Collections: Total Generalship: Commanding Pre-Modern Armies, Part IIIc: Morale and Cohesion

This is the conclusion of the third part of our series (I, II, IIIa, IIIb) looking at the role of the general in commanding pre-gunpowder armies in battle. Last time we looked at how junior officers, when empowered to act independently, could give armies a degree of flexibility and reactiveness on the battlefield but didn’t necessarily increase the amount of actual control the general exerted over them.

This week we’re going to finish up this analysis by looking at the rank and file soldiers themselves and the issue of morale. Film and video games generally present a binary portrait of morale: soldiers are either 100% following orders and prosecuting the battle vigorously or else running away in disordered terror and never anywhere between. But in fact the morale and cohesion of armies are complex and unpredictable things, with many possible outcomes. Moreover, popular fiction across many genres tends to represent armies as far more willing to fight on through high casualties as they were historically.

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Gaming Morale

Most strategy/tactics games do not simulate morale at all, of course. In Starcraft or Age of Empires, all soldiers fight on until killed; they only retreat under orders (by the player) and never attempt to surrender. We’re going to set those sorts of games aside for the moment, however, and focus on games that do attempt some kind of morale simulation.

For games that do simulate morale, it generally exists in a binary state: units are either in good (enough) morale and will follow any and all orders the player gives them or they are ‘broken’ and will retreat uncontrollably to the rear. The binary itself is odd since, as we’ll see, morale and cohesion can exist in a lot of states. But it also has gameplay implications: because the shift from ‘fine’ to ‘broken’ is so immediate and severe (especially in games where it is unit-wide), the tendency in game design is to make the break-point very high.

The Total War series is probably the most popular strategy game series where morale plays a major role and provides a good example of the binary framework. As is the norm for such games, morale (or ‘leadership’ depending on the game) is a binary: units either execute your orders with full enthusiasm or run away uncontrollably with no binary space in the middle. There is a touch more complexity than this, but only a touch: units can either be ‘broken’ or ‘shattered;’ both flee uncontrollably, but ‘broken’ units can eventually reform if their morale improves. The way the game determines if a unit should flee is based on that ‘leadership’ or ‘morale’ stat: every unit has a different starting value (enhanced by gaining combat experience) which is then positively modified by things like a nearby general or friendly units and negatively modified by things like losses and danger; if they value drops below zero and stays there long enough the unit flees.

Now on the one hand, units in Total War consider a lot of things to determine their current morale: unit casualties, army casualties, the rate of unit losses,1 routing friendly units, unit fatigue, the presence or absence of friendly units on the flanks and the presence of strong enemy units,2 all matter to varying degrees. On the other hand, unit morale is generally set so high that most of these factors are at best indecisive unless they are stacked together with substantial damage to the unit. That is, it isn’t enough to flank a tired unit with a strong enemy and rout a unit next to them if the unit in question hasn’t taken substantial casualties they aren’t going anywhere.

To take some extreme examples, I set up some test battles in Total War: Warhammer II.3 First, I took the most bog standard infantry unit, the Empire Swordsmen – a solidly run-of-the-mill unit with neither particularly good nor particularly bad leadership (though the unit had 0 experience, so we are at the low end of ‘standard’) – and smashed them into a line of Har Ganeth Executioners, one of the strongest and most dangerous anti-infantry units available to see how long it would take for the line of swordsmen to run away.4 The answer, as shown below, was about 50% total army casualties – 1,168 models killed before the remaining 1,113 ran away. Then for the sake of setting a lower bound, I re-ran the experiment mashing an entire army of Bretonnian peasant mob – a unit noted on its unit card as having ‘low leadership’ – into an army of Swordsmen for a similarly lopsided fight; the peasant mob obediently charged the swordsmen and only retreated after having sustained roughly 1/3 losses.

This is, to put it mildly, not how actual armies behaved on the battlefield. But it is precisely how these units generally behave in Total War games. Indeed the community term for units like the peasant mob are ‘tarpits:’ cheap and weak units with lots of models and health which can hold down more powerful units simply by the time it takes to cut through them, especially if a nearby general or hero can provide the peasants with just a touch more morale. It’s a use-case for ‘chaff’ infantry with in fact depends on even extremely low leadership units sticking in the fight until they’ve taken significant casualties. And by and large they will do that; peasant mob’s 36 leadership is enough to keep them fighting even if they are charged from behind (-14) by a more powerful enemy unit (-4) with a bunch of their allies running away (-6) at the same moment their general dies (-10) if they haven’t yet taken any losses. And this is a peasant mob, the lowest leadership human5 unit available as far as I know. Any one of those things historically, as we’ll see, was sufficient to rout far more cohesive armies.

Now to be clear that doesn’t mean these morale modifiers don’t matter at all (at least on normal difficulty), they do. The key thing you are trying to do in a Total War battle is inflict losses to grind down enemy morale on all of their units and then use one or more of these ‘shocks’ to ‘spike’ that morale negative to rout the unit. But trying to rout even extremely low morale units without first grinding down their health is basically impossible. Indeed, it is so difficult that the game is set with a not-quite-hidden ‘backstop’ to the morale system: the ‘army losses penalty’ – a morale penalty which kicks up to absolutely massive values once the game decides that an army’s losses are too severe. Players on difficulties higher than normal will be very familiar with this because at any of the higher difficulties in the game, ‘army losses’ is just about the only way to actually rout high leadership units. But even on lower difficulties the ‘army losses’ penalty is necessary to avoid the odd spectacle of even very low leadership units that, while undamaged themselves, have just watched the entire rest of their army be crushed, inexplicably sticking in the fight.

Other games with similar ‘binary’ morale tend to be no less absurd in terms of how courageous they make even very basic units. Here’s a recent battle of mine from Mount and Blade: Bannerlord. The screenshot might be a bit hard to read if you are unfamiliar with the game, so let me decode.

Bannerlord handles large battles by having each army get a proportion of its forces on the field at start and then replacements ‘trickle’ in as casualties are taken. These two armies were on the same general order of magnitude, one army of 1000 and another of around 1400 (the former having much more cavalry).6 As you can see the defending army, out of its 1000, sustained 472 KIA (the red skull on the right) and 503 WIA (the broken shield on the right) before the surviving 37 troops retreated (the flag on the right). They inflicted only 119 casualties total; this was a preposterously, crushingly one-sided fight. Indeed, because of that trick effect only 436 of the 1,400 troops available to the attacker were even engaged. And yet the defender waited until they had sustained an astounding 96.3% casualty rate before attempting to run away.7 The wild thing is that the defending army featured a lot of cavalry (a typical Khuzait army, for those that play the game), which could have run away very effectively!

Not all games are quite so extreme, of course. Battles in Paradox titles – I’ll use Crusader Kings III as an example here because its the one I’ve played most recently – tend to feature casualty rates that are often a lot closer to historical norms. Looking through my own recent games, lopsided battles between armies of equivalent size tend to inflict around a quarter to a third losses (presumably both KIA and serious WIA since the ‘killed’ figure reflects all men not able to return to service), often with most of those casualties occurring during the ‘retreat’ phase of the battle – which is correct. The exception here are ‘stack wipes’ where an army is so wildly overmatched that it is defeated completely; I think we may take this to mean in most cases that the army collapsed and dispersed rather than that 100% of its troops were killed. Nevertheless a third to a quarter losses is closer to right, but actually probably still about triple the general average. It is not a good sign when the closest we seem to get is roughly three times the historical norm.

And if you are wondering ‘how do you get results that lopsided?’ In this case, the answer is having an army that is almost entirely men-at-arms and knights, resulting in extremely high quality ratings. This is relatively late in a reform-the-Roman-Empire run, so the poor French here are facing the cream of a very large Mediterranean crop.

I’ve focused on game morale systems here, but of course this blends over into film as well, where the ‘mooks’ often charge the heroes seemingly utterly heedless of their losses – frequently despite the fact that the last identical group of mooks to do so just got taken apart before their very eyes. And invariably they do this until they are so beaten that they switch to the other binary state, simply running away.

Actual armies have far more than two states of morale and behaved in far more dynamic, unpredictable and interesting ways!

Morale and Cohesion

The first problem with this ‘binary model’ of morale is that it assumes just a single factor (‘leadership’ or ‘morale’) but in practice we ought to be thinking about at least two different ingredients here: morale and cohesion.

Morale is the commitment the combatants have to their leadership and their cause. To simplify a bit, we might say that soldiers with good morale believe three things: that their cause is a worthy one, that they are on the road to success and that their leaders have a good (enough) plan to achieve final victory. Poor morale can result from a breakdown in any of those three elements: troops might for instance believe both in their goal and its eventual possibility but not in their leaders to produce it (this seems to have been the case, for instance, in the French Mutiny of 1917, discussed below). On the other hand, regardless of the charisma of leaders, few people come to a war intending to die in it; if the cause appears impossible, morale will sink regardless. And armies that do not believe in the cause at all are extremely difficult to motivate by other means.

On the other hand cohesion is the force that holds a specific unit together through the power of the bonds holding the individual combatants to each other and/or to their (generally junior or non-commissioned) officers. There are a lot of ways to build that cohesion: people are generally unwilling to abandon neighbors, close friends and relatives, for one. They are also reluctant to expose themselves to shame at home for having done so; shame is one of the few things people fear as much, if not more than, death. For armies that can’t rely on that sort of organic cohesion, it can be built by reconstructing the soldier’s unit as his primary social group. Drill can do this: it creates an experience of shared suffering and achievement which bonds the soldiers together creating strong ‘artificial’ cohesion.

These two ingredients have different roots, but they also function differently. The formulation that has always stuck with me is one from James McPherson’s For Cause and Comrades: Why Men Fought in the Civil War (1998): morale (McPherson discusses it under the heading of ‘the Cause’) will get men into uniform, it will sustain them on large marches and cold nights and it will get them to the battle, but it will not get them through the battle. Instead, cohesion (the ‘comrades’ of the title) gets men through the terror of actual combat, when fear has driven ‘the cause’ far from mind. But of course cohesion isn’t enough on its own either, since it provides no reason to advance or attack or really to do anything at all except stick together.

Adding further complication to this, morale and cohesion are not, as they often exist in games, inherent properties of a unit, but rather emergent properties of the interactions of a whole bunch of individuals. In a strategy game, units exist primarily as extension of the player’s will; in film units typically exist as extensions of their commander’s or the main character’s will (note how common it is that right as the hero begins winning his duel with the villain, so too his army begins winning the battle). But of course actual armies are composed of lots of humans, each with their own individual will and agency.

Those humans are continually making calculations about risks, goals and survival. It’s not hard here to see why, by the by, morale won’t carry troops through high risk conditions: if your only goal is to survive to experience the end-state of the war, then it is always in your interest to let someone else do the dying; it doesn’t serve your end to stay in a high risk position. By contrast, if you are held there by the fear of shame if your close comrades see you run, that still applies. Thus these calculations get progressively more ‘primal’ as the sense of danger rises (fear makes a mess of those higher brain functions), but they do not stop.

Complex Outcomes

The result is a wide range of complex and unpredictable outcomes, rather than the neat binary state we tend to see in video games or film, where everyone is either 100% committed or 100% running away.

Consider, for instance, an army with high morale but with weak cohesion. This is actually so common an occurrence that it actually becomes tricky to point out specific examples; its most common expression are units at the beginning of a war that despite being highly motivated ‘for the cause’ nevertheless fall apart quickly when the fighting starts. A classic example is the First Battle of Bull Run (1861); both army’s morale was evidently high (they both thought they were about to win a brief and glorious war!) and that morale carried them into the battle just fine. But when it became evident that the US Army wasn’t winning the day, that morale was insufficient and the new and not yet sufficiently trained army lacked the cohesion to hold together, leading to a panic and collapse where the units themselves dissolved in a frenzied retreat.

What is striking in this example is that the army didn’t dissolve, because while cohesion had failed, morale had not. After the frenzy of the retreat war off, the army mostly reformed; only 1,216 US soldiers were reported missing after the battle (of 18,000 or so engaged), so most of the men found their way back to their units (one way or the other). Meanwhile the public and political leaders remained committed to the war, redoubling recruitment and enlistment; that commitment both reflected and influenced army morale: victory was still desirable and still possible. And so the army reformed to try again. The American Civil War is replete with examples like this where unit cohesion failed, but those same units after embarrassing retreats reformed and rejoined the army, often to put in solid service in later battles. Of course penalties for desertion and inducements for service also might play a part in this, but as I think McPherson (op. cit.) demonstrates, for both the United States and the Confederacy, ‘the cause’ was the driving factor. Morale brought the armies back together and sustained them through the campaigning – but it was not enough to hold together in battle until cohesion had been built within units.

