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Battle Templates


Gerald J. Nivison, PhD +

Contact the author to write articles (without fee) for magazines or on-line publications.

26 January 2007


   2.1 The Principles of War
   2.2 Troop Density
   2.3 The Decisive Time and Place
   2.4 Hard and Soft Points
   2.5 Coup d'Oeil
   3.1 Single Envelopment
   3.2 Double Envelopment
   3.3 Detached Wide Envelopment

   3.4 Oblique Approach
   3.5 Breakthrough and Fragmentation
   3.6 Dislocation
   4.1 Interior Lines
   4.2 Counterpunch
   4.3 Fighting Withdrawal

We must never lack calmness and firmness, which are so hard to preserve in time of war. Without them the most brilliant qualities of mind are wasted. We must therefore familiarize ourselves with the thought of an honorable defeat. We must always nourish this thought within ourselves, and we must get completely used to it. Be convinced, Most Gracious Master, that without this firm resolution no great results can be achieved in the most successful war, let alone in the most unsuccessful.

-- Carl von Clauswitz [CLA12:2]

The aim of this article is to help Napoleonic wargamers win more victories or at least play to a draw a veteran opponent.  The typical reader is assumed to be a member of an on-line wargame club like Napoleonic Wargame Club or International Napoleonic Wargame Club.  The reader is also assumed to have available at least one of the Napoleonic game titles from Talonsoft (soon to be re-released by Matrix Games) or HPS Simulations. [TS, MG, HPS]  Since this article covers advanced topics, it assumes the reader has mastered the basics of game play.  For articles covering basics see Napoleonic War's Series Tutorials.  This article covers a fair amount of tactics and strategy related to warfare and not just wargaming.  If the cited wargames are reasonably accurate models of warfare, then learning tactics and strategy of warfare should directly influence a player's wargaming ability.

The battle templates presented in this article are built up from accepted military theory.  All have been used in historical battles.  These templates should prove useful to Napoleonic wargamers.  The templates are:  (1) Single Envelopment -- a standard, viable attack, (2) Double Envelopment -- used by Hannibal at Cannae, (3) Detached Wide Envelopment -- Napoleon's favorite maneuver, (4) Oblique Approach -- used by Frederick the Great at Leuthen, (5) Breakthrough and Fragmentation -- the simplest in design and also known as a frontal assault, (6) Dislocation -- B H Liddell Hart's maneuver without necessarily a pitched battle, (7) Interior Lines -- another of Napoleon's favorites, (8) Counterpunch -- used by Wellington in the Peninsula and again at Waterloo, and lastly (9) Fighting Withdrawal -- used so effectively by Perponcher at Quatre Bras.  These templates were also used in many other historical battles than mentioned here.

How to attain victory?  As the introductory quote by Clauswitz suggests, experienced gamers have found that starting each new battle against an opponent with the attitude "OK, I'm going to play this guy to a tie" often nets a victory.  Partly this is because by being initially conservative, the veteran gamer waits for the opponent to make a mistake or reveal his intentions and then capitalizes on it by a vigorous, audacious attack. And, partly because the veteran gamer remains calm and has mentally already accepted a tie or like Clauswitz suggests a minor defeat.  One never knows until playing the scenario if the scenario is unbalanced to disfavor.  Or perhaps the luck of the dice is just not with a gamer that day.  Clauswitz lumped such "bad luck" along with fog of war into the meaning of the term friction and said it was a dominant force in war. [CLA32]

There are usually three scales of warfare discussed:  strategic, grand tactics, and tactics.  Napoleon wrote, "Strategy is the art of making use of time and space." [CHA63:161]  Tactics traditionally mean anything within firing range of the enemy.  Grand tactics (or operations) is a bit more nebulous but can be thought of the movement of units at a scale larger than the range of a single weapon but not at the strategic level; perhaps a working definition is that grand tactics or operations is the art of bringing men to the battle.  The theory and battle plans discussed in this article are mostly at the grand tactical or operational scale.  However, these templates can probably -- for the most part -- be extended up to the strategic and down to the tactical scale.  For discussions on Napoleonic wargame tactics see several other analysis titles by the author "2. Defensive Tactics" and "3. Offensive Tactics".

The principles of war are the same as those of a siege.  Fire must be concentrated on a single point (or hinge or joint), and as soon as the breach is made the equilibrium is broken and the rest in nothing -- the place is taken.

-- Napoleon [CHA63:32]

2.1 Principles of War

One of the best writings on napoleonic warfare for the wargamer is the earlier, more tactical work by Clauswitz, The Principles of War. [CLA12]  There are other classic writings on the theory and art of napoleonic war by contemporaries or near contemporaries of Napoleon. [FRE47, NAP21, CLA32, JOM38]  There are other more ancient tracts on the art of war which can be profitably read by a napoleonic wargamer. [TZU, FRO, VEG, MAC21, MON70, SAX57]  There is a surfeit of writings in the 20th Century on the topic of warfare and strategy; three good ones are for example Strategy, by B H Liddel Hart, Maneuver Warfare Handbook, by William S. Lind, and the USMC Warfighting Manual. [HAR67, LIN85, USMC89]  As for histories of Napoleon's campaigns, there is no better than the massive tome The Campaigns of Napoleon by David Chandler. [CHA63]  Additional on-line readings are also of interest. [MUR, ROG57, SHE12]

The principles of war have been discussed for centuries.  However it wasn't until the early 20th Century that a self consistent, well articulated, concise set of principles was written down by J F C Fuller in England. [DUP87:16, DUP90:251]  These are listed in order of importance, though the principles listed after fourth are all of near equal importance.  Of course, this order is subject to disagreement depending on sources.  However, the order listed here is justified in the following text.

