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John Frederick Charles Fuller
J.F.C. Fuller
Born (1878-09-01)1 September 1878
Died 10 February 1966(1966-02-10) (aged 87)
Place of birth Chichester, England
Allegiance  United Kingdom
Years of service 1899 – 1933
Rank Major General
Battles/wars Second Boer War
First World War
Awards Companion of the Order of the Bath
Commander of the Order of the British Empire
Distinguished Service Order
Other work Military historian, occultist, author

Major-General John Frederick Charles Fuller, CB, CBE, DSO (1 September 1878 – 10 February 1966) was a British Army officer, military historian and strategist, notable as an early theorist of modern armoured warfare, including categorising principles of warfare. He was also the inventor of "artificial moonlight".


Fuller was born in 1878, in Chichester, West Sussex, England. After moving to Lausanne with his parents as a boy, he returned to England at the age of 11 without them; three years later, at "the somewhat advanced age of 14," he began attending Malvern College[1] and, later, Royal Military Academy Sandhurst from 1897 to 1898. His nickname 'Boney', which he was to retain, is said either to have come from an admiration for Napoleon Bonaparte,[2] or from an imperious manner combined with military brilliance which resembled Napoleon.[3]

He was commissioned into the 1st Battalion of the Oxfordshire Light Infantry (the old 43rd), and served in South Africa from 1899 to 1902. In the spring of 1904, Fuller was sent with his unit to India, where he contracted in autumn of 1905; he returned to England the next year on sick-leave, where he met the woman he married in December 1906.[1] Instead of returning to India, he was reassigned to units in England, serving as an adjutant to the 2nd South Middlesex Volunteers (amalgamated into the 7th Middlesex during the Haldane Reforms) and helping form the 10th Middlesex, until he was accepted into the Staff College at Camberley in 1913 (starting work there in January 1914).

During the First World War, he was a staff officer with the Home Forces and with 7 Corps in France, and from 1916 in the Headquarters of the Machine-Gun Corps' Heavy Branch which was later to become the Tank Corps. He planned the tank attack at Cambrai in 1917 and the tank operations for the autumn offensives of 1918. His Plan 1919 for a fully mechanised army was never implemented in his lifetime, and after 1918 he held various leading positions, notably as a commander of an experimental brigade at Aldershot.

In the 1920s, he collaborated with his junior B. H. Liddell Hart in developing new ideas for the mechanisation of armies. However, in what came to be known as the "Tidworth Incident", he turned down the command of the Experimental Mechanized Force which was formed in 1927. The appointment also carried responsibility for a regular infantry brigade and the garrison of Tidworth on Salisbury Plain. Fuller believed he would be unable to devote himself to the Experimental Force and the development of mechanized warfare techniques without extra staff to assist him with the additional extraneous duties, which the War Office refused to allocate.

His ideas on mechanised warfare continued to be influential in the lead-up to the Second World War, ironically more with the Germans, notably Heinz Guderian (who spent his own money to have Fuller's Provisional Instructions for Tank and Armoured Car Training translated),[4] than with his countrymen. In the 1930s, the Wehrmacht implemented tactics similar in many ways to Fuller's analysis, which became known as Blitzkrieg. Like Fuller, practitioners of Blitzkrieg partly based their approach on the theory that areas of large enemy activity should be bypassed to be eventually surrounded and destroyed. Blitzkrieg style tactics were used by several nations throughout the Second World War, predominantly by the Germans in the invasion of Poland, Western Europe and the Soviet Union. While Germany, and to some degree the Western Allies, adopted Blitzkrieg ideas, they were not much used by the Red Army which developed its armoured warfare doctrine based on deep operations. Deep operations was developed by Soviet military theorists, among them Marshal M. N. Tukhachevsky, during the 1920s based on their experiences in the First World War and the Russian Civil War.

