Optimal size for a soldier?

SF: discuss futuristic sci-fi series, ideas, and crossovers.

Moderator: NecronLord

User avatar
Batman
Emperor's Hand
Posts: 15635
Joined: 2002-07-09 04:51am
Location: 'Very' mildly hopeful now DC recognized taking Clark's red trunks away was a bad idea
Contact:

Re: Optimal size for a soldier?

Post by Batman » 2020-09-28 05:03pm

Depends on the setting. For modern urban combat, sure, but that's a relatively recent development. Medieval/Fantasy field battles where both sides meet each other in the open and everybody else more or less grudgingly accepts the winner is now in charge this might work.
'Next time I let Superman take charge, just hit me. Real hard.'
'You're a princess from a society of immortal warriors. I'm a rich kid with issues. Lots of issues.'
'No. No dating for the Batman. It might cut into your brooding time.'
'Tactically we have multiple objectives. So we need to split into teams.'-'Dibs on the Amazon!'
'Hey, we both have a Martian's phone number on our speed dial. I think I deserve the benefit of the doubt.'
'You know, for a guy with like 50 different kinds of vision, you sure are blind.'

Simon_Jester
Emperor's Hand
Posts: 30158
Joined: 2009-05-23 07:29pm

Re: Optimal size for a soldier?

Post by Simon_Jester » 2020-09-29 07:01pm

KraytKing wrote:
2020-09-27 01:19pm
Ah, maybe not THAT small. I was thinking more along the lines that a shield wall of powerfully built, four foot tall heavy infantry is going to be better at absorbing the impact of a cavalry charge. One on one, the shortness isn't going to be significant, as you say. Lower center of gravity, however, makes for an opponent more difficult to topple.
Horses aren't battering rams. Cavalry charges are dangerous for a variety of reasons, but "human beings are too easy to push over" isn't really one of them. IN THEORY I dunno, there might be some marginal advantage if you could build a four foot tall human who's just ridiculously squat, with roughly human-length arms and human-thick muscles and just a more compact torso... but the shorter legs mean less operational mobility from marching.

Besides, if you have the level of bio-engineering it takes to create something as strong as a typical adult human, with the reach of that adult human, while being only four feet tall... You have enough bio-engineering skill to turn an army of normal-sized men into an army of Captain Americas, at which point you win at medieval warfare with little difficulty and don't need to bother trying to redesign your soldiers' entire anatomy for tiny situational incremental bonuses.

[Recommended reading: acoup.blog , a blog by a classical historian who's made a lot of study of the realities of pre-modern warfare. Especially relevant for things like the biomechanics of formation fighting and the role played by armor]
This space dedicated to Vasily Arkhipov

User avatar
Lord Revan
Emperor's Hand
Posts: 11400
Joined: 2004-05-20 02:23pm
Location: Zone:classified

Re: Optimal size for a soldier?

Post by Lord Revan » 2020-09-29 09:50pm

Batman wrote:
2020-09-28 05:03pm
Depends on the setting. For modern urban combat, sure, but that's a relatively recent development. Medieval/Fantasy field battles where both sides meet each other in the open and everybody else more or less grudgingly accepts the winner is now in charge this might work.
Weren't most medieval battles sieges though? With a siege the issue with structure size again comes into play if you can't or don't want to just wait for the enemy to surrender.
I may be an idiot, but I'm a tolerated idiot
"I think you completely missed the point of sigs. They're supposed to be completely homegrown in the fertile hydroponics lab of your mind, dried in your closet, rolled, and smoked...
Oh wait, that's marijuana..."Einhander Sn0m4n

User avatar
Batman
Emperor's Hand
Posts: 15635
Joined: 2002-07-09 04:51am
Location: 'Very' mildly hopeful now DC recognized taking Clark's red trunks away was a bad idea
Contact:

Re: Optimal size for a soldier?