What about an army experiencing a collapse of morale but with high cohesion? Here the particulars of the breakdown in morale matter a lot. A collapse of cohesion produces a fairly predictable result: the unit falls apart under the immediate stress and flees. But a collapse in morale, especially where cohesion is high means the unit stays together and generally continues to act in concert. The fact that they still act in concert means whatever they do will have all of the force of that cohesion, but the collapse of morale makes that action unpredictable.

Units may, for instance, hold together but refuse to attack or refuse to attack vigorously, especially in cases where the troops have lost faith in their leaders, but not in the cause. A classic example of this outcome is the 1917 French Mutiny. The French Army, having sustained very heavy losses in the previous years of the First World War responded to the failure of the Nivelle Offensive in April 1917 with a general mutiny that rapidly spread over much of the front. The immediate cause was the ‘crash’ in morale after the great optimism for the offensive (it was supposed to win the war) was dashed by its failure. What’s striking is that the mutinous soldiers in question didn’t simply desert en masse; they didn’t just go home, even after it was clear that the officers had lost control and more than half of the French army was refusing orders. Instead of retreating or rebelling, the mutinous divisions mostly just refused to advance; they had lost faith in the strategy and the generals, not the cause.8

Via Wikipedia, French infantrymen in Paris in July, 1917. Called poilus, “hairy ones” both for their often rustic origins but also their tendency to grow out facial hair (and the difficulty of shaving and grooming in the trenches), French soldiers were poorly paid and permitted little leave. One of the issues was the relative degree of social distance between French officers and their troops; both British and American commanders remarked on the resultant relatively poor provisions made for common French soldiers in their trenches, which contributed to the mutiny of 1917 (though British morale at that point was only marginally better).

In this case it also impacted the solution. While there was an immediate effort to crack down on the soldiers, what really seems to have alleviated the mutiny was a change in command: Nivelle was dismissed, replaced by the far more popular Petain9 and he promised a more careful strategy which wouldn’t waste the lives of his men (along with better pay and leave). The French Army had lost faith in its leaders, so a change in leader was able to restore the situation, at least to a degree.

Alternately, a highly cohesive army whose morale fails may turn on its leaders completely; this is particularly notable for armies that are at best weakly attached to the fortunes of the state or society they serve. Thus for instance after the end of the First Punic War, Carthage’s armies, composed mostly of mercenaries, turned on the state and instead formed the backbone of a widespread North African rebellion against Carthaginian rule (for more on this, check out Dexter Hoyos, Truceless War (2007); alas it is not cheap so try your library). A similar early modern example is the behavior of the Army of Flanders in 1576: having been left unpaid for an extended period due to the financial difficulties of the Kingdom of Spain, the army responded by electing new leaders and then brutally sacking its own regional capital, Antwerp. What’s striking here is that the army did this while functioning in perfect order (albeit against one of their own cities) – being able to execute a capable storming attack on a defended, fortified city – because cohesion was not the problem and the troops knew their business.

Via Wikipedia, “The Spanish Fury” (De Spaanse Furie), painter anonymous c. 1585 showing the sack of Antwerp. The painting is now in the Museum Aan de Stroom, Antwerp.

More broadly because morale is the force that holds the army together when it is out of danger, cohesive armies with low morale can suffer from contagious mass desertion where the army itself seemingly melts away admits a wave of mutinies, as with for instance the collapse of the Russian Army in 1917.

Alternately, morale failures can result from situations where the army itself is still a potentially effective fighting force, but victory itself is no longer possible. The most common way this happens in the pre-modern world is in wars of succession: even if the army is still functioning, if a faction’s proposed heir dies, victory is no longer possible. Thus for instance even though as a pure engagement the Battle of Cunaxa (401 BC) was indecisive, the fact that Cyrus the Younger (claimant to the Achaemenid throne) was killed meant that most of Cyrus’ army collapsed (though its Greek contingent, the famed 10,000 stuck together and fought their way out of the Achaemenid Empire, though one assumes had ‘vanishing away into the countryside’ been an option they’d have done that). Strategy games often have a big morale penalty for ‘general killed’ (which for some reason doesn’t remove your control over the army usually; Mount and Blade is an exception here – if your character is incapacitated, you do lose control of your army) which often seems to hearken to this kind of collapse, but it is worth noting that the army collapsed not because it lost any old general, but because that general was himself ‘the cause!’

A similar but more detailed interaction of morale and cohesion is visible with the Battle of Hastings (1066). William’s initial push up the hill failed and the rumor started in the army that he had been killed; since the war was a succession war that would mean the loss of any hope of victory. William had to ride along his line with his helmet off to show his face so that his men could see he was still alive and victory was still possible to reorganize them for another effort. On the other side, the death of Harold seems to have caused the collapse of the English line but in different ways. The troops of the fyrd seem to have collapsed and fled, melting into the countryside (failure of morale and cohesion), but the highly cohesive mass of the huscarls held position around Harold’s body, cohering in a single mass to the end.

Via Wikipedia, detail from the Bayeux Tapestry showing the death of Harold II. The following panel is labeled ‘et fuga verterunt Angli,’ “The English turned, fleeing’ but the label here may be a later addition. In any event, the English did flee.

Morale and cohesion can thus fail in different ways, sometimes leading to units that will respond to some orders but not others, or units which remain cohesive and act in concert but are no longer under the control of their officers. Perfect obedience and panicked rout are two of the possibilities, but only two states in a broad spectrum. And of course it is also possible for combatants to be too aggressive, attacking without orders, sometimes under the leadership of their officers, sometimes not. This sort of aggressiveness was itself a core part of the Roman ideal of virtus which in turn required disciplina to retain (at least until a Pelignian threw a flag at someone. Then all bets were off).

Now I do want to briefly note there are some games that do try to express some of these complexities, but they are mostly turn-based rather than real-time games with much smaller audiences. The old Sierra Civil War Generals10 titles, for instance, simulated both morale and organization; units with low morale would first refuse to charge (but still initiate rifle exchanges, though often half-heartedly), then refuse to attack, then refuse to advance at all (but could be ordered to dig in in their current position), then retreat in good order, then rout. More recently, some of Byzantine Games’ turn-based titles like Pike and Shot have units move through levels of cohesion (Steady/Disrupted/Fragmented/Broken), each of which lowers the combat ability of the unit; fragmented units can’t charge and may give ground while remaining minimally combat effective. But these more detailed considerations of morale are very rare in real-time titles.

When Does Morale and Cohesion Fail?

But this common binary system creates another related problem: because the player goes from having 100% control to 0% control in a single instant switch, the threshold for that switch is set very high. Armies often have to be attrited down to close to half their original numbers before units even begin considering retreat. The result are armies that are ahistorically accepting of combat casualties, with both skews the sense of how lethal warfare was but also how battles tended to flow.

For instance, as noted above even ‘peasant mob’ can be made both to charge and to receive a charge from basically any unit in a Total War game. Indeed, that’s the point: the way you are supposed to use ‘tarpit’ units like peasant mob is to have them absorb damage from more expensive units while your own expensive units deal blows to the enemy. Except that on actual pre-modern battlefields, units frequently broke before receiving a charge. For instance, here is how Thucydides describes the Battle of Mantinea (418, Thuc. 5.72.3-4):

As soon as they came to close quarters with the enemy, the Mantinean right broke the Sciritae and Brasideans, and bursting in with their allies and the thousand picked Argives into the unclosed breach in their line cut up and surrounded the Spartans, and drove them in full rout to the wagons, slaying some of the older men on guard there. But if the Spartans got the worst of it in this part of the field, it was not so with the rest of their army, and especially the center, where the three hundred hippeis, as they are called, fought round King Agis, and fell on the older men of the Argives and the five companies so named, and on the Cleonaeans, the Orneans, and the Athenians next them, and instantly routed them; the greater number not even waiting to strike a blow, but giving way the moment that they came on, some even being trodden under foot, in their fear of being overtaken by their assailants.

(Emphasis mine. Translation is R. Crawley from the The Landmark Thucydides, ed. R.B. Strassler, my only minor change was to leave hippeis untranslated; these fellows are the elite guard of the Spartan kings. Though called hippeis (‘horsemen’) they fought on food.)

In short on the left (to the Spartans) side of the field, the Spartan forces (for what each of these groups is, see my series on Sparta) collapsed almost instantly on contact, while on the right side, the opposing Argive (et al.) force collapsed before contact, at the very onset of the Spartans. That’s not uncommon for units or indeed even entire armies with weak cohesion or morale to collapse before contact or at the very moment of contact. After all, the onset of an enemy is very scary and even with your armor and all of the cohesive elements designed to hold you into the fight, everything in your monkey brain in that line is telling you to run away; indeed, as we’ve discussed, ‘shock’ cavalry relies on this feature of human behavior in order to be effective, since such cavalry is almost useless against infantry that remains dense, cohesive and in good order.

If anything, by the by, this tendency of units to break before contact becomes even more common in the gunpowder era. Part of the reason armies kept doing bayonet charges into the 1800s is that they could be very effective. While it was very hard to get a unit with the cohesion and courage to make a bayonet charge, for those that could, it was extremely rare for the defenders to wait to receive such a charge: without armor or shields, casualties were likely to be extremely severe. And there is something in our barely evolved monkey-brains that really understands someone running at us with a very sharp stick on a more fundamental, primal level than it understands artillery or gunfire. It was thus relatively rare for bayonet charges to result in an extended melee: instead the defender typically poured fire into the attacker who either broke and fled or else delivered the charge in which case the defender broke and fled with those who could not flee in time being killed or surrendering.11

Of course not every unit ran away before striking a blow and casualties did happen. Figuring out the average casualties taken before an army collapsed is in most cases beyond the evidence, though. The problem is that most losses occur after an army breaks and runs, since combatants who are fleeing no longer are operating as a mutually protecting unit or actively defending themselves. But we don’t get casualty figures in our sources for the moment when an army breaks, we get figures for the end of the battle itself (and these are often of questionable reliability). Still, these ‘total losses’ if we keep in mind that ‘pursuit casualties’ are included, can give us some sense of the ‘range of the normal’ as it were.

Peter Krentz did a general survey of Greek hoplite battle casualties12 and concluded that attested loss rates (only men killed; we have no WIA figures for Greek hoplite battles) at 5% for winners and 14% for losers; this leads to the generally quoted average of roughly 10% losses in a hoplite battle. Strikingly, the variation is pretty tight; there are few examples where any side suffered more than 20% losses. Now of course we need to be alert to the potential problems with the source material here though at the same time sources tend to exaggerate casualties, not minimize them. If we assume that loss rates might be close to even until the moment when an army breaks we might say that hoplite armies tended to collapse somewhere between perhaps 5-10% losses (and sometimes much earlier than that).

Nathan Rosenstein13 attempted a similar analysis (albeit his interest was more demographic) for the Romans stretching from 200 to 168 (the period where we have the best evidence) and notes that the averages of his figures for those years were 4.2% losses for winners and 16% for losers. Again one must stress the potential unreliabilities of the sources (which Rosenstein discusses) and also note that the period from 200 to 168 was a period where Rome did a lot of winning and not a lot of losing; the reported casualties for Rome’s enemies when they lost were often a fair bit higher but of course we must be careful there of exaggeration. Still this broadly tracks with the Greek figures and suggests perhaps a general rule, though it must be noted that there are outlier battles, particularly where the impossibility of retreat produced extreme casualties for the losers (something more common in Roman warfare where everyone was a lot better at pursuit than hoplite armies were).

So pre-modern armies generally seem to have fallen apart at or before 10% losses. That is somewhat sooner than modern military units (‘combat ineffectiveness’ rules of thumb vary, but they’re often between 10 and 20% losses), but as we’ve noted before shock combat exerts a very different morale and cohesion pressure than being under extended fire does.14 That’s still substantially lower than something like Crusader Kings III’s c. 30% or so average loss-rate for defeated armies and massively, wildly lower than the 50% or 90% losses-to-break rates implied by games in the Total War and Mount and Blade series (much less the 100% rates implied by many other real time strategy games).

Now it is not hard to understand why many video games set the thresholds for army collapse much higher. The design philosophy here is one that empowers the player and having an army collapse early in a battle from seemingly random or uncontrollable causes would be badly disempowering. Controlling low leadership armies under these circumstances would feel like trying to sword-fight with a pool noodle. But that’s precisely the point: controlling most pre-modern armies was like that. Likewise it’s not hard to imagine why film, with its preference for Big, Decisive Battles That Decide Everything tends to depict battles with very high casualties, the heroes and villains fighting on until one or both is utterly ruined. But once again, actual battles rarely turned out this way.

