Dojo Darelir, the School of Xenograg the Sorcerer

Posts Tagged ‘war’


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?

A Melding of Esthetics and Functionality

The daisho, the two swords of the old samurai, are emblematic in many ways of the art Yamashita follows. They are a melding of esthetics and functionality, highly refined products of master artisans whose ultimate purpose is savage beyond description. I’ve seen their use firsthand, and wondered how such danger can be contained—or justified. Once I had asked my teacher this question. His eyes narrowed and the answer was brief. “Discipline,” Yamashita told me. “And wisdom.”

It’s a hard path to walk.

John Donohue, Tengu, Chapter 7

A Khyber Knife

Rung ho!” Narayan Singh shouted again. A tremendous overhand cut knocked his opponent back on his heels; the Lancer took the instant to pull a Khyber knife from his girdle and flip it through the air toward King.

“Here, huzoor—for you!”

It flashed through the air; a genuine Pathan chora, a pointed cleaver two feet long with a back as thick as a man’s thumb and an edge fit to shave with….

S.M. Stirling, The Peshawar Lancers, Chapter 4

Such a brief but vivid description.

Mud Is a Hazard that Is Totally Natural for RPGs

…Mud is a hazard that is totally natural for RPGs. Outdoor locations are extremely liable to be mud-spattered in rainy seasons, while underground locations with an earthen floor could, under sufficient flooding, turn into a quagmire not unlike those in Passchendaele. Particularly nasty is when the characters are caught in a torrential downpour and the area around them changes from fields into a swamp. The mud in Ypres was compared to the consistency of cheesecake, and soldiers would slowly sink in like quicksand….

…Armor is absolutely a disadvantage in these situations. A World War I soldier’s kit is fairly comparable in weight to a fully loaded fighter wearing plate armor; if a character in plate falls into sufficiently deep mud, they need to be pulled out or they will drown. Chain is less heavy and probably gives a better chance to get out, although the armor might be ruined by caked-on mud holding water close to spots that will then be rusted out….

…And mud is a great place to hide pretty much anything. It could be treasure that was once buried, or a door half-hidden by muck where opening it is a logistical challenge, or a floor now covered that holds a secret message….

Mud and Gas: Taking Inspiration from World War I – Semper Initiativus Unum

A Wildly Unstable Environment

…[The] soldier’s view [on a battlefield] will also be much more complicated than the commander’s. The latter fights his battle in a comparatively stable environment—that of his headquarters, peopled by staff officers who will, because for efficiency’s sake they must, retain a rational calm; and he visualizes the events of and parties to the battle, again because for efficiency’s sake he must, in fairly abstract terms…. The soldier is vouchsafed no such well-ordered and clear-cut vision. Battle, for him, takes place in a wildly unstable physical and emotional environment; he may spend much of his time in combat as a mildly apprehensive spectator, granted, by some freak of events, a comparatively danger-free grandstand view of others fighting; then he may suddenly be able to see nothing but the clods on which he has flung himself for safety, there to crouch—he cannot anticipate—for minutes or for hours; he may feel in turn boredom, exultation, panic, anger, sorrow, bewilderment, even that sublime emotion we call courage….

John Keegan, The Face of Battle, p. 47

Emphasis mine.

Dwarves of Belegost

Last of all the eastern force to stand firm were the Dwarves of Belegost, and thus they won renown. For the Naugrim withstood fire more hardily than either Elves or Men, and it was their custom moreover to wear great masks in battle hideous to look upon; and those stood them in good stead against the dragons. And but for them Glaurung and his brood would have withered all that was left of the Noldor. But the Naugrim made a circle about him when he assailed them, and even his mighty armour was not full proof against the blows of their great axes; and when in his rage Glaurung turned and struck down Azaghâl, Lord of Belegost, and crawled over him, with his last stroke Azaghâl drove a knife into his belly, and so wounded him that he fled the field, and the beasts of Angband in dismay followed after him. Then the Dwarves raised up the body of Azaghâl and bore it away; and with slow steps they walked behind singing a dirge in deep voices, as it were a funeral pomp in their country, and gave no heed more to their foes; and none dared to stay them….

J.R.R. Tolkien, The Silmarillion, Chapter 20

From the account of the Nírnaeth Arnoediad, also known as the Battle of Unnumbered Tears, in the First Age of Middle-earth.

Ancient War Was More Civilized

In one respect at least, ancient war was more civilized than our own. The aim of ancient war was generally to kill or capture the opposing chief and display him in a cage. Because of the primitive state of technology, the only way to get to the opposing leader and his inner circle was to cut through the mass of his people and army, necessitating bloody battles and great cruelty. But since the Enlightenment, Western leaders have exempted themselves from retribution and have sought to punish each other indirectly: by destroying each other’s armies and—since Grant and Sherman—by making the civilian populations suffer as well. But is it really more honorable to kill thousands by high-altitude bombing than by the sword and ax?

