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Withdrawal (military): Wikis


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For other meanings, see Withdrawal (disambiguation).
Napoleons withdrawal from Moscow
Napoleons army at the retreat from Russia at the Berezina river

A withdrawal is a type of military operation, generally meaning retreating forces back while maintaining contact with the enemy. A withdrawal may be undertaken as part of a general retreat, to consolidate forces, to occupy ground that is more easily defended, or to lead the enemy into an ambush. It is considered a relatively risky operation, requiring discipline to keep from turning into a disorganized rout.


Tactical withdrawal

A withdrawal may be anticipated, as when a defending force is outmatched or on disadvantageous ground, but must cause as much damage to an enemy as possible. In such a case, the retreating force may employ a number of tactics and strategies to further impede the enemy's progress. This could include setting mines or booby traps during or before withdrawal, leading the enemy into prepared artillery barrages, or the use of scorched earth tactics.


In ancient warfare, the main goal of an army was demoralizing an enemy and routing them from the battlefield. Once a force had become disorganized, losing its ability to fight, the victors could chase down the remnants and attempt to cause as many casualties or take as many prisoners as possible. Undisciplined troops could not be prevented from breaking ranks and chasing the routed enemy, making themselves completely vulnerable to counterattack by a reserve force. Thus there was value in a feigned retreat.

Feigned retreat

The act of feigning a withdrawal or rout in order to lure an enemy away from a defended position or into a prepared ambush is an ancient tactic, and has been used throughout the history of warfare. Ancient Mongols were famed for, among other things, their extensive use of feigned retreats during their conquests, as their fast, light cavalry made successful pursuit by an enemy almost impossible.


Mongol feigned retreat

In the heat and middle of a battle, the Mongol army would pretend to be defeated, exhausted, and confused, and would suddenly retreat from the battlefield. The opposing force, thinking they had routed the Mongols, would give chase. The Mongol cavalry would, while retreating, fire upon the pursuers, disheartening them. When the pursuing forces stopped chasing the (significantly faster) Mongol cavalry, the cavalry would then turn and charge the pursuers, generally succeeding. Such a tactic was used partly as divide and conquer approach as well as a method to defeat larger armies by breaking them down to smaller groups.

Occupied withdrawal

Withdrawal of a military occupation is anticipated and therefore tactical but may be subject to political rather than operational variables. The purpose of 'Troop withdrawal' from occupied territories may not involve engagement with an enemy and may be conducted during a period of ceasefire or relative peace as in the cases of Palestine.

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