We Attack at Dawn!
Dawn attacks are particularly popular in Real Life
as well as fiction. It is generally assumed that surprise attacks are most likely to take place at dawn. This allows the attackers to move into place during the cover of the night, while using the first light of the morning to see well enough for the actual attack. There is also the hope that an attack just before or just at dawn will catch the enemy while most of them are still sleeping or just waking up, and are therefore not fully alert. Also, as dawn is a time of transition between dark and light, the theory is that attacking at dawn allows you to catch the enemy while their eyes have not yet fully adjusted to the morning light. For an extra bonus, you can attack from an direction that will result in the enemies being blinded by the glare of the rising sun. Finally, attacking at dawn means that you have the full day of light to press the attack, an important consideration before the modern age of night-vision and electric lights.
Of course, the irony of this tactic is that it has been so heavily used that most military forces now use the practice called "Stand-To-Arms", where the entire defending force wakes up sometime before dawn and goes to a full defensive alert, with every soldier in their battle positions.
For fictional purposes, the Dawn Attack adds extra drama to a scene, symbolizes transitions and new beginnings, and (in visual mediums) allows for just enough light to be able to clearly portray the action.
Compare Shot at Dawn
Anime & Manga
- In One Piece the Black Cat Pirates do this. They spend the night sailing from one coast on the island to another and then go ashore exactly at sunrise. While the exact dawn attack strategy doesn't help them (because they blurted it out to Luffy and Usopp who they thought were too weak to fight them), they initially gain an advantage because they go ashore at another coast than our heroes expected them to.
- Ice Age
Diego: We'll teach that human what happens when he messes with sabers.
Soto: Alert the troops. We attack at dawn.
- The Last Flight (AKA Le dernier vol)
Lieutenant, follow me! Silence! We attack at dawn!
- This is the order given to the Persian army in Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time . However Dastan goes against orders and sneaks into Alamut just before dawn to get the city gates open.
- Picard reflects on this trope in Star Trek: Nemesis while recording his Captain's Log during the Lock and Load Montage: "...and like a thousand other commanders on a thousand other battlefields, I wait for the dawn."
Live Action TV
- Daughter of the Lioness: Ulasim takes advantage of this when he realizes that the war for Rajmuat "has begun ahead of schedule."
Ulasim: Any good swimmer knows to swim with the tide rather than against it. We attack in force at dawn.
- In Jingo, a conversation between Captain Carrot and Jabbar, wise man of the D'regs, while surrounded by Klatchian soldiers:
Jabbar: They will not dare attack before dawn.
Carrot: And what will you do, sir?
Jabbar: At dawn we will charge!
Carrot: Ah. Uh. I wonder if I could suggest an alternative approach?
Jabbar: Alternative? It is right to charge! Charging is what dawn is for.
- Invoked in Peter Pan: In Neverland, all attacks take place at dawn. Captain Hook is considered a vile scoundrel when he has his pirates attack before dawn, when nobody's ready.
- In The Lord of the Rings, the Rohirrim like to do this when they're playing The Cavalry. Both Erkenbrand's charge to break the siege on Helm's Deep and Théoden's attack at the Battle of Pelennor Fields happen at dawn.
- In Starfighters of Adumar, the united Adumari force decide to attack at dawn for reasons outlined above. Cartann pilots, who have taken Proud Warrior Race to the logical and crippling extent of making nonlethal practice dishonorable, tend to party hard at night and not get in the air until noon.
- The Animorphs invoke this trope during In The Time of the Dinosaurs, choosing to attack an alien base at first light to smash-and-grab the nuke they need to get back to their own time. They explain that no, there really isn't a practical reason (the aliens used automated towers for most of their defenses, which obviously don't sleep). It's just traditional.
- Mack Bolan discusses the trope with Jack Grimaldi as he waits for dawn to infiltrate a bad guy base, claiming that its effectiveness is psychological, with people instinctively relaxing as they're no longer in danger from night predators.
- In cryptography textbooks, "attack at dawn" is often the secret message that Alice sends to Bob.
- The army of ID has a Master Computer which tells them to attack at 3am instead of the traditional dawn attack. One of Rodney's men asks, what if the enemy has a more advanced model?
- D-Day, AKA The Invasion of Normandy, was timed so that the first wave of the main assault arrived at the beach at about 6:30 AM local time. However, the supporting paratroopers had touched down earlier, at about 1 AM.
- Deliberately subverted in a number of conflicts in the 1990's and early twenty-first century due to night-vision goggles, giving attackers using them an advantage when attacking well before dawn rather than immediately after.
- The US Navy refers to the first aircraft launched off a carrier in the morning as the Dawn Patrol.
- Frequently used throughout history, as night combat was dangerous at best and devastating at worst: without proper lighting, it was terribly easy to get turned around and lost, potentially behind enemy lines or, even worse, behind your own. In the dark, anyone could be an enemy. Most historical battles would be fought during the day, and long battles would have each side "retire" for the night to prevent friendly fire.
- "The dawn attack" is the name often given to a subsidiary operation (July 14) in the Battle of the Somme, in which the British did just that - on top of which they deployed deep into no-man's-land in the dead of night, something which the senior brass were (justifiably) worried that the men of the Kitchener armies would not be able to do. Although the battle later became bogged down with less gains than expected and missed opportunities, the actual assault on and penetration through the enemy's forward line was a stunning success.
- The Battle of Trenton during The American Revolution was supposed to have started before dawn, but snafus in getting the Continental Army's artillery over the Delaware River resulted in them arriving after sunrise. It didn't matter in the end; the Hessian mercenaries were all severely hung over from Christmas Eve schnapps and had no clue they were coming.
- General Offensive on 1 March 1949 at Yogyakarta by Indonesian National Army were initiated at dawn. It was important, because it was turning point for Indonesian's freedom movement, who finally got recognized by other countries (especially countries on UN) for manages to wrestle a major city from Dutch/ NICA's occupation in broad daylight.
- Nazi Germany attacked the Soviet Union on June 22, at 4:00 am.
- The tactic of attacking at or just before dawn was apparently such a standard part of Native American warfare that Roger's Standing Orders to his Rangers mentions that his men should be prepared for them every morning.
- Averted with the tactic of attacking at around 3am, when your opponent is most likely to be deep asleep. For this reason it's a favourite time for police raids, as criminals tend not to post sentries. Less heroically, this is also the time when the Secret Police traditionally comes and "disappears" people, since there aren't as many potential witnesses.
- The Military Liaison Missions were established as a temporary measure to maintain relationships between the occupying powers during the demilitarization of post-World War II Germany, and were kept going throughout the Cold War because both sides found them useful for gathering ground intelligence by snooping around military bases. They found the best time to do so was at dawn because the sentries, having spent all night on duty, would be looking forward to getting some sleep, and so would avoid anything that delayed that. On one occasion a British officer peeked over the fence of an East German barracks and found a sentry staring directly at him...only for the sentry to deliberately look in another direction.