Six Military Blunders in Speculative Fiction

A comic with a snow speeder lassoing an AT-AT

From some of my previous posts, you may have noticed that I have a thing for battles. Can you blame me? Battles are super fun, what with all the violence and explosions, plus you can use them for wonderful drama when the hero’s best friend takes a life-threatening hit. So it bothers me when stories mess up their battle sequences. Even if the author is only going for cartoonish violence, these mistakes take the fun out of what should be a high point of the story. Given that, let’s look at stories that face plant on their military operations.

It’s possible to go really deep on this kind of critique, but we’d be here all day if we started comparing fictional battles to the infinite complexity of real military operations. So today, we focus specifically on when stories break their own military rules. Not only is it fun to analyze exactly where these stories went wrong, but it’ll help us to avoid similar mistakes in our own writing.

1. Fighting in a Ravine, Battlestar Galactica

A mountain surrounded by storm clouds.

In the episode Rapture, our human heroes have discovered an ancient temple that may hold the key to finding Earth. But then the Cylons show up, oh no! Now the humans have to defend the temple long enough to decipher its ancient writings, which means it’s time for a battle.

First, the facts. Both sides have a limited number of soldiers, mostly carrying small arms and a few explosives. Neither side can call in reinforcements or air support. The Cylons’ major advantage is that their centurions are really tough, whereas humans are notoriously vulnerable to bullets.

The humans’ main edge is that they’re playing defense. The temple itself is huge, so big it looks like a mountain from the outside,* but there’s only one way in. The temple also has a commanding view of the surrounding terrain, and the Cylons won’t risk damaging it with heavy ordnance, so there’s plenty of cover.

At this point, the human strategy is obvious, right? Hole up in the temple, using its high ground to rain fire on any approaching Cylons, then fall back to the interior and funnel their enemy into a narrow kill zone. That would also be a great place to use their explosives as traps, if they’re so inclined.

Instead, the humans abandon the temple completely and set up in a ravine, surrounded by ridges and plateaus on all sides. This is a baffling choice, most notably because it looks like the Cylons could just go around them. However, the characters insist that the enemy has to go through this specific ravine to reach the temple, so we’ll grant them the benefit of the doubt this time.

But intentionally placing themselves in low ground has another major problem: they’re incredibly vulnerable to attack. Once the Cylons have the high ground,* they can easily shoot over the humans’ cover, while having plenty of cover themselves. This is exactly what happens, and a bunch of unnamed extras die, with the main characters only being saved by a convenient plot twist.*

These humans are supposed to be trained soldiers, so it’s unclear why they’d make such a tactically unsound choice. The explanation is probably production related instead, as the temple itself was likely a model and it would have been difficult to show actors fighting in it. But even with that limitation, would it have been too much to ask for the humans to put themselves on a ridge or something?

2. Defending the Deeping Wall, The Two Towers

Helm's Deep fortress.

The fortress of Helm’s Deep is in two parts. First there’s the Hornberg, which is the main keep. It’s built on high ground, with only two entrances, both of which must be reached via a long and exposed path of open ground. Second, there’s the Deeping Wall, which juts off to one side from the Hornberg. The Deeping Wall is much lower than the main keep, and its primary purpose is to defend an area of land behind it.* This makes sense, since a fortress of this size could certainly use the extra space for growing crops, or just as a civilian living area.

But when Saruman’s army lays siege to Helm’s Deep in The Two Towers, there’s nothing in the area behind the Deeping Wall. The civilians are all inside the Hornberg, and there’s no way the battle will last long enough for growing crops to be viable. The defenders are expecting a relief force within five days, after all.

In that scenario, the obvious choice would be to simply abandon the Deeping Wall and concentrate all defenders in the Hornberg, which is higher up and much easier to defend. Our heroes do not do this. Instead, they do the exact opposite, sending most of their force out to the Deeping Wall.

This is a terrible choice because it allows Saruman to fight on a much wider front where he can bring more of his numbers to bear. The entire point of fortifications like Helms Deep is to limit how much of the attacking force can fight at once. This is what allows a much smaller defending force to hold its own. By placing troops on the Deeping Wall, our heroes are simply making life much more difficult for themselves.*

So what would have happened if the heroes had been smarter about their defense? Saruman would have taken the Deeping Wall, but that wouldn’t have done him much good since the Hornberg is on much higher walls. Instead of fighting on a long wall, the good guys could have forced their enemy into just two narrow choke points and held out as long as they pleased.