1. Unity of Command.  Unity of command ensures all parts of the military organization are working toward a common objective.  Napoleon stated unequivocally this was the most important of all principles.  For wargamers, this principle is automatically fulfilled since the player is the only one controlling the pieces of the game.  However, an exception is multi-player games, which can present the same problems to gamers as does split command in real life.

2. Security.  Without a secure base and flanks, and without reasonable knowledge of the enemy position and strength, it is difficult to successfully implement the other principles of war.  Security insures freedom of action.  Security guards against surprise.  This also implies a defensive posture if your forces are outnumbered such that you do not risk a pitched battle.  Why is security more important than, say, objective?  Since intelligence is part of security, without intelligence (or knowledge) of the enemy how can one possibly expect to formulate a meaningful objective?  Further, without sufficient security from harassment, it is difficult to set up for an offensive.  For wargamers, this essentially means to watch your flanks and rear; often this can be done artificially by using the mapboard edge as an impassable morass, which protects at least that one flank or both if your army is situated in the mapboard corner.

3. Mass.  Maximum available combat power must be applied at the point of decision.  Do not separate forces without extremely good cause!  Napoleon stated that no detachment should be made on the eve of battle. (Maxim XXIX)  Without mass, even with a well-chosen objective you will most likely be defeated in detail, hence mass is more important than objective.  Before deciding on an objective first obtain a critical mass sufficient to give reasonable options and chance of victory.  How much is critical mass?  That is situation dependent.

4. Objective.  Every military operation must be directed toward a decisive, obtainable objective.  Without an objective, fighting often degenerates into uncoordinated attacks committed piecemeal.  This sin has occurred so many times in history (and in wargames) that it is near laughable because it is so easily avoided.  Patience and self-discipline are called for in the commander.

5. Offense.  Only offensive action achieves decisive results.

6. Simplicity.  Simple plans expressed in clear orders promote effective execution.  Even a simple plan is difficult to implement in the disorder and confusion that reigns in combat.

7. Economy of Force.  Minimum essential means must be employed at points other than that of decision.  This rule is the inverse of mass.

8. Surprise.  Surprise may decisively shift the balance of combat power in favor of the commander who achieves it.

9. Maneuver.  Maneuver must be used to alter the relative combat power of military forces.  Napoleon stated that the strength of an army, like the power in mechanics, is estimated by multiplying the mass by rapidity; a rapid march augments the moral of an army and increases its means of victory. (Maxim IX)

10. Organization.  Organization is a huge force multiplier.  For example, compare the relative combat effectiveness of a 5000 man Roman legion (in era of the later Roman Republic) to tens of thousands of disorganized Gauls or Germans.  Later as the tribes on the empire's periphery (i.e., Huns, Goths, etc) learned to fight in the same style as Rome, the relative higher combat effectiveness enjoyed by the Roman Empire decreased.

The principles just described in this section will be used to buttress construction of battle templates in the remainder of this article.

2.2 Troop Density

In attack keep a close eye on the density of forces.  This is The Principle of Mass by another name.  It is discussed in more detail here since it is very easy to begin an engagement without having sufficient troop density.  By density, it is meant how many troops there are per linear yard of battle front.  An example from a wargame is shown in Figure 1


Troop Density in Defense

Figure 1.  Typical defensive troop density ~4 men/yd in Napoleonic wargame

Let's say each of the 8 infantry battalions in Figure 1 contain 500 men.  Since each hex is 100 meters, and the front covered from top to bottom is 10 hexes, then (8 x 500 men) / (10 x 100 meters) =  4.0 men/meter.  For a comparison to historical troop density during the Napoleonic period, look at the values shown in Table 1.

Table 1. Troop density in Napoleonic battles [WIL39:54]


men per yard
Austerlitz French
Friedland French 9.5
Wagram French 7.7
Bautzen French
Waterloo French

Keep in mind the numbers in Table 1 are averages across the entire battlefield.  The values in Table 1 are totals of infantry, cavalry, and artillery, though the great majority will of course be infantry.  Artillery or cavalry are not included in calculations regarding Figure 1, but can be calculated separately.  The idea is the same though.  In any case stack up as much as possible in the locale that  the decisive attack will be made and use as little as dared in other areas.  The place of attack should be concentrated, say 20% or less of the total battlefield width.  So in the area of attack, it's recommended to have 3X or more of the densities shown in Figure 1.  Aim for something like 15 or more men per yard, all stacked in depth of course!

