B. H. Liddell Hart

British historian and theoretician of war (1895-1970)

Sir Basil Henry Liddell Hart (31 October 1895 – 29 January 1970), commonly known throughout most of his career as Captain B. H. Liddell Hart, was a British soldier, military historian and military theorist. He wrote a series of military histories that proved influential among strategists. He argued that frontal assault was a strategy that was bound to fail at great cost in lives as happened in the First World War. He instead recommended the "indirect approach" and reliance on fast-moving armoured formations.

His pre-war publications are known to have influenced German wartime strategy, though he was accused of prompting captured generals to exaggerate his part in the development of blitzkrieg tactics. He also helped promote the Rommel myth and the "clean Wehrmacht" argument for political purposes, when the Cold War necessitated the recruitment of a new West German army.


  • If one weighs his [Carl von Clausewitz] influence and his emphasis, one might describe him historically as the Mahdi of mass and mutual massacre. For he was the source of the doctrine of "absolute war", the fight to a finish theory which, beginning with the argument that "war is only a continuation of state policy by other means", ended by making policy the slave of strategy.
    • The Ghost of Napoleon (1933), p. 120
  • Clausewitz's principle of force without limit and without calculation of cost fits, and is only fit for, a hate-maddened mob. It is the negation of statesmanship—and of intelligent strategy, which seeks to serve the ends of policy.
    • The Ghost of Napoleon (1933), p. 122
  • At present one clear factor in the problem is that the offensive is as much at an advantage in the air as it is at a disadvantage on land. This comparison, in conjunction with our present deficiencies, has suggested that the offensive role of an expeditionary force might be entrusted to the Air Force. Apart from its greater promise of effect, it could be conducted from our own shores or from bases more easy to secure and more remote from the enemy than the zone an army requires; and it would avoid many of the complications involved, and evolving, when we land an army on the Continent. The Army could then be left to fulfil its Imperial garrison and police duties, with the possible addition of covering the oversea bases of our Expeditionary Air Force.
    • 'The Army To-Day', The Times (25 November 1935), p. 14, quoted in B. H. Liddell Hart, Memoirs, Vol. I (1965), pp. 296-297
  • Unless our field force could arrive on the scene during this opening phase—and it is difficult to see how it could, since it has to cross the sea—our assistance might be more profitably given in the form of a proportionately larger contribution in air strength.
    • 'Air, Land, and Sea', The Times (10 February 1936), p. 13, quoted in B. H. Liddell Hart, Memoirs, Vol. I (1965), p. 298
  • The new risks to such a force under modern military conditions have also to be weighed. The risks that were incurred in 1914, in landing a field force of 100,000 men in a foreign land, were much less than would be run to-day—when it may have greater distances to cover, and when both railways and roads will lie under the menace of air attack. Broken communications are bad enough when an army is in its own territory, or one where it has complete control. In face of air attack it is impossible to ignore the risk of a field force being stranded with no prospect either of reaching the front or of maintaining itself. In such a plight it could do little for the defence of British interests and it would be more nuisance than a help to any ally... Before the idea of intervention by land is accepted as politically indispensable, there should be full acknowledgement of its unstable military foundations. It should also be made clear to any nation looking to British aid, whether under the old Locarno Treaty or under its possible successor, first, that they may get more value from increased air assistance, which would naturally become effective sooner, in place of a field force; secondly, that the dispatch of a field force cannot imply a willingness to reinforce it without limit, and to expend the massed man-power of this nation, fully engaged as it must be by sea and and in the air, and in factory and farm, in another four years' process of exploring by trial and error a problem which can be, and could have been, examined scientifically.
    • 'The Army in War', The Times (3 November 1936), p. 17. His authorship is acknowledged in B. H. Liddell Hart, Memoirs, Vol. I (1965), pp. 380-381

Quotes about Liddell HartEdit

  • I have been reading Europe in Arms by Liddell Hart. If you have not already done so, you might find it interesting to glance at this, especially the chapter on the "Role of the British Army."
    • Neville Chamberlain to Leslie Hore-Belisha (29 October 1937), quoted in R. J. Minney (ed.), The Private Papers of Hore-Belisha (1960), p. 54
  • It was principally the books and articles of the Englishmen, Fuller, Liddell Hart and Martel, that excited my interest and gave me food for thought. These far-sighted soldiers were even then trying to make of the tank something more than just an infantry support weapon. They envisaged it in relationship to the growing motorization of our age, and thus they became the pioneers of a new type of warfare on the largest scale.
    I learned from them the concentration of armour, as employed in the battle of Cambrai. Further, it was Liddell Hart who emphasized the use of armoured forces for long-range strokes, operations against the opposing army's communications, and also proposed a type of armoured division combining panzer and panzer-infantry units. Deeply impressed by these ideas I tried to develop them in a sense practicable for our own army. So I owe many suggestions of our further development to Captain Liddell Hart.
  • I immediately read the "Role of the British Army" in Liddell Hart's book. I am impressed by his general theories.
    • Leslie Hore-Belisha to Neville Chamberlain (31 October 1937), quoted in R. J. Minney (ed.), The Private Papers of Hore-Belisha (1960), p. 54
  • It would be doing Liddell Hart an injustice, both as a historian and as a controversialist, to suggest that this analysis of British strategy was anything more than a piece of brilliant political pamphleteering, sharply argued, selectively illustrated, and concerned rather to influence British public opinion and government policy than to illuminate the complexities of the past in any serious or scholarly way.
    • Michael Howard, The British Way in Warfare: A Reappraisal (1975), p. 8
  • The real shortcoming of these stimulating essays...lies in Captain Liddell Hart's unwillingness to admit that war has changed its character. "Limited aims" strategy implies that your enemy is very much the same kind of person as yourself; you want to get the better of him, but it is not necessary for your safety to annihilate him or even to interfere with his internal politics. These conditions...have disappeared in the atomised world in which we are now living. Writing in 1932 or thereabouts, Captain Liddell Hart is able to say, "Has there ever been such a thing as absolute war since nations ceased to exterminate or enslave the defeated?" The trouble is that they haven't ceased. Slavery, which seemed as remote as cannibalism in 1932, is visibly returning in 1942, and in such circumstances it is impossible to wage the old style limited profit-making war, intent only on "safeguarding British interests" and making peace at the first opportune moment. As Mussolini has truly said, democracy and totalitarianism cannot exist side by side.
    • George Orwell, review of B. H. Liddell Hart's The British Way in Warfare in New Statesman and Nation (21 November 1942), quoted in George Orwell, The Collected Essays, Journalism and Letters of George Orwell. Volume II: My Country Right or Left, 1940–1943, eds. Sonia Orwell and Ian Angus (1968), p. 248
  • To some extent Captain Liddell Hart's tactical theories are separable from his strategic ones, and here his prophecies have been all too well justified by events. No military writer in our time has done more to enlighten public opinion. But his justified war with the Blimps has perhaps overcoloured his judgment... Disgusted by the spectacle of Passchendaele, Captain Liddell Hart seems to have ended by believing that wars can be won on the defensive or without fighting—and even, indeed, that a war is better half-won than won outright. That holds good only when your enemy thinks likewise, a state of affairs which disappeared when Europe ceased to be ruled by an aristocracy.
    • George Orwell, review of B. H. Liddell Hart's The British Way in Warfare in New Statesman and Nation (21 November 1942), quoted in George Orwell, The Collected Essays, Journalism and Letters of George Orwell. Volume II: My Country Right or Left, 1940–1943, eds. Sonia Orwell and Ian Angus (1968), pp. 248-249

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