Sunday, 11 October 2015

Cold War Byzantium TO&E - Adapting a Medieval army to the late 20th Century

Part 3 of a series of posts on building a Byzantium based Cold War Imagi-Nation, Part 2 is here

Some of the fun of pushing Byzantium into various future eras as an Imagi-Nation is imagining how its military structure would be transposed. To be sure, over 10 centuries the structure changed, so to an extent one "picks and chooses" one's structure, I have tended to take the structure  of the late Thematic structure blended with the iconic Tagmata of Komnenan times (11th - 13th centuries), albeit with a lot of certain amount of laxness.

The Medieval Byzantine army - an overview

The structure to be transferred has 3 main components:
Firstly, the Byzantine army was structured into regional provinces (Themes), each one provides an all-arms  military force (lights, line and horse), mainly part time. The central full time army (Tagmata) provides the elite heavy and light cavalry and the Guard units.

Secondly, the Thematic forces over time seemed to have consisted of the standing forces (by later Komnenan times these standing forces were also called Tagmata), and also partly of Akritoi - part time troops, who were activated as soon as there was any incursion while the Theme was mobilising.
Thirdly, the Tagmata in this period, as well as consisting of the native Guards and other heavy cavalry units, had a number of full time mercenary or discretenational units, recruited partly to make up numbers and partly for their specific skills. These were:
- Varangian Guard - Scandinavian, Russian and English heavy infantry, famous for their use of the Dane-Axe
- Latinikon - European mercenary heavy cavalry
- Skythikon and Turkopoloi - Asiatic and Turkish horse archers (actually its not clear if the Skythikon were part of the Tagmata per se, or just bands recruited on an ad hoc basis. I have assumed that at least one full time unit existed)
Two later Guard units emerged:
- Vardariots - Magyars settled in the Vardar valley, also light horse archers. They seemed to also have functioned as a sort of Gendarmerie/Military police as well as guards to the emperor on campaign
- Gianitzaroi - elite light infantry, probably archers, may be from the "Peltastoi" tradition.
A rather hard to pin down troop type, the Peltastoi also existed, these seemed to have been something between missile armed light infantry and the heavy infantry, and are used in assaults in difficult places so may be armoured infantry. Elsewhere they are called archers. I have assumed they are part of the standing forces, and are best modelled as fairly crack Light Infantry.

What has passed

This structure was shoehorned into a 1758 Imagi-Nation structure (here) and a post WW1 one (here) in different ways, and to an extent this Cold War structure is a continuation of the post WW1 structure. As with so many other armies the cavalry became the armoured forces, and other units evolved as well.

After a discussion with other Imagi-nationeers, in the 1758 army structure the Biscotins (Biscuit Eaters) was formed, a mercenary regiment of western style infantry much like the Latinikon mercenary Western cavalry, and has existed ever since. 

The Peltastoi of Byzantine times was transmuted into regular light infantry, taking on the characteristics of Evzone type Light infantry in the post WW1 structure as those seemed to fulfil similar roles.

A Note on Army size vs Country population size etc

I have assumed Byzantium is a typical mid size European nation, c 10m population. I structured it (very roughly) from the 6 Roman provinces  - Europa, Haemontus, Thrace, Rhodope, Dacia Mediterranea and Macedonia - that lie roughly where I thought New Byzantum would be situated (hence the 6 New Byzantine Themes in the army structure in the section below).

Scaling Byzantium roughly on Yugoslavia, which had a c 20m population and c 140,000 troops, gives Byzantium an army of up to c70,000. Scaling it on Austria, which had c  52,000  on a population of 8.5m gives Byzantium a relative force of c. 60,000.So a 60-70,000 nman "full time - is" forec seemde reasonable

Yugoslavia had 30 standing Brigades when it restructured its Divisions in 1990, but in Yugoslavia about 2/3 of troops were conscripts. Byzantium's structure has less conscription, only the Thematic forces use conscription and structurally it's Brigades will be bigger than the Soviet model Yugoslavia used, so the 10.5 Brigades that Byzantium has, about 1/3rd of Yugoslavia's, is not at all unreasonable.

Ditto the Austrian comparison, Austria had a standing force of 3 armoured brigades manned with 15,000 full timers plus  30,000 conscripts, whereas Byzantium is 10 brigades, but 3 are purely full time and the Themes all have a full time cadre - so c 50,000 men, of which only c although c 1/3rd are conscripts and are counted as part of the available forces

Yugoslavia boasted 1m reserves (c 10% of the male population!) but that would be to man their national resistance force (didn't stop them quoting it as the total army size though). About 2% is the number normally quoted that one can call up without badly damaging an economy in the short term, so for Byzantium that is c 100,000 people as a direct reservist force, enough and more to man 2 more Thematic units for every one in the field . But in Yugoslavia (and Austria, Switzerland and Finland), all those others are kept semi-ready. Austria had 8 "ready reserve" mechanised brigades and 26 reserve infantry regiments. In Switzerland, for example each working age trained male does  a weekend a year training, and keeps their equipment at home.

