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Ask me about Warfare

Discussion in 'Research' started by thecoldembrace, Mar 3, 2014.

  1. skip.knox

    skip.knox toujours gai, archie Moderator

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    Another question for the Assembled Sages. Below is a photo of a forest, just for general reference, not specific.

    My question is, how does one move an army of several thousand through something like this? Even if there is a road, if an army of say twenty thousand (with all its appurtenances) stayed on the road it would stretch for miles. This not only leaves the army vulnerable (ask Varro), it also creates all sorts of logistical problems.

    But, at the same time, moving an army through closely-packed trees or forests with dense underbrush seems to fall somewhere between loony and outright impossible.

    Yet, it was done. Do any of you military history folk have thoughts on this? Thoughts supported by references are most welcome.

    [​IMG]

    Thanks to all, in adavance.
     
  2. skip.knox

    skip.knox toujours gai, archie Moderator

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    Here's another one. Your objective as commander, get your army from here to that mountain in the far distance. Figure it's about 50km away. How long does it take and how do you do it?

    [​IMG]
     
  3. Aldarion

    Aldarion Inkling

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    skip.knoxskip.knox As I see it, there are two ways. Slower but safer way is to build a road through the area, with army advancing along with the road. So by the end of it, you have army at the point it needed to go and road back home for logistics and transfer. Quicker way is to march the army through the forrest, likely broken up into smaller groups. In many cases forrest will be inhabited and/or already have paths (if not proper roads) through it, enough for men and packed mules to pass.

    Most of the time however you simply passed around the forest. And of course, if you had sufficiently large armies marching around - especially if they were Roman armies - very soon there would be no forest left. Army still needs wood, for fires, for fortifications... you may want to read this:
    https://foresthistory.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/12/John-McNeill-Lecture.pdf
     
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  4. skip.knox

    skip.knox toujours gai, archie Moderator

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    Caesar built a road right through the heart of the sacred oak forests of the Belgae, a nice combination of military and social engineering. That works for long-term invasion. Not so useful when the other side is deploying an army against you.

    In that case, going around is indeed the most likely scenario, though in some parts of medieval Europe "around" might be very far indeed. But the forest would present the same obstacles for the other side too.

    Unless ... the other side wasn't human. The thought just occurred to me that advantages and disadvantages of terrain might work differently for dwarves, orcs, elves, etc. I'll have to think about those.

    Thanks for the reference. I appreciated the references to various precedents in Asia.
     
  5. Aldarion

    Aldarion Inkling

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    Regarding that, I managed to find this:
    https://www.amazon.com/Civil-war-taiga-guerrilla-warfare/dp/B002FVK1F6
    The German Army Guerrilla Warfare Pocket Manual 1939-45

    But generally, if you need to neutralize an armed group using forest as a cover, you neutralize the forest first. Until that is done, you limit yourself to building and securing roads through the forest. Forests are used mainly by guerilla groups, so "deploying an army" is not an issue: army, especially a premodern one, needs space and significant supplies, neither of which forest provides, which means - again - you either have / are building a road through the forest, are bypassing forest, or forces you are deploying in a forest do not qualify as an "army" to begin with.

    If the enemy is capable of deploying an actual army in a forest, then you get Teutoburg Forest... though it should be noted that Romans were marching along a river / road, and Germans likely deployed in small numbers, consolidated for a battle, and then withdrew in small groups as well. In fact, battle itself was not one large engagement, but rather a series of engagements along Roman route of march - which means that Germans likely deployed small, individual war bands. That - small-unit warfare with occasional large-scale action - is likely how forest warfare would work (until forest itself could be neutralized). But I am not really familiar with that battle so this is speculation; at any rate, it is an example you may want to look into. Another is this:
    Battle of Camulodunum - Wikipedia

    But generally, forest warfare - be it a march or a battle - was simply not done, except by accident (such as a major road running through forest). Take a look at Battle of Agincourt: both sides deployed via roads, and while English did deploy archers in forest, it is clear that a) French did not expect such a move and b) archers were on outskirts of a forest. No forest combat there.
     
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  6. CSEllis

    CSEllis Dreamer

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    I'm going to be annoying and ask questions. War isn't a vacuum. The enemy informs your planning as much as whatever you have. How these are answered will define how you go about your advance into this forest, or not.

    So:
    Who is your enemy?
    What are their known/unknown capabilities?
    What is their position? (as in, do you get something out of this when you reach your destination?)
    What do they know/believe about you?
    What is their position/influence in the location you'll be passing through? (Are they friends/enemies/neutral to the inhabitants you'll be passing by. Will you have locals waiting to give you food or slit your throat in the night?)

    Until we know more it's hard to off a prescription.