On his retirement in 1933, and impatient with what he considered the inability of democracy to adopt military reforms, Fuller became involved with Sir Oswald Mosley and the British Fascist movement. As a member of the British Union of Fascists he sat on the party's Policy Directorate and was considered one of Mosley's closest allies. He was also a member of the clandestine far right group the Nordic League.[5] During the war Fuller was under suspicion for his Nazi sympathies, Alanbrooke (in his war diaries, p201) comments that "the Director of Security called on him to discuss Boney Fuller and his Nazi activities", though Alanbrooke commented that he didn`t think Fuller "had any unpatriotic intentions". On 20 April 1939 Fuller was an honoured guest at Adolf Hitler's 50th birthday parade and watched as "for three hours a completely mechanised and motorised army roared past the Führer." Afterwards Hitler asked, "I hope you were pleased with your children?" Fuller replied, "Your Excellency, they have grown up so quickly that I no longer recognise them."[6]

Fuller was a vigorous, expressive and opinionated writer of military history and of controversial predictions of the future of war.

Magic and mysticism[]

Fuller was an early disciple of English poet and magician Aleister Crowley and was very familiar with his, and other forms of, magick and mysticism. While serving in the First Oxfordshire Light Infantry he had entered, and won, a contest to write the best review of Crowley's poetic works - he was apparently the only entrant to the contest. This essay was later published in book form in 1907 as The Star in the West. After this he became an enthusiastic supporter of Crowley, joining his magical Order, the A.A.. within which he became a leading member, editing Order documents and its journal, The Equinox. During this period he wrote The Treasure House of Images, edited early sections of Crowley's magical autobiography The Temple of Solomon the King and produced highly-regarded paintings dealing with A.A. teachings: these paintings have been used in recent years as the covers of the journal's revival, The Equinox, Volume IV.[7][8]

After the Jones vs The Looking Glass case, in which a great deal was made of Aleister Crowley's bisexuality (although Crowley himself was not a party to the case), Fuller became worried that his association with Crowley might be a hindrance to his career. Crowley writes in chapter 67 of his Confessions: my breathless amazement he fired pointblank at my head a document in which he agreed to continue his co-operation on condition that I refrain from mentioning his name in public or private under penalty of paying him a hundred pounds for each such offence. I sat down and poured in a broadside at close quarters.

"My dear man," I said in effect, "do recover your sense of proportion, to say nothing of your sense of humour. Your contribution, indeed! I can do in two days what takes you six months, and my real reason for ever printing your work at all is my friendship for you. I wanted to give you a leg up the literary ladder. I have taken endless pain to teach you the first principles of writing. When I met you, you were not so much as a fifth-rate journalist, and now you can write quite good prose with no more than my blue pencil through two out of every three adjectives, and five out of every six commas. Another three years with me and I will make you a master, but please don't think that either I or the Work depend on you, any more than J.P. Morgan depends on his favourite clerk."[9]

After this contact between the two men faded rapidly. However Fuller continued to be fascinated with occult subjects and in later years he would write about topics such as the Qabalah and yoga.

Military theories[]

The Foundations of the Science of War (1926)[]

Fuller is perhaps best known today for his "Nine Principles of War"[10] which have formed the foundation of much of modern military theory since the 1930s, and which were originally derived from a convergence of Fuller's mystical and military interests. The Nine Principles went through several iterations; Fuller stated that ...the system evolved from six principles in 1912, rose to eight in 1915, to, virtually, nineteen in 1923, and then descended to nine in 1925...[11]

The Nine Principles of War[]

The Nine Principles involve the uses of Force (combat power). They have been expressed in various ways, but Fuller's 1925 arrangement is as follows:

  1. Direction: What is the overall aim? Which objectives must be met to achieve the aim?
  2. Concentration: Where will the commander focus the most effort?
  3. Distribution: Where and how will the commander position their force?
  4. Determination: The will to fight, the will to persevere, and the will to win must be maintained.
  5. Surprise (Demoralisation of Force): The commander's ability to veil their intentions while discovering those of their enemy. Properly executed Surprise unbalances the enemy - causing Demoralisation of Force.
  6. Endurance: The force's resistance to pressure. This is measured by the force's ability to anticipate complications and threats. This is enhanced by planning on how best to avoid, overcome, or negate them and then properly educating and training the force in these methods.
  7. Mobility: The commander's ability to maneuver their force while outmaneuvering the enemy's forces.
  8. Offensive Action (Disorganization of Force): The ability to gain and maintain the initiative in combat. Properly executed Offensive Action disrupts the enemy - causing Disorganisation of Force.
  9. Security: The ability to protect the force from threats.