Cold War Army Level TO&E

So after all that, going into the Cold War era the new TO&E structure is as follows:

Overall Structure

The military strategy of Byzantium is to create a force that makes taking and holding the country a proposition that is more trouble than its worth. This operates at 3 levels:
- A regular army that will cause damage in the conventional phase
- A countryside full of strongpoints and trained reservists to make occupying the country an expensive proposition
- Every male (and latterly increasingly female) citizen has had some miliray training, and is capable of fighting a guerilla war as they did in WW2.
The ancient Byzantine army is well structured for this approach, interestingly. It used a Brigade-like structure for the line forces, with elite full time, and various special forces held at Army level. I tried to size a similar structure roughly for a country of 10m population, albeit with a few mercenary units. In essence it has a full time Tagmatic army with 2 Armoured Brigades and 6 Light Infantry battalions plus special forces, plus army level artillery and air assets. Each of 6 Themes is responsible for a full time/conscript/ready resreve Motorised or Mechanised Brigade, plus an Armoured/Anti tank force - intilayy Company sized but increasingly battalion size as oledr atanks become available. In summary it comprises, by the late 1970's:

  • One Airborne Infantry battalion, One Special Forces battalions as part of the Tagmata
  • Two Armoured brigades, held at Army level as part of the Tagmata
  • Two Light rapid response brigades, held as part of the Tagmata as above
  • Army artillery assets
  • In addition to the Byzantine era, the Tagmatic army now has an Air component, with (oddly enough) quite a few foreign aircrew.
Thematic Units
  • Six First Line Thematic Mechanised/Motorised Brigades, one per Theme, made up of a full time cadre, troops in training, and a cadre of  readily available reservists from the ready reserve, the Akritoi.
  • Six Second Line Thematic Motorised Brigades, one per Theme, made up of a general muster of the younger ex-conscripts
In more detail, this is how they are organised and what fits in where 

Tagmatic Troops

The Stratiotai and Latinikon (heavy armour) and Turkopoloi (light armour)  form the armoured core of two Armoured brigades, with the Varangians and Biscotins forming their infantry component.

The other Guards units form the special forces, the Vardariots are now an airmobile battalion and the Gianitzaroi are being  restructured as a Special Forces battalion.

The Tagmata also holds the Army level artillery and the Army Air Force squadrons 
Light Infantry Rapid Response Force

This is the Cold War evolution of the Peltasts. The Light Infantry battalions are nominally independent, operating as Demi-Brigades, (battalion size formations, with Brigade artillery and armour assets split between them) organised to be able to operate  with attached light armour and artillery.  These are deployed as rapid-response forces, but can combine to opearte as two full strength Light Brigades,
The Skythikon light armoured regiment is attached to them, to provide the light armour and Recce forces.
 Thematic Troops

Each Byzantine Theme was in theory to raise standing line infantry, light infantry, artillery, and a cavalry (armoured) component. I have assumed each Thematic unit is a modern all arms Brigade in full time establishment, with a divisional size force vailable with a full mobilisation of all reservists. The full time Akritoi light troops form the Reconnaisance and Scout formations in the Brigade. In the early post war years there was little armour (and not much mechanisation either) as teh Tagmata got all that, so the focus of armour was tank destroyers. Over time, as newer armour was brought into the Tagmata, the older tanks and APCs were refurbished and allocated to the Thematic Brigades. 

The Akritoi are part time troops, a ready reserve like a Territorial army, initially formed of ex WW2 veterans, then over time increasingly ex-Thematic regulars who had volunteered  to serve in a part time basis, and once conscription was introduced in the 1960's tended to be those who had finished service fairly recently. They are kept at roughly the same size as the standing forces.
In addition, each Theme has a list of all the ex-conscripts and in a time of emergency can call up a force of the same size as the First Line thematic forces, except they are less well equipped, being motorised rather than mechanised. A "first draft" is enough younger men to man a Brigade roughly the same size as the First line forces, a "second draft" can do the same again, but these are purely motorised and there is no armoured element.
Each Theme also is responsible for hard point fortifications in it's lands, and typically mans these with conscripts in training or the Akritoi, who are called up about 2 weeks a year for refresher training.  

As well as this, a militia of roughly the same size as the  Akritoi is kept active, and typically has to train for a weekend each year. This is essentially the "2nd Line" brigade of each theme.

Tactical Level TO&E - evolution

As to the unit level structure, post War the line units were filled with volunters and whatever weapons were available from WW2 stuff left behind. In the early years the support functions were sparse - "Support" translated into "whatever could be purloined from dumped WW2 materiel".

