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I thought I would ask here, since I know you folks are experts when it comes to the modern.  By modern here, I mean fire arms (smokeless) non-linear combat with the availability of automatic weapons.  So, we could say WWI to today.

Over the last few years, I have become interested in antiquity of the West.  Of course, there is Rome1 and Rome2 along with some superb overhaul mods.  However, combat modeling does not come close to the fidelity we see in CMx1 and CMx2.  However, a game I do feel which does an excellent job is Field of Glory II by Richard Bodley Scott (published by Slitherine).  Now, what is very carefully modeled in the award winning DEI mod for Rome2 or FOG2 is panic rippling.  So, one unit routing is very likely to cause its neighbors to bug out.  So, a key focus of the game (and apparently real life) was finding weak units by creation or by events and then routing them.  In practical terms this means it is better to have my heavy legionaries attack an unarmored slinger unit with knives than a phalanx unit which poses a much greater threat.

Now, I think of the WWII battlefield, and you have some Panther IIIs or a Tiger.  Better to neutralize the Tiger if you can, because until you do that AFV can dominate open space if it has LOS with little that can counter it outside 1km.  Once that Tiger is down, you have options for the Panzer III.  So, it would seem general rules:

(1)  Ancient:  Attack and neutralize the weakest first.

(2)  Modern:  Attack and neutralize the greatest threat first.

My questions:

(1)  Do I have this right?

(2)  At what point in time and why did the philosophy of combat change?

Thanks.

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Personally I don't think you have this correct. You are still (or at least should be) attacking the weakest position the enemy has in order to force their stronger elements to fallback or be destroyed. Essentially a pocket. However, in a modern setting you no longer have a single army that covers a few miles (at best) but a contiguous line that goes for hundreds of miles across the entire front. That means that your tactical and operational are far more separated than it is in an ancient battle.

 

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1 hour ago, markshot said:

 So, a key focus of the game (and apparently real life) was finding weak units by creation or by events and then routing them.  In practical terms this means it is better to have my heavy legionaries attack an unarmored slinger unit with knives than a phalanx unit which poses a much greater threat.

Not an expert, but I am not sure it worked exactly like this.

The way I understand it, after an initial skirmish phase with harassing fire, slingers or light archers would usually withdraw, either passing through the ranks of the formations behind them or around the sides. It was almost a separate engagement and having skirmishers rout would not automatically result in a contagion among the ranks of the phalanx or the legions.

It was more a case of the two lines taunting each others with the commanders trying to hold them back until the time was right and then letting go off the leash so to speak and then having them meet with a big messy clash in a din of shields and weapons and after a short while, the morale of one side breaking with a domino effect. But saying the two armies looked for weak spots sounds perhaps a bit too surgical and gives commanders much more control than they actually had on the battlefield. Maybe that's something you could see from the best generals in a few occasions but I suspect it was a lot less organized and more messy.

Besides, in your example, the legionnaires would never catch the lightly armoured and much more mobile slingers. Cavalry yes.

Now how much that relates to the second part of your question, I am not sure.

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3 hours ago, markshot said:

However, a game I do feel which does an excellent job is Field of Glory II by Richard Bodley Scott (published by Slitherine).  Now, what is very carefully modeled in the award winning DEI mod for Rome2 or FOG2 is panic rippling.  So, one unit routing is very likely to cause its neighbors to bug out.  So, a key focus of the game (and apparently real life) was finding weak units by creation or by events and then routing them. 

In FOGII, better units are also much less likely to fail their morale checks, so are less likely to get into a panic ripple.

What does work is to target units that are disordered, rather than to attack units that are low quality. I find FOGII gameplay to be quite simplistic and more like chess than a simulation of ancient warfare.

But about your question, I think that in general, both ancient and WW2 warfare was about isolating the enemy units and defeat them piecemeal. If you kill or drive off all the peasant spearmen, the small group of armoured elites won't be able to stand forever. If you bypass the bunker on the hill, it will soon be destroyed or surrender.