Narratively, that might not have been very satisfying, which is why the design of Helm’s Deep should have been changed. Instead of jutting off to the side, the Deeping Wall should have been an outer line of defense in front of the Hornberg, which is how real castles are built. That way, taking the Deeping Wall would just be the first step on Saruman’s attack, and it would leave his forces exposed to missiles from the Hornberg’s higher walls.

3. Arming Space Habitats, Persepolis Rising

Cover art from Persepolis Rising

While The Expanse novels aren’t exactly hard scifi, they have a core of realism that helps them stand out. One aspect of that realism is that bigger isn’t automatically better when it comes to space combat. Mobility is really important because the best way to resist enemy fire is by getting out of the way. This means any extra mass aboard a warship must be critical, since it slows down the ship’s evasive maneuvers.

There’s even an entire storyline about this, when the Belters* convert a giant colony ship into the solar system’s largest warship. The resulting Behemoth is very intimidating from its sheer size, but it’s actually far weaker than all but the smallest purpose-built warships. It’s hauling around a bunch of extra mass in the form of farming equipment, daycare rooms, and all the other requirements of civilian lives.

The books are remarkably consistent about this until Persepolis Rising introduces the Void Cities. At first, these three vessels are described like mobile space stations, which makes sense. Each of them has a population of around 200,000 and carries all the facilities of a civilian port to wherever they’re needed in the solar system.

But then we find out they’re also meant to be super powerful warships. In fact, they’re described as the most powerful weapons in the good guys’ arsenal when a new group of villains attack. This is ridiculous. Even if the Void Cities’ armament is impressive, they’re carting around 200,000 people’s worth of dead weight. A bunch of hydroponic farms and municipal centers aren’t going to be any use in a battle. At most, they might soak up some enemy fire, but actual armor would be way more useful for that.

Because the Void Cities are so large, they have close to zero maneuverability. And in exchange for that, they have the firepower of much smaller vessels. It’s like sending the USS Iowa into battle with a cruise ship tied to it. This would be irritating enough in any story, but it goes against the specific conceits set up earlier in The Expanse. It’s no wonder that the Void Cities are easily destroyed, and while this is supposed to be evidence of how powerful the bad guys are, it feels more like an indictment of sending city hall into battle.

I’m honestly not sure why the Void Cities even exist. It’s true that Persepolis Rising is supposed to show how the Belters are now ascendant within the solar system, but they didn’t need to build impractical warships to do that. They could have just had a regular navy. Or maybe the combat-focused parts of the Void Cities could detach from the rest before a fight. That would have added some novelty without contradicting the setting’s established rules.

4. Calling in Reinforcements, Serenity

Alliance ships from the film Serenity.

As a sequel to Firefly, the film Serenity is all about the evil Alliance hunting down our intrepid heroes. The Alliance is after one River Tam, largely because she knows a whole bunch of top secret information that could do a lot of damage if released.

That’s why the Alliance is very subtle in its pursuit. It doesn’t send in a whole fleet of ships to look for River; that would draw too much attention. Instead, it relies on bounty hunters and corporate spies. Then, in Serenity, the Alliance breaks out the big guns: an elite agent called the Operative.

The Operative only has one ship, but that’s more than enough. The good guys are flying an unarmed transport, the titular Serenity. Even if they manage to retrofit a weapon or two, the Operative’s cruiser has plenty of firepower to do the job. The main problem is finding Serenity, as its captain is a wily one with plenty of places to hide.

But finally the Operative gets a break. He learns exactly where Serenity is heading, and when it’ll get there. So naturally he sets up a quiet ambush to blow Serenity out of the sky… Oh, wait, no, he calls in “every ship in the quadrant,” which turns out to be a pretty big fleet, all so he can deal with one renegade transport.

This is a baffling move to say the least. There’s no way the Operative needs that much extra muscle on his side; his ship alone is already overkill. At the same time, moving that many ships is bound to attract attention. We’re talking thousands of military personnel here, and some of them are going to wonder why they were suddenly pulled off their normal deployment.

