Hoth: The Failure of Imperial Military Doctrine

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As a fan of Star Wars and an avid reader of military and political history, I found this a very fun read. I would like more articles like this please! :D

I do realize that the Imperial Army had to be made giant but mostly impotent for story reasons however.

Sun Tzu would have disagreed with this assessment. In 'The Art of War', Sun Tzu places emphasis on a separation between military strategy and governing politics. But that thesis also states that the general is ultimately responsible for military success and that he should even disregard political sovereignty in a bid to secure the victory that policy demands. In that sense Darth Vader is still ultimately responsible despite Emperor Palpatine's political doctrine.

This makes me miss Rebellion so much....

Why oh why did I sell my copy????

WouldYouKindly:
... Finally, never surround your enemy. Give them an avenue of escape and they will take it. Once they lose cohesion, run them down...

I know it's a bit late for this discussion now, but not necessarily - surrounding an enemy has a TON of strategic merit. I present as an example Hannibal defeating a much larger force of Romans at Cannae:

This is my favorite episode of this series (with Marathon being a close second), which uses Rome: Total War to illustrate the battles, and is hosted/narrated by the guy who played CPT Spiers in the Band of Brothers TV series.

Nghtgnt:

WouldYouKindly:
... Finally, never surround your enemy. Give them an avenue of escape and they will take it. Once they lose cohesion, run them down...

I know it's a bit late for this discussion now, but not necessarily - surrounding an enemy has a TON of strategic merit. I present as an example Hannibal defeating a much larger force of Romans at Cannae:

This is my favorite episode of this series (with Marathon being a close second), which uses Rome: Total War to illustrate the battles, and is hosted/narrated by the guy who played CPT Spiers in the Band of Brothers TV series.

There's always an exception to the rule. Counting on Roman legions running is never a great idea, after all.

WouldYouKindly:
... Finally, never surround your enemy. Give them an avenue of escape and they will take it. Once they lose cohesion, run them down...

I dunno... Surrounding the enemy went pretty well for the Red Army in Stalingrad.(And correspondingly badly for the German 6th army.)

LtWigglesworth:

WouldYouKindly:
... Finally, never surround your enemy. Give them an avenue of escape and they will take it. Once they lose cohesion, run them down...

I dunno... Surrounding the enemy went pretty well for the Red Army in Stalingrad.(And correspondingly badly for the German 6th army.)

Strategic advantage because your enemy can't get supplied. Tactical disadvantage. Decreases enemy morale but makes them desperate. Desperate men can fight above and beyond what is normally possible. You never want to make them think there's no hope of survival. Some might break down, but others will fight to the death. Case in point, Yakov Pavlov spent the better part of the initial stages of Stalingrad completely surrounded, starting with a mere 4 men and eventually ending up with a paltry 25. They had no escape, they weren't allowed to retreat. They killed hundreds of Germans.

WouldYouKindly:

LtWigglesworth:

WouldYouKindly:
... Finally, never surround your enemy. Give them an avenue of escape and they will take it. Once they lose cohesion, run them down...

I dunno... Surrounding the enemy went pretty well for the Red Army in Stalingrad.(And correspondingly badly for the German 6th army.)

Strategic advantage because your enemy can't get supplied. Tactical disadvantage. Decreases enemy morale but makes them desperate. Desperate men can fight above and beyond what is normally possible. You never want to make them think there's no hope of survival. Some might break down, but others will fight to the death. Case in point, Yakov Pavlov spent the better part of the initial stages of Stalingrad completely surrounded, starting with a mere 4 men and eventually ending up with a paltry 25. They had no escape, they weren't allowed to retreat. They killed hundreds of Germans.

And I'd say that gaining a decisive strategic advantage is better than a nebulous tactical advantage. For every man who fights to the death because he's desperate there are another two or three who wont. Because they have no ammo, are starving, or are so infested with lice and disease that they just give up.

Plus, by giving an escape route there is always the chance that the retreating force escapes and is still combat effective.

LtWigglesworth:

WouldYouKindly:

LtWigglesworth:

I dunno... Surrounding the enemy went pretty well for the Red Army in Stalingrad.(And correspondingly badly for the German 6th army.)

