This blog is dedicated to discussion of Military hobby and all the interesting things about warfare.
Feel free to leave a comment. Your constructive opinion is always welcome.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Fundamentals of War

Key Concept of Conventional Warfare

This post is for the beginners who wish to pursue  a hobby in military science. Back then when I started my hobby about military science it took days to understand some of these concepts. So I hope this post will be helpful for the newbies.

At the very core of the warfare is the idea of gaining an advantage over the enemy. That means maintaining the integrity of your own war effort while disrupting that of your adversary.
War consists of military, economic, political as well as social means. However we are interested in the military aspect of the welfare, so we will discuss some core concepts of the traditional military conflicts.
Hold your line: The very basic concept of battle is to build a formation with your military units. There are lots of different types of formations to use in different situations. We will come to that later. Basically the formation makes sure that your enemy remains at your front where you can attack them. But the most important thing is that by creating a formation you are effectively synchronizing the fighting ability of an individual soldier with the fighting ability of his team.
War is not about fighting alone, it's about fighting together for a common goal.
The formations serve the purpose of attacking the enemy, as well as defending against any enemy attack. The traditional way of wining a battle has been to disperse the enemy formations. once a formation is broken the fighting capability of individual soldiers reduces to almost nil and most of them are as good as dead.
Attack vs Defense: The course of warfare is determined by success and failure of attacks against the defenders. Traditionally the defenders has mostly been on the advantageous side and usually takes a considerable amount of numerical superiority for the attackers to win.
If the defenders can use the geographical features of the battlefield to their advantage it may be possible for them to hold back massively superior number of attackers for a prolonged period of time.
The best example is the Battle of Thermopylae where King Leonidas and his relatively small spartan army managed to hold the massive Persian army for days. The only way the Persians managed to defeat them was to outflank them through another path.
Weapons and Technology: Weapons and technology has determined the fate of warfare throughout the history. Strategy and tactics of warfare hugely depend on the available technology.
For example in old Greece the main weapon was shield and spear. That required a dense formation of soldiers holding the ground together. But in today's era of firearms, such a dense formation would be suicidal. So a relatively sparse formation with smaller units is generally used in these days.
Chain of Command: War is not just few men fighting each other. In order to fight a war, a sophisticated coordination is required between the soldiers. To do so the soldiers are grouped into several units with a corresponding unit leader. Such units are combined together to form larger units and so forth. The highest command is usually handed to a General who is responsible for the whole army. A various degree of autonomy is attributed to the individual unit leaders. This is called the chain of command which has been one of the key feature of warfare in different ages.
The chain of command has been evolved radically from one era to another and today an extremely sophisticated form is prevalent in most of the armies throughout the world.
Communication in the chain of command has always been a priority problem to solve. Different forms of communications has been used including voice command, banners, radio communications etc. according to the available technologies in different ages.
Supply lines: Perhaps the most important thing in warfare is the supply lines. An army can't fight without food, water, ammunition and other necessary equipment.
An army marches on it's belly.
The supply line ensures that your army can get what it needs from a source under your control. If you get outflanked and lose your supply lines the battle is almost as good as lost to you, unless you can manage to find another supply route.
This is the five basic concepts of warfare which has determined the course of military history throughout ages and will continue to do so in foreseeable future. if you are interested you can find links to some fine articles in the Links page.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Chakravyuha, possible countermeasures

