Does Combat Experience Make a Better General?

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NovaTitan

Veteran
I've had something in my mind this afternoon about combat experience providing a better general than an equivalent that only used theory and practice from teachers/scholars. Throughout history you end up with individuals, particularly princes, that have undergone military training both physical and mental. These princes would then become kings without real military experience other than the training, and end up soundly defeating enemies in pitched battles using their learned tactics/strategy.

What I've wondered is if that general would have been better at his job if he were to join combat in one of these battles to understand the combat and difficulties of his and his enemy's military firsthand.

I mean, you do end up with kings that do join the frontlines, such as King Henry V in the Battle of Agincourt. Richard the Lionheart particularly loved battle and used his English funds for the Crusades. I think Saladin didn't engage in battle but used strategy alone. Presumably, Alexander the Great rode out into battle as well.

I do not think Genghis Khan ever did such a thing.

These are examples of land battles, but I also have the same question for naval engagements. Would an admiral be better if he had experience as a naval soldier both in modern and ancient/medieval times?
 

AWdeV

Duke
M&BWB
I imagine experience makes it much easier to quickly adapt to plans and the like. A battle is hardly going to go entirely according to plan so you need to be able to improvise.
 

Almalexia

Her Flamboyance, the Calipha
Duke
M&BWBNW
NovaTitan said:
These are examples of land battles, but I also have the same question for naval engagements. Would an admiral be better if he had experience as a naval soldier both in modern and ancient/medieval times?

Ever heard of Nelson?
 

Devercia

Grandmaster Knight
WB
You 'd probably need to define the experience, and what aspect of generalship that would potentially be effected. Sun Tsu said to win the battle before going to war, which suggests that manipulating the situation to your advantage before you even try is more important that calling the shots in the battle, which would be the most likely beneficiary of experience.

Also note that theory is a synthesizer of experience. If the theory is perfect than experience becomes redundant. However, most people do not build theories for things they don't expect to experience.
 
NovaTitan said:
Presumably, Alexander the Great rode out into battle as well.
I do not think Genghis Khan ever did such a thing.

Assuming you're saying that Genghis Khan never went into battle; what the **** would make you think that?

As for naval warfare, being an Admiral is a bit different from being a General. It'd be pretty difficult to be a naval officer and never be a part of combat, in any era.
 

Kvedulf

Sergeant Knight
I was about to say the same thing about Khengis Khan.  Considering he killed his half-brother at the age of 10, was captured in a raid before he was 16 and rescued his wife with only a single companion shortly after, it's pretty much impossible to say that he didn't see combat.  And this is all before he became the chief of his tribe, let alone beginning his unification of the tribes.

As to the question, theory can win the day, as can pure experience.  But when the two are coupled together, then you have a winning combination :smile:  A perfect example would be Alexander the Great.

Cheers
Kvedulf
 

NovaTitan

Veteran
Austupaio said:
NovaTitan said:
Presumably, Alexander the Great rode out into battle as well.
I do not think Genghis Khan ever did such a thing.

Assuming you're saying that Genghis Khan never went into battle; what the **** would make you think that?

As for naval warfare, being an Admiral is a bit different from being a General. It'd be pretty difficult to be a naval officer and never be a part of combat, in any era.

No, no I meant Genghis Khan against Khwarezmian Empire and non-Mongol tribes. I do not think he engaged outright with cavalry. If I'm wrong, then the answer to your question would be ignorance.

About admirals:
Why is that so? Is it because of the intricacies of the ships' designs, hull strengths, wind calculations, and the like? Yes, that would be something that must be experienced.
 

Almalexia

Her Flamboyance, the Calipha
Duke
M&BWBNW
Except for ole Alex, leave the grand strategy to someone else. Marching through the desert, for the sole purpose of saying you could do it, doesn't really make that much strategic sense.

NovaTitan said:
About admirals:
Why is that so? Is it because of the intricacies of the ships' designs, hull strengths, wind calculations, and the like? Yes, that would be something that must be experienced.

Because every ship counts in a battle, and from what I've seen the key to victory at sea is down to numbers, training, and morale. A admiral can not afford to abstain from battle just to preserve his personal safety.
 

Elenmmare

What exactly do you mean? That an admiral's personal contributions in combat are more significant than a general's? I'm legitimately confused by this. Perhaps in small engagements, every ship counts, but the Flagship was only as important as say, Alexander's personal Companions in many of his battles.
 