Strategic advantage because your enemy can't get supplied. Tactical disadvantage. Decreases enemy morale but makes them desperate. Desperate men can fight above and beyond what is normally possible. You never want to make them think there's no hope of survival. Some might break down, but others will fight to the death. Case in point, Yakov Pavlov spent the better part of the initial stages of Stalingrad completely surrounded, starting with a mere 4 men and eventually ending up with a paltry 25. They had no escape, they weren't allowed to retreat. They killed hundreds of Germans.

And I'd say that gaining a decisive strategic advantage is better than a nebulous tactical advantage. For every man who fights to the death because he's desperate there are another two or three who wont. Because they have no ammo, are starving, or are so infested with lice and disease that they just give up.

Plus, by giving an escape route there is always the chance that the retreating force escapes and is still combat effective.

I typically talk tactics, it's what I know better. Tactics are also usually a short term, single encounter kind of thing. While a unit that is allowed to retreat may be combat effective, a unit that is continually pursued or falls into another pincer attack to cut the retreating unit in half is not. I never said let them retreat, I said give them the opportunity to run, but don't let them actually escape, just get them to lose a little bit of cohesion and you can bring down a tough enemy with less losses. There's a strategic example I know of, when the Iraqi Army was retreating during Desert Storm we turned their escape route into a road of death. Granted, they probably would have been obliterated either way, but almost no losses were taken after they decided to retreat. It requires a bit of planing beforehand, but the rewards can be pretty big.

WouldYouKindly:

LtWigglesworth:

WouldYouKindly:

Strategic advantage because your enemy can't get supplied. Tactical disadvantage. Decreases enemy morale but makes them desperate. Desperate men can fight above and beyond what is normally possible. You never want to make them think there's no hope of survival. Some might break down, but others will fight to the death. Case in point, Yakov Pavlov spent the better part of the initial stages of Stalingrad completely surrounded, starting with a mere 4 men and eventually ending up with a paltry 25. They had no escape, they weren't allowed to retreat. They killed hundreds of Germans.

And I'd say that gaining a decisive strategic advantage is better than a nebulous tactical advantage. For every man who fights to the death because he's desperate there are another two or three who wont. Because they have no ammo, are starving, or are so infested with lice and disease that they just give up.

Plus, by giving an escape route there is always the chance that the retreating force escapes and is still combat effective.

I typically talk tactics, it's what I know better. Tactics are also usually a short term, single encounter kind of thing. While a unit that is allowed to retreat may be combat effective, a unit that is continually pursued or falls into another pincer attack to cut the retreating unit in half is not. I never said let them retreat, I said give them the opportunity to run, but don't let them actually escape, just get them to lose a little bit of cohesion and you can bring down a tough enemy with less losses. There's a strategic example I know of, when the Iraqi Army was retreating during Desert Storm we turned their escape route into a road of death. Granted, they probably would have been obliterated either way, but almost no losses were taken after they decided to retreat. It requires a bit of planing beforehand, but the rewards can be pretty big.

Causing a loss of cohesion by inducing a rout, while destroying or encircling the enemy on a large scale is a fair idea.

On the topic of the Iraqi army, their complete destruction is probably less due to the strategic decision to hit them while retreating, and more a result of the fact that the Iraqi army was completely outclassed in terms of equipment, was utterly incompetent and was facing an enemy with complete freedom in the air.

Regardless of who is right or wrong on their military analysis of the Battle of Hoth several important points need to brought to the discussion to help set things straight.