Chakravyuha of Mahabharata

What is Chakravyuha: Chakravyuha is a spiral army formation like a blooming lotus when viewed from above. It usually has seven concentric rings of warriors. These rings usually rotate clockwise or anticlockwise. The Maharathis are placed in key positions for maximum effectiveness.
The formation has an open gap for the enemy to enter which could be shut in need and replaced by another gap at a different space. The enemy who enters chakravyuha is forced to move in the direction of the center of the vyuha. As the enemy advances he finds himself in constantly difficult fighting position. The vyuha is said to be unbreakable from outside and can be broken only by entering it and then breaking it from inside.
The Vyuha is similar to the idea of defense in depth. When one ring breaks the next ring acts as the outer ring to keep the enemy at bay. 
Possible countermeasures: I think the following methods could be used to break up such formation.
  • Wedge Formation: A wedge formation is a ‘V’ shaped formation with the tip facing the enemy. This formation could attack a certain length of the enemy line with sheer force concentration at the tip with the flanks giving support. If the breakthrough is achieved the wedge the tip exploits it by attacking the next line. At that time the flanks enlarge the gap by attacking the troops of the broken line down its length. Thus preventing the closure of the entry. When the tip of the wedge reaches the center of the chakravyuha all the spirals are divided into two parts each facing enfilade attack from the flanks of the wedge formation. Now the chakravyuha could be destroyed in detail by gradually increasing the angle of ‘V’ and moving the flanks forward, eventually forming a line. This is very likely to result in routing the enemy or forcing them to adapt a different formation.
a.       Advantage: The wedge formation, once breakthrough is achieved, could exploit the gaps between two subsequent lines to destroy the enemy in detail. It would also prevent encirclement by the enemy and provide good support for own troops while doing heavy damage to the opponent.

b.      Disadvantage: The enemy could use the internal lines of the chakravyuha to reinforce the part of the line under attack which could prevent a breakthrough. Another possible advantage of chakravyuha can be the rotation of troops which would exchange fatigued troops with fresh ones.
  • Combined arms: This tactics would utilize the relatively rigid outer structure of chakravyuha whatever flexible the internal structure be. The friendly troops will form a line with a combination of both melee and ranged combatants. A handful number is to be kept in reserve to supplement the part of the line under attack. The chakravyuha being a large rigid circular structure will be able to engage a small part of the line. The reserves should be committed to reinforce the engaged part of the line. At the other part of the line the ranged troops will shoot upon the chakravyuha. They may form an echeloned formation for greater effect if necessary trainings are affordable, otherwise simple line formation would do. If chakravyuha moves to engage the flanks, the new segment of line under attack could be simply reinforced by moving troops from other part.
a.       Advantage: This tactics can weaken the chakravyuha without ever entering it. The core of the tactics is to simply hold off the enemies while wearing them down by missile weapons.
b.      Disadvantage: The chief disadvantage is the prolonged time required for the tactics to destroy the chakravyuha. Due to this it could degenerate into a war of attrition. The most dangerous disadvantage of this combined arms tactics is the proper training would allow the troops of chakravyuha to quickly form another formation and to destroy the opposing line. 
  • Limitations: The true nature of chakravyuha is unknown since even at the time of Mahabharata very few people is claimed to have known that. So all these tactics are by guess and the actual situation could have been quite different. However they are somewhat generalized and can possibly handle a wide spectrum of variation in the formation of chakravyuha. 
I shall continue to add more tactics to this list as I find them out.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Dharmayuddha in Mahabharata

