Fuller's Plan 1919 – First Edition; May 24, 1918

Source: JFC Fuller's Autobiography; Memoirs of an Unconventional Soldier, 1938.

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(1) The Influence of Tanks on Tactics: Tactics, or the art of moving armed men on the battlefield, change according to the weapons used and the means of transportation. Each new or improved weapon or method of movement demands a corresponding change in the art of war, and to-day the introduction of the tank entirely revolutionises this art in that:

(i) It increases mobility by replacing muscular by mechanical power.

(ii) It increases security by using armour plate to cut out the bullet.

(iii) It increases offensive power by relieving the soldier from having to carry his weapons, and the horse from having to haul them, and it multiplies the destructive power of weapons by increasing ammunition supply.

Consequently, petrol enables an army to obtain greater effect from its weapons, in a given time and with less loss to itself than an army which relies upon muscular energy. Whilst securing a man dynamically, it enables him to fight statically; consequently, it superimposes naval upon land tactics; that is, it enables men to discharge their weapons from a moving platform protected by a fixed shield.

(2) The Influence of Tanks on Strategy: Strategy is woven upon communications; hitherto upon roads, railways, rivers and canals. To-day the introduction of a crosscountry petrol-driven machine, tank or tractor, has expanded communications to include at least 75 per cent, of the theatre of war over and above communications as we at present know them. The possibility to-day of maintaining supply and of moving weapons and munitions over the open, irrespective of roads and without the limiting factor of animal endurance, introduces an entirely new problem in the history of war. At the moment he who grasps the full meaning of this change, namely, that the earth has now become as easily traversable as the sea, multiplies his chances of victory to an almost unlimited extent. Every principle of war becomes easy to apply if movement can be accelerated and accelerated at the expense of the opposing side. To-day, to pit an overland mechanically moving army against one relying on roads, rails and muscular energy is to pit a fleet of modern battleships against one of wind-driven three-deckers. The result of such an action is not even within the possibilities of doubt; the latter will for a certainty be destroyed, for the highest form of machinery must win, because it saves time and time is the controlling factor in war.

(3) The Present Tank Tactical Theory: Up to the present the theory of the tactical employment of tanks has been based on trying to harmonise their powers with existing methods of fighting, that is, with infantry and artillery tactics. In fact, the tank idea, which carries with it a revolution in the methods of waging war, has been grafted on to a system it is destined to destroy, in place of being given free scope to develop on its own lines. This has been unavoidable, because of the novelty of the idea, the uncertainty of the machine and ignorance in its use.

Knowledge can best be gained by practical experience, and at first this experience is difficult to obtain unless the new idea is grafted to the old system of war. Nevertheless, it behoves us not to forget that the tank (a weapon as different from those which preceded it as the armoured knight was from the unarmoured infantry who preceded him) will eventually, as perfection is gained and numbers are increased, demand a fundamental change in our tactical theory of battle.

The facts upon which this theory is based are now rapidly changing, and unless it changes with them, we shall not develop to the full the powers of the new machine; that is, the possibility of moving rapidly in all directions with comparative immunity to small-arm fire.

From this we can deduce the all-important fact that infantry, as at present equipped, will become first a subsidiary and later on a useless arm on all ground over which tanks can move. This fact alone revolutionises our present conception of war, and introduces a new epoch in tactics.

(4) The Strategical Objective: Irrespective of the arm employed, the principles of strategy remain immutable, changes in weapons affecting their application only. The first of all strategical principles is ' the principle of the object,' the object being ' the destruction of the enemy's fighting strength.' This can be accomplished in several ways, the normal being the destruction of the enemy's field armies—his fighting personnel.

Now, the potential fighting strength of a body of men lies in its organisation; consequently, if we can destroy this organisation, we shall destroy its fighting strength and so have gained our object.

There are two ways of destroying an organisation:

(i) By wearing it down (dissipating it).

(ii) By rendering it inoperative (unhinging it).

In. war the first comprises the killing, wounding, capturing and disarming of the enemy's soldiers—body warfare. The second, the rendering inoperative of his power of command—brain warfare. Taking a single man as an example: the first method may be compared to a succession of slight wounds which will eventually cause him to bleed to death ; the second—a shot through the brain.

