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I, Clausewitz : A Would-be Conqueror's Diary
Neither holy nor Roman nor an Emperor
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French dragoon
I'm getting a bit tired of bumping the recap post, so I'll just make a new one here.

All important posts of a military nature in my journal have been grouped together under a single Memories category; I'm fully aware, however, that not all of those posts would be of great interest to casual browsers, and many of them are protected posts that are not available for everyone to see. In view of these circumstances I have created two specific categories, named respectively Tactics and Army-building, containing entries calculated to be of greatest utility for general readers, particularly those with little or no prior knowledge of military history. These two categories contain only public entries everyone can see and comment upon. As is to be expected, while the entries are mostly of a general nature, they also sometimes contain specific hints and tips for utilizing the contents in fiction writing.

There is also a similar collection of essays in the category Political Worldbuilding. It mostly contains entries with a less overtly military content, although there's a significant overlap with the two other categories. The category of Swordsmanship contains posts about swords and swordsmanship, some of which do not fit with the larger scope of the military and political discussions in the abovementioned categories. Meanwhile, the category of Single Combat is fairly self-descriptive--it contains entries that deal mostly with the arts of single combat or few against few, the difference with Swordsmanship being that the subjects of its entries are not restricted to the use of swords.

All five categories are updated from time to time with new essays, articles, or plain silly musings. There is no particular rhyme or reason to the schedule, though--I update when the whim strikes me or when somebody requests a rundown on a particular subject.

I think seven posts from the abovementioned categories are worth mentioning for their generalized and introductory nature, which makes them the most accessible to general readers:

Definitions of Strategy and Tactics addresses a common stumbling block for writers wishing to address the subject of warfare in their works--namely, the difference between strategy and tactics.

The Fantasy Armies Rant is a point-by-point examination of some possibilities fantasy writers would be well advised to observe in building the armies of their fantasy worlds, written in the familiar style of limyaael's fantasy rants. It has a sequel that delves deeper into the subject of military organizational practices. Despite the presence of the word "fantasy" in their titles, I think most of the points in these rants also apply in a more general sense to just about any fictional army.

The Rant on Battles takes a detailed look at several concerns pertaining to the representation of battles in fiction, especially on why people choose to engage (or not to engage) in battles.

Formations 101 is fairly self-descriptive; it introduces basic tactical formations of pre-20th century warfare, and points out why the study of formations as static entities is useless without an inquiry into the ways these formations actually maneuver, transform, and develop into attacks and defenses during the course of a tactical encounter.

The principles of Mass, Economy of Force, and Maneuver explained in simple terms. With pictures. These principles are further elaborated through a practical application of them in this battle report.

On the difference between "wings" and "flanks"--or maybe I should have titled it "the left wing is not the left flank."

Brilliant generals don't have to personally invent every single bit of strategy and tactics they use. Do they?

I've also set up a thesaurus of military terms for the use of speculative fiction writers--mostly fantasy, though some SF term will probably creep in every now and then. On a somewhat tangential note, doc_lemming has also set up a fantasy thesaurus of a more general (i.e. not specifically military) nature.

If you're wondering about whether I've covered a particular military/political worldbuilding subject or not in my posts, feel free to ask about it by commenting in whichever post you think is the most appropriate. I also accept request to treat with subjects that I haven't written about. Keep in mind, however, that I reserve the right to determine if and when I would overcome my habitual laziness for long enough to handle any of the incoming requests. ;P

(I'm going to bump this entry back up frequently, if not always regularly. It is backdated, though, so have no fears of sudden intrusions upon your f-page by "that damned page" cropping up again and again and again.)
15th-Jun-2012 10:45 pm(no subject)
medieval merchant
I'm usually not bothered by the fact that I'm largely cut off from the newest developments in popular culture, but it was a shock when I learned that I missed the news on Ray Bradbury's death. Oddly enough, I heard it exactly a week after the event--and on the same day I bought one of his books.

Oh well. The man may be gone, but his stories live on.
29th-Mar-2012 09:09 am - Fooling around with two short swords
French dragoon
Recently some people from my old WMA group met up after a rather long hiatus. Most of us had kept up the physical exercise schedule we challenged ourselves to maintain, so in terms of raw strength and speed we were generally better off than the last time we met. When it came to doing the drills and set-plays that were once so familiar to us, though, the lack of practice inevitably made us clumsy and slow, and there was quite an abundance of mistakes to laugh over.