Sushiman70

Marquis
WBM&BWF&SVC
Well, the flagship is generally the biggest ship in the fleet, which gives it a certain level of tactical importance. Also, for example, during the Napoleonic wars, at Trafalgar, there were 71 ships. At Waterloo, there were nearly 200,000 men. During a naval battle one would imagine that a much higher degree of micromanagement, as it were, would be required, because every maneuver and shot counts, and there are only two tiers of command Admiral > Ship captains, and whilst there is also a command structure on the ship, it pays much less into the overall outcome of the battle. Whereas at Trafalgar, the chain of commands was much longer, which means that a general doesn't necessarily need to have as much commanding skill. But Nelson and Wellesley both pwn.
 
Devercia said:
Also note that theory is a synthesizer of experience. If the theory is perfect than experience becomes redundant.
Um, not really. You might want to try reading Clauswitz rather than Sun Tzu, he knew what he was talking about :lol: There are certain elements of warfare that can be enhanced by an understanding of theory; for example the ability to identify and understand the goals of yourself and your enemy. There are however those which can only be taught by experience, such as avoiding panic.
Although of course it depends on what era of warfare you're talking about, bearing in mind that a good understanding of theory relies on a good education system to teach it, and that's lacking till the seventeenth century.

NB. When it comes to medieval kings it's worth remembering they lead armies as a figurehead rather than commander for the most part. The king was expected to fight hard and inspire the men, but not necessarily to command the army itself.

Sushiman said:
Well, the flagship is generally the biggest ship in the fleet
No it's not. Commanders who have their own flag (Commodore's and up) tend not to have their own ships. Which ship they opt to place their flag on is entirely up to them, and will likely depend on their personal feelings regarding it's captain and his ability than it does the ship's qualities itself (which is something the captain will worry about).

Tiberius Decimus Maximus said:
Because every ship counts in a battle, and from what I've seen the key to victory at sea is down to numbers, training, and morale. A admiral can not afford to abstain from battle just to preserve his personal safety.
Almost right. In a naval engagement you don't want a 90 gun ship of the line sitting it out so that an Admiral can play RTS commander. The only point missing is that the admiral does not command individual ships, he commands the fleet. All ships, including the one the admiral is on, are commanded by their respective captains, and it's the captain who must take responsibility for his ship. Sitting out a battle would likely result in a court martial and hanging for cowardice.
In terms of comparison to a land general the two are really completely different schools of warfare and therefore diverge, it's only in the relatively identical areas you can really compare; the ability to remain cool under fire, the ability to compose concise and clear orders and their ability to deduce what the enemy are about and thwart that aim
 

Captain Pyjama Shark

Grandmaster Knight
Tiberius Decimus Maximus said:
NovaTitan said:
These are examples of land battles, but I also have the same question for naval engagements. Would an admiral be better if he had experience as a naval soldier both in modern and ancient/medieval times?

Ever heard of Nelson?
um pretty much all naval officers back then started as midshipman, Nelson was no different in that regard.
 

Majhudeen

NovaTitan said:
I think Saladin didn't engage in battle but used strategy alone.
He did go into battle, several times in fact. He was just smart and he lured his opponents out into the desert, starved and drove them mad with thirst, then killed them.

He used tactics as well, which means he'd have to be on the battlefeild.

Not to mention, he was a soldier once so yeah.

For your question, yes. Combat and general warfare does help your commanding skills to a great extent. Any commander who has seen actual war will perform better then any would be tactician or strategist hwo has never seen the light of the feild. When you have a man or woman who seen war first hand, knows what happens on the feild itself, and can apply proper procedure to his or her troops due to the fact they can understand, and relate to their troops makes a very big differance.

It's like with any job when you think of it. We all can probably make up a plan for firefighters to combat a huge blaze inside a building and getting people out of the building itself. But unless you are a fireman yourself you can't really relate to the situation they are going througho n a personal level which means your communication with your troops is inefficient. The fact that you also have no experience in the matter means you got no way to form a thesis that is tried or true unless your going by anothers example.

But eithier way, most militaries recognize this and commanders are often seasoned soldiers who have performed at least if not one, but a whole lifetime worth of warfare under their belt.

I'd rather have a man who has been on the feild for 30 years then some rookie who hasn't even been on a feild yet and just got the job because he has a university education on the appliance of tactics and generalship.
 

Elenmmare

I believe often the stereotype is carried too far. Career soldiers spend their life following orders, sometimes a fresh approach helps. James Wolfe is a notable example.

I'm eating an apple, if I weren't my post would be better supported.

Edit: ****sticks, I was eating an apple.
 

Urlik

Sergeant Knight
well Hitler had combat experience in WWI and it didn't make him a great strategist or tactician
 

Almalexia

Her Flamboyance, the Calipha
Duke
M&BWBNW
Urlik said:
well Hitler had combat experience in WWI and it didn't make him a great strategist or tactician

Sure it did, until he got cocky and decided to micromanage everything.
 
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