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Thread: Pitched battles

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    Default Re: Pitched battles

    Quote Originally Posted by MariusHealth View Post
    Both the soldiers and the public will want a quick and decisive victory. The enthusiasm only lasts so long. Who wants an endless grind? Losing a battle will deteriorate morale all over, but so will a long campaign. If you're avoiding the enemy - what does that say of your abilities? Perhaps the general has lost his nerves?

    Pompey reluctantly engaged Caesar at Pharsalus when Caesar was in a bad strategic situation. I'm sure you can come up with other examples of the same. Likewise you can probably find many examples where battles did not define wars.

    Just as saying that wars are only a series of battles - claiming that they are unimportant is wrong. Battles constitute the most important single aspect that I can name. When they happen they are usually defining.


    Since wars are defined by many factors, just looking at battles wont give you much insight.
    Yet we can look at many other examples whereby the outcome pitched battle can be indecisive. Look at the battle of Cannae and how much longer the 2nd Punic war lasted.

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    Default Re: Pitched battles

    @ray243: Cannae was decisive. A roman victory would have ended the war. Anyhow, "decisive" does not mean "whoever wins this battle, wins the war".

    I can not believe how one can say that pitched battle is "undecisive". A few hours, and it is won for one side, and lost for another. Of course, in a big war where not all the forces are committed and the losing side has sufficient political stability it can continue to fight and win in another battle or through other means such as raiding or siege warfare. But generally, battle is the only way to end things fast. Fighting pitched battles, while it was not as common as normally imagined, had some advantages:

    1) Small-scale action is rather attritional. The germans knew this in WW2; This is why they opted for swift maneuvers by concentrated tank-heavy forces. Rather than trench warfare or raiding, they used combined-arms operations (modern equivalent of the pitched battle) to deliver decisive victory. Small-scale action is decided by endurance, and, for the biggest part, by material considerations: Logistics, number of troops. "Battles" are decided by morale, luck plays a greater role. This means that most of the times, there will be a clear victor after a short period of time. If you want to avoid unnecessary casualties, go for pitched battle.

    2) Supplying troops in the field is very costly. Conscripted forces, feudal levies and mercenaries can not be kept active for an infinite amount of time. If the fighting occurs in your own lands, there will be pillaging. If you conscripted men, they will not be able to work and thus support society during this time. Even professional soldiers cost much more when deployed. So, the longer the war takes, the more expensive it is. It will destroy the economy, ravage the lands and cripple its people. You have to end it fast; In the old times, through pitched battle, nowadays, through swift combined-arms blitzkrieg.

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    Default Re: Pitched battles

    Quote Originally Posted by Weltgeist View Post
    @ray243: Cannae was decisive. A roman victory would have ended the war. Anyhow, "decisive" does not mean "whoever wins this battle, wins the war".
    It is indecisive in the sense that it does not win the war on its own. It is important to study the aftermath of a battle as much as the battle itself.

    However, if you feel the battle of Cannae is not a good example, we can always uses the battles of the Pyrrhic war as an example whereby winning battles after battles is useless if the winner of a particular battle cannot exploit his advantages.

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    Default Re: Pitched battles

    I have read through this thread and I have seen some statetments that are quite disturbing to me, especially when I take in consideration works of Jomini and Clausewitz, which are aplicable to any conflict in the history of world (excluding Jomini's work on tactics as it clearly belongs to era from 1700 to 1870)... but let us go in some kind of order:

    • in multiple posts one could easily get an impression that decisive battle is massive battle. as a support ot this theises such posters point to battles such as Cannae, Agincourt, Jenna, Leipzig, Waterloo, Borodino etc... however, I would like to point out to faultiness of such an opinion. in true spirit of art of war (both Clausewitz and Jomini) decisive battle needs not to be massive. the campaign (and even war) can be won an account of single brigade/division/detachment taking enemies critical supply depot, capturing the only bridge that is his line of retreat, destroying his wagon train etc... such operations are often done by small attachments and battles that happen rarely have more than 10,000 men (which is itself overstatement in many cases). such captures, ussually compel the enemy to either retreat to a position more unfavourable to him, abandon the area of operations completely or in some cases to attack the main body of your army in order to open an avenue of retreat or to achieve interior line of comunication. As a good example we can look upon "Stonewall" Jackson's Shennandoah Valley campaign which aimed at releaving some pressure from Lee's Army of Northern Virginia. Jackson, with some 15,000 men managed to defeat in detail three Union Armies that ammounted to 45,000 strong. by doing it so in some dozen battles Jackson managed to drive the Union forces from the Valley. The Battle of Second Bull Run that happened at the end of it wasn't decisive (although it was massive in comparison to Jackson's battles) as Union force were already beaten and in retreat...

