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Tactical Withdrawal

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"They are extremely powerful, and quite frankly we haven't a snowflake's chance in Vulcan's forge of winning. I suggest a *cough* tactical advance away from the enemy!"
Roman General, Rome: Total War

Although this has been used as a euphemism for "legging it", this is not quite the same thing. This is a managed retreat rather than an all-out rout, with forces withdrawing in good order to fight another day. They may have actually done their job, e.g. a Delaying Action. Military strategists call this approach "trading space/land for time."

A move like this could, if done right, be almost as effective as a battle victory, at least in terms of damage to the opponent's morale. Indeed, the attacking soldiers, hyped for battle, will often find themselves confused and frustrated if their intended target is not where they expected it to be, and chances are that the higher command will be disappointed at being cheated out of what they saw as an easy victory, and the development can possibly force them to change parts of their strategy, if not throw it completely out of the window. More importantly, an orderly retreat is always less costly than a rout. A routed force is broken. A retreating force is merely leaving and often has reasonable hopes that it will be able to fight another day.

Also, obviously, such a unit does not have to waste men and equipment attacking entrenched positions (and can often make use of them itself), and a retreating unit - since it has presumably already lost an engagement, and, due to attrition, the remaining troops are likely seasoned and better equipped to survive - is far more dangerous to take on than an attacking one of the same size. This makes the Tactical Withdrawal a central part of any Fabian strategy worth its salt.

One notes that successfully withdrawing in good order from superior attacking forces is considered among the most difficult of military feats, if not the most. Especially if other units have already been routed.

Common in guerilla warfare as a component of Hit-and-Run Tactics. Also a necessary first step in a Defensive Feint Trap. Typically, but not always, a form of Insistent Terminology. Compare with Attack! Attack... Retreat! Retreat! (a comedic variant where an order is immediately reversed), Know When to Fold 'Em (which can cause this), Run or Die (when an organized retreat is no longer an option).


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    Anime & Manga 
  • In episode 10 and the first part of episode 11 of The Ambition of Oda Nobuna, Yoshiharu does this to buy time for Nobuna to escape.
  • Chainsaw Man: The instant before the Bomb Devil can blow up Aki's car, the Violence Fiend kicks her off the top and prepares to fight. When she matches Violence's brute force without even using her explosive powers, he runs away. Despite seeming like pure cowardice, Violence does come back to fight alongside Aki—though bizarrely, Violence considers giving her a handicap.
  • In Girls und Panzer, Miho Nishizumi does this on a regular basis, both out of preference and necessity, given that most of her tanks are heavily outgunned by their opponents. This is in stark contrast to her mother's school, which believes in constant advance, though that's because they usually outgun their opponents.
  • JoJo's Bizarre Adventure:
    • In Battle Tendency, this is one of Joseph Joestar's favorite techniques, to the point where running away is referred to as "the Joestar secret technique". Though it may seem as if he's running away while screaming in fear, he's actually trying to move the fight to a location which gives him an advantage or isolate an enemy who is accompanied by allies.
    • At one point in Stardust Crusaders, Jotaro also makes use of this technique, jumping out of a cable car and into the water, which seems to be him trying to run away but is actually a ploy to get his opponent to chase him into the water where he is vulnerable to being drowned.
  • In My Hero Academia, the third round of the Joint Training Arc ends in a draw because Class 1-B's Pony Tsunotori gets stuck in a 1v1 with Class 1-A's Shoji, and everyone else on the field is unconscious. Realizing that she's at a slight disadvantage against Shoji and that she can't focus on fending him off while trying to put any more of 1-A's team in "jail" at the same time, she takes her fallen teammates and flies up out of Shoji's reach to wait out the clock so that at least her team won't lose.
  • In Ranma ½, this is a recognized technique of the Saotome School of Anything Goes Martial Arts. Referred to as the "Saotome Final Attack", it embodies the three principles of Speed, Separation and Strategy... or, in plain English; "run away from a losing fight and think up a new plan to counterattack". Ranma directly invokes the technique by name in the Bakusai Tenketsu arc, after realizing he's wasted his training period focusing on bolstering his Super-Speed and dodging abilities whilst his opponent was focused on honing his Super-Toughness to the point Ranma's blows are no longer strong enough to hurt him.
  • When the Invid invade Earth in Robotech, the battered remains of the Army of the Southern Cross and the contingent sent back by the Robotech Expeditionary Force, after realizing they could not win, leave Earth to regroup on Tirol, where they have the resources to rebuild and then return in force. At the same time, the Invid's invasion of Earth is the final phase of their own Tactical Retreat: the entire Invid race was busy fighting a costly battle on Tirol and the rest of the former empire of the Robotech Masters, but as soon as the Sensor Nebula warned her that Earth was full of Flower of Life, from which is made the Protoculture that powers their technology, the Invid Regess took her half of her race and moved to Earth, abandoning the Regent and his half to the Hopeless War fought there... And completely missing the Flower of Life that was hidden somewhere near Tirol, that would be found by the Robotech Expeditionary Force after she left.
  • In Yu-Gi-Oh!: Capsule Monsters, when it's clear they can't win against a pack of Flower Wolves, the group runs.

