Dojo Darelir, the School of Xenograg the Sorcerer

Tag: war

The Greeks Were the Vikings of the Bronze Age

May 17, 2022

The Greeks were the Vikings of the Bronze Age. They built some of history’s first warships. Whether on large expeditions or smaller sorties, whether in the king’s call-up or on freebooting forays, whether as formal soldiers and sailors or as traders who turned into raiders at a moment’s notice, whether as mercenaries, ambassadors, or hereditary guest-friends, the Greeks fanned out across the Aegean and into the eastern and central Mediterranean, with one hand on the rudder and the other on the hilt of a sword. What the sight of a dragon’s head on the stem post of a Viking ship was to an Anglo-Saxon, the sight of a bird’s beak on the stem post of a Greek galley was to a Mediterranean islander or Anatolian mainlander. In the 1400s [B.C.E.], the Greeks conquered Crete, the southwestern Aegean islands, and the city of Miletus on the Aegean coast of Anatolia, before driving eastward into Lycia and across the sea to Cyprus. In the 1300s they stirred up rebels against the Hittite overlords of western Anatolia. In the 1200s they began muscling their way into the islands of the northeastern Aegean, which presented a big threat to Troy….

The Trojan War, pp. 2-3

Emphasis mine.

The Cost To Be a Knight

May 13, 2022

Fighting as a knight involved expense that became greater over time. In the twelfth century [C.E.] the knight’s basic equipment (horse, helmet, hauberk, and sword) required the annual revenue of 150 hectares. Three centuries later it cost the yearly income of 500 hectares. The horses alone of Gerard de Moor, Lord of Wessegem, amounted in 1297 to 1,200 livres tournois….

Barbarians, Marauders, and Infidels, p. 177

No Rules In Mortal Combat

April 29, 2022

They would fight not only without quarter but also without rules. In mortal combat, unlike a friendly tournament, nothing prevented a man from stabbing his opponent in the back or through the eye-slits of his helmet, or blinding him with sand, or tripping him, or kicking him, or jumping on him if he should slip and fall. In a duel fought in Flanders in 1127 the two exhausted combatants finally threw down their weapons and fell to wrestling on the ground and punching each other with their iron gauntlets, until one reached under the other’s armor and tore away his testicles, killing him on the spot. Chivalry might have been alive and well in jousts of sport, and even in the preliminary ceremonies of the judicial duel, but once the actual combat began, chivalry was dead.

The Last Duel, Chapter 9

Battle-Hardened But Still a Squire

April 25, 2022

Jean [de Carrouges]…held the rank of squire. Rather than the “gallant youth” this term often brings to mind, he was a battle-hardened veteran already in his forties, one of those “mature men of a rather heavy type—knights in all but name.

By 1380 [C.E.], Jean…commanded his own troop of squires, numbering from four to as many as nine, in the campaigns to rid Normandy of the English. In war he sought to burnish his name and enrich himself by seizing booty and capturing prisoners to hold for ransom, a lucrative business in the fourteenth century. He may also have sought a knighthood, which would have doubled his pay on campaign…. [A] knight’s daily pay on campaign was one livre, while a squire received half that.

The Last Duel, Chapter 1

Emphases mine.

A squire would not be knighted if he could not afford to maintain that higher station. Thus the drive for booty and ransoms.

Double Winners of the Medal of Honor

April 19, 2022

The last scene of the 1985 motion picture “Rambo: First Blood Part II” has Colonel Troutman saying

“You’ll get a second Medal of Honor for this, John.”

Being an Army Brat, that statement made me curious as to whether that is possible. So I started researching. It turns out the answer was “not anymore.” In fact, there have been nineteen double winners of the Medal of Honor.

The Medal of Honor was created in 1862 during the U.S. Civil War. It was the only military decoration for valor until 1918 when the “Pyramid of Valor” was established by an Act of Congress. It created the Distinguished Service Cross (Army), Navy Cross, and other lesser awards. Henceforth the Medal of Honor could only be awarded once to an individual.

A recent Act of Congress has since removed this restriction. Regardless, it is highly unlikely anyone will ever again be awarded a second medal. There has been an unwritten rule since the end of World War II that no awardee is to die on active duty. Thus one will never again be allowed in a combat zone.

Of those nineteen men, two were considered for a third award.

