Tactics without tears

The Artillery Journal | Jan 4, 1979

Tactics is in a different boat-intangible situations, a plethora of possibilities with a thin, mobile line between 'tactically sound' and 'tactically unsound', and a colossal amount of unrelated facts and figures, give students psychedelic nightmares. TEN POINT PLAN. This discourse has been guided purely by noble sentiments and the desire to help fellow sufferers from stumbling in the dark, labyrinthine alleys of tactics.

Gunnery, it is rumoured, Is the practical application of the science of ballistics. Being largely mathematical it is not very difficult to comprehend. Tactics, however, is in a different boat—intangible situations, a plethora of possibilities with a thin, mobile line between ‘tactically sound’ and ‘tactically unsound’, and a colossal amount of unrelated facts and figures, give students psychedelic nightmares. They find themselves totally at seas Their sinking boat flounders hopelessly on the jagged rocks of sand model discussions, TEWTs, tutorial discussions, and pinks, greens and whites. They attend tactical courses with trepidation in their hearts and a prayer on their lips.

All of us have attended such :courses and will continue to do so as Jong as we serve. Those who have not yet been to one, cannot escape the agony for long and will soon find themselves being hurled (head first) into the ‘quagmire of tactics. This ‘atticle, dear reader, is designed to help you to tread with surefooted confidence through the hazards and pitfalls of Jearning tactics; and while you are at It, to win without actually cheating.


Like in other aspects of human behaviour, the ‘students on a tactical course can: be classified into various ‘types’. It would be in your interest to be ‘familiar with the characteristics of all these categories, so that you can keep changing your ‘type’ periodically, to confuse everyone and to keep the the DS guessing.

Setting—And-Narrative Experts

Good memory is a pre-requisite to be one of this class. Setting—and-narrative experts rely on the They memorise the narratives, the tactical settings, including all the orbats, and whatever else goes into the whites. In sand model discussions they position themselves at strategic points close to the model. At a cue from the DS they spring up like a jack-in-the-box and, pointer in hand, leap into the arena to narrate their piece. About three-fourths of them aim to impress the DS and are satisfied that the day is well begun. The remaining one-fourth have a thank-God-It’s-all-over look on their faces and settle down to catch up on the sleep they missed at night memorising the whites, secure in the knowledge that. they will not be called upon to speak again at least till the tea-break.

“I -Hope-I’m-Not-—Asked-A-Question” Type

A large majority of the students ‘‘fall’’ in this category. They are category bugged by the thought that the next question may be directed at them. They worry till the very end and often sprout a few gray hair. In sand: model discussions they sink into their chairs and hide bebind the guy in front. This group believes: “How can you ask me-a question when you can’t see me?” During the early part of a course their club enjoys a large membership. but soon the DS learn their names. and their numbers dwindle.

“I-Must-Ask-An-Intelligent-Question” Type

These gentlemen are not perturbed by the military problems being discussed. Instead, they spend hours trying to frame an -“‘intelligent question’’. This question is designed to achieve the double aim of exhibiting their knowledge and excusing their further participation in the day’s proceedings.
They ask a question whose answer they know already. An absolute must is a long preamble to the question proper. In the five minutes that they take to ask the question, they give the answer in the first four and a half minutes. Then they triumphantly throw their question and settle down with a philosophic look. You may come across an officer who sets up to ask a question, gives the answer for ten minutes and then does not ask the question at all ! He has obviously acquired the expertise over many years and perhaps in many countries, and you wi de well to emulate him

“Summing Up” Type

Students of this variety lack any ideas of their own but possess a reasonably good command over the Queen’s English. They let unsuspecting friends make mistakes and closely watch the expressions of approval or disagreement en the face of the DS. Then they rise to their feet to present their own point of view and, much to the consternation of their fellow students, with a few well chosen and high flown words, skillfully and deftly sum-up the utterances of ‘the preceding four speakers.

“I Don’t-Know” Type

Students of this type will probably be unable to answer a single question; possibly they do ‘not even know what the subject is. However, they do not try to hide their apparent obtuseness and transparent idleness, They have been DETAILED to attend the course and make no bones about at. Tf the DS is Sufficiently callous to ask them ‘a direct question, they look him straight in the eye, pause, and then say clearly, “I don’t know”, before once more gazing blankly out of the window. The only time they make an original contribution to the proceedings is when they remind the DS that it is time for the tea break.