    Fan Works 
  • The Rigel Black Chronicles: When Lily's ire is turned away from the Prewett brothers, they're quick to execute an "attack in the opposite direction" and leave the conversation.
  • After seeing Ranma Saotome sink a Navy battleship with a single Hand Blast in Voyages of the Wild Sea Horse, the enemy pirate crew that was planning to launch an attack against Ranma's decide that this is a fight they can't hope to win, and they promptly turn around and sail away.
    • What separates Ranma's Kamikaze Pirates from, say, the Straw Hat Pirates is that he is perfectly willing to run away from fights that seem like they would be losing prospects. Particularly prominent examples are when his crew tries to rob a Baron turned Navy Commodore named Arashi Sukumvit who turns out be strong enough to hand Ranma his ass without even trying, and when they accidentally trigger the Berserk Button of Shiki the Golden Lion.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • Captain America: The Winter Soldier: The eponymous assassin pierces Nick Fury with two high-calliber bullets. He tries to leave the place, but Steve tries to apprehend him by throwing his shield at the head. Winter Soldier intercepts the shield and throws it back to Rogers as a means of distraction, knowing that he would try to terminate Cap later on.
  • Gettysburg: Having won the first day of battle, General Robert E. Lee is determined to continue to fight the Union army right there - as winning a major battle on Northern soil for the first time might convince England and France to openly support the Confederacy. His subordinate General Longstreet urges him to withdraw: a startled Lee asks if he seriously wants to "retreat" after their victory, to which Longstreet responds "redeploy". Longstreet then accurately lists off that 1 - Union reinforcements are pouring in to Gettysburg, and before long they'll be facing the main bulk of the Union army 2 - the Union forces hold the high ground, by tomorrow they'll be firmly entrenched, making any attempt to dislodge this numerically superior army a bloodbath 3 - If they "redeploy" by heading southeast towards Washington D.C., the Union army will be forced to pursue them, allowing the Confederate army to lure them onto open ground of their own choosing, but still technically in "the North". Lee, however, feels his men are already so encouraged by their victory on the first day of battle that they will lose all their morale if they leave. Lee thus refuses to make a tactical withdrawal - thus sealing the fate of the Confederacy.
  • Multiple examples in the Star Wars films:
    • The Empire Strikes Back: During the first act, the Empire discovers the Rebels' hidden base on Hoth (having forced them to abandon their previous base after the events of the previous film) and the Rebels have to hold off the Imperial assault long enough to evacuate the base.
    • Revenge of the Sith opens with a large Seperatist Fleet, led by Count Dooku and General Grevious, trying to make their getaway after attacking the Republic capital of Coruscant and abducting Chancellor Palpatine, as arriving Republic reinforcements try to stop them and rescue the Chancellor. Grevious and his fleet escape, but not without Palpatine being rescued by the Jedi and their fleet taking serious losses.
    • In Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, the whole point of the Rebel attack on Scarif is to steal the plans for the Death Star. Once those plans have been secured, the fleet launches an immediate retreat. And then Darth Vader shows up in his personal Star Destroyer and almost ruins everything.
    • The Last Jedi begins with the Resistance base on D'Qar in the middle of evacuating when a large First Order fleet arrives to destroy them. Most of the film depicts the First Order's pursuit of the Resistance fleet and the film ends with the few remaining Resistance fighters escaping while Master Luke Skywalker single-handedly stalls the First Order's assault.
  • The Terminator: Having crashed into a wall, the T-800 is faced with two choices: risk fighting an entire police squad to get Sarah or retreat and try to take her out later. Given the damages it had suffered up to this point and the lack of weaponry at its disposal, the machine chooses to flee.

  • The cynical version is often lampshaded in Sven Hassel's WW2 novels. When a high-ranking officer runs away it's called a strategic withdrawal, whereas when the ordinary soldier does this it's called cowardice and he's executed. On one occasion, a Kangaroo Court happily executing a flood of so-called deserters gets a nasty shock when Soviet tanks turn up on their doorstep. Turns out there really is a full retreat going on.
  • Chrysalis (RinoZ): The ants are very skilled at retreating in good order. Their pheromone-based communication isn't affected by noise, and they are inherently cooperative and obedient. When Advant sees reinforcements approaching a heated battle, she issues a command to fall back, it's relayed by other ants within moments, and the battlefield is emptied out in ten seconds.
  • Almost every large-scale battle in Codex Alera involves the heroes doing this at some point when things are ready to progress to a later stage of the battle. A few times it even gets subverted into the withdrawal turning into an all-out rout.
  • Death to the French: The British are withdrawing to the lines of Torres Vedras. This results in Dodd being accidentally left behind to fend for himself.
  • Played for Laughs in the Deryni novel The Bishop's Heir. Kelson Haldane has rather foolishly (but understandably) led a small warband into enemy territory in December, against the advice of his generals. When he accomplishes part of his goal by rescuing his blood-brother Dhugal MacArdry, but is threatened by a much larger enemy force, he shouts to his men "Time for a tactical withdrawal!" and turns to head for home, to the cheers and laughter of his men.
  • Discworld: Alluded to in Night Watch:
    "They were not used to marching. Their normal method of progress was the stroll, which is not a recognized military maneuver, or the frantic withdrawal, which is."
  • One scene from The Lord of the Rings describes Faramir attempting to do this and leading his men back to Minas Tirith in an orderly retreat despite having already lost one battle and continuing to be harassed by the enemy cavalry. Then the Nazgul get involved and it does turn into a rout until Gandalf and some Gondorian knights do the Big Damn Heroes thing.
  • Martín Fierro: This is a Narrative Poem about Martin Fierro, a Gaucho who is Press-Ganged into Conscription trying to Settling the Frontier. At song III, Fierro declares that when the Gauchos were chasing the Indians after yet another indian incursion on the Frontier, the Indians were hidden and when the Gauchos reached them, the Indians pulled a Defensive Feint Trap against them. The irony here is that the Indians applied military tactics better than the Evil Colonialist Gauchos!
  • Paladin of Shadows: The entire last act of Unto The Breach is a tactical retreat from overwhelming irregular forces by a small company of commandos. As far as battle scenes go, it's at least 9.5 out of 10 on the "Over the Top" scale. At one point, the Secret Service has to remove the First Lady from the room where she and the President are watching the battle, because it's too violent.
  • In A Song of Ice and Fire, back during Robert's Rebellion, the Battle of Ashford was the only engagement that the Royalist side won in the entire war, and Lord Mace Tyrell likes to brag about it as a great victory he was responsible for. What actually happened is that Mace's vanguard, commanded by Randyll Tarly, fought Robert's army to a standstill, but when Robert received news that Lord Tyrell's main army was on the way with reinforcements, he decided to withdraw and retreat in good order. It wasn't really a crushing defeat, and Mace Tyrell wasn't even there.
  • In The Third World War, it is stated in the description of the first TV footage of Soviet and US forces clashing in Slovenia (smuggled out from the battlefield by a reporter) that a military observer would note the Soviets were performing a textbook withdrawal under fire. It also notes that this looked to the layperson as a defeat for them and bolstered Western morale.
  • Number eleven of The Thirty-Six Stratagems encourages this if needed. A battle can be lost if the army that fought it is saved, so that said army can go on to potentially win battles in the future.
  • In the To the Stars trilogy by Harry Harrison, the colonies have successfully rebelled against the dictatorship of Earth. At the start of Starworld, Thurgood-Smyth says a decision has been made to withdrawal all their forces to Earth, even the deep space bases as they can be starved out. This makes sense because Earth can concentrate their forces, plus they've made sure to keep all the factories manufacturing critical spacecraft components on Earth, so the rebels have no choice but to attack as soon as possible.
  • In Warrior Cats, often a retreat is called when a group realizes that they cannot win a battle. One example of this is Cloudstar doing so in the battle against ThunderClan in Cloudstar's Journey.

