Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Individual vs. Group Fighting

I'm pretty much the best general I know . . . 
Napoleon once gave some simple statistics* on tactics and order of troops:

Two Mamelukes can defeat three Frenchmen
100 Mamelukes are a match for 100 Frenchmen
300 Mamelukes would be overcome by 300 Frenchmen
1500 Mamelukes would be easily defeated by 1000 Frenchmen

What old Bonaparte is talking about is a matter of individual skill versus group training.  “Mamelukes” or Mumluks, were a warrior caste in Medieval Egypt and great individual fighters.  But their tactics were out of date when Napoleon invaded Egypt and Syria.  While it’s great that Farmy McFarmerson, the Chosen One of the prophecy now has a master swordsman, Colonel Cutter Slash Stabberhack to train him, this doesn’t mean that A) a few weeks of work will turn him into a consummate expert or, even if it does that B) he is now able to overcome a group of trained and experienced soldiers.

Kirk kirk, kirk kirk-kirk!
But he’s the Chosen One!

Alright, great.  No problem.  I’m totally cool with that provided that you cover some basics.  Anyone with even rudimentary knowledge of modern armies knows that an unshaven recruit will take months to get through training before he/she can competently take to the battlefield.  The U.S. Army requires 10 weeks of basic training and, depending on the discipline, 6 weeks up to a full year of advanced individual training.  Keep in mind that the age of gunpowder rapidly decreased the amount of training required to create competent troops.  Some of the best, most devastating troops of the Middle Ages, like English longbowmen, started training to pull their bows when they were old enough to hold one simply so they’d be strong enough to pull a full draw when it came time to loose at the enemy.  But archers alone, even the best of the best, couldn’t defeat the enemy alone.

The best armies of the ancient times (Romans, Assyrians, Chinese, etc.) knew this as well. 
Quick everyone, DIAMOND FORMATION!
They dedicated months to training, training and yes, more training.  Consider, for a moment, the amount of effort it takes to train a “simple” troop of spear.  The spear is the most basic and longest-lived weapon on the battlefield, and also one of the most formidable.  It made up the backbone of almost any decent fighting force (later modified into a mix of longer polearms like pike, glaive, halberd, etc.).  But the requirements to simply form a shieldwall and advance in a fighting line weren’t as simple as drawing in the dirt around a campfire.  A shield formation requires the frontline to link up, either with large shields hard to penetrate or, as the TV show Vikings likes to illustrate, a locked-system of overlapping shields.  The second line (yes, there would be a second line) would, when they actually met another shieldwall, push against the back of the first, possibly overlap their shields over the heads of the first line to ward off any missile attacks and at the same time thrust with their spears and swords AND not getting stabbed by the other team.

A very important lesson!

There’s a lot of things wrong with the Dwayne Johnson movie Hercules, but there is one definite thing right—training.  Early in the movie (small spoiler) Hercules is ordered by King Cotys to lead untrained men into battle.  Surprise, surprise, they lose against the experienced evenmy.  Even Hercules, with his singularly spectacular team of individually capable mercenaries is unable to put the smack down when Rhesus starts cooking.  They can’t.  A few well trained men and women can’t compete on an open battlefield with a troop of trained soldiers.  On the other hand, you can witness at the beginning of Gladiator and the TV series Rome just what Roman armies could really do against a determined force lacking in the same degree of training and experience and tactics:

But individually, well, that’s a whole different matter.  Goatherdia del Ranchero, the Chosen One, gets her magical sword out, and taps into the mystical energy of the Unifying Unobtanium of Time and/or Space and she can take all comers.  She gets a bonus to levelling and places all her skills in sword-mastery.  Past lives aid her, and she can go into the Aviator state of Howard Hughesness.  Plus, if there’s ever a defeat or setback, she just reverts to a training montage and is ready for action.

This still doesn’t make your Chosen One a general, a captain or even a first lieutenant.  Individual ability doesn’t translate into leadership, tactics or strategy.  As Fezzik in The Princess Bride points out, individual combat abilities and experience don’t apply the same when you’re confronted with a troop on a battlefield.  This doesn’t mean that Princess Wannacut Yerheartout can’t become a decent or great general and tactician (or use double negatives), but it takes more than some watery tart tossing about scimitars to lead warriors into battle.

I could kill you with kindness!
A good general, or even captain for that matter, has some degree of training from somewhere—even if it’s reading stacks and stacks of material on the subject.

*The full quote is: Two Mamelukes kept three Frenchmen at bay, because they were better armed, better mounted, and better exercised; they had two pairs of pistols, a tromblon, a carbine, a helmet with a visor, a coat of mail, several horses, and several men on foot to attend them. But a hundred French did not fear a hundred Mamelukes; three hundred were more than a match for an equal number; and one thousand would beat fifteen hundred: so powerful is the influence of tactics, order, and evolutions!

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