Surprise and shock in warfare: An enduring challenge

Charles Vandepeer, James. L Regens, Matthew R H Uttley

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


There is a long history of commanders using surprise assaults—often in conjunction with demonstrations, feints, and ruses—to break through, envelop, or outflank an enemy on the battlefield. Examples span millennia from the 12th or 13th century BCE Trojan Horse recounted in Homer’s Odyssey, the Battle of Cannae in 206 BCE during the second Punic War, the Battle of the Teutoburger Wald in 9 CE, the 1187 Battle of Hattin, the Battle of Trenton in 1776, the 1940 Battle of Taranto, Pearl Harbor in 1941, the 1950 Chinese intervention in the Korean War, the 1967 Six Day War, and the 1973 October War, illustrating that surprise is a recurring tactic that is sometimes executed with devastating impact on the opposing force.[2] Moreover, surprise itself occurs militarily because the defender either fails to obtain advance warning or fails to respond quickly and effectively to counter the attack despite having prior warning. In other words, surprise is an action on the battlefield that is unanticipated by the enemy’s decision calculus.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-7
Number of pages7
JournalThe Bridge
Publication statusPublished - 27 Oct 2020


Dive into the research topics of 'Surprise and shock in warfare: An enduring challenge'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this