    Live-Action TV 
  • In Red Dwarf, the crew must obtain a new engine part, and after negotiating with a local tribe fails, they attempt to steal it and sneak away. After this fails, Lister just grabs the part and runs back to the ship, and as he passes the other crew members that are waiting, he shouts: "Change of plan— leg it!"
  • Star Trek: Deep Space Nine:
    • With the Dominion decisively losing their war against the Alpha Quadrant, their forces are pulled back from the Federation alliance forces which have recently learned to adapt to their energy-dampening weapon.
    • The season 5 finale of the show features the station fighting off the first wave of a Dominion assault in order to give them time to complete their deployment of a minefield around the Wormhole to prevent Dominion reinforcements from coming in from the Gamma Quadrant. The Delaying Action also served to pull the Dominion forces out of position while a joint Starfleet-Klingon fleet launched a Pearl Harbor style raid on several important Dominion shipyards and bases.
  • The Star Wars TV shows offer more than a few examples:
    • Obi-Wan Kenobi: Part V focuses on The Path trying to escape from their base on Jabiim while the Empire's forces lay siege to it. With the help of one (retired) Jedi Master and volunteer fighters from the refugees, they delay the Storm Troopers and Third Sister while preparing a ship to escape in.
    • The Mandalorian:
      • "Chapter 8": When the job to assassinate The Client and rid Navarro of its small Imperial garrison fails due to the arrival of Moff Gideon, Din, Cara, and Greef have to hold off the Imperial forces trying to storm the bar they are taking cover in while IG-11 cuts a hole in a drain for them to escape into the sewers with The Child.
      • "Chapter 24": Having just escaped from an Imperial ambush, Bo-Katan's Mandalorian forces fight their way out of the base and find a safe place to hunker down until reinforcements arrive shortly after.

