The quality of the various elite troops in history

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Re: The quality of the various elite troops in history

Post by Zinegata » 2012-09-16 10:46pm

PainRack wrote:Merill's Marauders aren't shock troops.
Actually, I specifically said Merill's Marauders do show they were an elite unit:
My further point is that a truly elite unit needs to have sound leadership. PDH was an example of very brave troops attacking a non-objective thanks to unsound leadership; who proceeded to attack despite knowing it was already a non-objective. That's not the actions of an "elite" unit. Merill's Marauders by contrast do show it by having excellent troops AND a sound a leader.
I'm not denying that some Rangers did well. I'm saying they overblew their reputation despite having marginal performance overall (which Skimmer points out may be an employment issue - fair enough).

====

Also, while the thread is taking a collective deep breath, the German General who said US troops "benefitted more from their experiences than the British" was actually Rommel, not Bayerlein, and he's quoted in Ambrose's Citizen Soldiers page 66.

Because again, sorry, but sometimes I miss citation requests :).

====

Finally, as for other elite units.... I was actually wondering about the Persian Immortals: Good troops, or just had the misfortune of facing the most war-obsessed Greeks and having their story told by less than-reliable Greek historians? :P

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Re: The quality of the various elite troops in history

Post by Thanas » 2012-09-17 01:50am

The persian immortals fought by all accounts very well but there really is nothing you can do against heavily armored enemies whose spears are about 1-2m longer than you. So, they had the misfortune to run into people with better weapons.
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Re: The quality of the various elite troops in history

Post by PeZook » 2012-09-17 02:32am

Not really "better", though. The immortals were a formation for a very different kind of warfare in very different terrain.Had the Persians ever run into such extremely heavy infantry before?
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Re: The quality of the various elite troops in history

Post by ray245 » 2012-09-17 03:02am

Well, the Persians have a history of hiring Greek Mercenaries, so I do not think that they are unfamiliar with Greek Hoplites.
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Re: The quality of the various elite troops in history

Post by PeZook » 2012-09-17 03:10am

ray245 wrote:Well, the Persians have a history of hiring Greek Mercenaries, so I do not think that they are unfamiliar with Greek Hoplites.
They obviously drew the wrong conclusions, then :D
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Re: The quality of the various elite troops in history

Post by folti78 » 2012-09-17 04:19am

ray245 wrote:Well, the Persians have a history of hiring Greek Mercenaries, so I do not think that they are unfamiliar with Greek Hoplites.
Wasn't that practice started after the Greco-Persian wars? Although the Persians conquered the Greek cities in Asia Minor before...

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Re: The quality of the various elite troops in history

Post by Zinegata » 2012-09-17 05:47am

From what I recall Greek mercenaries only become common around the time of the Pelopponesian Wars, which is well after Thermopylae.

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Re: The quality of the various elite troops in history

Post by LaCroix » 2012-09-17 10:01am

Not to forget the tactical superior position.
Was this a first in history that people used terrain that effectively? Or was it more like Agincourt? "Our masses will simply squish them..."
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Re: The quality of the various elite troops in history

Post by Thanas » 2012-09-17 01:20pm

PeZook wrote:Not really "better", though. The immortals were a formation for a very different kind of warfare in very different terrain.Had the Persians ever run into such extremely heavy infantry before?
No. They had encountered massed spearmen formation in Egypt and the Levante, but had been able to deal with them due to superior tactical mobility and mass ranged weapon attacks. They probably thought they could deal with the Phalanx in the same way, but the greek geography dealt with that. It is also hard to fault them for Thermopylae even though they had been defeated at marathon before considering that Marathon was a battle forced on to them and that they had not expected the greek run at them which nullified their missile troops - and until then they had owned the greeks by archery and mobility in battle.

Note that they performed much better when they were able to fight on their terms in the subsequent greek counterinvasions and eventually in the successful campaigns to reclaim the greek ionian cities.

PeZook wrote:
ray245 wrote:Well, the Persians have a history of hiring Greek Mercenaries, so I do not think that they are unfamiliar with Greek Hoplites.
They obviously drew the wrong conclusions, then :D
Not really seeing as they only started hiring mercenaries after the failure of their invasions and incorporated them very well.

