The eight most terrifying words in the english language... I'm from the government, I'm here to help.
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).
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.
Jatte lambastes Calico Rat
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.
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)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.
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.
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.
Eats, shoots, and leaves.
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".
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.
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.
Eats, shoots, and leaves.
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...
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)...
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.
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.
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)
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"
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.
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.
Eats, shoots, and leaves.
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.
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...
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).
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.
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.