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A pincer movement whereby the red force envelops the advancing blue force.

The pincer movement or double envelopment is a basic element of military strategy which has been used, to some extent, in many wars, and is considered to be the consummate military maneuver. Hannibal executed this maneuver at the Battle of Cannaemarker in 216 BCE. This maneuver was also later effectively used by Khalid ibn al-Walid at the Battle of Walaja in 633, by Alp Arslan at the Battle of Manzikertmarker in 1071, by Field Marshal Carl Gustav Rehnski├Âld at the Battle of Fraustadt in 1706, and by Daniel Morgan at the Battle of Cowpensmarker in 1781. A version of this maneuver was a standard tactic used by Shaka. An earlier form of pincer movement was also described by the Chinesemarker military theorist Sun Tzu in the 6th century BCE, and possibly used at the Battle of Marathonmarker in the 5th century BCE.

Hannibal's double envelopment at the Battle of Cannae in 216 BCE is viewed by military historians as one of the greatest battlefield maneuvers in history, and is cited as the first successful use of the pincer movement to be recorded in detail. It is also notable that Sun Tzu, author of the famous military treatise The Art of War, had previously speculated on the maneuver, but had discredited trying it, feeling that an army would likely run first before the move could be completed.

The flanks of the opponent are attacked simultaneously in a pinching motion after the opponent has advanced towards the center of an army which is responding by moving its outside forces to the enemy's flanks, in order to surround it. At the same time, a second layer of pincers attacks on the more extreme flanks, so as to prevent any attempts to reinforce the target unit.

Most infantry combat, on every scale, is based in some fashion on this military tactic and it is commonly used by aircraft as well. It was vaguely described in Sun Tzu's The Art of War, but he argued that it was best to allow the enemy a path to escape, as he felt the target army would fight with more ferocity when completely surrounded.

A double envelopment by definition leads to the attacking army facing the enemy in front, on both flanks, and in the rear. If the attacking pincers link up in the enemy's rear, the enemy is encircled. Such battles often end in surrender or destruction of the enemy force, although the encircled force can attempt a breakout, attacking the encirclement from the inside in order to escape, or a friendly external force can attack from the outside to open up an escape route for the encircled force.

See also


Further reading

  • U.S. Army training manual diagram of different modes of attack, including double envelopment
  • essay with a section on envelopments
  • Academic paper on military diagramming with diagram of a double envelopment
  • Map of Georgy Zhukov's double envelopment at the battle of Stalingrad

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