What is a Feigned Retreat?


A feigned retreat is a military tactic, a type of feint, whereby a military force pretends to withdraw or to have been routed, in order to lure an enemy into a position of vulnerability.

A feigned retreat is one of the more difficult tactics for a military force to undertake, and requires well-disciplined soldiers. This is because, if the enemy presses into the retreating body, undisciplined troops are likely to lose coherence and the rout will become genuine.

Brief History

Sun Tzu wrote, in the Chinese military treatise The Art of War: “Do not pursue an enemy who simulates flight.” This advice cautioned against pursuing an enemy that unexpectedly runs away or shows a weaker force, as it may be bait for an ambush.

Herodotus reported that the Spartans used the feigned-retreat tactic at the Battle of Thermopylae (480 BCE) to defeat a force of Persian Immortals.

Before the Battle of Agrigentum, in Sicily (262 BCE) – the first pitched battle of the First Punic War, and the first large-scale military confrontation between Carthage and the Roman Republic – the Carthaginian general Hanno, son of Hannibal, was sent to provide relief to the Carthaginians besieged at Agrigentum by the Romans. Hanno told his Numidian cavalry to attack the Roman cavalry and then feign retreat. The Romans pursued the Numidians as they retreated and were brought to the main Carthaginian column, where they suffered many losses. The Roman siege lasted several months before the Romans defeated the Carthaginians and forced Hanno to retreat.

In 221 BCE, Xenoetas, an Achaean Greek in the service of the Seleucid King Antiochus III the Great, was sent with an army against the rebel satrap of Media, Molon. Xenoetas crossed the Tigris River but fell into a trap laid by Molon, who feigned a retreat and, suddenly returning, surprised Xenoetas when most of the latter’s forces were sunk in drunken sleep. Xenoetas was killed, and his army was cut to pieces.

In their 12 June 910 CE Battle of Lechfeld, fought south of Augsburg and known in Hungary as the Battle of Augsburg, the manoeuvrable Magyar (Hungarian) light cavalry, expertly wielding their composite bows, repeatedly used feigned retreats to draw out the heavy cavalry of one of King Louis the Child’s two German forces. The Hungarians destroyed first the German heavy cavalry, then the approaching German infantry (The Hungarians had successfully used similar tactics 11 years earlier, in 899 CE, against an Italian army at the Battle of Brenta River). Ten days later, on 22 June 910 CE, in the Battle of Rednitz, the Hungarians annihilated King Louis’ other German army.

In 1066, William the Conqueror successfully used the tactic twice at the Battle of Hastings.

At the Battle of Harran (07 May 1104) between the Crusader states of the Principality of Antioch and the County of Edessa, on the one hand, and the Seljuk Turks on the other, the Seljuks rode away from the Crusaders in a feigned retreat. The Crusaders pursued for some two days. When the Seljuks turned to fight, the Crusaders were caught unawares and were routed.

During the Mongol conquest of Khwarezmia (1219-1221), on the third day of Genghis Khan’s 1220 assault on its capital, Samarkand’s garrison launched a counterattack. Genghis Khan, feigning retreat, drew about half of Samarkand’s garrison outside the city’s fortifications and slaughtered them in open combat.

At the Battle of Kizaki, in Japan (June 1572), the forces of Shimazu Takahisa, outnumbered ten to one by those of Itō Yoshisuke, prevailed, using their famous feigned retreat.

Examples of Feigned Retreats

  • Battle of Agrigentum (262 BCE).
  • Battle of the Bagradas River (c. 240 BCE).
  • Battle of the Trebia (218 BCE).
  • Battle of Tigranocerta (69 BCE).
  • Battle of Carrhae (53 BCE).
  • Battle of the Bagradas River (49 BCE).
  • Battle of Lugdunum (197).
  • Battle of Bowang (202).
  • Battle of Abritus (251).
  • Battle of Naissus (268).
  • Battle of Salsu (612).
  • Heraclius’ campaign of 622.
  • Battle of Sarus (625).
  • Battle of Nineveh (627).
  • Battle of Nahāvand (642).
  • Battle of Dun Nechtain (685).
  • Battle of Amblève (716).
  • Battle of Brenta (899).
  • Battle of Lechfeld (910).
  • Battle of Püchen (919).
  • Battle of Arcadiopolis (970).
  • Battle of Conquereuil (992).
  • Battle of Hastings (1066).
  • Battle of Kalavrye (1078).
  • Battle of Larissa (1083).
  • Battle of Harran (1104).
  • Battle of Al-Sannabra (1113).
  • Siege of Sozopolis (1120).
  • Battle of Cresson (1187).
  • Second Battle of Tarain (1192).
  • Battle of Adrianople (1205).
  • Battle of Caucasus Mountain (1222).
  • Battle of the Kalka River (1223).
  • Battle of Chmielnik (1241).
  • Battle of Legnica (1241).
  • Battle of Ain Jalut (1260).
  • Battle of Moclín (1280).
  • Battle of the Gulf of Naples (1284).
  • Battle of Kili (1299).
  • Battle of the Vorskla River (1399).
  • Battle of Grunwald (1410).
  • Battle of Lipany (1434).
  • Battle of Ohrid (1464).
  • Battle of Krbava Field (1493).
  • Battle of Marv (1510).
  • Battle of Acajutla (1524).
  • Battle of Ancrum Moor (1545).
  • Battle of Kizaki (1572).
  • Battle of Hansan Island (1592).
  • Battle of Traigh Ghruinneart (1598).
  • Battle of Mirăslău (1600).
  • Battle of Urmia (1604).
  • Battle of Kircholm (1605).
  • Battle of Prostki (1656).
  • Battle of Musgrove Mill (1780).
  • Battle of Castiglione (1796).
  • Battle of Delhi (1803).
  • Battle of Austerlitz (1805).
  • Fetterman Fight (1866).

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