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Principles of Warfare Cheat Sheet (DRAFT) by [deleted]

Principles of Conducting Successful Warfare

This is a draft cheat sheet. It is a work in progress and is not finished yet.


The principles of war are fundam­ental truths governing the prosec­ution of war. Their proper applic­ation is essential to the exercise of command and to successful conduct of military operat­ions. The degree of applic­ation of any specific principle will vary with the situation and the applic­ation thereto of sound judgment and tactical sense.


Every military operation must be directed toward a decisive, obtain­­able objective. The destru­ction of the enemy’s armed forces and his will to fight is the ultimate military objective of war. The objective of each operation must contribute to this ultimate objective. Each interm­ediate objective must be such that its attainment will most directly, quickly, and econom­ically contribute to the purpose of the operation. It must permit the applic­ation of the maximum means available. Its selection must be based upon consid­eration of means available, the enemy, and the area of operat­ions. Secondary objectives of any operation must contribute to the attainment of the principal objective.


Only offensive action achieves decisive results. Offensive action permits the commander to exploit the initiative and impose his will on the enemy. The defensive may be forced on the commander, but it should be delibe­rately adopted only as a temporary expedient while awaiting an opport­unity for offensive action or for the purpose of econom­izing forces on a front where a decision is not sought. Even on the defensive the commander seeks every opport­unity to seize the initiative and achieve decisive results by offensive action.


Simplicity must be the keynote of military operat­ions. Uncomp­licated plans clearly expressed in orders promote common unders­tanding and intell­igent execution. Even the most simple plan is usually difficult to execute in combat. Simplicity must be applied to organi­zation, methods, and means in order to produce orderl­iness on the battle­field.

Unity of Command

The decisive applic­ation of full combat power requires unity of command. Unity of command obtains unity of effort by the coordi­­nated action of all forces toward a common goal. Coordi­nation may be achieved by direction or by cooper­ation. It is best achieved by vesting a single commander with requisite authority. Unity of effort is furthered by willing and intell­igent cooper­ation among all elements of the forces involved. Pearl Harbor is an example of failure in or­gan­ization for command. See appendix II.


Maximum available combat power must be applied at the point of decisi­on.Mass is the concen­tration of means at the critical time and place to the maximum degree permitted by the situation. Proper applic­ation of the principle of mass, in conjun­ction with the other prin­c­iples of war, may permit numeri­cally inferior forces to achieve deci­sive combat superi­ority. Mass is essent­ially a combin­ation of man­power and firepower and is not dependent upon numbers alone; the effect­iveness of mass may be increased by superior weapons, tactics, and morale.

Economy of Force

Minimum essential means must be employed at points other than that of decisi­on.To devote means to unnece­ssary secondary efforts or to employ excessive means on required secondary efforts is to violate the principle of both mass and the objective. Limited attacks, the defensive, deception, or even retrograde action are used in noncri­tical areas to achieve mass in the critical area.


Maneuver must be used to alter the relative combat power of military forces.Ma­neuver is the positi­oning of forces to place the enemy at a relative disadv­antage. Proper positi­oning of forces in relation to the enemy frequently can achieve results which otherwise could be achieved only at heavy cost in men and material. In many situations maneuver is made possible only by the effective employment of firepower.


Surprise may decisively shift the balance of combat power in favor of the commander who achieves it.It consists of striking the enemy when, where, or in a manner for which he is unprep­ared. It is not essential that the enemy be taken unaware but only that he becomes aware too late to react effect­ively. Surprise can be achieved by speed, secrecy, deception, by variation in means and methods, and by using seemingly impossible terrain: Mass is essential to the optimum exploi­tation of the principle of surprise.


Security is essential to the applic­ation of the other principles of war.It consists of those measures necessary to prevent surprise, avoid annoyance, preserve freedom of action, and deny to the enemy inform­ation of our forces. Security denies to the enemy and retains for the commander the ability to employ his forces most effect­ively.