That being said, ancient battles were definitely more about morale and panic ripples than modern warfare. But army morale is about so much more than about which units get taken out first. It's about exhaustion, empty bellies, rumours, superstition and religion, reasons to be angry, general's speeches, greed for plunder, weather etc.

Edited by Bulletpoint
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It seems to me; just playing today, that panic ripples are working fine if engaged units are already stressed.  This just seems quite a difference from CM and CM style games where there is some global morale level impacting the entire battle, but no so dramatic or local.  But it seems panic ripples were real, the point was to start a collapse of the line somewhere which result in a domino morale affect.

Now, CM and modern games model flanking a line like a dugout or trenches, but this is less about morale and more about the loss of defensive structural integrity.

So morale in FOG2 is determined by the morale outcome more than damage inflicted.

---

And again was  this really a strong distinction between modern and ancient combat?

If so, when and why did this change?

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16 minutes ago, markshot said:

And again was  this really a strong distinction between modern and ancient combat?

If so, when and why did this change?

I think the main difference is that in ancient battles, each soldier could see directly what happened to most or at least many of his companions, whereas in modern war, each soldier can't see the big picture. As long as it seems he and his mates are winning in their little area, morale is high, and if they are not winning, they die or get captured fast anyway.

Edited by Bulletpoint
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Also I think it is because in ancient war, if the guys on your flank start to retreat, you have to do it too, or suffer a horrible death. In WW2, in many cases, if one flank gave way, you would either be surrounded and/or you could surrender. Each individual soldier could often decide to surrender, and have a pretty good chance of surviving.. you usually couldn't do that on the ancient battlefield (unless you were a noble worth a ransom).

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7 hours ago, markshot said:

Now, I think of the WWII battlefield, and you have some Panther IIIs or a Tiger.  Better to neutralize the Tiger if you can, because until you do that AFV can dominate open space if it has LOS with little that can counter it outside 1km.  Once that Tiger is down, you have options for the Panzer III.  So, it would seem general rules:

(1)  Ancient:  Attack and neutralize the weakest first.

(2)  Modern:  Attack and neutralize the greatest threat first.

My questions:

(1)  Do I have this right?

(2)  At what point in time and why did the philosophy of combat change?

As observed by @chi-chi, the smart thing is hitting where the other side is weakest... and weakest can be not just a flank, but what Robert Leonhard calls the "center of gravity". In Ancient times, an obvious "center of gravity" usually was the commander of the enemy army. The Persians (and Alexander too!) sought to engage the enemy commander and his entourage as a matter of priority - cut the head off, and the body may run for a couple meters but not much longer.

For a study that looks into the eye of the tiger, I think the "Battle Studies" by Colonel Ardant Du Picq  https://www.gutenberg.org/files/7294/7294-h/7294-h.htm, offers sometimes quite insightful observations:
 

Quote

Man taxes his ingenuity to be able to kill without running the risk of being killed. His bravery is born of his strength and it is not absolute. Before a stronger he flees without shame. The instinct of self-preservation is so powerful that he does not feel disgraced in obeying it, although, thanks to the defensive power of arms and armor he can fight at close quarters. Can you expect him to act in any other way? Man must test himself before acknowledging a stronger. But once the stronger is recognized, no one will face him.

Individual strength and valor were supreme in primitive combats, so much so that when its heroes were killed, the nation was conquered. As a result of a mutual and tacit understanding, combatants often stopped fighting to watch with awe and anxiety two champions struggling. Whole peoples often placed their fate in the hands of the champions who took up the task and who alone fought. This was perfectly natural. They counted their champion a superman, and no man can stand against the superman.

But intelligence rebels against the dominance of force. No one can stand against an Achilles, but no Achilles can withstand ten enemies who, uniting their efforts, act in concert. This is the reason for tactics, which prescribe beforehand proper means of organization and action to give unanimity to effort, and for discipline which insures united efforts in spite of the innate weakness of combatants.