    Tabletop Games 
  • Battletech: The Clans' mode of warfare is so low-key and ritualized that a Tactical Withdrawal is built into the system. Most 'battles' are determined after less than 10% losses on either side. At that point the losing Clan will usually cut their losses and withdraw in good order. The Clans refer to this as Hegira, and carries much less loss of honour than the alternative unless the 'defeated' is able to dramatically win a turnaround victory by escalating the fight. The Wolverine Annihilation and the Wars of Reaving become so immensely destructive exactly because Hegira was taken off the table, leading to Clans to fight to the bitter end and inflict horrific losses on their attackers.
  • A mechanic in Warhammer, Warhammer 40,000, and other Games Workshop games - units that take losses or have scary things happen to them and subsequently fail a morale test will fall back, fleeing towards a friendly table edge. If on the next turn the unit passes another morale test and still has the numbers to form a squad, they rally and can continue to fight as normal, turning last turn's flight into a retroactive Tactical Withdraw. If they fail that second test then they'll continue to leg it off the table.
    • Depending on the edition, you can choose to voluntarily fail a morale test and hope that next turn you'll be able to rally. This is referenced with the "General Staff" asset from the Apocalypse rules for 40k, which lets a commander roll three dice and choose which two to use for a Leadership test. The rules explicitly state that a commander choosing the two higher dice to fail the test is ordering his troops to withdraw.
    • Space Marines have the "And They Shall Know No Fear" special rule, which means that they always perform a Tactial Withdraw and regroup after falling back. As of their latest Codex, they also have the "Combat Tactics" special rule, allowing them to voluntarily "fail" a morale test, fall back, and then rally thanks to the aforementioned special rule.
    • A related special rule, new to 6th edition, specifically deals with infantry who find themselves in a fight with a monstrous creature or vehicle that they literally cannot harm. Since Failure Is the Only Option, these units are allowed to intentionally fail their morale checks (risking destruction in the process) and disengage, rather than have to stick around.
    • And then some units don't bother with a Tactical Withdraw. Fearless units never fall back, preferring to fight to the last man, while sufficiently zealous units like the Black Templars or Sisters Repentia will charge the enemy if they fail a morale test.
    • While they suffer from the same mechanics as any other non-fearless race (especially if the local Ethereal just got whacked), the fluff for the Tau states that this is their preferred battle strategy: shoot anything coming at you until it stops moving, but if it doesn't stop moving then fall back before it can eat your head. Preferably, still shooting at it. Then, once you've regrouped and reinforced, shoot it a lot more and retake your land. Considering that standard-issue Imperial Guardsmen can kick their butt in melee combat, this is pretty sound strategy. The Tau also don't believe in holding ground, so they will gladly abandon their positions and instead use it as bait to draw enemy forces in. Fittingly, the Tau once had this used against them to great effect... by the orks, of all species. During the War of Dakka, the Warboss Ironteef, having failed to secure victory through the typical method, came up with "da kunnin' plan" to lure the impetuous Tau Commander Farsight into the open with a fake retreat, opening up the commander's support troops to ork fire and nullifying his considerable firepower advantage. It worked, in large part because Farsight had grown used to the normal ork method of warfare and wasn't expecting a withdrawal of any sort, let alone a fake one.
    • This was also used to win a battle in fluff by the Black Templars. Outnumbered by a Khornate cult, the Black Templar Castellan (Captain) repeatedly retreated in the face of the enemy, as much as his men wanted to take the fight to them. Khornate cultists being servants of Khorne, they eventually got fed up with not fighting the Astartes and turned on one another, leaving the Black Templars to pick up the pieces.