That has, as I see it, two implications, one small and one large. The small implication is that the standard practice in many of these games to ‘bog down’ an enemy’s expensive units in a mass of cheap forces so as to spare your own expensive ‘damage dealers’ from taking damage – a cornerstone of the ‘match-up’ model we discussed at the beginning of this series – doesn’t really function on an actual battlefield. Advancing low quality, low cohesion infantry without support will simply cause them to break for the rear without bogging down or potentially without even engaging their higher quality opponents. Peasant mobs know they’ll lose to dismounted knights, they will not, as a rule, stick around to put the matter to the test except under extreme circumstances.15 If you want infantry to hold against dangerous enemies, it generally has to be high quality, cohesive infantry. Attempting to do your ‘cost savings’ by cheaping out on your infantry ‘anvil’ was a good way to find yourself with nothing but your surrounded and soon to be defeated hammer.

The broader implication is for understanding the nature of pre-modern warfare in general, that casualties were, as a rule, relatively low compared to what we might expect. Even in our sources, which love to exaggerate the scale of victories, battles which result in the total and utter destruction of an army are rare and produced by special circumstances (typically the army is incapable of retreat for some reason). Consequently in these societies men in the ‘combatant class’ (whatever that was) were likely to participate in and survive more battles, including battles they lost.

Conclusion

At the beginning of the series, we introduced a ‘Total War‘ model of army command. That model was heavily focused on active command, with the general responding to changing battlefield conditions. The purpose that active control was put to was to create specific unit-to-unit match-ups (as well as using ranged units to specifically target and remove dangerous enemy units) rather than to maintain a contiguous front or coherent formation for the whole army. Those match-ups in turn play into a ‘rock-paper-scissors’ view of tactics where the key is matching enemy units with their specific counters in one’s own army.

And what I hope I’ve shown here is that almost none of that model of generalship was possible under the conditions that pervaded in warfare before the advent of gunpowder (and indeed, for some time after it). The general himself almost never had the information necessary to target specific units of the enemy maneuvering on the battlefield; the rare exceptions (like Leuktra (371) or Gaugamela (331)) were typically only possible because the general could guess in advance where those units would be because of a standard enemy disposition or where the general could respond to their position because he was personally leading the unit deployed against them (like the companion cavalry). Instead because dispositions had to be decided with extremely limited information, most armies deployed cautiously in ‘standard’ formations designed to minimize risk rather than maximize ‘match-ups.’

Which as well enough because even if a general somehow did get a ‘bird’s eye’ view of the battlefield, he generally lacked the capability to communicate those orders or have the army act upon them. Rather than having a nearly limitless set of opportunities to make changes to the army’s battleplan, the general was heavily constrained, having only a number of key ‘decision points’ where he could intervene and in those points in turn having only a limited ‘McDonald’s Menu’ of orders he could give – limited based on the training and capacity for synchronized discipline in the army. For most armies, this essentially limited the general to hitting “go” and hoping for the best, perhaps leading his own small unit more directly or making a show of himself in a way intended to inspire bravery in the rest of the army.

Actual responsiveness to evolving conditions didn’t come from the general at all, but was an emergent property of junior officers empowered to make independent decisions combined with armies that had sufficient training and discipline to act on those decisions in the moment. Such armies could be very effective, but they were also difficult to produce (as were the capable junior officers) and so a relative rarity. Even so, these armies didn’t always win: discipline and distributed command was an advantage, but only one factor of many. Tyche still rules the greatest part of the affairs of men.

And finally, even the plans of generals or their orders when they did get through were at best implemented imperfectly by armies that acted not as extensions of their commander’s will but as collections of humans with their on agency, courage and fears. Units ordered to charge sometimes refused; units ordered to hold sometimes broke before contact. Armies sometimes collapsed from sudden panics before much of the battle had been fought. Alternately, units sometimes put in reserve impetuously attacked anyway. An army itself is a rarely restrained mob and many generals, including quite good ones, sometimes lose control of those restraints.

The point here, I should stress, is not to reduce ancient or medieval armies to dumb mobs of humans mindlessly hacking away at each other. There was order to this chaos and there was method to this madness: these were, after all, thinking humans who tried to plan and tried to organize and generally succeeded about as well as humans do today. Instead, the point here is that the strictly controlled battlefield of film and video games is an illusion.

That has itself all sorts of implications but perhaps the biggest one is a blow to the ‘great general’ and his place in our mythology. The fact is the greatest captains often have at best limited influence on events. As we’ve noted, at Bibracte, Caesar seems to have played no role in the brilliant two-direction attack that won the battle; had his centurions been less creative and less adaptive, Caesar would have lost regardless of his considerable command skill. Indeed, when it comes to the Romans it is hard not to miss that they conquered the Mediterranean not with a succession of brilliant commanders but with a long line of modestly competent ones. Producing so many minimally competent generals was enough because brilliance was never the determining factor in any of Rome’s wars.

And that’s where we’re going to go next: what exactly it was that those modestly competent generals were doing outside of battles? Logistics mostly, it turns out. But while we’ve talked a fair bit about logistics in terms of what makes army movements plausible, we haven’t talked about the actual mechanics of feeding (and watering) an army on the march. So that is where we’ll turn to next; I had planned that originally as part of this series but I suspect I’ll break it out into its own series.

But first, next week has the Fourth of July, so we’ll have a bit of a detour for that.

  1. implemented generally as a morale penalty based on the percentage of the unit killed in the last few seconds
  2. Specifically stronger enemy units that are faster or as fast as the unit in question.
  3. Mostly because it was the one I had installed at the time
  4. I also sent their no-skills general on vacation at the back of the map, so they had no morale support from that. If the general had been with the line, this would have taken even longer.
  5. Across the Empire, Bretonnia, Cathay and Kislev rosters
  6. The model limit was at 500, my proportion is about 300, so the enemy was coming in groups of 200, they had about 1000 total troops, so it isn’t hard to back calculate that I had around 1,500 troops; it was actually slightly less than this because my characters ‘tactics’ skill tilted the on-the-field advantage in my favor.
  7. The same laws of Gods and Men that require me to inform you that I have beaten both Dark Souls and Elden Ring now also require me to inform you that this battle was fought on ‘realism’ difficulty, where the player and their troops get no bonuses. That ‘budget tercio’ I showed a few weeks ago is really effective if you have – as you can see I have here – buckets of top-tier imperial heavy infantry and Battanian foot archers. Though I will admit, not all of my battles are so lopsided.
  8. An interesting parallel to this were examples of United States units late in the Civil War during the Overland Campaign which would advance but due to low morale generally refused to charge, making only a show of attacking fixed fortifications at places like Cold Harbor. Cohesion kept them together, faith in the cause kept them in uniform, but the failure of faith in their leaders kept them from attacking vigorously.
  9. Who, for whatever he would be in the years following, was in this moment, as he had been before in 1916, the savior of France. It is difficult to imagine any human being whose final reputation could have been more improved by having been fatally struck by a bus in 1939.
  10. Would really like this game ported to modern operating systems, it was quite well put together.
  11. As an aside, you can see the impact of this in bayonet training into the early 1900s: there is a lot of emphasis on attacking with ferocity, with a big fearsome shout. But while there is certainly some emphasis on bayonet fencing, it often seems decidedly secondary. The point of the training was as much if not more to build the necessary will and courage to make the charge as it was to build up the manual skill of wielding the weapon; a real contrast with the priorities in combat training of the pre-gunpowder era.
  12. in P. Krentz, Krentz, ‘Casualties in Hoplite Battles’, GRBS 26.1 (1985)
  13. In Rome at War (2004)
  14. And of course ‘combat effectiveness’ is measuring something a bit different than if a unit is routing.
  15. And yes, those circumstances do happen, but they’re rare.

167 thoughts on “Collections: Total Generalship: Commanding Pre-Modern Armies, Part IIIc: Morale and Cohesion

  1. Next week is a logistics post! I always enjoy your treatment of the subject, it’s something that few of my favorite games really cover. Games featuring pre-modern armies especially often just gloss over all the effort needed to simply move an army from A to B.

  2. This reminds me of the time I visited Weta Cave in New Zealand, the studio that did the CGI for LOTR (and many others). They designed and created an extremely detailed engine that could simulate individual soldiers in a battle by giving each combatant a list of moves that they could choose from. During one of the test battles, they left the programme running overnight to process the battle. In the morning, they found out that most of the (outnumbered) good guys had chosen the option to run away from the battle, leading them to remove that option from the combatant menu.

    As a sidenote, that programming has gone a long long way since then; it is now detailed enough to give each hair on an animal’s fur independent movement to simulate wind and movement, which creates extremely realistic visuals.

      1. Probably both better computer power and better programming. More power allows more elaboration of the programming.

        1. CGI for movies and TV is definitely an area where more computer power is a straightforward improvement. Toy Story is an example, according to Ed Catmull who was in charge of the computer section of Industrial Light & Magic that became Pixar. By the second half of the 1980s they had the computer software they needed to create movie quality CGI images, but when they did the maths for “a movie is about this long, so this many frames, we can render X frames per hour per computer, …” they worked out that it would cost a gazillion dollars to make at that time, but be just about economical in the 1990s. So they made TV commercials and shorts for a few more years.

          Ray tracing in computer games is another example. Nothing in terms of software and algorithms that hasn’t been known since the 1990s, but we’ve reached a tipping point where the quantitive improvement in transistors per chip brings about a qualitative improvement in what it is practical to do.

      2. You put an old program on as much computing power as you like, and you have an old program that maybe runs a little more quickly. You need to program to use that power.

    1. There are (at least) two different software systems in use, one for large scale behaviour, one for rendering.

      The software that Weta used for the LOTR armies is “Massive” and it’s been used in other movies, not just for armies. Other companies have something similar which you might see in the credits as Crowd Simulation. Massive simulates the movement of a huge number of soldiers, Uruk-Hai, mobs, or similar across various types of terrain and in various circumstances. So it knows about wayfinding or pathfinding, collision avoidance, how to move through chokepoints or over bridges without falling into a river, maintaining (or not) formation, etc. All the things that a computer game does when you click on the map to tell a unit “go over there” but in much more detail.

      The rendering software is what knows about each individual hair and how it should response to the wind when creating a beautiful photorealistic image of one particular individual. It’s not part of Massive because Massive doesn’t need to model how the hair / fur flows in the wind to decide whether or not someone is going to jump over a ditch or go around. And by the time the viewer is close enough to see which way the hairs are bending the being in question is just as likely to be hand animated, a “hero” character or model, rather than being controlled by Massive.

      Not to say there isn’t cross-over. Massive can record for each soldier at each frame whether they’re running, jumping, and which way they’re facing; the animation / rendering software can use that information instead of asking whichever of the legion of animators to specify such details.

      1. One much more recent and impressive example would be the “game” “Ultimate Epic Battle Simulator 2”, which manages to top out around a million units (while other strategy games top out around ten thousand) :

        https://steamcommunity.com/app/1468720/discussions/0/3110267314139888374/

        It does this by running a massively parallel simulation on the graphic card (including some path finding !), however AFAIK this implies that it cuts a LOT of corners that would be unacceptable in a real game, jettisoning causality and consistency – this would, at the bare minimum, preclude a working multiplayer..?

  3. On the topic of both “how to get your crappy peasant levies to do something” and “hey, it’s July 4 soon”, I’d suggest that the local-to-North-Carolina Battle of Guilford Courthouse might be instructive. General Greene made three lines with the crappy militia up front and the seasoned Continental Army in the back, and told the militia he just needed a volley or two and they could withdraw in good order. Greene just wanted some Clausewitzian “friction” applied to the British before the real fight began, with the only problem being that the Virginia militia was surprisingly badass and basically won their side of the fight.

        1. Of course. Greene should get a fair amount of credit, too, for Cowpens. Faced with a numeric superior foe when he had a lot of militia, he split his forces exactly in half and then watched the enemy.

          When they did not split exactly in half, and sent the larger group after him, he ran away and told Morgan to give the smaller group a warm welcome.

    1. Also in the spirit of the season, I was thinking of the Battle of Bunker Hill when Prof. Devereaux brought up the bayonet charge. Even though the British technically won the battle, it was at a high cost of men because they had a hard time mustering the cohesion to do the charge properly.

      1. That being, of course, the most perfect example of a Pyrrhic victory — on account of its being really rare for those to result in the losers being able to offer to refight the battle a few months later, and the winners declining even at a steep price. (Evacuating Boston in this case.)

  4. More I’ve read this series, the more I felt like it’s perfectly comparable to sunday league footbal, any sport I suppose.
    Players train for various signals for free kicks (maneuvers), and if you don’t have them trained, you can’t perform them.
    Since you play with friends, I don’t recall seeing anyone leaving in the middle of the match(cohesion), but you see people stop coming(low morale since there is little cause).
    Comand structure can be also applied, coach gives general orders and then there is some “officer” that makes it happen the way he understood it.
    Of course, logistics isn’t really all that applicable, and there is bit less killing involved, but I think the comparison holds.

