Maneuver / manoeuvre - an elegant military theory framework - Part I: Maneuver/manoeuvre, published military theory debates


"Maneuver warfare" or "Third Generation Warfare", as it was termed by a group of American theorists, is widely considered to be an alternative approach for winning battles and campaigns to the attritionist approach.

The attritionist approach is very much about finding targets, shooting at them and eliminating them from the balance of forces in the fight or campaign. It works. The issues with it are that it's often rather slow and you need to really good at it, for else you may suffer unacceptable losses by attrition yourself.

Maneuver is different. Let's look at a simplistic platoon-level tactical problem; an enemy section of infantry is in a free-standing farmhouse, and a platoon has to pass that area, so this threat needs to be eliminated.

The attritionist ideal is to call in fires that destroy the infantry section in the building, likely destroying the building in the process. A guided bomb might be dropped on it from an aircraft, for example. "Artillery destroys, infantry occupies." is an example for this approach/attitude.

A maneuvrist ideal is to feign an attack from one direction, then assault the building with a section from another section with the advantage of suppressive fires by small arms. The assault team takes the enemy by surprise and wins the fight inside, ideally more by taking prisoners than by killing. The building merely has a couple bullet holes and interior damaged by hand grenades.

A campaign-level example for attrition could be the decision to shell and bomb the hostile army until it's bled white or its morale crumbles (this happened to 1917 Russia, 1918 Germany, 1945 Germany, 1973 U.S.).

A campaign-level maneuvrist approach would be to break through the front to seek encirclement(s) (and surrender) of so much hostile army power that the hostile leadership loses hope and surrenders.

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There have been discussions about which approach is more promising for generations. Likewise, there have been discussions about whether this or that approach is obsolete, usually based on recent events. The current Russo-Ukrainian War may serve as an occasion to claim that maneuver is dead. The focus on artillery shell deliveries and the plethora of war porn gore videos of killing and destruction fits to this very well.

I will not recount all those previous debates here (that would require a book, not a few blog posts); instead, I will introduce a new definition of maneuver/manoeuvre. I'm usually no friend of modifying definitions, but at times it's advisable to give more clarity of thought on the topic and to make the topic easier to understand. I'm convinced that my definition does indeed help a lot.

First, I need to introduce another definition in the next post, though; it's about a term that is part of my maneuver/manoeuvre definition.

(The other parts will follow sooner than weekly.)

part II:


part III:


part IV:




  1. Last Dingo:

    First of all, my respect for this series of four contributions. To state so much in such a short text is remarkable.

    However, I don't think the farmhouse example was chosen that well: the ideal of the maneuver warfare supporter would be to simply bypass the farmhouse and simply completely negate its importance through actions elsewhere. Accordingly, the enemy soldiers would then be stuck there without meaning and function and could easily be ambushed if they were pulled out of their position.

    However, to storm such a strong position, distraction or not, in my understanding always falls under what is defined as a war of attrition.

    The core of the concept of maneuver in war is therefore, in my view, identifying enemy strengths and weaknesses, so in my view, reconnaissance is the most essential element. The battle for reconnaissance thus becomes a decisive battle, and the means of reconnaissance must be capable of doing so.

    Also I would like to say that I often consider the war of attrition to be more sensible, rational and effective across the board in comparison. What is more simple, is often better. And today many militaries search for the magic trick of manouvere, in places in which they should instead use simple war craf.

    1. Well, it was a "platoon-level problem". A platoon leader doesn't get to decide that the strongpoint be bypassed; he gets ordered to eliminate it. A battalion battlegroup commander could decide to bypass and leave it to a follow-up forces.