Alfred Burne

Alfred Higgins Burne DSO (1886–1959) was a soldier and military historian.[1] He invented the concept of Inherent Military Probability; in battles and campaigns where there is some doubt over what action was taken, Burne believed that the action taken would be one which a trained staff officer of the twentieth century would take.

Alfred Burne

OccupationMilitary Historian
Military career
AllegianceUnited Kingdom
Service/branchBritish Army
Years of service1906-1945
RankLieutenant Colonel
UnitRoyal Artillery
Commands held121st Officer Cadet Training Unit
AwardsDistinguished Service Order


Alfred Burne was educated at Winchester School and RMA Woolwich, before being commissioned into the Royal Artillery in 1906. He was awarded the DSO during the First World War and, during World War II, was Commandant of the 121st Officer Cadet Training Unit.[1] He retired as a Lieutenant-Colonel.[2]

He was Military Editor of Chambers Encyclopedia from 1938 to 1957 and became an authority on the history of land warfare.[1] He was a contributor to the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography.[3]

Burne lived in Kensington and his funeral was held at St Mary Abbots there.[2]

Inherent Military Probability

Burne introduced the concept of Inherent Military Probability (IMP) to the study of military history. He himself defined it thus :

My method here is to start with what appear to be undisputed facts, then to place myself in the shoes of each commander in turn, and to ask myself in each case what I would have done. This I call working on Inherent Military Probability. I then compare the resulting action with the existing record in order to see whether it discloses any incompatibility with the existing facts. If not, I then go on to the next debatable or obscure point in the battle and repeat the operation [1]

More succinctly, John Keegan defined IMP as

The solution of an obscurity by an estimate of what a trained soldier would have done in the circumstances[4]

Burne's approach has been criticised on the grounds that his concept of Inherent Military Probability puts modern military thinking and doctrine into the minds of mediaeval monarchs. However, it does treat war leaders as intelligent, thinking creatures, and veteran mediaeval leaders were often likely to come to the same conclusion as British staff officers, albeit by different thought processes.


  • Mesopotamia, The Last Phase (1936),
  • Lee, Grant and Sherman (1938),
  • The Art of War on Land (1944),
  • The Noble Duke of York (1949),
  • The Battlefields of England (1949),
  • More Battlefields of England (1953),
  • The Crecy War (1954) and
  • The Agincourt War (1956).
  • A military history of the First Civil War (1642-1646) (with Peter Young, 1959)


  1. A.H. Burne, The Battlefields of England ISBN 9781473819023.
  2. The Times, 6 June 1959; Deaths
  3. Alfred Burne, ‘Campbell, John Charles (1894–1942)’, rev. K. D. Reynolds, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004
  4. Keegan, John (1976). The Face of Battle: A Study of Agincourt, Waterloo, and the Somme, p.32. Penguin Classics. ISBN 978-0-14-004897-1.

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