Post by Batman » 2020-09-29 10:37pm

Isn't the whole point of a siege you're waiting fore the besieged party to surrender?
'Next time I let Superman take charge, just hit me. Real hard.'
'You're a princess from a society of immortal warriors. I'm a rich kid with issues. Lots of issues.'
'No. No dating for the Batman. It might cut into your brooding time.'
'Tactically we have multiple objectives. So we need to split into teams.'-'Dibs on the Amazon!'
'Hey, we both have a Martian's phone number on our speed dial. I think I deserve the benefit of the doubt.'
'You know, for a guy with like 50 different kinds of vision, you sure are blind.'

User avatar
Gunhead
Jedi Council Member
Posts: 1695
Joined: 2004-11-15 08:08am

Re: Optimal size for a soldier?

Post by Gunhead » 2020-09-30 10:31am

Batman wrote:
2020-09-29 10:37pm
Isn't the whole point of a siege you're waiting fore the besieged party to surrender?
Its not that simple in reality. Yes, once a siege is established, you're trying to starve the defenders into submission. In reality though, you want to avoid laying a siege thus you often see terms being offered to the city / castle etc. Sieges are grueling to the attacker as well thus if the city / castle accepts terms, they do so to avoid rampant pillagin, rape, looting and so on which will follow if the city falls after the siege has been going on for some time.

-Gunhead
"In the absence of orders, go find something and kill it."
-Generalfeldmarschall Erwin Rommel

"And if you don't wanna feel like a putz
Collect the clues and connect the dots
You'll see the pattern that is bursting your bubble, and it's Bad" -The Hives

User avatar
Esquire
Jedi Council Member
Posts: 1560
Joined: 2011-11-16 11:20pm

Re: Optimal size for a soldier?

Post by Esquire » 2020-09-30 10:38am

As I recall, besieged cities and castles traditionally get one chance to surrender when the enemy army shows up, one when they're fully invested, and one when the first breach is made in the wall; if you actually make the besiegers assault you, sorry, you had your chance.
“Heroes are heroes because they are heroic in behavior, not because they won or lost.” Nassim Nicholas Taleb

User avatar
madd0ct0r
Sith Acolyte
Posts: 6230
Joined: 2008-03-14 07:47am

Re: Optimal size for a soldier?

Post by madd0ct0r » 2020-09-30 12:29pm

I was thinking about the scenario of where one force has a population of far far larger - sarupods Vs mice or humans Vs banna slugs. I guess in those cases the size diff is so large it does not impact on soldier choice. (But might on drone size to engage the smaller ones on their home turf.

There is a real world analogy. Usa soldiers forming tunnelrat brigades when faced with Vietcong tunnels.
"Aid, trade, green technology and peace." - Hans Rosling.
"Welcome to SDN, where we can't see the forest because walking into trees repeatedly feels good, bro." - Mr Coffee

User avatar
The_Saint
Jedi Knight
Posts: 700
Joined: 2007-05-05 04:13am
Location: Under Down Under

Re: Optimal size for a soldier?

Post by The_Saint » 2020-10-07 08:00am

Sky Captain wrote:
2020-09-25 03:02pm
I suspect in a pre industrial setting soldiers of different sizes would be more useful than after industrial revolution when war become more mechanized and involved much greater logistical trail to support army in a field. Equipment optimized for say 120cm soldiers would be poorly suited or even unusable for normal size humans making logistics more complex. A tank optimized for 120 cm crew may be slightly smaller presenting a little less target profile and that's it probably fairly marginal advantage at a cost of more complicated logistics requiring highly special crew.
You might appreciate the WW1 tale of a British division called the 'Bantams'. To join this division you had to be shorter than 5' 3" (the then minimum accepted size of British soldier) and averaged less than 5' 0", this unit was withdrawn from the frontline for R&R and replaced by an Australian division.
As it so happens Australian soldiers of WW1 were on the taller side at an average of 5' 10 and a half". The Australians found themselves perilously taller than their trenches (supposed to be tall enough that you can walk upright in and still be below the top) so they dug the trenches deeper. When the Australians were withdrawn from the line guess which unit fronted up again to take over and found themselves unable to peer over the top of the trench........
All people are equal but some people are more equal than others.

