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Those medium lancers with horsearchery skills did certainly put the early knights to shame. Belisarius essentially conquered Italy against a numerically vastly superior foe by defending fortified places, sallying with his cavalry (including pursuits) and waiting for his enemies to be melted away by plagues.
|The closest I found as a symbol picture. Likely they had mail instead of scale armour and thus also a shield.|
|Reenactment of a contemporary Sassanid cavalryman. Again, add a lance and a shield to approximate Belisarius' non-auxiliary cavalry.|
Armored cavalry was always an analogy to modern mounted warfare with armored vehicles,. Alexander the Great's companion cavalry used the inflexible yet robus phalanx line as a stable foundation for cavalry strikes similar to how the 85% infantry divisions + 15% fast divisions Germany army of 1940-1942 was employed: The slow, defensive troops establish and hold a line while the fast, offensive troops execute the decisive offensive manoeuvres.
It's thus worthwhile to look at whether maybe the example of Belisarius offers hints for modern warfare by being a useful analogue.
Defensible (instead of fortified) places of today would primarily be areas which have few relevant routes of approach (valleys, areas with surrounding thick or hilly woodland or with surrounding swamps), but could also be large settlements if there are enough non-armour troops (infantry, AT teams) to defend these places. Cavalry was difficult to sustain in cities (limited stocks of fodder for horses), and armoured troops are in major trouble if supply lines were cut as well.
Back in WW2 fast troops (tank divisions, motorised divisions, mechanised infantr divisions) were able to recover 'behind friendly lines' - behind a re-established frontline provided by infantry divisions. We will likely not have such a robust front line in modern (European) state-vs.-state conflicts for want of a sucessor to the 85% infantry divisions in an army.
Could future campaigns rest on relatively defensible places, with armoured battlegroups sallying out to cause attrition, to raid, to cause diversions, to force the opposing forces to defend places, and ultimately to enable rather defensive (motorised infantry-centric) forces to assault, occupy and defend additional defensible places?
A graphical depiction of such a campaign wouldn't be about lines, but about ink blots on a map, except that unlike in COIN theory these ink blots are not meant to expand till they cover the entire sheet. Instead, the the acquisition of additional ink blots with particularly useful locations would be the offensive core of the campaign. The raids on hostile supply convoys (or intercept or dispersed supply movements) from these ink blots would lead to a more Go-like campaign style in which cutting off areas without actually establishing uninterrupted lines to do so is at the centre of all offensive efforts.
We already had such a style of campaigning in Europe during the 17th and 18th century, particularly on France's Northeastern border where fortresses were arranged in depth. Supplies for army offensives were stored there, and invading armies would have thier own supply convoys be raided by troops sallying out from these fortresses.
|fortresses in Northern France in the early 18th century, see also|
Campaigns in such an environment were less about battles than about sieges, and in places with less fortresses such as Silesia the armies -always on the tether of supply convoy routes - manoeuvred to cut each other off from the supply route to the nearest well-stocked fortress or fortified city.
We are seeing something similar in the Ukraine, or at least I think I see something similar going on there. The published information about the war in the Donbass is still very sketchy, of course.
Settlements serve as 'ink blots' of local control, with the surrounding country side largely vacated by armed forces, though major hostile troop movements there would be noticed. Relatively few armoured battalion battlegroups do occasionally sally out, though typically with little consequences unless forces that can establish another 'ink blot' by assaulting, occupying and defending a settlement accompany the sally and turn it into a limited offensive action.
It's very much unlike the large encirclement moves of Panzerkorps in early European WW2 or the outright mass destruction of tanks in fierce clashes as known from the wars around Israel or from 1991.
Think about the missions of the armoured forces that mimic Belisarius' cavalry: Clashes with peers happened, but weren't routine. Modern sallies might be more about intercepting supply movements or patrolling in very small teams than anything else, so once again I can refer to my faible for armoured reconnaissance and declare that we likely need more of it. The armoured reconnaissance would be the equivalent of light horsearchers (the "Moorish" and liekly many of the "Hunnic" auxiliaries of Belisarius, while main battle tanks would be the equivalents of the medium lancers / horse archers of Belisarius' regular Byzantinian caballarii/cavallarii and possibly involved cataphraktoi/clibanarii-type heavy (shock) cavalry. I dont to fuel the "wheels vs. tracks"debate, but low maintenance and low fuel consumption coupled with enough for onboard for long endurance might become much more prized than a nearly impenetrable glacis.
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A variation of the campaign approach can make use of hiding places instead of defensible places as (temporary) camps. This would require more movement (-> higher fuel and spare parts consumption), but it could be done with much less defensive forces and would thus be particularly useful in the early phase of a conflict, before enough troops were mobilised, prepared and deployed to secure the many 'ink blots'. I wrote about this particularly in 2009-2011, and likened it to light (horse) cavalry at times. The siting of the hiding places would not be as important as the siting of the defensible places, instead the ability to threaten lines of communication (supply routes) even far 'behind' the most forward hostile ground forces would be important. The hiding does of course require that civilians don't give away the locations, which can be largely ensured throguh various means (disrupting phone networks, civilians fled the area of operations, checkpoints to intercept motor vehicles) for a day. This approach may be particularly suitable to low density of population areas such as much of Eastern Europe or Northeast Asia.
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I'm still at the grand topic of how to replace the function of front lines, as already in 2009-2011. I never found a satisfactory answer to or even only a mention of this challenge in field manuals, and I've read field manuals of ground forces from several countries that should have covered this topic judging by their scope.
It may be that historical analogies from eras which knew no front lines are valuable; they may - within the limits of analogies - provide insights purchased in blood, that may be purchased again in blood if we refuse to pay attention to military history.
P.S.: I did not write about using human shields as a land campaign strategy. The actual, real world conventions would allow such a style of campaigning..