I can't recall the name of a term, phrase, or name of a general used to bring all of your assets to bear against one of many foes/problems at a time, instead of all of them at once. The presumption is that this technique is used in a defensive way.

As I recall, it was a military maneuver (could be strategic or tactical) that referred to how to deal with many enemies that were attacking at once. Instead of attacking them all at once and wear them all down over time, one should attack each one in turn until it dies, and then move on to the next one, ultimately whittling down their offensive capabilities.

I want to say the maneuver came from Russian forces in a spectacular battle, and was thus epitomized.

I'm sure this concept can be used in other disciplines, for example, war games, strategy games, action games, Dungeons and Dragons, etc.

I read the wiki pages on Strategies and Concepts as well as tactics an didn't see what I am describing. A general internet search didn't yield anything useful either.

Force Concentration and divide and conquer (aka defeat in detail) are both close in concept, but I didn't get the "aha" moment from reading them, so I'd like to add examples to make sure I'm describing it correctly. Divide and conquer usually applies to offense, and I think the technique I am asking about is more for defense.

Tactical example using Dungeons and Dragons

The party is facing a group of monsters. They have two choices. Each party member can attack a different foe and eventually the party may win. Or all the party members can attack the same foe, and they kill each monster in turn.

In this example, there is not enough room space to divide the monsters into separate groups in any meaningful way, so I don't think divide and conquer is the proper term.

The monsters will continue to attack every round, but a key point of the phenomenon I'm asking about is that this technique removes the number of attackers faster, reducing the amount of damage taken per round compared to the alternative.

Strategic example from Legend of Galactic Heroes

I think the first battle in the first episode of Legend of Galactic Heroes is a strategic example of the technique I am asking about. This page has a more complete description of the battle if you haven't watched it. Quote below.

In this case, you could argue that the enemy divided themselves to let another conquer them, but don't let the details of the situation detract from the act of taking out one enemy at a time.


On 1 January 796 UC, the Alliance 2nd Fleet, 4th Fleet and 6th Fleet entered the Astarte Starzone. Their plan was to surround from three sides and annihilate the smaller Imperial fleet. This was a re-use of the Alliance strategy at the Battle of Dagon in 640 UC, which had been a decisive Alliance victory.

Reinhard immediately saw through the rather simple strategy, and ordered his fleet to advance towards the 4th Fleet, under the command of Vice Admiral Pastoll, before the trap could be executed. Attacking the single fleet whilst the other two were out of range, Reinhard would hold the numerical advantage. At this point, Commodore Yang Wen-li, a strategic advisor to Vice Admiral Paetta of the 2nd Fleet, recommended the 2nd Fleet immediately join up with the 6th Fleet, and then move to attack the Imperial forces. Paetta refused, opting instead to move in to support the besieged 4th Fleet. Lohengramm's break-through attempt

By the time the 2nd Fleet arrived, however, the 4th Fleet had been all but obliterated, and Reinhard's forces were already engaged with the 6th Fleet. After defeating the 6th Fleet, Reinhard turned to the 2nd. Admiral Paetta was severely injured early in the battle, and Commodore Yang assumed command of the remaining forces. (LOGH: 'In the Eternal Night')

Yang ordered the 2nd Fleet to attack the Imperial forces at their own discretion, and after a bit of steady fighting, Reinhard ordered his fleet to take a spindle formation to break through the enemy's lines. Yang took advantage of this: whilst the Imperial fleet broke through, the Alliance ships pretended to be routed, splitting into two groups, which then assaulted the Imperial fleet from behind. Reinhard was forced to turn to attack, resulting in a massive ring formation between the two fleets — like two snakes devouring each other from their tails. Unwilling to waste time and lives in a pointless battle of attrition, Reinhard retreated from the Astarte Starzone, allowing Yang to do the same.

2,450,000 Imperial soldiers survived the Battle of Astarte. The Alliance survivors numbered 4,060,000. However, the number of Imperial casualties came to only 150,000, whilst the Alliance had ten times as many, at 1,500,000 casualties. Though the Battle of Astarte was an enormous loss for the Alliance, Yang's successful retreat allowed the Alliance leadership to portray the battle as a 'victory', and to name Yang, already the 'Hero of El Facil', the 'Hero of Astarte'. (LOGH: 'The Battle of Astarte'; Overture to a New War)

The recently remade version of the anime explains this in more detail during the battle, and you can watch it on Crunchyroll, though I can't grab the link for technical difficulties.

