.
Military science, seeing in history an immense number of examples in which the mass of an army does not correspond with its force, and in which small numbers conquer large ones, vaguely recognises the existence of this unknown factor, and tries to find it sometimes in some geometrical disposition of the troops, sometimes in the superiority of weapons, and most often in the genius of the leaders. But none of those factors yield results that agree with the historical facts.
One has but to renounce the false view that glorifies the effect of the activity of the heroes of history in warfare in order to discover this unknown quantity, x.
X is the spirit of the army, the greater or less desire to fight and to face dangers on the part of all the men composing the army, which is quite apart from the question whether they are fighting under leaders of genius or not, with cudgels or with guns that fire thirty times a minute. The men who have the greater desire to fight always put themselves, too, in the more advantageous position for fighting. The spirit of the army is the factor which multiplied by the mass gives the product of the force. To define and express the significance of this unknown factor, the spirit of the army, is the problem of science.
This problem can only be solved when we cease arbitrarily substituting for that unknown factor x the conditions under which the force is manifested, such as the plans of the general, the arming of the men and so on, and recognise this unknown factor in its entirety as the greater or less desire to fight and face danger. Then only by expressing known historical facts in equations can one hope from comparison of the relative value of this unknown factor to approach its definition. Ten men, or battalions or divisions are victorious fighting with fifteen men or battalions or divisions, that is, they kill or take prisoner all of them while losing four of their own side, so that the loss has been four on one side and fifteen on the other. Consequently, four on one side have been equivalent to fifteen on the other, and consequently 4x = 15y. Consequently x/y = 15/4. This equation does not give us the value of the unknown factors, but it does give us the ratio between their values. And from the reduction to such equations of various historical units (battles, campaigns, periods of warfare) a series of numbers are obtained, in which there must be and may be discovered historical laws.
The strategic principle, that armies should act in masses on the offensive, and should break up into smaller groups for retreat, unconsciously confirms the truth that the force of an army depends on its spirit. To lead men forward under fire needs more discipline (which can only be attained by marching in masses) than is needed for self-defence when attacked. But this rule, which leaves out of sight the spirit of the army, is continually proving unsound, and is strikingly untrue in practice in all national wars, when there is a great rise or fall in the spirit of the armies.
The French, on their retreat in 1812, though they should, by the laws of tactics, have defended themselves in detached groups, huddled together in a crowd, because the spirit of the men had sunk so low that it was only their number that kept them up. The Russians should, on the contrary, by the laws of tactics, have attacked them in a mass, but in fact attacked in scattered companies, because the spirit of the men ran so high that individual men killed the French without orders, and needed no compulsion to face hardships and dangers.