Sky Captain
Jedi Master
Posts: 1259
Joined: 2008-11-14 12:47pm
Location: Latvia

Re: Optimal size for a soldier?

Post by Sky Captain » 2020-10-11 04:32am

The_Saint wrote:
2020-10-07 08:00am
Sky Captain wrote:
2020-09-25 03:02pm
I suspect in a pre industrial setting soldiers of different sizes would be more useful than after industrial revolution when war become more mechanized and involved much greater logistical trail to support army in a field. Equipment optimized for say 120cm soldiers would be poorly suited or even unusable for normal size humans making logistics more complex. A tank optimized for 120 cm crew may be slightly smaller presenting a little less target profile and that's it probably fairly marginal advantage at a cost of more complicated logistics requiring highly special crew.
You might appreciate the WW1 tale of a British division called the 'Bantams'. To join this division you had to be shorter than 5' 3" (the then minimum accepted size of British soldier) and averaged less than 5' 0", this unit was withdrawn from the frontline for R&R and replaced by an Australian division.
As it so happens Australian soldiers of WW1 were on the taller side at an average of 5' 10 and a half". The Australians found themselves perilously taller than their trenches (supposed to be tall enough that you can walk upright in and still be below the top) so they dug the trenches deeper. When the Australians were withdrawn from the line guess which unit fronted up again to take over and found themselves unable to peer over the top of the trench........
Well, that just shows how in an industrial warfare soldiers of too much different sizes would be more of a liability than an asset. That's why if this premise has a chance to work it is in preindustrial or even pre gunpowder age where physical strength were far more important.

I think if you had ability to make soldiers physically stronger while maintaining the average human size it would be advantageous in every situation. While in modern warfare soldiers are not supposed to engage enemy in hand to hand combat lugging around all the equipment, fixing broken down vehicles, building makeshift fortifications require a lot of muscle strength and endurance so if you could boost those two it would give some advantage.

User avatar
Vendetta
Emperor's Hand
Posts: 10836
Joined: 2002-07-07 04:57pm
Location: Sheffield, UK

Re: Optimal size for a soldier?

Post by Vendetta » 2020-10-11 05:21am

Simon_Jester wrote:
2020-09-26 06:28pm
Not necessarily. Operating a tank (and maintaining your tank) requires you to do things like remove bolts, lift up big steel hatches, push controls and operate mechanisms that may get stuck. A certain amount of grunt to handle the machinery becomes kind of a necessity when you're working with a tank that weighs dozens of tons.

It's probably possible to deal with this kind of constraint from an engineering standpoint, mind you- but it's not trivial. For example, can your three foot tall loader load 120mm artillery rounds into a tank, when the rounds probably weigh more than he does? Likely not.

Look up a Youtube channel called "The Chieftain," and look for some of the "Inside the Hatch" videos he does; you'll get a good exposure to the practical human aspects of operating various WWII (mostly WWII) tanks. This includes a lot of stuff people often don't think of when superficially considering warfare, like "do people have enough room to sit in a reasonably comfortable position and work smoothly" and "will you be able to get out if the tank is on fire" and "how much of a pain in the ass is it to maintain this feature?" It turns out that these factors can have a lot to do with how well a tank performs, as much or more than things like how much armor plate the tank carries. After all, getting in the first shot because your tank commander could concentrate on spotting the enemy and coordinating the tank's movements often means you don't have to try to withstand the enemy's first shot.
On the other hand, and you'll also see this from Nick's channel, tankers did tend to be on the smaller side because one of the main things you had to do to operate a tank was fit in the tank, and the multiple demands of protection and weight of the vehicle often didn't leave a lot of room inside. Nick is 6'1"-6'2" or so and has a lot of trouble fitting in some WW2 tanks (especially Russian ones, which were very cramped due to the sloping armour).

