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Thread: Pitched battles

  1. #61
    saxdude's Avatar Centurio Primus Pilus
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    Default Re: Pitched battles

    @Saxdude I can't speak of the peculiarities of meso-american warfare, but I can tell you right here and now that throughout European history, sieges have been very common and very much unavoidable, no matter their relative unpopularity. Of course no one in their right mind would want to fight a 2-years siege - but they rarely get a choice in the matter. If one side has a massive defensive advantage, it sure as hell will use it.

    Plus, you have to remember that not all sieges are two year affairs. Most of the time, warfare consists of moderately defended locations switching hands, and field engagements between detachments seeking to capture or protect such.
    Aye, I suppose a seige is a seige wether it lasts a year or a week, so you are right, but long scale seiges by attrition were rare if not unexistant in mesoamerica as all evidence points at. It was simply unfeasable to do anything other than simply intimidate or force the beseiged city into surrender in the opening week, with a massive force or through battles, raids, etc. prior to the seige itself, which was ultimatly always the end game.
    If a city was nigh impregnable then the answer to that would be to wait for a moment in which it wasnt, cut off its allies and engage in irregular warfare until the moment for a direct assault on the city or its own voluntary submision is feasible.

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  2. #62
    Minas Moth's Avatar Sabre of Secession
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    Default Re: Pitched battles

    Quote Originally Posted by Keyser View Post
    The point of a siege is of capturing a town. Period.
    I think not entirely... you can invest in the siege of a certain city without goal of actually capturing it. If you want to imobilise enemy's force that is in the city and stop them to join with field force it will be often that as a commanding officer you will send a strong enough detachment simply to siege the city in order to prevent the enemy for using those troops as sudden reinforcemnt or flanking force.

    so no, goal of the siege isn't t simply capture the position the enemy is holding. siege warfare is static; it has been so from its very existence. both attacker and defender are tied to that small strip of land that sorrounds the city. there aren't many options you can do but either wiat it out or force the breech. on the other hand, non-siege warfare is always more mobile, it gives better oportunities to attacker as well as the defender. However, if you use a siege of a city as a mean and not an end to the objective then you have greater chance for success. it is very simple in fact.

    Consider that enemy has 20,000 troops in the city (not a castle or fort, but a city; 1760's onward). you besiege the city in a perimeter that will often be long several miles, to cover all the approaches. the ammount of forces to effectively besiege the city and stop any possible breakthrough would have to be at least 50,000. you can siege with less but then you face several dangers: 1) enemy has interior lines of communication, which means that he can easily assemble as much as 18,000 troops on the point he wants to break the siege without you even noticing its movements, 2) your stretched-out force will not be able to concentrate well enough to deter such an attack. infact, they will probably destroy your force piece by piece as ou will have to send your troops in on outer lines of communication. In such a case, sieger often abandons the siege and retreats. Othe threat is the high probability of enemy breaking the siege lines with his field army you ignored to start the siege. Even if you had 100,000 men and city is defended by 20-30,000 soldiers enemy's field force of about 50,000-60,000 will be able to smash your siege on every point, and in fact destroy your superior force.

    Tying soldiers to the siege is actually a waste of them. Granted, capture of a city can be strategically or politicaly important, but that can be quite costly in men and materiel if ou start the siege. Better tactic would be to search a pitched battles against the enemy, with strong detachment (proportionate to enemie's city force) guarding the flank where the city lies. If you win such a pitched battle against the field army, than tht 30,000 city farrison will have little choice (either to fall back to the city or evacuate it completely).

    So no, goal of the siege isn't capture of the town. As long as the enemy has a standing army, holding a city counts for nothing. Hell, when Romans took Parthian Capital, Parthian's weren't defeated, when Napoleon took Moscow it meant nothing as Russians still had strong field army. Once, again, siege can be extremely costly for the attacker as it is generaly accepted rule of 17-early 20th Century warfare that you need at least 3:1 ratio in your favour to carry the entrenched position (which besieged cities always are), and even that will not give you the upper hand. The 90,000 men you would have to invest in the siege can do far greater an better job then just sit under enemie's walls. In the same time 30,000 defense force will hardly leave the security of their trenches as it will surley be destroyed if it meets the 90,000 on the field...