The brains of an army are its Staff—Army, Corps and Divisional Headquarters. Could we suddenly remove these from an extensive sector of the German front, the collapse of the personnel they control would be a mere matter of hours, even if only slight opposition were put up against it. Even if we put up no opposition at all, but in addition to the shot through the brain we fire a second shot through the stomach, that is, we dislocated the enemy's supply system behind his protective front, his men will starve to death or scatter.

Our present theory, based on our present weapons, weapons of limited range of action, has been one of attaining our strategical object by brute force; that is, the wearing away of the enemy's muscles, bone and blood. To accomplish this rapidly with tanks will demand many thousands of these machines, and there is little likelihood of our obtaining the requisite number by next year; therefore let us search for some other means, always remembering that probably, at no time in the history of war, has a difficulty arisen the solution of which has not at the time in question existed in some man's head, and frequently in those of several. The main difficulty has nearly always lurked, not in the solution itself, but in its acceptance by those who have vested interests in the existing methods.

As our present theory is to destroy 'personnel,' so should our new theory be to destroy 'command,' not after the enemy's personnel has been disorganised, but before it has been attacked, so that it may be found in a state of complete disorganisation when attacked. Here we have the highest application of the principle of surprise—surprise by novelty of action, or the impossibility of establishing security even when the unexpected has become the commonplace.

Compared to fighting men there are but a few Commanders in the field; therefore the means required to destroy these Commanders will be far less than those normally required to destroy the men they control.

It is no longer a question of: Had Napoleon possessed a section of machine guns at Waterloo, would he not have won that battle? But: Had he been able to kidnap or kill the Duke of Wellington and his Staff at 9 a.m. on June 18, 1815, would he not have done equally well without firing a shot ? Would not the sudden loss of command in the British Army have reduced it to such a state of disorganisation that, when he did advance, he would have been able to walk through it ?

It is not my intention in this paper to deprecate the use of brute force, but to show that much brute energy and loss of brute energy may be saved and prevented if we make use of the highest brain-power at our disposal in applying it.

(5) The Suggested Solution: In order to render inoperative the Command of the German forces on any given front, what are the requirements ?

From the German front line the average distance to nine of their Army Headquarters is eighteen miles; to three Army Group Headquarters forty-five miles; and the distance away of their Western G.H.Q,. is one hundred miles. For purposes of illustration the eighteen-mile belt or zone containing Army, Corps and Divisional Headquarters will prove sufficient.

Before reaching these Headquarters elaborate systems of trenches and wire entanglements, protected by every known type of missile-throwing weapon, have to be crossed.

To penetrate or avoid this belt of resistance, which may be compared to a shield protecting the system of command, two types of weapons suggest themselves:

(i) The aeroplane.
(ii) The tank.

The first is able to surmount all obstacles; the second to traverse most.

The difficulties in using the first are very great; for even if landing-grounds can be found close to the various Headquarters, once the men are landed, they arc no better armed than the men they will meet; in fact, they may be compared to dismounted cavalry facing infantry.

The difficulties of the second are merely relative. At present we do not possess a tank capable of carrying out the work satisfactorily, yet this is no reason why we should not have one nine months hence if all energies are devoted to design and production. The idea of such a tank exists, and it has already been considered by many good brains; it is known as the 'Medium D tank,' and its specifications are as follows:

(i) To move at a maximum speed of 20 miles an hour.
(ii) To possess a circuit of action of 150 to 200 miles.
(iii) To be able to cross a 13- to 14-foot gap.
(iv) To be sufficiently light to cross ordinary road, river and canal bridges.

(6) The Tactics of the Medium D Tank: The tactics of the Medium D tank are based on the principles of movement and surprise, its tactical object being to accentuate surprise by movement, not so much through rapidity as by creating unexpected situations. We must never do what the enemy expects us to do; instead, we must mislead him, that is, control his brain by our own. We must suggest to him the probability of certain actions, and then, when action is demanded, we must develop it in a way diametrically opposite to the one we have suggested through our preparations.

Thus, in the past, when we massed men and guns opposite a given sector, he did the same and frustrated our attack by making his own defences so strong that we could not break through them, or if we did, were then too exhausted to exploit our initial success. At the battle of Cambrai, when our normal method was set aside, our blow could not be taken advantage of, because the forces which broke through were not powerful enough to cause more than local disorganisation. The enemy's strength was not in his front line, but in rear of it; we could not, in the circumstances which we and not he had created, disorganise his reserves. Reserves are the capital of victory.

