Advantage of terrain

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An advantage of terrain occurs when military personnel gain an advantage over an enemy utilizing, or simply in spite of, the terrain around them. The term does not exclusively apply to battles, and can be used more generally regarding entire campaigns or theaters of war.

Mountains, for example, can block off certain areas, making it unnecessary to station troops within the inaccessible area. This deployment strategy can be applied with other formidable environmental features as well, such as forests and mountains. In the former instance, dense vegetation can provide concealment for tactical movements such as setting up an ambush. In the latter, the elevation can provide an advantage to soldiers using projectile weapons, such as arrows or artillery pieces. Elevation itself is perhaps the most well-known example of terrain advantage, with gravity working to the advantage of the more elevated party.

While securing a terrain advantage is an important consideration for modern commanders, particularly those engaged in unconventional tactics such as guerrilla warfare, it was likely of even greater concern for pre-industrial forces, as lack of mobility and first-generation warfare left soldiers very vulnerable to its effects. The ancient military strategist Sun-Tzu, for example, dedicated an entire chapter in his treatise The Art of War to terrain and situational positioning.


Many ancient fortifications made use of terrain, such as this Surami fortress.
  • The Battle of Agincourt- The nearby trees created a choke point where the French were hit by English long bowmen. The main environmental factor in English victory was the extremely muddy area. The field had recently been plowed, and it had been raining recently.[1]
  • The Alps have long been used to protect northern Italy. Few people have tried crossing the Alps in a military invasion, with some notable exceptions (Hannibal Barca and Napoleon Bonaparte).[2]
  • The battles of Morgarten (Swiss confederation, 1315), Lake Trasimene (Roman empire, 217 BC) and the Battle of Teutoburg Forest (Roman empire, 7 CE) signified battles where the attacker was forced to fight at a narrow place between a lake (or a swamp) and hills.
  • During the American Revolutionary War, Peninsular War, Vietnam War, etc., militants relied on the terrain to combat forces that were superior, either in numbers, or in quality.[3][4]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Steve Smith (2004-12-15). "Agincourt - the Battle". Retrieved 2011-01-25.
  2. ^ "Hannibal Crosses the Alps « Cartographia". 2008-06-02. Retrieved 2010-04-27.
  3. ^ "Peninsular War (1807-14)". Archived from the original on 11 May 2010. Retrieved 2010-04-27.
  4. ^ John Pike. "Understanding Revolutionary Warfare". Retrieved 2010-04-27.