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A tactical victory may refer to a victory that results in the completion of a tactical objective as part of an operation or a result where the losses of the "defeated" outweigh those of the "victor" despite the victorious force having failed to meet its original objectives.
Large scale planning of goals may be called strategy and are conducted at the "strategic level of war". Operations at a lower level which fulfil the strategic planning are conducted at the "operational level of war". The lowest level of planning which fulfills operational goals and strategy is called the "tactical level of war".
Based on planning
A tactical mission is one within the operational area which aims to complete the goals of the assigned mission or task given by "tactical control" and so a tactical victory would be the successful completion of that mission. Tactical missions contribute to the success or failure of the whole operation. Tactics include the handling of assets such as soldiers, vehicles, weapons, and munitions and tactics might be as simple as the combat maneuvering of an individual soldier in a skirmish with an enemy soldier. The definition of tactical victory may become blurred in large scale tactical maneuvering of troops in division-sized formations or the operational goals of company-sized units to exercise control of important positions as these contribute in different ways to the success or failure of operations and strategy.
Nations may have differing strategic objectives for a conflict and their individual combat units may be made to believe in still different objectives. Survival, on an individual or unit level, may become an important objective in battle and these different objectives allow both sides to maintain morale by declarations of victory to justify the costs of combat. Many battles involving multiple units include elements of tactical success by both of the opposing forces. These individual tactical victories may not cause the force to be successful in that battle or in the larger goals of the conflict.
Based on losses
Here the term is applied to a simple tally of the numbers of losses of each side. This may be complicated by the value attached to certain assets lost. An example of a naval tactical victory dependent on losses would be the Battle of the Coral Sea. The battle was considered a strategic victory for the Allies because they stopped a Japanese invasion but the latter lost fewer valuable ships. The Allies lost one aircraft carrier, one destroyer and one oil tanker while the Japanese lost one light carrier and one destroyer and so it was considered a tactical victory for the latter.
Another example of a tactical victory is the Battle off Samar. U.S escort carriers, destroyers, and destroyer escorts prevented the Japanese Center Force (consisting of 23 ships, including the super battleship Yamato) from destroying the off-loading American transports in Leyte Gulf. During the battle, American ships sank 3 heavy cruisers (combined tonnage of 44,894 tons); damaged 3 heavy cruisers and 1 destroyer; shot down 52 aircraft; and killed more than 2,000 Japanese sailors (more than half of the rescued sailors were lost in the following days after being rescued from ships that would later sink from air strikes and surface action). Their American counterparts however, had 2 escort carriers, 2 destroyers, 1 destroyer escort all sunk (combined tonnage of 22,350 tons); 6 escort carriers, 1 destroyer, and 2 destroyer escorts damaged; lost 23 aircraft; and 1,583 sailors killed.
- Joint Chiefs of Staff (2001). "S". Department of Defense Dictionary of Military and Associated Terms (PDF). Department of Defense. p. 448. Retrieved 30 June 2010.
- Joint Chiefs of Staff (2001). "O". Department of Defense Dictionary of Military and Associated Terms (PDF). Department of Defense. p. 344. Retrieved 30 June 2010.
- Joint Chiefs of Staff (2001). "T". Department of Defense Dictionary of Military and Associated Terms (PDF). Department of Defense. p. 461. Retrieved 30 June 2010.
- Potter & Nimitz (1960) p.3
- Dunnigan (1982) pp.235–239
- Potter & Nimitz (1960) p.667, Potter (1976) p.76