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Subject: Human Wave Attacks rss

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Kevin Nieman
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Just a little head-scratcher for ya.

I was doing a little reading on human wave attacks, and a question occurred to me:

I've heard of a Chinese human wave attack. I've heard of human wave attacks by the Soviets, the Japanese, the North Vietnamese, and even Iranian human wave attacks.

Can anyone give examples of American or British human wave attacks? Maybe examples from the American Civil War, perhaps?

Have American or British forces used the human wave attack in their histories? I'm quite curious to hear your responses.

Secondly, are there any wargames that portray American/British wave attacks, if any?

Thanks much.

(EDIT) Clarify the second to last sentence.
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Jeff Thompson
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ASL has all the ones you mentioned...

And I "THINK" that there was an old Kenetic Energy scenario pack that had them for a "different" nationality (British?). I think they were actually bayonet charges or something like that, but the history made it sound "wavish".

Hopefully someone can chime in. I hope I at least jogged a memory or two.
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Pete Belli
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The term is often misunderstood.

Quote:
Maybe examples from the American Civil War, perhaps?


The mass Union assault on the "Mule Shoe" salient at Spotsylvania in 1864 is one example. This was a surprise attack with no preliminary bombardment. The men advanced at dawn in a deep column formation with uncapped muskets (the weapons couldn't be fired quickly without additional preparation) and simply rushed into the Confederate trenches. The wave of attacking Yankees simply swamped the Rebel defenders.
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Steve Arthur
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pete belli wrote:
The term is often misunderstood.

Quote:
Maybe examples from the American Civil War, perhaps?


The mass Union assault on the "Mule Shoe" salient at Spotsylvania in 1864 is one example. This was a surprise attack with no preliminary bombardment. The men advanced at dawn in a deep column formation with uncapped muskets (the weapons couldn't be fired quickly without additional preparation) and simply rushed into the Confederate trenches. The wave of attacking Yankees simply swamped the Rebel defenders.


I wish someone had told General Haig about this...
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Robert Wesley
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There are these as well: Remember Gordon, Zulu Attack, Soldiers of the Queen robot
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Michael Dorosh
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Atraxrobustus wrote:
pete belli wrote:
The term is often misunderstood.

Quote:
Maybe examples from the American Civil War, perhaps?


The mass Union assault on the "Mule Shoe" salient at Spotsylvania in 1864 is one example. This was a surprise attack with no preliminary bombardment. The men advanced at dawn in a deep column formation with uncapped muskets (the weapons couldn't be fired quickly without additional preparation) and simply rushed into the Confederate trenches. The wave of attacking Yankees simply swamped the Rebel defenders.


I wish someone had told General Haig about this...


Better you should blame the Germans for starting the war. The fact remains that in the summer of 1916, the French were being bled white on the Western Front, and the British had to relieve the pressure. They were being asked to do this with armies made up of civilians, "pals battalions", and men - boys, really - with a but a modicum of military training.

As it turned out, some divisions on the Somme did use unconventional tactics such as Pete describes, that were in contravention of Haig's general orders. They apparently worked well. But the "waves" that Haig ordered were designed to maximize command control in an army of civilians. There are no guarantees in war.

If asked to throw half a million men across the trenches to relieve the French army, I'm not so sure I would be brave enough to bound into Haig's GHQ and suggest using tactics that worked in the 19th Century.

I can't even imagine that conversation. How would you phrase it, such that Haig wouldn't have laughed in your face?

The war was a raw deal for everyone involved, generals included. Blaming Haig, if that is your intent, is hardly fair.
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John Bobek
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Are these enough examples? OK, the one isn't technically a "human" wave attack but, what the heck?
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Michael Dorosh
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pete belli wrote:
The term is often misunderstood.


Perhaps the reasons for using it are. It's a command and control method. It was still in the drill manuals for the British in 1914; on the set of Legends of the Fall, those of us in the training cadre for the extras doing the military scenes actually walked through some period infantry assaults straight from the period manuals, which were in "waves". The assault by the 10th and 16th Battalions at Kitcheners' Wood at St. Julien on 21-22 April 1915 was a textbook example of such a "human wave" attack.