For those wishing to learn more about these men, I recommend the book Double Winners of the Medal of Honor by Raymond J. Tassin. Dr. Tassin gives each man a chapter that starts with childhood and pre-service life, provides context to the conflicts participated in, fleshes out the cited actions (not all of which were combat!) via storytelling, and concludes with post-service life and death.

Daniel Daly, double winner of the Medal of Honor
Daniel Daly, USMC

Lastly, I give you the nineteen (in chronological order):

  1. Thomas Custer (Army)
  2. John Cooper (Navy)
  3. Patrick Mullen (Navy)
  4. Frank Baldwin (Army)
  5. Patrick Leonard (Army)
  6. William Wilson (Army)
  7. Albert Weisbogel (Navy)
  8. Henry Hogan (Army)
  9. Robert Sweeney (Navy)
  10. Louis Williams (Navy)
  11. Daniel Daly (Marine Corps)
  12. John McCloy (Navy)
  13. Smedley Butler (Marine Corps)
  14. John King (Navy)
  15. Ernst Janson (Marine Corps)
  16. Matej Kocak (Marine Corps)
  17. Louis Cukela (Marine Corps)
  18. John Pruitt (Marine Corps)
  19. John Kelly (Marine Corps)

An Army Open to Talents

March 12, 2022

[King Philip] had carried through a social revolution among the Macedonian military class…. The old nobility were laid under an obligation of regular military service; to it a new nobility of military adventurers was added, recruited and promoted on the basis of professional excellence. The result was an army ‘open to talents’, in which the king’s new and old followers competed for position in demonstrations of loyalty and self-disregard.

The Mask of Command, pp. 19-20

Stacking the Odds in Your Favor

February 6, 2022

Command in ancient armies was a collective as much as an individual endeavour, because the primitive communications made it hard for one man to exercise control even over the relatively short distances involved. Indeed, command limitations seem to have been a major reason why large armies formed up in greater depth, rather than trying to coordinate operations across an unpractically long front. Pre-planning and delegation of authority to local subordinates were the norm, and some forces did not even have a single overall general. It was because command was so problematic that most ancient armies achieved so much less than the troops themselves were theoretically capable of, as inertia and confusion reduced movement rates and inhibited decisive attacks. This meant that asymmetries in command, which allowed one army to suffer less than its opponents from the restrictions involved, could have a major impact on fighting performance.

Perhaps paradoxically, given the difficulties for any single individual of maintaining real-time control of anything more than a small segment of the battle line, this was the golden age of ‘great captains’ like Alexander, Hannibal, Scipio and Caesar whose generalship was a very significant determinant of victory. The explanation seems to be that there were many other ways in which such individuals contributed to success besides their personal influence during the battle itself. Training and motivating their troops and building up capable subordinates in the months and years beforehand could significantly improve the quality of the army as a whole. Winning the intelligence contest could allow novel pre-planned deployments and manoeuvres precisely tailored to counter the enemy battle line, and seizing the initiative could panic or provoke the enemy into hurried reactions that left their army vulnerable and unprepared. The actual fighting was thus only the culmination of an overall process that stacked the odds heavily in favour of the better-commanded side.

Philip Sabin, Lost Battles, p. 224

Emphasis mine.

Retinue of Retinues

January 25, 2022

The phrase I drill into my student’s heads about the structure of medieval armies is that they are a retinue of retinues. What I mean by this is that the way a medieval king raises his armies is that he has a bunch of military aristocrats (read: nobles) who owe him military service (they are his ‘vassals’) – his retinue. When he goes to war, the king calls on all of his vassals to show up. But each of those vassals also have their own bunch of military aristocrats who are their vassals – their retinue. And this repeats down the line, even down to an individual knight, who likely has a handful of non-nobles as his retinue (perhaps a few of his peasants, or maybe he’s hired a mercenary or two on retainer).

…The average retinue…was five men although significant lords (like earls) might have hundreds of men in their retinues (which were in turn comprised of the retinues of their own retainers). So the noble’s retinue is the combined retinues of all of his retainers, and the king’s army is the combined total of everyone’s retainer’s retainers, if that make sense. Thus: a retinue of retinues.

How It Wasn’t: Game of Thrones and the Middle Ages, Part I – A Collection of Unmitigated Pedantry

Author’s emphases.