“Yes-Of-Course-Anything-You-Say” Type

This set of officers are willing enthusiasts who normally put both feet right into a problem. They are obliging and considerate, and very appreciative of the suggestions of the DS; which they quickly adopt, regardless of their merit or consequences. Not knowing their own mind, they do not choose to disagree with any course of action and whenever asked to comment, they always say, “l agree with the previous speaker.” They have an excess of boundless energy and always appear with sweat on the brow and and an over- worked expression on the face. They get regular hair-cuts, subscribe to ‘all the right military journals and never disobey local regulations like making use of steps, corridors and Car parks reserved for the DS.

“Social” Type

An officer of this group is always impeccably dressed, has superb manners and is more at home in a cocktail party than on the battlefield. He bas a carefree, gay and nonchalant manner which enables him to smile at every one. He is an authority on dancing, an abominable bridge player, an interested golfer and knows all there is to know about dogs, cats and horses—to say nothing of his knowledge of hunting, shooting and fishing, which is second to none. He makes it a point to call on the DS periodically, suitably armed with chocolates and dog biscuits !


The last ‘type’ are the most dreaded and comprise those who like the sound of their own voice. For such people a tactical course is a heaven sent opportunity to exercise their vocal chords. They look forward to do with relish and are truly in their element.

Physical Characteristics

A waffler is gifted with considerable physical prowess, and has strong, weil hinged jaws. The latter quality is eminently suited to the waffler’s predilection for speaking continuously. The waffler’s vocal chords are tough, But extremely sensitive, so that even a minuscule quantity or air in the larynx produces a great deal of noise. The noise level is particularly high when hot air emanates from the waffler—which is most of the time.

Distinctive Features

The waffler usually whips out a miniature notebook before commencing to speak. This little note-book contains a mine of information including such minutiae as the types of ships in the Indian Navy, the time required to erect a Bailey Bridge, the radius of action of the HF-24-and the contents of a pack 08. His vocabulary is replete with such abstract and intangible words: and phrases as “Meaningful”, ‘In depth”, “In this context”, “The concept of “In proper perspective’’, and “‘In such a scenario’’.

Modus Operandi

The waffler is extremely innovative and constantly makes points and drives them home. He is immensely demoralised if he is unable to make at least three points and drive one home every day. An unique attribute of the waffler is his ability to sidetrack the central-theme, no matter how simple, and to take the listeners to a fresh area of darkness. He has the remarkable aptitude to relate verbatim from the book, the size, weight, mating habits and plain cussedness of the army mule, and, statistics of equipment he has never seen. He can also argue passionately about the advantages and shortcomings of the Pershing and Lance missiles and the importance of the Neutron Bomb.


Pre-course training is an officer’s personal responsibility and modern commanding officers (mercifully) have neither the inclination nor the time (nor sometimes the capability, for that matter!) to aid and advise you in your effort. You will do well to disregard all the pamphlets and publications recommended for study. Everybody would have read them and you will not impress anybody. Eager but errant students usually waste valuable time by reading the books beforehand. Don’t fall into this trap as you may then have “preconceived ‘notions” on the subjects and your ability to think and analyse may be hampered by what is termed as a “‘conditioned reflex’? in management jargon. Instead, spend your time devising an infallible plan tO prevent any worthwhile discussion’ from taking place during the course, and perfect a good deployment drill to steer clear of any questions that may be thrown at you. To this end the rest of this piece is directed.


Project An Image

You must always create the impression of being -surrounded by am atmosphere of great knowledge and intelligence. The best way of doing this is to buy a large brief case (preferably VIP) and to stuff it with sketch pens, coloured pencils, precis and mysterious looking files. You can then radiate Keenness.and show that you have a discerning mind by assembling these in front of you before a discussion starts, and shuffling them about during the break.

Delaying Tactics

You will discover that. great importance Is attached to syndicate discussions, and shortly after your arrival you’ll find yourself in a syndicate room. Here your aim should be to forestall all competitors in preventing the real discussion from starting ; and in this effort you will be gratefully aided by the DS, who usually feels the same way as you do. You may ask your DS a few questions like :
“Sir, don’t you think the word ‘information’ on line 6, para 3 of page 88 (preferably near the end of the pamphlet or precis) should, in fact, be ‘intelligence’?”’.
‘Do you think the armour aspects have been adequately covered in this precis?’ (If he is a black beret chap).
“Sir, what is the difference between the and phases of defence?’’
You will find that the DS will generally fall into this trap and by the time your doubts have been cleared, nearly half the period will be over.

