Friday, 25 September 2015

LINES VERSUS COLUMNS

Napoleonics, Wars of the Revolution, Renaissance cavalry, Macedonians or Thebans. Whether it is ships, horses or men there is a possibility to arrange them in columns or lines.

The advantage with a column is that it focusses effort at a specific point and also that it is an easier formation for manoeuvre. It is just follow my leader. The column must be led as a whole, however, or the tail can decide to depart while the head takes the strain.
 

The line, however produces a distributed application of force along a front which the enemy must withstand at all points or be engulfed. On the other hand, the elements of the line should be marshalled carefully to maintain a common front or else the formation goes to pieces.

A column will always have a percentage of forces unable to act against the enemy because they have friends in the way, whereas a line uses all its strength so long as they come up against enemies.

Salamis is the Mastadon of ancient sea battles in the age of the trieres. So many ships packed into a small space. A space that funnels the opponents into each other and hinders their escape. The battle that was a long slogging match with a tangled mess of ships fighting a struggle of attrition.
Recived wisdom is that the narrow straits limited the scope for tactics on each side and two masses of ships, the total number of vessels cited by ancient sources must be involved, smashed into each other.
On your marks ! Get set ! ........FIGHT
But is it ?

The most obvious constraint on the battle is the width of the strait. At various points the width from mainland to Salamis is circa 1500 metres. Further up the strait it is split around the island St Georgios and the smaller rocks off the Perama shore. It is easy to fall into the trap of allotting ships to this distance, dividing this number into the total for each side and thus achieve a calculated number of ranks. Calculated from ancient data ... must be true...?

Æschylus and Herodotos both imply the Persians made an offensive move against the Greeks. In any case, the Persian fleet moves from 'between Ceos and Mynichia' to a place inside the strait where the battle took place.

The Greeks had to assemble their battle line before the Persians arrived. They had to launch beached ships and take up anchors and form in their units. They then may have backed water for a while before contact was made.

There is thus no discussion that both fleets moved around a bit. The Persians advanced at least 2 and up tp 4 kilometres - mostly in dark, half-light or mist. The Greeks had to assemble their forces from being beached, advance up tp 3 kilometres and back maybe 1 kilometre before fighting.

The obvious question is, 'column or line?'.  After the above calculation, lines dominate consideration of the battle but if 1600 galleys are to move about in concert are lines a practicable proposition ?
Perfect! ..oh, but they are at anchor in a calm ...

Add to this, the fact that the Persians are moving in the dark or half-light !!!! How on earth could a line be kept in such circumstances ?  The Persians patrolled the entrances to the strait all night - this can not have been in lines. If they tried to maintain station it would be a disaster. They must have rowed - probably at a minimum rate - in columns - probably following a lantern on the stern of the previous ship, to and fro.

My point is that a line of many ships - galleys - needs control to be maintained as any kind of regular formation. Progressing at speed, across disturbed water or around obstacles, or in the dark will lead to a disintegration of the formation ergo the Persian ships were in columns at least as they approached the scene of battle.
"It's Fairyland!" ..Moving in line ahead...

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