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Thread: The nature of military organization: units are not about the numbers, or formations

  1. #21
    MariusHealth's Avatar Signifer
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    Default Re: The nature of military organization: units are not about the numbers, or formations

    Dissected your post:

    Quote Originally Posted by Blatta Optima Maxima View Post
    A unit is defined by its purpose, not the details of its operation and strength.

    So units are neither about their numbers, or the way they are arrayed on the battlefield. What the hell are they defined by, then? The answer couldn't be simpler - their role.

    the distinction between units primarily administrative and primarily tactical

    Larger units formed in a generally ad hoc manner.

    Cool story bro.

    What do you want to discuss?

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    Default Re: The nature of military organization: units are not about the numbers, or formations

    Quote Originally Posted by AUSSIE11 View Post
    As for giving your units wierd and wonderful names and making them different strengths for the purposes of deception, isn't that only logic on many scales? an example is the Special Air Service, originally only compay size they were given the "service" title more for deception than any other purpose.
    Not necessary, because deception can, sometimes, hurt yourself too. One great example is Chinese Nationalist force during WWII...
    Quote Originally Posted by Markas View Post
    Hellheaven, sometimes you remind me of King Canute trying to hold back the tide, except without the winning parable.
    Quote Originally Posted by O'Hea View Post
    The only reason why Charlemagne came into this at all is because Hellheaven thought it'd be a fun way to troll some byzantophiles.

  3. #23
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    Default Re: The nature of military organization: units are not about the numbers, or formations

    Quote Originally Posted by hellheaven1987 View Post
    Not necessary, because deception can, sometimes, hurt yourself too. One great example is Chinese Nationalist force during WWII...
    Honestly deception of this type doesn't bother me, I can see deception in general as being a primary tool of war and this form of deception can be very effective. It's a bit like when you bowl in cricket, If you have no idea what the ball is going to do what hope does the batsman have???(sorry to any non-cricketers out there, this was the best metaphor i had at the spur of the moment.) I do admit however it can go too far as shown by the chinese nationalists and even by Nazi Germany and Napoleon towards the end...
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  4. #24
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    Default Re: The nature of military organization: units are not about the numbers, or formations

    Can't see how we can meaningfully link old unit names and purposes to new unit names as our own are not uniform and as Dromikaites has said.

    The idea we need to understand unit formations purpose (along with equipment training etc etc) is fundamental to understanding warfare. How do you analyse ACW ANV campaigns without considering the soldiers desire to return home and bring in the crops? Or he Roman legions performance unless you consider voting and service classes, citizenship and booty division (no thats not a military unit).

    Quote Originally Posted by AUSSIE11 View Post
    ..."Because Commander A's battalion met and defeated Commander B's Battalion and both units are the same size, then obviously D'Erlon was a better commander and/or his troops better!" ...
    Yeah fair enough, and hard to disagree with as you see that sort of reasoning trotted out by writers drawing conclusions from battle results (eg people claiming British inf superiority on Waterloo and sideshows in Spain).

    Napoleon observed that God was on the side of the big battalions, and IIRC his army structure had substantially larger battalions than other contemporary force structures.

    I think numbers and formations matter a lot: Stalin said quantity has a quality all its own and he'd know the murderous scoundrel. Once the Soviets got their formations and doctrine right then the Germans were toast: they could afford to lose all but three of the monthly bodycounts on the eastern front and take Berlin.
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    hellheaven1987's Avatar Praefectus Cohortis
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    Default Re: The nature of military organization: units are not about the numbers, or formations

    What Stalin did not say was that only the backwardness of Russia allowed such large military existed without breaking the logistic, Antony Beevor has pointed out that in 1945 due to rapid advance most spearhead units of Red Army had to rely on forage for food supply so the logistic system could concentrate on sending ammo and equipments.
    Last edited by hellheaven1987; February 19, 2013 at 11:17 PM.
    Quote Originally Posted by Markas View Post
    Hellheaven, sometimes you remind me of King Canute trying to hold back the tide, except without the winning parable.
    Quote Originally Posted by O'Hea View Post
    The only reason why Charlemagne came into this at all is because Hellheaven thought it'd be a fun way to troll some byzantophiles.