Confusion- Worse-Confounded Approach

When the real discussion starts, assuming that it does, you are bound to be asked a question sooner er later. Do your best to throw the ball into some~ one else’s court. (“I feel we should invite Capt Murderous Look, our Sapper friend, to enlighten us on this aspect.’’) If this approach does not work, base your answer on the following guidelines:

• Beat around the bush without appearing to do so.

• Entangle the issue in a flurry of tentacled confusion

• Use high flown language and jargon (Jargon is explained later).

• Offer to use the blackboard and spend five minutes drawing localities in different colours. (This is guaranteed to buy a reprieve)

• Liberally sprinkle your answer with ‘practical experience’”’ gained in some obscure part of the border. Here is a sample:-

Suppose the question is, “What is the main difference between sited for all round defence and organised for all round defence? Capt Coolcat?” Now, if you happen to be Capt Coolcat, you might reply as follows :-

“I feel that raises a most interesting point, At first thought anyone would say there is one difference between the two, and in fact that is what would appear from a casual study of the pamphlet. But I do not agree, nor do I think the writer meant that. There will be numerous occasions when a locality organised for all round defence will include many of the main characteristics of a locality sited for all round defence, I will go so far as to say that the reverse may also be the case. (Pause). It may even happen that a locality sited for all round defence and another organised for all round defence will so merge into one another as to become indistinguishable.”

By this time the DS will be greatly impressed and thoroughly puzzled, and not knowing how to react, will throw the ball back. “What do you think of Capt Coolcat’s view, Capt Neverflap?” Believing in the same approach, Capt Neverflap can say, “Well, sir, I think he has covered most of the points, and I doubt if it would be of any use going into greater detail: What I like about Capt Coolcat’s answer is its utter simplicity, and simplicity, you will agree, 18 the key note in a case like this’’.

Jargon: The Face Saver

The dictionary defines jargon as language full of unintelligible technical words which mean little Or nothing at all. This is just what a student of tactics needs and there is nothing like jargon to what out of an awkward situation with grace and savoir — faire.

Principles of War

In the constant battle against overwhelming tactical odds, the Principles of War come in most handy. You must have at your tongue-tip an inexhaustible store of “Principles” from which you can glibly pour out an appropriate number to meet whatever situation you face, just like a golfer pulls out a different club to play each stroke, in his progress from tee to green.


The art of making the trivial sound impressive is called codophilia, To be a codophilia you must carefully prepare a general purpose Speech consisting of a number of remarks which sound impressive, but are vague enough to apply to all situations, with perhaps a few words being changed each time to suit a particular tactical setting.

Qualified Agreement

“Yes, I agree, but, er,you see, today speed is of such overriding importance that security has to go by the board.” The substance of what you say is of course unimportant—anything that isn’t immediately recognizable as drivel will do. What matters is the implication that you have raised the level of the discussion and it is just bad luck that the others aren’t equally upto date on the latest doctrine.

Obscure Reference

It is possible that occasionally you will know something about the subject being discussed. In such a case, always take the offensive. Wait till another student says something Interrupt impatiently, ‘““No. Four regiments were equipped with up-gunned tanks and yet they were unable to get effective strikes against moving targets at anything beyond the usual ranges. If you haven’t got ranging MGs, you should stick to reconnaissance.” Such a remark—the obscure reference – will break the flow of the discussion and make most of the class, including the DS, feel vaguely uneasy.

Mysterious Allusion

When caught on the wrong foot, stand up without hesitation or haste and say, ‘In this case surely the answer. is to be found in the writings of Confucious. As the sage put it, ‘In all things success depends upon previous preparation, and without such preparation there is sure to be failure.” This is known as a mysterious allusion. Even if the discussion is about’ the siting of a Divisional Maintenance Area, and it usually is, only a very heartless DS would do anything beyond saying, “Yes, I think most of the points have been covered, now to sum up…..”’


Inspite of your best efforts to the contrary, occasionally you will be confronted with a situation with which you cannot cope.
You must on no account show any visible signs of copelessmess.