Robert D. Kaplan, Warrior Politics, pp. 122-23

True Masters Are Both Brutal and Refined

In the martial arts, the really good teachers cultivate in their students an acute sensitivity to various stimuli. Your nerve endings are teased and jolted, your reflex actions made more subtle, and, for some of us, the result is a change in the ways we see the world and exist within it. The true masters are both brutal and refined, compassionate torturers, and guides who lead you to places where you will stand alone, confronting age-old fears that snarl in the abyss.

Once you’ve gone into that void and come through to the other side, it changes you. You glimpse it sometimes in people who’ve had a similar experience. I see it in my teacher’s face in his rare unguarded moments. And I see it in the mirror. It doesn’t make us better than other people, just different.

John Donohue, Tengu, chapter 2

Shone Like a River of Steel in the Sun

“…[And the war host of] the Noldor of Gondolin were strong and their ranks shone like a river of steel in the sun, for the sword and harness of the least of the warriors of Turgon was worth more than the ransom of any king among Men.”

J.R.R. Tolkien, The Children of Húrin

About European Shields

Probably the most important item of defensive armor was the shield. You could be in real trouble if you were caught without one. But a shield is also a nuisance to carry, so a lot of people were caught without one. It is obvious from the sagas that the thickness varied a great deal. You can read of thin shields and some that are described as thick and strong.

Vikings shields were generally round, and varied in width from 20 to 42 inches. They were made of boards glued together on the ends. The center of the shield was cut out for the hand, and the hand was then covered by a bowl shaped piece of metal called a boss. Often the rim of the shield would be covered by a strip of rawhide that was laced, or even glued to the edges.

This was good protection, and also helped hold the boards together. On rare occasions the rim of the shield might be reinforced with iron. The shield was gripped in the center where there was a grip, usually of iron. There may, or may not, depending on personal preference, be a strap to secure the left forearm to the shield. While primarily a defensive tool, it could be used offensively, too. A punch to the side of the head with a ten-pound shield can easily break someone’s neck. The shield can also be used to drive an opponent’s shield in a direction that will open him up for a sword cut.

Although round predominated, it was not the only shape. You can have oval ones, and square ones, and later you will have the typical kite shaped shield that is referred to as “Norman.” There is very strong evidence that suggests that the kite shaped shield originated in the Near East, and was brought back to Europe by returning members of the Varangian Guard in Byzantium. Nevertheless, there was a lot of individual preference….

The kite shield began to dominate Europe by the 11th century [C.E]. It was ideal on horseback, as it protected most of your left side, and on foot it gave good protection to the left leg. True, it wasn’t quite as effective a weapon as a good round shield, but it could be used that way. As coverage of the body in armor increased, the shield became somewhat smaller, soon ending up in the classic flatiron shape so beloved by all. After all, it is a great way to display your arms, and looks really cool hanging in back of your high seat.

The kite shield was fairly thick, being close to an average of one-half inch in thickness. These were generally covered in leather and decorated in gesso, with a weight of ten to twelve pounds. They were very sturdy, and their primary purpose was to divert the lance of the opponent. Foot soldiers at this time carried all types of shields, but as armor improved and became more accessible, it was more important that they carry a weapon that could defeat the armor, a two-hand weapon, and so the shield began to lose favor. It never fully went out of use but its popularity did dwindle considerably starting about 1400.

Hank Reinhardt, The Book of Swords, pp. 97-99

Armor and Swords Did Not Change Overnight

For someone living in our standardized age it is frequently confusing and even difficult to grasp that nothing was consistent or standardized. Uniforms were still several hundred years in the future. The Viking Age didn’t end at 12 midnight October 14, 1066, with everybody jumping around shouting “We’re now in the Middle Ages.’ Armor and swords didn’t change overnight, and a blade could be in use for well over a hundred years, and a mail shirt that belonged to grandad might just fit you.

One of the hardest things in discussing this subject with someone who is just getting started, is that there are no hard and fast rules. If someone doesn’t have a helmet, and gets hold of one that is two hundred years old, he’ll wear it. Better to be old fashioned than to have your skull split!

