Surprise Attacks

Historically so many states used surprise attack tactics in order to distract an opponent and destroy its defense system.


Almost all countries achieved victory in surprise attack but the core idea is not to have a victory in surprise attacks but have an ultimate victory in a war. There is actually no relations between the initial attack and the final victory. To think about how to wage a war one must recognize that there is two stage in war: the First one is a surprise attack where opponent use tactics and suddenly attacks. The second one is a planned war which is the cornerstone of the war. Winning the war and finalizing the war actually, depends on the second stage. You can win the war in the first stage but if you do not fulfill the second stage then you will lose the war. The first stage must be followed by the second one. Thi mistakes made by Japan in Pearl Harbor in 1941. They made the surprise attack but the second stage was not implemented. This example can also be targeted to the Egyptian and Syrian armies which could achieve full victory against Israel in 1973 attack but they halted their operations early. If one state implements both of them on time then she possibly going to win the war which is called “maxi-max” (high risk-high gain) strategy.

The historically surprise attacks have always been used at the tactical level, the strategic level of this attack has become popular from the beginning of 20th century. Before going to the details we should clarify what is tactic and what is the strategy:

Cambridge Dictionary: Strategy is a detailed plan for achieving success in situations such as war, politics, business and etc.

The tactic is a planned way of doing something.

The strategy carries the question what? But tactic carries the question how?

“Strategy is doing the right things -Tactics is doing things right.”[1]

The states or adversaries used surprise attacks in tactical level because there was not any development in technology, communication, transportation and etc. Therefore attacking to some territory took months, even years. When they reached the place they tried only use tactical surprises. The surprise is a tactical strategy because it is limited in time and space.

The advent of the technology, era changed the way that war happened. New technological advancements added for achieving the victory quickly.

Firstly, the construction of railroad helped to foster the mobilization of troops. Then the invention of combustion engines boosted the flexibility of the mobilization of troops with averting the dependency from the railroad.

In the beginning of the WWI, newly made tanks and hard armored vehicles helped to move in harsh terrains and areas. This made the mobilization and logistics faster that revolutionized the war system.

Adding the third dimension to the war caused the creation of strategic surprise attacks. The air attacks changed the peace to the war system. Bombing some troops or areas, headquarters, communications centers, airfields, fuel depots, bridges, roads and other choke points became effective and helped to earn time in attack and also in defense. The air system surpassed all other types of power and became an effective tool in penetration to the areas and bombardment of the points. This is actually changed the historical 2 stage war system. Having wide range transportation also increased the maneuverability of the troops. The development actually compressed the time and space

Also, the newly developed weapons worked as a surprise in the wartime period. Using innovative weapons in right occasions also solved the destiny of the war. For example:

“The use of gliders by the Germans during their attack in the west in 1940 on the Belgian fort of Eban-Emael, the performance of the Japanese Zero and the Russian T-34, the British code-breaking effort and the strategic and tactical use of Ultra and the American atomic bomb are also among the best known surprises of wartime.” [2]

The technological development opened new Pandora’s Box for the international environment. The fact is, any country could mobilize clandestinely and can make an attack to another country which is also could trigger a mobilization in a reciprocal way. That is why the technological development is the main destabilizer of the international relations.

Today technological advancement reached its peak and it means that a strategic surprise could be both the beginning and the end of a war. Technological progress brought the wartime from years to months, days, hours and even to the minutes.



Betts R. K., Mahnken T. G. Paradoxed of Strategic Intelligence. Essays in Honor of Michael I.Handel – 2005


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