The Balance

Jul 2006
613
Virginia
#1
In my studies of military history, I have noticed that the dominating force on the battlefield has belonged to the infantry or the cavalry. English foot soldiers were largely defeated by Norman knights and throughout much of the middle-ages much emphasis was placed on the mounted armored knight or (in the case of Muslims and Mongols) on light mounted troops until the Hundred Years War when the English tactic of longbowmen supported by dismounted men-at-arms cut down mounted French knights by the score.
In the 18th Century and into the Napoleonic Wars, the skillful deployment and commitment of cavalry could make or break victory. Then the rifle was made practical for widespread use and the mounted trooper became nothing more than a ten foot tall target. Then came the Great War were foot soldiers still reigned supreme, but the tank was introduced.
Most of the great victories in World War II went to fast moving mechanized forces, a sort of "new" cavalry. Panzers cut swathes through Europe, then swarms of Shermans and T-34's turned the tables. Korea and Vietnam saw limited use of armor, but victory in the first Gulf conflict was largely due to fast moving, superior tanks. So was the success of the recent invasion of Iraq, but now we're chasing insurgents around buildings and city streets and armor is used as little more than a support element and it seems the balance is shifting (as present events in Iraq, and events in Vietnam have demonstrated) back to the infantry as "Unconventional" warfare becomes standard?

Any thoughts on this? Is the balance shifting? Or is there a balance at all, am I just blowing hot air?
 
Aug 2007
188
#2
In my studies of military history, I have noticed that the dominating force on the battlefield has belonged to the infantry or the cavalry. English foot soldiers were largely defeated by Norman knights and throughout much of the middle-ages much emphasis was placed on the mounted armored knight or (in the case of Muslims and Mongols) on light mounted troops until the Hundred Years War when the English tactic of longbowmen supported by dismounted men-at-arms cut down mounted French knights by the score.
In the 18th Century and into the Napoleonic Wars, the skillful deployment and commitment of cavalry could make or break victory. Then the rifle was made practical for widespread use and the mounted trooper became nothing more than a ten foot tall target. Then came the Great War were foot soldiers still reigned supreme, but the tank was introduced.
Most of the great victories in World War II went to fast moving mechanized forces, a sort of "new" cavalry. Panzers cut swathes through Europe, then swarms of Shermans and T-34's turned the tables. Korea and Vietnam saw limited use of armor, but victory in the first Gulf conflict was largely due to fast moving, superior tanks. So was the success of the recent invasion of Iraq, but now we're chasing insurgents around buildings and city streets and armor is used as little more than a support element and it seems the balance is shifting (as present events in Iraq, and events in Vietnam have demonstrated) back to the infantry as "Unconventional" warfare becomes standard?

Any thoughts on this? Is the balance shifting? Or is there a balance at all, am I just blowing hot air?
There have been plenty of stupid people who thought cavalry was superior to infantry,inspite of the fact of numerous infantry victories over cavalry in battles,before the advent of gunpowder armies didn't really improve only went in circles with everything thats old becoming new again,than gunpowder was invented and everything changed.
 

Lucius

Forum Staff
Jan 2007
16,363
Nebraska
#3
It's an interesting question. Yes, the magazine fed rifle put an end to cavalry, that is, fighting on horseback. The internal combustion engine put an end to the dragoons (or however the various formations of mounted infantry styled themselves). But it also made all infantry highly mobile, since they could be loaded into trucks and concentrated rapidly for either an attack or to defend. To my way of thinking, the armored tracked and/or wheeled vehicle fitted with cannon and/or machine gun combines the uses of cavalry, artillery and infantry. Perhaps modern air cavalry most closely resembles the old-fashioned sort?

About unconventional warfare becoming standard:

I'm sure the monarchs of Europe reckoned the Nation in Arms concept of France to be highly unconventional during the decades of the Napoleonic Wars. Before that time wars were basically family feuds between the hereditary horse junkies and their mercenaries - and the villeins better just get out of the way. I think the shift we're seeing now is more related to the 24-hour news cycle and the ubiquity of color TV. We couldn't prepare Iraq for the post-war period the same way we prepared Germany and Japan. The American people won't wear it. I'm not a military genius. I guess we'll have to wait and see how it all turns out. It does seem a bit unfair to the guys though.
 

Belisarius

Forum Staff
Jun 2006
10,356
U.K.
#4
This is a very good question. My initial thought is that there has always been a balance between infantry, cavalry and artillery [or long range missile shooting in older times]. Each complements the other, but at different times the "weight" of each has shifted. Let me think about this and I'll get back to you.
 
Jul 2006
613
Virginia
#5
This is a very good question. My initial thought is that there has always been a balance between infantry, cavalry and artillery [or long range missile shooting in older times]. Each complements the other, but at different times the "weight" of each has shifted. Let me think about this and I'll get back to you.
The reason I didn't include artillery is because I've always seen artillery as a supporting arm. While artillery can have a significant impact on the flow of battle, it will not win nor can it hold a battlefield without infantry or cavalry, which can each serve independently thought they act better together.
 
Sep 2007
169
#6
In my studies of military history, I have noticed that the dominating force on the battlefield has belonged to the infantry or the cavalry. English foot soldiers were largely defeated by Norman knights and throughout much of the middle-ages much emphasis was placed on the mounted armored knight or (in the case of Muslims and Mongols) on light mounted troops until the Hundred Years War when the English tactic of longbowmen supported by dismounted men-at-arms cut down mounted French knights by the score.
In the 18th Century and into the Napoleonic Wars, the skillful deployment and commitment of cavalry could make or break victory. Then the rifle was made practical for widespread use and the mounted trooper became nothing more than a ten foot tall target. Then came the Great War were foot soldiers still reigned supreme, but the tank was introduced.
Most of the great victories in World War II went to fast moving mechanized forces, a sort of "new" cavalry. Panzers cut swathes through Europe, then swarms of Shermans and T-34's turned the tables. Korea and Vietnam saw limited use of armor, but victory in the first Gulf conflict was largely due to fast moving, superior tanks. So was the success of the recent invasion of Iraq, but now we're chasing insurgents around buildings and city streets and armor is used as little more than a support element and it seems the balance is shifting (as present events in Iraq, and events in Vietnam have demonstrated) back to the infantry as "Unconventional" warfare becomes standard?

Any thoughts on this? Is the balance shifting? Or is there a balance at all, am I just blowing hot air?

I believe you need to take into account what Li Ch'uan said:
"In the art of war there are no fixed rules. These can only be worked out according to circumstances."

Also Sun Tzu lists nine varieties of 'Ground'. Each with its own strengths and weaknesses. With such differences, and the evolution of technology, warfare changes from period to period.
 

Belisarius

Forum Staff
Jun 2006
10,356
U.K.
#7
The reason I didn't include artillery is because I've always seen artillery as a supporting arm. While artillery can have a significant impact on the flow of battle, it will not win nor can it hold a battlefield without infantry or cavalry, which can each serve independently thought they act better together.
Tell that to the poor S-o-Bs in the trenches of the '14-19 War, or the German troops on the recieving end of a Soviet Artillery Offensive in 1944-5! :D

Cavalry might be able to win a battle but it cannot hold ground very effectively. One weakness of cavalry armies is that they were very vulnerable if they let the infantry get too close; they would be forced to either charge/engage at a disadvantage or reteat. This is also true of more modern conflicts to an extent. Tanks are very vulnerable in built up areas, for example. Helicopters need to be stationed far away from a battlefield or heavily guarded if they are not to succumb to an enemy raid.

Still thinking, BTW.;)