Sunday, April 29, 2012

Optima Ratio, elit, et arte bellum

Optima Ratio, elit, et arte bellum
(tactics techniques and procedures)
Templarii militiae

By Gordon S Fowkes, KCTJ
Grand Historian of the Grand Priory of St Joan of Arc of Mexico and Latin America
April 20, 2012
  St Joan of Arc Disclaimer:  The opinions herein are those of the author and not endorsed by the Grand Priory of of Mexico and Latin America.
Author’s Disclaimer: This is a military analysis of the Crusader Era “operating environment’ and includes conclusions and theories.  The conclusions are only when validated with different theories. and the theories are only if validated with different facts.

What is medieval history without castles, sieges, drama and heroism?  The Crusader Era part of the Medieval Ages begins shortly after the beginning of the Feudal system of military and political obligation in exchange for ownership of the land and the people on it.   It ends shortly before gunpowder blows things apart.
Rolling Plunder

Settling Down. The transitional period between the fall of Roman control and feudalism was a process of migrating tribal peoples settling down instead of rolling plunder.   This period was that of Charles Martel who stopped the Muslim Arab invasion of Europe north of Spain. This was the time of the Merovingian and Carolingian Empires.    It was the period of Charlemagne who put Western Europe together again long enough to claim the Roman Imperial Eagle, which still flies on pennons, flags, and national insignia from Moscow to Portugal.

More Rolling Plunder Behind. The problem with settling down is that there were a lot more plundering hordes to follow such as the Vikings from the north, Magyars from the East, and Saracens from the South.  The rolling plunder mode works only so long as there some plunder to roll over.  Absent somewhere else to plunder, the plundering becomes planting, reaping, selling and trading tied to specific pieces of dirt.  The old-fashioned tribal warrior structure didn’t work as it was tied to hearth and hamlet instead of the plundering hordes that could come out of Hell in a blink of an eye.
The fast and the heavy. The transition from rolling plunder and the defense of the realm marked by a succession of collisions between Norman, Viking, Byzantine, and Turk in battles England, North Africa, Sicily, Greece, Turkey and the Levant.   These were victories of the highly mobile and heavily armored and armed on horse and in powerful warships (the Long Ship and the Dromon).   This surge took western forces to Jerusalem, but from then on the fates of forces depended on fortifications more than horses.  

The First Crusade (1096-1099) fought twelve open battles to reach Jerusalem. After that there were   barely twelve major pitched battles until after the Crusades when gunpowder (1340) made medieval fortifications more a liability than an asset.  That meant that combat was a choice between pitched battle and sieges of fortifications.

The Failed Crusades of 1101

In between the First and Second Crusades, two crusades never got numbers for they had been defeated in Turkey in 1101 at the battles of Mersivan and Heraclea.  Between the dead and those sold into slavery, there weren’t enough Christians to colonize the Levant.  Had they survived, it was possible that Christians from Europe could have colonized the Levant.  After the First Crusade veterans left for home station, there were not enough Christians to dominate the Levant. That made fortifications a force multiplier of absolute necessity. And it was made clear that going to the Holy Land is best done by sea instead of by land through Turkey.  

Fortunately for the Crusaders, the Muslims were more divided than they were..  There was a four-sided competition on the Turkish peninsula between the Byzantine Empire, two Muslim kingdoms [1](Danishmend in the North East and the Seljuk Sultanate of Rum holding western Turkey), plus the Armenian kingdom in the South East. 

In the Levant itself[2], Damascus and Aleppo, which dominate Lebanon and western Syria, were ruled by two brothers (Ridwan of Aleppo and Duqaq of Damascus) that hated each other to the point of working with Christians.  

In addition, ethnic and religious factors (Sunni vs Shi’a; Arab vs Turk) complicated an already complicated Muslim cohesion. 

Both Divided Neither Conquered

That the Crusade Kingdoms had their backs to the sea and hostile Muslims on the other three sides made losing battle a losing proposition.  The Muslims could fall back, recover, and return.    By 1102, it was also clear that after the First Crusaders went home, the protection of the Holy Land would depend upon The Few and The Fortified.

