Chapter 12 - Attack by Fire | The Art of War by Sun Tzu

1. In order to carry out an attack, we must have means available. The material for raising fire should always be kept in readiness.

Laon, France, 986-987AD

Hugh Capet led his men to besiege the town of Laon in France. One night Capet’s troops were resting at their camp just outside the town and became drunk. Duke Charles and his men who were protecting the town took advantage of this by being prepared. They had already assembled the tools and materials needed to start large fires and left the town with this equipment to hand. They torched Capet’s camp and by setting fire to it, forced him to abandon the siege altogether.

Fire is a resource that can be used for an opportunistic attack. Use the environment to your advantage by having your resources prepared, available and always ready to be used.

2. In attacking with fire, one should be prepared to meet five possible developments:

When fire breaks out inside the enemy's camp, respond at once with an attack from without.

Mayenne, France, 1063

When William of Normandy attacked a castle in Mayenne, he ordered his army to shoot fire into it, in an attempt to alarm the enemy inside. As this was taking place and panic was setting in among his opponents, William sent two boys to sneak into the castle from the outside. Their aim was to start another fire, which they did, and resulted in the castle garrison soon surrendering.

If soldiers are forced to put out fire in their own camp, they are more vulnerable to external attack. This principle can be utilised in business by attacking your competitors when they are distracted.