For questions related to: acts of organized violence between groups of people where the violence often has a political purpose; the impact of such violence on peoples/nations; and any other related questions.

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69
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12answers
14k views

Why bother attacking castles at all? Why not go around?

Castles were designed to hold people, weapons, and supplies to survive a siege. They were well-defended. Taking one could easily be a long, bloody struggle. Why attack at all? Most castles I've seen ...
65
votes
2answers
7k views

Why were ships-of-the line not supposed to open fire on frigates during fleet actions?

Found this passage in the book Patrick O'Brian's Navy (p. 57) In the era of fighting sail there was an unspoken convention that line-of-battle ships did not fire on frigates during any fleet ...
56
votes
3answers
10k views

When did bombs actually look like this?

I guess most are familiar with the cartoonish "bomb icon". It is used to warn of metaphorical or literal explosive danger and shows a deep black sphere with a smaller cylinder attached. That is where ...
42
votes
11answers
10k views

When were swords last used in European warfare?

Specifically, I'm interested in the last documented occurrence of swords (of any sort) being used as a primary weapon by infantrymen or cavalrymen in Western warfare. That is, when did any European or ...
36
votes
4answers
20k views

Did World War II-era bombs actually whistle?

In WWII-era films and newsreels, aerial bombs are often shown making a whistling sound as they fall; starting high pitched, then decreasing as the bomb approaches the Earth (example here, starting at ...
35
votes
10answers
6k views

Has anyone ever named a war after their own country or faction?

An interesting conversation has come up on the Science Fiction and Fantasy SE site. I will try to summarize it as briefly as possible. Someone asked a question about the second Star Wars prequel. ...
32
votes
4answers
5k views

How did Genghis Khan's army feed so many horses?

The average horse eats 10-20 pounds per day, according to this pet website. Considering the fact that the horses may have to eat even more because of the hard traveling they had to endure, it's likely ...
26
votes
3answers
9k views

How did Europeans first acquire gunpowder?

I know that gunpowder was first invented in China around the 10th century, and it seems that gunpowder likely made its way to Europe via the "Silk Road." However, there doesn't seem to be a ton of ...
25
votes
9answers
3k views

Did archers synchronize fire? Why?

I noticed that in medieval movies and TV shows, when there is a big battle happening, groups of archers always synchronize their firing. I was wondering whether this is something that writers made up ...
24
votes
8answers
5k views

Why was PTSD not written about as much before the 20th century?

As late as WW1 there was very little literature surrounding PTSD/'shellshock'. In fact, the term was not coined until the 1980's. Considering the fact that warfare has been a part of human life since ...
24
votes
9answers
17k views

How severe were the casualties in ancient/medieval battles?

I've heard that in most battles prior to the introduction of gunpowder weapons, the casualties were usually very low (around 5% even in long battles) prior to the moment when someone's formation was ...
22
votes
8answers
7k views

How did the Nazis plan to defeat America during World War II?

Yamamoto famously advised against a war with the United States, because he could tell how powerful they would be once they got going. The Nazis, however, declared war on the United States of their ...
22
votes
2answers
1k views

Classical battle sizes vs medieval battle sizes

Why did classical battles did tend to be larger than medieval ages? One particular example I am thinking of was the battle of Stamford bridge, which had around 30,000 participants, compared to the ...
19
votes
5answers
6k views

Why did Sun Tzu believe you shouldn't wait besides a river when eager to fight?

In Sun Tzu's Art of War, Chapter 9 (The Army on the March), Verse 5, Tzu says If you are anxious to fight, you should not go to meet the invader near a river which he has to cross. My thinking ...
18
votes
7answers
3k views

What was the cleanest war ever fought?

If not all, the vast majority of wars in known history were dirty, cruel and with a lot of civilian casualties. That makes me wonder if there has ever been a "clean" war where both sides played "by ...
17
votes
7answers
13k views

How far could an English war bow shoot?

The range of the medieval weapon is not accurately known, with estimates from 165 to 228 m (180 to 249 yds) So says Wikipedia. I did read, however, in a semi-fictional, semi-historical work of ...
16
votes
6answers
3k views

How did a besieged city/castle defend itself vs. catapulting diseased dead bodies into it?