The Few and the Fortified

The previously barbarian hordes were principally infantry of the wild charge variety who charged on foot, but often who rode to the battlefield on horses.  Their principle defense on the battlefield was the “shield wall” that could stand up to multiple cavalry charges.  
Steady Infantry with a shield wall and nerves stopped Cavalry

Once the conquests became more stable and the barbarians settled in, domesticity of the warrior ethic resulted in more  family values on the family farms.   Those less stabilized and responsibility free joined the infantry like it or not.  The quality of the infantry declined. 

The Age of the Mercenary and the Horse. The horse gave the force more mobility to move to counter the rolling plunder of successive hordes.  Horses are expensive which led to the default feudal force of expensively mounted cavalry of the affluent, plus a draftee peasant militia, who were bolstered by the best specialists money could buy such as Welsh longbow men, Genoese cross bow men,  Varangian axe men, Cuman cavalry, Normans, Venetian and Genoese ships, and a host of other colorful warriors.   The ethnic continuity and cohesion of feudal forces was no longer a matter of kith and kin, but of cash, lash and command.

Of special interest were the Engineers for building fortifications and siege equipment.  The engineers of a losing side of a battle were spared the blade in favor of the handle.  The Order was known as being exceptionally excellent engineers.

The cost of outfitting the mounted horse men proved to be difficult to raise in the old manner of volunteered militia (like the Saxon Fyrd) and it became necessary for feudal powers to grant titles of ownership of people and property in exchange for military service.   There were both obligations and penalties for breaking the conditions of the title including loss of rank, property and life. Thus was born a class of privileged, propertied, politically powerful and armed aristocracy all based on the horse.  Hence the titles of the Order were drawn from this equestrian military necessity, such as Chevalier, Caballero, and Ritter (rider).  These were the Few.

Order of Battle Planning and Task Organization

No Maps or GPS. There were few maps in existence, and the skill sets needed by large forces in reconnaissance, intelligence and communications were rare to nonexistent.  Often the dust clouds of an enemy force were the first clue that the enemy was even on the march.  Only the Mongols retained that ability and turned the Muslim and Christian worlds upside down.

Three Battles up. The order of battle (OB) or task organization of the feudal force consisted with the formation of a few large task forces, three being the most favorite of three “battles” (Left,  Right, and Center).  Often detachments of cavalry covered the flanks.  Within each  “battle” very different types of troops  that were echeloned and mixed from front to rear based on the estimate of the sequence and power of the enemy’s echelons.   

Knights may lead or follow and the various infantry complement each other

Reconnaissance and Security. The additional professionalism of the Templar and other orders allowed a more complex order of battle with the Orders taking advance, rear and flank guard security missions. The best example of this is the movement to the Battle of Arsuf under Richard I with Saladin as opponent.

Reconnaissance and Security forces focus on different forces.  Security forces focus on the main body of troops to be protected  from surprise and ambush. Reconnaissance focuses on the enemy and the terrain in between.

Forces Posted From Front to Rear (Echelonment) The composition of an echelon may be an infantry mix of spearmen, archers, and axe men to keep the enemy at bay and shoot them down with arrows.   Sometimes the lead echelon was the heavy cavalry with lance, battle axe, sword, and mace that charged the enemy at full tilt in order to break the cohesion of the opposing force, panic and break for the rear.  This was western specialty. 

Mounted Archers to harass and entice the Western Foe

The Eastern and Asian approach was to use the mounted archer, sometimes heavily armored, sometimes light and fast, to attrite the enemy host or goad him into a charge from which they would not return.  This was the Eastern specialty.  The Ottoman Turks later developed specialty cavalry units trained in the bait and switch that drew out Western knights out of supporting range of their infantry, and turn the tables. 

