Cauldron battle

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The term Kesselschlacht (synonym: encircling battle ) describes a military situation in which a war party succeeds during a field battle to encompass the enemy with its own troops on one or both sides. The cauldron battle is thus to be distinguished from a pure siege in which one of the parties willingly accepts an enclosure in order to hold a fortified area or a fortress and thus bind the enemy.

Well-known examples of boiler battles are Cannae and, from a German perspective, Tannenberg and the Battle of Stalingrad .

More detailed explanation of terms and tactics

The goal of every cauldron battle is first to contain the enemy. This can happen predictably, but often completely surprising and is possible in both open and narrow areas. It should be noted that troops trapped in open terrain, unlike besieged troops, cannot hide behind prepared, fortified retreats and their supplies, which are often further backwards, also largely come into the possession of the enclosing enemy as a result of the enclosure.

In such a situation, whether initially spacious or narrowed from the beginning ( Vienna 1683 ), even Clausewitz leaves open the possibility of keeping the fortress as a breakwater or to blow up the enclosure in order to preserve troops and material for a shortened front. A trapped unit or unit tends to break out as quickly as possible in order to avoid a certain defeat with depletion of supplies and uncertain aid pledges and services. The demolition of the enclosure - initiated and carried out quickly and accurately - can very well be successful on its own. In the case of a longer duration and already existing exhaustion of the defenders in psychological-physical as well as material terms, the outbreak can ultimately only succeed if, in precise coordination, forces from outside meet the efforts directed at a point on the enclosure front from within.

The battle at Cannae

The war-historical name of the respective “Kesselschlacht” is derived from the region or city concerned (e.g. Kolberg, Breslau, Halbe / Berlin).

In military terms, an encirclement or enclosure begins with an attack on one (example: the Carthaginian cavalry outflanking the Roman army) or - with a little time delay - on both flanks (example Stalingrad ) of the opposing forces that advanced far in an assault. An attack on the flanks is usually fatal for those attacked under such circumstances, as it encounters troops at the rear that are not very ready to defend. What was initially still a weak enclosure increasingly becomes a permanent enclosure. Their aim is to reduce the confinement space until a fortress-like or fortress-like remaining area is exposed to a siege that is excluded from all aid.

Preliminary stage and warning of an impending encirclement is given as soon as units already see the enemy in front of them on three sides (cf. front bulge in the great Donbogen as a prerequisite for Stalingrad ).

For the troops, the completed enclosure - it can also only be three-sided, if the fourth side is given by nature (sea, mountains, river) - an existential threat, since the supply routes are lost. The spreading awareness of this condition has a demoralizing effect and can only strengthen the willingness to fight for some time with massive pledges of help. Supply via an airlift is in principle possible, but requires large resources and security in the case of transport aircraft, their take-off, flight and landing (was missing, for example, at the Battle of Stalingrad).

Use of terms

The everyday usage of the term "Kesselschlacht" shifted especially after the Second World War .

So it is no longer considered that there is no fundamental contradiction to a generally smaller-scale “enclosure” or siege .

Instead, the term `` Kesselschlacht '' now presupposes an initially extensive terrain, on the surface of which the enemy is trapped.

This everyday use no longer corresponds to the conventional definition used in military theory. B. the second siege of Vienna (1683, Turkish siege ) would no longer fall under this term.

Inclusions in Modern History

In the history of war, the idea of ​​the complete destruction of an enemy army and the possibility of bringing about a quick, perhaps immediate end of the war, was only taken up again in the 19th century. The battle of Cannae was seen as a classic example, which is why one often speaks of a "Cannae" when the enemy is encircled and destroyed, although this was not a complete battle of destruction in terms of war history, because 40% of the Roman army were able to save themselves and Rome fought the war as “Fatigue strategy” against Hannibal, who is handicapped by a lack of supplies .

The battle of Sedan and the siege of Metz (September / October 1870), each with the inclusion of an enemy army, did not end the war immediately, but enabled the siege of Paris and the end of the war only a few months later.

During the First World War , the German war plan on the western front provided for a super cannae - the "most fantastic cauldron battle of all time." The French army was to be encircled, encircled and destroyed on the Swiss border by a massive and extensive encircling movement of the right wing of the German army. By retreating, the Allied troops were able to escape the encirclement movement. After the unsuccessful opening offensive, the war of movement finally froze in trench warfare . The actual course of the war did not correspond to the expectations of the military strategists during the entire course of the war on the part of all parties involved - with one single exception: The "Cannae ideal" of the strategist Alfred von Schlieffen (1833–1913 ) was seen in the Battle of Tannenberg (1914) ) Fulfills. There, the numerically inferior German 8th Army succeeded in defeating the 2nd Russian Army with a massive battle.

New technical and tactical developments in the First World War, such as the development of armored weapons and raid troop tactics , aimed at the renewed transition to warfare of movement . However, the use of these means was only based on the intention to achieve a breakthrough, not to bring about the encirclement of the enemy, which is proven by an admission by Erich Ludendorff (member of the Supreme Army Command). When asked about the operational goal of the 1918 spring offensive, he replied: "I forbid the word operation. We'll cut a hole in it. We'll find out more."

From the experiences of the First World War, it was only in the post-war period that the realization emerged that not only penetrations and breakthroughs but also enclosures were possible with it. In Germany this happened in cooperation with the Red Army and their Marshal Tukhachevsky (later liquidated by Stalin) . The cooperation with the Reichswehr under Colonel General Hans von Seeckt began before 1933 with the clear intention of circumventing the Versailles Treaty and its restrictions, as was also the case with the establishment of the Air Force. In France, Charles de Gaulle dealt with it and achieved initial successes, but this too late to be able to assert himself against the far-reaching advances of the German armored divisions. It was mainly tanks that were used in the war with the Soviet Union from 1941 to the end of 1945, first on the German side ( double battle near Vyazma and Brjansk , Kiev ), then on the Russian side ( battle of Stalingrad , Kamenez-Podolski battle , Operation Bagration ). Rapid operations deep into the rear of the enemy and thus the inclusion of entire opposing armies possible.

The term Kesselschlacht, by no means new, became widespread especially since 1941/42 because it was both a question of complete enclosures and the mass of the troops involved justified in some cases to speak of a "battle" and not just of "fighting" (e.g. B. Demyansk ).

Examples of historical cauldron battles


16th Century

17th century

18th century

19th century


First World War

Spanish Civil War

Japanese-Soviet border conflict

Second World War

Since 1945


Individual evidence

  1. ^ Robert M. Citino: The German Way of War. From the Thirty Years' War to the Third Reich. University Press of Kansas 2005. p. 198.
  2. ^ Robert M. Citino: The German Way of War. From the Thirty Years' War to the Third Reich. University Press of Kansas 2005. p. 224.
  3. Ludendorff quoted from: Michael Sontheimer: "We hew a hole into it" , in: SPIEGEL Special 1 (2004), pp. 103-105 (105).