  6. #26
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    Default Re: The nature of military organization: units are not about the numbers, or formations

    Quote Originally Posted by Blatta Optima Maxima View Post
    Yes. Read the bloody OP for once, people!
    I think these unit names represent a bunch of traditions (they're not consistent across meodern military traditions let alone the bizarre array of past ones) anmd have a 'perfect world" quality noit seen on the battlefield. Has an army ever entered the battlefield at ration strength? The vast array of differing methods of recruitment (conscription, volunteer, slave, inherited, poress ganged) service type (contract, proffesional, obligatory, vocational) training (in a school, in a monastic institution, in regular tribal exercises), level of discipline and weapon systems means (I think) that there's no universal concepts in force organisation beyond the blandest generalisations.
    Well, your OP wasn't exactly specific. As the poster above me also pointed out- it is a huge topic and your OP lacks focus (see below)

    Quote Originally Posted by Blatta Optima Maxima View Post
    By looking at armies throughout history, a pattern can be discerned - the distinction between various levels of command, namely, the individual, the tactical (generally on a couple of levels), the operational and the strategic, as well as the distinction between units primarily administrative and primarily tactical in nature. In many cases, there might be strong parallels with modern organization, even if there is quite a bit of overlap due to the notable difference in size. Still, the point stands: a unit is defined by its purpose, not the details of its operation and strength.

    Now, for an example, let's see the Roman mid-era army.
    -The squad = contubernium/decuria
    -The platoon/company = century/turma
    -The battalion = cohort/ala
    -The regiment/brigade = legion, auxiliary cohort, ala

    Larger units formed in a generally ad hoc manner.
    The initial responses dealt specifically with Roman organization primarily (assumption perhaps) because you used Roman organization as an example.

    Perhaps I misunderstood the point of the OP- if so, it isn't much to ask for clarification and their is no cause to get snippy.

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  7. #27
    Condottiere 40K's Avatar Tribunus Augusticlavii
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    Default Re: The nature of military organization: units are not about the numbers, or formations

    In the end, the organization of the military depends on the sophistication of C3, as understood by the General Staff, or their equivalent. Basically the span of control each subordinate commander was capable of, and the ability that technology allowed his superior to clearly communicate his orders to them during an ongoing battle.
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  8. #28
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    Default Re: The nature of military organization: units are not about the numbers, or formations

    I'll give another example to illustrate why numbers alone are insufficient when one tries to understand what really happened.

    Those who are reading extensively about the Franco-Prussian war of 1870-1871 discover pretty soon that in most of the battles the French were entrenched. Thanks to their superior Chassepot rifles (superior range, superior rate of fire and more cartridges distributed to the French soldiers) they were always butchering the Prussians in the initial stages of the battle, until the Prussian artillery was brought to bear on the French positions.

    Some would stop at that and accept the reason the French lost was the superiority of the Prussian artillery (in range, caliber and number of pieces per battery) without going further with their investigation.

    But others would ask themselves: what was different in WW1, when the more advanced artillery proved unable to destroy the entrenched infantry? Why the French could not hold on in 1870 against a less destructive artillery?

    If we take at face value the assumption that the Prussians managed to blast a path through the French tranches in 1870 because they had a more numerous and better quality artillery then why did the superior German artillery of WW1 fail to do the same not against the French, but even against the Romanian trenches in 1917? Or why did the superior Allied artillery fail to breach the Bulgarian defenses at Doiran in 1918?

    No numbers help us answer those questions. Not the number of canons, not the number of soldiers, not numbers like caliber, range, rate of fire.

    What the French lacked in 1870 were the WW1 machine guns (the 1870 French mitrailleuse was physically unable to do the work of a 1914 machine gun). Creating a "wall of fire" with the Chassepot rifles required the French soldiers to be tightly packed in their trenches, so any well aimed shell was taking out lots of them. That meant that after a couple of hours of shelling enough defenders were eliminated to make it safer for the Prussian infantry to assault the French positions.

    Creating an even more destructive wall of fire with the machine guns of 1914 could be done with well camouflaged and very sparsely distributed machine gun nests. Those machine gun nests were too small targets for the indirect artillery fire. They could have been successfully destroyed only with direct artillery fire, but no canon could be safely brought close enough to do that until the tanks were invented at the end of the war. This is why superior artillery was not enough in WW1, as long as the defender had a decent number of machine guns, weapons much cheaper than the canons.