This was how the Seljuk Turks defeated the Byzantine Empire at Manzikert in 1071  The problem that the combatants tried to solve was the proper mix of horse mounted and foot mounted forces in the din and confusion of battle.  Panic, however, was the tipping point in what might have been a minor glitch in execution.  Panic is natures’ way to getting you out of the way of danger, even when staying was a better proposition. 

Tactic, Technique and Procedures
This era is often called the era of the horse, of mounted cavalry with the infantry providing the casualties as the infantry too often broke and were ridden down by cavalry.  The thunder of cavalry and the awesome appearance of the charge coming at you in particular is problematic with keeping a cool head. 

The intent of the charge was to induce panic, and a rout.

This perception created the opportunities to exploit the weaknesses of the cavalry principally that they were headstrong and were it not for the fact that horses won’t attack a line of sharp shiny things like pikes and spears.  Horses are considered the best of athletes but likely one of natures’ dumber animals, but not too dumb to impale themselves.

The thunder of cavalry and the awesome appearance of the charge coming at you in particular is problematic with keeping a cool head.  But, infantry that stood their ground and fought back were consistently successful.  The Old Roman legions had the training, as did some of the Saxons, Vikings and Normans who stood behind a “shield wall” armed with spears, axes, and swords.  Well trained infantry was the exception more than the rule during this time.

The other weakness of the cavalry was that once launched into a charge, there was hell to pay to get them to return to the battlefield.   The light cavalries of the Steppes and the Middle East going back to the Parthians deliberately baited their enemies into a charge, and then when out of range of supports, they turned and wiped out those who had charged.

 This maneuver was what the Seljuk Turk Alp Arslan did at the Battle of Manzikert in 1071. The Byzantine Emperor was killed and the Turks took permanent possession of Anatolia, and the Byzantine Emperor asked the Pope of Rome for the loan of a few good knights.  So started the First Crusade.

The Crusades started at a time when the infantry was more rabble than mob.  The speed differential between cavalry in a charge compared with the infantry creates gaps as the foot mobile is considerably slower than hoof, wheel and/or track mobile. One separated, rapidly moving enemy forces would attack the rear and flanks of the exposed force.   That is still true today. 

The solutions have been to make the infantry faster or slow the cavalry down to allow mutual support.   The technological innovations over the centuries alters the range, speed and accuracy of weapons systems which call for adjustments in firepower, mobility, and protection.  At any one point of time, certain solutions will create “tactical imperatives” that give or take an edge away.
These “tactical imperatives” are a matrix in time and space between the means by which a weapon systems engages, and the mode of combat from fast draw to counter-strike.

A snapshot in time when which imperative wins!

In addition to the tactical imperatives, the force with a better cohesion and leadership can overcome serious shortcomings in material or circumstance.  And the core of that cohesion is that which also prevents panic. 

To Panic and Not to Panic
There were far more casualties in retreat than attack or defense.  A well-trained outfit can successfully fight a retrograde operation under pressure or without pressure, and cause the enemy to lose precious time and equipment.  The actions of a rear guard such as at Arsuf, are inherently a retrograde under pressure.  The important point is DON’T PANIC

Panic is Nature's Way of Getting You the Hell Out of There!

Murphy’s Law is the First Law of WarMurphy says the what can go wrong, will go wrong at the worst possible time, at the worst place, and in the worst possible manner.  When war was fought elbow to elbow, so did mood swings between euphoria and panic so easily spread!  The tactics for the attack in open battle, faces to faces and feet to feet, was to panic the enemy just a little bit up front, and count on the rest running after. 

This is also known as the fight, flight or freeze response.  Any sudden change of fortune or of any change in expectations produces stress that messes with the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems that readies the body for fight or flight transmitted by neurochemical responses.
Fight, flight or freeze occurs with little or no conscious awareness.  It is as automatic stress response.  The decision of which has inherited roots, but the basic behavior is subject to additions in training or bitter experience that you managed to survive.  The survival algorithm, is easily understood with fight or flight, but some predators hunt by detecting motion, no movement, no hunt.