LaCroix wrote:Not to forget the tactical superior position.
Was this a first in history that people used terrain that effectively? Or was it more like Agincourt? "Our masses will simply squish them..."
No, terrain was always used effectively by people in history. Just look at where cities tend to be founded.
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Re: The quality of the various elite troops in history

Post by Shawn » 2012-09-17 02:22pm

Any thoughts about a comparison between Napoleon’s Imperial Guard (The Old Guard) and the British Guards?

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Re: The quality of the various elite troops in history

Post by Thanas » 2012-09-17 03:00pm

It clearly has to be the Imperial Guard. They only broke once, and even when they did they still managed to perform the greatest feat of arms of all units, both French and Allied, at waterloo.
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Re: The quality of the various elite troops in history

Post by Shawn » 2012-09-17 04:05pm

Thanas wrote:It clearly has to be the Imperial Guard. They only broke once, and even when they did they still managed to perform the greatest feat of arms of all units, both French and Allied, at waterloo.
You are correct with regards to the withdraw of the Old Guard. The Middle Guard having been repulsed by Wellington. My Napoleonic knowledge is lacking, can anyone tell me if the Old Guard ever failed to achieve its objective when committed to battle?

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Re: The quality of the various elite troops in history

Post by Thanas » 2012-09-17 04:15pm

This one has a good summary with several other links and articles.
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Re: The quality of the various elite troops in history

Post by PainRack » 2012-09-18 03:42am

Simon_Jester wrote:Does anyone still have any desire to talk about ANY elite unit in the history of civilization EXCEPT the US Army Rangers? Because this has gotten really tiresome, dull, and obtuse as a subject of conversation.
Here's one. The Beiyang Army of the Qing Dynasty.
Its prior incarnation as the WuWei troops fought the Eight allied nations during the Boxer revolution.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wuwei_Troop


They were "elite".... purely because unlike the then defunct 8 Banner Army, they were trained by German advisors and fought as "modern" infantry. Now these, we can safely bash about their "elite" status.

Alternatively, we could discuss Chiang Kai Shek "elite" units, the german trained divisions that fought in the Battle of Shanghai.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_of_ ... _appraisal

Their poor equipment status aside, they actually did fight pretty well against impressive odds.
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Re: The quality of the various elite troops in history

Post by PeZook » 2012-09-18 03:51am

Thanas wrote: No. They had encountered massed spearmen formation in Egypt and the Levante, but had been able to deal with them due to superior tactical mobility and mass ranged weapon attacks. They probably thought they could deal with the Phalanx in the same way, but the greek geography dealt with that. It is also hard to fault them for Thermopylae even though they had been defeated at marathon before considering that Marathon was a battle forced on to them and that they had not expected the greek run at them which nullified their missile troops - and until then they had owned the greeks by archery and mobility in battle.

Note that they performed much better when they were able to fight on their terms in the subsequent greek counterinvasions and eventually in the successful campaigns to reclaim the greek ionian cities.
Yeah, I figured that the Immortals were a formation that lasted just too long to really be and overblown unit with a poor track record, and their equipment seemed well suited to the more open terrain which dominated much of the Persian Empire. Greece proper was really a very unique situation which played to all the hoplite's strengths, wasn't it?

Although later on the phalanx became pretty much the mainstream, with Alexander conquering half the world with it, and then pike and shot becoming the dominant formation during the reneissance...
Not really seeing as they only started hiring mercenaries after the failure of their invasions and incorporated them very well.
Well, that's why I said "if", I had no idea when greek mercenaries became a thing for the Persians ;)
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Re: The quality of the various elite troops in history

Post by Thanas » 2012-09-18 10:58am

PeZook wrote:Yeah, I figured that the Immortals were a formation that lasted just too long to really be and overblown unit with a poor track record, and their equipment seemed well suited to the more open terrain which dominated much of the Persian Empire. Greece proper was really a very unique situation which played to all the hoplite's strengths, wasn't it?

Although later on the phalanx became pretty much the mainstream, with Alexander conquering half the world with it, and then pike and shot becoming the dominant formation during the reneissance...
Well, it is a really interesting unit cycle. The Persians focus on somewhat combined arms formation of archers and spear-armed mobile infantrymen with cavalry. Enter the greek phalanx. Then Alexander, who combines his less-armored phalanx (but with longer spears) with archers and cavalry. This combination is then in turn eventually defeated by the Roman legion, which is once again a combined arms formation of archers and spear-armed infantry.

