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The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 57

Conditions Imposed By Mountains On Warfare

Conditions Imposed By Mountains On Warfare.

Mountains* are barriers with certain points of passage only, and these difficult and open to the attacks of irregular troops.

A mountainous region as a theatre of war.

They impose caution on the attacker, and place time to the credit of the defender. Small bodies can offer a comparatively formidable resistance. They favour minor combats; each portion of the army is stronger, and on this account they are the true battle-ground of a people in arms and when it is not meant to accept a great battle.

The above are defensive advantages.

The following are offensive advantages.

They limit view, and lead to a war of small posts—the worst of all defensive ware. Although a mountainous country introduces into action a retarding principle on account of the difficulty of marching through it, of transport and supply, yet it favours the offensive, mobility being on the side of the attack, and immobility on that of the defence; and it is unfavourable to the defensive in a decisive battle, for although each portion of the army is stronger, the whole is weaker.

Should the hill posts defending defiles be so situated that they cannot be turned, and yet allow the field army to pivot on them and to change its tactics to meet advantageously those of the attack—or, in other words, if the army and the natural difficulties of the ground can make common cause, then the last-named offensive advantage ceases to exist, and the defence gains correspondingly.

These considerations lead to the conclusion that a mountainous district, both tactically and strategically, is unfavourable to a decisive defensive: mountains limit view, hamper movements, and lead to inaction and a war of cordons. Hills are not preferred for offensive battles, because of the difficulties of supporting war in them, the difficulty of routes, the uncertainty as to the enemy's plans, &c. As regards minor operations, they are an page 2 element of increased strength. They are a place of refuge for the weak; they favour the attack in a general action, except in the ease where the pivots upon which the army operates make common cause with the neighbouring country in facilitating the movements of the defensive mobile force, and in obstructing those of the attack; and are unfavourable to it in secondary combats.

The accompanying Map of Afghánistán shows what country is favourable to a war of minor operations, such as may be carried out by irregular troops officered by British officers, and what is favourable to regular troops and general engagements. The former warfare is complicated and requires, to perfect it, resource and expedient as well as extreme mobility and activity, and irregular troops badly officered would be quite incapable of carrying it on, although eminently fit for it in other ways, Hills increase the independent action of units and prevent individual control; they increase the influence of intelligence.

To defend a mountainous country and the plains covered by them it is necessary—
(1)to see beyond the hills, for without sight you cannot act decisively, but must grope blindly in the dark;
(2)to hold the mouths of the passes;
(3)to hold defensive posts within the hills barring the passes through them;
(4)to hold defensive positions in the plains to their rear to prevent all egress from them.

In hilly regions the valleys are held by armies, for they command the hills, and it is there that they must be defended.

It is an axiom that war must be preceded by preparation for war, and that no campaign can be carried on against a great military nation without strategical railways and well constituted lines of communications to supplement them.


The system of subsistence will in the first instance control the lines of operation. Eventually war will react upon the system and determine it.

(N.B.—Preparation for war is now causing the communications of Peshín to serve the purposes of war, and will also compel the system of supply to conform to their altered state. Such preparations are required throughout the whole Afghán theatre to utilize it for war to the best advantage).

* By 'mountains' are meant mountainous districts in which troops cannot manœuvre in masses and where the march is restricted to few and difficult roads.