    1. I think it is also fitting that the coach has limited methods to command his team. He can shout from the sidelines, and make some gestures, but people arent always looking at him and him swinging his arm around could mean multiple things.
      Also they are expected to behave like coaches, if they just sit there reading a book while the game is played, the players probably wonder why he isnt interested in their game. But if he looks at the game and gets up during heated moments to shout orders he at least acts coachlike.

      1. Has professional sports considered (and if so, presumably rejected) having players be in headset communication with the coach and/or team leader?

        1. They have. In the NFL (and I presume other forms of gridiron football as well) the quarterback and a player on the defense wear a headset and receive orders from their coach. According to the NFL rules, these headsets are turned off with 15 seconds off the clock.

          When Jared Goff was still QB for the LA rams, opponents would use this to get an advantage. Because Goff is bad at reading defenses, he’d rely on his coach McVay to tell him the current play against a given defensive look. Defenses simply showed one look, let McVay give his orders and changed the look when the play clock hit 15 seconds.

    2. That’s an interesting parallel, it kinda made me wonder whether something like the football manager games would be a closer model for an actual army general simulator. I haven’t played them myself, but my impression from seeing friends play them is that they’re mostly about all the important stuff that goes on outside the football games, you hire players and schedule their training and that sort of stuff. You control the game plan going into matches and can change out players, but don’t directly control any players like you do in the Fifa games. Obviously the verbs are different, and you’d have even less direct control as a premodern general, but it kinda seems there are parallels.

      1. Yes! I think it was the first of this series where some of the comments reached that conclusion; I think it’s basically the case, myself.

      2. I seem to remember some first person shooter game (and a different from the US Army (?) one), where one of the players plays a commander – he has something more similar to the typical strategy game view ?

        1. Possibly Zeus-mode in Arma 3?

          The Zeus player(s) can put down more units as desired and move them around from a bird’s eye view.

  5. “Who, for whatever he would be in the years following, was in this moment, as he had been before in 1916, the savior of France. It is difficult to imagine any human being whose final reputation could have been more improved by having been fatally struck by a bus in 1939.”

    Hitler?

    1. No – the Hitlerian regime had done many horrible things by 1939, and was very clearly planning to do more. A Petain dead in 1939 would be remembered as the saviour of 1917 (although detailed biographers would have noted his hatred of liberal Republicanism – Vichy did have an agenda, very similar to Franco’s).

    2. I think whatever positive reputation Hitler might previously have had – which was always subjective anyway, let’s not forget he first attempted a coup in 1923 – was largely shot by 1939 following the invasion of Czechoslovakia. Where his previous territorial shenanigans had been covered with the fig leaf of rectifying mistakes made at Versailles regarding separation of the German peoples, there was no such excuse available for that invasion and it was clearly just naked aggression. France and Britain were already rearming in preparation for a war they saw as regrettable but probably inevitable.

      And of course by 1939 we’d already had the Night of the Long Knives, Kristallnacht, and a general massive spike in persecution of minorities (especially Jews) and political opponents which might have escaped general notice at the time but in retrospect would have damned his legacy once it came out.

      Petain by contrast was a legitmate hero commanding near-universal respect who spectacularly blew it by his actions during WW2. Of course, Hitler’s reputation had a lot further to fall after 1939, but even at his peak he wasn’t starting with the same credit that Petain had and by 1939 that was already gone.

      1. Interestingly, US Gallup polls show strong hostility towards Nazi Germany from Kristallnacht. It had a major impact on how other countries saw Germany (and hardened support for stronger measures to contain it).

        1. I think most people in a free society instinctively understand that when the government leadership is deliberately coordinating mob violence against domestic enemies, something has gone horribly wrong, the nation that did it has some kind of ‘sickness,’ and that it will soon become necessary to fight or at least contain the nation doing it.

          It’s a warning sign, much like the anomalous behaviors of a rabid animal. Even before you see the animal openly moving to attack you without provocation, observation of its behavior can tell you something ain’t right.

  6. Speaking of older real-time strategy games which implement a morale system, are you aware of the Warhammer 40k game Dawn of War (and its expansions, not its sequels) from 2004? I am aware it is not a “historical” game, but I think it is worthwhile to consider how it featured some interesting morale mechanics which to my (admittedly rather limited) knowledge haven’t seen much use in later games.

    Some of your criticisms definitely apply: broken morale is a binary condition, and even in its broken state a unit responds perfectly to commands (likely because the game typically doesn’t allow you to field many units at once), though units with broken morale did take a crippling penalty to their accuracy and a minor bonus to their speed (incentivising you to either retreat them to recover their morale or, rather counter-intuitively, to charge them into melee to tie up enemy units). There were a few abilities which did force units to flee with temporary loss of control (regardless of their morale), but those were thankfully rare.

    However, there was a lot more room to play around inflicting and preventing loss of morale than in e.g. the Total War series. Being under sniper fire, or literal fire from a flamethrower, or an artillery shell exploding in the middle of the unit would all break morale almost instantly. In particular, this loss of morale did not stand in the usual relation to the actual damage taken — for instance, artillery was mostly effective at disrupting infantry in static positions, not so much at actually wiping out said infantry (unlike in certain Total War titles). Using the terrain to take cover or attaching a commander to a unit would reduce morale loss, improve morale regeneration or increase maximum morale, but rarely to the point where morale ceased to be a relevant concern across your entire army.

    For basic infantry units, even simply being under fire or taking casualties would quickly result in broken morale as well. The Imperial Guardsmen are a perfect example: without external positive factors, losing one or two models (which is comparable to the 10%-20% losses you mention for modern military units) would be enough for the unit’s morale to break. Of course, that is why you have Commissars to provide field demonstrations of the punishment for cowardice…

    1. I played Dawn of War (and its sequel) yes. It has an unusual morale system so I didn’t bring it in here. It is really too bad the third game was such a dud, it was a good franchise with interesting ideas.

      1. Company of Heroes, at least the first game, had the same morale system (basically) and was set in WW2, IIRC.

  7. I didn’t get a chance to play it much, and I keep meaning to get back to it, but the XIII century line of games seems to do things a bit better. They’re overall pretty similar to a Total War game in terms of how battles generally work, but from what I remember, your control is quite limited and people do tend to rout or otherwise fall apart after VERY short periods in combat.

  8. Cohesion could have be force-multiplier in more ways than one. The Vikings and the Swiss both built their reputations on being will to take as well as give no quarter – so those facing them knew they were in for a very hard fight, win or lose.

  9. At Shiloh, the Confederate commander was fatally wounded while inducing a unit to charge.

    1. Shiloh is interesting, because it illustrates a common theme in the Civil War– units are broken, have utterly lost cohesion, fleeing from the battlefield, but are rallied and put in work to eventually win the battle.

      1. Worth noting is that this happened to both sides. The final Confederate charge that covered the army’s retreat on April 7th was comprised mostly of men who had been routed that morning due to having artillery fire serve as their alarm clock.

  10. I’m curious about something, but I’m not sure if it’s even a coherent question. I’ll ask it nonetheless

    You make references above to strategy games like Starcraft or Age of Empires, how they don’t model morale at all, and how units will fight no matter the odds, until their hp hits zero and they die.

    My question: if we mentally re-interpret HP not as _health_ points, but as some composite of health and morale, and if we mentally interpret the unit dying as either a literal death or a morale rout or just anything that would prevent the unit from continuing to fight, at all… if we make those mental reinterpretations, do the systems start to look a little bit more reasonable and realistic? Or is that still a really bad model for morale?

    1. I don’t think there’s any representation of morale or cohesion in Starcraft. A soldier will continue to mindlessly attack no matter what happens to his companions and no matter how hopeless his situation.

    2. Ooh, good question!

      My question: if we mentally re-interpret HP not as _health_ points, but as some composite of health and morale, and if we mentally interpret the unit dying as either a literal death or a morale rout… do the systems start to look a little bit more reasonable and realistic?

      However, the answer is still “absolutely not.” The reason is that a key aspect of Starcraft micro is target firing: I want to make sure to kill (say) tanks one at a time instead of spread shots between them. But in reality, if you model HP as morale, spreading shots between nearby units should still work; Lanchester’s laws are specifically about destroying units, and modern applications are about cases with actual destruction rather than a rout, like air battles (Wikipedia mentions the Battle of Britain).

      And since we’re on the subject of air battles, it’s worth mentioning that premodern naval battles had way higher casualty rates than land battles – can’t flee when you’re on a boat. I believe (Bret, correct me if I’m misremembering?) that while hoplite battles averaged 10% KIA, trireme battles averaged 50% – the losing side just died.

      1. I don’t have the statistics in front of me but it wouldn’t surprise me. Near total fleet losses due to storms or battle were not unheard of. And in societies which did not place a premium on capturing prisoners – basically everyone in the ancient world – sailors in the water had far less ability to flee. Survivors of defeated ships were often speared in the water, unable to outswim their still-in-a-boat opponents (as opposed to men who cast down their weapons and flee in a battle who – by now being much lighter – can usually outrun pursuers who aren’t on horseback).

        1. That has generally made me wonder why people seem to not notice ancient naval warfare, there seems to be a lot more focus on land battles in popular consciousness. Not only were those sea battles generally more lethal, the crews of navies were often HUGE next to the armies. To take an arbitrary example, the numbers Thucydides gives in 6.43 for the initial wave of the Sicilian expedition are 480 archers, 700 slingers, 120 lightly armed people from Megara, 30 cavalrymen, and 5,100 heavy infantry, for a total land force of 6,400 men. This is being sent along on 134 ships, which if they’re crewed anything like what Herodotus claims was a standard Trireme crew of 170 rowers, then you’re talking 22,780 men crewing those vessels, or a naval headcount of about 3.5 times that of the army they’re supporting.

          Those Mediterranean navies tended to be a lot bigger than the land armies, and if their battles are more lethal besides, you’re probably seeing most of the carnage in these wars on the water (if there is fighting on the water anyway) not on land.

          1. Most of the troops would have been in merchant vessels (triremes were very lightly built – they could be used as transports with some temporary stiffening, but were then rowed on one bench only – 50 rather than 170). You are right, though, that naval battles involved large numbers and casualties were high.

          2. Speaking of huge battles, the Battle of Cape Ecnomus in the First Punic War involved an estimated 290,000 men on 680 ships, making it possibly the largest naval battle *of all time*. (By comparison, Trafalgar had around 55,000 in total, Jutland around 105,000, and Leyte Gulf around 200,000.)

          3. GJ, the Battle of Lake Poyang in 1363 is reported as having over 850,000 sailors involved on both sides.

    3. Eh, depends on how you fix them.

      D&D would SAY that hit points were not all a measure of injury but a lot of factors that kept you alive. As my cleric characters kept having to heal every single hit point.

  11. Typos:

    “Though called hippeis (‘horsemen’) they fought on food.”
    Should be “foot”.

    “Peasant mobs know they’ll lose to dismounted knights, they will not, as a rule, stick around to put the matter to the test except under extreme circumstances.”
    I think there’s a missing word here, or else it should be split into two sentences.

    1. I’d say units “fighting on food” isn’t really wrong if you interpret it in a strategic sense…

      1. “Due to an unfortunate typo, the Spartan royal guard wandered off the battlefield after realizing they had forgotten to pack sandwiches.”

    2. ‘melts away admits’ should probably be ‘melts away amidst’. Which might well be autocorrect having a go, amidst is a rare word these days.

  12. Well, Prof. Devereaux, now you got me curious: so what did these “Great Generals” do that raises them above their budget option lesser brothers, “Just Modestly Competent Generals”? Because surely not all of that is overblown. I’d gladly read another entry in this series devoted to what Made Great Generals Great Actually. (Hash-tag MGGGA.)

    Like, Alexander seems to have had a knack for figuring out how to apply the “match-up” logic. Hannibal apparently had one for correctly guessing the expectations of his opponents, and using it then to take them by surprise. But I don’t know of enough generals reputed for greatness to tell if there’s a common element to them all.

    1. I wouldn’t be surprised if Alexanders more overlooked achievements were actually logistical in nature.

    2. I suspect that a big part of it is picking where and when to fight. A general handles maneuvers and logistics when the enemy is not in sight, and also decides whether to stay in camp (or behind a river) or to come out and fight when the enemy is in sight.

      Caesar didn’t just happen to catch the Helvetti in a river crossing, he pushed hard to get there in time to do so, destroyed those who hadn’t managed to cross in something like 12 days of crossing operations, then crossed himself in a single day to engage those on the other side.

      Arranging for your entire army to be present and well fed is worth a lot, I suspect that this sort of thing is why Logistics was going to be the concluding part of this series, and is now being expanded to a separate series.

    3. Phil Barker and Colin McEvedy (the latter being very brief) are both impressed by Alexander’s ability to handle the unusual or out of context problems, enemies who weren’t Greeks or Persians. Enemy stronghold on top of a mountain? Find out who’s a rock climber. Horse archers sniping and refusing to engage? Ballistas and a tactical trap to wipe out a detachment. Enemy on the other side of a massive river? Deceptive movements until you can get most of your army across unopposed.