Triads and Trichotomies[]

Cabalistic influences on his theories can be evidenced by his use of the "Law of Threes" throughout his work.[12] Fuller didn't believe the Principles stood alone as is thought today,[13] but that they complimented and overlapped each other as part of a whole, forming the Law of Economy of Force.[14]

Organisation of Force[]

These Principles were further grouped into the categories of Control (command / co-operation), Pressure (attack / activity) and Resistance (protection / stability). The Principles of Control guides the dual Principles of Pressure and of Resistance, which in turn create the Principles of Control.[12]

  • Principles of Control (1, 4, & 7): Direction, Determination, & Mobility.
  • Principles of Pressure (2, 5, & 8): Concentration, Surprise, & Offensive Action.
  • Principles of Resistance (3, 6, & 9): Distribution, Endurance, & Security.

The Unity of the Principles of War[]

They were also grouped into Cosmic (Spiritual), Mental (Mind / Thought / Reason), Moral (Soul / Sensations / Emotions), and Physical (Body / Musculature / Action) Spheres, in which two Principles (like the double-edged point of an arrowhead) combine to create or manifest a third, which in turn guides the first and second Principles (like the fletches on an arrow's tail). Each Sphere leads to the creation of the next until it returns to the beginning and repeats the circular cycle with reassessments of the Object and Objective to redefine the uses of Force. The Cosmic Sphere is seen as outside the other three Spheres, like the Heavens are outside the Realm of Man. They influence it indirectly in ways that cannot be controlled by the commander, but they are a factor in the use of Force. Force resides in the center of the pattern, as all of these elements revolve around it.[15]

  • Cosmic Sphere: Goal (Object) & Desire (Objective) = Method (Economy of Force)
  • Mental Sphere (1, 2, & 3): Reason (Direction) & Imagination (Concentration) = Will (Distribution)
  • Moral Sphere (4, 5, & 6): Fear (Determination) & Morale (Surprise) = Courage (Endurance)
  • Physical Sphere (7, 8, & 9): Attack (Offensive Action) & Protection (Security) = Movement (Mobility)

These Principles of War have been adopted and further refined by the military forces of several nations, most notably within NATO, and continue to be applied widely to modern strategic thinking. Recently they have also been applied to business tactics[16] and hobby wargaming.[17]

Armament and History (1945)[]

Fuller also developed the idea of the Constant Tactical Factor. This states that every improvement in warfare is checked by a counter-improvement, causing the advantage to shift back and forth between the offensive and the defensive. Fuller's firsthand experience in the First World War saw a shift from the defensive power of the machine gun to the offensive power of the tank.

Books by Fuller[]

Fuller was a prolific writer and wrote over forty-five books.[18] The following is only a small selection of his works.

  • The Star in The West: a critical essay upon the works of Aleister Crowley (Walter Scott Publishing Co., London, 1907)
  • Yoga: a study of the mystical philosophy of the Brahmins and Buddhists (W. Rider, London, 1925)
  • The Foundations of the Science of War. (London, Hutchinson, 1926)
  • The Generalship of Ulysses S. Grant (Murray, London, 1929)
  • Grant & Lee: A study in personality and generalship (Eyre & Spottiswoode, London, 1933)
  • Memoirs of an Unconventional Soldier (Nicholson & Watson, London, 1936)
  • The First of the League Wars: A study of the Abyssinian War, its lessons and omens(Eyre and Spottiswoode, London, 1936)
  • The Secret Wisdom of the Qabalah: A study in Jewish mystical thought (W. Rider & Co., London, 1937)
  • Armament and History: The influence of armament on history from the dawn of Classical warfare to the end of the Second World War (C. Scribner's Sons, London, 1945)
  • The Second World War, 1939-1945: a strategical and tactical history (Eyre & Spottiswoode, London, 1948)
  • The Decisive Battles of the Western World and their Influence upon History, 3 vols. (Eyre & Spottiswoode, London, 1954-6). A two-volume edition, abridged by John Terraine to omit battles outside the European continent, was published in 1970 by Picador: this is not to be confused with the original edition of 1939-40, also in two volumes, of which the three volume edition is a substantial revision, as described in its Preface.
  • The Generalship of Alexander the Great (Eyre & Spottiswoode, London, 1958). On Alexander the Great of Macedon.
  • Julius Caesar: man, soldier and tyrant (Eyre & Spottiswoode, London, 1965)
  • The Conduct Of War, 1789-1961(Rutgers University Press, 1961)
  • A Military History of the Western World, 3 vols. This is the American publication of The Decisive Battles of the Western World and their Influence upon History. Titles of individual tomes are same as in the British edition. Originally published: (Funk and Wagnalls, New York, 1954-7). Republished: (Da Capo Press, New York, 1987-8).
  • Fuller, J. F. C.; Aleister Crowley (1994). The Pathworkings of Aleister Crowley: The Treasure House of Images. James Wasserman (ed.). New Falcon Publications,U.S.. ISBN 1-56184-074-2. 