I was a bit shocked to read that diseased dead bodies/animals where catapulted into besieged castles/towns. Biological warfare in the middle ages. But this "method" of warfare had probably a lot of ...
16
votes
5answers
910 views

What made Alexander great?

Historians have titled Alexander III of Macedon "the Great". In a very short period of time he conquered one of the largest empires in ancient history and was undefeated in battle. What I'd like to ...
16
votes
1answer
819 views

Did the Germans have a team equivalent to the one from Bletchey Park in the UK during WWII?

There is a lot of information about the British code breakers at Bletchey Park and the work they did for cryptography, computing and the war effort. Still, I haven't heard a lot about a German ...
14
votes
3answers
813 views

Supplies for army of Napoleon

How was such a great army, like the army of Napoleon on its way to Moscow, supplied with food and other needed things? Were they transporting it from France or maybe stealing from territory on their ...
14
votes
4answers
1k views

How did ancient armies keep the route of supplies to their battlefield?

How did ancient armies like the Romans, Greeks, Persians, Chinese, or even in later times, the Arabs and Mongols keep the route of supplies going to support their armies marching through the vast ...
13
votes
3answers
7k views

What forces/incentives drove the Mongols to conquer a much larger land territory than they could comfortably settle or rule?

Internet resources on the Mongol Empire usually dwell on the Mongol conquests of a huge mass of territory. Unfortunately, seldom are the reasons behind the conquests explained. One gets the impression ...
13
votes
5answers
9k views

What is the longest effective range artillery weapon ever built?

What is the longest effective range artillery weapon ever built, regardless of wether it was actually used in combat?
13
votes
3answers
908 views

Roughly, what percentage of arrows can be reused after a battle?

The English Longbowman according to some sources can shoot at/above 10 arrows per minute. Some of the medieval battles would last for many hours. Back-of-the-envelope math says the number of shots ...
13
votes
1answer
7k views

What really happened to the Maya civilization?

Are there any reliable sources that explain the "disappearance" of the Maya? I am highly skeptical about the following account as it states that the cities were destroyed by the war when in actual ...
13
votes
3answers
659 views

What was the most recent country to be conquered and dissapear

In the Old Days, one country would conquer another and add it to its empire. What was the most recent country to be conquered and cease to exist as a country?
12
votes
9answers
2k views

Why didn't Germany attack US ports with U-boats during WW II?

During WW2, Germany owned ships along the eastern US coast with U-boats pretty much unopposed. So... why didn't Germany head into US ports and destroy infrastructure? Why did they keep their actions ...
12
votes
4answers
1k views

Did any armies systemically favor axes/hammers over swords?

In fantasy literature there are plenty of examples of cultures (such as the Dwarves of Lord of the Rings) who favor axes or hammers above swords in combat. Did any historical army follow that ...
12
votes
2answers
319 views

Why didn't mercenary combat after the middle ages lead to the collapse of the ruling class?

The structure of society and warfare were closely connected to each other in the feudal system. The land belonged to the crown, the king assigned it to lords in return for military service, and in the ...
12
votes
1answer
418 views

Who was the first military force to use teppo (guns) in mass battles during the Sengoku-jidai?

Oda clan used guns to great efficency against the Takeda clan but which warlord (or faction) used them for the first time? I seem to recall that some of the sohei order had access to firearms and ...
12
votes
2answers
2k views

Why were the Huns so successful at siege warfare but the Goths were not?

I am listening to Mike Duncan's podcast titled "The History of Rome" and in it he mentioned that it is kind of a mystery that the Huns were so successful at siege warfare but the Goths were not. Both ...
12
votes
1answer
934 views

How frequently were homing pigeons used in the World Wars?

It seems that the strategic weight of specially breeded pigeons is much higher than I thought at first, based on the number of pigeons used and the effort to stop them. (In WW2 Germans even trained ...
11
votes
11answers
2k views

Why were people from the Asian Steppes able to militarily dominate Europeans on a repeated basis?

From the Huns through the Mongolians, why were nomadic people from the east able to create such havoc in Europe? Was it an endless 'first mover' advantage with horse domestication? Was it a higher ...
11
votes
3answers
1k views

How were fortification doors protected against fire?