It's not a suicide charge, at least, it was never intended as such. By 1914, in the face of massed automatic weapons, the landscape certainly had changed.
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Dan Buterbaugh
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I think Pickett's Charge at Gettysburg counts. It wasn't even close to successful, though. (Like most human wave attacks).
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Kevin Nieman
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Wargamer204 wrote:


Are these enough examples? OK, the one isn't technically a "human" wave attack but, what the heck?


Nice pics. Just a bit off-topic, but appreciated. :-)
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Robert Ridgeway
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Michael Dorosh wrote:
Better you should blame the Germans for starting the war.

Blame everyone except the Belgians*.

*their charge is reduced to "unintentionally homicidal obstinacy"
 
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Pokey 64
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AWI Battle of Bunker Hill?

ACW Battle of Fredericksburg?
Battle of the Crater?
Battle of Cold Harbor?
Battle of Malvern Hill?
 
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Kevin Nieman
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pete belli wrote:
The term is often misunderstood.


I think it can apply to a variety of scenarios that feature massive troop charges, but I was more thinking of the wave after wave of men that were sacrificed to the slaughter in WWII from the Japanese and the Russian sides.

Part of the reason for my question was that I've read many WWII accounts of Japanese and Russian human wave attacks, but I don't recall reading of any such attacks coming from the U.S., the Germans, the British, etc.

Maybe there are records of such attacks in WWII, but I was curious why it seemed that some armies did it and others didn't. It seemed to work for the Soviets, but not for the Japanese. I suppose you could argue that the Japanese attacks were mainly suicide missions like a ground version of an airborne Kamakaze attack. I know that the ideologies of both the Japanese and the Russians differed from the US/British way of fighting.

It's just interesting to ponder how widespread this tactic was, whether it was used by U.S. and British forces, and whether or not they stopped using it at some point.
 
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Michael Dorosh
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Dante_Cubit wrote:
It's just interesting to ponder how widespread this tactic was, whether it was used by U.S. and British forces, and whether or not they stopped using it at some point.


As mentioned above, infantry "waves" were a command and control device. They massed man and firepower under a single commander. In 1916, after the Somme battles and the heavy casualties suffered there which atraxrobustus alludes to, the British began looking at decentralizing command down to platoon and section (squad) commanders. This was successfully achieved in 1917. Before that, platoons and especially sections were mostly used for organizational and messing purposes, not tactical ones.
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Robert Ridgeway
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Dante_Cubit wrote:
I think it can apply to a variety of scenarios that feature massive troop charges, but I was more thinking of the wave after wave of men that were sacrificed to the slaughter in WWII from the Japanese and the Russian sides.

Part of the reason for my question was that I've read many WWII accounts of Japanese and Russian human wave attacks, but I don't recall reading of any such attacks coming from the U.S., the Germans, the British, etc.

Maybe there are records of such attacks in WWII, but I was curious why it seemed that some armies did it and others didn't. It seemed to work for the Soviets, but not for the Japanese. I suppose you could argue that the Japanese attacks were mainly suicide missions like a ground version of an airborne Kamakaze attack. I know that the ideologies of both the Japanese and the Russians differed from the Allied way of fighting.

The first time I heard the phrase was describing the PLA's invasion of South Korea - exactly as an example of "national character" {disregard of individual life + blind faith in the irresistible force of the mass collective}.
The next time I heard it used was in regard to some Soviet examples ~ but they were always described as "desperate last ditch efforts" made affordable by a mass population.
My guess from the above is the term is often used Subjectively - pejoratively or not, but never to describe one's Own actions.

FWIW: I've always assumed it is distinguished by sending troops en masse ultra WITHOUT any tactical preparation or direction beyond the primal "Attack and Overwhelm!" (no officers needed except to shepherd laggards).
= the closest thing to a Mob an army can get.
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Bill the Pill
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AnalogGamer wrote:

The first time I heard the phrase was describing the PLA's invasion of South Korea

Not sure I'd call northern Korea "South Korea"--I assume you mean the PLA attack across the Yalu and throughout the north against the UN, er, U.S. forces?
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Robert Ridgeway
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DrFlanagan wrote:
Not sure I'd call northern Korea "South Korea"--I assume you mean the PLA attack across the Yalu and throughout the north against the UN, er, U.S. forces?

