Battle - Factors

Factors

Battles are decided by various factors. The number and quality of combatants and equipment, the skill of the commanders of each army, and the terrain advantages are among the most prominent factors. A unit may charge with high morale but less discipline and still emerge victorious. This tactic was effectively used by the early French Revolutionary Armies.

Weapons and armour can be a decisive factor. On many occasions armies have achieved victories largely owing to the employment of more advanced weapons than those of their opponents. An extreme example was in the Battle of Omdurman, in which a large army of Sudanese Mahdists armed in a traditional manner were destroyed by an Anglo-Egyptian force equipped with Maxim guns.

On some occasions, simple weapons employed in an unorthodox fashion have proven advantageous, as with the Swiss pikemen who gained many victories through their ability to transform a traditionally defensive weapon into an offensive one. Likewise, the Zulus in the early 19th century were victorious in battles against their rivals in part because they adopted a new kind of spear, the iklwa. Even so, forces with inferior weapons have still emerged victorious at times, for example in the Wars of Scottish Independence and in the First Italo–Ethiopian War. Discipline within the troops is often of greater importance; at the Battle of Alesia, the Romans were greatly outnumbered but won because of superior training.

Battles can also be determined by terrain. Capturing high ground, for example, has been the central strategy in innumerable battles. An army that holds the high ground forces the enemy to climb, and thus wear themselves down. Areas of dense vegetation, such as jungles and forest, act as force-multipliers, of benefit to inferior armies. Arguably, terrain is of less importance in modern warfare, due to the advent of aircraft, though terrain is still vital for camouflage, especially for guerrilla warfare.

Generals and commanders also play a decisive role during combat. Hannibal, Julius Caesar and Napoleon Bonaparte were all skilled generals and, consequently, their armies were extremely successful. An army that can trust the commands of their leaders with conviction in its success invariably has a higher morale than an army that doubts its every move. The British in the naval Battle of Trafalgar, for example, owed its success to the reputation of celebrated admiral Lord Nelson.

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