I have been recommending this other book a lot lately too: https://www.amazon.com.au/War-Games-Psychology-Leo-Murray-ebook/dp/B079DC9WVN

Edited by BletchleyGeek
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9 hours ago, markshot said:

I thought I would ask here, since I know you folks are experts when it comes to the modern.  By modern here, I mean fire arms (smokeless) non-linear combat with the availability of automatic weapons.  So, we could say WWI to today.

Over the last few years, I have become interested in antiquity of the West.  Of course, there is Rome1 and Rome2 along with some superb overhaul mods.  However, combat modeling does not come close to the fidelity we see in CMx1 and CMx2.  However, a game I do feel which does an excellent job is Field of Glory II by Richard Bodley Scott (published by Slitherine).  Now, what is very carefully modeled in the award winning DEI mod for Rome2 or FOG2 is panic rippling.  So, one unit routing is very likely to cause its neighbors to bug out.  So, a key focus of the game (and apparently real life) was finding weak units by creation or by events and then routing them.  In practical terms this means it is better to have my heavy legionaries attack an unarmored slinger unit with knives than a phalanx unit which poses a much greater threat.

Now, I think of the WWII battlefield, and you have some Panther IIIs or a Tiger.  Better to neutralize the Tiger if you can, because until you do that AFV can dominate open space if it has LOS with little that can counter it outside 1km.  Once that Tiger is down, you have options for the Panzer III.  So, it would seem general rules:

(1)  Ancient:  Attack and neutralize the weakest first.

(2)  Modern:  Attack and neutralize the greatest threat first.

My questions:

(1)  Do I have this right?

(2)  At what point in time and why did the philosophy of combat change?

Thanks.

One very important thing is also that tactical considerations of taking out a single Tiger Tank, which is already facing you on the battlefield, versus taking out a single Pz II facing you, is not comparable to a consideration whether your legionnaires should go and attack a phalanx legion or a slinger legion.  

The latter in modern would be more of an operational/strategic consideration. If you would have the choice to attack the frontline on a place where there are no enemy heavy tanks, versus a place where there are enemy heavy tanks, one should always attack the place without heavy tanks if breakthrough is the objective.

 Now if you want to destroy the enemy armor then obviously you should attack where they are, or one might want to attack heavy enemy forces just to keep m occupied so they can't reinforce another place on the front. Etc.

But in general I think the concept of 'attack the enemy where he is weakest, with your strongest force' is still true then and now. 

Edited by Lethaface
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2 hours ago, markshot said:

And again was  this really a strong distinction between modern and ancient combat?

Again I don't think there is a particular distinction between modern and ancient combat in that sense. I think what has changed is the scale of fighting now is so much larger that the the morale ripple effect is being caused at an operational level rather than within the eyesight of the common soldier. Because at some level you are attacking against the enemy weakpoint. CM just represents the single cohort making the attack rather than the whole army shifting its attack towards that point.

Think of the opening ~3-4 weeks of Operation Barbarossa.  The Soviets essentially experience a total collapse with formations fleeing the front, formations lost in the hinterlands, poorly done "last stand" assaults, etc....  Panic is induced not by causing men within eyesight of others to run but men 50km away to run.

------------

To engage with your original example some. In Combat Mission the area we fight on might have held an entire army in ancient history but now holds just the equivalent of a legionary cohort.

------------

The distinction in my eyes is the extension of the operational arena. Rather than having single armies be fully committed to an area that is within a few days walk you have forces extended for multiple hundreds of km. Contiguous fronts. Army sizes, for the most part, have been increasing but its not until the late 1800s with the rise of industrialization that contiguous fronts could be established.

Edited by chi-chi
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1 hour ago, markshot said:

I heard recently that an Imperial Legion had 1km frontage in a battle line formation.  I don't know how accurate that is.

That sounds about right.

When I was doing Sallust at uni, I read a journal paper that described a typical formation in the late Republic being a series of ranks, typically around 4-6, separated by as much as 50m. In each line the men were around 2m apart.

