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gunnersman

What does "set piece battle" mean?!?!?!

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Another board member used that term in a post here.  I have heard this term used many times and only in reference to historical battles. I know how it is used. I am sure I could use it and make it sound as if I know what I'm talking about, but what does it mean!?!?!?!

I also googled it (or binged it...take your pick), with the results showing no definition, but only other uses of it.

WTF!?!?!

Over.

 

:huh:

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Ill take a stab at it, and most likely someone will come along and tell me I am wrong ;).

 

I believe the "set piece" battle is the battle where one sides cards are all on the table, its the decisive battle where an entire war can be decided.

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I've always gone with it's a battle that both sides know are coming, large a large offensive, the attackers know what's up, the defenders know an attack is coming, and it will play out accordingly.  Also tends to best describe battles with all the trimmings (artillery, aviation, electronic warfare, etc, etc).  

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Yes, I'm used to the term in context of Napoleonic battles - both sides needed to find each other, there were numerous skirmishes between garrison forces, scouting cavalry and detachments up to even battalion size, but eventually the bulk of 2 entire armies would be near each other, each side would take the decision that "we can win this" ;) and usually the following day, almost the entire (field) army on each side would deploy and fight - and that would be the "set piece battle".

 

 

 

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All valiant efforts!  ;)

Thanks sburke, for the link.

I think what really cleared it up for me was:

 

"The opposite of a set piece battle is a "meeting engagement." That is when forces collide with each other on the road, and start fighting, without having time to entrench, deploy, etc. Such an action is more like a "brawl" than a real battle. An example was the battle of Lundy's Lane in the War of 1812. A more modern example is the Battle of Kursk (second stage), in which, after initial success, the Germans moved too far east (to extend their gains), and collided with the reinforcing Russian armies. "

 

So something like a Gettysburg or Waterloo, are the only two that I can think of to put it in historical terms (Besides Kursk or Lundy's Lane)

But in modern terms a "set piece battle" would be something on the level of an "operation" (Bagration?).  Or on a smaller level, a planned assault on a fortification or some well dug in position. But seeing how fast maneuver is a big part of modern warfare I would think that large formations meeting and then setting up to go at each is a thing of the past. 

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I think this from the link that sburke provided comes closest:

 

 

 

So I assume the point is that the course of the battle is decided in advance, as opposed something ad-hoc or improvised.

 

It's not quite that black-or-white, but it comes close. I think the idea is that the battle begins from established positions unlike meeting engagements or pursuits, which are much more fluid. A successful set piece battle will often phase over into a pursuit by one side or the other. The Second Battle of el Alamein was a set piece battle that led to a pursuit. Operation COBRA was a set piece battle that led to a very successful pursuit.

 

Michael

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But in modern terms a "set piece battle" would be something on the level of an "operation" (Bagration?)

'Set-Piece' (or deliberate) attack is at the grand-tactical/operational level, not strategic - mainly because you don't bother about battles at the strategic level, you're worried about campaigns. Op COBRA and Op QUEEN were both set piece battles. Basically, the idea is to take the time to get all your ducks in a row before the battle starts. That means arranging the fire support, conducting battle-specific training, organising units into assault - 2nd echelon - reserve, and positioning them accordingly, preparing and delivering orders down to a very low level (ie, the corps commander prepares and presents orders to his divisional commanders, who then derive and prepare their own orders and present them to their regimental commanders, who then prepare and present their orders to the battalion commanders, who prepare and present their orders to the company commanders, who prepare and present their own orders to their platoon commanders, who prepare and present orders to their squad commanders, who brief/present orders to their squads), distribution of aerial photos and maps with intel overlays, stockpiling of ammunition, fuel, and specific stores that might be needed (such as bridging material), etc. Then the whole thing kicks off at a specific time according to the designated H-hour, with all the various parts moving in a coordinated fashion and thus maxmising the  leverage that combined arms brings to the battlefield, as well as any other specific advantages that the attacker might have (such as better training, or comms, or intel, or night vision gear, or fire support, etc.)

 

There are loads of examples of set piece battles from Korea, as well as some from Vietnam. The opening ground phase of Op DESERT STORM was a set piece too, especially the USMC assault straight up the guts into Kuwait. Crossings of major rivers are often set-piece, mainly because of the pronounced advantages the defender enjoys and the need to bring up bridging stores.

 

The downside of set-piece is that they can take a while to set up, and thus generally give the defender more time to prepare his defence and/or divine exactly where the boot is going to fall and prepare appropriately. Often once a front has settled down for a while, a set-piece is appropriate because the defender will have thoroughly prepared his defence, and the attacker is not required to press the tempo by attacking ASAP. Surpirse can be tricky to accomplish in a set-piece, but on the other hand the time taken to tee-up a set piece means that a comprehensive deception plan can be prepared and enacted, to generate a very high degree of surprise - Op DESERT STORM is a great example here. Saddam knew the Coalition forces were coming, and he knew down to the day when they'd be coming. But he had no idea where they'd be coming, and was soundly thrashed in part because of that surprise.

 

There isn't really a sharp split between meeting engagements, hasty attacks, and deliberate/set-piece attacks. The boundaries between them are quite fluid depending on the specific circumstances. An operation can also transition quickly between the three - Op COBRA, for example, started as a deliberate/set-piece and stayed that way for 2-3 days. After that there was a short period of hasty attacks, then it transitioned again to meeting engagements as the Americans made a clean break through the complete depth of the German's prepared defences. Sometime later it transitioned again to a hasty attack by the Germans at Mortain.

Edited by JonS

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I watched a documentary about Gettysburg recently in which one of the commentators said that Robert E Lee's intention at Gettysburg was not just to win another battle but to win the war. This comes close to what I would describe as a "set piece batte" - a battle in which neither side is willing or able to withdraw and the stakes are very high at a strategic level. There are numerous occasions throughout history when the fate of nations has been decided more or less on one huge set piece battle.

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I think the definition has evolved over time. You look at, for example, the Seven Years War, Frederick the Great often only fought 1 or 2 big battles a year, but each time he risked losing his army and the war, so yes, a set piece battle would have had strategic implications.

But since WW1, my understanding is that a set piece battle is a battle where the defender has had time to setup his plan and defences and the attacker has had time to setup his forces and attack plan. A meeting engagement is more fluid and occurs when two forces run into each other.

For example, the opening days of the Bagration offensive or the october Alamein offensive would be set piece battles.

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"Set piece" is the opposite of "meeting engagement". The scale does not matter, although it's usually used in terms of large battles since all the pieces include the panoply of supporting arms and fires. Both sides are ready and have their forces on the field of battle.

 

There is no feeding in, or meeting. The front line is fixed before the battle and one side crosses it into a prepared defense. The offensive side has arrayed it's support and coordinated with all the units meant to fight.

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