Why do formations work in combat?

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Why do war games have formations what exactly do they offer to combat? Also do modern militaries use them? and if so what’s changed in terms of how the formations are made.

In: Technology

Formations allow the unit to know exactly who is where at a given moment. Depending on the mission certain weapons will be positioned I particular spots in the formation for maximum effect. By using formations the fields of fire are effectively covered providing the maximum effectiveness of the unit.

War games have formations because early armies used them. There was a big advantage in being in a formation over unruly mobs. You got protection, support, courage from the guy next to you. It was easier to control too. Most casualties came when formations broke. Rifles and machine guns did away with formations.

you can only fit so many people in any space – same goes with firepower (even ancient firepower; so including spears and swords). formations maximize the use of your own firepower and minimize the risk of enemy firepower being used effectively.

they had major psychological effects too; as most battles in war weren’t won by killing every last man but by trying to force the enemy into submitting and surrendering – tugging at the fears of the enemy soldiers by being more organized and more able to respond as a cohesive unit faster against any threat they tried to impose.

with the invention of modern military tactics as well as REAL firepower, standing in a big square isn’t going to do you much good. the range of how deadly an individual soldier will be has increased by a thousand fold. i can’t stab someone 3m away, but i could shoot them with a pipe, nail, elastic band and round.

modern militaries still use formations because they work. For example one type of formation used, the squad column fire team wedge allows the lead unit to make contact with the enemy without revealing the true size of the unit. This is beneficial for several reasons. If the enemy that has been engaged radios higher they will report that they have made contact with a team size element (4-5 soldiers) when it could a full platoon (35-40), the enemy will also not know that the other team in the lead squad could be outflanking them because they wont even know they are there

The same reason that a playbook helps in sports. In a group activity there is an advantage to coordinated action. In order to coordinate action, people need to know what the others are doing at any given moment.

A formation means people on opposite ends of the battlefield know what the others are doing and can focus on their more local environment instead. And if a change in tactics is needed, being able to tell people to change to a formation is far faster than explaining specific new instructions to each individual.

when two swordmen fight back-to-back against a crowd, they each need to defend one less side (particularly their vulnerable back) while both can still attack almost at full range. Their formation serves a mutual benefit.

The same principle itself is used in larger formations, although less obvious. Depending on the weapons used, the number of warriors, the weapons your enemy has available, different formations serve different purposes.