    Some argue that the French positions would have lasted for longer in 1870 if instead of packing their trenches with soldiers, the French would have distributed their soldiers more sparsely, so that any well aimed artillery shell would have killed less defenders. The "wall-of-fire" would have been less dense but it might still have proven dense enough to cripple the Prussians to the point that a counter-attack would have routed them.

    There's no way to prove that approach would have indeed worked. For instance after being routed in one or two battles the Prussians, who still enjoyed a superiority 2:1 or even 3:1 on some theaters could have changed their tactics to first eliminate the French canons in artillery duels (thanks to their canons having better range and having more pieces in a battery) and then hold their infantry out of the range of the Chassepots until the French lines would have been weakened enough by shelling.

    Of course the French might have just as well needed only a couple of crushing victories to dismantle the Prussian coalition and win the war before the Prussians can adapt their tactics.

    But the "what if" is less relevant for the topic of this thread.

    What is relevant is that by now most of the readers have probably realized that the discussion about why the Prussians succeeded or about how the French could have fared better in 1870 must go beyond numbers (number of troops, numbers describing the performance of the different weapons, etc).

    Similarly, understanding any battle or campaign requires understanding a lot more than just "number X is larger than number Y therefore the guys with X won over the guys with Y".
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  9. #29
    Condottiere 40K's Avatar Tribunus Augusticlavii
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    Default Re: The nature of military organization: units are not about the numbers, or formations

    Basically, defense in depth.
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    Default Re: The nature of military organization: units are not about the numbers, or formations

    Quote Originally Posted by Condottiere 40K View Post
    Basically, defense in depth.
    Well, not quite. At least not in the sense the term is used in the military.

    Here is why, speaking strictly about the Franco-Prussian war:

    A defense in depth in the military sense of the term would mean the French should have had a system of successive trenches going several kilometers deep behind the first line (plus mobile reserves, plus long range artillery plus many other stuff, but for the sake of simplicity we'll stick only to the depth of the field fortifications).

    In 1870 they did have several trenches one behind the other, not just a first line and nothing else.

    But in order for such form of defense to be effective, it required a certain density of bullets. At lesser densities the Prussians could attack running (which is exactly what they first tried before learning the hard way not to do it anymore) and cover the distance separating them from the French while sustaining an acceptable number of casualties.

    Since those bullets were fired with the Chassepot rifles, not with modern machine guns, a successful defense required more soldiers in the same trench than it would be needed in WW1.

    Therefore even if the French would have dug the same system of trenches in 1870 as they dug in 1914, they still would have been forced to crowd into the first lines.

    That would have meant not only that a lot of trenches to the rear would have been left empty and therefore useless, not only that on the crowded first lines the Prussian artillery would have had the same effect but, on top of that, if the French would have tried to cover their border with a continuous line of trenches like in WW1, they would not have had enough troops to put even in the first lines.

    Trying to hold the whole front from Switzerland to Belgium with Chassepot-wielding soldiers would have resulted in those soldiers being spaced out too sparsely to inflict any crippling casualties on the attacking Prussians.

    Concentrating those soldiers to the point their fire has enough density and stopping power would have meant even the first lines of trenches would have had large unmanned portions which the Prussians could have crossed unhindered.

    With the technology of 1870 the best option for the French would have been to match the Prussian artillery with their own. Then the Chassepot fired from the trenches would have negated any Prussian superiority in numbers.
    Last edited by Dromikaites; February 20, 2013 at 03:55 AM.
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  11. #31
    Condottiere 40K's Avatar Tribunus Augusticlavii
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    Default Re: The nature of military organization: units are not about the numbers, or formations

    I've foregone the pleasure of studying the Franco-Prussian War, but from what I understand of the frontier, there were only so many possible avenues to advance armies into France, which was why these zones were identified, yay, so many moons ago, and fortified, or at least speed bumped.

    Strategically, Bismarck wanted this conflict, and the German General Staff had the luxury to prepare for it.

    Defense in depth isn't just the ability to unload a certain amount of lead on an unappreciative audience, the capability to absorb the initial onslaughts, without the rear lines breaking.
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  12. #32
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    Default Re: The nature of military organization: units are not about the numbers, or formations

    In 1870 the french tried to be on the defensive tactically but that doesn't mean they had an extensive trench network...

