B.H. Liddell-Hart, Strategy

Context: Born in 1895; joined the British Army during WWI; war experiences greatly shaped his perception on war and military strategy. His ideas found support due to public disgust with war; modern analysts have questioned his historical analysis of WWII. He examined direct versus indirect approaches to fighting total wars through case study analysis. He attempted to prescribe the best approach in the last few chapters of his book (which is where his theory can be located; the majority of his book centers around the historical case studies). Not a fan of Clausewitz.

Thesis: The indirect approach is the best strategy to use when fighting a war.

Argument: Supported his theories using historical case study analysis primarily from WWI and WWII with mentions of other battles. Initial impression, when faced with the massive amount of historical evidence, is that his theory must be accurate. However, consider that he emphasized certain historical cases versus others. - Promoted the importance of mechanized armor combined with infantry (premise supported JFC Fuller’s idea of economy of force, which Liddell Hart echoed). He defined strategy (aka operational art) as “distributing and applying military means to fulfill the ends of policy” whose aim should be to bring about battle under the most advantageous circumstances: dislocation.

- Strategy is “the art of distributing and applying military means to fulfill the ends of policy.” Politics will modify the objective of war to meet changing political conditions.

- A successful strategy must coordinate ends and means.

- A perfect strategy would bring about a decision without serious fighting.

- Grand Strategy allocates resources for the commander and looks beyond the war to a better state of peace.

- Grand Strategy is at the national level and involves the coordination of DIME elements.

- Grand Strategy looks beyond war to the eventual peace, and is focused not just on movement of forces but the desired and expected effect they provide military and political leaders.

- Basic notions behind his theory:

- - Psychological dislocation fundamentally springs from sense of being trapped.

- - Indirect approach takes line of least resistance. Equivalent in psychological sphere is line of least expectation.

- - Distraction is to deprive the enemy of his freedom of movement.

Other Propositions: Offense and defense go hand in hand and in order to produce effective offensive actions, one must disperse the opponent’s forces. In order to do that, one’s own forces must be widely dispersed. Thus, by an outward paradox, true concentration is the product of dispersion. To ensure reaching an objective one should have alternate objectives; distract enemy by putting them on horns of a dilemma.

- Principles of War are practical guides, not abstract principles. Principles of war can be condensed into concentration of strength against weakness. Essential truth underlying principles is that, for success, 2 major problems must be solved – dislocation & exploitation.


- - Adjust your end to your means - do only what is possible.

- - Keep object always in mind while adapting your plan.

- - Choose the line (or course) of least expectation.

- - Exploit the line of least resistance.

- - Take approach which offers alternative objectives.

- - Ensure that both plan and dispositions are flexible – adaptable to circumstances.


- - Don’t throw weight into a stroke while your opponent is on guard.

- - Do not renew an attack along the same line (or in same form) after it has once failed.

Distinguishes between political object and military aim: the political object is the purpose of policy; the military aim is the physical means to achieving that political end (338).

The object in war is a better state of peace--even if only from your own point of view.

Strategy Implications: This theory provides the modern student with the basic understanding of how the three levels of planning and operations need to integrate in order to succeed. He also provided a counter argument to the direct approach theorists which may be more relevant in the modern war on terror and limited wars the US finds itself fighting.

Sugar's Tips on Liddel Hart

Tough to talk about LH without mentioning Fuller. Fuller & Liddell Hart were both seeking to avoid a repeat of WWI, and sought to use relatively small and highly mobile modern forces to wage war quickly and decisively. Liddell Hart eventually retreated from this position prior to WWII, and personally had a dramatic effect on both the British strategy and force structure going into WWII, not necessarily in a good way (had a little Alcibiades thing going as an advisor to the British SecState for War).

Largely self taught, studied history at Cambridge one year before being commissioned, going to the Somme and getting gassed. Spent the rest of the war retraining volunteer infantry, and began thinking and writing about armed conflict.

Started as an infantry tactician, but his main interest was strategy. He accepted the view of Fuller, Mahan, Douhet, Foch, and others that while the forms of war were subject to change, the fundamental principles were not

Became friends with Fuller in 1920, the latter became his mentor, stole so much from him that the friendship foundered. Prior to the meeting, he had theorized how war did not need to be static or linear if infantry could break through gaps in the defense and restore mobility to warfare. After meeting with Fuller, the tank made perfect sense to keep the infantry going as it exploited breakthroughs. The two main principles of his idea were opportunism and using the reserves to exploit weaknesses in the enemy line, “exploit success”.