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    Default Re: Pitched battles

    If you are already quoting Clausewitz on decisive battles than you should also be aware that the example you brought up is not a decisive battle in Clausewitz's sense, the decisive battle is the one that decide the outcome of the entire war, not a tactical or operational success. And we all know how the things ended up for Jackson and CSA eventually.
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    Default Re: Pitched battles

    What is the point of this thread? I can pick up a children's book on Medieval history, and I can find that it says that battles were actually very rare. What stunning new insight am I missing here?
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    Default Re: Pitched battles

    Quote Originally Posted by Slaytaninc View Post
    What is the point of this thread? I can pick up a children's book on Medieval history, and I can find that it says that battles were actually very rare. What stunning new insight am I missing here?
    People are thinking that all battles were won by a decisive pitched battles.


    There is another point I noticed when I started to look at warfare in ancient Chinese history. While the western historiography is full of examples of pitched battles, Chinese historiography tend to downplay any pitched battles. Pitched battles like the battle of Cannae and the battle of Raphia is quite rare in Chinese history. Instead, Chinese records usually focus their attention on the campaigns rather than a particular pitched battle.

    Even the famous battle of red cliff should be better described as a campaign rather than a pitched battle.

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    Default Re: Pitched battles

    Like I said, Guandu was a series of maneuvres. It wasn't until Cao Cao led part of his besieged army from Guandu to attack Yuan Shao's supply base and then double back to Guandu to attack the besiegers in the back. Other than the one time when Cao Cao ordered a two-pronged assault (one behind Yuan Shao and a sortee from Guandu) was there ever any contact between the whole of both armies. Before that it was minor skirmishes or battles designed to ware down Yuan Shao and give Cao Cao the strategic initiative, even in those minor battles it was only parts of the army and not all of the armies.

    The same is true for nearly every episode of Chinese warfare with only some exceptions in Medieval times and a couple other times when Chinese battles actually escalated to a massive battle with the entire body of armies engaging each other all at once in one area (such as Austerlitz). But whether a battle becomes a massive pitched battle depends on the numbers involved, how spread out they are and what the strategic situation is. I think one of the best examples in the Three Kingdoms era of a pitched battle is White Wolf Mountain although there was a lot of maneuvre both armies actually did turn to face each other after some initial skirmishing (such as screening, distracting, positioning, intelligence, to ware and test the enemy; this is what skirmishing was used for).

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    Default Re: Pitched battles

    Quote Originally Posted by clandestino View Post
    If you are already quoting Clausewitz on decisive battles than you should also be aware that the example you brought up is not a decisive battle in Clausewitz's sense, the decisive battle is the one that decide the outcome of the entire war, not a tactical or operational success. And we all know how the things ended up for Jackson and CSA eventually.
    care to provide exact chapter and book where Clausewitz says that? I am most interested...
    Last edited by Minas Moth; March 01, 2013 at 03:00 PM.

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    Default Re: Pitched battles

    I'm not talking about massive battles, I'm talking about set-piece battles, achieving strategic objectives, which are what most history books talk about. Wars aren't defined by battles. If you actually paid attention to how wars are conducted in the majority of cases, it's not about meeting the enemy in open field, but taking/holding positions or damaging their logistical ability to wage war. The latter might include hunting down enemy forces, in specific circumstances.

    When battles do occur, they're usually a means to achieving an operational objective, and quite lopsided. When they are conducted to achieve a strategic goal, they're usually caused by the second option, which is far from common enough to warrant calling them the most important aspect of war.

    If I had to name the single most common and important aspect of war, it'd be sieges. But just as with battles, reducing war to a series of sieges would be stupid.

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    Default Re: Pitched battles

    One of the few threads with an interesting discussion. I'm not going to join the historical debate, but I do think CA should think of this subject in its quest to make big battles less frequent but more important - getting your main force decimated should be a disaster for your empire.

    If CA creates an AI that takes care of it's armies, engages only if it might actually really win and retreats if otherwise, I'd be very happy. Now the AI just blindly throws stack after stack after stack at you, which is dumb and gets repetitive.

