The military tactic of frontal assault is a direct, hostile movement of forces toward the front of an enemy force (as compared to the flanks or rear of the enemy). By targeting the enemy's front, the attackers are subjecting themselves to the maximum defensive power of the enemy. It is often a commander's last resort when he has run out of tactical options.
Before the 19th century, a frontal assault against a thin line could be effective when conducted by horse cavalry. However, as the accuracy and range of firearms increased, this procedure proved increasingly suicidal. Cavalry charges against deeply regimented infantry formations were also frequently repulsed as exemplified by the Battle of the Golden Spurs in Flanders in 1302.
This style of combat was sometimes used in the American Civil War. Although officers were taught the value of tactical flanking attacks and strategic turning movements, they occasionally resorted to direct assaults when other options were unavailable. The bloody results of such assaults against field fortifications as Cold Harbor, Fredericksburg, and Franklin have made these battles some of the most memorable of the war. Pickett's Charge, arguably the most famous direct assault of the war, was unsuccessful against defenders with minimal fortifications, but with superior artillery support. This style of combat was rapidly becoming outmoded because of the increased accuracy of rifles and the increased use of defensive field works in the later years of the war.
Frontal assaults were also the cause of massive casualties in the trench warfare of World War I. In many cases, frontal assaults were made by thousands of men towards trenches defended by machine gun emplacements, artillery and barbed wire with predictable and tragic results.
Battles with notably successful frontal assaults
- Battle of Bunker Hill – after two failed attempts British army succeeds in capturing heights
- Battle of Missionary Ridge – Union army storms Missionary Ridge after flank attacks are stalled
- Battle of Pea Ridge – Union army routs Confederate forces in a frontal assault on the second day
- Battle of Spotsylvania Court House – Union army captures "Mule Shoe Salient"
- Brusilov Offensive – Russian army breaks Austro-Hungarian lines during WWI
Battles with notably unsuccessful frontal assaults
- Battle of Gettysburg – Pickett's Charge aims at the Union center and is repulsed
- Battle of Fredericksburg – Union army fails to take Marye's Heights
- Siege of Vicksburg – failure of frontal assaults force Grant into siege operations
- Battle of Franklin – repeated Confederate charges are repulsed
- Battle of Balaklava – most notably the Charge of the Light Brigade