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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.

Examples of Dawn Attack include:


 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!


  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 Theoden's attack at the Battle of Pelennor Fields happen at dawn.

Live Action TV

 Hercules: We attack at dawn.

Telamon: Dawn? Why don't we attack tonight?

Hercules: Because we attack at dawn.

Western Animation

 Mandy: [in show intro] It's you and me against the world. [dons an army helmet] We attack at dawn.

    • Also in the episode where they look into the future and see Mandy ruling the world, when billy tells the rebels her only vulnerablity:

 Billy's friend: (gibberish math) equals... FROGS! We attck at dawn!

 Nizam: Words won't stop our enemies once they're armed with Alamutian blades. We attack at dawn.

  • Family Guy: one of Peter's inventions flings Stewie into a tree, where he sees the Keebler elves plotting to "attack the Rice Krispies guys at dawn".

Real Life

  • 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.
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