    Excepted in the case of sieges (like Belfort, Metz, Paris).

    During the major battles, the french fought mostly in skirmish order (loose line using the covers). The pace of the campaign was too fast for serious defenses like trench to be built.

    So, the reason why the prussian artillery was more sucessfull in inflicting casualty to the french isn't just that the french were packed or lacked machine gun and more that they weren't strongly entrenched...

    IMO.

    But i am not an expert on the subject, maybe they did use trenches, i am just unaware of it.

    And that would be only for the first part of the war anyway.

    In the second part after the republic was proclaimed, the french troops were very badly equiped with all kinds of firerarms, old stocks and various importations of foreign models, so the firepower superiority of the Chassepot was lost and the strategic situation means the republican armies had to go on the offensive (with badly equiped and trained troops)...

  13. #33
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    Default Re: The nature of military organization: units are not about the numbers, or formations

    Quote Originally Posted by Condottiere 40K View Post
    I've foregone the pleasure of studying the Franco-Prussian War, but from what I understand of the frontier, there were only so many possible avenues to advance armies into France, which was why these zones were identified, yay, so many moons ago, and fortified, or at least speed bumped.
    Most of the possible approaches of the Prussians were more "speed-bumped" than fortified. On paper that should have done the trick, but in practice the French had no real plans for that war.

    Their best strategy would have been to invade the German lands before the Prussian army can fully mobilize and secure the support of the other German states. That attack turned out to be impossible due to the faulty French system of mobilization.

    The next best thing once the attack became out of question was to defend behind the forts and "speed-bumps" (strong natural positions which could be or already were made stronger with field fortifications) while accelerating the mobilization. That didn't happen either and the French defense was plagued by the non-existence of a real General Staff and therefore no coordination between the rival marshals.

    Then came the individual battles, where the superiority of the Chassepot rifle was not enough to compensate for a weaker artillery.

    Quote Originally Posted by Condottiere 40K View Post
    Defense in depth isn't just the ability to unload a certain amount of lead on an unappreciative audience, the capability to absorb the initial onslaughts, without the rear lines breaking.
    True! Defense in depth also requires (among other things) mobile reserves waiting out of harm's way but which can be brought to any part of the front which needs reinforcements.

    That didn't work either in most of the battles. There were troops in reserve but for a multitude of reasons the cooperation and coordination with the front line were absent.

    Given the French were already outnumbered overall 2:1 (in some sectors even 3:1) and had inferior artillery, any other blunder could only make the situation worse. And it did.

    Anyway, the technology of 1870 was such that a war of maneuver was still possible and it was also the best option for both sides.

    Quote Originally Posted by Keyser View Post
    But i am not an expert on the subject, maybe they did use trenches, i am just unaware of it.
    There were not too many battles in the first stage of the war and we can investigate them one by one:
    1) At Wissembourg the French defended in a fortified town and could have lasted for a few days if the panicked civilians would not have forced the surrender.

    2) At Worth/Forschweiler the French had strengthened with trenches the more vulnerable parts of their positions;

    3) Mars-la-Tour was an open field battle.

    4) At Gravelotte-St.Privat where the French had the second best chance after Worth to severely cripple the Prussians, they had all their troops and guns protected by trenches.

    After that we have the sieges of Sedan and Metz and the fall of the Second Empire.

    So out of 4 battles fought before Sedan and Metz the French used trenches in 2 battles and fought another one behind fortifications. That is why I was saying that most of the battles were about the Prussian artillery smashing through the French trenches.

    Anyway the point I was illustrating with the Franco-Prussian War is that from the Crimean War through to WW1 the trenches and fortifications could not resist assaults backed by strong artillery, while in WW1 artillery proved insufficient. Understanding why trenches "suddenly" became so effective requires understanding the changes the machine guns brought to the way of fighting.

    In other words the "mechanics" of the battle need to be known at a rather detailed level, otherwise one might get the wrong idea about what really happened.

    The same is true for the battles in any period. For instance I am yet to find a satisfactory explanation about how the knights were actually charging infantry formations or about how largely unarmored pikemen fought other largely unarmored pikemen.