Ditto in the early years, the  "Armament" issue was such that best the army managed was that each Brigade used (roughly) the same equipment - to make it easier to command, and reduce supply headaches. It was a day of great achievement when every line infantry company in the army could boast both a machine gun and mortar squad. It took quite a few more years for every line infantry company in the army to have the same mortar and machine gun in every squad, for example, and quite a few more years before all the front line Main Battle Tanks were of the same marque (never mind model number).

The detailed TO&E and equipment used in the period gamed - the 1970's to early 90's - is defined in Part 4 once I've finally made some  decisions. over here

(Thanks again to Don M for pushing my thinking along)


  1. This is vary much like post war Yugoslavia which makes allot of sense ! Your right about there has to be a good size mercenary element with a number of regiments (wouldn't be Byzantium without
    them). There is also a slight Israeli flavor to this force one were everyone has some training and two
    where nothing ever gets thrown away! As a war gamer and collector this appeals to me......)

  2. True, and fwiw Yugoslavia followed the same basic strategic approach as Austria, Switzerland & Finland - "be too much hassle to bother attacking".

    WRT retaining old equipment, a lot of less wealthy countries did that with the high cost capital equipment like tanks - even the US and Soviets had (probably have) older kit in their 2nd line & reservist forces.

    Plus it means I don't have to buy too much more stuff to put a big force on table ;)

  3. I'm retired US army myself and that was done here, as new equipment came on line like the M1 tank the old M60s went to the National Guard, This has changed with the start of the current
    conflict when NG and Reserves are being deployed as much as the regulars. But for my 20 years
    of service that was not the case, there was a huge difference in equipment.

    You and me both on that score and I like a wide variety kit on the table......)

  4. I've been thinking about your idea of the Akritoi part timers essentially being a force based on "Technicals", I think that has real legs, its exactly what part time light cavalrymen would be today - mayhe the Trapezitae are a specialsit motorcycle unit? Anyway it woud be very easy to have armed jeeps etc depositied all over the place, so mustering could be very quick, and they would be easily integrated into a Theme's brigade as additional scout/recce units.

    Also fwiw I discovered I'd bought a bunch of AMX-32 (look it up ;-) ) tanks from Heroics & Ros many decades back (it never went into service), so that is an ideal "Own Design" tank to field to replace the T-55s in the front line as they never went into service so I can sort of define the stats to be what I want.

  5. The AMX-32 is armed with a non-stabilized 105-mm rifled gun, similar to that of the AMX-30. It was also offered with new 120-mm smoothbore gun. Both guns fire standard NATO 105-mm or 120-mm rounds respectively. Variant with a 120-mm gun can carry a total of 38 rounds.

    The AMX-32 was fitted with new COTAS fire control system. It consists of ballistic computer, passive observation and sighting equipment and laser rangefinder. The main drawback of this main battle tank was a lack of gun stabilization equipment and it could not fire accurately on the move. Still it was claimed that the AMX-32 has a 90% hit probability against stationary target in 2 000 m range in day or night conditions.

    Secondary armament consists of 20-mm cannon with independent elevation and a roof-mounted 7.62-mm machine gun.
    And it looks like a Leo-ed up AMX,,,,)

    That's where I was going with the Akritoi , they are cheap and nasty and all over the place!
    The Trapezitae as specialist motorcycle unit might work if you stiffen them with some Armored Cars
    and Mortars (think WWII SS Recon Units)

  6. Thing is, re AMX 32, I doubt anyone else has seen one so no one will know what it is - I can pretend it is something totally different - the Belisarius Main Battle Tank is born :-D

    Re motorcycle Trapezitai, they could be a specialist Recce unit in Mourtatoi/ independent Light Infantry battalions, like the idea of backup with mortars & Armoured Cars, means these n's would look more like Foreign Legion 13th demi-brigade.

  7. Belisarius Main Battle Tank ........I like it!, figure it gets fielded about 1972?

    Yes the Trapezitai, as a specialist Recce unit in Mourtatoi/ independent Light Infantry battalions
    works also.

  8. I think when the T-72 gets fielded by the local WARPAC countries they sh*t themselves as there is nothing they have that can hurt it, the whole "too hard to take" schtick is no longer true- Say mid 70's that happens, another few years to get the New Tank in at prices they can afford- so late 70's it starts arrives, just in time for the battles this force will be fighting against the Polish Empire....

    BTW I see reading your blogs we have a shared love of Victorian Sci Fi - that figures :)

  9. That tracks the prototype M1 was around in 1978 and didn't get fielded until 1983.

    Yeah I love VSF, just been on the back burner for a while....I'll get back to it....)

  10. Had a look - seems that the T-72 started appearing in the WARPAC satellites c 1980, albeit in small nymbers

    I guess that's when they would start getting rattled, maybe a year or two before when they'd'v e known it wsa coming - so mid 80's introduction.

    BTW check out how everyone stores old tanks for a great callup. You need some old stuff too ;)