Ancient and medieval fortifications are often shown to have wooden gate doors in the midst of their stone walls. Now granted, these doors are often massive and incredibly thick, but it still seems ...
11
votes
3answers
3k views

Comparison of naval fleet strengths during the Napoleonic wars

Do we have knowledge on the number of vessels in the armadas of the various belligerents of the Napoleonic wars? Information on the types of boats, captured vessels, and sunk vessels will also be ...
11
votes
4answers
856 views

Why were the Mongolian armies able to to use greater percentages of archers than (Medieval) Europeans?

Much has been made in other posts about how hard it was for European armies to train and maintain large numbers of archers able to use a longbow, crossbow, or similar weapons. Yet, the Mongolians ...
11
votes
2answers
671 views

Amount of time an aeroplane could stay in the air during the last stages of WW1

I know for a fact that aeroplanes were used at the last stages of the first world war to capture images of the enemy trench system and supply lines. They were also used to alert the artillery how far ...
10
votes
4answers
2k views

What Are the Dynamics of A “Forced March?”

In the "Art of War," Sun Tzu opined that if you put your army on a forced march of a certain speed, you will lose one-third of your troops along the way. A rough rule of thumb was that an army would ...
10
votes
2answers
826 views

How did the ancient Chinese coordinate armies of tens and hundreds of thousands?

According to what I've read, during the Warring States period and also later during the Three Kingdoms period there were armies of the magnitude of (a few) hundred thousands. How could they ...
10
votes
2answers
756 views

When did the parole of prisoners of war become unacceptable?

Prisoners of war in earlier centuries, especially officers, could be given temporary or permanent freedom in return for various conditions: A parole. This overlaps with the modern civilian use of ...
10
votes
3answers
694 views

What exactly were currours, and what were they used for?

In researching this question on Medieval light cavalry, I came across this reference to "currours" in Wikipedia, with no link: Many countries developed their own styles of light cavalry, such as ...
10
votes
2answers
530 views

What kind of armor did the soldiers use in pre-gunpowder Southeast Asia?

The tropical Southeast Asia (especially the Malay world, e.g. Malaysia/Indonesia) are very hot, and apparently wearing European-style full armor is very uncomfortable in hot climates. What kind of ...
10
votes
2answers
458 views

Animal “blood lust”

I remember reading in some older books about ancient combat that animals would sometimes get "into the fight" so to speak. For lack of a better term, this was evidenced by horses actually attacking ...
10
votes
1answer
146 views

Health precautions before going into Battle of Trafalgar and other battles

Tom Pocock's The Terror Before Trafalgar: Nelson, Napoleon, and the Secret War contains this memorable description of preparations aboard HMS Victory immediately before the Battle of Trafalgar in ...
9
votes
4answers
306 views

Did the British Army burn any capitals other than Washington?

It has been written that the British invasion of Washington, and the burning of the Capitol, White House, and other public buildings, was in retaliation for American raids in Canada which caused the ...
9
votes
3answers
514 views

What went on during multi-year sieges?

You hear all the time in ancient history about cities or fortresses being besieged for a year, or two years, or even many years such as the sieges of Tripoli or Carthage or Drepana. I'm wondering, ...
9
votes
4answers
715 views

When was the earliest recorded battle with the usage of gunpowder as an offensive weapon?

When was the earliest recorded battle (on script) with the usage of gunpowder (in any form) as an offensive weapon?
9
votes
1answer
232 views

Did hanging tyres from Mostar's bridge help at all to protect it?

At various points (e.g. 00:14) in this BBC documentary on Mostar's Stari Most (Old Bridge) you can see dozens of car tyres hanging from the bridge prior to its destruction in the Croat-Bosniak ...
9
votes
1answer
1k views

How do war elephants fight?

Do they just run breaking phalanx? Do they pull their front food and then crush enemies below? What do elephants do? Or are the fighters on top of it just shoot arrows?
8
votes
2answers
418 views

At what point do armies tend to break?

I remember hearing something about where it was discerned that after a certain percent of losses armies tend to break (ie retreat). Does research on this exist? If so, at what point do armies tend ...