One of the guys--let's call him J--brought over a couple of unusually long dagger wasters (some 40cm/16" long in the blade), which we used for paired dagger practice. When the practice session as such was over, though, he brought up the idea of having some fun by trying out possible (non-historical) techniques for two short swords, and most of us (the ones who still had some free time to burn, anyway) agreed. J was also the most ambidextrous among us so naturally we gave him the dubious honour of being the first to try the two-short-swords thing (and get whacked thereby in the trial-and-error process).

Interestingly, we noted that (within the limited context of our free-play) the most effective way to use the two short swords was to treat them almost as if they were a single longer weapon, or in other words moving them together along very similar vectors. The most distinct example was when J managed several times to counter descending vertical and diagonal longsword or polearm strikes to the head by using one sword to defend with a windshield-wiper parry while the other moves in (along with a traversing step) to deliver a cut to the opponent's hand(s). Of course, there's a counter to every technique, and we soon found out that this defence was quite vulnerable to an Oberhau feint followed by a lightning-fast Zwerchhau (roughly, a horizontal strike to the head made by spinning the blade around like a helicopter rotor) to the opposite side. The counter to the counter involved J taking yet another traversing step forward while blocking the Zwerchhau very close to the head with one sword and throwing a cut or thrust to the belly with the other sword, but this required even more precise timing than the original Zwerchhau counter and was somewhat easier to avoid with a rapid spring backwards.

Not everything worked the same way. With a longer weapon, the usual method to counter an attack to the leg is by slipping the leg while delivering a counterattack to the head. The two short swords couldn't do this since they lacked the reach, so J had to block the low strike very close to his leg with one blade and use the other blade for the high counterattack. It was quite difficult to find a counter to this until the better grapplers among us realised that the move put J very close to us, and by letting go of our weapons we could often grab his higher sword arm and get him with an uppercut or an elbow in the face before his lower sword could intervene. In a more realistic medieval setting we probably would have drawn a dagger with the free hand instead--or perhaps turned his higher blade back upon him with one of the dagger counters so common to medieval close-quarters fighting.

On the basis of these very limited experiments, I think the techniques for fighting with two short swords are much more intuitive than those for two long-bladed swords, and as such they're more likely to be effective in the hands of anyone less than a master. They still don't seem to be the best way to use the short sword, however, especially once the fighting gets to the level of a massed battlefield--on that account I think the Romans got it right by combining the short sword with a huge shield since a short blade is much easier to manipulate in the restricted spaces established by the shield (such as when a legionary manages to crowd up his opponent by pressing shield-to-shield). That is, aside from the fact that two swords provide barely any defence at all against missiles....
1st-Mar-2012 01:18 pm(no subject)
medieval merchant
When I watched Operation Dumbo Drop for the first time many years ago (I don't even remember how many), I only remembered it as an entertaining movie. But a rerun came up recently on satellite TV and, having watched the whole damned thing all over again from the opening title to the credits, I'm quite surprised to find that it has one of the most accurate representations of military chains of command that I've ever seen in a motion picture.
11th-Feb-2012 01:55 am(no subject)
medieval merchant
Reading Coedes's Indianized States of South-East Asia and waiting for news on Munoz's Early Kingdoms of the Indonesian Archipelago. At this rate it'll be weeks before I run short of non-digitised reading materials.

Which reminds me that I haven't finished reading the last one-thirds of Aelian's Tactics. Digitised, of course. A scan of a 19th-century translation based on Bingham. Doesn't mean it's not going to wind up being useful in some way, though.

And writing. I've done way too little of that.
27th-Jan-2012 10:33 am(no subject)
medieval merchant
I don't know. Maybe it's just me, but I find The Sartorialist's photo of the recent Prada Fall/Winter 2012 show to be quite sexy. Maybe it's the Victorian/Edwardian theme of the collection. But I suspect it has a great deal to do with the models' poses--they don't walk in the ungainly slouching pose that dominate the runway nowadays, but rather in a proud, erect, chin-up pose. As if they're trying hard to restrain the sexiness hiding behind all that poise.
25th-Nov-2011 04:28 pm(no subject)
medieval merchant
This jacket made out of scraps had me laughing. And crying tears of blood over the amount of skill needed to pull it off. When oh when will I ever be able to make something on that level?
23rd-Nov-2011 06:56 pm(no subject)
medieval merchant
Does anybody have suggestions on ways of improving my upper-body strength for a pull-up test? Right now my record is a bit uneven, since on my best day I may be able to do three consecutive pull-ups while on a bad day I can barely manage one--whereas I'd like to be able to consistently do five, and preferably after a reasonably short timeframe (is three months realistic?) If I can get there it'd probably go a long way towards addressing the imbalance between my upper body and its rather more well-developed counterpart below the waist.

