Monday, 21 February 2011

On War part 2

Last post I discussed the nature of war and how technology and strategy form an intimate relationship.

 In ancient times there was the greek phalanx and then the roman testudo, both formations based on the technology of sword and shield at the time. For a long time the basic strategy of advancing infantry in formation with archers behind them and with cavalry to flank (and to prevent being flanked) was the default.
Eventually horses were trained and bred to such a state that cavalry charges became increasingly effective, instead of only useful for flanking and chasing down routing armies. When it came to sieges though, it still came down to archers, infantry and of course siege equipment (both for sieging and the besieged). Archery developed too, english longbows could outrange everything save for siege equipment (eg ballistae, catapults, trebuchets) and up close, the bolts fired by a genoese crossbow could cut through armor.

And of course the strategies changed with the technology. As cavalry got better, more and more generals favoured cavalry charges and cavalry compositions within their army. With the advent of english longbows, english strategy evolved around getting the high ground advantage for the longbowmen. When it came to infantry battles, the genoese and venetians favoured having a line of pikemen protecting their crossbows, which would shred enemy infantry units.

 When muskets and cannons developed, the strategies changed, but what is most interesting is how they changed WITH the muskets. For instance, the italians simply replaced their crossbowmen from their pikemen-crossbowmen unit with muskets but as reload times grew shorter and range increased, having infantry to protect musketmen was no longer necessary save for dealing with cavalry charges. With the advent of the bayonet, musketman could form squares and equip bayonets and were impermeable to cavalry.
Of course such a close up formation was vulnerable to artillery and a classic tactic in the napoleanic wars was to use cavalry to cause enemy infantry (musketmen) to form squares and then blast them with cannon slavos.

Rifling technology lead to cavalry being largely useless though, with the exception of scouting. And finally in the first world war the classic style of fighting where two sides would stand and shoot each other was forever broken. Machine guns were too quick to kill the standing.

At the outbreak of world war two, the Allies were comfortable knowing that the germans would be halted at the maginot line, because trench warfare was so effective. Little did they know that they had modernized their army and strategy so that trenches were as futile as cavalry. By using tanks and aircraft in synchronized attacks, they could tear a whole through any defense (although in the case of the maginot line, they just marched around it). The german blitzkreig was unstoppable, that is until both the US and Soviet Russia zerg rushed Germany with similar tactics. The American and British tanks weren't very good but the Russian T-34 was a direct counter to the Panzer, with armor thick enough to resist panzer armaments and guns powerful enough to penetrate panzer armor.

 But then came the atomic bomb. And since then no first world nation has faced total war (where a nation's entire economy and all of its resources is geared towards the war effort. War does seem to involve less and less human interaction, just like all of you good posters suggested last blog but just how inhuman will it get?

The MAD (Mutually Assured Destruction) stalemate will eventually break down and what then?
Maybe nukes will dissapear as a viable strategy if each nation develops its own ICBM interception system, or perhaps that will rule out only ICBMs and nukes will just have to be carried by bombers.
 Both the US and China are developing ICBM interception systems. The US's should be up sooner but I hear China's will be much better...


  1. there's still space warfare. Oh the wonders..

  2. this reminds me of the scene in Terminator 2 where he says 'it's within your nature to destroy yourselves'... sad but maybe true.

  3. For everyone's sake Nukes hopefully disappear.

  4. I wish nukes were never created

  5. One could argue that at least they were created and stopped in time.