Dharmayuddha: Feasibility and Problems
A Dharmayuddha, as described in Mahabharata, was the rules of engagements followed by the belligerents as the code of honor in ancient India. It was meant to provide both sides an even ground to compete with each other for victory. They are considered chivalric and fair and they make the war more like a game and not an outbreak of all out hostilities.
A good Wikipedia article about Dharmayuddha can be found here.
The most famous rules are as follows along with my view of their usefulness (Green ones are feasible according to me and the application of Red ones seem to be difficult and impractical):
  1.       Fighting must begin no earlier than sunrise and end exactly at sunset: It provides troops with adequate rest at night. Also provides a sense of security at night to relieve the troops of their mental stress. But also causes the troop to be caught off guard by an enemy trying to exploit this vulnerability by breaking the rules. Such events have been seen again and again in the history of India, Indian army being surprised by the foreign enemies before dawn (Purus against Alexander, Prithwiraj against Ghori etc).
  2.       Multiple warriors may not attack a single warrior: I think that directly contradicts the principle of force concentration which is one of the basic manoeuvres employed in the battlefield. This rule severely decreases the manoeuvrability of an army preventing decisive victory hard to gain.
  3.       Two warriors may duel, or engage in prolonged personal combat, only if they carry the same weapons and they are on the same mount (no mount, a horse, an elephant, or a chariot): No problem if the rule is limited to the dueling of distinguished warriors, but if it is applied to the common troopers as well, the concept of Chaturanga (combination of infantry, cavalry, elephant and charioteers) army becomes pointless. None can be deployed to their full potential; like Elephants can’t be used to break enemy ranks and cavalry can’t charge enemy infantry. This will severely hamper development of diverse tactics.
  4.       No warrior may kill or injure a warrior who has surrendered: This perfectly synchronizes with modern rules of engagement.
  5.       One who surrenders becomes a prisoner of war and will then be subject to the protections of a prisoner of war: This is a very good principle providing security to POW of both sides.
  6.       No warrior may kill or injure an unarmed warrior: It’s a very chivalric rule. But that will prevent a belligerent to pursue a routed army giving them chance to regroup.
  7.       No warrior may kill or injure an unconscious warrior: That’s a very good principle. There is no point in harming a soldier who is not even able to defend himself.
  8.       No warrior may kill or injure a person or animal not taking part in the war: It will prevent collateral damage of a battle to a large extent. So it’s a very desirable principle. But it will also prevent armies to employ some sorts of desperate last line defenses like scorched earth policy. It will also prevent commerce raiding and these types of offence.
  9.       No warrior may kill or injure a warrior whose back is turned away: This has same problem as point 6. Letting the enemy regroup and attack again is never a desirable option.
  10.   No warrior may strike an animal not considered a direct threat: I think this rule prevents killing of the chariot horses or the mounts of the warriors. This certainly does not make sense. Because killing the mounts is easier than killing a horseman in many situations, especially in those days of unarmored horses.
  11.   The rules specific to each weapon must be followed. For example, it is prohibited to strike below the waist in mace warfare: This should be applicable to dueling elite warriors only. As these rules, if applied to common troopers, would prevent development of sophisticated weapons tactics.
  12.   Warriors may not engage in any 'unfair' warfare whatsoever: Off course the word ‘unfair’ needs further explanation. Anyway war is not a game and thousands of lives of soldiers depend on the decision of their commanders. ‘Fairness’ seems a little bit luxury here.
  13.   The lives of women, prisoners of war, and farmers are sacred: Certainly it’s a good principle. It will prevent collateral damage and spoils of war like the 8th point.
  14.   Pillaging the land is forbidden: It is a humane principle. But if the victor does not wish to capture land, he does not have any prize according to this rule. Anyway this rule will prevent complete destruction of the enemy.
 As can be seen, Principles of Dharmayuddha have mixed usefulness. Some of the rules are insufficient to allow troop maneuvering according to the battlefield needs. Other rules prevent unnecessary destructions of resources and population by the victors.
Anyway, in war the lives of the troopers are precious and a commander should try to bring minimal number of casualties to his own army. The lives of common soldiers are a very costly price to pay for the chivalrous glory of the elite warriors. The war should be ended with as less damage as possible. But some rules of Dharmayuddha tend to convert the potential war of maneuver to a war of attrition wearing down both sides increasing over all damage. A little more maneuvering, than what Dharmayuddha permits, is often necessary to save thousands of lives.

Friday, March 9, 2012

Battles in The Lord of the Rings film trilogy (2001-03)

