Dojo Darelir, the School of Xenograg the Sorcerer

Posts Tagged ‘tactics’


Guerrilla Warfare Is as Old as Mankind

Guerrilla warfare is as old as mankind. Conventional warfare is, by contrast, a relatively recent invention…. The first genuine armies—commanded by a strict hierarchy, composed of trained soldiers, disciplined with threats of punishment, divided into different specialties (spearmen, bowmen, charioteers, engineers), deployed in formations, supported by a logistics service—arose after 3100 [B.C.E.] in Egypt and Mesopotamia….

Considering that Homo sapiens has been roaming the earth for at least [150,000] years and his hominid ancestors for millions of years before that, the era of conventional conflict is the blink of an eye in historical terms….

Throughout most of our species’ long and bloody slog, both before the development of urban civilization and since, warfare has been carried out primarily by bands of loosely organized, ill-disciplined, lightly armed volunteers who disdain open battle. They prefer to employ stealth, surprise, and rapid movement to harass, ambush, massacre, and terrorize their enemies while trying to minimize their own casualties through rapid retreat when confronted by equal or stronger forces. These are the primary features both of modern guerrilla warfare and of primitive, prestate warfare whose origins are lost in the mists of prehistoric time…. Guerrillas therefore may be said to engage in the world’s second-oldest profession, behind only hunting, which draws on the same skill set.

Max Boot, Invisible Armies, pp. 9-10

How about hobgoblins and orcs fighting like this?

Supernatural Tactics of the Mongols

The Mongols even resorted to supernatural means to assure their success. They asked Tenggri, or Heaven, for his favor on the battlefield, in the same way that Muslim and Christian armies appealed to their god. But the Mongols also employed other supernatural tactics, of which the most important was weather magic, conducted by a shaman known as the jadaci.

Several accounts mention the use of weather magic. The jadaci used special rocks known as rain stones, thought to be imbued with the power to control weather, in order to summon rainstorms, or even snowstorms in the summer, which caught the enemy ill-prepared. The Mongols, who had lured their opponents away from their base, took shelter during the storm and then attacked while their foes were disoriented. A prime example of this tactic was recorded during the war against the Jin after Chinggis Khan’s death. Bar Hebraeus relates that Ögödei resorted to using rain stones after he saw the size of a Jin field army. After he had lured the Jin away from any support, he called upon his jadaci to summon a storm. The ensuing downpour, in the normally dry month of July, lasted for three day and three nights. The Jin army was caught in the open and drenched while the Mongols donned rain gear and waited the storm out. They then turned around and ambushed the Jin army, annihilating it.

Other sources indicate that Tolui, rather than Ögödei, was the general involved in this episode. Tolui had retreated after encountering a much larger Jin force, and after the Jin had attacked his rearguard he summoned a Turkic rainmaker to perform his magic. Rashid al-Din recorded that ‘this is a kind of sorcery carried out with various stones, the property of which is that when they are taken out, placed in water, and washed, cold, snow, rain and blizzards at once appear even though it’s the middle of summer.’ The rain continued for three days, changing on the final day to snow accompanied by an icy wind. The Jin troops were exposed to this severe weather while the Mongols found shelter. After four days of snow, the Mongols attacked and destroyed the bewildered and weakened Jin troops.

Timothy May, The Mongol Art of War, pp. 81-82

This is the first explicit reference I have found of the use of magic in warfare.

Archer-Pair in Assyrian and Persian Warfare

The Assyrians had made major and highly effective use of a tactical feature common in Near Eastern warfare for many centuries. This was the archer-pair, consisting of a spearman bearing a very large, light but sturdy shield made of leather and wicker, and an archer; the spearman faced the enemy and held up the shield, behind which the archer hid and fired off volleys of arrows. The Persians called such shields spara and so named these tactical units sparabara, or “shield-bearers.” Typically, the Assyrians had lined these units up side by side, forming a single row of shield carriers backed by a single row of archers. [The Persians] increased the depth of the formation and also the number of archers per shield, producing a heavier concentration of arrow shot.

Don Nardo, The Persian Empire, pp. 27-28

Covering a Withdrawal

To ensure that his brigade and its battalion rearguard were neither enveloped nor routed in withdrawing, [Prussian General] Steinmetz dispatched a fresh infantry and cavalry regiment ahead to Gosselies, thereby observing the sound principle that in rearguard actions the withdrawal of engaged units should be covered by troops already in position.