A study of Napoleon's tactics will show us that the first step he took in battle was not to break his enemy's front, and then when his forces were disorganised risk being hit by the enemy's reserves; but instead to draw the enemy's reserves into the fire fight, and directly they were drawn in to break through them or envelop them. Once t^is was done, security was gained; consequently, a pursuit could be carried out, a pursuit being more often than not initiated by troops disorganised by victory against troops disorganised by defeat.

Before the third battle of Ypres [Passchendaele] began, we had drawn in large forces of the enemy's reserves ; this, judged by the Napoleonic standard, was correct. Where we failed was, that once we had drawn them in we had no old guard at hand to smash tnem. At the battle of Cambrai we struck with our old guard (tanks) before the German reserves were on the battlefield. It was a blow in the air, and the result was that we crashed through the enemy's front and then, when his organised reserves were brought up, having no old guard to meet them, the tactical advantage was theirs and not ours—we were repulsed.

Tactical success in war is generally gained by pitting an organised force against a disorganised one. This is the secret of Napoleon's success. At Ypres we had not the means to disorganise the enemy; at Cambrai the enemy did not offer us the opportunity to disorganise him; both battles were conceived on fundamentally unsound tactical premises. What we want to aim at now is a combination of these two ideas:

(i) To force the enemy to mass his reserves in a given sector.
(ii) To disorganise these reserves before we break through them.

This done, pursuit, the tactical act of annihilation, becomes possible. Pursuit is the dividend of victory; the more reserves we force the enemy to mass, so long as we disorganise them, the greater will be the tactical interest on our capital. With the Medium D tank and the aeroplane there is no reason why we should not receive one hundred per cent, interest upon our investments. This represents winning the war in a single battle.

(7) The Medium D Tank Battle: A battle based on the powers of the Medium D tank may in brief be outlined as follows :

A frontage of attack of some ninety miles should be selected, and on this frontage, by the inducement of visible preparation some four or five German armies collected. Then the area lying between the lines connecting up the German Army Headquarters and those linking their Divisional Headquarters will form the zone of the primary tactical objective. Heretofore it has been the area between the enemy's front line and his main gun positions, but this zone will now become the secondary tactical objective. The geographical position of objectives is therefore reversed: the last becomes the first and the first becomes the last. Here is the foundation of surprise.

Once preparations are well in hand, without any tactical warning whatsoever, fleets of Medium D tanks should proceed at top speed by day, or possibly by night, directly on to the various Headquarters lying in the primary tactical zone. If by day, these targets can be marked by aeroplanes dropping coloured smoke, and if by night, by dropping coloured lights, or by guns firing coloured light shells. As the longest distance to be covered may be taken as twenty miles, the Medium D tanks should reach the German Army Headquarters in about two hours.

Meanwhile every available bombing machine should concentrate on the various supply and road centres. The signal communications should not be destroyed, for it is important that the confusion resulting from the dual attack carried out by the Medium D tanks and aeroplanes should be circulated by the enemy. Bad news confuses, confusion stimulates panic.

As soon as orders and counter-orders have been given a little time to become epidemic, a carefully mounted tank, infantry and artillery attack should be launched, the objective of which is the zone of the enemy's guns; namely, the secondary tactical zone some 10,000 yards deep.

Directly penetration has been effected, pursuit should follow, the pursuing force consisting of all Medium tanks available and lorry-carried infantry. To render this force doubly powerful, it should be preceded by squadrons of Medium D tanks, which will secure all centres of communication, break up hostile Army Group Headquarters and disperse all formed bodies of troops met with. The German Western G.H.Q,. should be dealt with by dropping several hundred tons of explosives upon it: that, at least, will neutralise clear thinking.

