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Shock tactics, shock tactic or shock attack is the name of an offensive maneuver which attempts to place the enemy under psychological pressure by a rapid and fully committed advance with the aim of causing their combatants to retreat. The acceptance of a higher degree of risk in order to attain a decisive result is intrinsic to shock actions.
Shock tactics were usually performed by heavy cavalry, but were sometimes achieved by heavy infantry. The most famous shock tactic is the medieval cavalry charge. This shock attack was conducted by heavily armoured cavalry armed with lances, usually couched, galloping at full speed against an enemy formation.
After the introduction of firearms, the use of the cavalry charge as a common military tactic waned. Infantry shock action required the holding of fire until the enemy was in very close range, and was used in defence as well as attack. The favorite tactic of the Duke of Wellington was for the infantry to fire a volley and then give a loud cheer and charge. The culmination and downfall of the infantry charge was at World War I, when masses of soldiers made frontal, and often disastrous, attacks on entrenched enemy positions. The machine gun made this tactic a futile one and only with the invention of the tank did shock tactics once more become viable.
During World War II, the Germans adapted the shock tactics to modern mechanized warfare. The Blitzkrieg was a shock tactic based on tanks which gained considerable achievements during the war and was afterwards adopted by most modern armies.
Famous shock attacks
- Pickett's Charge (July 3, 1863) at the Battle of Gettysburg in the American Civil War.
- Charge of the Light Brigade (October 25, 1854) at the Battle of Balaklava in the Crimean War.
- Charge of the 21st Lancers (September 2, 1898) at the Battle of Omdurman in the Mahdist War: the last cavalry charge in battle by a British cavalry unit.
- Battle of Beersheba (October 31, 1917) in World War I: one of the last successful cavalry charges in history.
- Battle of Krojanty (September 1, 1939) in World War II: a cavalry charge that gave birth to the myth of Polish cavalry charging German tanks.
- Cavalry tactics
- Charge (warfare)
- Close combat
- Close quarters battle
- List of military tactics
- Military doctrine
- Military history
- Shock units
- Special forces
- Griffith ,P., Chapter 14 the Infantry Firefight in The Civil War soldier: a historical reader
- Black, Jeremy, (2000) War, Past Present and Future, page 52
- Forward into battle: fighting tactics from Waterloo to the near future