Sunday, March 2, 2014
Great Captains - Frederick the Great
Ah Frederick, he and Fred Bear have contributed to my nomenclature. Frederick basically held his own against various much larger foreign powers over the course of 2 major wars and managed to expand Prussia both nominally and on a prestigious level. His efforts basically set the precedent for the eventual formation of Germany under the Iron Chancellor. The Prussian military was trained to great effect by his father and thus Frederick II had a decent base to work from (similar to Alexander in that regard). Like Alexander he won because he found a distinctive flaw in the opposition's strategy and exploited it numerous times.
Essentially all of Frederick's major battles after the first were won via outflanking the opposition, most famously at Leuthen but perhaps most impressively at Rossbach. At Leuthen Frederick advanced under cover of fog and hills to a position on the opponent's flank and successfully attacked and destroyed a numerically superior enemy successfully; solidifying his country's hold on Silesia (the primary objective of all of his wars) in the process. This is usually the battle held up by historians as his finest effort, and in terms of diplomatic effect and decisiveness it was certainly the most important, but I find the battle of Rossbach to be entirely too fascinating to elevate Leuthen in its place.
In an utterly brilliant maneuver Frederick abandoned his position on the eve of battle and lured the enemy into a foolish pursuit, then surrounded and destroyed the opposition. It's the sort of thing you'd read about in Three Kingdoms, a novel based on history but prone to stretching certain facts. Basically the opposition assumed Frederick was retreating because of their overwhelming numerical superiority; but Frederick used this to his own advantage and successfully exploited it. This sort of maneuver requires an exceptional amount of courage on the part of the commander and on the part of his troops.
Said troops were perhaps some of the finest in the history of the world; as they fought time and again against larger enemy forces and won almost every battle. Faith in their exceptional leader and reliance on their extensive training won out, more often than not. Frederick was not a leader of a great world power when he began, but he most certainly had turned Prussia into one by the end of his reign. In the Seven Years' War he defeated France, Russia, and Austria; a coalition more than 10 times his size. Britain was an ally in the war (which is known in the US as the French and Indian War, and for George Washington's befuddled participation), but he basically did all of the fighting and funding/supporting of his men; and somehow miraculously won. That is the strength of a great commander, the capacity to succeed when there is no logical chance for success.
Addendum: I guess there's some vague chance that someone from Ukraine will read this so I'll add an additional commentary here. What can this information be used for practically you ask? Well it's important to understand that no matter how dominant the opposition is they will usually have quite a few characteristic weaknesses for you to exploit, it is only up to you to find out what they are and to correctly anticipate their actions because of said weaknesses. With such information and the audacity to execute wideranging ambushes or flanking maneuvers (admittedly more difficult in the age of satellite observation) one can defeat a nominally superior opponent.