    A simple example: paint the campaign map with red, green and neutral areas (no visual colours, just figuratively). In green areas (e.g. bridges, hills, ridges) AI should prefer defensive positions. In neutral areas, it should only attack you when it has a force that matches yours. In red areas (hills etc occupied by an enemy or terrain that is difficult to defend), AI should fight only when greatly outnumbering you. Otherwise, it should evade battle, retreat to a green area and take up a defensive position.

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    Default Re: Pitched battles

    I was under the impression that seiges were generally avoided if possible, due to the staggering logistics involved. In mesoamerica at least, full scale seiges were rare and avoided when possible, other than that I would concure with the rest of your argument, most city states, kingdoms and empires rarely took the risk of a pitched battle against foes like the Aztec or Tarascan empire, and even with the manpower to accomplish it, they rarely risked a full fighting force on a pitched battle.

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    Default Re: Pitched battles

    Quote Originally Posted by Unhappy Moose View Post
    One of the few threads with an interesting discussion. I'm not going to join the historical debate, but I do think CA should think of this subject in its quest to make big battles less frequent but more important - getting your main force decimated should be a disaster for your empire.

    If CA creates an AI that takes care of it's armies, engages only if it might actually really win and retreats if otherwise, I'd be very happy. Now the AI just blindly throws stack after stack after stack at you, which is dumb and gets repetitive.

    A simple example: paint the campaign map with red, green and neutral areas (no visual colours, just figuratively). In green areas (e.g. bridges, hills, ridges) AI should prefer defensive positions. In neutral areas, it should only attack you when it has a force that matches yours. In red areas (hills etc occupied by an enemy or terrain that is difficult to defend), AI should fight only when greatly outnumbering you. Otherwise, it should evade battle, retreat to a green area and take up a defensive position.
    The matter is that currently, the AI needs to defend a city (at least the last settlement) if it doesn't want to be eliminated. And it calculates (quite rightly) that it's better to garrison it. So if they don't defend the cities they will be eaten alive without any fight by the player. If they defend them, they get their armies trapped inside and the game becomes a boring siege fiest...
    CA would need to change other things regarding the campaign gameplay (like introducing more operational aspects, like supplies, better simulation of fortifications and sieges, scouting etc) for such an AI to be interesting.

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    Default Re: Pitched battles

    Quote Originally Posted by saxdude View Post
    I was under the impression that seiges were generally avoided if possible, due to the staggering logistics involved. In mesoamerica at least, full scale seiges were rare and avoided when possible, other than that I would concure with the rest of your argument, most city states, kingdoms and empires rarely took the risk of a pitched battle against foes like the Aztec or Tarascan empire, and even with the manpower to accomplish it, they rarely risked a full fighting force on a pitched battle.
    Sieges avoided compared to battles? Truly?

    Have you ever actually counted the number of sieges in relation to large battles? The thing about battles is that they very often occured as a means of gaining access to a position (which was usually to be sieged anyway), or as an attempt to deter and stop enemy besiegers by blocking their passage. Battles achieving strategic goals is a rare occurance, usually the case in short wars.

    One can see a rather common pattern in many wars, especially ones with short term, immediate political goals - the initial campaign is aimed at a quick decisive victory, be it by directly striking the enemy's base of operations, or destroying their forces in the field; but, as it often happens, when neither side is able to achieve their goals in the initial push, they regroup, and the war becomes a very attritional, positional affair. Really, the chances of a decisive blow are higher when there is a bigger disparity of force involved... Which also means that the engagement is less likely to be a set-piece battle (you wouldn't call a hundred thousand men surrounding and slaughtering twenty thousand a set-piece battle, would you?).

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    Default Re: Pitched battles

    Quote Originally Posted by Blatta Optima Maxima View Post
    One can see a rather common pattern in many wars, especially ones with short term, immediate political goals - the initial campaign is aimed at a quick decisive victory, be it by directly striking the enemy's base of operations, or destroying their forces in the field; but, as it often happens, when neither side is able to achieve their goals in the initial push, they regroup, and the war becomes a very attritional
    Sounds exactly like the Korean War to me, actually I think that would be your greatest example.

    Quote Originally Posted by Blatta Optima Maxima View Post
    engagement is less likely to be a set-piece battle (you wouldn't call a hundred thousand men surrounding and slaughtering twenty thousand a set-piece battle, would you?).
    Not sure what you are saying here, is it because 20,000 men is not the bulk of the enemy force? Or because they are surrounded?

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    Default Re: Pitched battles

    Sieges avoided compared to battles? Truly?

    Have you ever actually counted the number of sieges in relation to large battles? The thing about battles is that they very often occured as a means of gaining access to a position (which was usually to be sieged anyway), or as an attempt to deter and stop enemy besiegers by blocking their passage. Battles achieving strategic goals is a rare occurance, usually the case in short wars.

