Attack to the extreme

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The attack to the extreme (probably from French. Attaque à outrance borrowed ; literally actually attaque à outrance ) - also known as regardless of losses - is a military doctrine , inter alia, in the period before the First World War was common in many European armies . They claimed that the combined onslaught of armed forces could force victory in a battle. In retrospect, there is also talk of a “cult of the offensive” that contributed to the senseless mass deaths on the battlefields of the First World War. The term is often related primarily to France, but this doctrine was also practiced by all other warring parties.



In the imperialist-nationalist or militarist context, military courage was glorified ("steadfast to death"). In France, for example, the cran (in English, something like "Mumm") or élan was spoken of, which particularly distinguished the French soldier. This is reminiscent of the Celtic daring ( French audace celtique ), which was described by Julius Caesar in his book De bello gallico and which almost every Latin learner knew in the past .

In Italian there is the term furia francese ; he also describes “throwing oneself into danger” and thereby “ignoring the danger to life”. In France this was ultimately based on the idea that Alsace-Lorraine, which had been lost in the Franco-German War , could only be regained through an unconditional attack. Leading representatives of this school of thought in France were above all Ferdinand Foch , teacher at and later head of the École supérieure de guerre (1907–1911), and his student Louis Loyzeau de Grandmaison . They viewed the doctrine as a means to an end to offset the objective German advantage of the larger population. They rated a defensive attitude as the main cause of the defeat in the war of 1870/71. The army should be brought up in an offensive spirit so that it can pursue its goal regardless of opposing intentions and maneuvers.

French infantry attacking the bayonet

In 1911 - since Joseph Joffre was appointed Chief of Staff - France switched from a more defensive to an offensive military doctrine: "Under his leadership, the defensive maxim, which had been binding for several decades, was given up and the primacy of unrestricted attack." now an offensive with all available forces to carry out a “paralyzing preemptive strike”; limited counter-attacks had previously been planned. Under Joffre the " Plan XVII " was created, which contained a possible French action against a German attack (which took place in 1914 according to the Schlieffen Plan ). The doctrine was incorporated into the 1913 plan and regulations; The result was the extremely loss-making, frontal border battles in August 1914.

A famous report from General Foch, addressed to Joffre, dated September 8 or 9, 1914 ( Battle of the Marne ), illustrates this attitude, which was widespread in the officer corps:

«Pressé sur ma droite, mon center commence à céder. Impossible de me mouvoir. Situation excellent. J'attaque. »

“My right flank is under pressure, the center of my army is beginning to give way. Impossible to move Excellent situation. I attack."

In offensives à outrance between 1914 and 1918 around 400,000 French soldiers died; that was a third of those mobilized in the summer of 1914.

In the interwar period , the attitude in the French army changed again. The expression of this now more defensive attitude was the Maginot Line (built 1930-1940).


In 1906 Franz Conrad von Hötzendorf was appointed Chief of the General Staff of the "Armed Power" at the suggestion of his friend, the heir to the throne Franz Ferdinand . He was thus operationally responsible for any war deployment of the kuk army , kuk navy , kk landwehr and ku Honved and exclusively to the emperor and king as commander in chief (and the deputy appointed by him for reasons of age, until 1914 Franz Ferdinand, then the Army Commander in Chief ).

Conrad wrote several papers (list here ), including the handbook for studying tactics in 1898/99 . In it he names the basic idea of ​​the Austro-Hungarian military leadership: offensive and attack - at any price. Conrad's view of life became “activism”, by which he understood aggressive determination, purposeful zest for action and indomitable will . As early as April 1907, Conrad suggested “overthrowing” Italy in a preventive war , a suggestion that he should bring forward again and again. Conrad played an important role in the July crisis that led to the outbreak of the First World War.

The result of this attitude were the extremely high losses suffered by the Peace Tribe of the Army in Galicia , which could not be replaced. They had overlooked or ignored the fact that they were facing two armies ( Russia and Serbia ) which had already fought major battles in the 20th century and which had learned strategically and tactically from them.