Men-at-Arms Would Continue To Fight Despite Wounds

January 10, 2022

…Armored men were often able to keep fighting, at least for a while, after receiving several minor wounds. Indeed, this was expected: both that fighters would be wounded and that they would continue to fight despite their injuries. One knight, whose own face was “so badly cut that it was disfigured almost all over” was “astonished,” when he met Sir James Douglas, to find that the latter’s face was not scarred. For a man-at-arms to emerge unscathed from combat could be viewed as a sign of laxness or worse: “I know full well that you are a coward: your coat of mail is neither pierced nor torn, and neither your head nor arms are wounded.” It is not unusual to read of a victorious force in which few or no men died but in which many were wounded.

Clifford J. Rogers, Soldiers’ Lives Through History, p. 216

Author’s emphasis.

Few Deaths While Combat Remained Undecided

January 10, 2022

…The close formations and the dominance of armored warriors in medieval fighting tended to result in relatively many wounds and few deaths for so long as the combat remained undecided. Once the balance tipped, the situation often changed rapidly and dramatically. Two quotations from the chronicler Jean Froissart nicely illustrate the point: “When once an army is broken, those that are defeated are so much frightened, that if one fall, three follow his example, and to these three ten, and to ten thirty; and also, should ten run away, they will be followed by a hundred”; “but in flight there is more danger than in the heat of the battle, for, when any one flies, a pursuit is made, and, if overtaken, he is slain.” When fighting face-to-face, a soldier strikes with some caution, needing to keep his guard up, but blows against a fugitive can be delivered with abandon, lose none of their force to an attempted parry, and are much more likely to be lethal even against an armored man. Even those who refuse to flee can be easily overwhelmed, with little danger to the lives of their opponents, once those around them have fled. The logical implication of this is that battlefield deaths were usually very lopsided, with the defeated suffering sometimes very severe losses and the victors losing only a few men killed. The testimony of eyewitness sources confirms that this was typically the result of medieval combats.

Clifford J. Rogers, Soldiers’ Lives Through History, pp. 214-15

Emphasis mine.

Medieval Battlefield Medicine Was Not Primitive

January 10, 2022

By the end of a battle, both captives and captors were likely to be wounded. Those who had taken prisoners could not benefit from their acquisitions unless both parties survived, which was more likely if they received some medical care. Basic knowledge of practical wound treatment was widespread among medieval soldiers and indeed among aristocratic women. Arrows and javelins that had not gone in too deep were usually pulled out (or pushed through) as quickly as possible, often by the injured person. Wounds were washed with vinegar or wine—effective antiseptics—to remove any possible source of infection (dirt, cloth, etc.), then covered with moistened lint, plasters, egg, or lard-based ointments, then bandaged, often with strips cut from a shirt. Sometimes herbal poultices would also be used. Later, the wounds would be washed and re-bandaged frequently, with any corrupted flesh being cut away. This was quite effective; in one sample of over 300 skulls dating from the sixth through the eighth centuries, only twelve percent of the wounds showed any evidence of infection.

Armies in the field were usually accompanied by physicians, surgeons, and barbers (who provided basic medical care). Great lords typically brought such men as part of their retinues, and infantry contingents often did the same. Medical personnel doubtless gave first priority to their own employers, but it was normally expected that wounded soldiers would eventually be tended by a physician if necessary: to say someone had been struck with such force that he would have no need of a doctor was to say that he had been killed outright. Despite the common belief to the contrary, western European surgeons of the Middle Ages seem to have been roughly on a par with their Islamic, Byzantine, and Jewish contemporaries. They could stop the bleeding of a cut artery with pressure and cauterization; they were skilled at treating broken skulls using trepanning; they could draw out barbed arrows using metal tubes or goose quills to cover the barbs; they knew how to splint smashed arms or legs. They could even suture intestines or severed jugular veins. They had analgesics and anesthetics made with opium, cannabis, and other less powerful substances….

Clifford J. Rogers, Soldiers’ Lives Through History, pp. 224-25

Military Incongruities in the Iliad

December 26, 2021

Because Homer’s subject is a siege five centuries old, his battlefield is full of military incongruities. He and his audience remembered, for instance, that the chieftains fought in chariots; but because men of the late eighth century [B.C.E.] had no idea how such warfare might have been conducted, Homer has his charioteers drop the heroes off on the battlefield where they dismount and then fight, often in close formation. The chariots, dimly recalled as essential equipage for aristocratic warfare, have little use in Homer beyond the aura of antiquity they lend to the proceedings. Once the heroes have dismounted, they appear to be much closer in technique and dress to the hoplite infantrymen of Homer’s own day, who wore heavy armor—helmet, shield, breastplate, greaves, sword, spear, and other bodily defenses that may have come to seventy pounds—fought in tight formation, and engaged the enemy at close quarters. They did not fling javelins from chariots as their ancestors had once done in a less populous world where warfare more closely resembled a game of chicken or a gang rumble than the massing of two trained armies on a field.