Hank Reinhardt, The Book of Swords, pp. 98-99

The Dominance and the Crease

There were two terms Master Thomas had taught her in her first week of training. “The dominance” and “the crease,” he’d called them. The “dominance” was the clash of wills, the war of personal confidence fought before the first blow was struck to establish who held psychological domination over the other. But the “crease” was something else, a reference to the tiny wrinkling of the forehead when the moment of decision came. Of course, “crease” was only a convenient label for an infinite set of permutations, he’d stressed, for every swordsman announced the commitment to attack in a different way. All fencers were taught to look for the crease, and competition fencers researched opponents exhaustively before a match, for though the signal might be subtle, it was also constant. Every swordsman had one; it was something he simply could not train completely out of himself. But because there were so very many possible creases, Master Thomas had explained while they sat cross-legged in sunlight on the salle floor, most swordmasters emphasized the dominance over the crease, for it was a simpler and a surer thing to defeat your opponent’s will than to look for something one might or might not recognize even if one saw it.

But the true master of the sword…was she who had learned to rely not on her enemy’s weakness, but upon her own strength. She who understood that the difference between the salle and what Honor faced today—between fencing, the art, and life or death by the sword—was always in the crease, not the dominance.

Honor knew she’d taken longer to grasp his meaning than someone with her background should have. But once she had, and after she’d studied the library information on Japan, she’d also realized why—on Grayson, as in the ancient islands of the samurai—a formal duel almost always both began and ended with a single stroke.

David Weber, Flag in Exile, Chapter 29

Emphasis mine.

There Is No Pain

Honor watched [her opponent] with the eyes of a woman who’d trained in the martial arts for almost forty years, and the hard-learned, poised relaxation of all those years hummed softly within her. She felt her weariness, the pain of broken ribs, the ache in bruised muscles, the stiffness of her left shoulder, but then she commanded her body to ignore those things, and her body obeyed.

David Weber, Flag in Exile, Chapter 29

Quite a run-on sentence. 🙂

Equipment of an Aristocratic Soldier

[In 1062 C.E.] a certain Pedro Rúiz, of whom we know little save that he was a courtier of [King] Fernando I…, granted some land to the Castilian monastery of Arlanza, and threw in with it

my equipment, that is my gold-embossed saddle with its bridle, my sword and sword-belt, my spurs, my shield with its spear, my other decorated swords, my coats of mail and my helmets, the other swords which are not decorated, and my shields and horses and mules, and my clothes, and my other spurs, and the other bridle chased with silver.

This is as good a description as any of the equipment of an aristocratic soldier in the middle years of the eleventh century. Pedro Rúiz was approaching the end of a successful career and had amassed great riches…. Swords were often richly decorated about the hilt and pommel, and this is presumably the meaning of the word ‘decorated’ (labratas) in Pedro Rúiz’s list; though it could alternatively indicate that the swords in question were damascene, a technique originating in Damascus by which the metal was worked into wavy patterns. Sword-belts too were often decorated….

…Saddle, bridle, and spurs offered further opportunities for display….

Richard Fletcher, The Quest for El Cid, pp. 110-12

To Shed Human Blood and Think Nothing of It

The rise of knighthood did not produce a submissive, nonviolent peasantry in [Medieval] Europe. Habits of bloodshed were deep-seated, perennially fed by the fact that Europeans raised both pigs and cattle in considerable numbers but had to slaughter all but a small breeding stock each autumn for lack of sufficient winter fodder. Other agricultural regimes, e.g., among the rice-growing farmers of China and India, did not involve annual slaughter of large animals. By contrast, Europeans living north of the Alps learned to take such bloodshed as a normal part of the routine of the year. This may have had a good deal to do with their remarkable readiness to shed human blood and think nothing of it.

William H. McNeill, The Pursuit of Power, p. 64

An Art of War Was Needed

[By the thirteenth century C.E.,] crossbows and pikes had to be supplemented by cavalry for flank protection and the pursuit of a vanquished foe. This obviously made war far more complicated than it had been when a headlong charge by a group of knights dominated the battlefields of Europe. Simple personal prowess, replicated within knightly families across the generations, was no longer enough to win battles or maintain social dominion. Instead, an art of war was needed. Someone had to be able to coordinate pikes, crossbows, and cavalry. Infantrymen needed training to assure steadiness in the ranks, for, were their formation to break apart, individual pikemen would find themselves at the mercy of charging knights; and the time required to cock a crossbow meant that archers, too, became vulnerable each time they discharged their weapons, unless some field fortification or an unbroken array of friendly pikes could protect them until they were ready to shoot again.

William H. McNeill, The Pursuit of Power, p. 68

A Ruthless Model

“The selection of a primary disciple is not an easy thing. It is often marked by blood.”

Yamashita looked at me significantly. The founder of his style, Ittosai, dealt with this issue centuries ago and had left his successors through the generations a ruthless model. The master, blessed with two remarkable students of apparently equal skill, had brought them together. He had placed the scrolls of the style and the document of succession on the ground, along with a ceremonial sword. Then he had calmly informed the two disciples that the individual who left the room alive would be his successor.