Technology and training really can make one type of unit either elite or - 300 years later - a relic of the past.
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Re: The quality of the various elite troops in history

Post by Falkenhayn » 2012-09-18 02:00pm

PainRack wrote:
Here's one. The Beiyang Army of the Qing Dynasty.
Its prior incarnation as the WuWei troops fought the Eight allied nations during the Boxer revolution.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wuwei_Troop


They were "elite".... purely because unlike the then defunct 8 Banner Army, they were trained by German advisors and fought as "modern" infantry. Now these, we can safely bash about their "elite" status.

Alternatively, we could discuss Chiang Kai Shek "elite" units, the german trained divisions that fought in the Battle of Shanghai.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_of_ ... _appraisal

Their poor equipment status aside, they actually did fight pretty well against impressive odds.
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Re: The quality of the various elite troops in history

Post by PeZook » 2012-09-19 04:41am

Thanas wrote: Well, it is a really interesting unit cycle. The Persians focus on somewhat combined arms formation of archers and spear-armed mobile infantrymen with cavalry. Enter the greek phalanx. Then Alexander, who combines his less-armored phalanx (but with longer spears) with archers and cavalry. This combination is then in turn eventually defeated by the Roman legion, which is once again a combined arms formation of archers and spear-armed infantry.
I wonder if it's not due to the fact combined arms in the classical age was very difficult to pull off and required very well trained troops and NCOs, while the phalanx was engineered in a way that necessitated a brilliant commander to employ well, but could use troops with much less training and initative. So in the close terrain of Greece it was close to ideal, not so much in more open terrain unless properly supported and well led.

Its weakness against a well-balanced army could've been offset by the proliferation of ranged weapons (crossbows, later muskets and of course supporting artillery) which made it difficult to outmaneuver a pike-and-shot formation with infantry and close to sword/spear range, because you'd be under fire the whole time - and cavalry would be of course countered by the spearmen.

That's just idle speculation though, and of course one phalanx is not equal to another - training could make a huge difference even if the basic formation worked well enough even with mediocre soldiers. Then there's questions of logistics, political issues...it was actually pretty rare for a nation to use wrong tools and troops for the job because of stupidity, rather than concrete reasons, wasn't it?
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Re: The quality of the various elite troops in history

Post by Thanas » 2012-09-19 04:50am

Yeah.

However the concept of a phalanx being "easier" to train for is IMO not a valid one. Consider just how much of an effort it would take to keep marching ln line, and that many Phalanxes post-Phillipp were essentially combined arms formation as well I think that they were very hard trainers.
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Re: The quality of the various elite troops in history

Post by PeZook » 2012-09-19 05:08am

Thanas wrote:Yeah.

However the concept of a phalanx being "easier" to train for is IMO not a valid one. Consider just how much of an effort it would take to keep marching ln line, and that many Phalanxes post-Phillipp were essentially combined arms formation as well I think that they were very hard trainers.
Yes, it took a lot of fitness, strength and endurance to stand in a phalanx, but as far as initiative and command went, it was far less complex than the decentralized system the Romans used, with actual NCOs responsible for front-line command, complex signalling, standards et al. And that was okay, since once it started to advance, the very design of a (Greek) phalanx made it difficult or even impossible to reorient or stop. The added bonus was that you didn't need a cadre of professional NCOs to form your army, which would've been difficult for greek cities to maintain.

Of course the Greek and Macedonian models weren't exactly alike, so maybe it was the added quality of the macedonian soldiers who allowed alexander to employ the phalanx to such an incredibly succesful extent. Reneissance pikemen were often well-trained, too. I guess it's just not that simple.
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Re: The quality of the various elite troops in history

Post by Thanas » 2012-09-19 05:41am

PeZook wrote:
Thanas wrote:Yeah.