Correct! and corrected: Thanks!
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J.L. Robert
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J.L. Robert
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Dante_Cubit wrote:
Can anyone give examples of American or British human wave attacks? Maybe examples from the American Civil War, perhaps?


I'd REALLY be interested to find out about any British human wave attacks during the American Civil War!!!
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Robert Ridgeway
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J.L.Robert wrote:
I'd REALLY be interested to find out about any British human wave attacks during the American Civil War!!!

Don't ask about what the rare Austrian was up to....
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John Bobek
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Quote:
Secondly, are there any wargames that portray American/British wave attacks, if any?

Thanks much.


I wasn't trying to be off post. You asked about wargames, I showed pix of miniatures games with "human wave" attacks being portrayed. I know I have pix of such but, there are a lot of my photos to sort through.

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Michael Dorosh
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It may be worth repeating part of my original article from here

http://tacticalwargamer.com/articles/squad/infantrysquad.htm

in this thread:

Evolution of the Infantry Squad 1914-1945

The basic unit of maneuver in world's modern armies by 1939 was the squad - ten or so men armed with rifles and usually a light machine gun.1 It was not always this way, however, and this organization represented the end of an evolutionary process brought about by technological change and tactical requirements during the First World War.

1914


In 1914 the basic unit of maneuver was the infantry company, 150 or 200 men strong. They were sometimes subdivided into platoons of 30 or 40 men, but in many armies - the British certainly - they were used mainly for administrative purposes, often with no permanent leader. Pre-war British Army manuals divided the company into a firing-line and supports. The goal was not to win firefights, but “to bring such a superiority of fire to bear on the enemy as to make the advance to close quarters possible.”2 Battles were to be finished with the bayonet, not the musketry that was the pride of British Army.

One of the very first board wargames on a tactical scale was Soldiers: Tactical Combat in 1914-15, released by SPI as a boxed game in 1972 (collectors will note it was also shipped via envelope, and there were three different box variants, the most common actually being little more than a black counter tray with clear plastic lid holding the contents inside.)

The game accurately reflected the state of tactical training in this period, and basic unit of maneuver in the game, as in life, was the company. Also included in the game were machine gun companies and platoons, cavalry squadrons, and artillery batteries/platoons. In the early period of the war, artillery doctrine was as firmly rooted in the last century as infantry and cavalry doctrine, and guns were often sited in the front line and expected to fire over open sights in direct support of infantry. The onset of positional warfare in the opening months of the war changed all that. But that was in the future in 1914-15, and infantry doctrine remained rooted in maneuvering entire companies at a time.

A classic example of company level doctrine was Kitcheners' Wood on 21-22 April 1915. Two Canadian battalions formed company waves on a frontage of just 300 yards as per their instruction manuals, each wave two companies strong with two ranks twenty yards apart. Thirty yards separated each of the four waves. They were trained to advance at walking pace, arm's length apart; the company commander's whistle would bring them shoulder-to-shoulder, firing "two rounds rapid" from the hip before charging home with cold steel. They had practiced this on Salisbury Plain for weeks. "No one questioned its practicality in the face of massed machine-gun fire."3

They set off in darkness over 400 yards of open ground. The advance stopped halfway at a tall wire-strewn hedge. There had been no time for reconnaissance, and now none for stealth. Noisily bashing through, when alerted German machine gunners in the Wood opened fire, the men charged. Both units intermixed in a frenzied assault similar to that of the ill-disciplined Highlanders at Culloden 169 years before. It was all over in under fifteen minutes. Both battalions had mustered 1600 men at the start line; six hours later, with the Germans driven out and counter-attacks beaten off, only 461 were left able to fight.4



Above is a representation of this situation were it to be portrayed in Advanced Squad Leader. Each counter represents a 10-man squad. To achieve the necessary frontage, five such squads would have to be stacked into each hex (representing 40 metres of terrain from side to side). ASL players will recognize the dubious prospects of facing an enemy armed with machine guns when your infantry is overstacked five squads to a hex, two battalions compressed into an area just 28 hexes in area. For those actually wanting to simulate this in ASL, pre-1917 British tactics, would likely need to include Human Wave (A25.23) rules combined with a form of Platoon Movement (D14.23) for infantry. It would not be fun to play.

