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One of German General Carl Von Clausewitz’s key concepts is culmination. His primary work On War describes culmination for the attacker as the point beyond which he can no longer continue his attack and risks destruction from a counterattack. For the defender it is the point beyond which the defender gains no more advantages by continuing his defense. At this point the defender must decide to act. Clausewitz envisioned that at this point the defender would release his flashing sword of vengeance and counterattack. Clausewitz developed the concept of culmination for what we regard today as the strategic and operational levels of war. This paper seeks to answer the question, Does the concept of defensive culmination apply at the tactical level and can the tactical defender use it to determine when to counterattack?
This paper uses three historical examples to examine when and how commanders executed tactical counterattacks. The examples are used to evaluate a theoretical framework of Clausewitz’s defensive concepts. The criteria used to evaluate the historical cases are: defensive preparation, terrain, availability of intelligence on the attacker, timing for the defender and attacker, determination of the defender’s defeat mechanism, depth of the defense, type of counterattack, the timing of the counterattack, and condition of the attacker and defender when the counterattack was executed. The key concepts examined are culmination and counterattack timing.