However the concept of a phalanx being "easier" to train for is IMO not a valid one. Consider just how much of an effort it would take to keep marching ln line, and that many Phalanxes post-Phillipp were essentially combined arms formation as well I think that they were very hard trainers.
Yes, it took a lot of fitness, strength and endurance to stand in a phalanx, but as far as initiative and command went, it was far less complex than the decentralized system the Romans used, with actual NCOs responsible for front-line command, complex signalling, standards et al. And that was okay, since once it started to advance, the very design of a (Greek) phalanx made it difficult or even impossible to reorient or stop. The added bonus was that you didn't need a cadre of professional NCOs to form your army, which would've been difficult for greek cities to maintain.
You are still thinking of the Phalanx of the Greek city states predominantly. But the Phalanx post-Phillipp II was an incredibly complex arrangement, easily rivaling the Roman legion in complexity.
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Re: The quality of the various elite troops in history

Post by PeZook » 2012-09-19 05:57am

Thanas wrote: You are still thinking of the Phalanx of the Greek city states predominantly. But the Phalanx post-Phillipp II was an incredibly complex arrangement, easily rivaling the Roman legion in complexity.
Well, my point is that the phalanx can work very well even with mediocre troops, but naturally better trained professionals will dominate half-timing citizen-soldiers, even if for no other reason than because they will be able to overcome a lot of the disadvantages of the phalanx via drill. But if you want a more flexible formation like the legion, drill and training becomes absolutely critical for even basic effectiveness since you're not counting on the sheer momentum of the formation to carry the advance. So discipline becomes critical for survival, and systemic lapses in training quality become much more damaging.

I guess more refined equipment helped Alexander a lot (longer spear, less armor = better reach and less tiring march and advance), as did the fact the Macedonians were professionals and working closely with other formations. And if it truly was as complex as the legion, the cumbersomeness of the greek model would've been vastly reduced,too.

EDIT: On further thought, you're probably right that getting the soldiers in a phalanx to advance in line and not break up their formation took a decent amount of drill. I seem to recall the formation breaking up was a huge problem when the Macedonians had to face Roman troops.
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Re: The quality of the various elite troops in history

Post by Simon_Jester » 2012-09-19 06:21am

Speculation:

Could we say in general that the phalanx is highly sensitive to unit 'quality' in terms of training, soldier motivation, and so on? That could do a lot to explain why similarly equipped phalanxes performed so differently at different times and places. When everything is done right they dominate ancient warfare, when not everything is done right they become relatively easy to break up and defeat, especially by someone who's better at organizing a phalanx and taking advantage of their auxiliaries (like cavalry and archers).
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Re: The quality of the various elite troops in history

Post by Thanas » 2012-09-19 06:22am

The thing is though that the Makedonian phalanx is not just spears. They also had missile troops, slingers, cavalry detachements as well as heavily armored spearmen comparable to the triarii to plug lines or act as mobile shock troops all integrated.
Simon_Jester wrote: Could we say in general that the phalanx is highly sensitive to unit 'quality' in terms of training, soldier motivation, and so on?
No.

If anything the Phalanx is most sensitive to terrain.
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Re: The quality of the various elite troops in history

Post by PeZook » 2012-09-19 06:34am

Thanas wrote:The thing is though that the Makedonian phalanx is not just spears. They also had missile troops, slingers, cavalry detachements as well as heavily armored spearmen comparable to the triarii to plug lines or act as mobile shock troops all integrated.
Yeah, it does sound like an attempt to address the worst inherent disadvantages of the formation itself: drill them extensively to make them more responsive, add other formations to screen and cover the flanks and gaps that form in the line, etc.

So it's a very sensible evolution of the concept, later taken and refined again when ranged weapons became deadly and easy to use enough.
Simon_Jester wrote: Could we say in general that the phalanx is highly sensitive to unit 'quality' in terms of training, soldier motivation, and so on?
I think the entire point why it was used so extensively in Greece is because it isn't and can be formed to an adequate standard of quality from part-time citizen soldiers, and the terrain in Greece would often make maneuver and flanking difficult.

I mean, see the Spartan performance against Athens in the Peloponesian Wars - the quality of and training of their troops was not enough to allow Sparta to decisively crush Athenian part-timers. On the other hand, Macedonian professionals with better equipment and doctrine subjugated Greece with relative ease.
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JULY 20TH 1969 - The day the entire world was looking up

It suddenly struck me that that tiny pea, pretty and blue, was the Earth. I put up my thumb and shut one eye, and my thumb blotted out the planet Earth. I didn't feel like a giant. I felt very, very small.
- NEIL ARMSTRONG, MISSION COMMANDER, APOLLO 11

Signature dedicated to the greatest achievement of mankind.

MILDLY DERANGED PHYSICIST does not mind BREAKING the SOUND BARRIER, because it is INSURED. - Simon_Jester considering the problems of hypersonic flight for Team L.A.M.E.

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