    Albrecht Durer's engravings seem too gruesome to actually describe what was going on (if the first ranks of the opposing pike formations would have really impaled each other it is quite unlikely the survivors would want to do that again the next time)

    LATER EDIT:

    When mentioning the French defensive battles I forgot about the battle of Spiecheren, fought during the same day as the battle of Woerth and which also had the French defending in their trenches.

    So the score becomes: 3 battles out of 5 fought from the trenches plus one fought from a fortified town. Practically before the sieges of Metz and Sedan 80% of the time the French had to be dislodged from their fortified positions by the Prussian artillery.
    Last edited by Dromikaites; February 20, 2013 at 01:24 PM. Reason: Including the battle of Spiecheren in the list of "trench battles"
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  14. #34
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    Default Re: The nature of military organization: units are not about the numbers, or formations

    For this reason there were the Doppelsoldners, who with two-handed swords cut the nemy pikes. and arquebusiers all around, during the XVI mainly to skirmisching then in the XVII inside the Pike blocks, this is actually the Tercio.

    But when not deployed for the pitched battle how did the infantry work?

    This is the point of Blatta I think, he stated that the great pitched battles were relatively rare, if this is true, for exemple: How did work the combination pike/musket outside the main battles? Only the musketeers were used?

    More in general, the big battle formations didn't last after the battles, what units were used in the day to day warfare?

    Smaller sub-units for sure but of what kind?

    In the Roman age I think the Cohort was the more used and flexible formation so, returning to the OP of Blatta, IMO the Romans used the Batallion/Cohort as a basic unit.

    During the XVII century the Squadron or the Batallion, probably were the most used tactical units.
    Last edited by Diocle; February 20, 2013 at 09:24 AM.

  15. #35
    Condottiere 40K's Avatar Tribunus Augusticlavii
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    Default Re: The nature of military organization: units are not about the numbers, or formations

    There is a sort of natural dynamic for the size of organizations.

    The monkey sphere theory states that we tend to recognize/closely associate with around a hundred and fifty to two hundred people, which tends to be the size of companies, or for the pre-Marian Romans, maniples.

    Battalions seem to be the largest single arm manoeuvre units units, who range in number from around four hundred to a thousand troops.
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    Default Re: The nature of military organization: units are not about the numbers, or formations

    Quote Originally Posted by Keyser View Post
    But i am not an expert on the subject, maybe they did use trenches, i am just unaware of it.
    I'm not going to contradict you because I don't know much about the war of 1870, but a common misconception about WWII was that people didn't waste time building fortifications and extensive trenches like they did in WWI. That's not actually true at all. Invariably a defending force was dug in, and if you pick any random battle on the Eastern Front, you'll see they built as many foritications as the western front of WWI. Fortifications just had a shorter life and were less of a threat in a world of tanks, but they were still extremely cheap yet very effective way of increasing the fighting effectiveness of a unit.
    Quote Originally Posted by Cyclops View Post
    The Camillan, Scipionic and Marian forms of the Roman army were different in their composition and ability to break down into effective sub units.
    This was not something restricted to them. Every military force at the time could do so.

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    Default Re: The nature of military organization: units are not about the numbers, or formations

    Quote Originally Posted by Dromikaites View Post


    There were not too many battles in the first stage of the war and we can investigate them one by one:

    2) At Worth/Forschweiler the French had strengthened with trenches the more vulnerable parts of their positions;

    4) At Gravelotte-St.Privat where the French had the second best chance after Worth to severely cripple the Prussians, they had all their troops and guns protected by trenches.
    Yet both battles were fought after manoeuvering, so that means that whatever field works they did create were done overnight, not exactly the same kind of fortified position than during WW1. Wich can also explain the different results.

    A trench can be very different from another trench. And a trench isn't the same thing as trench network either.

    Anyway, i didn't knew about the field fortifications. I thought they just used natural protections (villages, woods, walls etc), especially for Worth, as i was under the impression the french were surprised by the attack.

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    Default Re: The nature of military organization: units are not about the numbers, or formations

    Quote Originally Posted by Diocle View Post

    This is the point of Blatta I think, he stated that the great pitched battles were relatively rare, if this is true, for exemple: How did work the combination pike/musket outside the main battles? Only the musketeers were used?
    Troops specialised in the "petite guerre" (raids, skirmish, harrassing, scouting etc) were used, that means essentially irregulars, light infantry and cavalry (mostly light cavalry (it's where this kind of units truly shine), but any kind of cavalry can do).

