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Types

The Battle of Poltava between Russia and Sweden, by Denis Martens the Younger

Battles can be fought on land, at sea and, in the modern age, in the air. Naval battles have occurred since before the 5th century BC. Air battles have been far less common, due to their late conception, the most prominent being the Battle of Britain in 1940. However, since the Second World War land or sea battles have come to rely on air support. Indeed, during the Battle of Midway, five aircraft carriers were sunk without either fleet coming into direct contact.

Battle Scene-Detail from Deccan miniature painting. c. 19th century.

There are numerous types of battles:

  • A battle of encounter (or encounter battle) is a meeting engagement where the opposing sides collide in the field without either having prepared their attack or defence.
  • A battle of attrition aims to inflict losses on an enemy that are less sustainable compared to one's own losses. These need not be greater numerical losses – if one side is much more numerous than the other than pursuing a strategy based on attrition can work even if casualties on both sides are about equal. Many battles of the Western Front in the First World War were intentionally (Verdun) or unintentionally (Somme) attrition battles.
  • A battle of breakthrough aims to pierce the enemy's defences, thereby exposing the vulnerable flanks which can be turned.
  • A battle of envelopment involves an attack on one or both flanks; the classic example being the double-envelopment of the Battle of Cannae.
  • A battle of annihilation is one in which the defeated party is destroyed in the field, such as the French fleet at the Battle of the Nile.

Battles frequently do not fit one particular type perfectly, and are usually hybrids of different types listed above.

A decisive battle is one of particular importance; often by bringing hostilities to an end, such as the Battle of Hastings or the Battle of Hattin, or as a turning point in the fortunes of the belligerents, such as the Battle of Stalingrad. A decisive battle can have political as well as military impact, changing the balance of power or boundaries between countries. The concept of the decisive battle became popular with the publication in 1851 of Edward Creasy's The Fifteen Decisive Battles of the World. British military historians J.F.C. Fuller (The Decisive Battles of the Western World) and B.H. Liddell Hart (Decisive Wars of History), among many others, have written books in the style of Creasy's work.

Land

There is an obvious difference in the way battles have been fought throughout time. Early battles were probably fought between rival hunting bands as disorganized mobs. However, during the Battle of Megiddo, the first reliably documented battle in the fifteenth century BC, actual discipline was instilled in both armies. However, during the many wars of the Roman Empire, barbarians continued using mob tactics.

As the Age of Enlightenment dawned, armies began to fight in highly disciplined lines. Each would follow the orders from their officers and fight as a single unit instead of individuals. Each army was successively divided into regiments, battalions, companies, and platoons. These armies would march, line up, and fire in divisions.

Native Americans, on the other hand, did not fight in lines, utilizing instead guerrilla tactics. American colonists and European forces continued using disciplined lines, continuing into the American Civil War.

A new style, during World War I, known as trench warfare, developed nearly half a century later. This also led to radio for communication between battalions. Chemical warfare also emerged with the use of poisonous gas during World War I.

By World War II, the use of the smaller divisions, platoons and companies became much more important as precise operations became vital. Instead of the locked trench warfare of World War I, during World War II, a dynamic network of battles developed where small groups encountered other platoons. As a result, elite squads became much more recognized and distinguishable.

Maneuver warfare also developed with an astonishing pace with the advent of the tank, replacing the archaic cannons of the Enlightenment Age. Artillery has since gradually replaced the use of frontal troops. Modern battles now continue to resemble those of World War II, though prominent innovations have been added. Indirect combat through the use of aircraft and missiles now constitutes a large portion of wars in place of battles, where battles are now mostly reserved for capturing cities.{{ safesubst:#invoke:Unsubst||date=__DATE__ |$B= {{#invoke:Category handler|main}}{{#invoke:Category handler|main}}[citation needed] }}

Naval

The Battle of Scheveningen of 1653: episode from the First Anglo-Dutch War.

One significant difference of modern naval battles as opposed to earlier forms of combat is the use of marines, which introduced amphibious warfare. Today, a marine is actually an infantry regiment that sometimes fights solely on land and is no longer tied to the navy. A good example of an old naval battle is the Battle of Salamis.

Most ancient naval battles were fought by fast ships using the battering ram to sink opposing fleets or steer close enough for boarding in hand-to-hand combat. Troops were often used to storm enemy ships as used by Romans and pirates. This tactic was usually used by civilizations that could not beat the enemy with ranged weaponry.

Another invention in the late Middle Ages was the use of Greek fire by the Byzantines, which was used to set enemy fleets on fire. Empty demolition ships utilized the tactic to crash into opposing ships and set it afire with an explosion. After the invention of cannons, naval warfare became useful as support units for land warfare.

During the 19th century, the development of mines led to a new type of naval warfare. The ironclad, first used in the American Civil War, resistant to cannons, soon made the wooden ship obsolete. The invention of military submarines, during World War I, brought naval warfare to both above and below the surface. With the development of military aircraft during World War II, battles were fought in the sky as well as below the ocean. Aircraft carriers have since become the central unit in naval warfare, acting as a mobile base for lethal aircraft.

Aerial

Although the use of aircraft has for the most part always been used as a supplement to land or naval engagements, since their first major military use in World War I aircraft have increasingly taken on larger roles in warfare. During World War I, the primary use was for reconnaissance, and small-scale bombardment.

Aircraft began becoming much more prominent in the Spanish Civil War and especially World War II. Aircraft design began specializing, primarily into two types: bombers, which carried explosive payloads to bomb land targets or ships; and fighter-interceptors, which were used to either intercept incoming aircraft or to escort and protect bombers (engagements between fighter aircraft were known as dog fights). Some of the more notable aerial battles in this period include the Battle of Britain and the Battle of Midway.

Another important use of aircraft came with the development of the helicopter, which first became heavily used during the Vietnam War, and still continues to be widely used today to transport and augment ground forces.

Today, direct engagements between aircraft are rare – the most modern fighter-interceptors carry much more extensive bombing payloads, and are used to bomb precision land targets, rather than to fight other aircraft. Anti-aircraft batteries are used much more extensively to defend against incoming aircraft than interceptors. Despite this, aircraft today are much more extensively used as the primary tools for both army and navy, as evidenced by the prominent use of helicopters to transport and support troops, the use of aerial bombardment as the "first strike" in many engagements, and the replacement of the battleship with the aircraft carrier as the center of most modern navies.


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