    One can see a rather common pattern in many wars, especially ones with short term, immediate political goals - the initial campaign is aimed at a quick decisive victory, be it by directly striking the enemy's base of operations, or destroying their forces in the field; but, as it often happens, when neither side is able to achieve their goals in the initial push, they regroup, and the war becomes a very attritional, positional affair. Really, the chances of a decisive blow are higher when there is a bigger disparity of force involved... Which also means that the engagement is less likely to be a set-piece battle (you wouldn't call a hundred thousand men surrounding and slaughtering twenty thousand a set-piece battle, would you?).
    Not that battles were more common than seiges, but that seiges were avoided, if more common than pitched battles, especially in mesoamerica, where they had neither the logistics to mantain a months long seige, nor the will/intent to take a city by force or attrition. After all the main purpose of the campaign would be to keep the city in well enough state to achieve consistant tributing.
    Last edited by saxdude; March 25, 2013 at 09:03 PM.

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    Default Re: Pitched battles

    @money 1. Korean war, WW1, the 1460-64 phase of the wars of the roses - examples are endless, since it's a common pattern.
    2. Because the smaller force doesn't get the choice of anything or the chance of victory - it has been defeated strategically and operationally before it even gets a chance at fighting concentrated. Short story - involuntary action with predetermined outcome.

    @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.

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    Default Re: Pitched battles

    I can concede that sieges were in-fact very common and often aspect of any War. however, I would like to point out the fact that siege (as an aspect or a way of achieving your strategical or even operational goal) can't and really shouldn't be seen separately or not connected with pitched battles. In fact, the main purpose of a siege is actually to incite the defender into the pitched battle outside his defences; under conditions of attackers choosing. Every siege aims to two things: 1) taken the city by all out attack on its defences, or 2) besieging the city until the defender is forced to sally fort (due to hunger or other effects(. so you see, point of siege is actually to have a pitched battle, but under circumstances of attackers own choosing.

    it is not coincidence that Romans built excessive works around besieged settlements. this started with Romans (maybe even earlier but we can't be sure) but was from then on accepted by everyone. The works around besieged settlement ensured the attacker that he won't be: a) surprised and overwhelmed by sudden sally of the defenders, b) surprised by enemies reinforcements, and finally c) compelled to commit great number of his soldiers on every point of siege (which is virtually impossible anyway) but will be able to hold his ground or cause great casualties to the enemy in case of loosing it.

    In American Civil War, the siege of Petersburg lasted for almost a year. but it wasn't just the case of U.S. Grant marching his armies to Petersburg, setting a tight perimeter and waiting for Lee and Confederates to surrender. the siege was actually done in a lot of stages, as Confederates stubbornly defended various points around Petersburg (in some cases as far as 8 miles from city itself. Their stubborn defence lead to serious of pitched battles that eventually forced Confederates to fall back closer and closer to the city itself. eventually, when last rail-road link to Petersburg was cut off (can name the battle if necessary, Lee was forced to evacuate the city. so one could easily say that in fact the pitched battle ended the siege. the pitched battle that caused loss of the last rail-road link. so, I would say that pitched battles and sieges are necessarily interconnected, and that siege will often lead to pitched battle.

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    Default Re: Pitched battles

    Hum, you are totally mistaken. The point of a siege is of capturing a town. Period. You can trick the besieged into a pitched battle if the town is so important (strategically, symbolically, economically etc) that he can't let it fall (or if his leader or main army is trapped inside). But that's not the point of every siege.

    The point of a siege is securing an access or a stronghold/base for further operations.
    Or just plain capturing a town in order to bring an area into one possession/control.
    As simple as that.

    However i agree that they are interconnected.

    But every single aspect of operational warfare is interconnected. Manoeuvering, skirmishing, raids, sieges, feints, battles... They are all part of the operations whose goal is the success of one's war goal or strategy. And all those aspects can lead to each others or just be steps toward the ultimate goal.
    Last edited by Keyser; March 27, 2013 at 06:16 PM.

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    Default Re: Pitched battles

    You are right, but this holds less true as you go further into history. While projection of force and area denial were extremely prominent threats during world wars, Command and Control structures improved to a point where a decisive victory could be rapidly exploited. Not to mention that battles became more fluid, rather than that whole "buildup-attack-conquer" that a lot of ancient armies went through. In the 20th century, catching the enemy unprepared in a battle was more common.

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