After discussing with Chris the series of recent posts on the subject of breakpoints, it seemed appropriate to provide a better definition of exactly what a breakpoint is.
Dorothy Kneeland Clark was the first to define the notion of a breakpoint in her study, Casualties as a Measure of the Loss of Combat Effectiveness of an Infantry Battalion (Operations Research Office, The Johns Hopkins University: Baltimore, 1954). She found it was not quite as clear-cut as it seemed and the working definition she arrived at was based on discussions and the specific combat outcomes she found in her data set [pp 9-12].
DETERMINATION OF BREAKPOINT
The following definitions were developed out of many discussions. A unit is considered to have lost its combat effectiveness when it is unable to carry out its mission. The onset of this inability constitutes a breakpoint. A unit’s mission is the objective assigned in the current operations order or any other instructional directive, written or verbal. The objective may be, for example, to attack in order to take certain positions, or to defend certain positions.
How does one determine when a unit is unable to carry out its mission? The obvious indication is a change in operational directive: the unit is ordered to stop short of its original goal, to hold instead of attack, to withdraw instead of hold. But one or more extraneous elements may cause the issue of such orders:
(1) Some other unit taking part in the operation may have lost its combat effectiveness, and its predicament may force changes, in the tactical plan. For example the inability of one infantry battalion to take a hill may require that the two adjoining battalions be stopped to prevent exposing their flanks by advancing beyond it.
(2) A unit may have been assigned an objective on the basis of a G-2 estimate of enemy weakness which, as the action proceeds, proves to have been over-optimistic. The operations plan may, therefore, be revised before the unit has carried out its orders to the point of losing combat effectiveness.
(3) The commanding officer, for reasons quite apart from the tactical attrition, may change his operations plan. For instance, General Ridgway in May 1951 was obliged to cancel his plans for a major offensive north of the 38th parallel in Korea in obedience to top level orders dictated by political considerations.
(4) Even if the supposed combat effectiveness of the unit is the determining factor in the issuance of a revised operations order, a serious difficulty in evaluating the situation remains. The commanding officer’s decision is necessarily made on the basis of information available to him plus his estimate of his unit’s capacities. Either or both of these bases may be faulty. The order may belatedly recognize a collapse which has in factor occurred hours earlier, or a commanding officer may withdraw a unit which could hold for a much longer time.
It was usually not hard to discover when changes in orders resulted from conditions such as the first three listed above, but it proved extremely difficult to distinguish between revised orders based on a correct appraisal of the unit’s combat effectiveness and those issued in error. It was concluded that the formal order for a change in mission cannot be taken as a definitive indication of the breakpoint of a unit. It seemed necessary to go one step farther and search the records to learn what a given battalion did regardless of provisions in formal orders…
CATEGORIES OF BREAKPOINTS SELECTED
In the engagements studied the following categories of breakpoint were finally selected:
Category of Breakpoint
I. Attack [Symbol] rapid reorganization [Symbol] attack
II. Attack [Symbol] defense (no longer able to attack without a few days of recuperation and reinforcement
III. Defense [Symbol] withdrawal by order to a secondary line
IV. Defense [Symbol] collapse
Disorganization and panic were taken as unquestionable evidence of loss of combat effectiveness. It appeared, however, that there were distinct degrees of magnitude in these experiences. In addition to the expected breakpoints at attack [Symbol] defense and defense [Symbol] collapse, a further category, I, seemed to be indicated to include situations in which an attacking battalion was ‘pinned down” or forced to withdraw in partial disorder but was able to reorganize in 4 to 24 hours and continue attacking successfully.
Category II includes (a) situations in which an attacking battalion was ordered into the defensive after severe fighting or temporary panic; (b) situations in which a battalion, after attacking successfully, failed to gain ground although still attempting to advance and was finally ordered into defense, the breakpoint being taken as occurring at the end of successful advance. In other words, the evident inability of the unit to fulfill its mission was used as the criterion for the breakpoint whether orders did or did not recognize its inability. Battalions after experiencing such a breakpoint might be able to recuperate in a few days to the point of renewing successful attack or might be able to continue for some time in defense.
The sample of breakpoints coming under category IV, defense [Symbol] collapse, proved to be very small (5) and unduly weighted in that four of the examples came from the same engagement. It was, therefore, discarded as probably not representative of the universe of category IV breakpoints,* and another category (III) was added: situations in which battalions on the defense were ordered withdrawn to a quieter sector. Because only those instances were included in which the withdrawal orders appeared to have been dictated by the condition of the unit itself, it is believed that casualty levels for this category can be regarded as but slightly lower than those associated with defense [Symbol] collapse.
In both categories II and III, “‘defense” represents an active situation in which the enemy is attacking aggressively.
* It had been expected that breakpoints in this category would be associated with very high losses. Such did not prove to be the case. In whatever way the data were approached, most of the casualty averages were only slightly higher than those associated with category II (attack [Symbol] defense), although the spread in data was wider. It is believed that factors other than casualties, such as bad weather, difficult terrain, and heavy enemy artillery fire undoubtedly played major roles in bringing about the collapse in the four units taking part in the same engagement. Furthermore, the casualty figures for the four units themselves is in question because, as the situation deteriorated, many of the men developed severe cases of trench foot and combat exhaustion, but were not evacuated, as they would have been in a less desperate situation, and did not appear in the casualty records until they had made their way to the rear after their units had collapsed.
In 1987-1988, Trevor Dupuy and colleagues at Data Memory Systems, Inc. (DMSi), Janice Fain, Rich Anderson, Gay Hammerman, and Chuck Hawkins sought to create a broader, more generally applicable definition for breakpoints for the study, Forced Changes of Combat Posture (DMSi, Fairfax, VA, 1988) [pp. I-2-3]
The combat posture of a military force is the immediate intention of its commander and troops toward the opposing enemy force, together with the preparations and deployment to carry out that intention. The chief combat postures are attack, defend, delay, and withdraw.
A change in combat posture (or posture change) is a shift from one posture to another, as, for example, from defend to attack or defend to withdraw. A posture change can be either voluntary or forced.
A forced posture change (FPC) is a change in combat posture by a military unit that is brought about, directly or indirectly, by enemy action. Forced posture changes are characteristically and almost always changes to a less aggressive posture. The most usual FPCs are from attack to defend and from defend to withdraw (or retrograde movement). A change from withdraw to combat ineffectiveness is also possible.
Breakpoint is a term sometimes used as synonymous with forced posture change, and sometimes used to mean the collapse of a unit into ineffectiveness or rout. The latter meaning is probably more common in general usage, while forced posture change is the more precise term for the subject of this study. However, for brevity and convenience, and because this study has been known informally since its inception as the “Breakpoints” study, the term breakpoint is sometimes used in this report. When it is used, it is synonymous with forced posture change.
Hopefully this will help clarify the previous discussions of breakpoints on the blog.