    Edit:
    When Grant sieged Petersburg he didn't do it 'cause he considered that Petersburg must be taken. He invested in the siege for two reasons: 1) to drive Lee out from his positions arround Richmond and 2) to cut off Richmond's reil-road links with rest of the South. Thpse lines were going through Petersburg, butthe siege was in fact over not when Petersburg itself was taken, but when on the April 1, 1865 at Five Forks (waterloo of the confederacy) Union's Sheridan Cavalry managed to defeat the CS Pickett's division and cut off the last connection (Southside Railroad) with rest of the South. this pitched battle sealed the fate of Petersburg. On April 2, Lee informed Davis that both etersburg and Richmond must be evacuated. you can search the data for yourself for more info, but you will see that similar pattern can be found everywhere. as another example, I can give a siege of Vicksburg. The objective there was to silence the fort guns that were guarding the Mississippi river, not to capture the city of Vicksburg itself. the City had little or no value. Even the fort would be ignored if its guns could be destroyed from the Union river steamers...
    Last edited by Minas Moth; March 29, 2013 at 06:52 AM.

  3. #63
    Keyser's Avatar Pili
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    Default Re: Pitched battles

    You are somehow confusing the fact that you can win a war by seeking pitched battles to destroy the ennemy field force and his ability to defend his territory with the idea than then siege are ever only launched with that idea in mind.
    You are also thinking a siege is only the fact to assault fortifications or sitting on your arse in your siege camp waiting for the ennemy to surrender. A siege includes countless skirmish and small (and even large) actions to cover it, prevent the besieged to get reinforcement or supplies, defending your line of communications, cutting those of the ennemy etc.

    Petersburg was a siege. In the course of the siege, to force the surrender of the confederate many operations were launched, some of those were to cut the lines of communications with the rest of the confederate territory. You can take the cavalry action you speak of as a lone pitched battle or as a part of the siege.

    I agree that you can launch a siege, to force the ennemy actions (moving his main army from where it was, to break the siege) and trick him in a battle or saving your territory (it's one of the famous chinese war stratagem iirc, siege an ennemy town, so that he abandon his own siege of your's). Or that the result of a siege can be decided by a field battle (if when the rescuing army is beaten that means the besieged loose all help to be saved). But the point of the siege is to capture the town (even if it's only a feint).

    If you have, as in your exemple, an army of 20 000 thousand in a city, things are complicated. You can't just ignore them. So the capture of this city (and the troops inside) can become an objective. However you can achieve it by simply cutting the lines of communications to the city. 20 000 thousands men in a city won't last long. If they try to sally, the time they gather their army in the field you can regroup your forces. If you decide to continue you campaigning, you need to at least put a screening force to prevent the garrison to threaten you.

  4. #64
    Keyser's Avatar Pili
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    Default Re: Pitched battles

    .
    Last edited by Keyser; March 29, 2013 at 08:45 AM. Reason: Double post.

  5. #65
    Minas Moth's Avatar Sabre of Secession
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    Default Re: Pitched battles

    ...can win a war by seeking pitched battles to destroy the enemy field force and his ability to defend his territory...
    destruction of enemy's fighting force indeed is a main objective of any war. just as Clausewitz and Jomini (but only to extent) agreed that enemy's army or fighting force needs to be destroyed and that should be main objective that will lead you to wining the War. Ofc, siege is always launched with idea of destroying the enemy's army. either the one in town/city or the field army that will approach the city in hope of re-leaving the siege. You don't invest in siege of a town that is either evacuated or weakly defended. Such town can be overrun by a weaker detachment or disregarded altogether. The things change only to extent when you occupy or besiege politically important town. Then defender will try to re-leave it to prove he is strong enough to defend his land or 'cause he considers it an insult.

