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Ronald M




Location: vancouver bc canada
Joined: 06 Oct 2015

Posts: 66

PostPosted: Tue 23 Aug, 2016 5:39 pm    Post subject: Effect of death of general/commanding officer         Reply with quote

I was watching one of those chinese war movies and it got to the point where a hugely outnumbered army (like 100 000 against 30 000) ended up getting to the general and killing him

the larger army (who outnumbered the army that still had its general by like 80 000) simply gave up


i get that these chinese movies are terrible in terms of historical accurateness but i want to ask the question anyways

What would happen to an army that loses its commanding officer?


For now i can believe that an army that is made mostly of levys/militia might break if their commanding officer dies AND if they have similar numbers but in this case i really cant believe this

SO what would happen if ______ lost its commanding officer
a greek/macedonian phalanx (or army) or the diadochi (since hellenistic armies seemed to have changed somewhat after alexander died)
a roman army (give an idea of which system they were using before an answering of possible)
a chinese army (tell me when before giving an answer if you can)
medieval (nationality and time period if possible)
renaissance
early modern

and anything else you can think of


for the macedonian id just like to point out that after philip 2 made his reforms he made the king a hugely important part of his army but even then i cant imagine those well trained guys would just break and run if philip or alexander had died on the field, id expect them to f- up the guys who killed their king

basically what im trying to say is that i cant believe that an army would simply concede defeat after having its commander killed, huge loss in morale and losing due to loss of command i can understand and even expect but i feel like having an army rout because of the death of one person is pretty much impossible

smiley face 123? no? lol yeah well im here cause i like...swords and weapons and stuff obv
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Tom King




Location: florida
Joined: 11 Sep 2009
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PostPosted: Tue 23 Aug, 2016 11:15 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_of_Bosworth_Field

The Battle of Bosworth is a moderately fitting example. In short Richard III, outnumbering his opponent 2:1, makes a B-Line for Henry Tudor in an effort to kill him and end the battle. Ironically this makes the Stanley Family in a Game of Thrones inspiring twist throw in their lot with the tudors in an effort to kill Richard and do the same, bringing the battle to 10k vs 11k in favor of the Tudors. Richard ends up dying on the front lines from a halberd to the face and so ends the house of York and the War of the Roses.

Another example would be the battle of hastings.

The big key is that the person you're fighting for IS why you are fighting in many cases, whether by fealty or by contract. Unlike today where warfare is between nations or ideologies; similar to now the First Crusade saw 75% casualties on the european side, yet established a state that lasted the better part of 300 years in spite of it.

Tactically it is cutting off the head of the snake to kill the body. A medieval army is predominantly of a centralized structure; remove the leader and the individual units or wings can't fight cohesively. Strategically killing the enemy commander removes the enemies reason to fight almost entirely. A dead commander could instantly mean a rout if there is an avenue of escape. Conversely it could mean a last stand, but tactically they are crippled and strategically the cause they are fighting for has been defeated. .
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Andrew Gill





Joined: 19 Feb 2015

Posts: 98

PostPosted: Wed 24 Aug, 2016 1:16 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

There are examples (like those given by Tom King) where killing the leader has won the battle, but it is certainly not a guaranteed thing. The Anabasis of Xenophon - the fighting retreat of the ten thousand greek mercenaries from Persia to Greece - was caused by them winning a battle despite their employer - a pretender to the Persian throne - being killed in the fighting.
More recently, in the battle of Lützen, the Swedish king Gustav Adolphus was killed, and this actually spurred his troops on to win the battle and avenge his death.
And then, perhaps most famously, there was Nelson at the battle of Trafalgar (although obviously he didn't actually expire until the battle was won).

I suspect it depends greatly on how strong and de-centralized the command structure is, and how much the leader encourages individual initiative; also on the training and discipline of the troops.
But obviously having your head of state killed almost always means you've lost the war, even if you do win a battle or two afterwards...
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Lin Robinson




Location: NC
Joined: 15 Jun 2006
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PostPosted: Wed 24 Aug, 2016 4:44 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Andrew Gill wrote:

I suspect it depends greatly on how strong and de-centralized the command structure is, and how much the leader encourages individual initiative; also on the training and discipline of the troops.


