Instructions for His Generals


The king of Prussia from 1740 to 1786, Frederick the Great ranks among eighteenth-century Europe's most enlightened rulers. In addition to abolishing serfdom in his domains and promoting religious tolerance, he was an ardent patron of the arts and an accomplished musician. "Diplomacy without arms," he observed, "is like music without instruments." Frederick's expertise at military matters is reflected in his successful defense of his territory during the Seven Years' War, in which he fought all the great powers ...
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Instructions for His Generals

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The king of Prussia from 1740 to 1786, Frederick the Great ranks among eighteenth-century Europe's most enlightened rulers. In addition to abolishing serfdom in his domains and promoting religious tolerance, he was an ardent patron of the arts and an accomplished musician. "Diplomacy without arms," he observed, "is like music without instruments." Frederick's expertise at military matters is reflected in his successful defense of his territory during the Seven Years' War, in which he fought all the great powers of Europe. His brilliant theories on strategy, tactics, and discipline are all explained in this vital text.
"War is not an affair of chance," Frederick asserted, adding that "a great deal of knowledge, study, and meditation is necessary to conduct it well." In this book, he presents the fundamentals of warfare, discussing such timeless considerations as leadership qualities, the value of surprise, and ways to conquer an enemy who possesses superior forces. The soundness of his advice was endorsed by Napoleon himself, who once advised, "Read and re-read the campaigns of Alexander, Hannibal, Caesar . . . and Frederick. This is the only way to become a great captain and to master the secrets of the art of war."
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Instructions for His Generals

By Frederick the Great, Thomas R. Phillips

Dover Publications, Inc.

Copyright © 2005 Dover Publications, Inc.
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-486-16316-1


Frederick's Instructions, 1747

THE discipline and the organization of Prussian troops demand more care and more application from those who command them than is required from a general in any other service.

If our discipline aids the most audacious enterprises, the composition of our troops requires attentions and precautions that sometimes call for much trouble. Our regiments are composed half of citizens and half of mercenaries. The latter, not attached to the state by any bonds of interest, become deserters at the first occasion. And since the numbers of troops is of great importance in war, the general should never lose sight of the importance of preventing desertion. He can prevent it:

By being careful to avoid camping too close to large woods;

By having the soldiers visited frequently in their camps;

By keeping them busy;

By forming carefully a chain of guards around the camp so that no one can pass them;

By ordering patrols of hussars to watch the flanks and rear of the army;

By examining, when desertion occurs in a regiment or in a company, whether it is not the fault of the captain, if the soldiers have received the pay and comforts which the King provides for them, or if the officer is guilty of embezzlement;

By observing strictly the orders that soldiers shall be led in ranks by an officer when they go to bathe or forage;

By avoiding night marches unless they are required by the exigencies of war;

By careful observance of order on marches with strict prohibition against a soldier leaving the ranks or his squad, by placing officers at the debouches of defiles or where roads traverse the route of march, and by having hussars patrol the flanks;

By not withdrawing guards from villages until the whole army is under arms and ready to commence the march;

By hiding carefully from the soldiers the movements we are forced to make to the rear or by endowing retreats with some specious reason which flatters the greed of the soldier;

By preventing pillage, which is the source of the greatest disorders.

Capabilities and Particular Merit of Prussian Troops

The greatest force of the Prussian army resides in their wonderful regularity of formation, which long custom has made a habit; in exact obedience and in the bravery of the troops.

The discipline of these troops, now evolved into habit, has such effect that amidst the greatest confusion of an action and the most evident perils their disorder still is more orderly than the good order of their enemies. Consequently, small confusions are redressed and all evolutions made promptly. A general of other troops could be surprised in circumstances in which he would not be if commanding Prussians, since he will find resources in the speed with which they form and maneuver in the presence of the enemy.