Anyway, it seems like I've been creeping my way steadily towards my fitness goals. When I read that the US Marine fitness test calls for a three-mile run in 28 minutes, I thought that'd be a pretty difficult standard to match since I was used to thinking that I ran a lap on the athletic track (400 m) in three minutes and thus it'd take me 36 minutes to do 4.8 km (12 laps). But then I recorded the time I needed to run the first 12 out of the 25 laps (10 km) I do every weekend and got 31 minutes--only 3 minutes slower than the Marines' standard. It shouldn't have surprised me considering how much I had improved my speed and endurance within the last few months, but still it's pretty encouraging to know that I only have one-thirds of the ground left to cover.
French dragoon
While checking the contents of my digital photo albums, I ran across a series of pictures I took nearly two months ago at Borobudur.

Yes, that ancient Buddhist temple. I came there looking for reliefs that might produce evidence on the equipments and practices of ancient/medieval Javanese archery, and sure I wasn't disappointed. Just look at this one.

And more.Collapse )

Another point of interest is the depiction of the guardsmen with oval shields and various blades, which also appears in several other scenes.

And more.Collapse )

Now, what about the swords? Some of the images above have already shown a tantalising variety of both straight and concave blades, and that's not the end of it.

Want to see more?Collapse )

And then, this scene tops it all off with a depiction of the Buddha being assailed with all sorts of weapons:

With a couple of detail shots, of course.Collapse )

Weapons were certainly not the only things that mattered in warfare, so let me add two more scenes that may be relevant:

Guys, don't look down. Look up at the banners. This type of long vertical banner with a loose streamer at the top is known as the umbul-umbul in modern Indonesian and Javanese, and is still used as decorations for various festive occasions.

This image shows the kind of carriage that would have been familiar to upper-class Javanese people of the era. I sometimes wonder if the occasional mention of "chariots" in translated Javanese sources--under the assumption that Ancient Indian chariot technology came to Java along with so many other things--is a mistranslation of a word indicating this more sedate type of carriage, since I don't think Javanese has ever had a word that specifically denoted war-chariots.

One issue remains unresolved: how much of the art represents realities of Javanese life and how much were stock depictions copied from Classical Indian art (and how much is somewhere in between). The answer to this would probably require checking out the style of reliefs in Indian and mainland Southeast Asian art up to a century before Borobudur's construction, and at the moment I don't have the time or the money to do that. Might there be anybody inclined to take up the offer?
French dragoon
A long, long time ago, in an epoch lost to the mists of prehistory, I wrote a post in an attempt to explain that "medieval European infantry" wasn't automatically synonymous with "men with long swords and big shields." That post has become seriously outdated by now, though, and I figured that for the replacement I'd better try to show what medieval European infantry was rather than what it wasn't.

Of course, the biggest problem here is that there was no such thing as generic medieval infantry.Collapse )
12th-Aug-2011 11:17 pm(no subject)
medieval merchant
There's been a big fuss recently in history, wargaming, and reenactment communities about a recent paper on the effect of armour upon battlefield fatigue and all. I think the best summary of the issue is the one written by none less than John Howe of the Company of Saynt George, as republished/reposted in several places (including ancmed); in short, the tests reported in the paper were fairly sound in themselves, but then the popular writeups took the conclusions way, way too far. Pretty typical, I say.
12th-Aug-2011 10:56 pm(no subject)
medieval merchant
The Ladies of the 17th Century Were Way More Hardcore Than You by Alexandra Cervenak, a living history interpreter in Plimoth Plantation. The title says it all.
9th-Jul-2011 12:11 am(no subject)
medieval merchant
This is creepy. By now I've spent a couple of weeks writing the new post on medieval infantry and it keeps growing. I think it's close the being finished now, but I'm not quite sure that the Twitter generation is up to reading long, unrelieved blocks of text. Maybe I'll pick up the idea of sprinkling the post with a number of historical illustrations. After all, things like the Bayeux Tapestry and the Maciejowski Bible are no longer difficult to access on the Web these days.
21st-Jun-2011 02:10 am(no subject)
medieval merchant
I swear I was trying to write the new post on mediaeval infantry, but in the process I checked up the post on sword-and-buckler fighting and ended up revamping it rather extensively. It's still not perfect, but I think it's more informative than before. I just hope it hasn't become more confusing instead.
20th-Jun-2011 01:46 am(no subject)
medieval merchant
My opinion of Mari Makinami--a new Eva pilot introduced in the Rebuild of Evangelion series--is rather hard to explain. On one hand, she has a charm that even Asuka lacks. Even putting her glasses aside for a moment (since everybody knows I have a weakness for girls with glasses), she's particularly interesting because she's drawn in a style that seems to imply that she's somewhat older than the other pilots. Maybe it's just me. Or maybe her eyes are really narrower and higher than Rei's or Asuka's. Either way, another important difference from the other pilots (except perhaps Kaoru) is that she's apparently more confident and less conflicted. And once again you all know that I have a weakness for mature, confident female characters. But there's one big downside to her: she doesn't get enough off-battle screen time to really show the way she relates to other characters in "normal" situations even though (from my perspective) these out-of-battle moments give Rebuild the most significant advantage it has over the previous versions of Evangelion.

