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Battle of the Bulge: A salient formed as the German offensive progressed west between 16 and 25 December 1944, creating the nose-like bulge shape at the centre of the map.

In military terms, a salient is a battlefield feature that projects into enemy territory. Therefore, the salient is surrounded by the enemy on three sides, making the troops occupying the salient vulnerable. The enemy's line facing a salient is referred to as a re-entrant (an angle pointing inwards). A deep salient is vulnerable to being "pinched out" across the base, forming a pocket in which the defenders of the salient become isolated.

In their topographic senses, both salient (also known as "spur") and re-entrant (also known as a "gully") are familiar concepts in orienteering. A reentrant is a very small valley or draw that occurs at the head of a stream, or that begins partially up the side of a hill or ridgeline.


Salients can be formed in a number of ways. An attacker can produce a salient in the defender's line by either intentionally making a pincer movement around the flanks of a strongpoint, which becomes the tip of the salient, or by making a broad, frontal attack which is held up in the centre but advances on the flanks. An attacker would usually produce a salient in his own line by making a broad, frontal attack that is successful only in the centre, which becomes the tip of the salient.

In trench warfare, salients are distinctly defined by the opposing lines of trenches, and they were commonly formed by the failure of a broad frontal attack. The static nature of the trenches meant that forming a pocket was difficult, but the vulnerable nature of salients meant that they were often the focus of attrition battles.

Examples of salients

  • At the Battle of Gettysburgmarker during the American Civil War, Union General Daniel Sickles moved his III Corps ahead of the main line of the Union army without orders, causing him to be nearly cut off from the main army when the Confederates attacked. Sickles had held a similar position at Catherine's Furnace in the Battle of Chancellorsvillemarker two months earlier, and in both cases his corps was badly mauled and had to be rescued by other units.
  • At the Battle of Spotsylvaniamarker during the American Civil War, Confederate forces held an advanced position behind a split-rail fence which became known as the Mule Shoe Salient. Union troops attacked them, and 22 hours of hand-to-hand fighting ensued before the Confederates pulled back to a new position.
  • In World War I, the Britishmarker occupied a large salient at Ypresmarker for most of the war. Formed as a result of the First Battle of Ypresmarker, it became one of the most bloody sectors of the Western Front. So enduring was the feature and so dreadful its reputation that when British infantry spoke of "The Salient", it was understood that they were referring to Ypres.
  • In World War I, the Germansmarker occupied a small salient in front of Fromellesmarker called the Sugarloaf due to its distinctive shape. Being small, it provided advantage to the occupiers by allowing them to enfilade the stretches of no man's land on either flank.
  • In World War II, the Soviet Union occupied a massive, 150 km deep salient at Kurskmarker that became the site of the largest tank battlemarker in history and the decisive battle of the Eastern Front.
  • Also in World War II, the German Army launched a surprise attack against advancing Allied forces in the Ardennesmarker (a region of extensive forests primarily in Belgium and Luxembourg) in December 1944. This battle created a large salient for several weeks, and is commonly known as the Battle of the Bulge (the official name is Battle of the Ardennes).
  • During the Turkish military intervention on the island of Cyprusmarker in 1974, Turkish Forces reached as far south as the Turkish Cypriot village of Louroujina. The cease-fire line dividing Cyprus into Greek and Turkish-controlled sectors put Louroujina in a salientmarker — accessible from the rest of Turkish Cypriot-controlled Cyprusmarker by a single road.


In mobile warfare, such as the German Blitzkrieg, salients were more likely to be made into pockets which became the focus of annihilation battles.

A pocket carries connotations that the encircled forces have not allowed themselves to be encircled intentionally, as they may, when defending a fortified position which is usually called a siege. This is similar to the distinction to that made between a skirmish and pitched battle.

Soviet military doctrine

Soviet military doctrine distinguishes several sizes of encirclement: a kotel, Russ. котел, pronounced kotyol (cauldron), to reflect very large, strategic, size of trapped enemy forces; a meshok, Russ. мешок (sack) to reflect operational size of trapped enemy forces; a gnezdo, Russ. гнездо (nest) to reflect a tactical size of trapped enemy forces.

The significances of these terms are reflected by the conception of what can be expected in terms of combat activity in encirclement operations. A kotel is expected to be "boiling" with combat activity, the large enemy forces still quite able to offer "hot" resistance in the initial stages of encirclement, and so are to be contained, but not engaged directly. A meshok in Soviet experience was often created as a result of operational breakthroughs, and was sometimes unexpected as much for the Soviet command as for the enemy. This encirclement, sometimes of an entity of unknown size, tended to move for some time after the initial encirclement due to inherently dynamic nature of operational warfare. By contrast a gnezdo was a reference to a tactical, well defined and contained encirclement of enemy troops that was seen as a fragile construct of enemy troops unsupported by its parent formation (the use of the word nest, is similar to the more familiar English expression machine gun nest).

Examples of pockets


In German the word Kessel (literally a cauldron) is commonly used to refer to an encircled military force. The common tactic which would leave a Kessel is referred to Keil and Kessel (Keil means wedge). The term is sometimes borrowed for use in English texts about World War II. Another use of Kessel is to refer to Kessel fever, the panic and hopelessness felt by any troops who were surrounded with little or no chance of escape. Examples of Kessel battles are:

Also, during the Battle of Arnhem, the Germans referred to the pocket of trapped British Paratroops as the Hexenkessel (lit. The Witches' Cauldron).

See also the category Encirclements in 1941 for some of the kessels of Operation Barbarossa.


Motti is Finnish military slang for a totally encircled enemy unit. The tactic of encircling it is called motitus, literally meaning the formation of an isolated block or "motti", but in effect meaning an entrapment or envelopment.

The word motti is actually borrowed from the Swedish mått, or "measure" which means one cubic meter of firewood or pulpwood. When collecting timber for these purposes, the logs were cut and stacked in 1 m³ cubical stacks, each one a "motti", which would be left scattered in the woods to be picked up later. A motti in military tactics therefore means the formation of "bite sized" enemy units which are easier to contain and deal with.

This tactic of envelopment was used extensively by the Finnish forces in the Winter War and the Continuation War to good effect. It was especially effective against some of the mechanized units of the Soviet Army, which were effectively restricted to the long and narrow forest roads with virtually no way other than forwards or backwards. Once committed to a road, the Soviet troops effectively were trapped. Unlike the mechanized units of the Soviets, the Finnish troops could move quickly through the forests on skis and break columns of armoured Soviet units into smaller chunks (e.g., by felling trees along the road). Once the large column was split up into smaller armoured units, the Finnish forces attacking from within the forest could strike the weakened column. The smaller pockets of enemy troops could then be dealt with individually by concentrating forces on all sides against the entrapped unit.

A motitus is therefore a double envelopment manoeuvre, using the ability of light troops to travel over rough ground to encircle enemy troops on a road. Heavily outnumbered but mobile forces could easily immobilize an enemy many times more numerous.

By cutting the enemy columns or units into smaller groups and then encircle them with light and mobile forces, such as ski-troops during winter a smaller force can overwhelm a much larger force. If the encircled enemy unit was too strong, or if attacking it would have entailed an unacceptably high cost, e.g., because of a lack of heavy equipment, the motti was usually left to "stew" until it ran out of food, fuel, supplies and ammunition and was weakened enough to be eliminated. Some of the larger mottis held out until the end of the war because they were resupplied by air. However, being trapped, these units were therefore not available for battle operations.

The largest motti battles in the Winter War occurred at the Battle of Suomussalmimarker. Three Finnish regiments enveloped and destroyed two Soviet divisions as well as a tank brigade trapped on a road.

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