Clausewitz Book V: In Support of War, Now and Then

Book five was perhaps the most difficult read for me thus far. Clausewitz appears to pause here in his flow of ideas to concentrate on the apocrypha of war. It is in these pages that he gives us his view of how the supporting operations should be conducted, as well as considerations for placement, movement, and troop strengths. Application of most of Clausewitz’ points to modern day is extremely difficult and in most cases takes a good deal of abstract thinking.

I am by no means questioning the ideas presented. I feel that in his time, Clausewitz was dead on in these areas, and that at their base, the concepts still hold true. It would appear however that in the support of war, technology has served the leader most admirably of all. While we are still concerned with the idea of the “march”, in that troops must be acclimatized when traveling to different locations, we are no longer concerned in most cases with troops being road-tired after a day’s hump, and can generally commence combat upon arrival. While supply lines are important and must be protected, the “base” can be much farther away, and troops seldom need to be concerned with foraging or otherwise procuring rations in country. Communications no longer depend on well-guarded roads, though well-guarded waves are now important. It can definitely be argued that infantry is still the most flexible, and most important branch, though Artillery (supporting fire) is now infinitely more flexible, and can be delivered from beyond the horizon, and cavalry has evolved and grown wings.

Perhaps the most directly applicable point Clausewitz gives us is the idea of terrain. While he gives us only a brief, and possibly over-simplified view here, terrain now as much as ever, plays an important role in fighting. While this is, as Clausewitz says, mostly a tactical concern, strategically we still very much take it into account. We seek to use it as much to our advantage as possible, in very much the same was Clausewitz describes.

4 thoughts on “Clausewitz Book V: In Support of War, Now and Then”

  1. Books V, VI and VII are much more rooted in their time period than some other parts of the book. Book VI, in particular, which does have lots of good stuff in it, still needs some imagination to extract the value.

  2. When faced with the choice of impassible terrain or entrenched resistance, choose the terrain. Giap did this at Dien Bien Phu, as did Thomas at Chattanooga. Both were decisive.

  3. >Communications no longer depend on well-guarded roads

    Au contraire. The US Army in Afghanistan is having difficulties because of Taliban ambushes along the Khyber Pass. Air transport is possible but very tonnage-limited, and while you can ship lots of stuff by sea, unless you plan to have troops only in coastal cities you still have to move it somewhere by road or rail after you unload the ship.

  4. Mr. Zbaraschuk:
    Good point. I did not intend to say that the issue of logistics was completely solved, or that the rear should be unguarded. What I mean is that we are generally no longer limited to wagon trains moving along the best roads we can find. By “waves” I was trying to imply actual communications (S6), in that we transfer messages using the electromagnetic spectrum rather than a physical dispatch, in most cases.

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