Thomas Cahill, Sailing the Wine-Dark Sea, p. 42

The Iliad and Dungeons & Dragons

December 23, 2021

I thought about D&D a lot while I was reading it, because I think the case can quite easily be made that The Iliad is the most D&D thing ever written other than D&D itself (or, vice versa, that D&D is the most Iliad thing ever written other than The Iliad itself, except obviously Mazes & Minotaurs?). What is Achilleus, other than a 20th-level fighter in comparison to the 1st-4th level Trojans he dispatches with ruthless ease? What are the Achaean invaders, if not murderhobos in search of booty, glory and XP at the expense of all else? How else can the behaviour of the protagonists be explained, other than that they are being controlled by the kind of wild uber-machismo that often overtakes groups of teenage D&D nerds?

On High Level Warriors, Gods, Mortals and More – Monsters and Manuals

There Is No Block

December 19, 2021

There really is no such thing as a block in traditional martial arts, at least not in the commonly understood sense. You see, the Japanese word uke means “receive” rather than “block” as it often incorrectly translated, a very significant difference both mentally and physically. Your defensive technique receives the adversary’s attack and makes it your own. Without this vital context you’re merely fending off a blow knowing that another is on its way, staying behind the count, whereas a “proper” block can end the fight all by itself without the need to throw what is commonly thought of as an offensive blow…..

There Is No Block – Kris Wilder

Different Fortifications Against Raids Versus Sieges

December 16, 2021

The earliest fortifications were likely to have been primarily meant to defend against raids rather than sieges as very early (Mesolithic or Neolithic) warfare seems, in as best we can tell with the very limited evidence, to have been primarily focused on using raids to force enemies to vacate territory (by making it too dangerous for them to inhabit by inflicting losses). Raids are typically all about surprise (in part because the aim of the raid, either to steal goods or inflict casualties, can be done without any intention to stick around), so fortifications designed to resist them do not need to stop the enemy, merely slow them down long enough so that they can be detected and a response made ready….

In contrast, the emergence of states focused on territorial control create a different set of strategic objectives which lead towards the siege as the offensive method of choice over the raid. States, with their need to control and administer territory (and the desire to get control of that territory with its farming population intact so that they can be forced to farm that land and then have their agricultural surplus extracted as taxes), aim to gain control of areas of agricultural production, in order to extract resources from them (both to enrich the elite and core of the state, but also to fund further military activity).

Thus, the goal in besieging a fortified settlement (be that, as would be likely in this early period, a fortified town or as later a castle) is generally to get control of the administrative center. Most of the economic activity prior to the industrial revolution is not in the city; rather the city’s value is that it is an economic and administrative hub. Controlling the city allows a state to control and extract from the countryside around the city, which is the real prize. Control here thus means setting up a stable civilian administration within the city which can in turn extract resources from the countryside; this may or may not require a permanent garrison of some sort, but it almost always requires the complete collapse of organized resistance in the city. Needless to say, setting up a stable civilian administration is not something one generally does by surprise, and so the siege has to aim for more durable control over the settlement. It also requires fairly complete control; if you control most of the town but, say, a group of defenders are still holding out in a citadel somewhere, that is going to make it very difficult to set up a stable administration which can extract resources.

Fortification, Part I: The Besieger’s Playbook – A Collection of Unmitigated Pedantry

Author’s emphases.

The Composite Bow Did Have Limitations

November 28, 2021

Though a highly effective weapon, especially as part of the mounted archer system, the composite bow did have limitations. The crossbow and the dismounted archer could outrange the horse archer. In addition, chain mail, shields, and even the padded undergarment, the gambesons, were effective protection from the horse-archer attack at some ranges. Thus, the composite bow was a weapon that a well-trained and well-led adversary could overcome. Still, its rate of fire, accuracy, power, and most important, the fact that it could be employed from a moving horse made the composite bow an important weapon until well after the arrival of gunpowder. Steppe archers from the Crimea employed the weapon with good effect well into the seventeenth century [C.E.].

Louis A. DiMarco, War Horse, p. 120

Guerrilla Warfare Is as Old as Mankind

October 16, 2021

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

October 11, 2021

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

September 29, 2021

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

September 17, 2021

…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