A British who taught Hitler Blitzkrieg

J.F.C. Fuller (1878 – 1966), was a British army officer, military theoretician, and war historian who became one of the founders of modern armored warfare. He played a key role in the implementation of British tank strategy during World War One and later blamed the lack of a scientific approach to the study of war for the dismal failure of prewar military thinking to predict the nature of WWI.

In a small way I am trying to do for war what Copernicus did for Astronomy, Newton for physics, and Darwin for natural history.” —Fuller, The Foundations of the Science of War, 1926

Fuller’s concept was dynamic, in that the essential nature of mobility was central to his thinking. In general, the object of movement is to deprive the enemy of the power of movement, and therefore the capacity to attack.

After WWI he devised plans calling for a massed coordinated attacks in depth of enemy lines consisting of tanks and aircraft. While ignored at home in Britain, his principles of mechanized warfare were to prove highly influential and of direct relevance during WWII shaping the German Army’s blitzkrieg operations. [1]

Fuller is perhaps best known today for categorizing principles of warfare, his Nine Principles of War [2], which have formed the foundation of much of modern military theory. These Principles of War have been adopted and further refined by the military forces of several nations, most notably within NATO, and continue to be applied widely to modern strategic thinking. Recently they have also been applied to business strategy and wargaming. So why not chess?

Duel, chess art by Sebastiano Paulesu, Italia

How to prevail over using force, movement and surprise wisely? Duel, chess art by Sebastiano Paulesu, Italia (http://sassariscacchi.fuoriradio.com/)

Fuller’s Nine Principles of Warfare

The Principles went through several iterations (the the system evolved from six principles in 1912, rose to eight in 1915, to nineteen in 1923, and then descended to nine in 1925, with the added advantage that these nine can be merged into three groups, namely, principles of control, resistance, and pressure, and finally to one law – the law of economy of force; next time we are going to see a variant of four plus “three accentuating factors”), but Fuller’s 1925 arrangement is as follows:

  1. Direction of Force: What is the overall aim? Which objectives must be met to achieve the aim?
  2. Concentration of Force: Where will the commander focus the most effort?
  3. Distribution of Force: Where and how will the commander position their force?
  4. Determination: The will to fight, the will to persevere, and the will to win must be maintained.
  5. Surprise: The commander’s ability to veil their intentions while discovering those of their enemy.
  6. Endurance: The force’s resistance to pressure. This is measured by the force’s ability to anticipate complications and threats. This is enhanced by planning on how best to avoid, overcome, or negate them
  7. Mobility: The commander’s ability to maneuver their force while outmaneuvering the enemy’s forces.
  8. Offensive Action: The ability to gain and maintain the initiative in combat.
  9. Security: The ability to protect the force from threats.
Vitruvian game, chess art by Sebastiano Paulesu

What are the Principles of chess? Sebastiano Paulesu, Vitruvian game

Why are the Principles important to you?

After familiarizing ourselves with the above principles, we need to, once again, turn our attention to the strategy-tactics dichotomy. Distinction between abstract and concrete is of fundamental importance for us to make deeper understanding of warfare, or conflict management of any sort, including chess, of course.

War is an abstract mental process at the higher strategic level. Development and implementation of strategy is a creative process. The principles above give structure to that intellectual activity and form a framework required to shape the Strategist’s thoughts. They don’t give ready solutions, but the solutions come from them. On the other hand, the strategic analysis is invisible and a profoundly instinctive and subjective process, therefore very hard to teach and learn.

All men can see these tactics whereby I conquer, but what none can see is the strategy out of which victory is evolved. —SunTzu

On the other hand, tactics, at a lower level, secures objectives set by strategy. Tactical is concrete and tangible, it is craft of the Warrior. It is also much less difficult to master because it is primarily about techniques and skills developed by repetition and training. It is not a creative process.

Mastering tactical weapons, for example, how to use your sword and when to use your axe in a one-on-one encounter shouldn’t be a problem, but how and when to apply that in a coordinated effort with the rest of the army and within a broader context of the chess battle is another matter.

Therefore, “Chess is 99% tactics” mantra that we have heard time and time again is, may I say this, a nonsense showing lack of understanding of the true character of warfare and how it should be conducted effectively. Not only warfare, approaching and dealing with any competitive real-life situation, in any field, should start with some major strategic principles to prompt our tactical moves.

Let us then hear from one of the greatest minds in the history of chess to see if it has any comments that might ring true for, or shed light on, the importance of laying down the strategic principles of chess:

“I want to train pupils to think for themselves and exercise just criticism. I will not teach them mere formulae, mere generalities, but will instill into them lasting principles that will grow and blossom; which are alive, and vital.”

“They must be ready and willing to put their conceptions, laws and valuations to the proof, again and again, diligently and cheerfully, from a sheer joy of the law and from veneration of the fact.” —Dr. Em. Lasker, Manuel of Chess

In the upcoming posts we are going to take a look in more detail at these principles, how they compare and contrast with the narrow chess principles we saw a week ago. We’re going to go over actual games trying to look at them from another, possibly richer overarching perspective of general warfare.

© 2012 iPlayoo!


1. Fuller was a most quick-tempered man, he ultimately brought his army career to an early close. During the 1930s he also espoused the fascist cause.

On 20 April 1939 Fuller was an honored guest at Adolf Hitler’s 50th birthday parade and watched as “for three hours a completely mechanized and motorized army roared past the Führer.” Afterwards Hitler asked, “I hope you were pleased with your children?” Fuller replied, “Your Excellency, they have grown up so quickly that I no longer recognize them.”

2. The Foundations of the Science of War, 1926 ed.; Chapter IX, Section 6

If you enjoyed this post, make sure you subscribe to my RSS feed!