By late 1914 the Germans were already feeling their way towards the all-arms teams they called Stosstruppen, or "stormtroopers." So were some French divisions. Unlike the German army, with its powerful tradition of decentralization and individual initiative, the British Army believed in centralization of tactical doctrine...headquarters periodically reminded senior officers that the 1914 manuals were still in effect.5

The Somme


Reluctance to change was well-illustrated on 1 July 1916, and even though some divisions performed very well on a day that 60,000 men were killed or wounded, institutional resistance was still a force to be reckoned with.

On 17 May 1916, Rawlinson issued a pamphlet, Fourth Army Tactical Notes, directing that this be read by all ranks down to...company commander level. These notes called for an attack in extended line: 'the leading lines should not be more than 100 yards apart and the men in each line should be extended at two or three paces' interval, the number of lines depending on the distance and the nature of the objective.6

But according to Martin Middlebrook, the British were starting to learn by then; the following examples all come from that same 1 July 1916 attack that had been so costly over so much of the front:

At Gommecourt...Attacking from the south, the 56th (London) Division had performed brilliantly. Making use of (a) new trench they had dug in No Man's Land and a smoke-screen, four battalions had captured the whole of the German front-line system...


and

The leading battalions (of the 36th (Ulster) Division) had been ordered out from the wood just before 7.30 A.M. and laid down near the German trenches...At zero hour the British barrage lifted. Bugles blew the "Advance". Up sprang the Ulstermen and, without forming up in the waves adopted by other divisions, they rushed the German front line.....By a combination of sensible tactics and Irish dash, the prize that eluded so many, the capture of a long section of the German front line, had been accomplished.7


Rediscovering Platoons

Two and a half months later, training memos still announced that the company was the basic unit of attack. Even if the solution of smaller tactical entities had been obvious, there was a severe shortage of leadership; casualties among junior officers and senior NCOs were terrifiyingly high. Nonetheless, in the months following the Somme, the British

...rediscovered platoons. Officially they had always been there, thirty or forty men commanded by a lieutenant, with a couple of sergeants to assist him. In practice, pre-1917 tactics and the lack of reliable, experienced officers persuaded ...battalions to rely on companies, with junior officers assigned duties at a company commander's convenience.8


Companies were now formed into four platoons on a permanent basis, further divided into four squads. Officers, sergeants, and even corporal squad leaders were permanently assigned. HMGs went into specialized units, replaced in the infantry battalions by the Lewis Gun - one per platoon by 1917. One squad in the platoon would carry the heavy Lewis along with its bulky ammunition pans. The second squad specialized in grenades, a third in rifle grenades, and the fourth were riflemen.

Instead of companies advancing in line, halting until flanks were safe or the artillery had dealt with a problem, attacking infantry could maneuver against an enemy post that held them up. An infantry company would have four teams, each capable of fighting its own small battle. Leaders and men would know each other and, through briefings and rehearsals, all would know what to do. It had taken a long time, but ... infantry would be organized and trained to fight their own battles and not to be patriotic automata.9


By war's end, the British Army fought with true combined arms teams of tanks, artillery, machineguns, and even air support, co-ordinated at times by wireless, and at the centre of it all was the infantry.