Prussians' discipline renders these troops capable of executing the most difficult maneuvers, such as traversing a wood in battle without losing their files or distances, advancing in close order at double time, forming with promptness, reversing their direction suddenly to fall on the flank of the enemy, gaining an advantage by a forced march, and finally in surpassing the enemy in constancy and fortitude.

Obedience to the officers and subordination is so exact that no one ever questions an order, hours are observed exactly, and however little a general knows how to make himself obeyed, he is always sure to be. No one ever reasons about the possibility of an enterprise, and, finally, its accomplishment is never despaired of.

The Prussians are superior to their enemies in constancy since the officers, who have no other profession nor other fortune to hope from except that of arms, animate themselves with an ambition and a gallantry beyond all test, because the soldier has confidence in himself and because he makes it a point of honor never to give way. Many have been seen to fight even when wounded since the organization in general, proud of its past brave engagements, considers that any soldier who has shown the least cowardice in action disgraces it.


Projects of Campaign

WE cannot have any enemies except our neighbors, that is Austrians, whom I place at the head of them all; Saxons, the most envious of our expansion, and Russians, who can become our declared enemies as a consequence of the rivalry they have conceived since we have labored to relieve Sweden from their tyranny.

One should know one's enemies, their alliances, their resources and the nature of their country in order to plan a campaign. One should know what to expect of one's friends, what resources one has and foresee the future effects to determine what one has to fear or hope from political maneuvers. Since all these cases can be complicated and since it is impossible to foresee all the combinations that the caprice of fortune may bring, I shall embody my precepts in some general maxims.

One should not concern oneself in projecting a campaign with the number of the enemy, provided they do not exceed you more than a third. That is to say, with 75,000 men you can attack 100,000 in all security and even promise yourself to defeat them.

Extravagant projects of campaign are worthless. I call extravagant those which require you to make penetrations, or those which reduce you to a too rigid defensive. Penetrations may be worthless because in pushing too far into the enemy's country you weaken yourself, your communications become difficult to maintain on account of their length, and in order to make assured conquests it is necessary always to proceed within the rules: to advance, to establish yourself solidly, to advance and establish yourself again, and always to prepare to have within reach of your army your resources and your requirements.

Projects of absolute defense are not practicable because while seeking to place yourself in strong camps the enemy will envelop you, deprive you of your supplies from the rear and oblige you to lose ground, thus disheartening your troops. Hence, I prefer to this conduct the temerity of the offensive with the hazard of losing the battle since this will not be more fatal than retreat and timid defensive. In the one case you lose ground by withdrawing and soldiers by desertion and you have no hope; in the other you do not risk more and, if you are fortunate, you can hope for the most brilliant success.

Campaign Tactics

The projects of campaign that I propose for the offensive and the defensive according to my method are the following:

For the offensive I require a general to examine the enemy's frontier; after having weighed carefully the favorable and difficult factors in the different points of attack, he determines the locality through which he will advance. To make this more clear I am going to apply it to Saxony, Bohemia and Moravia.

To attack Saxony, I would assemble my army in the vicinity of Halle. The first thing to think about then will be subsistence; without supplies no army is brave, and a great general who is hungry is not a hero for long. The handling of food supplies should be entrusted to a man of integrity—capable, intelligent and discreet. It is essential to collect as much grain as it is thought will be consumed during a campaign, to protect the city where the food depot is established with a good garrison and secure it from any surprise, and even take precautions so that the enemy cannot have it set on fire by spies or hired agents.

This done, it is necessary to provide for the wagon trains. First you should take with you a large enough provision of grain to last for three weeks. Then, if the enemy is in the field, it is necessary to find out where he is and get rid of him. Following this, the seige of Wittenburg becomes indispensable; this makes you master of the Elbe and gives you communication with your country and covers it at the same time. From there it is necessary to march to the capital, which will fall of itself, expel the enemy from the country and collect supplies in winter magazines. The troops should not be dispersed too much. Your succeeding projects will depend on the circumstances of the time.