(Remember as well that many tank round are not single element, projectile and charge are loaded separately which means that the overall mass is lower than you'd expect, and short guys can pack on a lot more muscle and stay small enough to fit in a tank, look at the lower weight classes of powerlifter and you'll see a lot of 5' or so guys)

User avatar
Broomstick
Emperor's Hand
Posts: 27113
Joined: 2004-01-02 07:04pm
Location: Industrial armpit of the US Midwest
Contact:

Re: Optimal size for a soldier?

Post by Broomstick » 2020-10-11 03:05pm

Roles during WWII that favored smaller guys were
- submarines
- aircraft, particularly tailgunners but no WWII aircraft (and I've sat in a few) had extra elbow room.
- tanks

Is any of that important today? Well... there's both a height minimum and maximum for aircraft pilots. Don't know about tanks. Modern submarines, particularly nuclear ones, are more roomy these days.
A life is like a garden. Perfect moments can be had, but not preserved, except in memory. Leonard Nimoy.

Now I did a job. I got nothing but trouble since I did it, not to mention more than a few unkind words as regard to my character so let me make this abundantly clear. I do the job. And then I get paid.- Malcolm Reynolds, Captain of Serenity, which sums up my feelings regarding the lawsuit discussed here.

If a free society cannot help the many who are poor, it cannot save the few who are rich. - John F. Kennedy

Sam Vimes Theory of Economic Injustice

User avatar
Gunhead
Jedi Council Member
Posts: 1695
Joined: 2004-11-15 08:08am

Re: Optimal size for a soldier?

Post by Gunhead » 2020-10-11 03:43pm

Selecting smaller people to serve as tank crewmen was a totally reactionary decision by the russians to offset the cramped fighting compartment on T34 tanks which was a problem identified by the russians but rectifying it would have required a total redesign of the tank and this wasn't considered an option to keep factories cranking out tanks for the war. These days tanks are massively bigger and unless you're exceptionally tall or small, you can operate in any crew position effectively.
No modern MBT that has manual loading uses two piece ammunition, as far as I can remember anyway. Even in WW2 this was comparatively rare, usually done if the gun already used separate projectile like the D-25 cannon which was for all points and purposes an artillery piece stuck inside a turret. Other examples would include some of the assault guns which also had an indirect role where the ability to control the charge was a desirable trait.

-Gunhead
"In the absence of orders, go find something and kill it."
-Generalfeldmarschall Erwin Rommel

"And if you don't wanna feel like a putz
Collect the clues and connect the dots
You'll see the pattern that is bursting your bubble, and it's Bad" -The Hives

User avatar
Lord Revan
Emperor's Hand
Posts: 11400
Joined: 2004-05-20 02:23pm
Location: Zone:classified

Re: Optimal size for a soldier?

Post by Lord Revan » 2020-10-11 04:04pm

I should be noted that modern tanks do have max height at least for certain roles if The chieftain is to be believed, he said he was technically too tall for his role, though the fact he still served in that role and in 2 different armies suggest it's not that strict of a rule.
I may be an idiot, but I'm a tolerated idiot
"I think you completely missed the point of sigs. They're supposed to be completely homegrown in the fertile hydroponics lab of your mind, dried in your closet, rolled, and smoked...
Oh wait, that's marijuana..."Einhander Sn0m4n

User avatar
The_Saint
Jedi Knight
Posts: 700
Joined: 2007-05-05 04:13am
Location: Under Down Under

Re: Optimal size for a soldier?

Post by The_Saint » 2020-10-12 12:43am

I can't remember which jet fighter had the apocryphal story that any pilot over a certain height had the risk of losing their legs during an ejection.

There is this lovely document from the USA military that discusses aircrew physical limitations:.
All people are equal but some people are more equal than others.

Post Reply