Troop density in attack

Figure 2.  Typical offensive troop density 15 men or more per yard in Napoleonic wargame

In Figure 2, the density for attack at the decisive point is much higher.  If we assume each of the 33 infantry battalions is 500 men, this time including reserve (held back behind the river), the total is (33 x 500 men) / (10 x 100 m) = 16.5 men/meter.  Note this value doesn't include artillery and cavalry.  However, the artillery and cavalry density at the point of attack should be much higher than elsewhere since cavalry is such a great offensive instrument.  In Napoleonic warfare*, frontage and combat density are near direct expressions of combat strength; maximize them at the decisive point of attack and minimize them elsewhere!

The trick is to build up this attack concentration without enemy knowledge of it.  That is the essence of maneuver in war, and that is what the following battle templates in Chapter 3 are all about.  Read on!

2.3 The Decisive Time and Place

There is in every battle a decisive time and place -- a moment when the balance swings decidedly to one side.  This is an experience of fact both in actual battles and in wargame simulations of battles.  Since there is a decisive time and place in a battle, there are possibilities of creating tactical conditions, through maneuver, that may shape themselves into a crisis, creating a general setting that eventually produces a decisive action.  Recogonizing the decisive moment in a battle is difficult to teach; perhaps only experience can teach it.  However, by understanding the existence of a decisive moment and studying the templates that are presented in this article, the veteran wargamer can shape a battle's events to fit his plan for victory.

One last thing about the decisive time and place.  When it comes, don't hold back; throw the entire kitchen sink in, even the reserve if necessary.  Usually this refers to the attacker, but the defender might have to use his reserve too.  This doesn't mean to use all your forces in a single turn, but over 2 or 3 turns or so, you might have to use nearly ALL your forces to break the opponent.  If you only drive him back a bit, the effect is dramatically lessened.  Experience will teach this best.  Doing otherwise is committing the cardinal sin: committing troops piecemeal.  That is intuitive to a rookie and feels like the most efficient way, but experience will teach that it is not the most effective why to conclusively finalize the battle's outcome.  By "use all your forces", it is meant using them in an attack or counterattack such that their fatigue level goes up several notches or they become disorganized or the activity causes them large casualties or to be routed.  Remember what Clauswitz says about battle: it is really like two 500 lb gorillas trying to scare each other.  That's what you're trying to do to win:  break and rout the enemy, and that really means your opponent's (i.e., opposing commander's) confidence not just his troop strength, fatigue, or order in game mechanics.

2.4 Hard and Soft Points

Don't forget to account for the arrangement of the enemy.  He usually will have heavily defended and weakily defended points.  Some theory texts suggest attacking the weak points, which they call soft points or gaps, while bypassing the hard points. [HAR67, LIN89]  An example of this is the island hopping by US Marines in the Pacific in WW2.  They only attacked several key islands and skipped many others.  This was an exercise in economy of force as well.  Another example is the German attack at the Battle of the Bulge in WW2; the Germans en masse hit the Americans through the dense Ardennes Forest, which the U.S. forces had assumed protected them to some extent from armor.  Achieving complete surprise, the German forces overwhelmed the few American infantry divisions in the area, most freshly created and recently arrived from the States. [BRA99]

2.5 Coup d'Oeil

Frederick the Great mentions in his book the importance of a commander possessing coup d'oeil.  This French phrase literally translates into English as "striking eye", though the military meaning is probably better stated as "correctly appraising the lay of the land with regard to the enemy and battle".

Knowledge of the country is to a general what a rifle is to an infantryman and what the rules of arithmetic are to a mathmatician.  ...  The coup d'oeil of a general is the talent which great men have of conceiving in a moment all the advantages of the terrain and the use that they can make of it with their army.  [FRE47:27-31]

He recognizes three kinds of coup d'oeil: (1) instantly perceiving advantages of terrain during a meeting engagement, (2) when attacking an enemy in their defensive position being able to perceive at first glance the weak spot of the enemy, and (3) correctly judging the capacity of the enemy at the commencement of a battle.  It is on exact knowledge of the terrain that is regulated the dispositions of the troops and the order of battle of the army.  As a wargamer, you have near perfect knowledge of the terrain via the mapboard -- use it by studying the terrain.  For example, is there a stream running parallel to the direction of advance which can be uses to stop cavalry charges to the flank?  When making a defensive stand, are there two seperated copses of woods on to which to anchor each end of the defensive line?  Is there a depression running parallel to the proposed defensive line in which can be positioned an infantry line with artillery firing above from the ridge behind it?  And so on.


In our plan of battle we must set this great aim:  the attack on a large enemy column and its complete destruction.

-- Clauswitz [CLA12]

The art of generalship consists in, when actually inferior in numbers to the enemy, being superior to him on the battlefield.

-- Napoleon [CHA63:170]

Note that the two quotes opening this section have the same intent.  From the principles of war, we realize that only offensive action can attain ultimate victory.  A draw may be obtained by defensive action.  Thus since we aim to win a battle, we will need to employ offensive action. 

Importantly, don't underestimate the power of reconnaissance in wargaming, particularly when your opponent is a stranger and new to you.  By creating a small opening general action between say a brigade or division of mixed forces, you can get a feel for how your opponent fights.  Is he overly aggressive?  Overly timid?  Does he take risks unnecessarily?  Has he mastered the basics of tactics?  All these can assist you in settling on a final approach to defeating him.