No, I haven't stopped liking Asuka yet. I'd still ask her out for a date if I met her in real life. But Mari is seriously starting to give her a run for her money.
16th-Jun-2011 02:07 pm(no subject)
The TUSK (Tank Urban Survivability Kit) being developed for the M1 Abrams--as well as similar systems for other Western tanks, most notably the Leopard 2--is quite an interesting development for science-fiction armour geeks. Say, once the Remote Weapon Station (RWS) has reached its full functionality and its bugs have been worked out, how much longer would it take to develop into a subsidiary remote-controlled turret in an offset position (probably close to a rear corner) atop the main turret of a future MBT? This would get especially funny if the station/turret gains more capabilities such as a heavier weapon (an autocannon?) or a faster-firing one (a minigun or Vulcan?), and maybe even a deployable radar array for the autonomous engagement of nearby airborne targets (read: attack helicopters) CIWS-style. The doctrinal implications are no less interesting--maybe a future heavy tank platoon equipped with such semi-autonomous secondary turrets would laager up with several tanks' radars deployed and the turrets set on autonomous air defense duty while the rest would keep their turrets on manual control to scan for ground threats. It may even be possible that most of the tanks with deployed radars would still keep their sub-turrets on manual, since a networked radar system might allow one or two autonomous turrets to effectively scare off aerial threats using information relayed from the other radars.

Certainly this kind of system wouldn't be without its disadvantages. Tank turrets are already notoriously complicated beasts, and plopping another turret on top would cause headaches to the people who had to design the layouts for the ammunition storage and delivery systems, not to mention the power supply and the turret servomechanisms. As if that's not enough, there are also potential impacts to other systems within the tank, such as a reduction in ammunition storage capacity since the second turret would take up some space in the main turret's bustle. This might be less of a problem for tanks that are larger all around, but there'd still be the issue of designing an effective counterweight to ease the asymmetric load on the suspension (or, well, a suspension and track set that can be easily changed on the field once the asymmetric wear had begun to make its mark). Not to mention that a tank big enough to be worth fitting with a subsidiary turret is probably going to be so heavy that it will be unable to cross many civilian bridges (already a problem with modern MBTs in the 60-ton range like the Abrams and the British Challenger).

Enough rambling. I don't have any tank-focused stories to write in the near future anyway, so these ideas probably aren't going to be very useful yet.
27th-May-2011 12:25 am(no subject)
medieval merchant
The new Robin Hood with Russell Crowe is just weird. Let's just pass over the anachronistic view of the Magna Carta as a revolutionary document declaring equal rights for all men, shall we? Much more hilarious is the World War II landing crafts in the French invasion scene, which got me laughing uncontrollably. Come on, seriously. Something box-hulled like that, moving so fast while being propelled with only so few oars worked by so few men? Honestly, I would have been more amused if the pretend propulsion was something like paddle wheels driven by windmills, which was at least remotely plausible with medieval technology (though never put into practice as far as I'm aware, although it was proposed for a Napoleonic terror ship. Ouch). The Omaha Beach scene with arrows in place of MG42s also gets a great deal less fun when I think of the opportunity they're missing by not filming the ferocious street fighting of the Battle of Lincoln instead. But the biggest disappointment was William Marshal (I won't even bother to explain). That being said, it's quite a fun movie to watch if you could ignore the history. Sort of like watching Mount & Blade done in live action (and I swear some scenes in the battle on the beach would have looked completely at home in the game).

