Published on 18 Mar 2017
Chair of Wisdom Time! This week we talk about the propaganda story of the crucified soldier and the RMS Olympic.
March 19, 2017
November 8, 2016
The Angry Staff Officer analyzes the Battle of the Pelennor Fields (called by some the Battle of Minas Tirith) in terms of the six warfighting functions:
… Which leads me to my problem statement for this impromptu mission analysis that I am forcing you into: how did the forces of Gondor wage unified land operations versus the forces of Sauron at the Battle of Minas Tirith? More specifically, how can a primarily infantry force defend against a numerically superior enemy that possesses significant air assets, fires superiority, and freedom of movement and maneuver?
Couched in these terms, the problem statement resembles the complex situation faced by our brigade combat teams in a potential peer-to-peer engagement.
The situation – for those who do not remember it – is as follows: the forces of Gondor have been driven back from their forward defensive strongpoints along the Anduin River in the population center of Osgiliath. The withdrawal had been conducted in an orderly manner until the rear guard covering the retreat came under air attack by the Nazgul, which used their air superiority to drive the defenders into a panic. Most significantly, this air sortie wounded the primary land component commander, Faramir, depriving the forces of Gondor of their most effective warfighter.
More than 30,000 orcs and men of the forces of Sauron then enveloped the battle positions around Minas Tirith and began a siege of the 4,000 or so defenders of the city, which was primarily an infantry force with little in the way of cavalry or artillery. Significantly, the defenders possessed virtually no anti-air defenses, allowing the Nazgul freedom of movement around the battlefield – a dangerous proposition as the Nazgul also wielded considerable psychological damage (not unlike the sound of Stuka dive bombers in World War II). The greatest asset for Gondor was the wizard Gandalf – a force multiplier by any definition of the term – who was serving as the principle mission command adviser to Denethor. The objective for Gondor was to maintain their battle positions and hold out until reinforcements could arrive. However, lines of communication were cut during the siege and Gondor could not be sure that cavalry reinforcements from neighboring Rohan could arrive in time to save the city. This uncertainty weighed heavily on the forces of Gondor.
As a good staff officer, I turn to Army Doctrinal Publication 3-0, Unified Land Operations to understand the problem through the six warfighting functions. And given that J.R.R. Tolkien himself was a British signal officer during World War I, it would be appropriate to start out with mission command.
I imagine the author was grinning when he got to this section:
Luckily for Gondor, Gandalf then assumed command of all land forces, despite his position as a primary staff advisor to Denethor.
Yeah, that’s right, a staff officer took over operations.
Gandalf immediately provided vision and direction to the city’s defenders at a critical moment, as the forces of Sauron were conducting a breaching operation on the gates of Minas Tirith utilizing a battering ram named Grond. Arriving at the enemy point of breach, Gandalf rallied the forces in the engagement area, organized the defense, and directly opposed the primary enemy air and land component commander, the Witch-king of Angmar. The Witch-king was Sauron’s chief captain and commander of the Nazgul. Under his supervision, Sauron’s forces breached the main perimeter to the city and the Witch-king moved through the point of penetration into the far side of the breach, where he was confronted by Gandalf. The two land component commanders were prevented from close combat by the arrival of the primary maneuver element: the forces of Rohan.
H/T to John Donovan for the link.
June 23, 2016
Published on 22 Jun 2016
This episode was supported by the Rock Island Auction Company: http://www.rockislandauction.com/
In their upcoming auction, you have the chance to acquire historic items from all ages including some of the cavalry gear seen in our video.
The break between tradition and modern warfare was probably most exemplified in the cavalry forces. Riding with shiny breastplates the sabre in hand, charging the enemy in brightly coloured uniforms. But the enemy now had machine guns, artillery and barbed wire and the cavalry role had to be redefined.
June 12, 2016
Published on 11 Jun 2016
Indy sits in the Chair of Wisdom again and this week we talk about Cavalry on the Eastern Front, Cossacks and wolves.