In 1914 it was an arm which had prided itself on accurate rifle-fire which paved the way for assault in line. By the war's end, if it could not perhaps produce thousand-yard hits...it could generate a blizzard of close-range fire...and develop attacks with platoons and s(quads) shoving their way forward with fire and manoeuvre.10


The Germans had lagged behind in developing a light machine gun adopting the MG 08/15 while the French and Americans adopted the lighter Chauchat, with the Americans eventually implementing the excellent Browning Automatic Rifle very late in the war. However, the Germans re-organized their infantry by 1918, so that the machineguns were part of combined-arms groups. Just as the British and French had done, small assault detachments, as few as eight men with a dedicated NCO to lead them, were being used with great effectiveness.11

Notes

1. In actual fact, the British squad has always been called a "section" but for purposes of this article "squad" is substituted.
2. Holmes, Richard. Tommy: The British Soldier on the Western Front 1914-1918 (HarperCollins UK, 2005 ISBN 978-0007137527) p.381
3. Dancocks, Daniel G. Gallant Canadians: The Story of the Tenth Canadian Infantry Battalion 1914-1919 p.27
4. Ibid, pp.33-34
5. Morton, Desmond. When Your Number's Up: Canadians in the First World War, p.164
6. Neillands, Robin. The Great War Generals, p.240
7. Middlebrook, Martin. First Day on the Somme
8. Morton, Ibid, p.164
9. Ibid, p.164
10. Tommy p.394
11. Bull, Stephen. World War I Trench Warfare (2) 1916-18 (Osprey Publishing Ltd. 2002)
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Steve Arthur
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Michael Dorosh wrote:
Atraxrobustus wrote:
pete belli wrote:
The term is often misunderstood.

Quote:
Maybe examples from the American Civil War, perhaps?


The mass Union assault on the "Mule Shoe" salient at Spotsylvania in 1864 is one example. This was a surprise attack with no preliminary bombardment. The men advanced at dawn in a deep column formation with uncapped muskets (the weapons couldn't be fired quickly without additional preparation) and simply rushed into the Confederate trenches. The wave of attacking Yankees simply swamped the Rebel defenders.


I wish someone had told General Haig about this...


Better you should blame the Germans for starting the war. The fact remains that in the summer of 1916, the French were being bled white on the Western Front, and the British had to relieve the pressure. They were being asked to do this with armies made up of civilians, "pals battalions", and men - boys, really - with a but a modicum of military training.

As it turned out, some divisions on the Somme did use unconventional tactics such as Pete describes, that were in contravention of Haig's general orders. They apparently worked well. But the "waves" that Haig ordered were designed to maximize command control in an army of civilians. There are no guarantees in war.

If asked to throw half a million men across the trenches to relieve the French army, I'm not so sure I would be brave enough to bound into Haig's GHQ and suggest using tactics that worked in the 19th Century.

I can't even imagine that conversation. How would you phrase it, such that Haig wouldn't have laughed in your face?

The war was a raw deal for everyone involved, generals included. Blaming Haig, if that is your intent, is hardly fair.


The BGG Lesson for Today..."Maketh not the ill-considered off the cuff remark lest thou be justifiably flayed by those more informed on the topic than you."

I probably wouldn't have got passed the guards at the chateau's front gate...

It just seems to me that employing the same tactics day after day,week after week,month after month for no apparent material result seems to me the act of a commander bereft of ideas,command and control issues not withstanding...I realise that it's easy for me to critisise Haig now but I think he was so self-deluded as to the perceived power of his artillery preparations and that the raw courage and discipline of his men would suffice win through that the evidence of his own casualty lists failed to convince him of the bankruptcy of his methods...I feel sorry for Haig...no doubt he was under intense political pressure and like most commanders of his era out of his depth in a situation that was entirely beyond anything he had experienced before...there was probably nothing else he could do until someone else came up with something new...
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Atraxrobustus wrote:
The BGG Lesson for Today..."Maketh not the ill-considered of the cuff remark lest thou be justifiably flayed by those more informed on the topic than you."

I believe that's inscribed on the "Gate to BGG":



Best to FIDO.
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J.L.Robert wrote:
Dante_Cubit wrote:
Can anyone give examples of American or British human wave attacks? Maybe examples from the American Civil War, perhaps?


I'd REALLY be interested to find out about any British human wave attacks during the American Civil War!!!


We used the Harry Potter Cloak of Invisibility Human Wave. You don't see a lot of that.
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