Grand Blog Tarkin is hosting a symposium on the Battle of Hoth. Sparked by WIRED magazine’s original debate begun by Spencer Ackerman, Grand blog Tarkin’s Symposium features some of the finest sci-fi war nerd speculation from keen strategic thinkers from the blogosphere and Twitter. Oh, yeah, I am participating as well, thanks to Kelsey Atherton.
Here are some excerpts and their authors:
Dunkirk-on-Ice by Graham Jenkins
In 1940, French historian Marcel Bloch wrote a slim volume entitled Strange Defeat, on the incomprehensible defeat of the superior French Army at the hands of the Wehrmacht. 60 years later, Ernest May wrote the complementary version in Strange Victory, an account of the improbable German success in defeating France. Many have written on the utter failure of the Imperial Navy to successfully crush the Rebellion once and for all at the Battle of Hoth, but few have bothered to explore the rather unlikely escape the Rebels made from their icy fortress. “How did they not lose?” Contrary to Spencer Ackerman’s view, the Alliance was faced with dire options and chose mostly the best available.
Ackerman critiques the Alliance for keeping virtually all of their key military players in the same location at Echo Base, but ignores the value of face-to-face, instantaneous communication among Rebel leaders. Collaboration is key to any successful insurgency, and while distributed cells might have a better chance of survival, they still require a core group to perform key coordination and planning functions. This is most effectively provided through close, personal cooperation….
The Battle of Hoth and Grand Strategy by Mark Safranski
The key to understanding the Battle of Hoth is not in tactical minutia on the icy surface of the planet, nor in confused imperial strategic objectives or even in the quixotic leadership of Lord Vader, but in grand strategy. As a self-contained polity facing no external foes and only a scattered and poorly armed insurgency, the greatest potential threat to the Empire’s two-man Sith regime would likely emerge from the ranks of the imperial military itself. It was not that the Galactic Empire could not have fielded a vast, overwhelmingly powerful and incomparably competent armada against the Rebellion, it was that Darth Sidious did not dare to do so…..
May the Tech Be With You by Shlok Vaidya
The Star Wars world is a bleak one. Aside from the standard strata of humans, the aristocrats like Leia to the paupers like Solo, there exists a more distinct separation. The Force-enabled and the not. Able to summon electricity from thin air, jump great heights, wield weapons of light, it is no surprise that the Empire is run by those able to use the Force. Or that the Rebel Alliance, filled with battle-hardened veterans who fought day in and day out, for days, months, years in some of the most challenging environments the universe has to offer, suddenly promote the Force-empowered Luke Skywalker despite his lack of combat experience.
In a world where a wave of a hand can change minds, it is hard to say technology matters. But as the Battle of Hoth demonstrates, it invariably does. That particular engagement was an exercise in terrible technology decision making. Tanks with weapons that don’t rotate, raised onto legs reminiscent of ostriches, and move with all the finesse of an overweight wampa. Laser blasts that detonate on impact without consistent grouping. A lack of even basic infrared overlays on a ice-covered planet. The Empire’s foot-soldiers, otherwise decent men pulled from their homes and families to wage war in forsaken lands, were abandoned to the tools provided by the lowest bidder. Minor modifications could have addressed a vulnerability to harpoons. Major platform changes could have wiped out the rebel force in minutes…..
Let’s Cut the Imperial Fleet Some Slack by Brett Friedman
It’s difficult to tell from the original three movies, but the Imperial Fleet is a very new organization. Their operational and strategic missteps make much more sense in this light. A galactic fleet cannot be built in a day. Although we see a Star Destroyer at the end Revenge of the Sith, a fleet is comprised of more than just ships. Doctrine, tradition, staff work, planning processes, and institutional experience are just as important as the ships themselves. Even though decades elapse between Revenge of the Sith and The Empire Strikes Back, it was just not enough time for the Imperial Fleet to become an elite force.
The Battle of Hoth occurs twenty-two years after Palpatine seized power.The first expeditionary operation conducted by the US Navy after their formative battles during the American Revolution occurred between 1801-1805, twenty six years after its formation. Both of these conflicts were waged against non-state actors by very new nations. Although the First Barbary War was successful for the American Fleet(thanks to a few Marines) there was an embarrassing mistake. The USS Philadelphia was run aground and captured, along with its entire crew, without a fight. Additionally the expeditionary force had to depend on third party support from the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies. Presuming that years in the Star Wars galaxy are identical to our own, the two young fleets had a similar amount of time to develop. The Imperial Fleet that we see in Empire, while presumably leavened with clone-veterans from its formative battles, just did not have the know-how to conduct counterinsurgency on a galactic scale. The tactical and strategic situation that the fleet faced at Hoth was, to them, a new one…..
Missed Opportunity: Rieekan’s Failure at Hoth by Mike Forbes
The conventional wisdom regarding the Battle of Hoth is that it was a major Imperial victory, described in terms of the Rebels as the massively overmatched ragtag band scattering before the unstoppable Imperial juggernaut. Thecontrary wisdom of sci-fi strategists focuses both on the tactical blunders made by the Imperial force, and thestrategic factors that influenced the decision-making of key leaders. Both narratives are wrong. The Rebel Alliance was anything but a ragged insurgent mob; they were a well-equipped and well-organized hybrid threat# at the time. The Battle of Hoth should have been a decisive victory for the Rebels, perhaps even as significant as the Battle of Yavin had been. The Imperial forces bungled what should have been a fairly simple HVT capture or kill mission, their staggering incompetence playing right to the Rebels’ strengths. However, the Alliance only managed to scrape by with a strategic draw due to their failure to take advantage of key opportunities during the battle to strike a massive blow to the Imperial fleet and the Empire’s key leadership. Hoth was also not a total tactical failure for the Empire; in fact they managed to pull off a partial victory, since Echo Base was indeed reduced to rubble, and the Rebels lost a large amount of materiel in the process of their hasty withdrawal under fire. The Imperial forces managed to salvage a partial success out of what by all rights should have been a crushing defeat, thanks to the even greater failures of their Rebel opponents, in particular the criminal negligence of General Rieekan….