    4. > so what did these “Great Generals” do

      Logistics and planning, I suppose. Planning for D-Day took two years. The Battle of Blenheim was won by marching a large army 250 miles while concealing its destination, which was a remarkable logistical and operational feat. Monty[0] didn’t have much control over the Arnhem campaign once it was launched; his input was all planning.

      [0] Not everyone thinks Monty was a great general. His men respected him, but not his fellow officers, I believe.

    5. As others have mentioned logistics and arranging for the battle to be fought on favorable conditions seem to be common elements rather than brilliant chess like maneuvering of individual units.

      Prof. Devereaux in a different post has said something similar.

      Such audacious ‘lunges’ between supply networks were hallmarks of the success enjoyed by Caesar and Alexander, but they could also go brutally wrong – Marc Antony’s failure at Actium (and subsequent defeat in the Final War of the Roman Republic) is a textbook case of a risky lunge failing and it resulted in the complete loss of his army and nearly his entire fleet as well.

      There may also be a positive feedback loop as well. If average general is in command the army might not have the moral to march through the desert to catch the enemy by surprise, but if the great Caesar says to do it, it works.

    6. >what did these “Great Generals” do

      Make the right decisions, before the battle and at those few key points during it.

      I realize the zeitgeist says Great Men weren’t, but in all honesty all this series (which is awesome) emphasizes just how difficult it was to command an army effectively. Doing that, then saying “so therefore what those people did didn’t really matter” is just weird.

  13. I appear to be the lone defender of Total War games hereabouts – I guess because I’m old… I still remember when I first found the TW series in the early 2000s how cool the (relatively sophisticated) morale system was compared to the old RTS ‘to the last man’ approach.

    You’re right though that battle casualties are hopelessly exaggerated over real life examples. In principle the morale system could be built to be a lot more fragile (some combo’s of high terror vs low morale/leadership units in TW Warhammer do this) but as you say, it’s terribly frustrating to have your force simply run away at the idea of fighting the enemy…. But realistic (as I understand it a classic example is Tigranocerta in 69BC, where a heavily outnumbered force of very experience Roman legionaries and mercenaries, managed to beat their enemies by first beating the smaller professional cavalry force of their Armenian opponents. Seeing the pro’s beaten, the Armenian infantry force, consisting of large numbers of raw levies, decided that the Romans were simply not beatable, and left at speed).

    I think the other problem is that you always retain control of your army at the strategic level in TW games, because the game only really models cohesion – not morale. So in the absence of fairly extensive casualties a beaten army remains to try again in short order, which makes success on the campaign map almost impossible. Whereas in history, if you beat an army repeatedly their morale often collapses and, as per your examples, they lynch you or leave you

    1. Do keep in mind that to critique the Total War games like this, I have to have played them all quite a bit. I started with the original Shogun: Total War and I’ve got quite a few hours in on basically every mainline Total War title; I even actually kind of liked Thrones of Britannia.

      1. TW has a few interesting edge cases. You see, it’s possible, in various ways for units to get their morale debuffed (the classic exmaple in TWWH2 was pre-nerf stacking a bunch of heroes with the “Nurgle’s Foul Stench” trait) but they won’t actually *break* until they get into combat, so if you stuck the morale debuffs up to absurd levels the enemy units will behave normally right up until they see an enemy or get hit by missile fire, at which point they will break.

        3 Kingdoms also did some interesting stuff in their later iterations, largely they *massively* increased the morale debuffs from fatigue.

      2. I can’t help but remember the first Rome: Total War where you had units that would flee before contact, or if they experienced even a relatively small shock. Peasants, obviously, but the Roman equites were worthless unless you managed to amass enough units (I found four worked almost always, below that could be touch and go, a hard stare made them reconsider their options) that they’d feel their flanks secure and be able to deliver a good charge. Those units that’d break would often reform because of how few casualties, if any, they had taken, but that would still leave them out of position and dangerously prone to breaking again and again. And of course, if pursued, they took dreadful casualties, a good example of the rout being the most dangerous part of a battle, I thought.

      3. >I even actually kind of liked Thrones of Britannia.

        Have you ever thought about doing a post on it? I’m curious how well, if at all, it represents warfare in the isles during the Viking Age.

  14. One of the factors at play in the Overland Campaign was that much of the Federal army had enlisted for three years back in 1861, and their enlistments were expiring. So the previously-reliable veterans were pretty well-motivated not to get themselves killed making attacks on prepared positions!

  15. It could be interesting to see a game where instead of recruiting a province instead produces a levy which builds up in numbers and quality until you decide to muster it. It then slowly degrades in morale which causes attrition over time, and when morale runs out the troops mutiny.

    This means you rely on using levies for short periods at a time, and must use feasts and pillaging and win victories to slow moral degradation. And then in battle each formation has it’s own cohesion which as it lowers the unit looses effectiveness, until finally it retreats/breaks.

    Archers could be modelled as not doing much damage but causing overtime cohesion loss at a steady rate, while cavalry does a massive amount of cohesion damage in one go on the charge being delivered just before it collides. But then cavalry also has to spend cohesion to charge.

    1. The Medieval: Total War series sort-of started with that design, but CW sort of dropped it. There are actually a great many benefits to this design. For one, it allows you to get your best units early and actually *enjoy* them rather than those always being late-game unlocks that crush the map. It also means you may play against the other side’s top-tier Fancy Killer Dude as well, which is more fun and meant interesting battles where you want to careful maneuver your stronger and weaker units.

      Now specifically, you could recruit as many of your units unlocked by technology as you could afford. However, your best stuff was limited until the extreme late-game. You would simply have the option of recruiting maybe one of the powerful Knight units every few turns. If you got it killed, well, you just had to figure something out in the meantime.

      I made a twitter post where I wanted to do something similar in Shogun: TW. The player should have the expensive fancy super-cool Samurai at the start of the Sengoku Jidai. But these are limited and ultimately destined to be the tip of a spear built from professional armies of ashigaru.

    2. The recent Shadow Empire wargame/4X has *some* of this, with Recruits being just another Item (one that consumes Food though !) that you have to slowly accumulate (of much faster, but it then gets expensive) and can move at the cost of Logistic Points.

      And even once you make them into subunits, you can keep those (slowly) training in your Strategic HeadQuarter(s), but at that point they also become vulnerable to morale hits from high losses and lack of pay.

  16. Thank you for validating my Crusader Kings practice of spending more time on logistics (staying in supply, picking the battleground and getting there firstest with the mostest), leaving my “generalship” to picking good commanders and playing to their strengths while using the same basic unit mix. I almost never watch the details of battles in progress except to note the fluctuating total effective troop strength.

  17. Likewise it’s not hard to imagine why film, with its preference for Big, Decisive Battles That Decide Everything tends to depict battles with very high casualties, the heroes and villains fighting on until one or both is utterly ruined.

    I was taking a look at your Lord of the Rings logistics posts a few weeks back, and it occurs to me this precise same thing happens there; Helm’s Deep, the Battle of the Pellenor Fields, and the Black Gate all end this way.

    We can spot Helm’s Deep because it has magical intervention in the form of the Huorns; only a handful of Dunlendings survive to surrender. But the Battle of the Pellenor Fields supposedly features something like in excess of forty thousand Haradrim and easterners who do not surrender. They fight on so ferociously that they force the Gondorians and Rohirrim to kill them all, such that none of them even survive to bring a firsthand account of the battle back to their homelands.

    The Black Gate isn’t quite as bad; Easterners and Haradrim do survive to flee. But it’s still an utter ruination.

    … huh.

    Thinking about it as I type this, I have to wonder if its useful to look at Sauron and to a lesser extent Saruman exerting a kind of unified control over their armies and buoying up their morale and cohesion that essentially makes them act like a “video game” army would. They’re literal gods with magical powers, after all, and one of the big things of the setting is that such beings have a force of will that can essentially “replace” that of others. In that context, we can view the armies of the west at the Pellenor Fields as functioning somewhat like real armies would, but Sauron’s forces being very video-gamey because his iron will is backstopping them; the armies of the west are thus forced to kill them all, in the same way you might have to hunt down every last hidden marine and SCV when playing against a stubborn Starcraft player. Sauron is refusing to “GG WP” out and give you the win by leaving the game out of spite, like a particularly bad-mannered player on battle.net.

    Timothy Zahn also posited a similar dynamic in Star Wars; he asserted in his novels that Emperor Palpatine was essentially replacing large parts of his fleets cohesion and morale with his own willpower using the Force, such that once that was removed everyone in the immediate vicinity was thrown back on their own resources, weak and flabby from disuse.

    1. “Thinking about it as I type this, I have to wonder if its useful to look at Sauron and to a lesser extent Saruman exerting a kind of unified control over their armies and buoying up their morale and cohesion that essentially makes them act like a “video game” army would. ”

      The books make it pretty explicit that this happens. To quote Return of the King, when Frodo claims the Ring for his own at Mt Doom, you get this

      “From all his policies and webs of fear and treachery, from all his stratagems and wars his mind
      shook free; and throughout his realm a tremor ran, his slaves quailed, and his armies halted, and his
      captains suddenly steerless, bereft of will, wavered and despaired. For they were forgotten. The
      whole mind and purpose of the Power that wielded them was now bent with overwhelming force
      upon the Mountain”.

      And while I do love the Helm’s Deep analysis (it was actually the set of posts that got me onto this blog) I think that our good host makes a serious error in not talking about how the Ent attack on Isengard leads to sudden cohesion issues within Saruman’s force; you do not see the fragility that the Uruk-hai display attacking the Hornburg in their earlier battles. (Although some of this is sourced from The Battles of the Fords of Isen, which is of a lesser canonical status than the core trilogy)

    2. Yeah, Tolkien talked a fair bit about mental powers, but the bad guys using it to bolster their armies is where he most consistently shows it having practical effect. Sauron’s fall has already been quoted. There’s also

      > ‘To hope, maybe, but not to toil,’ said Aragorn. ‘We shall not turn back here. Yet I am weary.’ He gazed back along the way that they had come towards the night gathering in the East. ‘There is something strange at work in this land. I distrust the silence. I distrust even the pale Moon. The stars are faint; and I am weary as I have seldom been before, weary as no Ranger should be with a clear trail to follow. There is some will that lends speed to our foes and sets an unseen barrier before us: a weariness that is in the heart more than in the limb.’

      > ‘Truly!’ said Legolas. ‘That I have known since first we came down from the Emyn Muil. For the will is not behind us but before us.’ He pointed away over the land of Rohan into the darkling West under the sickle moon.

      And

      > the Olog-hai were in fashion of body and mind quite unlike even the largest of Orc-kind, whom they far surpassed in size and power. Trolls they were, but filled with the evil will of their master: a fell race, strong, agile, fierce and cunning, but harder than stone. Unlike the older race of the Twilight they could endure the Sun, so long as the will of Sauron held sway over them.

      Somewhere in HoME are lines about Morgoth putting his ‘Eye’ on some of his orcs, so that they were basically automata, whiles others were less effected and more able to grumble or run away. But also orcs were taught that elves would torture and eat them, so none would surrender. We also know Saruman had lied to the Dunlendings about the Rohirrim (though they risked surrender anyway); no doubt Sauron had done the same for his human forces, more effectively.

      So yeah, Tolkien at least made some effort to explain why orcs would fight as a mob to the death (or at least retreat.) And of course the Total Victories mentioned are because they couldn’t retreat: the Helms Deep orcs had no option other than to try to run through the trees, which didn’t work, while the Minas Tirith forces would have had to cross the Anduin again without a proper bridge.

      > Hard fighting and long labour they had still; for the Southrons were bold men and grim, and fierce in despair; and the Easterlings were strong and war-hardened and asked for no quarter. And so in this place and that, by burned homestead or barn, upon hillock or mound, under wall or on field, still they gathered and rallied and fought until the day wore away.

      > Then the Sun went at last behind Mindolluin and filled all the sky with a great burning, so that the hills and the mountains were dyed as with blood; fire glowed in the River, and the grass of the Pelennor lay red in the nightfall. And in that hour the great Battle of the field of Gondor was over; and not one living foe was left within the circuit of the Rammas. All were slain save those who fled to die, or to drown in the red foam of the River. Few ever came eastward to Morgul or Mordor; and to the land of the Haradrim came only a tale from far off: a rumour of the wrath and terror of Gondor.

      It does seem odd that *none* of the humans would surrender, but Sauron’s mental influence would still be in play.

      1. I just want to make one minor comment: The passage I quoted is before the destruction of the Ring and Sauron’s downfall. Even Sauron’s attention being suddenly diverted is enough to noticeably affect the performance of his armies.