The Lord of the Rings
Let’s talk about The Lord of The Rings. They are among my most favorites. A good number of battles have been shown in these movies. Why not discuss about some of them?
Siege of Helm’s Deep:
What happened: King Theoden led his men to the fortress of Helm’s Deep to defend against Saruman’s army of Uruk-hai. The fortress being devoid of any moat or talus became vulnerable to the siege ladders. The deficiency of adequate battlement also made the defenders vulnerable to the crossbow fire of the Uruk-hai. These factors together with the numerical superiority of Uruks and their efficient siege weapons like ballista, battering rams or explosive mines robbed the Rohirrims almost any chance of victory.
Moreover Helm’s deep did not have any supply route but the Uruks, being able to feed on human flesh, could easily forage their supply. So even if the Rohirrims could hold them off for a long time they would have suffered greater attrition eventually succumbing to defeat. Had it not been the reinforcements from Eomer and Gandalf the Rohirrims would have been overrun for sure.
What could happen: The Rohirrims should have taken the advantage of their speed and agility by meeting their opponent in the open plains near Edorus. That would have left Rohirrims with the choice of superior maneuverability with which they could prevail over Uruks.
The Uruk heavy infantry is quite invulnerable at the front due to their long spears, much like the sarissas of the phalangites of Alexander the Great. They also had light infantry of crossbowmen and cavalry of warg riders to protect their flanks. But the Rohirrims were doubtlessly superior horsemen and they could easily defeat Saruman’s cavalry and crossbowmen making their opponent’s flanks vulnerable. At this point Uruk spearmen would become helpless as they could not easily engage an enemy on its flank due to slow turning rate.
Combined with this flanking maneuver the Rohirrim horse archers could shoot at Uruk heavy infantry formation without directly engaging them and then retreat as their opponent advances. Uruk spearmen could not chase them down and eventually their morale would deplete making their formation more vulnerable.
Problems with such approach: Being in possession of a stronghold like Helm’s Deep it is very tempting to seek shelter in it rather than to meet the opponent in the open land.
The maneuverability of the proposed tactics is largely dependent on the assumption that Rohirrim cavalry can beat Warg riders; otherwise all the tactics will be fruitless and the Rohirrim would have to fall back even if a rout does not occur.
Battle of the pelennor field:
What happened: Rohirrim cavalry charged the Orc ranks and routed them. But when they faced Mumakil army of Sauron they charged them again and faced heavy casualties. Though they were not completely annihilated they failed to repel the Mumakils also before they received reinforcements of the Army of the Dead.
What could happen: Rohirrims first charge was successful because they had strong morale and the Orcs were equipped with relatively smaller spears. But their second charge against Mumakils was not much effective. They should have used their mounted archers instead.
Mumakils, though a larger target, were less vulnerable to missile weapons due to their thick hides. But their riders were more vulnerable due to their higher and exposed position and inadequate protection by the turret. So the Rohirrim mounted archers could harass them by hit and run tactics. That is they could give them volleys of massed arrow fire and then withdrawing to a safe distance to prepare for another volley.
The Mumakils also had inadequate infantry support as the Orc army had been routed already. So their flanks were unprotected. Rohirrims could use this fact to their advantage by outflanking them instead of meeting them head on. That would allow the Rohirrim cavalry to encircle the Mumakils and injuring their hind legs with swords or wounding them mortally with spears or javelins.
Problems with such approach: The Mumakils were considerably fearsome and an army unaccustomed to fight them could lose their morale. Moreover the Mumakils when injured grievously could rush to escape the battlefield crushing any troops nearby. That could also add to the casualty of the Rohirrims.
Battle at the Black Gate:
What happened: The combined army of Gondor and Rohan got completely encircled by the numerically superior army of Mordor at the very start of battle and was at the threat of being annihilated had not the One Ring been destroyed in time.
What could happen: The combined army of men should have anchored their flanks in the mountains on both sides of the Black Gate even if their line would have been considerably thinner. That would prevent the enemy from encircling them and that would have allowed them to hold off the army for longer. At least they would have the option to withdraw if they are overwhelmed.
Problems with such approach: If their line gets too thin the enemy could exploit the weakness by achieving a breakthrough and then isolating portions of their army and thus defeating them in detail.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Battles in Avatar (2009 film)

Now let’s talk about Avatar. The battles shown in Avatar attracted me to think about it the very first time I saw it. It was a battle of lost opportunity for the Na'vi as I think.
Charge of Na'vi cavalry:
What happened: The Na'vis essentially ran into a slaughter by charging into the human line head on exposing themselves to overwhelming firepower of their opponent which caused them to be annihilated almost entirely creating a rout.
What could happen: They could take their advantage of terrain and mobility to attack the flanks of human line. The movie does not show the human flanks but provided they didn’t adopt a square formation and didn’t anchor their flanks on a terrain impassable to Na'vis they would be vulnerable to the cavalry charge unable to bear their superior firepower upon their opponent.
Problems with such approach: The Na'vis would have been robbed of their advantage if the humans adopted a square formation or anchored their flanks to an impassable terrain. Moreover considering their lack of firepower they could have been overwhelmed by relatively small number of enemy troops able to provide fire support to the flank under attack.
Dogfight between Na'vis and human aircrafts:
What happened: Na'vis took a wise approach by diving upon their opponents with an element of surprise. But was soon overwhelmed by the superior firepower of the enemy and was annihilated instead of their valour.
What could happen: The Na'vis could have taken a hit and run approach by destroying as much aircraft as could be destroyed in a single blow and then continuing their dive below and to the rearward of their enemy thus preserving their speed. The human would have two options now. Either they had to let the Na'vis escape, allowing Na'vis to regain their altitude and dive upon them again, or they had to detach their escort aircrafts to chase down the Na'vis, making their capital aircrafts, stronger but less agile ones, vulnerable to attack by a reserve Na'vi force.
Problems with such approach: If the ground and air force of humans could not be separated and remain able to provide mutual fire support this tactics would not be viable since Na'vis could not dive low enough due to ground fire. This tactics largely depends on agility and element of surprise. They would lose element of surprise after first attack and hence would be less effective in later course of battle. It is also time consuming and since human force was to bombard their Tree of Souls time was not on their side.