Worse, that kind of major military operation is bound to attract press attention. We know that the Alliance is fairly authoritarian, so they might be able to suppress official reports, but rumors and speculation would still get out. That’s just the nature of major military operations. So by calling for reinforcements, the Operative put his mission in a lot of unnecessary danger.

Of course, we know that the real reason for this was so that there would be an Alliance fleet to fight the Reaver fleet that shows up in the climax. But the Operative has no reason to suspect this, unless he can spy on the script itself. A better explanation would have been for the heroes to call up some of their old war buddies and organize a small fleet of their own, which the Operative could then hear about. That would explain why he wanted more ships, and the Reavers could still be a big surprise.

5. Giving Up the Wormhole, Deep Space Nine

The Dominion Fleet

In the fifth season of Deep Space Nine, Starfleet has a problem. The Gamma Quadrant–based Dominion is sending convoy after convoy of ships and war materials through the Bajoran wormhole to its new ally, the Cardassian Empire. Captain Sisko knows it’s only a matter of time before war breaks out, so he decides to act first by mining the wormhole’s entrance. This will stop the convoys and prevent the Dominion from building up even more forces in the Alpha Quadrant.

Naturally, the Dominion isn’t happy about this and sends a fleet to capture the wormhole. But this isn’t too bad for Starfleet as they have a powerful space station there: Deep Space Nine itself. We’ve already seen the station hold off a Klingon assault, so it’s reasonable that the good guys could triumph here too, especially since the Federation has plenty of time to send extra ships to reinforce DS9.

Except, for some reason, Starfleet doesn’t do that. Instead, our heroes have to make do with just the station and two ships they already have. Instead of joining the battle, the rest of Starfleet crosses into Cardassian space and destroys a major Dominion shipyard. Without reinforcements, our heroes can’t hold their station, and the Dominion captures it. This leaves only a self-replicating minefield to prevent the Dominion from sending more ships through the wormhole.

The characters relate this information like it’s some kind of triumph, but it’s actually a blunder of epic proportions. Sure, losing that shipyard is a blow to the Dominion, but they have countless shipyards on the other side of the wormhole, and now they have unrestricted access to the minefield, so they can take their time disarming it. This takes longer than you might think, but they still manage it, forcing Starfleet to launch a desperate attack to retake the station and, when that fails, to consort with enigmatic god-aliens.

If the strategic implications of losing the wormhole weren’t bad enough, Starfleet also passes up the perfect tactical opportunity here. The Dominion has no choice but to attack the fortified DS9, giving Starfleet a major advantage in firepower. With a fleet backing the station up, our heroes could have inflicted debilitating losses on the enemy.

Dramatically, losing the station is a good thing for the story, as it puts the characters in a low point that they need to climb out of. But the way it was set up just doesn’t make sense. If it were up to me, I’d have explained that DS9 is just too far away from the rest of Federation space to be properly supplied, so any ships sent there would be cut off and surrounded. That would give at least some idea why Starfleet didn’t feel it was worth defending.

6. The Entire Defense, The Empire Strikes Back

Rebel Trenches under imperial fire.

Finally, we arrive at Star Wars, a franchise that occasionally dabbles in this whole war business. In The Empire Strikes Back, the Empire has discovered the Rebellion’s secret base on Hoth, but it’s okay because the rebels have a plan. They’ll use shields to prevent orbital bombardment, then lay down fire with their ion cannon to clear the path for transports escaping the planet. Meanwhile, rebel soldiers will hold off an imperial ground assault until the evacuation is complete.

This ground defense looks like something right out of the Western Front of WWI. There are trenches full of soldiers, artillery positions, and even light aircraft flying overhead. That’s sure to slow the Empire down! Or at least it would, if it weren’t for one problem: AT-AT walkers. They’re big, stuffed with stormtroopers, and completely impervious to everything in the rebel arsenal.

Seriously, we see the rebels firing at them using both small arms and artillery, none of which makes a dent. The AT-ATs don’t even slow down; they just keep walking as if the rebels weren’t there. The only thing that seems to make a difference is when the rebels try lassoing them with speeders. That means most of the Rebellion’s defensive force is accomplishing nothing – they’re just sacrificing personnel for no gain.

More irritating, the Rebellion does actually have weapons that could probably hurt the walkers: the proton torpedoes carried by their X-Wings. The films don’t tell us exactly how powerful these torpedoes are, but we know from the previous movie that they’re stronger than normal blasters. Currently, all the X-Wings are doing is escorting the transports, which doesn’t actually matter since that operation succeeds or fails entirely based on the ion cannon.