    Video Games 
  • The first mission of Ace Combat 6: Fires of Liberation ends with the Emmerian military, including the Player Character's squadron, being ordered to retreat from the Gracemeria, essentially handing the Capital City over to the enemy to save the remains of the air force. The main characters take it as badly as you'd expect, and Gracemeria isn't liberated until way into the second half of the game.
  • ANNO: Mutationem: After being beaten by Ann's Super Mode in their first encounter, Absalom teleports out with a promise that he isn't done yet and will return again for a rematch.
  • Necessary in Battle for Wesnoth. Not withdrawing near the end of your strong time-of-day generally results in heavy losses, unless you're already in an overwhelmingly strong position. Particularly important for the Loyalists, Undead and Drakes, whose strength varies drastically with the time-of-day.
  • Company of Heroes has a retreat button for all infantry so they can reinforce and regroup at your base. Also useful if you just want them to get back there or somewhere close by.
  • Dawn of War has this excuse for the Space Marines when they lose all Morale points: instead of running in fear like the Imperial Guard ("There's too many of 'em!") or the Orks and Gretchins ("Let's leg it!"), the Space Marines "regroup" or "withdraw" which means they have to run away and take more damage but run faster, just like everyone else. Dawn of War 2 used a similar system - but make sure you initiate it before enemy engages in melee, if you don't want your retreat to become a slaughter barely better (or possibly even worse) than fighting a losing battle anyway, because retreating units take more melee damage. Even better, since units will always retreat to the nearest captured point, you can actually use this to your benefit. Sneak a stealth unit through enemy lines to capture a point, then get the rest of your army over halfway there. Hammer X, and... well, retreat in the opposite direction.
  • In The Elder Scrolls series, between the events of Oblivion and Skyrim, the remnants of the Third Tamriellic Empire were engaged in the "Great War" with the re-formed Aldmeri Dominion. With Dominion forces pressing deep into Cyrodiil and threatening the Imperial City, Emperor Titus Mede II makes the decision to perform a tactical withdraw from the city in order to regroup with fresh reinforcements from Skyrim in the north. The city falls to the Dominion, but Mede is able to retake it a year later and then drives the Dominion of Cyrodiilic territory. Unfortunately, sensing a Pyrrhic Victory due to his overextended forces, Mede then sues for peace and agrees to the White-Gold Concordat with the Dominion, making significant concessions and leading the Empire into the strife seen in Skyrim.
  • Fate/stay night's Lancer has a C rank in the Disengage Personal Skill. While this may not sound like much, he's the only Servant in the Fifth War with that skill at all, meaning he'd be perfect for scouting if not for his Blood Knight personality, and his sense of honor. Unfortunately for him, Kirei cares not one jot about Lancer's personality or honor, and Command Seals Lancer into acting as a scout, making him engage each Servant to test their strength before disengaging and stepping out of the War, leaving the other six to fight it out. While this normally would be a suicidal tactic in the Grail War, it helps that his Master also has access to the Game-Breaker Fourth War Servant Gilgamesh.
  • An option in the Hearts of Iron games when it is clear that a division cannot win against an enemy force but still has enough organization to maintain contact. It is entirely reasonable to withdraw a defending division when attacked, as at the very least the enemy division will have to delay several days before its next attack, and is an essentially element of setting up encirclement traps. Pulling an attacking division out of an assault that is clearly not working will save organization and manpower as well. This can also be pulled off as a tactical maneuver during battle by generals. It shortens the front, and gives the attacker an attack penalty and the defenders also a smaller penalty (which still ends in a net win for the defenders.)
  • In the Codex of Mass Effect, this is stated to be a favorite tactic of the turians. Turians never retreat, even if the line collapses, instead withdrawing in an organized fashion. As they do so, they set traps and ambushes to wittle down the pursuing enemy. Thus creating the in-universe saying "You will only see a turian's back once he's dead."
  • Pokémon Sun and Moon: The Pokemon Wimpod (a wimpy isopod) has the ability Wimp Out, which forces it to switch with another Pokémon when its health gets below 1/2. It evolves into Golisopod, a badass, multi-armed beast of a bug which has the ability "Emergency Exit". This does the exact same thing as Wimp Out, except with a different flavour text to make it sound more like a tactical withdrawal. The ability synchronizes well with its signature attack, First Impression (translated in some regions as Ambush), which a powerful attack that can only be used on the first turn after Golisopod enters battle. Switching out Golisopod and then switching it back in will allow another use of First Impression, backing the notion that Golisopod does indeed withdraw for tactical reasons rather than cowardice.
    Wimp Out: The Pokémon cowardly switches out when its HP becomes half or less.
    Emergency Exit: The Pokémon, sensing danger, switches out when its HP becomes half or less.
  • Rome: Total War: Barbarian Invasion:
    • Often a good idea if you are moving away from the vast Barbarian hordes, the AI often charges in with its fastest and lightest units, allowing you to inflict some losses on the horde before taking position on a hilltop or something to make your last stand.
    • The AI will commit its forces to a tactical withdrawal if you force it into a pitched battle with a superior army — it deploys as far away from your army as possible and heads for the edge of the map as fast it can. With a good cavalry force, you can often take down some of the stragglers before they disappear off-map — the AI is not very good at regrouping just to try and kill your advance cavalry.
  • Starbase Orion has two methods of leaving a battle. Giving the ships an order to Retreat is, basically, a rout. The ships will attempt to flee as soon as possible and will set course for the nearest friendly colony (in most cases, ships at warp can't be redirected). Using the "Withdraw" option allows the player to choose the next location after the battle ends, although this method is significantly slower and may allow the enemy to destroy your ships.
  • With war as its focus, the Suikoden series places a great deal of narrative emphasis on orderly retreats—they are frequently executed by all sides in a conflict. Rule of thumb: whenever The Strategist suggests a Tactical Withdrawal, do not argue.
  • Titanfall has a unique feature: unless a game ends in a tie, when a round ends, the losing team is tasked with escaping the battlefield via dropship, while members of the winning team are tasked with stopping them from escaping, either by killing all opposing players or destroying the drop ship when it appears.
  • In Unleash the Light, Connie and Lion warp away from the battle when they run out of HP, coming back when the battle is over, after enough turns have passed for them to recover, or whenever something revives them.
  • Subverted in World in Conflict. The narrator mentions that historians would later refer to the American retreat from Seattle as "orderly", but also comments that he doesn't know if the retreat actually was organized in any way, or if everyone just agreed that getting on the I-95 and getting the hell out of Dodge while that still was an option was the best thing to do. That said, during the actual missions involving the retreat, the player is tasked with slowing the Soviet advance and denying them strategic resources, bringing it closer to the spirit of this trope.
  • World of Warcraft:
    • Nodded to with one of the achievements being titled, "We're Not Retreating; We're Advancing in a Different Direction".
    • It's possible to "reset" a boss during an ill-fated fight without all the players dying, and sometimes without any player dying.
      • Mages have the Invisibility spell to help with this, while other players have to run out of the room and survive any damage they take along the way.
      • Paladins can invincible via a special spell, then using their hearthstone (a special item all players get, which teleports them to an inn after a long and easily interrupted cast).
    • Part of normal combat in Warcraft 3, with heroes or armies attacking, doing some damage to the enemy base/expansion/army , then pulling out, except when in a strong enough position to just annihilate the opposition. Sometimes done via Town Portal Scroll if walking is not an option, or would result in losses.
  • Extraction missions in XCOM2. The ground forces of ADVENT are either holding an XCOM affiliated VIP captive, trying to intercept a fleeing XCOM affiliated VIP, or escorting an ADVENT affiliated VIP. XCOM's objective on these missions is to escort the friendly VIP to the evac point, or kill the ADVENT VIP (or, if you're feeling bold, capture them for extra Intel), and then get out of there before the ADVENT air forces arrive.
  • It is a common tactic in Xenonauts, employed by human fighters fighting a powerful UFO (or a formation of them). After unloading all missiles to wound the enemy, the planes are supposed to disengage, return to base, load more missiles and engage the enemy again. Needless to say, this presents many problems, sometimes including escaping the alien ship.

    Web Comics 
  • Aecast has the protagonists withdraw as soon as they realize that they're being stalked by an unknown enemy in an alien environment with no way to call for more assistance. Trying to rescue lost friendlies who could be anywhere in such circumstances would be suicide.
  • Erfworld has the protagonist conduct a number of hit-and-run attacks that technically count as "losses" by the world's rules, but his opponent loses far more valuable siege units.
  • Last Res0rt technically pulls this one off after the players realize they're not equipped to take Gabriel's ship in their current condition thanks to Tone attacks and 'unreliable' equipment. The fact that they end up having to leave both Team Andromeda AND Team Corvus behind does NOT help matters.
  • The Order of the Stick:
    • The eponymous party pulls one when faced with the Linear Guild in Girard's desert fortress/pyramid. At first the Linear Guild attacks with spells from the air, and easily keeps the Order pinned down when they try to get back at them. When the Order is hit with spells again after being brutalized by Tarquin disguised as Thog in melee combat, they decide to retreat into the building in order to lay an ambush instead.
    • Later, Lien and O-Chul decide to pull one because they are in the unusual position of paladins having nothing at stake except their own lives.
  • Trevor: After Trevor kills Dr. Clay and goes back into the ventilation system, Private Young and Private Shelley start to plan an organized retreat from the facility, to escort the medical team out safely, with Private Shelley taking the lead, and Private Young watching from behind. Of course, Trevor didn’t actually leave the area, so he kills Private Young, and the medical team just books it out of there and leaves Private Shelley behind.