Campaign against Bohemia should be made only after much mediation. Examine the frontier! You will see four main passages, one beside the Lusace, another which leads to Trautenau, the third to Braunau, the fourth by the Comte of Glatz, Rückers, and Reinerz to Königgrätz. The one closest to the Lusace is of no value because you have no strong point in your rear, because you enter the kingdom in the corner of a difficult and mountainous country, where if the enemy happens to be there, he will have a wonderful chance to wage a war of ruses and chicanery against you.

The road to Trautenau is almost equally bad. If the enemy is found at Schatzlar, he will make your operation difficult, and perhaps impracticable, because of the advantage the terrain gives him and the heights which dominate all this country.

The road through Braunau is the best of all because you have Schweidnitz behind you. This is and will be made a good fortress because from there to Braunau it is only four miles and because, in spite of the difficulty of the roads, it is, nevertheless, the best of all those leading into Bohemia.

I prefer this to the routes of Glazt and Reinerz because in entering by Braunau you cover all of lower Silesia, the replenishment of the depots can be made with facility from Schweidnitz, while at Glatz this is very difficult because of the length of transport and the difficult roads. For in Silesia you should always regard the Oder as the nourishing mother for the magazines. It is closer than Schweidnitz and if there were only this reason, it should be regarded as decisive.

After having chosen this point of attack it is necessary to consider the security of the depots and the country. For this purpose we cannot dispense with sending a body of 6000 or 7000 men to the border of Neisse to oppose continually the incursion of the Hungarians and to cover the country in such a manner that the convoys from the interior of lower Silesia, which furnish and refill the depot at Schweidnitz, can arrive there in security. This upper Silesian corps has three points of support. One is Neisse, and for all operations beyond the Oder, Cosel and Brieg can serve for a retreat and depots.

Circumstances Control

As for the nature of your operations it is very difficult to determine them without knowing the circumstances in which you will find yourself. I daresay, always with certitude and from experience, that Bohemia will never be taken by making war there. In order to capture it permanently from the house of Austria it is necessary for an allied army to go along the Danube, while ours traverses Moravia, and for the two armies to arrive at the same time against Vienna, while a small body of troops cleans up Bohemia and draws contributions from it.

If you make war on the Queen of Hungary alone without having a marked superiority over her, your projects of campaign can only be a mass defensive, clothed with the externals and appearances of the offensive. The campaign will penetrate into Bohemia. You will take Königgrätz and even Pardubitz there, if you wish; but with these two cities you will have gained nothing. They are poor places in which to establish secure depots, because there is no tenable city nor navigable river in this country.

As a consequence there is no way to sustain yourself there during the winter without risking the troops, unless allies furnish you the means, as happened to us during the winter of 1741 and '42. Besides, the difficulties confronting convoys in wooded country, where they necessarily have to traverse the gorges of the mountains, always render your operations risky and exposed to the capture of your convoys by the enemy's light troops. Thus the campaign in Bohemia with equal forces against the Queen of Hungary will reduce itself to making part of your army subsist at her expense, after which your principal care should be to forage upon and exhaust all the outskirts of Bohemia which border on Silesia, so that the enemy will not be able to put large bodies in winter quarters there. These troops would molest you in Silesia, and your men would have no rest.

I would form an entirely different project of campaign against Moravia. It can only be attacked by the road from Troppau to Sternberg, or by the Prerau route. The Sternberg road is the closest, most convenient to Neisse, and, as a consequence, the more suitable. I am always assuming in these projects that the forces are approximately equal.

In this case it is necessary to leave a body of 7000 or 8000 men on the border of Braunau to oppose incursions that the hussars would be able to make from Bohemia into Silesia. If this corps found itself in contact with too formidable an enemy, there is a sure retreat at Schweidnitz. I am obliged still to make a second detachment in the vicinity of Jablunka, even more necessary than the first.