  • 1
    Though there aren't any credible sources that list a definition for the term, focus fire or focussed fire is what generally describes this activity (predominantly within video-gaming communities). Oct 16, 2018 at 14:54
  • 1
    "Force concentration" from your tactics link sounds like it fits the bill.
    – Lawrence
    Oct 16, 2018 at 15:13
  • I think both Lawrence's term in the comment above and lbf's answer are both correct.
    – Zebrafish
    Oct 16, 2018 at 18:36
  • It's quite interesting, reading the hypothetical example in the "force concentration" article in Wikipedia there's: "Either penetrating the line or turning a flank and thus being able to destroy the enemy in detail."
    – Zebrafish
    Oct 16, 2018 at 18:43
  • 'Only an idiot tries to fight a war on two fronts, and only a madman tries to fight one on three‘. David Eddings.
    – k1eran
    Oct 16, 2018 at 20:49

6 Answers 6


Not a single word, but this IS the military tactic:

defeat in detail wikipedia

a military tactic of bringing a large portion of one's own force to bear on small enemy units in sequence, rather than engaging the bulk of the enemy force all at once.

As in:

Justus D. Doenecke - 2013 - ‎Preview - ‎More editions Attempting to save the British Isles, flanked as they are by enemy bases, ringed as they are by submarines, and open as they are to air attack, stands a chance of being the greatest "defeat in detail" in history.


Journal of the Military Service Institution of the United States Such procedure necessitated initial deployment by large semi-independent groups over a very wide front, and consequently increased the danger of defeat in detail should the enemy succeed in concentrating on one or more unsupported ...


One definition states: “Defeat in detail is a doctrinal military term that means to defeat an enemy by destroying small portions of its armies instead of engaging its entire strength” (Erickson, 2003). tititudorancesa.com

  • I would say it's "divide and conquer" aka "defeat in detail". Surely the first expression is more common
    – Carly
    Oct 16, 2018 at 15:36
  • 2
    @Carly My understanding of "divide and conquer" is that it means to get your political opponents fighting against each other, which is not what is being asked for. The Wikipedia article here en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Divide_and_rule describes it as a political technique. The poster is asking about a military technique and "in detail" is the term used in the military for this technique, so it strikes me as more accurate.
    – Al Maki
    Oct 16, 2018 at 20:45
  • The wiki page says "divide and conquer" and "defeat in detail" are synonyms. I get the impression that divide and conquer implies offense, defeat in detail implies neither offense nor defense, and what I am thinking of is a term for defense. Oct 17, 2018 at 1:08
  • The wiki is wrong. Those apply to entirely different sorts of scenarios.
    – Phil Sweet
    Oct 27, 2021 at 21:25

You may be thinking of divide and conquer.

This is where you intentionally try to make your enemy split their forces into smaller sections. This can be done in a variety of ways, from creating a diversion ("Hey, you three, check out that noise"), making only specific entry points valid attack vectors ("You three go left, you two right, and the rest of us are going straight"), drive a wedge through them (attacking one specific spot in their formation so they naturally scatter), or a whole host of other options.

Many of these options could lead to leading or driving the enemy into a trap or ambush, where you have overwhelming odds. This make it so you can more easily defeat small sections, while not necessarily being able to take on their full forces.

You may want to divide and conquer simply to avoid massive losses on your own side, if things are relatively equal.

A better term could be targeting.

The process of selecting and prioritizing targets and matching the appropriate response to them, considering operational requirements and capabilities. See also joint targeting coordination board; target. (JP 3-0) (US DoD)


And more formally, to possibly include multiple branches or military units: joint targeting coordination board.

A group formed by the joint force commander to accomplish broad targeting oversight functions that may include but are not limited to coordinating targeting information, providing targeting guidance and priorities, and refining the joint integrated prioritized target list. The board is normally comprised of representatives from the joint force staff, all components, and if required, component subordinate units. Also called JTCB. See also joint integrated prioritized target list; targeting. (JP 3-60) (US DoD)


Targeting would specifically be to have multiple soldiers, squads, units, or other groups attack a single target, rather than each engage their own targets. This could mean multiple soldiers with AT-4's attacking a single tank, multiple Seal teams entering a building from different entrances looking for a single bad guy, or even a group of bombers attacking a city with the intent to destroy industry buildings.

