Saturday, November 22, 2008

Pincer movement

The pincer movement is one of the oldest and most widely used maneuvers in military history. It has been used right from the times of Hannibal at Carthage to the Second World War at Stalingrad.

Over the years it has been used tactically, that is, on the battlefield itself to strategically, on a larger scale where the entire army movement is based on this theory.

If an enemy force is right in front of you, then a pincer movement is like a hug around him. It can be a single armed hug where one pincer tries to envelop the opponents or a two armed one wherein double envelopment can be achieved and result in the annihilation of the enemy forces.

One of the oldest examples of a tactical pincer movement that is still taught in military schools all over the globe is that of Cannae. The Romans outnumbered Hannibal Barca, the leader of the Carthingian forces. He stationed his cavalry at the flanks i.e. at the extreme ends. His center retreated in an orderly manner thus enticing and later trapping the Romans in an arc. Once his cavalry moved from their positions it was no game for the Romans. Their casualties numbered around 60 to 70,000.

A strategic example of a pincer movement occurred in the First World War. The German forces planned to move against the French from the north, like the movement of a scythe. A single pincer consisting of about 6,00,000 men would drive up through Belgium and then south into Paris, the theory being that the last man on the right would brush the English Channel with his sleeve. On the other hand, the other supposed pincer from the south would try to breach the defenses of the French but hold its position at any cost. The offensive was halted outside Paris resulting in trench warfare for the next 4 years.

A famous example of a two-pronged pincer was the famous Battle of Stalingrad, regarded as many to be the turning point of the Second World War. The German forces had captured the city (now called Volgograd) on the banks of the river Volga. The Soviet Forces had a few pockets in the city itself but the majority of their army was across the river. Attempts to reinforce their soldiers on the German side were bloody as depicted in the movie ‘Enemy at the Gates’.

The German Flanks were, however weak. Poorly equipped Hungarians and Romanians occupied the north of the city along the Don River. The southern flank was weak in a similar fashion. The Soviet offensive (codenamed Operation Uranus) broke through the north and the south in a perfect pincer movement and linked up behind the city, thus trapping 2,50,000 soldiers inside the Stalingrad Pocket. Immediately, two defensive lines were formed; one facing towards the city to prevent any breakout by the trapped soldiers; the other facing outside to avoid any reinforcement of it by the German Army. The total casualties of the battle were around 8,50,000 Axis (German, Romanian, Italian, Hungarian, Croatian et al) casualties.

In the 1971 war, the Indian Armed Forces executed a brilliant multi pronged pincer attack into East Pakistan (now Bangladesh) from all sides, coupled with a naval blockade led by INS Vikrant, India’s only aircraft carrier at that time. Within 9 days, Indian Army Forces were deep inside Bangladesh surprising even their own conservative estimates. The final result was around 20,000 dead and 80,000 captured of the Pakistani Army.

The military tactic of a pincer movement followed up by complete destruction of enemy forces has been and will be widely used in future combat techniques.

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