If one side has a 6 to 1 advantage in forces, a straight ahead direct attack will certainly carry the battle often even if the enemy is entrenched or fortified.  However, the overwhelming direct attack is so boring as to rarely be found in a wargame or battle simulation.  Typically the forces in a wargame are more closely matched or victory conditions are such that even if one side has a large force relative to the other the large force can not afford to lose large numbers of troops and still win.  Thus, artifice or stratagem is required to attain victory.  In this section and the next, we'll study several stratagems.  Many of these seemed favored by Frederick the Great, Napoleon, and Wellington, among other great captains of war.

Frederick the Great said a battle no matter how complicated can always be broken into a right flank, a center, and a left flank. [FRE47]  B H Liddell Hart's basic premise was that it is not so much to seek battle as to seek a strategic situation so advantageous that, if it does not of itself produce the decision, continuation by battle is sure to achieve this. [HAR67]  Clauswitz recommended choosing as the object of the offensive that section of the enemy's army whose defeat will give decisive advantages. [CLA12]  There are an infinite number of ways to conduct a battle.  However, such anecdotes as these indicate that perhaps there are a few general ideas which can be molded into several distinct battle templates.  By template it is meant a plan general enough to be applied to many different battle situations while yet remaining specific enough to be useful in an actual battle.  Perhaps a better word than template is 'idiom' though 'template' gives the distinct impression of forming a specific battle plan from a master archetype and therefore is retained.

A study of battles, both real and simulated, reveals successful recurring templates.  These are discussed in the following.  The battle templates explained are not worth much if one remains ignorant in how to implement certain tactics at crucial places and times.  Note that each of these templates rely heavily on movement and maneuver as much as firepower or melee, with intent of producing the greatest number of men at the location of the decisive attack which has been chosen in advance as much as possible.

Finally, notice that every one of the battle templates shows a reserve.  This is not incidental nor an accident.  As Helmuth von Moltke said, "He who commits his reserve last wins the battle." [MOL93]

3.1 Single Envelopment

In essence the single envelopment is piling up all possible forces into either flank and attacking, trying to turn the opponent's flank, and ideally attacking him from his rear.  This battle template is illustrated in Figure 3.  Either the right or left flank is made very strong (mass) while the opposite flank and center of the line are very weak (economy of force).

Single Envelopment
Figure 3. Single Envelopment is probably the most oft used battle template

This template requires distributing your order of battle into the following forces:

  • Holding Force
  • Flanking Force
  • Reserve

This is a simple battle plan and should be able to be employed in almost any situation.  It is recommended for wargame scenarios in which the battle lines are already or nearly engaged without sufficient time to employ one of the other more complicated templates.

The single envelopment was used repeatedly by Grant and Lee in the later stages of the Civil War as each tried to turn the other's flank. ** 

3.2 Double Envelopment

The double envelopment has a great military history.  Examples of battles in which it was used are Cannae, Cowpens, and Isandlwana.  This battle template is shown illustrated in Figure 4.

Double Envelopment

Figure 4. Double Envelopment was used by Hannibal to annihilate an entire Roman army at Cannae

This template requires distributing your order of battle into the following forces:

  • Holding Force (Center)
  • Right Flanking Force
  • Left Flanking Force
  • Reserve

At The Battle of Cannae (2 August 216 BC), Hannibal placed his Gaul and Spaniard allies in the center and his Carthaginian troops to the outside.  During the battle these highly trained flank troops slowly enveloped the Roman mass.  What is amazing at Cannae is that the Roman Army at around 90000 men outnumbered Hannibal's force nearly 2 to 1.  However due to its inexperience and bickering between proconsuls it had difficulty maneuvering to stop the double envelopment during the battle.  At The Battle of Cowpens (17 January 1781) during the American Revolution, the plan was not initially to use a double envelopment, but after the forward, first line formed of militia fell back and regrouped, it charged around the flank of the friendly second line formed of continentals, who were depoyed in the center, and opposite to the other flank from which colonial cavalry was charging, effectively making the battle one of double envelopment.  The result was a near complete wipe out of the British force, all either killed or captured.  As a third example, this template was used by the Zulus of South Africa to completely wipe out the British 1st Battalion, 24th Foot at The Battle of Isandlwana (22 January 1879).  The Zulu's favored battle method was the "chest" and two "horns" of a bull, supposedly championed by King Shaka; this method is none other than the double envelopment.

The weakness of this method is that the weaker center can be smashed, breaking the line into disjointed pieces which can be defeated in detail (see battle template Breakthrough and Fragmentation).

3.3 Detached Wide Envelopment

This differs from a Single Envelopment in that the flanking attack is made by units which completely detach from contact with the friendly main body. 

This was Napoleon's favorite stratagem, termed La Manoeuvre sur les Derrieres (maneuver on the rear). It is said that Napoleon used this stratagem no less than thirty times between 1796 and 1815. [CHA63:163]  Given that he directly commanded in some 60 or more battles, this amounts to his employed method about 50% of the time.  Look at Figure 5 for a summary description.