    Web Videos 

    Western Animation 
  • In Batman vs. The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, it becomes clear that the Turtles can't beat Batman, who has been handily beating the brothers, Donatello declares that he's calling it and drops a smoke bomb, allowing them to escape.
  • In the climax of the Cadmus Arc in Justice League Unlimited, the merged Luthor/Brainiac being has defeated every member of the League on the ground except the Flash, who exchanges stares with him and legs it. Luthor/Brainiac commends him on the smart decision and loses all interest, only to be surprised when the Flash comes back to strike at him from the opposite direction. That's right: Wally wasn't running away, he was building momentum, running around the freaking planet to pack enough punch to get through the villain's defenses without support from the other League members.
  • The Penguins of Madagascar has the team face Officer/Agent X:
    Skipper: Kowalski, options.
    Kowalski: A strategic retreat, Skipper?
    Skipper: Explain.
    Kowalski: It's like running away but manlier.
    Skipper: Execute.
  • Star Wars: Clone Wars:
    • When a group of Clone Troopers pull a Big Damn Heroes on General Grevious before he can murder Ki Adi Mundi and he starts going after them, the leader of the Troopers tells everyone to fall back. Mundi, in grief over how much Grevious slaughtered them all, wants them to destroy him, but he's told if they try to, then the survivors — Aalya Secura and Shaak Ti — will die.
    • Later on during the Battle of Coruscant, a Clone Commander orders his troops to fall back as they're being overrun by the invading Battle Droid forces. He does this even as he himself is engaged in close quarters combat and tries to lay down covering fire for his retreating comrades. His order is quickly countermanded by Yoda, who arrives to reinforce them.
  • Done in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (2003), where Leonardo uses this to get Raphael to fall back calling it a "Tactical Retreat" which Raph is fine with as long as it's not "running away".
  • In Voltron: Legendary Defender, Lotor utilizes this after a battle citing the main reason he drew the lions out was to assess their strengths. He wasn't going to go on a full-out battle without knowing more about the paladins.