    If you had to use "regulars" troops for that role, yes, i think musketeers would be used, as pikemen outside of a formation are almost useless...

  19. #39
    hellheaven1987's Avatar Praefectus Cohortis
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    Default Re: The nature of military organization: units are not about the numbers, or formations

    Quote Originally Posted by Keyser View Post
    Anyway, i didn't knew about the field fortifications. I thought they just used natural protections (villages, woods, walls etc), especially for Worth, as i was under the impression the french were surprised by the attack.
    Nope, it was known it was part of French doctrine (a Prussian military observer reported in 1869 the whole "new French doctine" was two units digged a trench, faced eachothers in safe distance, hangging in their own trench and doing nothing), and Dromi was right pretty much all battles involved trench on French side. It also could be built overnight because trench in Franco-Prussian War was largely aimed to avoid direct hit, which even a dirt hole could be used well (from some accounts it seems fox holes were deployed by French extensively too). In WWI trench needed to be built more carefully because the new threat of indirect artillery fire.

    French's tactical problem of Franco-Prussian War was the French force generally did not want to get out their trench after beating back enemies, resulted a passive defense which allowed Prussian to concentrate force on the weak spots of line. Hence a common sign of Franco-Prussian War was that French force beated back Prussian force initially, but allowed Prussian came back again with Krupp to deal them (to put a side note, Prussian's problem was overaggressiveness of field commander).
    Last edited by hellheaven1987; February 20, 2013 at 12:50 PM.
    Quote Originally Posted by Markas View Post
    Hellheaven, sometimes you remind me of King Canute trying to hold back the tide, except without the winning parable.
    Quote Originally Posted by O'Hea View Post
    The only reason why Charlemagne came into this at all is because Hellheaven thought it'd be a fun way to troll some byzantophiles.

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    Default Re: The nature of military organization: units are not about the numbers, or formations

    Quote Originally Posted by Blatta Optima Maxima View Post
    No, I'm trying to explain how a unit should be viewed according to its role. I keep seeing people, often the authors of Osprey books and posters on this site, go into needless detail over the numbers of men in units - viewing them as some sort of constant - as well as the formations they take up when deploying for a set-piece battle, instead of discussing their purpose.

    By applying modern names to historical organization, I tried to show how we can draw parallels between different systems due to the basic requirements of running an army being the same.
    Another interesting role is the loyalty of the soldiers towards their commander, how far would they go to follow him. There was a conflict in Brazil known as the Faropilhas Rebelion and the balance of power between the two sides was twisted back and forth by one dude known as Bento Manuel who was a backstabber of galactic proportions : He changed sized so many times and in so many directions it is hilarious. The war depended on the color of his coat.

    Now the Roman Army fighting barbarians is not really subject to such a dynamic, unless you are in civil war scenario or if the soldiers are ethnically barbarians. How many wars where decided by the colors of the coat ? Maybe it is a factor more important than the number of men in a unit.

    Quote Originally Posted by hellheaven1987 View Post
    Nope, it was known it was part of French doctrine (a Prussian military observer reported in 1869 the whole "new French doctine" was two units digged a trench, faced eachothers in safe distance, hangging in their own trench and doing nothing), and Dromi was right pretty much all battles involved trench on French side. It also could be built overnight because trench in Franco-Prussian War was largely aimed to avoid direct hit, which even a dirt hole could be used well (from some accounts it seems fox holes were deployed by French extensively too). In WWI trench needed to be built more carefully because the new threat of indirect artillery fire.

    French's tactical problem of Franco-Prussian War was the French force generally did not want to get out their trench after beating back enemies, resulted a passive defense which allowed Prussian to concentrate force on the weak spots of line. Hence a common sign of Franco-Prussian War was that French force beated back Prussian force initially, but allowed Prussian came back again with Krupp to deal them (to put a side note, Prussian's problem was overaggressiveness of field commander).
    Krupp, solving Germany's problems since 1810.
    Last edited by Menelik_I; February 20, 2013 at 01:06 PM.
    So many things go wrong in life that a sense of humor, even of the macabre type, should have been standard issue.

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