Good leadership and unit cohesion defeat dysfunctional or destructive reaction.   The confident and cohesive unit knows what to do and has the confidence that his (her) comrades do too.  Even the death of their leader and betrayal in battle deters them not. Think of the Spartans at Thermopylae,  the 10,000 with Clearchus in Anabasis,  and the legendary dedication of the Templar Knights, and the other military orders.  Crusader commanders gave the most difficult tactical missions to the Knights of the Temple, the Hospital and the Teutonic, as they had the cohesion and collective ability to handle the difficult without difficulty.

Battle Drill. Action in combat should be as instinctual just as in your daily to work in which angle of deflection, march interval, rate of march, and battle position in the shifting field of commuters is done automatically, without conscious thought save for the idiot here and there.  Like a Fire Drill and Life Boat Drill, a panic drill is a tactic. In the US Army, I taught my units how to handle the unexpected through unscheduled “panic drills” using one or two soldiers plus an accomplice to panic whole companies.

Battle Drill, good leadership, and the confidence and cohesion of the primary group carries through the sequence of essential tactical and operational sequences of the “Four F’s of Fighting”.

Find, Fix, Fight and Follow Through.
(Sequence or Steps of Actions)

These are the four F’s of FIGHTING. These are the rules of tactical operations that have not changed since the days of the rock, stick, and torch.  Victory goes to the side that does it faster and more effectively. Defeat can be snatched from the Jaws of Victory for skipping a step. 

FIND: This is primarily an intelligence effort to determine the where the enemy is, what does him have, and what, where and when can he do it (strength, composition, disposition to determine possible courses of action). 
Determining capabilities outranks intentions ten to one, as the enemy does not know what he is going to do until he guesses what you are going to do.   This is called “dealing with intentions” as is considered in the classical approach to war as presumptuous.
When we talk about the “composition” of forces we are talking about what kind of troops, what do they do, how well, and how do they contribute to the war effort (or not).  In this weighty tome, for reasons of brevity we can lump these as Fighters, Supporters, Leaders, and Logistics.  There are more details breakdowns but this is in a state of flux in the ageless struggle between Courtier and Combatant. 

COCOA: The first information requirement is that of terrain analysis to see how the ground helps or hinders either side.   There is an old acronym “COCOA” which is easier to remember the new and improved one on analyzing terrain.   COCOA has a sensory component to aid in remembering, just think of a cup of Cocoa, smell and remember:
Critical Terrain, Obstacles, Cover and Concealment, Observation and Fields of Fire, and Avenues of Approach have stood the test of time.

FIX: Force the enemy to deploy from the march, and restrict his tactical maneuvering.  Placing obstacles and fires on likely avenues of approach forces the enemy to take the time to deploy and prepare counter fires.  In the offense, this is placing fires or close combat on key parts of the enemy to restrict his range of options of fires and movement available to the enemy, as in pinning them down.  This is called covering and suppressive fires.

Oh, dear deer!

FIGHT:  Once fixed, close with and open fire directly on the enemy to destroy their capabilities to move and shoot.  This is called Fire and Movement and it works moving forward, moving back, or standing still.  The enemy fires on your movement and your weaponry while you do the same to him/her and/or them. 

The last one standing is usually the winner so long as the loser is moving in the direction you wanted.  That includes forcing the enemy to sit still while you move the direction you wanted, that is victory.  If you want the enemy to follow you into a trap, his movement is a victory for you.   The reverse is his victory.  If his attack costs him dearly, even though he has pushed you back is a victory for you.  It boils down to whose will is triumphant.

FOLLOW THROUGH:  Following though means reconstitution and recovery of resources such as resupply, repair, and reordering one’s forces to first, defend what you took, and then be prepared to continue the fight or leave on one’s own option.  This means resupply, repair and maintenance, replacement of personnel and equipment, and repositioning for the next move.  Often this means preparing to move onto the next High Ground either front, rear, or flank that affords observation and/or protection from enemy fires and observation.

Hic desinit lectio

[1] Point 3 1101 Crusades Destroyed
[2] Point 2 Muslims divided

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