      2. As Peter Thomson pointed out, humans with high cohesion such as Vikings and Swiss would fight ‘to the death’ when they lost, taking horrendous casualties at battles such as Stamford Bridge 1066 and St Jacob En Birs 1444. Pedantically there were survivors, but far far fewer than expected for a losing army.

        From the description of the Pelennor Fields the orcs have lost both cohesion and morale, they’ve been broken and are cut down in pursuit. They’re not human, so no-one is inclined to give them quarter.

        The enemy humans have broken, but they “gather and rally” perhaps because their morale and cohesion *isn’t* so dependent on the will of Sauron. The Haradrim “fierce in despair” reminds me of the Viking vs Saxon Battle of Maldon which Tolkien was very familiar with. It’s an expression of warrior spirit, OK we are so f**ked but we’re taking you with us.

    3. That is interesting to consider Because on one hand the advantage of this sort of control is that you just don’t need to worry about morale at that point but on the other hand that sort of thing can create a single point of failure that could cripple the army if it is removed(the Star Wars example).

      1. From the evil overlord’s point of view, this isn’t much of a drawback. The army exists only to serve him, so he doesn’t care what they do if he dies.

        1. Oh yeah that is most certainly true but that still leaves the question of how effective the army is compared to a more normal army (at least in regards to how free willed the troops are)

          1. Well, if we assume that the Uruk-hai with Merry and Pippin were under Saruman’s attention, they seemed to have high morale and cohesion but Ugluk wasn’t an unadaptive robot. And the ultimate mind-slaved high-morale units would be the Nazgul.

          2. The orcs had to be driven to battle by whips, so there was a fair amount. An orc overseer was on the outlook for shirking, which is how Frodo and Sam were unable to slip to the back.

    4. Much as I like Zahn’s books, it always bugged me that he used the Emperor and the Force as the reason why the Imperial fleet retreated after the second Death Star was destroyed. Morale and cohesion was a perfectly serviceable explanation for the retreat.

      You’re a star destroyer captain, and you’ve just seen the Executor and the Death Star blow up. There’s no communication from Admiral Piett, Emperor Palpatine, Darth Vader, or anyone with higher authority than you. Sure you’ve got the rebel fleet outnumbered, but they’ve still been shredding your fellow star destroyers. You could still possibly win, but only if every ship stays in the fight, and many are wondering why they should risk their lives when the primary objective (preserve the Death Star) is already lost and the Emperor is likely dead. You see other ships decamp, and each one that leaves reduces your own odds of survival. Would you stick around? It’s basically the Prisoner’s Dilemma that ack-acking brings up below.

      1. Actually kotor 2 does provide the power as a option the player can learn which does give us a example of how it works on a small scale. To be specific it provides a boost to your party’s damage, will saves, and chance to hit while giving penalties to those same things for your foes.

    5. Fantasy operations, strategy, tactics, and logistics are all interesting in that you have to world-build them, though it does have the advantage that it can’t be refuted by real-world examples.

      Let us suppose an army has a sorceress as quartermistress and she conjures food. It is very important whether she conjures it from thin air, or from storehouses strategically located in the agricultural lands, or from an enchanted bag that will hold vastly more than it should and weigh virtually nothing, but has to be loaded up. But none of these are as big in impact as the mere fact that she can replace enormous chunks of the army.

      Readers of this blog are likely to like the Dungeon Samurai trilogy, despite many such elements as the way that they have a geologically unlikely combination of ores, and people who can simply pull the metal out by magic. This does not make their life easy, but it makes it possible.

  18. The way you write about morale and cohesion makes me think about the prisoner’s dilemma. That’s the famous paradox from game theory where two people are both better off cooperating, but they end up betraying each other anyway because the game puts them in a terrible position. Anyone who cooperates is just used as a sucker for the other person who defects, and you pretty much have to alter the rules of the game in order to “win”.

    I imagine myself being one of those regular soldiers in a battle. I don’t want to die, of course. I am willing to risk my life, either for a cause I believe in, or a charismatic leader, or just to avoid the shame of running away in front of my community. It’s a balance.

    But that only works as long as everyone else is also staying “cohesive”. If everyone else starts running away, and the battle is obviously lost, then I’m not going to gain anything by standing around like an idiot waiting to get killed. Much smarter to join everyone else in running away! And you don’t want to be the last person running either, you want to beat the rush. So you don’t want to be first (shame!) or the last (you’ll die for nothing).

    I imagine a bunch of peasant infantry looking around at each other nervously, like teenagers trying to decide if something is cool. “Hey, you gonna fight?” “I’ll fight if you fight.” “Well, I’ll fight if YOU want to fight. But uh, just between us, it looks like we’re badly outnumbered and I’m also OK with running away…”

    1. Almost, but war is a very social affair, and then there is culture. A viking has absorbed a nihilist outlook (everybody is going to die, including the gods; what counts is how you die), so is not looking to live, but to die heroically. See also samurai and many other warrior cults. A peasant may run if his immediate friends run, but stay and fight as long as the group holds together. A unit may form a bond that subsumes the individual (one of Wellington’s colonels to his troops cut off and under attack: die hard, 57th! They took 66% casualties and held). The cause may be internalised so that death is discounted (a lot of Red Army squads fought to the literal death in the rubble of Stalingrad). And so on.

    2. Similar logic applies to bank runs and stock market panics c. 1929. If you stand on principle when everyone else breaks, you lose. If you break first but no one else does, you lose. And morale/cohesion boosters can be critical: in the Panic of 1907 a general collapse of the system was staved off by a consortium of investors led by J.P. Morgan who instilled enough confidence to staunch the hemorrhage. But a similar effort after the October 1929 crashes failed and led to a total collapse of economic morale.

  19. I think I might have commented previously on this, to a different article on this blog, but the old ‘Wellington’s Victory’ hex-map game by TSR tracked both ‘army morale’ (reduced by any units being committed to fight, and combat losses from any units) and individual ‘unit morale’ (reduced by combat losses from that unit, and temporarily modified by things like being in a ‘cover’ hex, having a commander stacked with them, or the formation type they had adopted when being cavalry charged.)
    Okay, it was crude, but this was an actual real map game, with cardboard counters, with limits on what book-keeping players could be reasonably expected to carry out.

    1. Speaking of Wellington, he’s supposed to have said all troops run away sometimes and he didn’t mind to much as long as they came back.

      1. Of Shiloh, one combatant said that he didn’t mind the soldiers who ran away at first and then worked up the nerve to come back. It was the one who fled and spent the battle badmouthing the army to reporters.

  20. In Bannerlord, I’ve been trying to break Sturgian shield-walls with horse archers, and it seems that you really can’t. It is easy but time-consuming to achieve casualty ratios of 100:1 or better as you grind down an army three times the size of your own (retreating periodically to re-fill quivers—Sturgian armies tend to have woeful archer and cavalry components, so arrows are more the limiting factor than hit points), but the last hundred spearmen will chase you just as eagerly as the five-hundred-strong block they were once part of did. There is a perk at Leadership 100 (“Loyalty and Honour”) that prevents tier 3+ units from retreating due to low morale, so that might be the culprit.

    In any case, spending the last minutes of every fight shooting (mostly) defenseless infantry while circling them at a trot diminishes the feeling of victory. It’d be more satisfying to chase them off the field after a couple of good strafing runs.

    Bannerlord does have a “cohesion” stat, but it determines how long an army (composed of multiple lords’ retinues) will stay together. I’m not really sure how big of a deal it is (with my all-horse archer army, mixing in other parties is a bad thing), but it isn’t actually modelling cohesion, that’s for sure.

  21. Indeed, because of that trick effect – trickle.
    melts away admits a wave of mutinies – amidst.

  22. This discussion makes me very curious about the physical dynamics of a retreat under bad order. Was your army’s escape/casualties essentially determined by “how far your attackers could chase you before they got tired?”

    It’s really hard for me to keep in mind just the physical dynamics/human limits of the battlefield — how well your random soldier can do in physical combat after sprinting 100 yards or after an adrenaline dump, that kind of thing. I do combat sports, and the physical exhaustion and hopelessness of an adrenaline crash when the other guy is still trying to dominate you is something else.

    1. I have no real data, but I imagine things like “throw your shield and spear away so you can run faster” played a role. Pursuers carrying more weight in awkward forms, unless they drop theirs too in hopes of swording you in the back.

      Of course, if there’s cavalry around with an interest in cutting down fleeing soldiers, you’re probably fucked. Especially if they’ve got their spears.

      Though I’ve wondered about the dynamics of one cavalryman vs. an infantryman. Advantage of momentum and height, but also riding a big vulnerable (usually unarmored) lump of meat. If you’re riding someone down and they turn and hold their sword ready, do you risk charging in and losing your horse?

      1. I wonder if greek battles were so relatively bloodless simply because they lacked good cavalry and thus pursuing an enemy was difficult.

        IIRC; there’s some european observers during the ACW who theorized that this was a reason the war became so bloody: Unlike say, the Austro-prussian war, or the Franco-prussian one neither side really had a reserve of cavalry capable of properly destroying a routing army. (though that ignores quite a few other factors)

      2. That is a brave man, who would take on a horse and rider with a sword. Horses are big, 3/4 ton animals, heavily muscled, and relatively insensitive to pain. You could slash one with a sword, but that would not stop either the horse or its rider in the immediate term.

        In contrast, I was struck by the implausibility of the scene where Ramsay’s dogs chase Yara and her companions away. Dogs are aggressive, to be sure, but a 150 pound man with a sword and armor should be more than a match for a 75 pound dog with no armor and only two inch teeth.

        1. “brave man” — yeah, but if you’re about to be cut down as you run anyway, you might as well be brave. It’s not “I want to do this” but “the alternative is literally imminent death”.

        2. It depends on the man and the situation, and the position. Horses are big, yes, but their movements are constrained especially when someone is mounted. They can’t sidestep at all, and their head and legs are quite vulnerable. Armor exists, but it represents a substantial additional investment and more weight. That probably is a good tradeoff, but you have to consider that if you can bring weapons, armor and a horse to the fight, the other dude may bring a couple of his mates and eight-foot spears.

          Cavalry are very powerful, but they have to be mobile and can’t get stuck in without taking a lot of risk. And of course more than one cavalry-heavy force has come to devastating grief when forced to fight on bad ground.

        3. A 75 pound dog is one thing; a Roman Molossus or the modern equivalent such as Cane Corso or Mastiffs is another. Starting weight at 100 pounds and up, plus being bred as man hunters made war dogs in some cases formidable enough to attack riders on horseback.

      3. Usually not; an example of this can be found in Socrates’s experience after an Athenian defeat during the Peloponnesian War, when he apparently managed to gather a small group together and they all got off the battlefield unharmed by simply looking like they were prepared to defend themselves if attacked instead of running away in a panic.

        1. I was thinking of Socrates example too. He kept his head while all around him were losing theirs and it saved his life.

          1. Yes – but there were easier targets. There were quite a few battles were some units held together and retreated as a group (and TH Lawrence wrote of seeing an attached group of German soldiers form square and march off amid a general Ottoman rout in 1917).

          2. Early was warned in the Shenandoah that a certain unit, which had retreated in good order, had to be driven from the field.

            He didn’t listen. It contributed to his crushing defeat AFTER having routed most of the Union army.

        1. I was thinking about this and wonder, in a one on one situation have much of an advantage a speag would give a horseman. My guess is that it is not as much as I first thought. As Civile Bellum points out above, a horse at speed is not good at lateral movement.

          A horseman has a lance one one side of the horse. If the footman makes a wild leap to the horse’s left how fast can the horseman shift his lance left? He may or may not have a shield but he is wide open to some kink of attack on his left.

          It would require really good timing on the part of the footman and not something I’d want to try but I suspect in a one-on-one situation the horseman is not an assured winner.

    2. Well, it was also limited by the pursuer’s willingness to keep chasing rather than stop to tend to their casualties, loot the battlefield and camp, and reorganize. Also, they don’t want to get too spread out while chasing because maybe the troops fleeing in panic actually aren’t and are instead baiting a trap or going to suddenly make a stand when their pursuers get disordered and out of formation. That’s notoriously difficult to pull off (except for the Mongols) but it does happen. And even if it’s not the plan, if the pursuing force gets split up the fleeing troops might decide the odds of fifty of them taking out ten pursuers look pretty good.

  23. The tabletop warhammer game (as least back when I play) was actually *mariginally* more complex, largely that there were all sorts of things that were basically “do a leadership test” (2d6 roll under a unit’s leadership, humans were usually LD7, elves and dwarfs LD8) before you can perform certain actions”. (charge a unit with the fear, trait, reform a formation within sight of the enemy, rally from running away, etc.)

  24. The morale/cohesion dichotomy is displayed in the following verse: “When the Gatling’s jammed and the colonel’s dead/The regiment blind with smoke and dust/The river of death has brimmed its banks/And England’s far, and honor’s a name [in short, morale is gone]/But the voice of a schoolboy rallies the ranks/’Play up, play up, and play the game’ [cohesion preserves the regiment].”