Detached Wide Envelopment
Figure 5. Detached Wide Envelopment was Napoleon's favorite

This template requires distributing your order of battle into the following forces:

  • Holding Force (center and flank opposite detachment)
  • Flank Detachment
  • Reserve

A critical feature present in this template is a screening of the detachment.  This can be by natural obstacles like a forest, large city, elevated terrain, or artificial like light cavalry.  The main thing is that the detachment is not observed by the enemy.  A real strength of this stratagem is its potential for complete surprise.  One of the strongest weapons of offensive warfare is surprise. The unexpected element which the defender creates through secret preparations and through the concealed disposition of his troops can be counterbalanced on the part of the aggressor only by a surprise attack.  Against an opponent who remains in static defense waiting for you to attack, this wide envelopment can be a useful maneuver.  David Chandler's book [CHA63] says Napoleon typically detached about 1/3 or more of his force to come wide around to the flank or rear of his opponent.  Napoleon said later at St. Helena he had wanted to use this maneuver more. 

The weakness of this method is that the two forces can be confronted separately and defeated in detail (see battle template Interior Lines).

3.4 Oblique Approach

This is Frederick the Great's favored maneuver, which he called Schiefe Schlachtordnung (oblique formation). [FRE47]  He used something akin to this successfully at the Battle of Luethen, 1757.  Look at Figure 6 for a graphical description.

Oblique Appraoch

Figure 6. Oblique Approach was Frederick the Great's favorite

This template requires distributing your order of battle into the following forces:

  • Refused Weak Flank
  • Center
  • Assault Flank
  • Reserve

The great advantage of this approach is that poor quality troops are kept out of the engagement and on the defensive.  Ideally, the poor quality flank and center is posted on a village or other natural obstacle favoring the defensive.  Further, to engage these poorer quality troops, the enemy has to advance which further weakens his ability to defend the assault on the opposite flank.  If one can get this angled alignment against your opponent, this template has a lot going for it.

3.5 Breakthrough and Fragmentation

Some military texts call this Penetration and Exploitation.  This is also known by another name as a frontal assault.  In general, it is not recommended for use in Napoleonic warfare, at least by this author.  Even with 6:1 odds, the casualties incurred by attacker are often very large.  Napoleon used this template when necessary, for example at The Battle of Lutzen (2 May 1813).  Proceeded by a terrific discharge of a grande batterie, near the end of the battle the Imperial Guard charged headlong into the Prussian center.  However the French lost 20,000 to 30,000 men, a similar number as their opponents, and the net result was that the allies were simply driven backwards and no penetration was obtained.  France suffered more the losses, being greatly outnumbered by all the nations allied against her at that time.  At Waterloo, where the frontal assault was employed again against the reknown British infantry firing rate, d'Erlon's Corps suffered 35% casualties in 1 hour.  See Figure 7 for a picture of this template.

Breatkthrough and fragmentation

 Figure 7. Breakthrough and Fragmentation
can allow destruction of enemy fragments

This template requires distributing your order of battle into the following forces:

  • Weaker Left Flank
  • Assault Center (including grand battery)
  • Weaker Right Flank
  • Reserve

Note that in the Napoleonic era often this template is accompanied by a grand battery which prepares the way prior to the main assault.

The advantage of this maneuver is that if a breakthrough does occur, the opponent is fragmented and can be defeated in detail.  It is also extremely simple to execute.  As such it was nearly the only method used by the ancients, for example at The Battle of Gaugamela (331 BC) where Alexander the Great drove straight up the middle at Darius the Persian King.  It is somewhat ironic that the Persians attempted to use their numerous cavalry in a double envelopment in this battle; however, Alexander's audacity straight up the gut broke that maneuver.  This is illustrated in Figure7B.

The battle of gaugamela
Figure 7B. Final stages of The Battle of Gaugamela

Recently there has been support offered for this frontal movement. [LUT01]   This is in stark contrast to the negative image imparted it by Prussian staff (Clauswitz, et. al.), their intellectual decendents (WW1 and WW2 Germany), and English theorists (J F C Fuller and B H L Hart). [CLA32, MEL56, HAR67]  Basically the idea is that flank and other more complicated manuevers are more difficult to implement and therefore have inherent organizational friction.  (Here friction is the term coined by Clauswitz.  "Everything in war is very simple, but the simplest is difficult.  The difficulties accumulate and end by producing a kind of friction that is unconceivable unless one has experienced war." [CLA32] )  The frontal assault is simple and direct and therefore has less inherent friction, which increases its chance of success.  For example a Detached Wide Flank manuever may be detected by the enemy, which means that now the forces are split (violating the principle of mass) and have lost the element of surprise (violating the principle of security).  The latter two negative consequences are inherent in the Detached Wide Flank manuever.

