In the ‘tactical’ sense Death-ground is largely accepted to be ground on which you are very likely to die. It is a battleground from which there can be no retreat. A good example might be the Battle of Camarón or the Battle of the Alamo. Both interestingly enough fought against Mexicans belligerents.
Δ At the battle of Camarón, having run out ammunition the last five French Foreign Legionnaires mount a bayonet charge against the enemy. Two were immediately killed but the other three were captured. When brought before the Mexican Major, surprised that there are only three men left he exclaims, ‘These are not men! They are demons’. 65 Legionnaires outnumbered 46 to 1 inflicted 190 casualties and wounded over 300.
Death-ground does not only stem from a siege. It occurs any time the terrain and/or the enemy conspires against you to deny you an escape route. Forces that find themselves between an enemy and a half frozen river or their backs against an impassible ravine for example can find themselves fighting on Death-ground. The only way out is through the enemy.
Some commanders have purposely sought out Death ground from which to fight. When a force is unable retreat there is (potentially) a psychological effect on the troops engaged in the battle making them fight much harder. Death being the ultimate motivator, they know if they do not win they will die. A good example of this may be Hernán Cortés who motivated his troops to take the Aztec capital of Tenochtitlan by scuttling or running his ships aground. Without the possibility of being able to sail back to Cuba, the only outcome available to them was to stick together and defeat the enemy.
Sun Tzu, in the Art of war, cautioned against fighting troops on Death ground. He advises that when surrounding an enemy that one should always leave at least one avenue of escape available to your opponent. An opponent with no escape route will fight harder because his life depends on it.
- Death. While fighting for your life makes you fight even harder, it may be an exercise in futility if your opponent can just pick you off from a distance with artillery or air superiority. You need to motivate your opponent to engage with you. Often why barricaded suspects take hostages.
- Attacking an opponent on Death ground may result in taking more casualties than anticipated. Be weary of supremely motivated opponents who are fighting to survive.
If you enjoyed reading this post, I have other posts on Tactics linked here