Writer, and retired U.S. Marine Corps Major, Craig Martelle www.craigmartelle.com used an expression, “Amateurs talk tactics, while professionals talk logistics.”
Is this true? Is the phrase simply a prod to make people think in terms of details? Or can historical events prove the validity of the statement?
It was these questions I wanted answered.
Here are my results.
Let’s start with the definitions of Strategy, Tactics, and Logistics.
Strategy is the goal or intended outcome of a campaign.
Tactics are the movements in the theater of operation with the express purpose of reaching the goal. In short, the maneuvering of the fighting forces and the tools of war to win battles.
Logistics consist of moving the fighters to the battlefield, making sure they have the right equipment and supplies before and during the battle, and finally, bringing the troops out after the operation ends.
With these descriptions as a guide, let look at how they fit together.
Strategist, according to the Oxford Dictionary, is a person skilled in planning action or policy, especially in war or politics.
In today’s Hellenic Army, Strategos is the highest-ranking officer. Going back in antiquity, Strategos meant General or leader of an army to the ancient Greeks. Latin for Strategist is Strategus. Obviously, the need for goal setting was clear throughout history.
One leader stood out as an example of a strategist, Napoleon Bonaparte. Historians say Napoleon was a great Stratège. Proving his proficiency repeatedly, the French Emperor defeated larger armies through his shrewd planning.
For Tactics, in history, we find names like Alexander the Great of Macedon, Hannibal Barca of Carthage, the Mongolian Ghengis Khan, and France’s Napoleon Bonaparte as four of the very best.
Although in different eras, some with levied troops and mercenaries standing in the battlelines, and others against organized armies, the tacticians drilled their soldiers to keep them sharp. And they moved them rapidly around the battlefield to great advantage. Combing their infantry, cavalry, and ranged weapons in unique ways, they took advantage of the weaknesses of their enemies to win.
Once the shields clashed, arrows flew, or the cannons fired, superior leaders used tactics to win.
Amateurs talk Tactics, while professionals talk Logistics. We’ve read about strategy, and tactics from great Generals. Now, let’s test the last part of the statement.
In 1812, Napoleon Bonaparte planned an invasion of Russia. Before stepping off, the General built bakeries to cook field rations, stocked supply depots with medical supplies, gun power and shot, flour, dried meats, and other items an army would need.
To assure the steady delivery of the essentials, he enlisted a quartermaster corps. His logistics centered around wagon trains of large transport wagons, pulled by thousands of draft animals, and guided by enough teamsters to maintain the steady flow of goods to the fighting forces.
In June 1812, with everything in place, Napoleon Bonaparte marched a 615,000-man army into Russia. In the first month, his battle-hardened troops pushed the Russian army back. In battle after battle, Napoleon’s tactics won the day.
Realizing their inadequacies, the Russian army began a scorched earth policy as they retreated. But the burning of crops and the slaughter of animals, leaving nothing for the French army to forage, didn’t bother Napoleon. His wagon trains would feed and clothe his army as they progressed to an eventual victory.
Then, at the end of June 1812, the skies opened, and heavy rains fell. In France and Germany, sites of Napoleon’s greatest successes, the main roads were paved. Not so in Russia where the dirt roads became impassable, muddy treks.
As a result of the deep mud, the heavy transports got bogged down and couldn’t deliver the provisions. In an attempt to keep goods flowing to the advancing army, the quartermaster corps constructed or conscripted small carts. But, the smaller payloads of goods reduced the flow of supplies to the front. Due to the shortages, the French army stalled deep in Russia.
Yet, the great tactician continued to press forward slowly. Slowly enough that the French troops were there when the Russian winter gripped the starving army. When losses from starvation and exposure exceeded those killed by the Russian army, Napoleon ordered a retreat.
Of the 615,000-men who marched into Russia, only 110,000 staggered out. And so, the great strategist Napoleon Bonaparte was defeated by a breakdown of his logistics, and not by an army with better tactics.
In conclusion, it appears the statement “Amateurs talk Tactics, while professionals talk Logistics” has historical substance. And the quote does relay more than the mere difference between a layperson’s and an expert’s perspective. It’s proven to be the difference between victory and defeat – between life and death.
Until my next blog, I wish you faith, courage, and enthusiasm.
J. Clifton Slater
I am J. Clifton Slater and I write Military Adventure both Future and Ancient.
The question of how the Legionaries heard commands while in combat came to me while doing research for my historical adventure series. The Clay Warrior Stories are books set in the framework of the First Punic War. They are epic tales designed to make you want to strap on a shield, grab a gladius, and join a Century’s battle line.
Available on Amazon.com in paperback, Kindle, and Kindle Unlimited.
Clay Warrior Stories
Set in the backdrop of the 1st Punic War, the books tell the tales of a hot-headed young swordsman in the growing Republic.
The Clay Warrior Stories are Available at Amazon.com in paperback, on Kindle, and Kindle Unlimited.