“Buying Time” Gambit

Keep your cool, exude confidence and pretend to concentrate. Look studiously at the sand model, or if it is a syndicate discussion, state vacantly into space. Do you smoke? Well then, with great deliberation light a cigarette (preferably borrowing a matchbox or lighter from a friend). Or, better still, roll a cigarette: or. even better, light a pipe.

Utter Irrelevance

When at last you have made up your mind, say something utterly irrelevant. ‘The DS is bound to ask someone to comment on your answer, not knowing what to make of it himself, and you will thus be left off the hook.

Humour—Last Resort

When all else fails, let humour be your saviour.


A few hints about written work will not be out of place as. unfortunately, tactics involves a lot of writing in addition to reading and talking.

Magnificent Misunderstanding

Your answers must be neat, in impeccable minor SD, and as generally worthwhile as you can make them. However, they must be divorced—not slightly but completely—from the given subject, and should be used solely as a means for you to air your views on one of the few subjects that you may know something about. This line of attack 1s referred to as the Magnificent Misunderstanding.

“No-One-Can-Be-That-Stupid” Gambit

The DS will inevitably comment that you have missed the point completely, but at the same time he is bound to wonder why you have handed him such a mass of irrelevance. You must on no account attempt to justify or even explain your solution. You should simply appear to be disappointed, though not entirely surprised, that the DS has failed to follow your reasoning, This way you may be lucky to earn a reputation as a subtle, imaginative and orginal thinker. This is Known as the “No-One-Can-Be-That-Stupid’’ Gambit.

Instant Verbose Magic

It would be appropriate to share ‘with you a secret that management circles have known for long: the art of conjuring up a magical, forceful and “‘in” phrase to sound knowledgeable and well-read. The table below gives you a recipe to help you in your confrontation with paper work. Its careful use guarantees success.
From the three Columns A, B and C think of any three digit number at random and lo, and behold, you have a high sounding. instant phrase. Example. 339. Parallel reciprocal capability. You do not know what it means ? So what ? Neither do the DS.

Column A

0 Integrated
1 total
2 Systematised
3 Parallel
4 Functiona
5 Responsive
6 Optimum
7 Synchro-nised
8 Compatible
9 Balanced

Column B

0 Management
1 Organisation
2 Monitored
3 Reciprocal
4 Digital
5 Transitional
6 Incremental
7 Third Generation
8 Logistical
9 Policy

Column C

0 Options
1 Mobility
2 Flexibility
3 Programming
4 Time Phase
5 Projection
6 Hardware
7 Concept
8 Contingency
9 Capability


A high degree of flexibility is required to successfully get through an outdoor exercise. (The ultimate coup d’eclat in this sphere is to get Yourself nominated as the Adm Officer). Foresight is essential to judge which way the wind is blowing.

What They Say And What They Mean


1. Personally feel…

2. You mustn’t forget the air aspects (Army DS).

3. You mustn’t forget the ground aspects (Air DS).

4. I suppose that’s one possibility.

5. That’s an interesting point of view

6. Let’s ask someone from your syndicate to elaborate.

7. I think it’s time we moved on to the next point.

The pink says…….

I nearly forgot the air aspects.

Don’t bother too much about the ground aspects.

Your solution is absolutely correct but if I accept it, I won’t be able to achieve the aim of the lesson.

I don’t think you know what you are talking about.

I don’t know what you are talking about.

I’m not sure what I am talking about, and in a moment. I’ll have to admit it.


8. I personally feel..…

9. I don’t agree with him.

10. I agree with him.

11. I think he’s covered most of the points.

12. No doubts in this chapter, sir.

13. I have a doubt….

I hope the pink says……
I hope that is the answer you wanted.
I haven’t been listening to him at all.
He’s covered far more points than I could have thought of.
I haven’t read this chapter, sir.
It’s about time I said something…..


Only eccentric geniuses and incorrigible dullards think that an “individual requirement” is to be done by one person alone.Remember therefore, that two brains are better than one and three are preferable to two. In short, the rule for individual requirements is, “the more, the merrier’.