Rebuild of Evangelion 2.0: You Can (Not) Advance is, I daresay, better than 1.0 and in some respects even better than the original series. There's not as much explanation of the characters' backstories, but their interpersonal interactions in the present are more detailed and interesting. I'm particularly fond of the triangular romantic tension between Shinji, Rei, and Asuka, which was all but absent in the original series (except for the alternate-reality sequence that got expanded later in Angelic Days). Now I can't wait for the third installment to come out.

With regards to my own stories, I've been revisiting the prizefighting and secret police thing, and now that I'm looking at it from a fresh angle the premise seems more like science fiction in a semi-post-apocalyptic (or post-singularity?) world. I'll have to see where I can go with that.
2nd-May-2011 09:28 pm - Sources, sources! ARGH!
French dragoon
antoin might be happy to hear that, after poking through a few of the old stuff in my personal library, I finally ran across the text that contained the assertion I remembered about the early use of rank rotation by 16th-century Spanish forces in order to deliver sustained fire on the battlefield. The work turned out to be an absolute classic: The Art of War in Italy, 1494-1528 by F.L. Taylor. While I feel that this essay from the 1920s places a little too much emphasis on the "new" developments during the Italian Wars and not enough on the obvious continuities between those developments and the trends that had been going on in medieval European warfare since at least the 14th century (all right, it does mention these continuities and stresses them several times, but not quite enough in my opinion), it still provides a decent general overview of how the turmoil in Italy became the melting pot that catalyzed the rapid development of European military science during the early Renaissance, so I wouldn't hesitate to recommend it as an introductory text to people who are not (yet) familiar with this particular corner of military history--especially now that I've found that the Internet Archive has a free version available online.

Anyway, Taylor mentioned that the Spanish arquebusiers at Bicocca (1522) was instructed by the Marquis of Pescara to the effect that "each rank was to shoot in turn and to reload in a kneeling posture in order to leave a clear field of fire for the ranks behind." The footnote to this statement says "Giovio, Vita Marchionis Piscariae, bk.ii," which refers to one of Paolo Giovio's biographies of the notable men of his times. More interestingly, he mentions a few pages earlier that "At Marignano [1515] the French aquebusiers and crossbowmen developed a continuous and formidable volume of fire by discharging their weapons in rotation," and gives his source for this as "Giovio, Istorie, bk.xv"--obviously pointing to Giovio's most famous work, the Historiarum sui temporis, or rather the 1581 translation into Italian (from the original Latin). Google books seems to have several of Giovio's works but I'll be damned if they're not awkward to look through and I haven't attempted to peer very deep into any of them in search of the passages cited in Taylor's essay. Somebody with more patience (and not so many other things to do) might have better luck at it. (Edited to add: MDZ has scanned editions, too. Shiny.)

Another big bonus I got from revisiting Taylor was an identification of the Philip of Cleves whose military manual I've been looking for rather futilely all this time. Now I have the title of the work--L'Instruction de toutes manières de guerroyer tant par terre que par mer et des choses y servantes--and information on some relatively recent reprints, but here again I ended up finding that even those reprints have gone out of print too! Argh. I didn't even say anything about an English translation since there simply doesn't seem to be any except for partial passages quoted in essays and articles that touch on one of the subjects dealt with in the rather comprehensive manual (come on, you can say just by looking at the title that it probably even has chapters dealing with largely non-military stuff!).

(Note: there's a tantalizing link to what may be a Google Books edition of Philip of Cleves's manual, but I haven't checked it out because my connection got screwed up and the page failed to load the last time around. Maybe another day.) (Edit: Oh dear. It is the manual. And the language is nowhere near as inaccessible as I had feared. Must. Download. NOW.)
21st-Apr-2011 12:24 pm(no subject)
medieval merchant
Have I mentioned a paper about the sword industry in a Sudanese town? While the sword production there (as of the 1980s, when the paper was written) was rather less industrialized than what you'd expect for a major medieval sword production centre in, say, China or Western Europe, there are some interesting parallels like the development of a division of labour between craftsmen who made different parts of the sword, the variation in quality between different workshops, and the export-oriented sale/distribution system.
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