This is normally something done before a mission is started, so it's often used offensively, but a commander being attacked can decide to target multiple units at a machine gun nest if it's doing more damage than other enemy around it.

Even when there's a plan in place, it often needs to be updated with the real-time info coming back from the "boots on the ground". Something like a missile emplacement being discovered will likely warrant a reconsideration of what order to target enemy sites. Targeting the anti-aircraft site would likely need to be prioritized to happen before air support could commence.

A joint targeting coordination board would be a way for a commander or multiple commanders to coordinate troop movements among multiple Companies or branches of the military. Troops on the ground might call for artillery or air support to target a bunker or other hardened facility. Knowing that planes are headed for a specific enemy, instead of a refueling point or finishing off a previous bombing run could be something to put on this board to prevent the planes from being redirected.

If you are in a turn based game, you might be targeting the "tank" to make sure that one character doesn't wipe out your whole team. Or you might target the medic to make sure they can't simply heal or resurrect the "tank" every time you hit them.

In a RTS, you might target the commander, knowing that if they die, the whole basecamp/enemy dies. In a team based RTS game, you might target the weakest member of the team so that the other teammates have to expend resources or leave their bases open to attack to prevent losing the base. In some RTS games, there's a mini-map and the concept of a "flare" to bring your teammates into a coordinated attack. This could be considered a JTCB, of sorts.

  • This does sound close, but I think divide and conquer is more for offense, and what I'm thinking of applies more to defense. I've added some edits and examples. Not sure if I'm splitting hairs or not either. Oct 17, 2018 at 1:07


the strategy of the central position (aka “the strategic central position”) is discussed and described in a way that seems similar to what you are describing, although they attribute it, not to Russia, but to Frederick the Great of Prussia:

The strategy of the central position originates conceptually in the defensive tactics of Frederick II (“the Great”) of Prussia during the War of Austrian Succession and, later (and especially), during the Seven Years’ War, in which Frederick’s outnumbered, gradually depleted, and increasingly exhausted army maneuvered between two (and sometimes more) foes with smaller individual forces; Frederick’s army could maneuver thus and react more quickly than those of its opponents—and, therefore, keep those forces from coalescing and forming a more formidable single force—due to Fredrick’s army’s operating on what Antoine-Henri, baron Jomini called interior lines. Because the distance between two or more points in a smaller or interior geometric shape are closer together than two or more points in a larger or exterior geometric shape, it takes less time—depending on organization and speed, of course—to trace (or, for an army, to march) along interior lines than exterior lines. Hence, due partly to geometric truths, Frederick’s army had a considerable advantage in speed and distance regardless of the other disadvantages with which it had to cope.

(see also, Wikipedia’s entry for this strategy)

  • This concept matches the strategic example that I gave in the edited question. The name is not familiar to me though. Oct 17, 2018 at 1:15

Although it isn't one word, this sounds to me like the use of interior lines:-

Interior lines is a strategy of warfare that is based on the concept that lines of movement, communication, and supply within an area are shorter than those on the outside. As the area held by a defensive force shrinks, these advantages increase. Using the strategy of interior lines, a surrounded force can more easily supply, communicate, and move its forces around, and can mount a series of surprise attacks on the forces encircling it. [Sensagent]

The source has some examples that you could look up to see if it is what you are looking for.

Skillful use of interior lines exposes the enemy to the risk of defeat in detail, as also mentioned.


Force Concentration: Force concentration is the practice of concentrating a military force so as to bring to bear such overwhelming force against a portion of an enemy force that the disparity between the two forces alone acts as a force multiplier in favor of the concentrated forces.

  • Welcome to EL&U. Please cite your sources. If this is from a link provided in the question, it never hurts to mention that and how you see this does work as an answer since the OP is looking for more than that.
    – livresque
    Nov 2, 2022 at 1:51

It sounds like blitzkrieg, pioneered by the Germans in 1940.

When they attacked France they did not do so on a broad front, in the way that WW1 was fought, but by concentrating massive amounts of mobile artillery and armour at a single point in the enemy's defence, and achieving a breakthrough and surround.

Blitzkreig warfare was made possible through the development of the tank and mobile artillery, together with aerial dive bombers.

The German breakthrough came at Sedan, on the Meuse. –

  • 1
    I don't think this is a perfect match, because blitzkrieg also requires having a fast-moving attacking force and the logistics resources to supply a fast-moving front, which weren't part of the concept that OP asked about.
    – The Photon
    Oct 16, 2018 at 15:54

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