Firm Command Needed

The success of my whole project is founded on the firmness of the conduct of the officer who will command it. This officer should defend the entry into Silesia against the Hungarians, and this is why his defensive is important: If some clever and pillaging troops penetrate upper Silesia, the security of no convoy can any longer be counted on, and, just as the first campaign proposed in Moravia depends on subsisting on the Silesian depots, it follows that the convoys which are to follow the army should be able to do so with complete security.

As for magazines, I should establish my principal accumulation at Neisse, and advance a depot for two months' supply of grain at Troppeau. I should repair the walls, raise earthworks where needed, and pallisade the places which require it. From there I should march on Olmütz and fortify Sternberg in the same way to assure the passage of my convoys. Then I should attack the enemy wherever I found him; I should take thirty 12-pounder cannon, twenty-five howitzers and six 24-pounder pieces of light seige artillery, which will suffice to conduct the seige. The place will hold at least twelve days with open trenches. I should have my provisions advance there from Troppeau. I should have the breaches repaired; then I would advance on the enemy who will have withdrawn from the vicinity of Brünn.

It is then that it is necessary to employ ruses to draw him away from that place, on to the plains, in order to fight or finally to make ready to form the second seige. The fortress could hold eight days; if the enemy is in the vicinity, it will be necessary to build a strong entrenchment, to amass food there from Olmütz for three weeks, and to take the place. The city will not be able to resist a long time; it may be able to hold you for twelve days. This requires that the magazines follow, and as soon as you establish them at Brünn, as soon as the place is supplied, you can advance on Znaim and Nikolsbourg. This will throw the enemies back into Austria if they are thoroughly defeated and if they have not received help by this time. Even though they have left the field, the country is too favorable for them to expect that they will not send their light troops back on your two flanks, that is in the Trebitsch Mountains on your right and in the mountains near Hradisch on your left.


Defense To Offense

I AM now coming to what I call the defensive which turns into the offensive.

The greatest secret of war and the masterpiece of a skillful general is to starve his enemy. Hunger exhausts men more surely than courage, and you will succeed with less risk than by fighting. But since it is very rare that a war is ended by the capture of a depot and matters are only decided by great battles, it is necessary to employ all these means to attain this object. I shall content myself in exposing two projects of the defensive according to this method—one for lower Silesia, the other for the Electorate of Brandenburg.

I should defend lower Silesia against the Austrians if they intended to attack through Bohemia in the following fashion: I should establish my principal magazine at Schweidnitz, which I should garrison with five battalions and three squadrons of hussars. I should establish a small depot at the chateau of Liegnitz, to be prepared to follow the enemy if he went along the mountains. I should place seven battalions at Glatz with three or four regiments of hussars. The more of them that are there the better it will be. All the attention of the governor of Glatz should be directed on convoys and the depot of the enemy. If he strikes a good blow in that direction their projected offensive is ruined for a whole campaign.


Excerpted from Instructions for His Generals by Frederick the Great, Thomas R. Phillips. Copyright © 2005 Dover Publications, Inc.. Excerpted by permission of Dover Publications, Inc..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Table of Contents


Title Page,
Copyright Page,
I - Frederick's Instructions, 1747,
II - Projects of Campaign,
III - Defense To Offense,
IV - Subsistence and Commissary,
V - Importance of Camps,
VI - Study of Enemy Country,
VII - Detachments; How and Why Made,
VIII - Talents of a General,
IX - Ruses, Strategems, Spies,
X - Different Countries; Precautions,
XI - Kinds of Marches,
XII - River Crossings,
XIII - Surprise of Cities,
XIV - Attack and Defense; Fortified Places,
XV - Battles and Surprises,
XVI - Attack on Entrenchments,
XVII - Defeating Enemy With Unequal Force,
XVIII - Defense of Positions,
XIX - Battle in Open Field,
XX - Pursuit and After Battle,
XXI - How and Why to Accept Battle,
XXII - Hazards and Misfortunes of War,
XXIII - Cavalry and Infantry Maneuvers,
XXIV - Winter Quarters,
XXV - Winter Campaigns,

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