King of the Battlefield or Queen of the Battlefield?
John T. Kuehn
All, This might be contentious. Also, a good one for 4th of July fireworks.
Over the years the metaphor of king or queen of the battlefield has come and gone. Which military organizational construct is most effective ? Let us just assume they are all effective, just not equally so in all instances and all circumstances.
At the dawn of the modern age there were three primary “branches” on the battlefield: infantry, cavalry, and artillery. Artillery, which had been around for years had been relegated to siege warfare during what, for lack of a better term, can be termed the cavalry dominated era from roughly the collapse of the Roman and Han Empires until the early modern era, which began first in China with gunpowder weapons (12th Century). Then, gradually the three branches above emerged clearly again and artillery moved from being primarily an expensive siege weapon to a tactical weapon on the battlefield and a component of maneuver. The so-called era of cavalry, as John Lynn, Kelly Devries and others have emphasized was much more complicated (and sophisticated) than is often portrayed in the Western literature. The horse archer in laminated armor, not the heavy cavalryman (who had existed since the Cataphracts of Persia), was the paradigm warrior from a global perspective.
But then the infantryman took his place as queen of the battlefield across the globe, from Sekighara in Japan to the great infantry battles in the collapse of the Ming Dynasty to the famous Swiss pikemen in Europe. Infantry had again assumed its rightful place as the tactical center of gravity of any army worth the name. Or so goes the narrative, most especially emphasized in a series of articles in the early pages of the Western-English language anthology Makers of Modern Strategy, both the first AND second editions.
However, beginning with Gustavus Adolphus and continuing through Napoleon at battles like Wagram, one finds oneself in the American Civil War and the Franco-Prussian War and learns that more and more infantry is not doing the majority of the killing anymore on the battlefield. At battles like Shiloh, Chickamauga, the Wilderness, St. Privat, and Sedan, one sees see artillery raking in a bloody tax on infantry (and cavalry) in the open. By the time World War I’s maneuver phase (at least in the West) was over artillery had become “queen of the battlefield.” Even the infantry partisans could no longer deny its deadly effects. As the 20th century proceeded, the “age of fires” intensified and there is no argument when strategic and tactical air attack is added to the artillery (or more correctly “fires”) equation. But even without them, at battles from the destruction of the Second Panzer division not far from Dinat in the Ardennes to Khe Sahn to Fallujah II through X (will there be another Fallujah? I say yes…sorry to digress), artillery and fires constituted the bulk of lethality. The primary operational planner for Fallujah II (November-December 2004) then-Major Andrew Dietz, USMC, was an artilleryman and his scheme of maneuver reflected that, to include non-lethal fires and psyops. Andy was on my teacing team at Fort Leavenworth.
Nothing in this argument relegates infantry to obsolescence; if that was the case the US-led Coalition would never have had to trudge into Kuwait in 1991. My source for that one is personal experience planning, executing, and monitoring the air campaign from the Tactical Flag Command Center (TFCC) aboard USS John F. Kennedy (CV-67) January-February 1991 on the staff of CTF-155.