    1. The poet: Henry Newbolt (not Kipling as I first suspected).
      History: The poetry refers to Battle of Abu Khea in Egypt. There was no Gatling gun there, but rather a Gardner early machine gun.
      The schoolboy trope is surely borrowed from Wellington’s remark that “the battle of Waterloo was won on the playing fields of Eton.”
      Wellington was wrong, of course. Of the 120,000 soldiers who defeated Napoleon at Waterloo, only about 1/4 were British (the rest were Dutch, Belgian, Saxons, Hanoverians, etc.) and only half of those English.

      1. To be fair, Wellington probably never actually said that. Though the basic point — that the way a society educates its elites is an important factor in its military (and other) success — is likely true.

        1. And perhaps a more specific point: John Keegan argues that an important component in inducing British soldiers of the Napoleonic era to hold formation under artillery fire was the example of their officers, whose public school ethos required them to display high levels of sang-froid in front of their peers.

          1. This was common across many armies. French officers in one 16th century battle (Pavia, IIRC) stood in front of the troops, laughing and joking, as artillery fire ploughed through, and other instances could be cited for the French or Prussian armies in the Napoleonic Wars.

    2. I was always intrigued by Newbolts ability to draw a connection between some blood-soaked battlefield and a school cricket match.

      I wonder what CS Lewis thought of that poem: I gather he hated school cricket.

  25. > Figuring out the average casualties taken before an army collapsed is in most cases beyond the evidence, though.

    Seems like you can just approach this from the other direction. You look at the casualty figures for the armies that *didn’t* break, and how high it’s possible for those casualties to go before you get only outliers.

    1. I see where you’re coming from, but the armies that don’t break are generally the winners, and we can safely assume that winning armies suffer lower average casualties than losing armies even before the pursuit. I’m not sure that figure would be particularly reliable.

      (And trying to find a specific “break point” when there are so many variables is probably a fool’s errand. The break point for a Roman legion is different from a Greek phalanx, different for an early Republic legion than a mid-Imperial one, different for Caesar’s than Pompey’s, different for Caesar’s at the start of the Gallic campaign than after two years of civil war, etc. The best we can realistically do is try to determine an approximate range—anything more specific is probably bound to fail.)

  26. Are you familiar with the Combat Mission series of games by http://www.battlefront.com? They’re modern, but simulate both morale and cohesion in realistic ways. Order a squad of low morale conscripts to advance across a field. A machine gun opens up, and they decide discretion the better part of valor and ignore your orders. As a unit takes casualties (or sees them, or sees lots of artillery land nearby) it will pass from “ready” to “pinned” to “shaken” to “panicked” to “broken”, gradually degrading its combat effectiveness and sometimes breaking and withdrawing. High cohesion units have a much slower progression down that chain than low cohesion units.

    You might joy them!

  27. [Petain], for whatever he would be in the years following, was in this moment, as he had been before in 1916, the savior of France. It is difficult to imagine any human being whose final reputation could have been more improved by having been fatally struck by a bus in 1939.

    Idea for a time travel story: French nationalists want to assassinate Philippe Pétain before he starts working for the Nazis, so he could be their unproblematic fave. They’re opposed by a bunch of people who think that’s a frakking stupid reason to meddle with the timeline.

  28. I’m wondering if you ever played the world war 2 “close combat” series. Morale played a big role in that. Soldiers would break and run under fire (especially green troops) refuse orders to charge ( especially if there was no suppressive fire) and would even lose accuracy when stressed.
    It’s been a decade since I played it but it seemed pretty cool at the time.

    1. I was thinking about this too, while reading the post. I had the Operation Market Garden one. It was definitely that non-binary morale simulator that Bret talks about. It was much easier to order frightened squads to retreat than to get closer to the enemy, for example. While a soldier with a bazooka, undetected and in perfect position, might not take a shot if he didn’t like his odds.

      It also captured the fog of war that was discussed earlier. Not perfectly–you still had pretty good info on your guys–but vision was simulated well enough that you might *think* you had a clear path and walk a squad into a hidden flamethrower or machine gun. It didn’t end well, and all your little simulated sprites would cry out in pain and horror as they were cut down.

  29. Warhammer and 40K require you to take morale checks on suffering 25% casualties, if it is failed a unit will flee, and can be overrun and destroyed by its attacker. (Although it is technically possible for both sides to lose a morale check and flee)
    Some units and characters are unbreakable, or have special rallying rules ie. “… and they shall know fear!”

    The exact mechanics tend to vary from edition to edition (With almost infinite variations)

    1. Warhammer has had a bunch of rules, but back when i played there was a distinction between various types of LD tests (At a base, roll 2d6 vs. the units leadership score, if under it succeeds, if above it fails, so higher leadership is better) namely Psychology tests and Break Tests.

      So while there was a “unit suffers more than 25% casualties from shooting, artillery fire or magic” that caused a panic test (oh, another thing that caused a panic test was “fleeing friendly unit close to enemy troops…), being charged by a unit that caused fear (if trying to charge such a unit you had to pass an LD check to do it, buf if you failed the unit remained unbroken, it just didn’t charge) being to close to a monster that causes Terror (basically super-fear) the general dying (caused an army-wide panic test) certian spells like Burning Head, etc. etc. Certain units had the “immune to psychology” tag that mad them ignore these tests.

      HOWEVER, that was distinct from the “Break test”, which was *also* an LD test, but only taken in melee combat. The Break test was theoretically simple: The unit that lost a round of melee combat had to take an LD test or rout.

      Where it gets complicated is both determining who “won” a round of combat (while casualties were part of it, each wound inflicted added a point to the “winner’s” their repsective tally) a lot of other things also was involed: Having multiple ranks (each rank beyond the first added +1, incentivizing deeper formations) having a standard added another +1, being charged in the flank or rear didn’t just add extra bits but also *negated the rank bonus* for the unit charged, etc. There was also an entire subsystem of fighting challenges for extra points (presumably brutally mauling the enemy champion would help break their morale) notably the break test was then modified by the combat score difference: So if side A inflicted 3 wounds and side B 1, but with a +3 rank bonus, side B would win and the enemy would have to take the break test at -1 LD.

      This actually somewhat changed how “chaff” units worked, since it was possible for weaker but more numerous units like goblins and skaven to win by virtue of their rank bonuses, despite suffering higher casualties. (there were also various more complicated/fiddly rules where a larger unit could gradually envelop a smaller one, getting flanking bonuses)

      The interesting distinction here is that units immune to psychology would still have to take break tests. Only a few rare units were truly unbreakable, and most of them had some version of “Instead of routing, when losing combat take an extra number of wounds equal to the combat resolution score instead)

      1. I played 40k back in the day, and tried a morale-busting army (Fast vehicles with Tank Shock to force early morale tests), but it didn’t work very well.
        All the marines and orks were effectively immune (“And they shall know no fear” and size rerolls), all vehicles were immune, all monsters were immune, characters make their unit immune, etc, etc.
        The only units that had a chance of failure were so weak that they would die from one squad shooting at them, and even they saved most of the time.

        1. My 40k army back in the day was shooty marines plus multimelta landspeeders. Solves all your problems, if you can avoid melee combat.

  30. I read this expecting a historical review, not so much an examination of games and game mechanics. But as far as that goes, I am left bemused at how these computer and/or video games — which I do not play and am not familiar with save what I read in this blog — are apparently leagues behind good old-fashioned miniatures wargames rules, in which different levels/states of unit morale can have a bunch of different effects on combat or movement ability on the tabletop. So paper and pencil wargames had and still have an edge on historical accuracy compared to high-tech CGI-fests. Good to know!

    1. Games are generally a test of skill (within the constraints of an arbitrary rule set), but the skills tested may be very different; obviously, a game of baseball is testing different skills than a game of chess. Similarly, a pen-and-paper wargame is testing different skills than a real-time strategy game (or chess), even if both have the same veneer is historicity. Any game designer could cite countless examples where greater realism (or historical accuracy) makes a worse (i.e., less fun) game, so it all depends on what the designer is trying to model.

      I suspect part of this, at least, is due to differences in scale. A pen-and-paper game must, of necessity, limit itself to scales commensurate with human cognitive capabilities (even boosted with the “external memory” of writing). This makes it easier to track things like different levels of morale because the entire game state is comprehensible to the human mind (especially if turn-based vs. real-time, where the player is not under time pressure). In contrast, while a computer could easily model the individual morale of thousands of units in a battle in real time, no human could keep up with the changes. From the computer’s perspective, one unit in a regiment made a rational decision to flee based on an entirely (to its perspective) reasonable assessment of its chances vs. the approaching enemy army, causing a chain reaction and the flank to collapse; to the player, who was busy focusing elsewhere, their flank just suddenly collapsed before even making contact with the enemy, without them being aware of it, with no resource or recompense to stop or reverse it, and no way of knowing what ultimately triggered it, even if it was all perfectly logical under-the-hood. For a lot of people that might (entirely understandably) not be something they’re interested in playing (imagine playing chess, but as you’re moving a knight across the board one of your pawns [randomly, from your point of view] says “forget this” and decides to flee the field). Though that said, with the recent rise in popularity of “auto battler” games, I could see the market being there for a computer game with the kind of historical nuanced simulation of morale/cohesion and severely limited player input described in this series, where the skill lies elsewhere than individual microing of units and actions-per-minute.

      1. I think there could be mileage in a game where the main test of skill is in setting up the initial conditions — i.e., trying to predict what the enemy’s strategy will be, what the best way of countering it is (“He’s probably going to try and surround me, should I put most of my strength on my flanks or should I try and power through his centre?”), whom to put in charge of your various divisions (“This commander is good at inspiring men to attack fearlessly, but will his impetuosity lead him to charge too early?”), etc.

        1. Such games exists: Consider Dominions. Now, it doesen’t do anything realistica bout it, but the game is all about setup, and you can’t actually control anything once battle is joined.

  31. If the games won’t run under Windows’s Compatibility Mode, odds are good they will run under WINE in GNU/Linux. For convenience, run a Linux distribution (try Ubuntu) under a hypervisor (something like VirtualBox). You can also just run the appropriate Windows version under the hypervisor if you can find a download that isn’t malware. (Or buy an old disc off eBay.) Yes, it is silly that you have to install another operating system to make it run. Complain to Microsoft, which doesn”t really care if Random Old Game runs as long as Old Business Software does, because “enterprise” is where the bulk of their revenue comes from. Yes, I am a Computer Guy.

  32. > Bayonet training

    My late father (who was an officer) told me that bayonet fighting was the most frightening and bloody kind of battle. As I understand it, in addition to blood-curdling yells, the training is to twist the bayonet before withdrawing it, in order to maximise the internal injuries of the opponent. I don’t think my father was ever invovled in bayonet fighting, but I’m sure he was trained for it.

    I suppose that inflicting serious injuries on your enemy is actually better than killing them. From a tactical POV, it’s best to leave your seriously-injured troops to die; they are unlikely to fight again. Your medics should be focusing their attention on the lightly-injured. But if your men know that’s your tactic, then they’ll take trouble to avoid serious injury. So inflicting serious injury (a) takes the victim out of the fight; and (b) burdens your medics. Killing them only takes them out of the fight.

  33. Two points relevant to the real world, not war-games, one mathematical and one historical.

    One, Prof Devereux quotes 10% fatal casualties as average for a hoplite battle, 16% for the defeated side in a battle with a Roman legion. If the two armies were of approximately equal size, that would mean that only about one in ten of the hoplites would have killed an enemy, and a little over one in six of the Roman legionnaires. If the winning side was also the larger side, the proportions would have been lower. And that’s assuming a random distribution of killings. If the Pareto principle holds (about 20% of the actors produce about 80% of the results) then the proportion of the victors who personally killed someone would be even less. Hmmmm.

    Two: the caption of the French troops mutinying in May 2017 says that morale in the British troops in 1917 was only marginally better than for the French. In view of their success at Messines (June 1917) and the determined attacks at Third Ypres (July-November), I find that a little surprising. Evidence?

  34. I think bayonet training is more of a “magic feather.” If you’ve been trained in bayonet fencing you are more confident that you’ll actually win if you get into contact, which makes you more likely to stick with the charge, even if your bayonet training was actually useless in terms of making you more effective at stabbing people.

  35. I guess tank destroyers are a pretty good example of how “unit matchups” aren’t guaranteed even on a modern battlefield, and having a generalist “unit” that’s decent at a lot of things is superior to a specialist that only works when facing the right enemy.

  36. I feel like it’d be neat to have a four-quadrant graph with moral and cohesion on the two axes, ranging from high to low. The ‘both high’ and ‘both low’ quadrants probably wouldn’t be very interesting (‘fights well’ and ‘routs in terror’, respectively, if I’ve got it right), but the other two quadrants – the ones that aren’t usually shown in movies or represented in games – could have all the interesting cases you’ve mentioned in this post.