Another tactic the film shows us is to have infantry rush up to the AT-ATs’ feet and attack them with explosives. Luke Skywalker pulls this trick after his speeder crashes, so we know it would work even if it’s difficult. The AT-ATs have a comically small field of fire, so getting close to them is relatively safe. Certainly it’s safer than waiting in a trench directly in front of them.

But the rebels don’t do any of that. Instead, they wait in their trenches to get shot. The best possible explanation I can think of here is that the defenses are meant to stop lighter, faster vehicles that the Empire never deployed. But even if that were the case, surely the rebels would change tactics once they realized what the enemy was sending against them?

Of course the real reason the rebels set up their defenses like that is the film makers wanting Hoth to look like the Western Front of WWI. I can appreciate the imagery, but imagery needs to fit with the plot too. If the rebels actually had some kind of artillery that could damage the walkers, and the Empire had to destroy that artillery before it could advance, that would have worked a lot better.

Real battles and military operations are enormously complex, so it’s unlikely you’ll be able to cover every detail. Your story doesn’t have the space, and it would probably be boring anyway. However, you should still do everything you can to make your battles consistent with the rules you laid out, either explicitly or implicitly. Otherwise, more detail-oriented audiences will notice the discrepancies, and what should be a fun action sequence can become an annoying slog instead.

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  1. Cay Reet

    I’m not military trained, but even I can see through those problems. Okay, I’ve read The Art of War about fifteen or so years ago – once. Still, even common sense would normally warn against those tactics.

    #1: A ravine is a great place for waiting for your enemy, but only if you’re standing on top of it. Otherwise, high ground (not morally) and a bottleneck where the enemy has to pass are much better, if you have them.

    #2: With a regular castle build, it would make sense to defend the outer wall first, because that’s why a castle has several walls: so you can hold of the enemy longer by forcing them to fight for each of the areas. If I know there’s only two entrances towards the keep (the last line of defence) and I know I have reinforcements coming, then I’d concentrate on a regular outer wall first (but it’s not a regular outer wall, just a walled area attached for other reasons) and then on the inner defences. Without an outer wall, I’d concentrate on the two pathways up to the keep and would do my best to make it impossible for the enemy to get up there.

    #3: I could see the use for a farm or two (having a regrowing food source means less need to pick up supplies), but apart from it, there’s a reason why most warships (or war spaceships) aren’t too big. Unless you want to break up a siege, a quicker and more manoeurvrable ship is more effincient in battle. Transports are big, but transports, even if used by an army, are not warships.

    #4: If you already have superior firepower, calling in reinforcements really doesn’t make any sense. One ship can slip into a system relatively easy and can probably get very close to its target before being spotted. A whole fleet? Not so much.

    #5: Faceplant. That’s honestly all which can be said about that one. You do never abandon a space station in favour of a wormhole. The wormhole can, in the worst case, be destroyed later. The station gives the enemy a foothold in your area and, perhaps, even information important to the war.

    #6: I have to admit that the battle of Hoth looks good on the screen, but with the AT-ATs, it’s pretty obvious that the attack pattern of the rebels is doing nothing. Calling everyone back and, perhaps, dropping a few proton torpedos to impede the movement of the AT-ATs until the base has been cleared out would have been much better. Or, indeed, sending ground units to the AT-ATs and using their unprotected bellies for an attack.

    Thanks for the very informative article, Oren.

    • Dinwar

      Re #2: An often-overlooked issue with castle warfare is that castle walls work against foes outside and inside a castle. If you’re outside the castle, obviously you’ve got folks firing arrows and whatnot at you. Then you break through the gates, and get to deal with the murder-holes, where folks drop rocks and boiling materials on you. Then you break through to the courtyard–and are faced with a ring of foes that have high ground and a target-rich environment into which they can shoot.

      Breaking through the outer wall of a castle is likely the most dangerous part of any assault on such a fortification.

      As I said below, without blowing up the wall (and demoralizing the enemies), the orcs would have had a MUCH harder time at Helm’s Deep. And they seem to have known it; they sent ladders up to the tops of the walls, to take out the archers up there and prevent the sort of situation I described above.

