Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Militia in the Kabinettskriege period

Afghan Militia in modern Afghanistan 
Dear Reader,

Today, we will look at the use of militia, and other populist forces throughout the Kabinettskriege period. My American readers may be familiar with the role of militia, "minute-men," and other irregular forces in the American War of Independence. These men, and sometimes women, fought the British throughout the American colonies, in smaller engagements, all the way to the large battles, such as Guildford Courthouse and Saratoga.

Militia at the Battle of Guildford Courthouse

Militia in the American War of Independence
A cursory look at the militia forces give a clear picture, which is difficult to argue with. In essence: the militia were bad, often horrible soldiers. At Guildford Courthouse, the British overran two line of militia before even reaching the Continental army in the third line. These troops were panicky, prone to flee at the first sign of a British bayonet charge. As a result, the American commanders ordered their militia to fire two shots and then flee, a prudent use of soldiers who were likely to flee anyway. Towards the end of the war, American commanders learned to deploy their militia in front of their regular battle line, as a sort of speed bump to slow  and weaken the oncoming British. In this role, the militia proved quiet effective. While unable to compete with regular soldiers, the militia effectively drained the strength of the regular forces opposing them.

Off the battlefield, militia assisted the Continental Army in the so-called Kleine Krieg: the endless series of little skirmishes which made up the vast majority of this war. The militia proved effective in these type of skirmishes, as they could use the ambush tactics which they knew very well. They sometimes possessed hunting rifles, which they often used to target British officers. At the Battle of Bemis Height's Colonel Daniel Morgan ordered his riflemen to deliberately target General Simon Fraser from hidden positions. In the Kabinettskriege context, this seemed more like murder than war. In fact, Frederick II of Prussia reprimanded two of his Jägers for targeting enemy officers with their rifles. While the Americans eventually obtained their independence as a result of French help, the militias assisted in keeping the contest running until the French, Dutch, and Spanish could help the colonists.

Swedish Uppbåd (quasi-militiamen) 

Swedish Auxiliary Forces in the Kabinettskriege period
In addition to the usually discussed American militia, Swedish armies often called on the support of militia-type forces in this period. If the lower part of Sweden (Skåne, or Scania in English) was invaded, the peasants often turned up in numbers to fight, as they had a tradition of freedom not unlike the American militia.  At the siege of Malmö or the battle of Landskrona during the Scanian War, or the battle of Helsingborg in the Great Northern War, Swedish peasants joined the ranks of the army, and often went into battle with little or no training. Although in the Great Northern War, these soldiers were hastily armed with muskets, their original weapon was spiked club. While the Swedish soldiers fought well, much better than American militia in similar circumstances, they still lacked the trained skill of the Swedish Karoliner. 

Whether in Sweden, North America, or elsewhere, the appearance of large militia groups meant that one side had popular support. Even if it did not mean popular support across the board, the presence of militia meant that one army had the support of a vocal minority. Countries with militia proved difficult to invade, as the militia troops would harry the invading army, and sometimes, as at the battle of Bennington in the American War of Independence, destroy detachments of invaders through tricks and disguising themselves as friendly soldiers.

Modern Lessons: 

After Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan, the American army is starting to appreciate the predicament of the British in the American War of Independence. It is next to impossible to achieve victory if neither the invading army's home population, or the population being invaded supports the war. The presence of militia and other paramilitary forces make victory hard to achieve. In the modern War in Afghanistan, American soldiers defeated local militia groups time and again in open conflict. However, these continuing conflicts sap the strength of the American military, and quickly eroded the American population's willingness to see the war continue.

While Britain lost the American colonies, and America lost in Vietnam, the American's in Iraq and Afganistan have had more success. The answer may lie with the American's dedication to training and handing over the fight to Iraqi and Afghani security forces, comparable to British-leaning loyalists in the American Revolution. The key to success against militia is to obtain militias of your own; in order to end the "foreign" occupation in the minds of the occupied populace and the populace supporting the invading military.

Thanks for reading,

Alex Burns

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