    I will however make some comments on what I've seen already. I think there's an overemphasis here on professional Roman-like armies. Those require an obscenely powerful state beyond what most fantasy states are capable of (Westeros could probably afford one if it did away with all its other armed forces and made do with a quite small force for the landmass you're deal with). There's also the assumption of an overly homogenous army.
    The Romans made enormous use of various native allies and tribes. The auxiliaries are famous, but those were only formalising what already was in place. The Varian disaster was able to happen because the Romans a) believed they were passing through friendly territory and b) that their tribal allies were loyal. Given the relatively long service of Arminius, it wasn't an unreasonable assumption to make that he would remain loyal, even when Varus was told otherwise.
    The important thing is that those auxiliaries/allies had the local knowledge and local fighting methods that had been evolved to deal with such terrain. For an army to move and fight at any reasonable pace, and to be able to handle an enemy that uses the above methods, then you have to have those kinds of light troops who can scout and probe and see what's going on. Since those forces have to be vaguely familiar with the region, you're going to have to have some kind of familiarity and understanding with some group of locals so they can help you. If you piss off everyone, then, well, you get Teutoburgerwalded. :p Caesar did this well, there are always tribal allies of some kind providing the light cavalry for his legions. They're not sexy and are no match for legions in a straight up fight, but on campaign they were very valuable. Tolkien does this nicely, with local wildmen(? I can't remember precisely) scouting and providing local knowledge for the Rohirrim on their march up to relieve Minas Tirith. To this day this kind of cooperation occurs, there was a scandal here in Australia recently when local Afghan guides weren't being given asylum in Australia for their support but were instead left in the lurch to be targets for reprisals. This stuff doesn't seem to go away.
    Ref: Caesar again, I think there's also an overemphasis here on a kind of modern western style supply train where, Hearts of Iron style, the supply lines stretch from the centre of your lands to wherever the army is. I'm not so sure about this. The amount of time Caesar spends getting hold of grain supplies through negotiation with local tribes or through force suggests that there isn't a line of carts stretching from Alesia (especially not Alesia!) to Rome. Sure, plenty of stuff is going to and fro (not least De Bello Gallico itself) , but not that kind of daily stuff. Marius' mules have to obey the age old problems of the wagon train eventually reaching a point where it eats everything it carries. And that's for a professional army. For anything less organised, foraging is going to be one of your primary sources of food. Which returns us to my above comments on light troops whose task it is, along with scouting, to both forage and protect others who were foraging. It's not pretty (it's literally theft from the poorest and most vulnerable in the local area) and it begins to make the good guys look morally grey, which is why we probably don't see it appear in fantasy.
    I'd also caution against assuming its one line of troops marching through one path in a forest. The main body, sure, but if the commander has any brain they'll have all manner of scouts around and ahead of that group, as well as detachments headed off to other nearby points of interest. They'll detect the enemy and ideally give the main body time to react. This was a thing with the Teutoburg forest, where the 3 legions had units scattered all over the place, which were either being picked off or having to conduct fighting retreats back to the Rhine.

    A lot of this stuff I can't really source since its the kind of theory that doesn't have a big book attached to it, but something you pick up.
    Obviously, Caesar's Gallic Wars are worth reading for lots of campaigning in regions that were then heavily forested.

    For the Teutoburg forest, a good readable and vaguely well researched source is Ancient Warfare Magazine's special on the Varian disaster (one of the older ones now, I think, from 2009). Available online in convenient pdf form. ;)

    For more heavy duty stuff, I'd cautiously recommend M.P. Speidel's Ancient Germanic Warriors: Warrior Styles from Trajan's Column to Icelandic Sagas. It's not the best book and the author gets slightly carried away with his subject (and it basically could apply to at least Indo-European warriors, rather than just Germans), but it does a bang up job of showing how a thoroughly "uncivilized" society might have fought and how they viewed their warfare. It's a very different world from the legions. I apologise for getting off the question somewhat, but there are so many factors involved in this sort of stuff that bloat is inevitable.
     
  7. skip.knox

    skip.knox toujours gai, archie Moderator

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    I agree on all points. I was focused on the sheer physicality of getting through heavy forest. Going around is a good solution, but in some places that could mean a detour of hundreds of miles. Building a road is another solution, but that could mean taking so long, the invaders are off in other directions. Assuming invasion, of course.

    Anyway, there are lots of possible situations. But if the task is to get an army from here to there (see pics above), I was wondering how it might be done. Maybe you break into lots of smaller units and work yourl way through making paths rather than roads. I know that terrain can be essentially impassable. The forests of medieval Lithuania were so thick, the crusaders of the 14thc only traveled up rivers, getting out to attack strongpoints. I think, though I'd have to check sources again, that the Letts themselves moved through the forests, no doubt by pathways known only to them.
     
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