Tom bayonets......a response

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Posted by Bill Rooks on December 31, 1997 at 13:23:15:

In Reply to: Re: Bayonets posted by Tom Kilbane on December 30, 1997 at 21:59:50:



Wow! Good response. LONG response! I did invite other opinions
and you certainly have provided a knowlegeable response! Obviously you have thought about this some, and are a student of tactics and history.

I dont disagree with the historical facts quoted, nor the overall
gist of your comments as I understand them. Namely, DISCIPLINE is the key. And training. However I do disagree that an irregular force is necessarily an undisciplined rabble or mob. And I do disagree that an army made up of largely irregulars cannot defeat a conventional army of even greater numbers. And finally, though not a disagreement, I make some observations about close in fighting.

You mentioned the Zulus. Funny, I was thinking about your post today while running errands and missed that mention the first time around, but was thinking of the Zulus also. It is true that
at Rourke's Drift (I believe) the British forces withstood charge
after charge. However, to call the Zulus undiscipline (you did not but the implication is there) is totally wrong. They were among the most disciplined and well trained native armies in the world. Their tactics were refined and successful and well thought out. They considered the ground fought on, and modified tactics accordingly or forced the confrontation on ground of their chooosing. And always...always...their attacks were well disciplined and devastating. That the British eventually came to
a stalemate at Rourke's Drift is not so much the effectiveness of
the bayonet as a statement of their courage and the fact that they fought from behind walls with rifles. And, a force which has no choice but to slug it out or die fights very well indeed!!
On the other hand, at Isandwalna (spelling again?) the British
were overwhelmed and defeated. Slaughtered in fact. It was one
of the very worst defeats they had ever suffered. And THAT was the British rear echelon and supply base. Coincidence? Nope.
Discipline and training and the bayonet and rifle in that case could not stem the tide of determined, disciplined and coordinated irregular forces.

Take another more painful case. Vietnam. Been there and done that. They won. The forces we opposed were almost totally irregular forces in the south. We won EVERY significant battle but lost the war. Why? Sure politics at home and the lack of the will to win had a lot to do with it. But in-country we did not know or care about that crap on a day to day basis. We only knew that an irregular force was driving us nuts. We were not trained to fight them as they chose to fight us. Was that unfair of them? Nope. They knew they could never defeat the strongest Army in the world conventionally or compete with our industrial capacity and GNP. So instead of hitting us head on and inflicting a great and mortal wound in one blow.....they whittled
away at us and we bled to death from a thousand little cuts. Were they an undisciplined mob? Not at all. They were disciplined, determined and ruthless. And by the way....all our training notwithstanding......all our technology notwithstanding...when they got in amongst us training and discipline went out the window. It was a damn free-for-all and a
slug fest. Were it not for such things a Spooky and air superiority....breaking the back of the attack....our forces would have been overrun many more times than we were. And once they got through the wire....there was no coordination or plan.
It was just a damn brawl. Discipline kept us from running...but
that was the ONLY discipline. Once it becomes those becomes madness and rage. Trust me. It is so.

Now....on to LOTM and the F&I war. In the movie the two ambushes
are clearly coordinated attacks. Magua and company were NOT an undisciplined rabble by any means. They waited for their moment WITH DISCIPLINE and closed from two sides. Got in amongst them. And it became a confused brawl. For those in the ranks affected
discipline kept them from running....but let me tell you for each and every British soldier it was a VERY PERSONAL and individual struggle. One filled with terror, confusion, and individual horror. I would be willing to bet that in those moments not ONE
was thinking of regimental pride or God and Country. It was survival. Individual survival. In the purest form. I know. Been there and done that.

What would I prefer to have in such a moment? Back then it would
have been shock, surprise the tomahawk and knife. Not some unwieldy long Brown Bess. Standard bayonet tactics sort of become forgotten and useless at such moments. And I can tell you
though it is not a completely relevant 1966-68 there were times I wished I did NOT have a plastic M16 but longed for my old, heavy M14. Because it became a moment when a good
club or knife was what was most useful. Funny thing about an M16....for all its nice rate of fire and the fact that more ammo can be carried per pound, and the nice way the bullet tumbles in
flesh making a devestating wound.....when you smack someone upside the head with the breaks and the recoil spring and plastic bits and pieces go flying. Good for only one such use ya know?

So to the point. The native and irregular forces, used properly and with discipline, can be extremely useful and even determine the outcome of a battle. Even, when used over the long haul,
wear down the will of a nation at home (Britain during the American Revolution and the US during Vietnam) and bleed an army to death with a thousand little cuts on the field. It was as much the loss of will at home in Britain, and the ongoing cost,
that defeated the British during our revolution. Yes we formed
conventional battalions and fought them in the European way, but
with a distinctly American slant. And as you say....the British
learned and formed rifle companies and light infantry and scouting companies which served them well when fighting Napoleon.

So.....nothing is ever black and white and I say we are both right differing only in opinions. But arrogance has lost many battles. NEVER underestimate the foe. There used to be a saying among the unconventional forces....the more pretty the are the more useless they are. Or put another way....the effectiveness of an Army is inversely proportional to how pretty they look.

Just another few thoughts on the subject and no argument or insult or confrontation intended. And thank you for making your
comments Tom. We need the diversity and the posts to keep us thinking and the board alive!!!

Bill Rooks

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