David Hamilton-Williams, Waterloo: New Perspectives, p. 159

Battle of Leuctra

Thebian phalanxes in echelon at Leuctra

The Spartans drew up for battle in the conventional phalangial line, the best troops on the right, a few cavalrymen and light troops covering the flanks. They expected the Thebans to form in similar fashion. In such a battle the Spartans, superior both in numbers and in fighting quality, would unquestionably have been victorious. Epaminondas, however, refused to fight on Spartan terms. He quadrupled the depth of his left wing, forming a column 48 men deep and 32 wide. The remainder of his army, covered by a cavalry screen, was echeloned to his right rear in thin lines facing the left and center of the Spartan army. This is the first known example in history of the deep column of attack and of a refused flank, prototype of the holding attack and main effort of more modern times. Epaminondas personally led his left-wing column in a vigorous charge against the Spartan right, while his cavalry and the infantry of the refused center and left advanced slowly, occupying the attention of the Spartans to their front, but without engaging them. The Spartans were hopelessly confused by these novel tactics. The weight of the Theban column soon crushed the Spartan right. Epaminondas completed the victory by wheeling against the exposed flank of the remaining Spartans, who promptly fled when simultaneously engaged by the Theban center and right. The Spartans lost over 2,000 men; Theban casualties were negligible. Spartan military prestige was shattered forever.

R. Ernest Dupuy and Trevor N. Dupuy, The Encyclopedia of Military History, pp. 42-43

Javelins versus Chariots

Toward the end of the second millennium [B.C.E.], however, this humble weapon seems to have enjoyed a brief prominence. For the ‘hunting’ of chariot horses the javelin must have been ideal: although it would seldom have killed the horse that it hit, the javelin would surely have brought it to a stop, thus immobilizing the other horse, the vehicle, and the crew. Composite bows were appropriate for the chariot warrior, but for a runner a far preferable long-range weapon would have been the javelin. Javelins are thrown on the run, whereas an infantry bowman would have to shoot from either a crouching position or a flat-footed stance (in either case offering chariot archers a stationary target). In addition, the javelineer could carry a small shield, whereas the archer had to use both hands to work his bow. That javelins were in fact used against chariots in the Late Bronze Age is clear from Ramesses the Great’s account of his valor at Kadesh: in the ‘poetic’ inscription Ramesses boasts that the Hittites were unable either to shoot their bows or to hurl their javelins at him as he charged against them in his chariot.

Robert Drews, The End of the Bronze Age, pp. 181-82

Deception in War

The most potent weapon in any soldier’s arsenal is deception. That you don’t hear much about deception in warfare tells you something about how elusive and apparently rare this item is. Yet, as the ancient Chinese adage puts it, “There can never be enough deception in war.” Sun-tzu went further, saying, “All warfare is based on deception.”

James F. Dunnigan, and Albert A. Nofi, Victory and Deceit, p. 1

Tactical Capabilities of Medieval Weapon Systems

With heavy infantry specialized to resist heavy cavalry and light infantry indispensable in sieges and finding its most effective employment in the field against light cavalry, the art of war about the year 1200 [C.E.] had these clearly distinguishable capabilities (using the symbol → to mean was superior to):

heavy infantry → heavy cavalry
heavy cavalry → light infantry
light infantry → light cavalry
light cavalry → both heavy infantry and heavy cavalry.

tactical schematic in two dimensions: infantry vs. cavalry, heavy vs. light

These relationships are conveniently summarized in schematic [above], in which A means ability to attack successfully in the direction of the arrow and D means ability to defend successfully in the direction of the arrow. Attack includes the capability to compel the attacked to fight; defend implies only the capacity for successful resistance but no ability to force action. The schematic assumes a flat surface.

The ability of the cavalry to dismount modifies this diagram. When the heavy cavalry dismounted it became heavy infantry, and confirmed the generalizations that the man on foot is superior to the mounted man and [that] the defensive is stronger when the same weapon systems confront one another. Light cavalry could gain comparable advantages by dismounting, and in each case the dismounted cavalry in the defense could easily take advantage of terrain or artificial obstacles, something more difficult to do mounted. Medieval soldiers grasped and often exploited the value of dismounting heavy cavalry but, lacking light cavalry, could never make use of this transformation. They did occasionally mount bowmen, giving them the strategic mobility of the light cavalry. They more rarely resorted to a similar mounting of heavy infantry, probably because of their ample supply of heavy cavalry. Yet to have mounted heavy infantry on nags would have been a far more economical solution had knights customarily fought on foot. It would have saved the considerable cost of a robust war horse and the expensive, but unused, skill in fighting mounted.

Archer Jones, The Art of War in the Western World, p. 145-46