      In the books the value of this tactic is much more obvious, as both Helm’s Deep and Minas Tirath are built specifically to maximize the effectiveness of this tactic.

    • SunlessNick

      The wormhole can, in the worst case, be destroyed later.

      Destroying the wormhole wasn’t an option – there was a species of alien (of the weird godlike kind) living in it – probably powerful enough to prevent any attempt to destroy it, and even if they can’t, still an act of genocide. Of course that makes every other factor you mention even more critical.

      • Cay Reet

        Yes, in that case holding the base right next to it is even more important, so you can monitor what happens – give alarm or even attack whatever ship comes out of it.

  2. SilentReader

    The two towers is bafling me, why the defender let the attacker get close to the wall in first place? The elf able to fire arrow like machine gun, why not rain arrow at them? Where and when the attacker create those siege machine? And how the heck an entire army attack them from the rear? Dont they have scout or even a siege camp?

    • Dinwar

      “The elf able to fire arrow like machine gun, why not rain arrow at them?”

      In the books there were no elves at Helms Deep. Regardless, the benefit of a machine gun is really covering fire, which is more or less irrelevant at this battle. The orcs didn’t CARE how many died; they could afford to use a Zerg Rush.

      “Where and when the attacker create those siege machine?”

      Tricky in the Middle Ages. There was always a woods handy–woodland husbandry practices ensured an adequate supply. Remember, we’re talking about one of the main resources of the population here. So the invader could usually harvest what they needed. In this case, the orcs probably brought the ladders with them. Remember, they had a spy–and Sarumon probably had visited Helms Deep. They knew how tall the walls were.

      “And how the heck an entire army attack them from the rear?”

      In the books, it was a totally unexpected army–NO ONE considered the Ents a threat, so they left them totally out of their calculations. It’s somewhat akin to the Roman invasion of Persia. A Roman emperor was struck by lightning during the invasion, and the army collectively decided that Zeus was rather upset about them going beyond some pre-defined boundary. So the Roman army–which was literally a day or two away form destroying Persia at this point–packed up and went home.

      The totally unexpected can have catastrophic consequences for an army. Your scouts can only report what they think to look for. If a third party–totally unknown to everyone involved–opts to join in, the results can be complete disarray of all plans.

    • Cannoli

      Also, it was raining, which has an adverse effect on the range and efficacy of archery. At least one major batle in the Middle Ages was decided because it rained, but after the rain stopped, one side had more bowmen and the other had mainly crossbowmen, but the archers with bows were able to get their weapons back to a functional state faster than the crossbows. So the archers probably had to let the army get closer, because the range of their bows was decreased, or they knew the rain would reduce the time they could use the bows, beforce strings and fletchings became too waterlogged to go on. But the orcish crossbows were hindered as well.

      The orcish army was also on foot, and in strange territory. The enemy approaching their rear was mounted, were natives to the region and had an embedded wizard. Very likely the rear-guard scouts died before they could report on Eomer’s & Gandalf’s approach.

  3. Adam Reynolds

    Your idea for #3 was also supposed to be the case in Star Trek TNG. The Enterprise-D saucer section was supposed to be separated when the ship went into battle, something they basically never did, meaning that their civilians were usually killed when their ships blew up(something that also seemed to happen too easily, as a result of what must be horrible in-universe engineering). Though I will also say that the biggest problem with the Behemoth was that it was not built as a warship in the first place, as they were having massive problems with their electrical systems as a result of all of the retrofitted weapons(at least in the TV series, I’ve only read the first two books). As Drummer notes, they turned a church into a fortress.

    As for the Star Wars example, this is an extremely common problem in the franchise, largely created by wanting to use aesthetics from WW2 in a different context. Similar problems occur with the often inconsistent and generally lousy effectiveness of point defenses in space battles, based on the dam busters, which were outdated even by the end of WW2.

    Star Wars has a similar attachment to attacking over open ground. How is it that glorified police officers from Naboo knew more about taking cover and ambush tactics than clone troopers? They had an air mobile infantry force and they still mostly attacked across an open field. If there wasn’t anything useful for infantry to do, they shouldn’t have brought them along, which is why desert warfare is dominated by tank warfare.

