This is a list of established military terms which have been in use for at least 50 years. Since technology has changed, not all of them are in current use, or they may have been superseded by more modern terms. However, they are still in current use in articles about previous military periods. Some of them like camouflet have been adapted to describe modern versions of old techniques.
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- Demilitarized zone (DMZ): not all are military
- No man's land: land that is not occupied or, more specifically, land that is under dispute between countries or areas that will not occupy it because of fear or uncertainty, or for tactical or strategical considerations.
Arms and services
- Artillery includes any engine used for the discharge of large projectiles in war.
- Artillery battery: an organized group of artillery pieces (previously artillery park).
- Also see below Artillery
These terms are used for talking about how armed forces are used. Many of the terms below can be applied to combat in other environments although most often used in reference to land warfare.
- Ambush: carrying out a surprise attack on an enemy that passes a concealed position.
- Artillery barrage: a line or barrier of exploding artillery shells, created by continuous and co-ordinated fire of a large number of guns.
- Barrage (artillery): a line or barrier of exploding artillery shells, created by continuous and co-ordinated fire of a large number of guns.
- Blockade: a ring of naval vessels surrounding a specific port or even an entire nation. The goal is to halt the importation of goods which could help the blockaded nation's war effort.
- Booby trap
- Breach: a gap in fortified or battle lines.
- Breakout: exploiting a breach in enemy lines so that a large force (division or above) passes through.
- Bridgehead and its varieties known as beachhead and airhead.
- Charge: a large force heads directly to an enemy to engage in close quarters combat, with the hope of breaking the enemy line.
- Counter-battery fire
- Coup de grâce: a death blow intended to end the suffering of a wounded man; also applied to severely damaged ships (called scuttling when applied to friendly ships).
- Coup de main: a swift pre-emptive strike.
- Debellatio: end a war by complete destruction of a hostile state. More severe than Sack.
- Decisive victory: an overwhelming victory for one side, often shifting the course of conflict.
- Defilade: a unit or position is "defiladed" if it is protected from direct exposure to enemy fire; see also Hull-down.
- Dustoff: medical evacuation of wounded from the field of battle by air, bringing them to a higher level of medical care and treatment, e.g. from an aid station to a MASH or an evacuation hospital.
- Echelon formation: a military formation in which members are arranged diagonally.
- Enfilade: a unit (or position) is "enfiladed" if enemy fire can be directed along the long axis of the unit. For instance, a trench is enfiladed if the enemy can fire down the length of the trench. May also refer to placing a unit in a position to enfilade, or the position so enfiladed.
- Extraction point: the location designated for reassembly of forces and their subsequent transportation out of the battle zone.
- Fabian strategy: avoiding pitched battles to wear down the enemy in a war of attrition.
- Fighting withdrawal: pulling back military forces while maintaining contact with the enemy.
- File: a single column of soldiers.
- Flank: to attack an enemy or an enemy unit from the side, or to maneuver to do so.
- Forlorn hope: band of soldiers or other combatants chosen to take the leading part in a military operation, such as an assault on a defended position, where the risk of casualties is high.
- Frontal assault: a forlorn hope.
- Guerilla tactics: attacking the enemy and the subsequent breaking off of contact and retreating; also referred to as "hit-and-run tactics."
- Hors de combat: out of the fight, surrendered, wounded (when incapacitated), and so on.
- Infantry square, pike square, or schiltron
- Interdiction: to attack and disrupt enemy supply lines.
- Killing field
- Lodgement: an enclave made by increasing the size of a bridgehead.
- Melee or Mêlée
- No quarter given: all enemy troops are to be killed, even those who surrender. Also referred to as "take no prisoners," or "no mercy," or "kill them all".
- Overwatch: when one small unit can provide support for another.
- Parthian shot
- Pickets (or picquets): sentries or advance troops specifically tasked with early warning of contact with the enemy. A soldier who has this job is on "picket duty", and may also be referred to as a "lookout."
- Pincer maneuver
- Pitched battle
- Pocket: see "Salient".
- Pyrrhic victory: a victory paid for so dearly that it potentially could lead to defeat ("a battle won, a war lost").
- Rank: a single line of soldiers.
- Retreat: withdrawal (pulling back) of troops from a battlefield (can be either orderly or unorderly; fighting or by rout).
- Rout: unorderly withdrawal of troops from a battlefield following a defeat, either real or perceived.
- Sack: the deliberate destruction and/or looting of a city, usually after an assault. Less severe than Debellatio.
- Safe-guard: individual soldiers or detachments placed to prevent resources (often farms full of crops and livestock) from being looted or plundered
- Salients: a pocket or "bulge" in a fortified or battle line. The enemy's line facing a salient is referred to as a re-entrant.
- Scorched earth: deliberate destruction of own or enemy resources, in order to deny their use to the enemy.
- Scuttling: the deliberate destruction of a ship to prevent its capture and use by an enemy. Commonly used as a coup de grâce, but has also been a protest (as after the First World War).
- Shield wall: the massed use of interconnected shields to form a wall in battle.
- Shield wall (fortification): the highest and thickest wall of a castle protecting the main assault approach/
- Shoot and scoot: a type of fire-and-movement tactic used by artillery to avoid counter-battery fire.
- Siege: a military blockade of a city or fortress with the intent of conquering by force or attrition, often accompanied by an assault in the later phase.
- Siege en régle: A siege where a city or fortress is invested but no bombardment or assault takes place. Instead the besieger attempts to persuade the defenders to surrender through negotiation, inducement, or through privations such as starvation. This may be done because the fortress is to strong for the attackers to capture through bombardment and assault, or because if the fortification when captured is undamaged it immediately becomes an functional strong point for the former besiegers.
