Australians in a front-line trench during World War I. Photograph taken by Capt. F. Hurley, sometime between August 1917 and August 1918.
A front line (alternative forms: front-line or frontline) in military terminology is the position(s) closest to the area of conflict of an armed force's personnel and equipment, usually referring to land forces. When a front (an intentional or unintentional boundary) between opposing sides forms, the front line is the area where each side's forces are engaged in conflict. Leaders have often fought at the front lines either purposefully or due to a collapse in battle formation. While a calculated risk, fighting on the front has in instances reduced communication and heightened morale.
All branches of the U.S. armed services use the related technical terms, Forward Line of Own Troops (FLOT) and Forward Edge of Battle Area (FEBA). These terms are used as battlespace control measures that designate the forward-most friendly maritime or land forces on the battlefield at a given point in time during an armed conflict. FLOT/FEBA may include covering and screening forces. The Forward Line of Enemy Troops (FLET) is the FEBA from the enemy's perspective.
Although the term "front line" first appeared in the 1520s, it was only in 1842 that it was recorded used in the military sense. Its first use as an adjective was from 1915.
The word "front" gained the military sense of "foremost part of an army" in the mid-14th century, which, in turn, led the word to take on the meaning "field of operations in contact with the enemy" in the 1660s. That sense led to the phrase home front, which first appeared in 1919. In a non-combat situation or when a combat situation is not assumed, front can mean the direction in which the command is faced.
The attributive adjective version of the term front line (as in "our front-line personnel") describes materiel or personnel intended for or actively in forward use: at sea, on land or in the air: at the front line.
Generals who Fought on the Front Line
On Sept. 10 1941 marshal Klim Voroshilov personally led an attack of Soviet marines on German positions and received a serious wound in his arm. During the Stalingrad battle in 1942 general Victor Zholudev fought with a submachine-gun beside his troops.
Wolfram Freiherr von Richthofen, used to pilot his own little unarmed “Storch” aircraft directly over enemy positions, guiding the attacks of his bombers over radio with a precision measured in meters. On many occasions he was almost killed by enemy anti-aircraft fire. On rare occasions when he couldn’t fly, he was personally in the front of advancing German tanks, again, guiding bomber strikes at enemy positions.
After Emperor Hirohito’s radio broadcast conceding defeat on August 15, 1945, Admiral Matome Ugaki participated in a kamikaze mission, and was killed when his plane was shot down by antiaircraft fire.
General Urquhart, a british paratrooper general, fought on front lines in two engagements.
Evolution of the concept
In the land campaigns of World War I, FEBAs, FLOTs and FLETs could often be identified by eye. For example, in France and Belgium they were defined by opposing defensive trench systems.
Typical modern conflicts are vastly different, characterised by "war amongst the people", the concept of a "Three Block War", and the presence of an asymmetric threat from irregular or terrorist combatants. In those cases, the concepts of front line, FEBA, FLOT and FLET may be of little relevance. The term "front line" has come to refer more to any place where bullets and bombs are flying or are likely to fly.