    Real Life 
  • It generally requires well trained troops to pull this off, the details vary with the terrain, but it generally involves some sections breaking off and others laying down suppressive fire. Militia and less professional armies generally break and run if overwhelmed, but with proper organization and planning, they merely disperse, re-group, and get back into the fight under more favorable conditions. These tactics are particularly important for guerrilla forces, which can expect to face overwhelming odds on a regular basis if the fight stays in one spot for too long and they don't pull out before their stronger enemy rallies additional forces.
    • Generally it's a sort of reverse leapfrog (used while advancing) where those in front retreat to the rear of the group while the rest fire forward. Once settled into the rear, those now in front retreat to the back. Repeat.
      • Alternatively, if one's army is severely out manned or out gunned, and the terrain sufficiently rough, a dispersal followed by a rejoining of forces in a pre-determined location may prove more effective. Standing your ground for even a delaying action is not always an option.
  • This trope is the main basis of defence in depth. Instead of trying to stop the enemy at the frontline, one holds back or retreats to force the enemy to stretch their forces thin, then counterattack the now more-vulnerable enemy.
  • Three Kingdoms – Shu, Wei, Wu:
    • After being ambushed at Wancheng, warlord Cao Cao's army withdrew from the area. Rival warlord Zhang Xiu attacked the rearguard against the advice of his advisor Jia Xu and was soundly defeated. When he returns to his camp, Jia Xu urges him to attack again, and this time he manages to defeat the rearguard and send them into a rout. Jia Xu later explained that he suspected that Cao Cao would personally lead the rearguard, but after defeating Zhang he would leave the rearguard to his subordinates and hurry back to his capital. While not a match for Cao Cao in a pitched battle, Zhang was more than a match for his subordinates.
    • When Liu Bei was fleeing to the Southlands accompanied by civilians who wanted to stay with him (a known element) than risk life under Cao Cao (who'd been at war with their overlord Liu Biao for some time), Cao dispatched an elite cavalry unit to scatter Liu's troops and force the civilians back to their homes. Liu's subordinate Zhang Fei planted himself nearby a damaged bridge with his small band of soldiers, challenging Cao's troops to cross and fight him. He also had some of his men remain out of sight and stir up dust clouds to make Cao's men think reinforcements were coming. His bluff worked and Cao's forces ended their pursuit, instead busying themselves herding the civilians back to their hometowns and villages while Zhang and his men withdrew to rejoin Liu.
    • One of these almost ended in disaster for the future state of Wu during the Hefei campaign. Unable to take the fortress at Hefei, Sun Quan the lord of Wu ordered a withdrawal. However, as a plague had begun ravaging his army, he sent his troops ahead while he and his escort brought up the rear. The general Zhang Liao launched a surprise attack on the retreating Wu forces, turning a withdrawal into a rout. Sun Quan himself barely escaped with his life, and almost all his bodyguards died holding off Zhang's forces.
  • George Washington was particularly skilled at organizing tactical retreats during The American Revolution. He realized that preserving the revolutionary army was a higher priority than defeating the British in battle. His most impressive withdrawal would be him managing to pull a disappearing act with 8,000 men at the Battle of Brooklyn Heights.
  • Similar to the above example, The American Civil War lasted for years due to the well-executed retreats by either side after losing a battle. Defeated armies were almost always able to get away. No army was forced to surrender in the open field until the remnant of Robert E. Lee's Army of Northern Virginia was brought to heel in the final days of the war.
    • George H. Thomas won his nickname "The Rock of Chickamauga" from his successfully pulling this off with his troops after the other half of the army, under his commander, had been routed.
    • The poem "Sheridan's Ride" somewhat exaggerates Sheridan's contribution to the victory over Jubal Early's forces; many of Sheridan's forces had been routed by Early's, and he did rally them to counterattack, but some forces had pulled off this trope and were ready for counter-attack without him. (Probably wouldn't have been as crushing.)
    • Confederate general Joseph E Johnston attempted this during Union general William Tecumseh Sherman's Atlanta campaign. He would prepare ground and look as though he would give battle, but when Sherman would try to use his larger army to try to cut off Johnston's forces Johnston would withdraw to the next prepared position. In his memoirs, Sherman admitted that he knew what Johnston was up to and became concerned as he drew closer to Atlanta, because while he was forced to leave behind garrisons to protect his line of communications Johnston was gathering up troops as he withdrew, meaning at some point their forces would be equal. Unfortunately, Johnston's Fabian strategy was unpopular with many in the Confederate government, including President Jefferson Davis. Eventually, Davis would replace Johnston with the more offense-minded John B Hood, who launched repeated attacks that managed to damage Sherman's forces, but also cost the Confederates so many men that Atlanta had to be abandoned anyway.
  • The small but well-trained British Expeditionary Force at the start of World War I made a famous fighting retreat from Mons, repeatedly holding up the German advance in 1914 while the French got their defenses on the Marne organised.
  • The (disastrous) retreat of the British from Afghanistan through the Khyber Pass in 1842.
  • Xenophon's Ten Thousand Mercenaries.
  • The Parthians, and later the Mongols, were experts at using tactical withdrawals and feigned retreats to make their enemies overstrech their forces. They would send in light horse to harass the enemy and 'flee' once the enemy sent in their own cavalry to counter. The enemy cavalry would give chase until they were out of reach of the rest of the army — at which point the 'fleeing' army would regroup, surround them and crush them, or simply pepper them with arrows as they led them further away from friendly lines.
  • Happened a couple of times in the Peninsular War (depicted in Sharpe). At the Retreat to Corunna, the British expeditionary force retreated from the superior French army, giving battle before Corunna long enough for them to escape. Later, British troops retreated from another large French force by delaying them long enough to build the Lines of Torres Vedras, a massive series of fortifications protecting the Portuguese capital of Lisbon. The French were left facing an impenetrable city and a huge army to try and feed with a country whose crops and livestock had deliberately been destroyed.
  • On a grander scale, the 1812 campaign from the Russian point of view. Through a series of tactical retreats, the main armies managed to elude Napoleon's attempts to pin down, outflank and overwhelm them. Napoleon attempted an orderly retreat from Moscow, but the then-rallied Russian armies forced him to march back the way he came, through lands that had already been devastated and bled of resources during the French advance, and the retreat eventually fell apart.
  • During the early stages of the autumn campaign of 1813 Wars of Liberation, this was essentially the nature of the Tratchenberg Plan: the allied forces would execute tactical retreats when faced by armies led by Napoleon himself while attacking armies led by his marshals, so to conserve their forces while weakening Napoleon's. It worked, and while they did lose the battle of Dresden against Napoleon himself this defeat was more than offset by the simultaneous victories of Großbeeren and the Katzbach, as well as the battle of Kulm where the defeated allied main army brought the pursuing French I Corps to grief. By the time they willingly accepted to fight Napoleon at Leipzig, his forces had been weakened enough that the allied forces could overwhelm him.