  37. I think some of the improvement in film CGI comes from videogames in a weird trade-off: your custom CGI has to be made to order, because even the bits that are technically a simulation are only simulating that one thing happening in that specific circumstance, barring the universality of certain physical properties (water and smoke will generally have a pre-programmed package that you then adapt, because almost all CGI films will need some form water, and a lot will need smoke). As games, and in particular game engines (think unreal engine 5 being used for disney’s volume stage- a stage with a high fidelity floor to ceiling CG backdrop projected through very large TVs), are set up to run a lot of things in a lot of circumstances they can become useful (when they’re good enough graphically) to quite quickly render a very varied situation- they are, after all, designed to render faster than any film scene will be projected (people have messed with the 24 frames a second projection rate. It did not work well), often up to 5 times as fast (144hz monitors are refreshing the same frame 5 times before a film moves on to the next frame). They also generally have reasonable quality effects available for a wide array of situations (or at least purchasable), meaning in a scene that has a lot of custom animated humans you can save time by using default ray-traced reflection or shadows or lighting etc. in the background where it’s less noticeable (though i somehow can almost perfectly see when volume stages are used in snow, because the fake snow on the actual stage is now lower quality that the unreal-powered background)

    So game engines provide advantages in fast rendering of very varied situations (because you are throwing a number of universal/purchased effects in along with the custom assets), which helps with both general costs and post production (and filming in the volume in particular). The latter as a more cheaply (in terms of computer hours spent) rendered background allows for it to be done once, then the director to go ‘oh, actually i think we should change this bit’ and the reply not being ‘that will literally take a month per second’ (frozen’s ice palace took 30 hours to render per frame, 24 frames per second means changing a single second of that render would delay the entire film a full 30 days. With that sort of scale, fully animated films generally make sure they know exactly what they want to do before they try doing it, but CG backgrounds are becoming far more easily adjusted as videogame engines real-time rendering becomes increasingly capable of matching films quality standards)

  38. An addendum on strategic level control of armies might be helpful. I think part of it has been covered but the discussion of morale makes me think of longstanding problems in Paradox games with armies that just pingpong across the map.

    How did states control armies in the field and what did they know about their conditions and location?

    1. I assume ‘control’ is “guy on horse”/runner/ship as usual.

      What they know would often be the same, sometimes supplemented by carrier pigeon. _The Crusades Through Arab Eyes_ talked a fair bit about pigeon use, one initial advantage the Arabs had over the ‘Franks’. Real pigeons can go to a specific location they’ve been trained to, so field forces and even scouts can use them to send messages to home base or some specific fortress, but can’t be contacted themselves (unless they check in at some fixed location, which generally won’t apply if you’re invading someone else.)

      Here, let me quote, with some bad formatting of names from my ebook:

      “Such a blockade would have had no effect whatever on the Arabs. For centuries they had used carrier-pigeons to convey messages from town to town. Every army on the march carried pigeons that had been raised in various Muslim cities and strongholds. They had been trained always to return to their nests of origin. It was therefore enough to scribble a message, roll it up, attach it to a pigeon’s leg, and release the bird, which would then fly, much faster than the swiftest charger, to announce victory, defeat, or the death of a prince, to call for assistance or to encourage resistance among a beleaguered garrison. As the Arab mobilization against the Franj became better organized, a regular pigeon-post service was established between Damascus, Cairo, Aleppo, and other cities, the state even paying salaries to the people in charge of raising and training these birds.

      In fact, it was during their stay in the Orient that the Franj were initiated into the art of raising and training carrier-pigeons, which would later become something of a fad in their home countries. At the time of the siege of BÁrin, however, they knew nothing of this means of communication, whereas ZangÐ was able to take advantage of it. The atabeg began by stepping up the pressure on the besieged, but then, after bitter negotiations, he offered them advantageous terms of surrender: they would hand over the fortress and pay fifty thousand dinars; in exchange, he would let them leave in peace. Fulk and his men surrendered and fled at a gallop, delighted to have got off so lightly. Shortly after leaving BÁrin, they encountered the bulk of the reinforcements that were coming to their aid, and they regretted their decision, but it was too late. This had happened, according to Ibn al-AthÐr, only because the Franj had been completely cut off from the outside world.”

      “In an effort to gain time, they did not notify Cairo of the news. But Saladin, who had friends everywhere, sent a finely worded message to Damascus by carrier-pigeon”

      “There was a Muslim swimmer by the name of ÝIsÁ who used to dive under enemy ships at night and come up on the other side, where the besieged soldiers awaited him. He usually carried money and messages for the garrison, these being attached to his belt. One night, when he had dived down carrying three sacks containing a thousand dinars and several letters, he was caught and killed. We found out very quickly that some misfortune had befallen him, for ÝIsÁ regularly informed us of his safe arrival by releasing a pigeon in our direction. That night we received no signal.”

      “Several days later, when a carrier-pigeon brought Al-ÝÀdil news of this defeat at Damietta, he was profoundly shaken. It seemed clear that the fall of the citadel would soon lead to the fall of Damietta itself, and no obstacle would then impede the invaders’ path to Cairo.”

      “At the start of the day, the pigeons had carried a message to Cairo announcing the attack of the Franj without breathing a word about the outcome of the battle, so we were all waiting anxiously. Throughout the quarters of the city there was sadness until the next day, when new messages told us of the victory of the Turkish lions. The streets of Cairo became a festival.”

      “The Baybars who devoted his life to destroying any Frankish fortress capable of standing against him also proved to be a great builder, embellishing Cairo and constructing roads and bridges throughout his domain. He also reestablished a postal service, run with carrier-pigeons and chargers, that was even more efficient than those of NÙr al-DÐn and Saladin.”

      1. One thing worth mentioning is that, carrier pigeons aside, generally *the speed of message and the speed of travel is the same* Which means if you send someone away somewhere you can’t actually rescind the message until he stops somewhere. If Bob’s cavalry goes off pursuing enemies your messenger telling them to stop is moving at the same rough speed as they are. (messengers can probably move a bit faster, but you see my point)

        1. Kind of true, depending on the messaging infrastructure and travel mode. Some places had courier relays that could move messages 100-200 miles per day. (Even without horses, Aztec runners could relay something quickly — imagine a runner at 10 MPH, 12 hours a day) That’ll outrun even cavalry. At the other end, ships were unlikely to catch up to ships.

          1. Although students of Thucydides (or Mary Renault) will remember the ship dispatched by the Athenians to rescind their earlier decree of death for the Mytileneans, which did make up the head start of the earlier messenger.

    2. I do note that armies pingponging across the map isn’t *the worst* depiction of early-modern warfare. (though Paradox greatly under-utilizes the logistical concerns, though at least it gives a fig-leaf of *trying* sometimes)

    3. Controlling armies on the strategic level was a massive hassle: Englund notes when talking about the https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Torstenson_War, that the swedish government had a very ambitious idea of launching a three-pronged attack using coordinated land and naval forces… That fell apart almost immediately because of communication delays.

  39. Ah, no; if they’re called “hippeis” and they fight “on food,” then the correction needed there is to have the sentence link back to the Dothraki collection.

  40. I slightly object to using TWWH as a reference for Total war, being a fantasy setting, but on the other hand, the only one I recall with troops fickle enough to break without taking massive casualities (in particular when your ashigarus were charged by samurais, on foot or horse) was Shogun 2, and that was long ago enough to be unsure of how accurate my memory is.

    1. But it is the most recent TW game, and as such shows their current “state of the art.” I would argue that TW is the most popular current series of real-time strategy games, which means this falls into things like the discussion of Europa Universalis or the society of Westros; looking at pop cultural depictions of history and pointing out where they diverge from (what we understand of) the historical reality and just what that reality was.

      1. I do think using mainly Warhammer tends to give a bit of an odd impression because there are quibbles that are specific to Warhammer, and quibbles that are more general to the series. Most of the sutff prof. Deveraux talks about is stuff that’s generic, but occasioanlly he ends up talking about something that’s warhammer-specific, and not really applicable.

        Warhammer, notable, *does not even try* to be a historical game (even to the very limited extents that Troy and 3Kingdoms brand of fictionalized history does) and the differences can be quite significant.

        1. I mean, three kingdoms, even if you choose not to be in ‘romance mode’ barely claims to be historical. And doesn’t bother to fix its ahistorical artillery.

        2. While I would also very much like prof. Deveraux to talk more about older TW games which were much better in a lot of ways concerning “realism”, it should also be noted that almost all of the structural problems (like “binary” approach to morale, full unit control etc) are inherent to all TW games.

          But yeah, things like not breaking in spite of massive casualties was done much better in some older TW games. Heck, in one extreme example from MTW, I witnessed a 2000 men army breaking after suffering only a handful of casualties…but one of them happened to be the general (who was also the king).

          1. Yeah, that’s the thing: There are certain things that are inherent to the TW way of doing things like the command-and-control god’s eye view and such, and there are certain things that are specific to particular iterations of the series.

  41. I wonder what you think about Sid Meier’s Gettysburg!’s morale system. While it did have some flaws (mostly in precise positioning allowing very dense unit packing) I felt like its focus on maintaining a strong line felt right, and units would also break at much lower casualties than other games I’ve played.

  42. Ok. Interesting question.

    Imagine you had two armies. One, the larger one, has the kind of command structure you outlined in this post series. Limited awareness and communication, distributed command structure, easaly broken morale. This army fights a second, smaller army that works under video game rules, ie perfect communication and control from the macro-level to the micro-level, immune to morale and cohesion.

    How big of an advantage would better information and more granular control be, all else kept equal? How big of a numerical advantage would the normal army need to cancel out the hive-mind army’s structural advantages?

    1. At a fairly minimal size, say circa 8,000 men, hive mind army wins regardless of real army’s size.

      Because hive mind army is able to find terrain that anchors both flanks and still allows adequate reserves and depth, and only has to fight a comparable force at any one time. When the third or fourth or fifth wave of real world army’s men are ordered to go forward and attack to exhaust hive mind army’s men, real world army tells their officers, “No. They killed the first X waves, I’m not seeing if X+1 will break them, especially not when they’re still all obeying orders perfectly and rotating their units like they were on a parade ground. You go attack. I’m going home.”

    2. If they’re still subject to morale, like in TWW, I expect it’d heavily depend on terrain, and thus how much of an advantage the hive mind has, and technology. If the terrain is very open, the regular army will have more time to transmit messages between spotting and contact, and if it’s really closed the regular army can fill a canyon entirely such that there’s no maneuvers avaliable.

      Technology cuts both ways. At lower technology levels, the hive mind needs to put its troops in formation so they don’t end up fighting two to one, so it’s going to effectively have fewer maneuver units, though it could freely reorganize them. At higher technology levels, the regular army has better communications, but the hive mind can call for fire or bring in reinforcements instantly with no possibility of confusion.

      1. Looking at this question from another angle what if the difference was the technology instead of the army size?

  43. Misconceptions about the French army in 1917 are so common. The so called “mutinies”. Technically they were strikes : the troops in second lines, or at rest, refused to go back fighting under the same conditions of the Nivelle offensive. Very few officers were threatened. And more importantly troops on the front line, often from the same regiments/divisions , did not move : no one would have wanted to be responsible of a defeat. Confidence was restored, not “to a degree”, but fully restored. The reason why the French army could help the British army in 1918, could resist and halt the German offensives of 1918.

  44. What the world needs is a medieval-themed xcom remake. The player, as the abbot of a fledgling military monastic order, leads the fight against the fae, goblins, &c. Replace psionics with morale/cohesion mechanics. E.g. units estimate for themselves threat values for each square/hex tile based on visible enemy (and friendly) units, and prefer moving downhill (or, rarely, uphill) — then obviously make one fae unit type with the distinguishing feature that they are estimated to be threatening out of all proportion to their actually puny stats. Given the setting, the player’s hapless monks earn not medals for their deeds but boasts. And as the one starting abbey proves insufficient, subordinate priories can be established.

    I further suppose that, unlike melee “sidearms” with 1 range, spears and polearms would be able to hit at 1 or 2 range, and pikes at 2 or 3 (but not 1) range. This ought to be able to make a decently dense stand of thus-armed units too threatening to run up to (especially with only a sidearm), the denser the more so. Bring out the staff sling, then: even less accurate than a normal sling (as if an xcom remake needs even more inaccuracy!) as far as the individual target is considered, but it is all but guaranteed to hit *something* in a big synapsismos, which thing will not be grateful for it. Oh, and depending on the terrain, effectively unlimited ammo for it is lying around for free. (Obvious research project for both slingers and archers: whistling projectiles, causing increased morale and practical effects. Hey, spearman, turn this way! Now that other guy *can* run up.)

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