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Author Topic: The impact of aviation on pre-modern warfare  (Read 414 times)
Kingmaker
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« on: February 08, 2017, 11:23:02 AM »

Hi gang,

I was wondering if anyone had ever worked out the kinks in this issue before?

To be specific, the setting that I've been working on behind the scenes for a while is a fairly "low-magic" world where those who possess actual magic abilities are extremely rare, and for all sorts of in-setting reasons are generally detached from the world.  I'm toying with expanding my bestiary from real-world fauna to include mounts capable of flight - pegasi, wyverns, giant flippin' birds, etc. 

So while my question is fairly limited to the practical considerations of, effectively, adding flying cavalry to the existing methods of warfare contemporary to, let's say as a point of comparison, 12th-century Normandy, this will obviously affect battlefield strategy, fortification design, the ease of communication between far-fetched locales (when one can fly over rivers, mountains, and other difficult terrain, it makes a society much more interconnected). 

I'd imagine the state would try and monopolize the use of air mounts as much as possible since it offers so much military advantage, and since the carrying load is plausibly fairly low for these mounts (it already strains credibility for them to be able to carry a human with light gear, much less, say, goods or a full kit).

I would think that in the given scenario, anti-aircraft(mount) technology would be developed - fortified access points near the top of towers for counter-cavalry to engage in dogfights, ballistas mounted to serve as anti-aerial batteries, stuff like that. 

Of course, feel free to discuss other possibilities permutations and scenarios outside the scope of my thought experiment though - but my personal interest is in how a society without munitions or explosives copes with air-capable cavalry and archers.

Thoughts?
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« Reply #1 on: February 08, 2017, 12:10:45 PM »

The easiest change to castles is to make them unsuitable for landing. This could be accomplished at low cost by mounting rows of upright pikes on walls and courtyards, and/or erecting a canopy of nets. This would limit aerial attacks against them to basically dropping rocks and such from above - as long as there aren't any powerful explosives (that is, small and light enough to be carried by the flyers and still able to cause much damage) there won't be all that much to worry about from enemy airforce.

Field battles should already be a rare thing compared to small-scale skirmishes and siegecraft given the base model of 12th century Normandy. When such a battle does take place the flying riders would most likely be countered by reserve companies of archers or crossbowmen assigned to watch the sky while the rest of the army engages. This could lead to ranged weapons being fielded in greater numbers and possibly given a higher prestige.

The most important advantage to be gained from flying riders might be in communications and reconnaissance. They can survey the landscape from afar and spy the movements of enemies, and may be able to relay messages faster than any land-based messenger.
« Last Edit: February 08, 2017, 12:13:14 PM by Ghostman » Logged

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« Reply #2 on: February 08, 2017, 03:50:56 PM »

Ghostman

The easiest change to castles is to make them unsuitable for landing. This could be accomplished at low cost by mounting rows of upright pikes on walls and courtyards, and/or erecting a canopy of nets. This would limit aerial attacks against them to basically dropping rocks and such from above - as long as there aren't any powerful explosives (that is, small and light enough to be carried by the flyers and still able to cause much damage) there won't be all that much to worry about from enemy airforce.

Very salient points. I think the guards that subway stations use to keep pigeons off will be good for inspiration.

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Field battles should already be a rare thing compared to small-scale skirmishes and siegecraft given the base model of 12th century Normandy. When such a battle does take place the flying riders would most likely be countered by reserve companies of archers or crossbowmen assigned to watch the sky while the rest of the army engages. This could lead to ranged weapons being fielded in greater numbers and possibly given a higher prestige.

Also good points - pitched battles would be virtually non-existent, you're absolutely right, and archers (assuming that the aerial scouts would come into range) would be the principal counter-strategy, assuming the scouts regularly came within range.

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The most important advantage to be gained from flying riders might be in communications and reconnaissance. They can survey the landscape from afar and spy the movements of enemies, and may be able to relay messages faster than any land-based messenger.

Agreed 100%.