    A siege includes countless skirmish and small (and even large) actions to cover it, prevent the besieged to get reinforcement or supplies, defending your line of communications, cutting those of the enemy etc.
    definitely, but as both armies grow in numbers, likewise the skirmishes become full out battles, or pitched battles, often involving great numbers of combatants on both ides. such a battle can also determine the outcome of the siege itself as loses to either side can render further fighting as useless. If you leave enemy's field army while you besiege the city any attempt by this force done either to releave the siege or endanger your lines of communication will lead to a pitched battle.

    It wasn't a cavalry action... it was done by cav division but in ACW cav usually fought as dragoons (dismounted infantry). the battle involved almost 20,000 men. yes it was part of the siege, but what I was trying to point out is that this battle, which was fought far from the siege works, sealed the deal by cutting the last rail-road link. There was no breech of Petersburg earthworks via any siege technique Union tried. Even the famous mine failed to deliver. I think that in many cases siege itself was decided not by simple besieging or rushing the walls but with disabling enemy's lines of communication, supplies etc... but in every war where you have massive armies (which is pretty much all except Medieval Europe) this was achieved over great space and more often than not via some pitched battle that rendered defenders position unattainable.
    Last edited by Minas Moth; March 29, 2013 at 06:21 PM.

  6. #66
    MariusHealth's Avatar Signifer
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    Default Re: Pitched battles

    Quote Originally Posted by Minas Moth View Post
    destruction of enemy's fighting force indeed is a main objective of any war. just as Clausewitz and Jomini (but only to extent) agreed that enemy's army or fighting force needs to be destroyed and that should be main objective that will lead you to wining the War. Ofc, siege is always launched with idea of destroying the enemy's army.
    (...)
    definitely, but as both armies grow in numbers, likewise the skirmishes become full out battles, or pitched battles, often involving great numbers of combatants on both ides. such a battle can also determine the outcome of the siege itself as loses to either side can render further fighting as useless. If you leave enemy's field army while you besiege the city any attempt by this force done either to releave the siege or endanger your lines of communication will lead to a pitched battle.
    (...)
    but in every war where you have massive armies (which is pretty much all except Medieval Europe) this was achieved over great space and more often than not via some pitched battle that rendered defenders position unattainable.

    Since the war of Spanish succession and the French war machine under Louis 14 European armies have become massive compared to earlier. During this period armies became centered on professional/veteran regiments that took years to develop. If you could destroy the enemy's veteran core he would not have time to develop a new and would lose. Armies also had loads of standard line infantry, but an veteran ++ army would smash a pure noob army. Napoleon waged war this way.

    With bigger armies you can afford to besige a fort AND move your army past it ... well if it's possible ofcourse. If the enemy has a large army inside the fort then it is more of a natural strategic goal to make it surrender.


    Perhaps this thread has more relevance if we're discussing pre-(early)modern warfare.

  7. #67
    Minas Moth's Avatar Sabre of Secession
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    Default Re: Pitched battles

    I wouldn't say Napoleon waged war in that matter. The French Revolution gave the nation at arms approach to warfare. And it wasn't about good and and great trained troops. It was about masses of poorly trained general infantry, supported by few (in number) veteran and trained units. The Napoleon's Army at Borodino (or entire Russian Campaign) was mostly comprised of veteran units. I say mostly, because in Russian Campaign French Army had the best ratio when it comes to numbers > experience. What you propose would mean that in this case, French would always beat the Russians (who levied most of their troops as best as they could) every-time everywhere. But that wasn't the case; Borodino was a victory gained not victory won for the French, as Russains managed to pull out. and after Borodino it was all downhill for the French. Also, during Waterloo Campaign, Wellington's Army had good ammount of "freshly raised regiments", I believe that J. Black (Waterloo) states that Wellington would much prefer to have more of his veteran Peninsula Campaign troops.