Andrew has a very good grasp on this. In war as well as in the business world, succession and de-centralization are keys to continuing the fight or - in the second example - continuing the business. As long as there is a corporate goal and people to fulfill it, the work goes on whether it is making war or making widgets. In the case of business, losing the CEO/head of state, does not necessarily mean losing the company, if there are provisions for succession. I suspect that is also true in a well-ordered society with leadership succession.

Lin Robinson

"The best thing in life is to crush your enemies, see them driven before you and hear the lamentation of their women." Conan the Barbarian, 1982


Last edited by Lin Robinson on Wed 24 Aug, 2016 11:16 am; edited 1 time in total
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Matthew Amt




Location: Laurel, MD, USA
Joined: 17 Sep 2003

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PostPosted: Wed 24 Aug, 2016 5:26 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Pretty much what they said! Except that I don't quite agree that an ancient or medieval army losing its king meant that its units could no longer fight cohesively. Plenty of armies lined up and fought as they did, with basic frontal tactics, simply because the level of overall control was pretty low. Each unit commander knew the plan and his part in it (hopefully!) ahead of time, and they knew that diverging from that plan could bring disaster. So the king didn't have to be in constant touch with all his companies, tweaking or maneuvering or fine-tuning. He might have a pre-arranged signal to certain units, and he could send reserves where they were needed.

So if he snuffed it halfway through, it's possible that his troops and unit commanders could just keep going on autopilot. BUT, as has been very correctly pointed out, HE was what they were all fighting for! No king, no point in fighting and risking death. Bye!

Plus, for the king to be killed, it was probably a pretty safe assumption that things were pretty bad in the center (or wherever he was). That could mean the line was breaking in the middle, putting the wings at grave risk of being rolled up and slaughtered. Definitely time to leave.

In later armies, the death of the leader had less impact simply because organization was much better, and there was always a well-established chain of command to cover every eventuality. Communication was much better, and more complex maneuvers were in common use. In short, professional organized armies were designed to function without their heads!

Matthew
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Lin Robinson




Location: NC
Joined: 15 Jun 2006
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Posts: 1,218

PostPosted: Wed 24 Aug, 2016 11:19 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

In the case of a country ruled by despots, such as Nazi Germany, the fear of overthrow within usually prevents much delegation of real authority or control so that when a leader dies the whole thing disintegrates. An enlightened leader makes provisions for that.
Lin Robinson

"The best thing in life is to crush your enemies, see them driven before you and hear the lamentation of their women." Conan the Barbarian, 1982
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Lafayette C Curtis




Location: Indonesia
Joined: 29 Nov 2006
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PostPosted: Sun 18 Sep, 2016 11:57 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

One thing that hasn't been mentioned here is the difficulty of communications. Ancient and medieval armies didn't have radios. They might have flags, bugles, gongs, drums, smoke, and all that kind of stuff, but all of these methods of communication were notoriously fickle and unreliable compared to what we have today (even considering the fact that radios and datalinks could break down, be masked by terrain, be jammed by the enemy, etc.).

What does this mean? Well, basically, if the commander was killed, the news has to spread and be believed before it could have an effect upon the army's morale. Some armies succeeded in hiding the death of their commanders and preventing the news from spreading until the end of the battle as a whole (or the end of the entire campaign, in the case of one Roman emperor!). On the other hand, at the Battle of Hastings, the news of William's death spread even though he was still alive and well, and he had to ride across the front of his troops with his helmet raised (to expose his face) in order to convince them that he was still in fighting shape.

This is why we have so many accounts of the winning army deliberately exposing the dead body or severed head of the enemy commander in the middle of the battle so that the enemy could see that . . . well, their commander was dead. On the other hand, it also opens the possibility for a variety of ruses -- in one battle against the Ottomans, Janos Hunyadi allowed the Turks to believe that he had been killed so that they'd throw their reserves into the fray prematurely, then unfurled his reserve banner and revealed that he was still alive, taking them by surprise and attacking them with fresh troops when they had exhausted the strength of their entire army (including the prematurely-engaged reserves).
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