Battles in Troy (2004 film)

Troy is an epic movie with many battle scenes depicting valour and skill. It's one of my most favourite movies. Now I shall talk about the battles shown in the movie.
Trojan Beach assault by Achilles and the myrmidons
What happened: Achilles and his men formed a shield wall (primitive form of turtle formation?) to close on the superior Trojan archers and then broke off to engage the defenders in a melee combat where they excel.
What could happen: Since Trojan beach defenders were numerically superior a simple double pincer movement could have done the trick. The Trojans shoot at the myrmidons as they disembark from their galleys and as soon as the shield wall is formed they take the advantage of the slow moving formation of the enemy by moving their both wings forward while their center holds the ground. This should envelop the enemy. If the enemy attacks one wing the opposite wing can give fire support. If they attack the center they will be completely encircled and that could nullify their excellent melee skill. Achilles eager to capture the beach before Greek forces arrival would certainly make haste to break the shield wall and hence make themselves vulnerable to arrows. If he chooses force concentration the archers will take care of his troops and if he chooses to disperse them their effectiveness in melee combat will reduce effectively. Trojans will have casualties if myrmidons are far more skilled in melee combat than them but they will be able to hold off them until reinforcements arrive from the city.
Problems with such approach: The Trojans, being on the high ground, would be reluctant to leave their advantage of terrain and move their wings into the beach. Their center could withdraw to higher ground but that would require time. Moreover their army would not possibly be routed even after heavy damage because of their supreme morale due to presence of Achilles. 
First day of battle between Greeks and Trojans
What happened: Greek phalanx charged into Trojan ranks in a head on assault and got repelled. They could not break cohesion of Trojan ranks and their own rear ranks were extremely vulnerable to Trojan archers shooting from top of the wall. They broke into a rout and suffered heavy casualties.
What could happen: In order to succeed Greeks had to reduce the effectiveness of Trojan archers. If they formed turtle formations their mobility would be nullified and they would fail to charge the ranks of Trojan soldiers. The only way to preserve mobility and advance in front of such heavy fire power is to charge the corners of enemy formations. That would give the Greeks triple incentives. First, the Trojans would not be able to bring their superior firepower along the length of the wall to bear effectively upon the charging Greeks. Second, Greeks would have been able to concentrate their force on a smaller front of engagement. Third, the heavily defensive Trojan line would be weaker at corners.
If the Greeks are able to achieve a breakthrough they would be very close to the walls effectively protected against the archers on top as the rear ranks of archers would not be able to fire below. Now they can approach the gate and try to ram it down.
Even if this approach does not gain the much desired breakthrough this would compel the Trojans to reorganize their troops making some part of their line weaker in order to commit more troops to hold off the charging Greeks. These weaker points could be manipulated to achieve a decisive breakthrough by a reserve force provided the Greeks have numerical superiority over their opponent.
Problems with such approach: The Greeks would probably not be able to breach the walls even if they achieve the breakthrough. Without any sort of siege engine the walls of Troy could not be hoped to be breached. They could not besiege Troy either to starve the Trojans out because Troy had ample supply of food while Greeks being far from their homeland could not afford an effective line of supply across the Aegean Sea. Foraging would not help them either because their superior number meant they were in need of more food than that could be foraged (of course not if the Trojan villagers left ample food stuffs behind before running into the safety of the city). Whatever they did they would suffer massive casualties while their opponent would suffer minimal. This fact might also reduce the morale of their troops had Odysseus not came up with the idea of ‘Trojan horse’.