Ranged Weapons - Part 2: Softening a line

In the last section, we've seen how throwing javelins at a heavy infantry line right before the attack can provide an advantage. So a natural question is - can this be generalized?

Of course, in order to really affect heavy infantry, the ranged units should fire at point-blank range to avoid drag loss and descent angle effect. But consider the following scenario: We have two lines of heavy infantry approaching each other, but one of the lines has light units with ranged weapons marching before them - say slingers. They fire several volleys of stones into the enemy line right before the heavy infantry clashes - clearly that'd give one party an advantage.

The obvious problem is - where do the slingers go? They need to be positioned between two rapidly approaching lines of heavy infantry to be effective. If the lines are short, they can escape towards the flanks or can actually fire from the flanks, but if the lines are longer that is a problem. Of course they could pass through the friendly infantry line - but that is a difficult maneuver, the Roman legions could do it, but many other armies could not.

Here is where mounted units come in - the speed of a horse can carry an attacking unit quickly to point-blank range and then away from the enemy. The first units that were used for such a purpose were actually chariots. They were the mobile unit of choice before crucial inventions like stirrups were made that allowed a single rider to control a horse and operate a weapon in battle (but they were essentially obsoleted by proper cavalry).

In the following, we'll study a scenario where archers on chariots carry out an attack against a heavy infantry line.

War chariots

A chariot is a rather complicated contraption compared to a single soldier - usually pulled by two horses and controlled by a driver, it makes the scaling of several properties compared with infantry rather awkward. However, the simulation has historically common mounts like chariot, elephant or horse pre-defined and so we do not need to specify all the details in the configuration. The definition is relatively straightforward:

name Chariot
speed 600.0
attack 20
armour 3
damage 2
num_soldiers 10
ranged_attack 30
ranged_damage 4
num_shots 100
range 240
shots_per_min 12
projectile_type arrow
turn_deg_per_min 720
mount chariot

As evident from the speed and turning rate, a chariot is lightning-fast on the battlefield when compared to infantry. Note that horse-driven units usually go in walk, trot or gallop unless charging at full speed, so the relative distribution of speeds is different than for infantry - commanding a mounted unit to go 'slow' means 'at infantry speed' whereas 'rush' corresponds to gallop speeds which are already close to top speed. But it is this large top speed which gives chariots the ability to drive into close range to the enemy, attack a heavy infantry line and disappear.

Chariot attack

The scenario example06.cfg places a weak line of Egyptian infantry against a stronger and more numerous line of Persian infantry. The result would be a foregone conclusion, except for the 60 war chariots the Egyptian side fields.

They are placed by

name Chariot_1
type Chariot
tag C1
army 1
assign_to ecl
secondary_order fire_at
target P5
pos_x 580.0
pos_y 750.0
assembly_x 180.0
assembly_y 800.0
dir_x 0.0
dir_y -1.0

and commanded by

name ecr
order hit_and_retreat
speed slow
dist_to_fire 200
dist_to_engage 200
dist_to_disengage 65
upon_contact skirmish

The main instructions new here are the orders fire_at which concentrates the volleys of three chariots each onto a single Persian unit (the specified target) and the order hit_and_retreat. Unlike in the previous example, we do not want chariots to turn back to a second attack after the initial one - they need to get out between the infantry lines.

So the instruction commands them to drive quickly to their assembly point (which for each unit is defined with assembly_x and assembly_y. If you start the scenario, you should see something like this:

Chariots retreat after an attack on the Persian line

The attack of the war chariots quickly takes out the center of the Persian line, then peppers other infantry with more arrows as the chariots retreat to their assembly points, giving the Egyptian infantry a chance to out-flank some opponents.

Alas - you will discover that this is not enough to win the battle for Egypt most of the time. However if you take command of the charioteers in interactive mode (or change their instructions in the config file) it is quite possible to achieve a clear victory - this is left as an exercise.

Continue with Ranged Weapons Part 3: Screening.

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