December 18, 2015
The constitution of the Imperial legion may be described in a few words. The heavy-armed infantry, which composed its principal strength, was divided into ten cohorts, and fifty-five companies, under the orders of a correspondent number of tribunes and centurions. The first cohort, which always claimed the post of honor and the custody of the eagle, was formed of eleven hundred and five soldiers, the most approved for valor and fidelity. The remaining nine cohorts consisted each of five hundred and fifty-five; and the whole body of legionary infantry amounted to six thousand one hundred men. Their arms were uniform, and admirably adapted to the nature of their service: an open helmet, with a lofty crest; a breastplate, or coat of mail; greaves on their legs, and an ample buckler on their left arm. The buckler was of an oblong and concave figure, four feet in length, and two and a half in breadth, framed of a light wood, covered with a bull’s hide, and strongly guarded with plates of brass. Besides a lighter spear, the legionary soldier grasped in his right hand the formidable pilum, a ponderous javelin, whose utmost length was about six feet, and which was terminated by a massy triangular point of steel of eighteen inches. This instrument was indeed much inferior to our modern fire-arms; since it was exhausted by a single discharge, at the distance of only ten or twelve paces. Yet when it was launched by a firm and skilful hand, there was not any cavalry that durst venture within its reach, nor any shield or corselet that could sustain the impetuosity of its weight. As soon as the Roman had darted his pilum, he drew his sword, and rushed forwards to close with the enemy. His sword was a short well-tempered Spanish blade, that carried a double edge, and was alike suited to the purpose of striking or of pushing; but the soldier was always instructed to prefer the latter use of his weapon, as his own body remained less exposed, whilst he inflicted a more dangerous wound on his adversary. The legion was usually drawn up eight deep; and the regular distance of three feet was left between the files as well as ranks. A body of troops, habituated to preserve this open order, in a long front and a rapid charge, found themselves prepared to execute every disposition which the circumstances of war, or the skill of their leader, might suggest. The soldier possessed a free space for his arms and motions, and sufficient intervals were allowed, through which seasonable reenforcements might be introduced to the relief of the exhausted combatants. The tactics of the Greeks and Macedonians were formed on very different principles. The strength of the phalanx depended on sixteen ranks of long pikes, wedged together in the closest array. But it was soon discovered by reflection, as well as by the event, that the strength of the phalanx was unable to contend with the activity of the legion.
The cavalry, without which the force of the legion would have remained imperfect, was divided into ten troops or squadrons; the first, as the companion of the first cohort, consisted of a hundred and thirty-two men; whilst each of the other nine amounted only to sixty-six. The entire establishment formed a regiment, if we may use the modern expression, of seven hundred and twenty-six horse, naturally connected with its respective legion, but occasionally separated to act in the line, and to compose a part of the wings of the army. The cavalry of the emperors was no longer composed, like that of the ancient republic, of the noblest youths of Rome and Italy, who, by performing their military service on horseback, prepared themselves for the offices of senator and consul; and solicited, by deeds of valor, the future suffrages of their countrymen. Since the alteration of manners and government, the most wealthy of the equestrian order were engaged in the administration of justice, and of the revenue; and whenever they embraced the profession of arms, they were immediately intrusted with a troop of horse, or a cohort of foot. Trajan and Hadrian formed their cavalry from the same provinces, and the same class of their subjects, which recruited the ranks of the legion. The horses were bred, for the most part, in Spain or Cappadocia. The Roman troopers despised the complete armor with which the cavalry of the East was encumbered. Their more useful arms consisted in a helmet, an oblong shield, light boots, and a coat of mail. A javelin, and a long broad sword, were their principal weapons of offence. The use of lances and of iron maces they seem to have borrowed from the barbarians.