The first point is that there are many assumptions made based upon what is actually shown on film in terms of tactics, ground and naval deployment, and the makeup of forces. One must not forget that what is shown in the film for the battle scenes is all there was time to shoot for and so the viewing audience can never be given an entirely complete picture of the battlefield. Without a fully encompassing and accurate viewing of the battle or a timeline for that matter there is no way any logical argument can truly be made in criticism or defense for how the battle transpired. In terms of tactics there is no way of knowing what standard Imperial naval and ground doctrine is simply because within the OT we are never told what it is. Star Wars is not a purely military cinematic experience but rather a sweeping western inspired space opera so there would be no necessity to go into such mundane details like you might see in other military based science fiction genres such as Battle Star Galactica. Therefore, without knowing how the Imperial navy and army actually operate both militarily and logistically, it would be false to assume certain decisions made off screen were either in the context of standard Imperial operating procedures or colossal mistakes made by those in command since there is no precedence to compare them with. In regards to the how the naval and ground forces were deployed it is also difficult to level any logical analysis of the battle because again what we are shown is limited and there is no definite assurance that what is shown is the complete picture. We are not told exactly how close in terms of mathematical distances the Imperial armada appears of Hoth, it is never shown how the AT-ATs are dropped on the planet and if it is done within or outside the Rebel shield spoken of (regardless of how planet based shields are described in the EU), we don't know the exact positions or number of land based artillery the Rebels had set up to counter an assault, we aren't told if all the AT-ATs were tasked with the destruction of the shield generator or if General Veers was the only one instructed to, we aren't shown how many snow troopers penetrated Echo Base's command center, or even all the formations taken by the snow speeders as well as the AT-ATs for the entire duration of the battle. Without this knowledge there is no way to accurately know how the different forces involved maneuvered in their battle spaces and as such no way of knowing how effective they truly were. As for the makeup of the Rebel and Imperial forces, there is no definite picture exactly how many Imperial Star Destroyers made up Darth Vader's flotilla (Death Squadron), how many AT-ATs were on the surface for the battle, what was the true ground force ratio between the Rebel troops and the Imperial ground forces, that the Imperial flotilla never launched any TIE fighter compliments for Rebel intercept (even though a flight of TIE fighters flies pass the Executor after the drop out of hyperspace), how many Rebel transports are truly launched and subsequently escape, and numerous other details that could never be depicted within the limited running time of the movie. When collected together all the numerous shortcomings that are a direct result of the finite time involved with cinematic storytelling inherently limit any deep analysis that can be made off the Battle of Hoth.

The second point is that within the context of the long process of creating the Star Wars universe as well as the limiting nature of special effects back then compared to today certain elements are left out all-together. The most glaring of course is that when the Empire Strikes back first came out it was the very first time we caught a glimpse of ground warfare in the Star Wars universe. Since the movie has been released countless books and video games have come out further detailing the nature of ground combat in the galaxy. Perhaps the three most important have been Star Wars Galactic Battleground, Star Wars Empire at War, and the Star Wars Battlefront games. When combined together there is a wealth of both ground and spaced based vehicles used by both the Rebel Alliance and Galactic Empire that was never even dreamed of during the production of the original movies. Not only was there not enough filming time or special effects present to depict a truly full battle picture, but to create all the models and model effects for additional vehicles that full important roles on the battlefield (implied or not implied) would have been impossible. What we do know at least from those games is that the Empire did provide ground support through storm troopers for its walking behemoths, possessed anti-aircraft vehicles known as AT-AAs that shot laser "flak" that could have easily shot down all manner of Rebel craft, that there were in fact Juggernauts on Hoth during the battle, and for the Rebels that X-Wings and Y-Wings could be used for atmospheric ground support. Therefore, although it has been pointed out by some that militarily the Imperial army made mistakes with its force composition or the Rebels were idiots to ignore valuable assets, due to overwhelmingly evidence based purely on EU material but perhaps more importantly the acceptance that material representation in film is limited, it cannot be ruled out that certain military elements not present on screen were actually missing from the battlefield landscape.

The final point is that while I understand the various critiques of the battle on the Internet are purely done out of good fun, there really is no point dissecting the flaws and errors made in the depiction of the Battle of Hoth. In terms of storytelling it's merely a visual vehicle to progress the story along so our heroes can be transported from one interesting location to the next thus advancing the plot. If George Lucas had truly desired to make a militaristic Star Wars movie (although I highly doubt he could pull that off), then the lead up, the events revolving around, and the aftermath of the battle would have been give considerable more time. Instead we are shown what we are shown because it is all we require to understand the greater story which at its heart is one of good versus evil. The Battle of Hoth does just fine accomplishing what it sets out to do which is namely to showcase some great battle scenes involving excitement, explosions, lasers, and all manner of sights and sounds are eyes are accustomed to when it comes to the visual representation of a violent clash between people at odds with one another. So for the sake of the argument, if it really bothers you all that much how the battle is portrayed, then raise a few million dollars and reshoot the entire battle for your own personal satisfaction.

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