Now, for a few twists - what if our critters are particularly hardy (thick scales, highly resistant to arrows)?  I'd think that under a concentrated barrage of arrows, they'd still probably be cancelled out.

Another possible twist: what if the creatures being used have peculiar natural defenses (breath weapons, powerful/poisonous bite, projectile barbs, stinger tail, etc.)? Again, pitched battles are basically unheard of, but I'd wager the advantage of scouting, signaling, and distance would outweigh the utility of any actual engagement and attack, and that the riders would probably want to stay within sight but as far away from any melee as possible.

Skirmishes would be a different story - we're not dealing with batteries of archers but probably a few dozen at most, meaning it'd be easier for a lord to hear of the skirmish, dispatch his riders for information gathering, and then adjust strategy accordingly, including having the aerial support strike if necessary.

Sorry- I'm just spitballing here
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« Reply #3 on: February 08, 2017, 06:41:58 PM »

Elven Doritos

Now, for a few twists - what if our critters are particularly hardy (thick scales, highly resistant to arrows)?  I'd think that under a concentrated barrage of arrows, they'd still probably be cancelled out.
Hamstringing their wings or otherwise messing up their ability to stay airborne would be an obvious tactic to try -- maybe lassoes or bolas would be an effective enough a weapon, or they might invent specialized war machines (a catapult that throws weighted nets?) for this purpose. If they can bring the hardy flyer to ground even for a short while, it can be attacked with more heavy hitting weapons: polearms, axes, etc. Ofc this is a more complicated tactic that takes much more discipline and coordination to pull off than simply shooting at them from the ground.

Elven Doritos

Another possible twist: what if the creatures being used have peculiar natural defenses (breath weapons, powerful/poisonous bite, projectile barbs, stinger tail, etc.)? Again, pitched battles are basically unheard of, but I'd wager the advantage of scouting, signaling, and distance would outweigh the utility of any actual engagement and attack, and that the riders would probably want to stay within sight but as far away from any melee as possible.
They could be used as effective shock units. Probably scary enough to break ordinary soldiers, but heavy armoured elite warriors should still be able to take them on, especially if there's equipment that can defend against these attacks. Eg. if fire breath is enough of a threat to warrant spending much money on countermeasures, people willl try to come up with things like flame-resistant overcoats.
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« Reply #4 on: February 08, 2017, 10:56:19 PM »

I've referenced a video once about Game of Thrones where it argued that the reason why Westeros is being held back is because of Dragons. Gunpowder became popular because of wall breaching cannons which were invented to deal with fortresses and castles, but in Westeros this doesn't happen. Why did Aegon the Conqueror need a cannon when he could just fly over the walls with a fire-breathing dragon? The Iron Born figured this out too late, and many of them wound up roasting to death because of this.

I could see it going in another direction though. What if gunpowder is used to deal with dragons themselves rather than as a wall breaching agent? Guns and cannons could be discovered as a means to take down flying beasts? Imagine a giant blunderbuss taking down an iron-hided dragon?
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« Reply #5 on: February 09, 2017, 07:33:56 AM »

With the very poor accuracy of early firearms you'd need a large number of guns though.
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« Reply #6 on: February 09, 2017, 10:41:31 AM »

Ghostman

With the very poor accuracy of early firearms you'd need a large number of guns though.

Too true, but thankfully there could easily be a medieval Tony Stark, because well, we already had one
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« Reply #7 on: February 12, 2017, 01:43:14 AM »

The implications of any human aviation, whether on a griffon or a balloon, are significant in a variety of ways.  Since you've asked specifically about warfare, however, it depends chiefly on how numerous tamed flyers are.  This depends both on a) availability and b) domesticability - that is, are they actually domesticated and able to be bred in captivity (like horses) or must they be taken from wild populations and individually tamed (like elephants)?

A state that has twenty such flyers at any one time is going to be very different from a state with access to twenty thousand.  The former affects intelligence, planning, and command and control; the latter means a fully airborne army.
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