October 20, 2015
The camp of a Roman legion presented the appearance of a fortified city. As soon as the space was marked out, the pioneers carefully levelled the ground, and removed every impediment that might interrupt its perfect regularity. Its form was an exact quadrangle; and we may calculate, that a square of about seven hundred yards was sufficient for the encampment of twenty thousand Romans; though a similar number of our own troops would expose to the enemy a front of more than treble that extent. In the midst of the camp, the praetorium, or general’s quarters, rose above the others; the cavalry, the infantry, and the auxiliaries occupied their respective stations; the streets were broad and perfectly straight, and a vacant space of two hundred feet was left on all sides between the tents and the rampart. The rampart itself was usually twelve feet high, armed with a line of strong and intricate palisades, and defended by a ditch of twelve feet in depth as well as in breadth. This important labor was performed by the hands of the legionaries themselves; to whom the use of the spade and the pickaxe was no less familiar than that of the sword or pilum. Active valor may often be the present of nature; but such patient diligence can be the fruit only of habit and discipline.
Whenever the trumpet gave the signal of departure, the camp was almost instantly broke up, and the troops fell into their ranks without delay or confusion. Besides their arms, which the legionaries scarcely considered as an encumbrance, they were laden with their kitchen furniture, the instruments of fortification, and the provision of many days. Under this weight, which would oppress the delicacy of a modern soldier, they were trained by a regular step to advance, in about six hours, near twenty miles. On the appearance of an enemy, they threw aside their baggage, and by easy and rapid evolutions converted the column of march into an order of battle. The slingers and archers skirmished in the front; the auxiliaries formed the first line, and were seconded or sustained by the strength of the legions; the cavalry covered the flanks, and the military engines were placed in the rear.
June 19, 2015
Published on 18 Jun 2015
The war seems like a romantic novel this week: In the East the Russians are saved by Cossack Cavalry while August von Mackensen’s artillery is plowing through Galicia. In the meantime, the British discover a German spy ring in London and the French gain a few miles in the west.
November 16, 2014
The 11th Light Dragoons at this time were newly back from India, where they had been serving since before I was born. They were a fighting regiment, and — I say it without regimental pride, for I never had any, but as a plain matter of fact — probably the finest mounted troops in England, if not in the world. Yet they had been losing officers, since coming home, hand over fist. The reason was James Brudenell, Earl of Cardigan.
You have heard all about him, no doubt. The regimental scandals, the Charge of the Light Brigade, the vanity, stupidity, and extravagance of the man — these things are history. Like most history, they have a fair basis of fact. But I knew him, probably as few other officers knew him, and in turn I found him amusing, frightening, vindictive, charming, and downright dangerous. He was God’s own original fool, there’s no doubt of that — although he was not to blame for the fiasco at Balaclava; that was Raglan and Airey between them. And he was arrogant as no other man I’ve ever met, and as sure of his own unshakeable rightness as any man could be — even when his wrongheadedness was there for all to see. That was his great point, the key to his character: he could never be wrong.
They say that at least he was brave. He was not. He was just stupid, too stupid ever to be afraid. Fear is an emotion, and his emotions were all between his knees and his breastbone; they never touched his reason, and he had little enough of that.
For all that, he could never be called a bad soldier. Some human faults are military virtues, like stupidity, and arrogance, and narrow-mindedness. Cardigan blended all three with a passion for detail and accuracy; he was a perfectionist, and the manual of cavalry drill was his Bible. Whatever rested between the covers of that book he could perform, or cause to be performed, with marvellous efficiency, and God help anyone who marred that performance. He would have made a first-class drill sergeant — only a man with a mind capable of such depths of folly could have led six regiments into the Valley at Balaclava.
However, I devote some space to him because he played a not unimportant part in the career of Harry Flashman, and since it is my purpose to show how the Flashman of Tom Brown became the glorious Flashman with four inches in Who’s Who and grew markedly worse in the process, I must say that he was a good friend to me. He never understood me, of course, which is not surprising. I took good care not to let him.
George MacDonald Fraser, Flashman, 1969.
December 2, 2009
[Thoughts are] like cavalry charges in battle — they are strictly limited in number, they require fresh horses, and must only be made at decisive moments.
Alfred North Whitehead