    The size of an army is very relevant with sieges. But an army of a large size will very (in matter of days) eat out its surroundings, and that could be a serious problem for any Army. sitting outside of a city with army that is very big, will devoid you of an ability to use enemies territory for foraging (or you will have to send foraging detachments further and further and they will have to be stronger as distance became greater; this in turn means they are absent from the main army for longer amount of time and effectively decrease the ability to concentrate largest amount of troops on given point).

    Granted, sieges of pre-modern wars were different; but only slightly. As the only thing that was changed, was the fact that in pre-modern Wars, city was often a fort also and it had to be taken as enemy would often take cover behind the walls. In modern times, this became less and less frequent, as armies became more mobile, artillery was powerful enough to shatter fortifications (especially stone ones) and cities became increasingly much bigger than pre-modern ones which were pretty much determined by fortifications around them. I would put it this way: in pre-modern Wars, taking the town was strategical objective, in modern ones it became a mean to achieve that objective (destruction of enemies army).

  8. #68
    MariusHealth's Avatar Signifer
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    Default Re: Pitched battles

    Doesn't my previous post answer much of this ? ^

  9. #69
    Blatta Optima Maxima's Avatar Definitely banned
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    Default Re: Pitched battles

    I think I'll have to post a long one. Hope I'm going to remember to do it when I get home.

  10. #70
    Posantio of Umbria's Avatar Shisai
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    Default Re: Pitched battles

    The main reason sieges are more common, and more readily engaged in in pre-modern/early modern warfare is that it was viewed as more of a science than an art. The control of a (besieging) commander over the operations is greater than in a pitched battle and the operations and tactics in a siege were pretty well documented and especially in medieval European warfare there was a definite protocol to follow for siege warfare, not to mention the tools and techniques available to the belligerents of the eurasian subcontinent. Also, investing a city did not usually mean completely surrounding the city with the entire army (though the Romans often did something very close to it), there was a main camp of the main army and the rest of the front was covered by outposts and patrols.
    While the threat of relieve armies was evident, and many a pitched battle has been fought in relation to sieges, most often the approach of a relieve army was enough to lift a siege without the relief force and the besieging force ever crossing swords.

    In the chronicles of Froissart a lot of sieges and/or attacks on cities are documented and these rarely last more than a month. Strongholds (inc. cities, forts, castles etc.) often surrendered, either at the arrival of an army or at a certain point in time during the siege.

    As Meso-American warfare was mentioned in this regard by Saxdude, I wonder what era he refers to. If pre-colombian, I think that neither the object of the wars nor the available technology were conductive to siege warfare, and the local culture of war was decidedly different than pre-modern/early modern eurasia, it had more in common with ancient Greece or the biblical era Levant were warfare was relatively ritualised and fought to force treaties and tributes (of slaves and goods, or even honor-recognition of the victor as superior/suzerain) in a manner you could describe as "let's take it outside, you and me!" rather than actually occupying territory. when the Assyrians invented (or perfected) Siege warfare, the rules changed, and the occupation of territory and elimination/assimilation of rival tribes/kingdoms became the objectives of wars. To achieve those objectives, Pitched Battles are often not a necessity and as stated earlier, wracked with too much uncertainty and risk, while sieges allow for measured and controllable procedure to bring the enemy (the besieged) to heel.

    In the early modern era, fortifications advanced in-step with artillery (trace-italienne, star forts), making siege warfare even more of a science and a form of proto-trenchwarfare. from the pike-and-shot up to the mid-19th century the protocol was to dig approaches to the city walls, construct gun emplacements ever closer to the walls and batter one or several sections of wall with artillery until a 'practicable' breach was made. Once the breach was made, the besieged had one last change to surrender or face an assault and the sack of his city and massacre of the garrison. Much more straightforward and manageable than the intricacies of Battlefield manoeuvres and command and control in a Pitched Battle of that period... but yes, if it came to an assault, it was very costly in human lives if the defending commander knew his job, still, most generals would prefer a siege, because the outcome is rarely in doubt if the standard procedures are followed and/or augmented by onorthodox tactics (though those are rare as most possible siege tactics have been documented somewhere already).

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