Vantage Point

In outdoor work a shooting stick is absolutely necessary as it provides a comfortable firm base and allows you to dominate those who do not possess one. On being asked to give your plan, suggest that you could explain it better from a view-point “over there’ (800 yards or so away). This should be a good half hour’s walk. If the DS is adamant and does go there, on arrival he will discover that you can in fact see nothing. It is highly unlikely that the DS will be keen to discuss your plan after this.


Coursemanship is the abstract ability to go back on your own words and/or the solution preferred jointly by your group or syndicate when it is to your benefit to agree with the DS. Prompt and timely affirmation is the key in execution. You will have to teach yourself various plots, ploys and gambits which will enable you to remain one-up.


It is the process.of bending gently towards the DS solution, leaving the rest of your syndicate In the lurch. Flexibility is the ability to modify, change, alter or repudiate your views and feelings when your DS disagrees with you; or instead, agrees with another student.


When you think you are due for another question, forestall it by disagreeing with the previous speaker. If at this, there is a chorus of disapproval from the entire class, merely say that you misunderstood the last speaker as he did not express himself clearly !

Offensive Action

Offensive action is the forerunner of victory and must, at all times, be directed in general at your fellow students. “But, sir, in the ultimate analysis….”.


It is a term often used by the DS after a student has spoken. It is supposed to spark an immediate response, ‘‘I don’t agree!” You need not know with what you are disagreeing. Even if you have views identical to those of the last speaker, tradition and form demand that you disagree.


This treatise would be incomplete without mention being made of the Directing Staff, for you, as a student, must know what you are up against.


Time was when tactics DS were young and enthusiastic, like the Instructors-in-Gunnery in Field Wing. Not so any more. In fact, many of them exhibit all the outward signs of the Final placement Syndrome. They are generally recognised by their drooping shoulders-—no doubt a result of constantly lugging around a brief case full of pamphlets, precis, amplification notes and whites. Despite the general belief to the contrary, the DS have a sense of humour and the jokes related by them provoke wild, disproportionate laughter. Protracted research has revealed that the Directing Staff are usually greater, more sophisticated wafflers than the students.


Question Missile

The biggest weapon that the DS have is the “Question Missile’, Whenever they find themselves cornered, they hurl this missile with heartless precision at carefully chosen targets. They have the patience to listen to the most convincing answer—and yet the ability to relentlessly abide by the DS solution.

Red Ink

Another weapon the DS have is called red ink and they use it with impunity on all written work. But don’t take this too seriously ; the poor DS are also watched and graded.

DS Comments

The DS are complex, intriguing and mystifying persons who wield the rod of a constable and the axe of the executioner with remarkable ease Also, they are totally committed—to the DS solution. Anything written by you that does not conform to their pre-conceived ideas, 13 likely to invite sarcastic, exasperating and interesting comments. Here is a sample :-

• You have covered the subject well and included most of the important points, but have left out most of the other points. A fairly reasonable attempt.

Tricks Of The Trade

Conduct of A Discussion

The DS are extremely adept in the art of confining a discussion to the limits of their own intellect and knowledge. For this they adopt the following means :-

• They explain at length the enormous difference between such words as ‘Clear’, ‘Capture’, and ‘Secure’; ‘Stop’ and ‘Prevent’; and ‘Defend’ and ‘Hold’.

• They ensure that students work in sub-syndicates—individuals usually get too many bright ideas.

• They give even the dullest student the opportunity to waffle at length—it helps to occupy time.

Summing Up

The DS handle summing up most skilfully. A clever DS will draw conclusions from lessons which did not even appear in the discussions, and students may be none the wiser. The DS ensure that practical experience is not allowed to have a bearing on the lesson— students are incapable of drawing their own conclusions and learning from their own mistakes.


This discourse has been guided purely by noble sentiments and the desire to help fellow sufferers from stumbling in the dark, labyrinthine alleys of tactics. Finally, here isa ten point brief to help you fly through a tactical course without having your wings clipped :—

• An ounce of image {s worth a pound of performance.

• Look after the molehills and the mountains will look after themselves (Side—Issue Specialisation).

• If you don’t know where you are going, you will probably end up somewhere else.

• Never admit to being guilty of indecision —say you are keeping an open mind.

• Ask or be asked.

• Never fight the pinks.

• Great input does not always produce great output.

• If at first you don’t succeed, try another gambit.

• Never stand when you can sit; never talk when you can listen; never walk when you can ride; never push when you Can pull.

• Leave tactics to the tacticians.