- Circumvallation: a line of fortifications built by the attackers around the besieged fortification facing towards it.
- Contravallation: a second line of fortifications behind the circumvallation facing away from the enemy fort to protect the besiegers from attacks by allies of the besieged.
- Escalade: the act of scaling defensive walls or ramparts with the aid of ladders, a prominent feature of siege warfare in medieval times.
- Forlorn hope: the first wave of soldiers attacking a breach in defences during a siege.
- Chevaux de frise: sword blades chained together to incapacitate people trying to charge into a breach in the walls.
- Investment: surrounding an enemy fort (or town) with armed forces to prevent entry or escape.
- Military mining, landmining (not to be confused with land mine) or undermining is a siege method involving sapping.
- Parallel trenches
- Sapping: digging of tunnels under enemy walls or fortifications in military mining operations.
- Siege engines: specialised weapons used to overcome fortifications of a besieged fort or town; in modern times, the task has fallen to large artillery pieces.
- Siege train: specialised siege artillery moved in a column by road or by rail.
- Siege tower: a wooden tower on wheels constructed to protect assailants and ladders while approaching the defensive walls of a fortification.
- Sortie (also "to sally (forth)"): a sudden attack against a besieging enemy from within a besieged fort or town.
- Surrender at discretion: unconditional surrender instead of surrendering with terms.
- Targeted killing: assassination, directed by a government or similar agents, of a targeted person.
- Vedette, a mounted sentry or outpost, who has the function of bringing information, giving signals or warnings of danger, etc.
- Withdrawal (military): retreat (i.e., pulling back) of troops from a battlefield (can be either orderly or unorderly; fighting or by rout)
These terms concern identification of means of combat to inflict damage on the opponent.
Weapons that inflict damage through cutting or stabbing.
Munitions are weapons and ordnance that inflict damage through impact.
Crew-served, non-vehicle mounted weapons.
Explosive ordnance causes damage through release of force.
Incendiary ordnance causes damage through release of heat.
- See also List of fortifications
- Banquette, or fire step
- Barbed wire
- Bastion fortress: a star-shaped fortress surrounding a town or city (also known as star fort or Trace italienne).
- Bunker: a heavily fortified, mainly underground, facility used as a defensive position; also commonly used as command centres for high-level officers.
- Counterscarp: the opposing side of a ditch in front of a fortification, i.e., the side facing it.
- Counter-mining: anti-siege tunnel dug by a fortification's defenders below an attacker's mine with the intent of destroying it before the attackers are able to damage (the foundations of) the fortification's walls.
- Defensive fighting position; for example, a rifle pit, sangar or fox hole.
- Dragon's teeth: Triangular obstacles acting as roadblocks for armoured vehicles.
- Dutch Water Line: a series of water-based defensive measures designed to flood large areas in case of attack.
- Fascine is a bundle of sticks or similar, were used in military defences for revetting (shoring up) trenches or ramparts, especially around artillery batteries, or filling in ditches and trenches during an attack.
- Hill fort (New Zealand: Pa (Māori))
- Lunette: an outwork consisting of a salient angle with two flanks and an open gorge.
- Mining: a siege method used since antiquity against a walled city, fortress or castle, where tunnels are dug to undermine the foundations of the walls; also see counter-mine (sapping).
- Outwork: a minor defence, built or established outside the principal fortification limits, detached or semidetached.
- Ravelin: a triangular fortification in front of bastion as a detached outwork.
- Redan: a V-shaped salient angle toward an expected attack, made from earthworks or other material.
- Redoubt: a fort or fort system usually consisting of an enclosed defensive emplacement outside a larger fort, which can be constructed of earthworks, stone or brick.
- Reduit: an enclosed defensive emplacement inside a larger fort; provides protection during a persistent attack.
- Sangar: a small temporary fortified position with a breastwork originally of stone, but built of sandbags and similar materials in modern times.
- Sally port
- Scarp: the side of a ditch in front of a fortification facing away from it.
- Sconce (fortification): a small protective fortification, such as an earthwork, often placed on a mound as a defensive work for artillery.
- Slighting: the deliberate destruction of an (abandoned) fortification without opposition from its (former) occupants and/or defenders.
- Star fort: a star-shaped fortress surrounding a town or city (also known as Bastion fortress or Trace italienne).
- Tenaille (archaic Tenalia): an advanced pincer-shaped defensive work in front of the main defences of a fortress.
- Tête-de-pont: a temporary defensive work defending a bridge at the end closest to the enemy.
- Trace italienne: a star-shaped fortress surrounding a town or city (also known as Bastion fortress or star fort).
- Defile: a geographic term for a narrow pass or gorge between mountains. It has its origins as a military description of a pass through which troops can march only in a narrow column or with a narrow front.
- Debouch: 1) to emerge from a defile or similar into open country; 2) a fortification at the end of a defile; 3) water that flows out of a defile into a wider place such as a lake.
Arms and services
These terms concern combat arms and supporting services of armed forces used in naval warfare.
These terms concern the type of use of naval armed forces.
Arms and services
These terms concern combat arms and supporting services of armed forces used in air warfare.
- Sortie: used by air forces to indicate an aircraft mission count (flew seven sorties) or in the sense of a departure (the aircraft sortied).
These terms concern the type of use of aviation armed forces.
- ^ Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "Forlorn Hope". Encyclopædia Britannica (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press.
- ^ "Fergusson on Fortification". The Dublin University Magazine. 34. Dublin: James McGlashan. July—December 1849. p. 249—250.