Agreed with Fuller that charging headlong into defenses was senseless – thought Clausewitz could be blamed for this, called him the “Mahdi of Mass”, which for us today would be like calling someone an Ayatollah or a Jihadi

1922 Proposed replacing independent cavalry divisions with tank battalions as integral parts of infantry divisions, two tank BNs for every three infantry BNs, with infantry in halftracks with self propelled artillery. Very visionary in in 1922, the Germans eventually executed Blitzkrieg with a less advanced version of this. He also saw tanks operating as independent units for long range interdiction raids, with infantry elements supporting the tanks rather than vice versa

Much clearer writer than Fuller, partly helped from his experience as a popular journalist, wrote in terms “so simplistic that it could be understood even by generals”, according to Van Creveld

1925-1927 wrote two books describing how tanks, gas, and aircraft could be used to skip over defenses, breaking the stalemate of trench warfare “The Expanding Torrent”, based on studies of the March 1918 offensive in WWI/ He argued that infantry should be motorized to keep pace with the tanks, and proposed that dive bombers could substitute for self propelled artillery

Retired from the army as a Captain for medical reasons in 1927 and became a sports journalist.

1927 – Railed against military for not developing an experimental armored division (the one that was eventually formed and offered to Fuller), and in the process lost most of his channels of info and friends from inside the army

1929 – wrote The Decisive Wars of History, which was updated after WWII and eventually became Strategy: the Indirect Approach, and then Strategy. Took historical examples, "ignored what was different about them" according to Van Creveld, and theorized that the indirect approach had been the key to victory through the ages, not direct , and using two branches to put the enemy on the “horns of a dilemma” , use rapidity of movement, secrecy, and surprise to create this, and also to maintain flexibility , focused heavily on 2D maneuver

1930s – Wrote and spoke to try to gain acceptance for his ideas, not much traction in the middle of the economic depression, wrote lots of histories, used many to criticize current British leaders, and criticized British WWI leadership, further distancing himself from the War Office. He did get support from Trenchard and the air arm, which may have influenced him to emphasize seapower and airpower for Britain’s defense, abandoning his concepts of developing highly mobile offensive armor forces

Liddell Hart eventually shifted towards a defensive strategy. He followed Corbett in the desire to keep Britain out of massive continental commitments, believed in the superiority of defense over attack, even in the air. His strategy “limited liability” was to let continental allies provide the Coup De Main, while Britain maintained a strong navy and air force – wanted to avoid mass conscription and large armies. He argued in 1925 that bombing of cities and industrial centers was acceptable as the lesser of two evils if it brought a quicker end to the war – he was going along with Trenchard’s arguments that large scale bombing would degrade moral and destroy the economic infrastructure needed to wage modern warfare.

1935 – Invited by secretary of state for war to become an informal advisor, kept on by his successor in 1937 and became an “undercover general” suggesting changes in training, tables of organization and equipment, and even personnel assignments. Within six months the “War Office was in a panic”, and he became loathed, building such personal tensions that Hart’s suggestions could no longer be judged solely on their merits.

1938 – Broke with the secstate over what he considered to be totally inadequate air defenses, then went back to publishing and bashed the military for being unprepared for war.

Liddell Hart’s ideas were discredited by the realities of WWII – he is blamed by some (definitely Van Creveld) for shackling the offensive capability of the tank to mobile defense with his arguments against a commitment in Europe. He sought to regain relevance after the war by showing that the Germans had taken Blitzkrieg from him.

Germans adopted many of Liddell Hart’s principles, although they didn’t have the industrial capacity to adopt them fully (lots of horse drawn carts in Blitzkrieg). Personally credited by Guderian as the inspiration for the way he tried to develop the German Blitzkrieg forces, also Rommel’s chief of staff, saying LH had made the biggest impression on Rommel of all the military writers.

Some say that Bradley and Patton’s drives in WWII illustrated the “expanding torrent”(Blumenson and Stokesbury, Masters of the Art of Command. – This book tends to lionize him, though) Released his last book in 1970 and died the same year. Only one British major general attended the funeral (two American Colonels, one USA and the other USMC, were the only other military attendees).Criticisms of both Fuller and Liddell Hart – overemphasis on independent tank ops oversold the capability of the tank to win battles on their own (what does this sound like?)( locking force development into, hurting combined arms warfare in the interwar period, which manifested itself in the initial difficulties in Africa in WWII

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