  1. 1.0 1.1 Fuller, Memoirs of an Unconventional Soldier, Ivor Nicholson and Watson Ltd., London, 1936, ch. 1
  2. Brian Holden Reid, "J. F. C. Fuller: Military Thinker", Macmillan, 1987, p. 3.
  3. Trevor Nevitt Dupuy, Curt Johnson, David L. Bongard, "The Harper encyclopedia of military biography", HarperCollins, 1992, p. 268.
  4. Atkin, Ronald (1990). Pillar of Fire: Dunkirk 1940. Edinburgh: Birlinn Limited. pp. 26. ISBN 1 84158 078 3. 
  5. Richard Thurlow, Fascism in Britain: A History, 1918-1985, Basil Blackwell, 1987, p. 80
  6. Boot, Max (2006). War made new: technology, warfare, and the course of history, 1500 to today [1]. Gotham. ISBN 978-1-59240-222-9. 
  7. Crowley, Aleister (1996-10). Commentaries on the Holy Books and Other Papers: The Equinox v.4, No.1. Hymenaeus. Beta (ed.). Red Wheel/Weiser. ISBN 0-87728-888-7. 
  8. Crowley, Aleister (1999-12). The Vision and the Voice - With Commentary and Other Papers: The Equinox v.4, No.2. Hymenaeus. Beta (ed.). Red Wheel/Weiser. ISBN 0-87728-906-9. 
  9. Crowley, Aleister (1989). The Confessions of Aleister Crowley. London: Arkana. ISBN 978-0-14-019189-9. 
  10. The Foundations of the Science of War (1926 ed.); Chapter IX, Section 6
  11. Fuller, J.F.C. (1926). The Foundations of the Science of War. London: Hutchinson. 
  12. 12.0 12.1 Foundations of the Science of War (1926 ed.); Chapter IX, Section 6
  13. Foundations of the Science of War (1926 ed.); Chapter IX, Section 6; Diagrams 17, 18 & 19
  14. Foundations of the Science of War (1926 ed.); reduced to three groups, namely, principles of control, resistance, and pressure, and finally to one law - the law of economy of force...
  15. Foundations of the Science of War (1926 ed.); Chapter IX, Section 6; Diagram 17.
  16. McNeil, Paul (2008). "How to Apply Military Principles to High Value Sales Campaigns". Tactica. 
  17. Bigred (7 October 2009). "40K Tactics: Nine Principles of War". Bell of Lost Souls. Retrieved 21 December 2009. 
  18. Trythall, A.J. (1977). "Boney" Fuller: The Intellectual General. London: Cassell. pp. 314. ISBN 0-933852-98-3. 

Further reading[]

  • "Boney" Fuller: The Intellectual General by A.J. Trythall (London, 1977)
  • Alaric Searle, "Was there a 'Boney' Fuller after the Second World War? Major-General J. F. C. Fuller as Military Theorist and Commentator, 1945-1966", War in History, 11/3 (2004), pp. 327–357.
  • Generals, by Mark Urban (London, 2005) — the chapter on Fuller is available as a downloadable PDF

External links[]

The full texts of several of Fuller's works are available online:

For examples of the use of Fuller's campaign theories in the business world see:

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