Keep in mind that with armored forces this is the key maneuver.  Hating to encourage ahistorical behavior in Napoleonic warfare, still it would be remiss to not disclose the following method or "trick of the trade".  Akin to armored warfare, if one masses all the horse artillery batteries of an army with elite light infantry and lots of heavy cavalry, this mass can act similar to an armored fist in WW2.  Since the horse artillery can move and shoot in the same wargame turn, it has much of the same game aspects as does a tank in more modern wargame simulations.  Stacking each battery for protection with a formed light infantry battalion or two along with multiple companies of skirmishers in the same hex for additional firepower and with heavy cavalry as a threat just behind, this creates a pseudo-tank.  With each stack separated by a single open hex in a checkerboard fashion, the entire formation can move forward with relative immunity and shoot point-blank at nearby enemy targets.  Very, very nasty.  In some aspects, this tactic is historical, since Napoleon used something similar at Wagram (5-6 July 1809), advancing along a river to protect one flank and using a huge amount of horse artillery and cavalry to protect the other. [CLA12]

3.6 Dislocation
Via maneuver, this template seeks to create an untenable defensive position which makes the enemy either dislocate or fight a battle at a severe disadvantage.  This was the paragon preached by B H Liddell Hart in the book Strategy. [HAR67]  Often this battle template is simply the intent of exploiting a gap in the enemy's main line.  Or it can be threatening an enemy asset (such as a supply depot or national capital), which causes the enemy to withdraw from carefully prepared positions.  An example of this template is shown in Figure 8.

Figure 8. Dislocation uses maneuver to create an untenable defensive position

Here, denoted by "1", the friendly force seeks to exploit a gap and threaten an enemy asset, which causes the enemy "2" to withdraw and defend his threatened asset, thereby fighting in the location of the attacker's choosing.  This was employed by General Lee, CSA, prior to The Battle of Gettysburg; the south invaded the north to cause the Army of the Potomac to leave its heavily entrenched positions south of the capital and move west into Pennsylvania.  This template is such that the order of battle must be uniquely determined for each situation for which it is employed.

The classic counter to this ploy is to launch your own dislocation attack on an enemy asset.  This was done by Scipio the Younger when he crossed the Mediterrean Sea near Sicily and fell upon the Carthaginian capital, causing Hannibal to give up his (now seven year old!) dislocation attack on the Roman hinterland.

Another dislocation campaign was Sherman's march to the sea where he dislodged from a conventional train-based supply and lived off the land as did armies of old.  By threatening the deep south where the confederacy was born, he caused tremendous desertion in Lee's Army of Northern Virginia, whose southern troops raced back home to protect their individual homesteads.  This ended in Appomatox Court House.


Once having engaged the units nearest to the enemy, you have to let them go without worrying too much about their good or bad fortune.  Only you must be careful not to yield too easily to requests for help.

-- Napoleon [WIL39:112]

The battle templates shown above are more aggressive in nature with the attacker trying to force the opponent's actions to fit into his plan.  Sometimes, due to inferiority in numbers, quality, or position, a belligerent is forced to use more reactive battle templates.  In this section, three of these are shown, (1) Interior Lines, (2) Counterpunch, and (3) Fighting Withdrawal.

4.1 Interior Lines

This was another stratagem oft used by Napoleon, called Centres des Operations (center of operations).    An example of this is the battles at Ligny against the Prussians and Quatre Bras against the Anglo-Allied.  Here, Napoleon split the opposing forces in two and defeated each in detail.  However, he was soon after defeated because his lieutenants (Grouchy) did not prevent the Prussian Army from re-uniting with the Anglo-Allied Army at Waterloo.  It was a very close run, however, and given that he was greatly outnumbered it showed that Napoleon still retained great military prowess contrary to some horse-hooey bandied about his mental abilities dramatically diminishing in his later years.  (Even as late as 1814, the stated Allied strategy was to always avoid a direct engagement with Napoleon himself and instead attack forces commanded by his lieutenants.  Is that diminished ability?)  As shown in Figure 9, the main army is placed between two opposing armies, and then in (1) it marches to defeat one and then in (2) it marches to defeat the other.

Interior Lines
Figure 9. Interior Lines was another of Napoleon's favorites

This template requires distributing your order of battle into the following forces:

  • Weaker Left Holding Force
  • Strong Centralized Attack Force
  • Weaker Right Holding Force

Interior lines is used most often when an army inferior in numbers is opposed by multiple armies greatly superior.  By attacking each army in turn, the numerically weaker belligerent can master another much greater in numbers.  Military textbooks state that great strength of character is necessary in a general if he is to employ this desperate template because friendly forces are setup in a way that easily could allow a converging, overwhelming attack by a combined opponent.

4.2 Counterpunch

The Counterpunch is a one-two sequence of events.   It is useful when the enemy is superior in numbers and over-confident.  First the enemy attacks, and when the attacker begins to lose impetus through disorder, fatigue, or other, then a well placed counterattack is delivered (i.e., "The Hammer" strikes).  This is illustrated in Figure 10.

The Hammer
Figure 10. The Counterpunch was probably Wellington's most often employed template

This ploy has a bit of subtlety, and can be very devastating.  It could also be termed "Parry and Counterattack".  At the tactical scale, this would be called an ambush.  This template seems to have been employed by Wellington, who was often numerically inferior to his foes.  The opponent is allowed or even encouraged to attack, which is absorbed, and then when his attack has spent itself -- which always at some point naturally occurs to an attack against a defense in depth -- a decisive, concentrated counterattack is launched at a critical point in the attacker's line using a centralized defending force which has been saved and hidden from enemy view.