John Donohue, Sensei, Epilogue

Greek Missile Tactics

Missile-type weapons played only a very small role in connection with the hoplite phalanx. With the Greeks the bow was a traditionally respected weapon; the national hero, Hercules, was an archer. In the case of the Athenians, a special archer corps is mentioned in the campaign of Plataea. But since the time the phalanx was formed of spear-carriers, the bow was pushed into the background, since the two arms, even if not mutually exclusive, can be combined only with great difficulty. One can picture the archers, sling men, and javelin-throwers in front of, beside, and behind the phalanx. Whenever they were deployed forward of the front line, they must have disappeared before the clash of the two phalanxes, and therefore would necessarily have withdrawn around the flanks. If they attempted to push back through the phalanx itself, the resulting disorder and delay would cause much more damage than the advantage from the losses that they might have inflicted on the enemy. In order to be sure of passing around the two flanks, the sharpshooters would have to begin their withdrawal while the phalanxes were still several hundred paces apart. If the enemy had no sharpshooters and we sent out marksmen against him, to fire on him continuously during the approach march, that could of course cause him serious disruption. If both sides had sharpshooters, however, these two forces would, for the most part, only shoot at each other and would have no influence at all on the decisive phalanx battle. Firing obliquely on the approaching enemy from the two flanks of the hoplite phalanx, a number of marksmen could exercise an influence on the progress of the battle. But we find no recognizable traces of this kind of action, even in the later Greek battles.

Finally, if sharpshooters were stationed behind the phalanx, they could shoot out their volley from that position shortly before the clash. Fired in an arching trajectory, however, without real aiming, this could not be very effective, especially when, as is usually the case, our own phalanx was moving toward the enemy at the assault pace. Consequently, although we find such an employment of projectiles fairly often recommended in theory, nevertheless, from a practical viewpoint, it was used only infrequently, as, for example, in the battle that Thrasybulus fought against the thirty Tyrants in the streets of Piraeus (Xenophon). There, however, the troops of Thrasybulus stood only ten men deep, on a rise of ground, and waited for the enemy, who advanced up the street with a fifty-man depth. Under these special conditions the projectiles fired from above onto the thick mass were able to do very good service. Generally speaking, however, the marksmen formed only an auxiliary arm. The real combat force of the Greeks in the Persian Wars consisted only of hoplites.

Hans Delbrück, Warfare in Antiquity, pp. 54-55

Horsemanship: Prerequisite for a Military Career

Horsemanship was the first prerequisite for a military career. [A boy] would have had his first riding lessons almost as soon as he could walk. Under the strict gaze of his father’s grooms he would have progressed from donkey to pony, from pony to horse, learning by practice how to keep his seat, how to govern a fractious beast or calm a nervous one, how to ride for long hours over rough country without tiring, and all the other skills that would go to preserve his life in the melee of combat. Hunting and hawking, the nobleman’s pastimes, developed further skills: an eye for country—surface and slope, vantage point and dead ground; the habit of moving on horseback in company, if necessary swiftly and silently; the difficult art of shooting from horseback with bow and arrow at a moving quarry; the courage needed to dismount and face the charge of a boar with only a spear to protect the hunter from its tusks; endurance of heat and cold, hunger and thirst; care of weapons and tack, where a loose knife-haft or girth worn to breaking could cost limb or even life.

Richard Fletcher, The Quest for El Cid, pp. 109-10

Hunting as War Training

Horses and men were kept fit both physically and mentally by hunting. The men learned military tactics and stalking techniques which were useful when they were sent on scouting patrols, and at the same time enjoyed a day’s exciting sport, although in the context of the Strategikon hunting was a means of teaching manoeuvres and supplying meat to the camps. The Byzantine military hunt was a major undertaking, with 800-1000 men per mile spread in a line across the country to be driven for game. Using the whole army, drawn up in similar fashion to a battle line with centre, right and left, and according to total numbers from one to four horsemen deep, game was trapped in a gradually closing circle, the right and left divisions eventually meeting, passing each other and tightening the circle till the centre was filled with animals ready for slaughter.

If infantry were present they came into the circle stationing themselves in front of the inner circle of horsemen, using ‘their shields to prevent small animals escaping through the horses’ legs. If no infantry were available the rear line of horsemen dismounted and lined up before the front line. Only then was permission given to designated officers to dispatch quarry, the circle being large enough for safe shooting and the trajectory from mounted archers directed downwards.

Apart from exercise and food shot, soldiers learned to negotiate any type of country while maintaining position in ranks. Powers of observation and physical responses were also honed. The horses had their tendons, bones and muscles toughened and their minds and responses sharpened at the same time, getting enjoyment from the chase with minimal chance of being injured.

Ann Hyland, The Medieval Warhorse, p. 34