Basil Liddell Hart

Basil Liddell Hart

Sir Basil Henry Liddell Hart (31 October 1895 – 29 January 1970), usually known before his knighthood as Captain B. H. Liddell Hart, was an English military historian who greatly influenced the 20th-century development of armoured warfare and strategic theory. He used "Liddell" (his mother's maiden name) as part of his surname from 1921.


Liddell Hart was born in Paris, the son of a Methodist minister, and was educated at St Paul's School in London, and Corpus Christi College, Cambridge.

On the outbreak of World War I in 1914 he was commissioned into the Kings Own Yorkshire Light Infantry, where he saw action on the Western Front- total time in combat measured some 7 weeks over 2 years before he was downgraded to Light Duties in 1916 from the after effects of gassing and a certain "constitutional inadequacy" [Danchev, Alex; "Alchemist of War The Life of Basil Liddell Hart", p 64] Transferred eventually to Inspector General of Training to the British Armies in France via various appointments in the United Kingdom training volunteer battalion (4th line units) he contributed to the post-war official manual of Infantry Training (1920). After the war he transferred to transferred to the Army Educational Corps - he had been granted a Regular Army Commission in 1915.

He retired from the Army as a Captain in 1927 (after being placed on half pay from 1923 because of two mild heart attacks in 1921 and 1922, probably the long-term effects of his gassing), and spent the rest of his career as a writer. His continued use of his rank angered the military establishment, since it was considered bad form for an officer junior to Major to continue to use his rank in civilian life.

He was Military Correspondent of the Daily Telegraph from 1925-1935, and The Times, 1935-1939. Later he began publishing military histories and biographies of great commanders who, he thought, were great because they illustrated the principles of good strategy. Among these were Scipio Africanus Major, William Tecumseh Sherman and T. E. Lawrence.

On 4 September 2006, formerly secret MI5 files revealed MI5 suspicions that plans for the D-Day landings had been leaked, and that Liddell Hart had known all the details, three months before the landings took place, discussed them, and had even prepared a critique, entitled "Some Reflections on the Problems of Invading the Continent", which he circulated amongst political and military figures. His previous criticism of how the war had been fought raised further suspicions, even of German sympathies, although most modern biographers accept Hart's defence that he had worked out the plans for himself rather than had them leaked to him. Winston Churchill demanded Liddell Hart's arrest, but MI5 instead placed him under surveillance, intercepting his telephone calls and letters. [cite news | url = | title = Files reveal leaked D-Day plans | publisher = BBC News | date = 2006-09-04] [cite news | url =,,2-2341518.html | title = Army writer nearly revealed plans of D-Day | publisher = The Times | author = Michael Evans | date = 2006-09-04]

Shortly after World War II he interviewed, debriefed, many of the highest ranking German generals and published their accounts as "The Other Side of the Hill" (UK Edition) and "German Generals Talk" (condensed US Edition). Later Hart was able to convince the Rommel family to allow him to edit the surviving papers of the German Field Marshal into a form which was published in 1953 as the pseudo-memoir, "The Rommel Papers".

Liddell Hart was knighted in the New Year's Honours of 1966.


Liddell Hart began publishing his theories during the 1920s in the popular press. Ironically, he saw theories similar to or even developed from his own adopted by Germany and used against the United Kingdom and its allies during World War II with the practice of "Blitzkrieg".

He set out in the years following the First World War to discover why the casualty rate had been so terribly high, and arrived at a set of principles that he considered the basis of all good strategy; principles which, he claimed, were ignored by nearly all commanders in World War I.

He reduced this set of principles to a single phrase, "the indirect approach", and two fundamentals:
* Direct attacks against an enemy firmly in position almost never work and should never be attempted
* To defeat the enemy one must first upset his equilibrium, which is not accomplished by the main attack, but must be done before the main attack can succeed.

In Liddell Hart's words,

"In strategy the longest way round is often the shortest way there; a direct approach to the object exhausts the attacker and hardens the resistance by compression, whereas an indirect approach loosens the defender's hold by upsetting his balance."

He also claimed that

"The profoundest truth of war is that the issue of battle is usually decided in the minds of the opposing commanders, not in the bodies of their men."

This argues that one succeeds by keeping one's enemy uncertain about the situation and one's intentions, and by delivering what he does not expect and is therefore not prepared for.

Hart explains that one should not employ a rigid strategy revolving around powerful direct attacks nor fixed defensive positions. Instead, he prefers a more fluid "elastic defence" where a mobile contingent can move as necessary in order to satisfy the conditions for the "indirect approach". He would later cite Erwin Rommel's Northern Africa campaign as a classical example of his theory.

He arrived at his conclusions after studying the great strategists of history (especially Sun Tzu, Napoleon, and Belisarius) and their victories. He believed the indirect approach was the common element in the men he studied. He also claimed the indirect approach was a valid strategy in other fields of endeavor, such as business, romance, etc.

Liddell Hart's personal papers and library now form the central collection in the Liddell Hart Centre for Military Archives at King's College London. [ [ Lidell Hart archive, KCL] ]


The principal posthumous biography of Liddell Hart, Alex Danchev's "Alchemist of War: The Life of Basil Liddell Hart", written with the cooperation of Liddell Hart's widow, is startling for its candor. Among its revelations are that Liddell Hart connived at the planting of an endorsement of his own work in the English language version of "Panzer Leader", the autobiography of Heinz Guderian. Although Guderian greatly admired Liddell Hart's work, and avidly read his newspaper columns, the German language edition of Guderian's autobiography gives Liddell Hart's work no greater preference than that of his contemporary, J.F.C. Fuller whom Guderian also admired.