Personally, the author favors this absorb and counterattack stratagem above the others for wargames.  Though this template to some extent waits for the opponent to commit himself, the counterattack should be swift when it becomes apparent where the enemy's main attack has fallen.  It has an element of ju-jitsu (throwing the other guy with his weight) in it.  The key to this stratagem is to remain concentrated behind the lightly defended main battle line, defend in depth that area of the line to dilute the attacker's impetus -- refusing a flank if necessary as shown in Figure 10 (dashed lines), and then counterattacking at the right moment when the opponent is unbalanced and disorganized and at the right place where he is drawn out (not concentrated).  Take special note that this template's success is highly dependent upon properly implementing a "defense in depth" and upon recognizing the decisive moment to counterattack.  As such it is probably not well-suited to rookies.

This template requires distributing your order of battle into the following forces:

  • Right Flank (sparsely manned, defense in depth)
  • Center (sparsely manned, defense in depth)
  • Left Flank (sparsely manned, defense in depth)
  • The Hammer
  • Ready Reserve - crucial to parry attacker's initial blow, since you are ceding initial initiative to opponent
  • Battle Reserve

Ideally the counterattack by the hammer destroys a sizable chunk of forces netting a decisive victory.  However, several steps must precede that decisive counterattack.  These are:  (i) set up a secure order of battle, (ii) recon in force to gain information about the opponent's abilities and force distribution, (iii) adjust forces to match opponent's maneuver, (iv) allow opponent to mount attack, (v) absorb it with solid defensive tactics and use of ready reserve if necessary, (vi) counterattack at a single concentrated location of the opponent's line using "The Hammer" to punch a hole in it and destroy a large-sized force, and finally (vii) deliver coup d'grace to the entire battle line with final reserve. 

The key danger in this template is that if the opponent's initial attack is never stopped, or sufficiently slowed, or deflected, he will permanently gain -- probably decisively -- the initiative, which goes a long way in attaining victory as he sets the tone and development of battle.  The way to prevent this is with a defense in depth which thwarts him from connecting with your main body and causing it mischief before the impetus of his attack degrades and disorganizes.

4.3 Fighting Withdrawal

Sometimes this is the only option available.  It is not technically an attack, though since the force is not entrenched this template still qualifies as a maneuver and so is discussed here.  Usually in situations where employed, there is not time to setup a Counterpunch.  Or there are insufficient forces to create the decisive counterattack force.  For example, the Anglo-Allied at Quatre Bras or the French initially at Marengo or Saltnovka, the only thing early in those battles was to maintain a viable defensive line.  There were barely enough troops to do that.  For this template, the idea is to disengage where ever possible and slowly withdraw while maintaining unit cohesion, watching flanks, and awaiting friendly reinforcements to gather sufficient mass before taking the offensive or risking a pitched, head-to-head battle.


Nichts Neues im Westen (All quiet on the Western Front.)

-- E Remarque

A static battle template is another name for a siege.  Sieges did happen in the Napoleonic era.  However, static defense was usually unsuccessful.   (Or in modern combat for that matter because the advent of heavy caliber weapons -- i.e., artillery and more recently aircraft and combustion powered missiles -- and mobile armored forces have doomed static fortifications.)  Therefore, we won't discuss these templates in this article.  A more recommended defense template is an active in-depth approach which seeks opportunities to counterattack (see Counterpunch maneuver).  And more importantly since our emphasis in this article is simulations, being time dependent (i.e., starve or bomb out your opponent) sieges make for boring wargaming.


No battle plan survives intact the first contact with the enemy main body.

-- Helmuth von Moltke [MOL]

In conclusion, before you plan your next great manuever using one of the templates shown in this article, make sure you (if playing a scenario which has limited initial engagement and visibility) find and if need be fix the enemy.  If you don't know where the enemy is and prematurely try, say a flanking manuever, you'll unhappily discover your army swatting air!  Remember the U.S. Army's 3F's doctrine:  find 'em, fix 'em, and f**k 'em!  (This is the army's unofficial slogan, and it has been handed down verbally generation to generation since the Civil War and U. S. Grant.)  For example, march in three groups abreast, aiming the central fixing force at the enemy's main body.  Once the enemy is found, engage him with whichever group is nearest and then using the remaining forces begin one of the battle template maneuvers described in this article.  Also, don't forget that several templates may occur during the temporal progression of a battle.  For example, you might start out in a Fighting Withdrawal and as reinforcements arrive end with Counterpunch.  As another example, you might begin with a Single Envelopment, have things go awry (remember the Clauswitzian friction always present in war), and end up in a Fighting Withdrawal.

This brief survey of the types of templates that can be applied to your Napoleonic wargame battles is now concluded.  Remember that no amount of reading will produce the ability to always create a victory; some victories depend solely on the ability of your brain to improvise and reason.  However, with the above described templates, perhaps you can combine them into a new variant or use one as is.  Hopefully, you've read something in this article that you can use to translate into a victory in the gaming arena in the immediate future.

Bon chance!