Italy changed sides in the spring of 1915 (see London Treaty ) and began a large-scale mountain war 1915–1918 .

General Luigi Cadorna initially chose a conservative, outdated attack tactic. His soldiers moved closely together and staggered, which all other warring countries had long avoided because of the extraordinarily high casualties from machine gun fire of the defenders. In addition, Cadorna was too hesitant and often gave away already won initial successes.

In 1915 alone the Italians lost around 175,000 men, namely in the first four Isonzo battles .

Germany - the myth of Langemarck

From the end of October to November 10, 1914, there were repeated fights near Ypres , the First Battle of Flanders . The Supreme Army Command glorified the losses with the false report that at Langemarck young German regiments had taken the foremost opposing positions to the chant "Deutschland, Deutschland über alles". This announcement launched the myth of Langemarck , which existed until the Nazi era and which glorified the alleged sacrificial death of a young, educated German generation. The war of movement ended with the fighting near Ypres. An extensive system of trenches ( trench warfare ) arose on the German western front . The misery, the senselessness and the enormous psychological strain of the trench warfare (see war tremors , war trauma ) may have contributed to the glorification of the offensive à outrance : Fighters and officers had the feeling or need to want to 'break the Gordian knot' in order to somehow put an end to trench warfare.

See also




  • Dimitry Queloz: De la manœuvre napoléonienne à l'offensive à outrance. La tactique générale de l'armée française - 1871–1914 . Paris, Éditions Économica , 2009, 564 pages, ISBN 978-2-7178-5685-9 ; Dissertation, 2006 University of Neuchâtel , ( online )
  • Jean-Claude Delhez: Douze mythes de l'année 1914 , Paris, Economica, ISBN 978-2-7178-6594-3
  • Jean-Marc Marril: L'offensive à outrance: une doctrine unanimement partagée par les grandes puissances militaires en 1914 , Revue historique des armées , issue 274, 2014 ( online )

Individual evidence

  1. Verdun 1916: Original battle of the century - by Olaf Jessen , in the V.-H.-Beck-Verlag ; 2014
  2. Rücksicht - Duden , Bibliographisches Institut ; 2017; u. a. with "regardless of losses (colloquial: loss, damage, accepting disadvantages for yourself and others; recklessly)"
  3. Alistair Horne, Des Ruhmes Lohn , Bastei-Lübbe, 1980, p. 25.
  4. Stefan Schmidt: France's foreign policy in the July crisis 1914. A contribution to the history of the outbreak of the First World War (= Paris historical studies; Volume 90). Oldenbourg, Munich, 2009, ISBN 978-3-486-59016-6 , p. 105.
  5. David Stevenson : 1914-1918. The First World War , Albatros-Verlag, Mannheim, 2010, p. 71.
  6. According to this article , Foch probably did not send the telegram.
  7. ^ Rudolf Kiszling: Count Franz Conrad von Hötzendorf . In: Walter Pollak (Ed.): A thousand years of Austria. A biographical chronicle . Volume 3: Parliamentarism and the Two Republics . Verlag Jugend u. Volk, Vienna, 1974, ISBN 3-7141-6523-1 , pp. 39–46, here p. 40.
  8. Field Marshal Conrad: From my service 1906–1918 . Volume 2: 1910-1912. The period of the Libyan War and the Balkan War until the end of 1912 . Vienna / Berlin / Leipzig / Munich, 1922, p. 315; and Rudolf Kiszling: Count Franz Conrad von Hötzendorf . In: Walter Pollak (Ed.): A thousand years of Austria. A biographical chronicle . Volume 3: Parliamentarism and the Two Republics . Verlag Jugend und Volk, Vienna, 1974, ISBN 3-7141-6523-1 , pp. 39–46, here p. 41
  9. ^ "Mystères de guerre" series (no 2), 2013, 140 pages


  1. With attaque the individual is more likely to attack meant and offensive (as opposed to défensive ) rather the general attitude.