It was a detailed article and they were extremely flexible formations - easily combining ranks from open order to close order; one falling back through another or reinforcing another; one rank using their missiles while another was engaged; and so on. I had imagined the Romans to have been a well-trained force, but I was still surprised by the complexity of their battle tactics. Their default battle formation was also more spread out than I had imagined.

 

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10 hours ago, markshot said:

(2)  Modern:  Attack and neutralize the greatest threat first.

Well I can't really comment on the ancient period but when a Tiger turns up it does rather occupy my attention.

It might not be the first thing I go for but the battle will sort of revolve around getting it. In many cases that'll involve avoiding it until you've got it on your terms (multiple tanks with rear/side opportunities).

In fact, isn't getting the AT assets first a basic doctrine?

So I'm not sure there's too much comparison with the ancient period other than basics like flanking and keeping a reserve.

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Remember, a lot of WWII involved bombing population centers, rail yards, bridges, manufacturing, oil facilities, sinking shipping. They were doing a LOT of hitting the adversary at their weakest points. Douglas MacArthur famously said 'Hit 'em where they ain't' (quoting a baseball player), which translates to leaving strongpoints isolated and capturing everything else. I'd wager more King Tigers were abandoned after breaking down or running out of gas than were directly engaged and knocked out. I recall reading one account that claimed Allies commanders were gleeful when they first heard the Bulge battle had started. Let the enemy exhaust himself in his forward push then cut him off and bottle him up. The small scale tactics on the ground were almost superfluous.

Edited by MikeyD
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FOG2 is a cool game. Pike and Shot is another great game, made by the same people. Fighting against one of those enormous tercio formations can be really intimidating. I suppose you could say tercios were like the Tiger tanks of their day. A giant square of thousands of men that just runs right over anything in its way and absorbs any kind of punishment you can throw at it. It's like a moving castle that lumbers its way across the battlefield.

It's usually just a waste to try shooting at them, because it won't do anything. It takes a huge amount of concentrated fire just to have a chance at disrupting them, so usually your best bet is to ignore them or avoid them entirely and try to concentrate on the weak parts of the enemy lines, where you know your shots will have an impact, and hope you can rout them before the tercios can do much damage. Or you can win against tercios by winning the cavalry battles going on around the flanks. 

WW2 doesn't seem that much different to me. A Tiger tank isn't going to do much good without infantry support, or without supply lines, or any of the other things it depends on. You don't win by throwing waves of troops and tanks into the Tiger's teeth for a chance at knocking it out. You win by avoiding it and calling in air support, or by concentrating on another area entirely and then winning on operational level maneuver.

The Germans were so successful in the first few years of the war because they had mastered operational level maneuver. They had bewegungskrieg down to a science. They would concentrate their most powerful forces onto a single weak point, the schwerpunkt, and then punch through and encircle the enemy in a giant kessel. That's how they managed to capture four million Soviet prisoners in 1941. What they were doing wasn't anything new either. They were just following in the same Prussian tradition of the past 300 years going all the way back to Frederick the Great.

The way to beat that is not by fighting against the enemy's strongest forces, but by avoiding them. The Soviets finally won by doing just that in 1942 during Case Blue. The Soviet armies didn't leave themselves to be kesseled this time and just ran away, leaving the German panzer divisions to wander aimlessly over hundreds of miles of featureless steppe, searching for prey that wasn't even there. Once the Germans got tied down at Stalingrad, the Soviets turned the tables on them and hit the Germans' own weak points - the Romanian armies on the flanks, and then pretty much won the war right there because of it.

So I don't think things have changed much throughout history. The tactics are the same. I don't think ancient battles were much different either. A shield wall is a really strong formation and I don't you could beat it by just bashing up against it and beating them man for man. You would beat it by hitting weak points, like exploiting a flank or some rift that opens up somewhere, accidentally or otherwise. A weak point in a shield wall will eventually turn into a hole, and then a small hole will turn into a big hole, and then the entire formation will come crashing down and the battle will be over.

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