    Another problem on the opposite side of this point is that the AT-AT is extremely slow, which gave the Rebel Alliance time to evacuate most of their forces and much of their equipment. While they are “officially” able to travel at 60 kph they are not even remotely traveling this fast. Because of course someone has over analyzed this, they are only traveling 6-10 kph. By contrast modern tanks can actually go faster than even the official speed, topping out at over 70 kph(40 over rough terrain). But then mecha in science fiction are an extremely common problem that really will never make sense.

    • Cannoli

      My headcanon for this is that smaller and lighter vehicles attacking Echo Base would have been easily shot up by those white turrets and the radar-dish-looking guns, that don’t do much to an AT-AT leg, but would vaporize a speeder or smash up a Scout Walker, which is why we only see one of the latter, staying practically under the cover of an AT-AT. Since most of the base, aside from the forward defenses, was underground tunnels, taking the base, and capturing critical personnel (which was Vader’s personal goal) would be an infantry operation. There was a shield to prevent direct landings on site, so they sent in the heavily armored troop transports, to smash through the defenses and deliver the stormtroopers. In normal circumstances, the walkers would have escorts, like scout walkers or speeder bikes, and maybe the tanks and armored speeders that show up in non-movie stories and games.

      Also, in Star Wars, thirty years before Empire, there was no real military power in the galaxy. There were small local forces, but there weren’t any large scale wars, so a lot of military knowledge and institutional thinking is relatively new to the galaxy. And what military there is, is largely in the Empire’s armed forces. The imperial military’s main job is terrorizing civilians and local goverments and over-awing police forces. The psychological effect of an AT-AT looming over your capital city probably stops a lot of fights, and never mind its weaknesses in a straight up fight against a weapon with comparable armor or firepower, because it’s almost never going to face something like that.
      On Geonosis, the Clone Army was fighting its first major conflict. I doubt all the technology in the world can make a simulation that will REALLY prepare you for the real thing. Also, there was probably a lot of mission creep and bad planning affecting the deployments of that battle. Yoda was in command, and his priority was to rescue the Jedi, so he’s not spending time plotting out deployments that will cut off the retreat of the separatists or letting the Operations and Intelligence staff officers of the army spend time analyzing the AOR of Geonosis. They dropped in on the area, because that was Yoda’s target, and the object he gave them was to secure the facility and make sure all the Jedi were recovered safely. After that, they just winged it, so a lot of the troops have to trek across the desert to the rest of the enemy facilities, because their transport assets are concentrating on getting more waves of reinforcements to the battlefield.

      • Cay Reet

        One problem is the construction of the AT-ATs (also the AT-STs). With their long legs and heavy bodies, they’re top heavy and can be toppled over easily. Ground-based vehicles like tanks would have been better (but less novel, of course). Or some heavy machinery hovering over the snow (if they’re well-armoured, the rebel ships wouldn’t be more of a problem for them than for the AT-ATs, but they couldn’t be toppled).

        • Grey

          Deflector Shields stop repulsorlift-vehicles, which is why walkers are so common.

          And the AT-AT is built for intimidation over practically, like everything else done under the Tarkin Doctrine.

  4. Luke Slater

    The Serenity example *almost* makes sense. Serenity is carrying information that can’t be allowed to transmit, and blockading a planet has got to be labour intensive.

    But I say almost, because the Operative knows *exactly* where they’re going, so he actually needs a good position and a gun.

    Not that he has a gun, if I remember right.

  5. Finn

    Okay, your criticisms hold valid for all the other ones but I have an issue to take with the Lord of the Rings example.
    Namely that there are three reasons for the defense of that outer wall. Firstly and most importantly is the fact that wall is protecting what is essentially the bailey of the castle where all the horses are kept AND it is the entrance to the glittering caves where all the civilians are hiding, so if it falls the orcs could easily attack the civilians.
    So the reason the defend the wall is to protect the civilians hiding in the Glittering Caves.

    As well in the book (I dont know if you were going of movies or books) there actually was a sort of fall back wall in the form of the Deeping Dike that they had to abandon.

    I agree that the movie version had a lot of plot holes though, military tactic wise.

    • Mike P.

      I’m glad someone here is up enough on the books to know that the civilians were not, in fact, in the Hornburg; Even in the films (At least, the extended edition — I haven’t seen the theatrical in years), it’s implied that at least SOME of them are not in there, because while see civilians inside the Hornburg when they arrive, all the scenes showing civilians once the orcs approach show them in an area with cave-like rock formations. In the scene where Theoden leads the charge from inside the Hornburg (a bit ridiculous in and of itself) there’s no sign of any civilians.