    • Josef Radetzky, the young officer who was the main ideator of the plan, later pulled it off again during the First War of Italian Independence: faced with the numerical superiority of the Italian states and deprived of his advanced bases by insurrections, the now old marshall pulled various retreats and rebuffed the Italian coalition until he finally received reinforcements and the political rivalries and the ambiguous attitude of the King of Sardinia led to the coalition's dissolution, at which point he counterattacked and routed the Sardinians (the only ones who remained in the fight).
  • The Prussian army executed a good one after the battle of Ligny, which enabled them to decisively join the battle of Waterloo two days later. As an added bonus, they managed to do it in a way where the French lost contact with them so they had no idea where Blücher's men had gone.
  • The British were able to spin the Dunkirk evacuation in World War II as "The Miracle of Dunkirk," in which the British Expeditionary Force and some part of the French managed to escape the Nazis to fight another day. In fact it was a panicked retreat to the coast and onto the boats for home, and the BEF had to leave all of their guns, heavy weapons, fuel, ammunition, and vehicles (which was enough to supply eight to ten divisions) behind. The Germans quickly took the equipment into service, with some of the British supply trucks seeing action as far as Stalingrad. It took a long while before the British were in any condition to face the Wehrmacht in the field again.
  • The Kokoda Campaign of World War Two was one long series of these, with Australian militia (and later, regular army forces) engaging the Japanese and then falling back steadily. The Japanese got close to Port Moresby, but they were eventually done in by heavy casualties, severe illness and an unsustainable supply line.
    • When things started going badly for the Japanese Imperial Army they were forced to adopt a new command "Advance To The Rear". Unfortunately when used in battle this would only lead to confusion — on hearing the unfamiliar order, some soldiers would advance while others would retreat.
  • The Vietnam War ended in 1975 when one of these failed. The South Vietnamese, their morale at an all-time low as American aid was petering out, elected to abandon much of the less productive areas of their country and concentrate their forces in the more important areas. But what was supposed to be a series of tactical withdrawals led to panic, rapid collapse, and total victory for the North Vietnamese.
    • Of course, said tactical withdrawal was following the previous tactical withdrawal of the Americans, which pretty much puts the North's victory into Did You Just Punch Out Cthulhu? territory.
  • The retreat of the Italian Third Army during World War I. When the Austro-Hungarians, with some German help, crushed the Second Army at Caporetto, the Third Army's commander the Duke of Aosta, knowing his position was untenable, ordered a retreat, first to the Tagliamento river, and then, finding that the enemy was too close to establish a defensive line, to the Piave, during which it repulsed that came too close. Between this and the Third Army's role in the following battles (including the one that caused the collapse of the Austro-Hungarian Empire), the Third Army was nicknamed the Undefeated Army, and its commander the Undefeated Duke.
    • Parts of the Second Army during the same battle did the same, as the First Army did. Units of the Second Army, upon being ordered to retreat, would occasionally stop and fight, slowing down the Austrians with their defeat until the rest of the Army noticed that Italian civilians were escaping the invaders and decided to fight at the Piave river, while the First Army, realizing their mountain positions were about to be bypassed by the Austro-Hungarian advance in the plains, retreated to the Grappa massif, a group of fortified mountains whose supply lines weren't threatened.
  • The US Marines at the Chosin Reservoir during the Korean War. When the Chinese 9th Army crossed into North Korea in December 1950 and surprised the UN forces, much of US and Republic of Korea (ROK) forces were overwhelmed and forced to retreat in disarray all the way back to South Korea, suffering heavy losses along the way. However, the US X Corps, centered around the 1st Marine division, managed to both resist the initial assault and then retreat in good order back to the port city Hungnam, where they were evacuated largely intact, along with most of their equipment and a large number of civilians. This is all the more impressive when one considers that they were massively outnumbered and at several points, completely surrounded. General Oliver P. Smith, in charge of the 1st Marine Division, summed it up famously: "Retreat, hell! We're not retreating, we're just advancing in a different direction!"
  • Of course the reason why this is necessary is that the Rules of War set down by the Geneva Convention does NOT outlaw shooting an enemy in the back or cutting down a retreating foe. "Live to fight another day" means the enemy will continue to resist after the retreat is over. It's killing a surrendering enemy that's banned by the Geneva Convention. Therefore, an orderly and fighting retreat that avoids trampling or abandoning men, supplies, weapons, and ammunition is always going to be preferable to an all out rout because you ARE going to lose fighting men in the retreat so you might as well salvage something out of it.
  • The Soviet army seems to have planned this at the start of the Nazi advance on Stalingrad and the Caucasus, although it became close to a rout. But it did have a positive effect, as the Germans wasted a lot of time and resources they couldn't spare encircling armies that were no longer there.
  • Prior to the Battle of Hanoi in 1946, orders came down to evacuate all of the military brass and most of the soldiers in the city, leaving behind a newly formed regiment (dubbed Regiment of the Capital, now Regiment 102) who are fully prepared to make a Last Stand, doomed or not. 500 people were meant to stay with the Regiment. The evacuees/transferred soldiers did all the paperwork and left. Commanding officers then did a headcount, revealing about 700 people who snuck back into the Regiment to fight. The final military count for the battle came down to about 2500 people, adding some other units. About 20000 civilians stayed to fight alongside the soldiers as well. In the end, the Regiment held out for two months before making a tactical withdrawal on the night of February 17, 1947.
  • Done by Darius III, King of Kings of The Achaemenid Empire, against Alexander the Great at Issus and Gaugamela: both knew that if Darius died in battle or was captured Alexander would be able to claim the entirety of Persia and its domains by right of conquest, no matter how the rest of the battle went, and when at Issus the horses of Darius' chariot were wounded and at Gaugamela his driver was killed he decided to retreat with his bodyguards and as many troops as he could to then raise another and stronger army while Alexander was busy putting under control the lands he would now conquer. While it worked at Issus (allowing Darius to almost break the enemy force at Gaugamela before being forced to flee), after Gaugamela Alexander was able to break the resistance of Persia proper much faster than anticipated, forcing Darius to flee further east and causing some of his generals, much less skilled in war, to consider him a coward and turn against him.
  • In April 1942, Vice Admiral William Halsey led the US Navy's Task Force 16 deep into Japanese home waters in order to launch the famous Doolittle Raid. The task force was detected by the enemy well short of the intended launch point, so the Raiders had to take off early. With the sixteen B-25s all safely in the air and Japanese air forces hunting for the task force, Halsey told his staff "now it's time for that well-known tactical maneuver called 'turn around and get the hell out of here!'"


Video Example(s):


Advance... mmmmmmbackwards!

After losing all of the Grey Knights to Kairos and Skarbrand (who didn't get a scratch from their grand master), the Tempestus Scions wisely decide to back off.

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Example of:

Main / TacticalWithdrawal

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