+  I play these Napoleonic wargames with a passion.  However I now do so using an alias since by writing these analysis articles I give up a lot of my playing style to an opponent before they even begin to play against me.  So regrettably, please don't send emails challenging me.  I no longer play wargames with my real name.  The reasons for this should be obvious.

*  It should be obvious that troop frontage is not the only important thing in modern warfare.  Airplanes, armor, long-range artillery, airborne infantry, minefield, fortifications, and so on make troop frontage only a rough indicator of modern combat power.

**  This recurrent turning action brings up the author's all-time favorite military story.  I don't know why, perhaps being an American by many generations and being from the North with ancestors who served in the Michigan and Indiana volunteers, but this story nearly brings tears to my eyes.  In many ways it was the turning point of the war since the Northern soldiers now knew they had a general who had mettle equal to Lee.  It had been a long, long, long wait.  Rather than paraphrase it, I will quote it directly from a very admirable author, Fletcher Pratt, in the book A Short History of the Civil War, page 311. [PRA48:311]

[After The Battle of the Wilderness, May 8, 1864.]   ... and the fight went on.
     On into the dark when the armies halted to take count of their loss.  The Army of the Potomac had suffered frightfully, 17000 men down, more than twice as many as the rebels had lost.  The new general from the West had fared no better than the others against Lee, the war would never end, and the Union troops crawled out of their lines and began to head away eastward along the dark roads.
     "Licked again, by crackey!"
     At Chancellorsville House there is a three-corner.  The road to the left led back across the Rappahannock, back to the Potomac, out of that grim wood to fortifications, comfort and safety; that on the right led past the rebel front, deeper than ever into the perilous and uncertain Wilderness.  As the defeated troops came slogging down to the turn, the dispirited soldiers saw dimly a solitary man in an old blue coat sitting horseback at the cross-roads with a cigar in his mouth.  He silently motioned the guides of each regiment down the right-hand road.  Grant.
     They stared a moment -- and then the slanting lines of steel took the road to terror and death, upborne on an uncontrollable wave of cheering.  "That night the men were happy."
     They could never be beaten now


[BRA99]  Omar N. Bradley, A Soldier's Story, Modern Library, 1999.

[CHA63]    David Chandler, The Campaigns of Napoleon, Scribner, 1963.

[CLA12]  Carl von Clauswitz, Principles of War, 1812.  on-line

[CLA32]  Carl von Clauswitz, On War, 1832.   on-line   on-line

[DUP87]   Trevor N. Dupuy, Understanding War, Paragon House, 1987.

[DUP90]   Trevor N. Dupuy, Understanding Defeat, Paragon House, 1990.

[FRE47]  Frederick the Great, Military Instructions for His Generals, 1747,

[FRO]  Sextus Julius Frontinus, The Strategemata, 1st Century A.D.  on-line

[JOM38]  Antoine Jomini, The Art of War, 1838.

[HAR67]  B H Liddell Hart, Strategy: The Indirect Approach, 2 ed., Meridian, 1967.

[HPS]  HPS Simulation's Napoleonic games:  Napoleon's Russian Campaign (NRC), Wagram, Jena-Auerstadt, Eckmuhl, and Waterloo.

[LIN85]  William S. Lind, Maneuver Warfare Handbook, 1985.

[LUT01]  Edward N. Luttwak, Strategy  The Logic of War and Peace, Belknap Press, 2001.

[MAC21]  Nicollo Machiavelli, The Art of War, 1521.

[MEL56]  Maj Gen F. W. von Mellenthin, Panzer Battles, Univ Oklahoma Press, 1956.

[MG]  Matrix Games:  has re-released the Talonsoft (out of business) company's game titles.

[MOL93]  Helmuth von Moltke, Moltke on the Art of War, edited by Daniel J Hughes, Presidio, 1993.

[MON70]  Raimondo Montecuccoli, Concerning Battle, 1670.

[MUR]  Anonymous, Murphy's Laws of War.   on-line

[NAP21] Napoleon, The Maxims of Napoleon, 1821.  These maxims were not actually written directly by Napoleon but were instead recorded by those around him while at St Helena island.   on-line

[PRA48]  Fletcher Pratt, A Short History of the Civil War, 1948, Dover reprint 1997.

[ROG57] Major Robert Rogers, Roger's Rangers Rules or Plans of Discipline, 1757.   on-line

[SAX57]  Maurice de Saxe, My Reveries on the Art of War, 1657.

[SHE12]  Captain C.O.Sherrill, Military Topography for the Mobile Forces, Menasha, Wisconsin: George Banta Publishing Co., 1912.  on-line

[TS]   Talonsoft's Napoleonic Battleground series games:  Napoleon in Russia (NiR), Prelude to Waterloo (PTW), and Battleground Waterloo (BGW).  Alas, the Talonsoft software company is now defunct, though recently Matrix Games has updated and re-released these three titles.

[TZU]  Sun Tzu, The Art of War, 6th century B.C.

[USMC89]  "Distributed" by USMC General Gray, Warfighting, 1989.

[VEG]  Flavius Vegetius Renatus, De Re Militari (The Military Institutions of the Romans), 4th Century A.D.  on-line

[WIL397]   Charles Willoughby, Maneuver in War, Military Service Publishing Co, 1939.

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