      So: They were defending the Deeping Wall because their were civilians sheltering in the caves behind it. It’s unlikely there was room for them all in the Hornburg.

    • Alex Lund

      @ Finn
      So the reason the defend the wall is to protect the civilians hiding in the Glittering Caves.

      I disagree.
      If the Glittering caves are behind the Wall, why do the Orcs not attack the caves and ignore the Hornburg?
      The Orcs are there to wipe out the humans. So it would be the first priority to kill all civilians. Yes, the soldiers in the Hornburg would still kill some Orcs but there are only men in the Hornburg. And without women they face exttinction as you need women to make babies.After killing all women the Orcs could leave the Hornburg untouched as they have fulfilled their mission.
      So if I take what I have seen in the movies I say that the area behind the wall is for the horses and some camping ground but as the attack begins all civilians are brought into the Hornburg because the only entrance to the Glittering caves is INSIDE the Hornburg. Otherwise it would make no sense. The most secure part is only secured by one wall and not by a wall and a fortress?
      And the horses are also brought into the Hornburg. How else would Theoden later have his horse available?

      • Cay Reet

        The Orcs might not know that the civilians are in the caves, whereas a fortress is usually easy to see. They would certainly go for the civilians as well, but if they are behind the wall, where there’s also soldiers, then the soldiers are normally killed first – civilians are no threat, but soldiers coming from behind while one is killing women and children could definitely be bad news. Therefore, first the fortress and the soldiers within, then the civilians.

        With the horses, it depends on how they are kept. Several cultures, such as the Hungarians in the past or the Mongols still today, keep their horses in a partially wild state where they will care for themselves. Then, they could have been left outside of the fortress, seeing to their own safety. Horses aren’t stupid, they’d move away from a horde of Orcs if they’re not fenced in.

  6. Dinwar

    There are a few reasons to defend the Deeping Wall.

    First, if you defend the Deeping Wall and lose, you can retreat to the Hornberg. If you abandon the Deeping Wall, opting to defend the Hornberg, and lose, where do you go? The only option is to flee through the caves–which gives the orcs an even chance, and which destroys moral on your side. To put it another way: Defending the Deeping Wall gives you a place to retreat to. If you don’t defend the Deeping Wall, your only options are total victory or total route.

    Second, there’s the psychological aspect–which is not insignificant. The Rohirim had used Helm’s Deep multiple times in living memory. Choosing to not defend the Deeping Wall is basically telling your men “We’re all going to die, like, today.” Telling your men to abandon the place that they’ve defended successfully time out of mind is NOT going to go unnoticed; it will shatter any chance you have of rallying your men.

    You also mischaracterize the point of fortifications such as Helms Deep. Fortifications served a few purposes–they allowed you to chose the battlefield, they allowed you to stockpile resources, etc. What they also do is give you a tactical advantage. You have high ground, and all sorts of places to shoot arrows from (even if they don’t all kill, they demoralize troops and break up formations). You have a WALL OF ROCK between your non-fighters and the enemy. You have fires for boiling pitch or even water (ever been seriously scalded? It’ll take the fight right out of you in a hurry). If you run out of ammo, you can take bricks and drop them on people. And the enemy? They’re standing there trying to put together their ladders–while dodging arrows, boiling pitch/water/oil/yesterday’s laundry (folks in a siege were NOT particular), and occasionally their fellow soldiers (as the ladders failed).

    Without gunpowder Sarumon would have had zero chance at Helms Deep.

    You’re also ignoring the fact that Sarumon, using a battering ram, DID breach the Hornberg early in the battle (at least in the movie). He had sufficient forces to attack on two fronts–threatening both the Deeping Wall and the more hardened fortifications of the Hornberg. So Rohirim were forced to keep the orc front dissipated, to prevent a concentration of forces at any one point.

  7. Silverware

    Was it the Last Jedi that starts with space bombers trying to bomb a dreadnought? What was the deal with them? They were so big and slow and the way how 90% of them got destroyed before even dropping the bombs was ridiculous. It’s space! With super fast lasers and space planes! Couldn’t you make faster bomb carriers in the future? What’s the point on the bombers if they can’t even drop the bombs?