(8) The Morcellated Front of Attack: A continuous front of attack of ninety miles may seem too extended to be practicable. By a simple tank manœuvre, this front, so far as the attackers are concerned, can be reduced to fifty miles without reducing the total of ninety miles to be disorganised. Diagram 17 illustrates this manoeuvre. A-H represents the ninety-miles frontage of attack. Of this frontage the sectors A-B, C-D, E-F and G-H, totalling fifty miles, are to be penetrated by heavy tanks and infantry, and the Sectors B-C, D-E and F-G are to be enveloped. Should a few Medium D tanks be used to co-operate in this envelopment, the confusion created in the sectors B-C, D-E and F-G will probably be sufficient to reduce the resistance of the defenders holding them to such a point that they can easily be dealt with. If this is not thought likely, these flank attacks can be supported by massed frontal artillery fire, or by weak infantry attacks protected by heavy barrages on the old lines.

(9) The Effect of the Medium D Tank on Tactics: The improvement in any one arm, especially an improvement in mobility, will affect the utility and employment of all the remaining arms in a degree proportionate to the improvement. Taking the various arms—infantry, cavalry, artillery, aircraft, engineers and commissariat—the following deductions can be made:

(i) Infantry.—Except for gaining the secondary zone, infantry on their feet will be next to useless. They will have to be carried forward in mechanical transport if they are ever to keep up with the pursuit of the Medium D tank, which will advance to a minimum depth of twenty miles a day.

The employment of infantry should be on the following lines:

(a) To assist in the tactical penetration.
(b) To operate in areas unsuited to tanks.
(c) To occupy the areas conquered by the tanks.
(d) To protect our rear services.

After the first blow, the likelihood of infantry having to attack will be reduced ; consequently, their chief duty will be to form a mobile protective line in rear of the Medium D tanks, in order to secure the administrative and engineer services from local annoyance. Therefore, their tactics will be defensive, and their chief weapon will be the machine gun.

(ii) Cavalry.—If cavalry have sufficient endurance to keep up a pursuit of at least twenty miles a day for a period of five to seven days, their value will be considerable, for they will be able to form mounted skirmishing lines between the groups of Medium D tanks, and it may be assumed that even should the entire cavalry force by the end of the seventh day be horseless, after a pursuit of 150 miles the enemy will be reduced to a non-fighting condition.

(iii) Artillery.—The heavy artillery will disappear as a mobile arm after the first day's advance, and will be relegated to its original position in the siege train. The field artillery, if still horse-drawn, will be unable to keep up with the fighting after the second or third day's advance. Field artillery horses must, therefore, be replaced by tractors ; this even to-day is becoming a necessity on account of the difficulty of keeping horses alive on or behind the battlefield.

(iv) The Royal Air Force.—As the mobility of the tank increases, so will it have more and more to rely on the aeroplane for its security and preservation.

The duties of the R.A.F. will be as follows:

(a) To act as an advanced guard to the tanks.
(b) To assist tanks in disorganising the enemy's Headquarters.
(c) To guide tanks on to their objectives.
(d) To protect tanks from hostile gun fire.
(e) To supply advanced squadrons of tanks with petrol, ammunition, etc.
(f) To act as messengers between tanks and their bases. .
(g) To carry tank Brigade Commanders above their sectors of operation, in order that these officers may see what their machines are doing and may handle their reserves accordingly.

Aeroplanes will bear to tanks a similar relationship as cavalry to infantry in the old days.

(v) Royal Engineers—-The duties of Royal Engineers and Pioneer units will be considerably enlarged. Their work will be confined chiefly to the improvement of communications—roads and rails and the building of bridges. All defence work will be relegated to infantry.

(vi) Army Service Corps—The mobility of the A.S.C. will be taxed to its utmost. Horses will disappear and road lorries will have to be supplemented by field lorries if the troops are to be adequately supplied. All road lorries should easily be convertible into field lorries by some simple wheel attachment, which will enable them to traverse grass and ploughland.

The main fact is that the mobility of the Medium D tank will increase the mobility of all the other arms. Draught horses will disappear, and by degrees riding horses as well. Consequently, the more mobile arms will prove the most useful, the less mobile either disappearing from the battlefield or being brought up to the requisite standard of mobility by mechanical means.

(10) The Influence of the Medium D Tank on Grand Tactics: The influence of the mobility of the Medium D tank on grand tactics (the penetration or envelopment of an enemy) is almost beyond appreciation. Penetration of existing defences becomes considerably easier than the old field attack over unentrenched ground; envelopment —a mere matter of leisurely manoeuvre.

Besides these advantages, frontages of attack can be extended out of all former proportion to the strength of the attacking forces, and surprise forms the basis of every action.