"Captain Liddell Hart" is woven intertextually into the fictional short story, "The Garden of Forking Paths" by Jorge Luis Borges in the collection, "Ficciones".

Partial bibliography

* "Scipio Africanus: Greater Than Napoleon" (W Blackwood and Sons, London, 1926; Biblio and Tannen, New York, 1976)
* "Great Captains Unveiled" (W. Blackwood and Sons, London, 1927; Greenhill, London, 1989)
* "Reputations 10 Years After" (Little, Brown, Boston, 1928)
* "The decisive wars of history" (1929) (This is the first part of the later: "Strategy: the indirect approach")
* "The Real War (1914-1918)" (1930), later republished as "A History of the World War (1914-1918)".
* "Foch Man of Orleans" In Two Volumes (1931), Penguin Books, Harmondsworth, England.
* "Sherman: Soldier, Realist, American" (Dodd, Mead and Co, New York, 1929; Frederick A. Praeger, New York, 1960)
* "The Ghost of Napoleon" (Yale University, New Haven, 1934)
* "The Defence of Britain" (Faber and Faber, London, 1939; Greenwood, Westport, 1980)
* "The strategy of indirect approach" (1941, reprinted in 1942 under the title: "The way to win wars")
* "The way to win wars" (1942)
* "Strategy: the indirect approach", second revised edition
* "Strategy: the indirect approach", third revised edition and further enlarged London: Faber and Faber, reprint: Dehra Dun, India: Natraj Publishers, 2003
* "The Tanks - A History of the Royal Tank Regiment and its Predecessors: Volumes I and II" (Praeger, New York, 1959)
* "The Memoirs of Captain Liddell Hart: Volumes I and II" (Cassell, London, 1965)
* [ "Why don't we learn from history?"] (Hawthorn Books, New York, 1971)
* "History of the Second World War" (Putnum, New York, 1971)
* "Foreword" to Samuel B. Griffith's "Sun Tzu: the Art of War" (Oxford University Press, London, 1963)


Further reading

* Brian Bond, "Liddell Hart: A Study of his Military Thought" (Cassell, London, 1977)
* Alex Danchev, "Alchemist of War: The Life of Basil Liddell Hart"
* Danchev, Alex. "Liddell Hart and the Indirect Approach", "The Journal of Military History", Vol. 63, No. 2. (1999), pp. 313–337.
* John Mearsheimer, "Liddell Hart and the Weight of History"

External links


* [ "The Indirect Approach: In Sales Campaigns"] You can find a White Paper here describing the application of Liddell Hart's teachings for use in High Value Sales Models in the Business World.

NAME=Liddell Hart, Basil
SHORT DESCRIPTION=Noted British historian and theoretician of war
DATE OF BIRTH=birth date|1895|10|31|df=y
DATE OF DEATH=death date|1970|1|29|df=y

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  • Basil Liddell Hart — Sir Basil Henry Liddell Hart, nacido en París (Francia) el 31 de octubre de 1895 y fallecido en Marlow (Gran Bretaña), el 29 de enero de 1970, fue un historiador militar, escritor y periodista británico. Destacó igualmente por sus aportaciones en …   Wikipedia Español

  • LIDDELL HART (B.) — LIDDELL HART sir BASIL (1895 1970) Écrivain et critique militaire anglais, sir Basil Liddell Hart est l’auteur des biographies de Scipion l’Africain, de Sherman et de Foch. Dès 1917, il préconise déjà la guerre éclair, c’est à dire une percée… …   Encyclopédie Universelle

  • Basil H. Liddell-Hart — Sir Basil Henry Liddell Hart (* 31. Oktober 1895 in Paris; † 29. Januar 1970 in Marlow) war ein britischer Militärhistoriker, Korrespondent und Stratege. Während des Ersten Weltkrieges diente er als Offizier in der britischen Armee. 1920 war er… …   Deutsch Wikipedia

  • Liddell Hart — Sir Basil Henry Liddell Hart (* 31. Oktober 1895 in Paris; † 29. Januar 1970 in Marlow) war ein britischer Militärhistoriker, Korrespondent und Stratege. Während des Ersten Weltkrieges diente er als Offizier in der britischen Armee. 1920 war er… …   Deutsch Wikipedia

  • Liddell Hart Centre for Military Archives — The Liddell Hart Centre for Military Archives (LHCMA) at King s College London was set up in 1964. The Centre holds the private papers of over 700 senior British defence personnel who held office since 1900. Individual collections range in size… …   Wikipedia

  • Liddell Hart — Pour les articles homonymes, voir Hart. Sir Basil Henry Liddell Hart (31 octobre 1895 – 29 janvier 1970) était un historien militaire anglais. Il a eu une grande influence sur la théorie d utilisation des blindés au XXe siècle. Sommaire …   Wikipédia en Français

  • Liddell Hart —   [ lɪdl hɑːt], Sir Basil Henry, britischer Offizier und Militärschriftsteller, * Paris 31. 10. 1895, ✝ Marlow (County Buckinghamshire) 29. 1. 1970; war 1925 39 Militärkorrespondent englischer Zeitungen; verfasste bedeutende kriegsgeschichtliche… …   Universal-Lexikon

  • Basil Henry Liddell Hart — Pour les articles homonymes, voir Hart. Sir Basil Henry Liddell Hart (31 octobre 1895 – 29 janvier 1970) était un historien militaire anglais. Il a repris et développé les théories du général français Jean Baptiste Estienne pour produire des… …   Wikipédia en Français

  • Liddell Hart, Sir Basil — ▪ British military historian born Oct. 31, 1895, Paris died Jan. 29, 1970, Marlow, Buckinghamshire, Eng.       British military historian and strategist known for his advocacy of mechanized warfare.       Liddell Hart left studies at Cambridge… …   Universalium

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