    That was the point when I realized that I don’t actually like SW as a franchise. I was trying to like it because everyone else liked it

    • Dinwar

      It’s worse than that. Faster bombers existed in the Star Wars universe, even (shudder) the new cannon. The B-wing was a fighter/bomber, for example. For that matter, even the TIE bomber was better (faster and more maneuverable, though lacking shields in typical TIE fashion). X-wings can also be used for bombing runs (see Yavin).

      Star Wars works as a franchise, because it offers a lot of room for writers to play in. You can have space opera, you can have religious conflicts, you can have swords-and-sorcery, or you can have straight-up military bravado, along with numerous other options. See Rogue Squadron, Wraith Squadron, the Han Solo and Lando Calrisian trilogies, etc. The Extended Universe novels show that it works fantastically as a franchise–for writers who love Star Wars. The sequels were not written by such people.

    • Alverant

      Because SW space battles are meant to be like WWII dogfights except the battleships can fly too. That’s how they started out – to reflect the war movies the 1970s movie audience was more familiar with.

  8. Cannoli

    The rebel’s tactics on Hoth were delay and decoy. They were not trying to defend Echo Base or hold the Imperials out of it indefinitely, they were merely delaying them to give the transports time to escape. That was the whole plan, which was why it was being carried out in an unhurried and calm, professional manner, unlike the panicky running and yelling at the beginning of Last Jedi. They knew ahead of time, that when the Empire came, they were going to run again, because they couldn’t fight them straight up.
    They were manning the trenches with infantry and light weapons, because those would be easiest to pack up and run with at the last moment. They simply did not have the numbers or resources to win a fight, so they carried the good stuff off. The reason to keep the defenses manned, with the cannon and turrets, was to force the Imperials to stick with their slow heavy armored walkers, rather than lighter and faster vehicles. An army of speeder bikes and AT-ST or troop-carrying landspeeders, would have been on top of them before they could finish the evacuation, so they had those radar-dish-looking things, and the turret guns, and snow speeders, to keep the lighter, faster transports and fighting vehicles away. They were remarkably effective in that as well, since we only see one AT-ST, and it is nowhere to be found when Luke approaches the walker on foot. The sensible way to deploy weapons is to mix them up. In normal circumstances, something like the AT-AT, with its priority on protection and being able to handle “all terrain”, defensive weaponry is going to suffer. Protection, firepower and mobility have always been a three-way competition in designing military weapons, with the more emphasis you put in one area, the less you are going to be able to service the others. Clearly the AT-AT designers chose protection, and versatile mobility over speed or agility, and powerful forward guns over more diffused armaments (every gun port or turret on the main chassis is another potential weak spot in a vehicle whose priority is getting the troops to the fight, not shooting down enemy aircraft). It’s similar to bomber or transport planes – they are not very good at fighting other aircraft, but that’s not their job, which is to get bombs, material or soldiers to the target. Instead, they are escorted by fighter planes whose job is to protect them from enemy aircraft. Clearly, as we see in their deployment on Endor, AT-AT are not supposed to fight small mobile forces, and they are supposed to half smaller, lighter vehicles to do that, like the speeder bikes and AT-ST. But the rebels’ tactics and/or their chosen environment, the arctic climate of Hoth, which is already established to be inimical to some military vehicles, and a broad, open plain, with no cover for less-well-protected infantry or light mechanized units, forced the Imperials to send in the heavy transports without escorts. You can’t really criticize them, either, since they won the tactical battle. The failure of the Imperials’ strategic objective – to eliminate the rebel force and/or capture certain critical personnel – was due to Admiral Ozzel’s incompetent approach to the system, for which he was executed by Darth Vader.

    And the point about the X-wings being unnecessary due to the ion cannon is stupid. The ion cannon clearly is not going to hit TIE fighters, and I doubt any ground weapon system is capable of covering the transports beyond the orbit of the planet. The fleet attacking Hoth is not the ONLY fleet the Imperials possess, and there are criminals and the like as well, who could endanger the transports en route to the rendezvous point.

    tl;dr – the rebels were not trying to beat the AT-AT, they were trying to delay the imperial advance to allow the evacuation to take place. If they were not manning the trenches, and didn’t have light material engagement weaponry deployed, faster units could have engaged Echo Base in time to disrupt or prevent the full evacuation.

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