So long as the enemy is unable to meet the Medium D tank by a similar or a superior weapon, all attacks based on its powers will become methodical; that is, they will be carried out according to plan, the disorganisation of the rear services will cease because the initiative will be ours, the enemy's will being subordinate to our own.

(11) The Influence of the Medium D Tank on Strategy: Strategy, or the science of making the most of time for warlike ends, that is of opportunity, will practically cease for that side which pits muscular endurance against mechanical energy.

The possibility of applying naval tactics to land warfare is an entirely new application of the strategical principles, which at present endow the side which can apply them with incalculable power. Formerly strategy depended on communications, now communications will become universal, and though roads and rails will not disappear, they will become but lines of least resistance to movement in the universal vehicle which the earth's surface will be turned into by all types of cross-country machines.

Strategically the leading characteristic of the Medium D tank is that it is a time-saver, on account of its high speed, its extensive radius of action and its locomobility— power to move in all directions on a plane surface. Compared to infantry in battle, its speed is ten times as great and its radius of action twenty-five times greater. Its protective power is beyond comparison.

The saving of time in battle means the saving of time in manufacture; consequently, the reduction of manpower in production.

Time is, however, our enemy; for the only thing to fear now is that we shall not have sufficient time wherein to produce these machines by next year. To use a new machine in driblets is to make the enemy a patentee in the design. To fail to win the war in 1919 through lack of Medium D's is to risk being beaten by a better German machine in 1920. For it must be remembered that as yet no weapon has been produced which time has not rendered obsolete. The number of Medium D tanks required by May 1919 is 2,000, and with this number there is every prospect of ending the war."

Appendix Attached to the Paper

(1) These calculations only take into account the approximate requirements for the Tank Corps, whether British or Allied. They do not include tank transportation for infantry and the other arms.

(2) The frontage of operations is 90 to 100 miles, the frontage attacked being 50 miles.

(3) Calculations are based on the following premises :

(i) Breaking Force.—Heavy tanks to break through the entrenched zone (secondary objective) supplemented by Medium D tanks to envelop such parts of the front not attacked and to form offensive flanks.
(ii) Disorganising Force.—Medium D tanks to disorganise the enemy's Command in rear of the entrenched zone (primary objective).
(iii) Pursuing Force.—A tank pursuing force composed of all types of Medium tanks.

(4) Breaking Force.—The Breaking Force to operate in three echelons. In the first two, one heavy tank to each 100 yards of frontage, in the third, one to every 150 yards :

1st Echelon

880 Heavy tanks.

2nd Echelon

880 Heavy tanks.

3rd Echelon

587 Heavy tanks.

In Reserve

245 Heavy tanks.


2,592 Heavy tanks.

Medium D tanks for offensive flanks .

130

Medium D tanks for enveloping flanks

260

Total Medium D tanks

390

(5) Disorganising Force.—The following enemy Headquarters to be disorganised:

4 Army H.Q.s, 20 Medium D tanks each

80

16 Group H.Q.s 20 Medium D tanks each

320

70 Divisional H.Q.s, 5 Medium D tanks each

350

2 Army Group H.Q.s, 20 Medium D tanks each

40

Total Medium D tanks

790

(6) Pursuing Force.—The pursuing force to consist of 820 Medium D and 400 Medium C tanks.

(7) Number of Battalions comprised in the above:

2.592 Heavy tanks

54 Heavy Battalions.

2,400 Medium tanks

36 Medium Battalions.

In Brigades this means: 18 Heavy and 12 Medium Brigades.

(13) A rough estimate of the personnel required may be arrived at by allotting 20 all ranks to each Heavy tank and 10 to each Medium :

2,502 Heavy tanks

51,840 officers and men.

2,400 Medium tanks .

24,000 officers and men.

For Subsidiary, Supply, etc.

14,460 officers and men.

Total

90,300 officers and men.

(14) Battalions might be divided among the Allied Powers as follows:

British .

27 Heavy Battalions

9 Medium Battalions.

French

13 Heavy Battalions

13 Medium Battalions.

American

14 Heavy Battalions

14 Medium Battalions.

Total

54 Heavy Battalions

36 Medium Battalions.

This would mean that the British Tank Corps would have to be expanded from about 17,000 to 37,000 all ranks.