ARMY COMMAND AND GENERAL STAFF COLLEGE FORT LEAVENWORTH KS FORT LEAVENWORTH United States
One of German General Carl Von Clausewitzs key concepts is culmination. His primary work On War describes culmination for the attacker as the point beyond which he can no longer continue his attack and risks destruction from a counterattack. For the defender it is the point beyond which the defender gains no more advantages by continuing his defense. At this point the defender must decide to act. Clausewitz envisioned that at this point the defender would release his flashing sword of vengeance and counterattack. Clausewitz developed the concept of culmination for what we regard today as the strategic and operational levels of war. This paper seeks to answer the question, Does the concept of defensive culmination apply at the tactical level and can the tactical defender use it to determine when to counterattack This paper uses three historical examples to examine when and how commanders executed tactical counterattacks. The examples are used to evaluate a theoretical framework of Clausewitzs defensive concepts. The criteria used to evaluate the historical cases are defensive preparation, terrain, availability of intelligence on the attacker, timing for the defender and attacker, determination of the defenders defeat mechanism, depth of the defense, type of counterattack, the timing of the counterattack, and condition of the attacker and defender when the counterattack was executed. The key concepts examined are culmination and counterattack timing. The study concludes that the tactical defender can use the concept of culmination in his counterattack but act in Clausewitzs context. At the tactical level the attacker does not culminate merely by attacking a defensive position. The defender must cause the attacker to culminate through offensive action. The defender should not wait for the attacker to wear himself down, but should use the strength of the defense to break the attackers momentum and counterattack as soon the opportunity is presented.