Warfare: An Engineering Approach

By yakcamkir.

Frederick Lanchester (1868 - 1946) was an English engineer, responsible for the founding of the Lanchester Motor Company and many of the basic laws of aerodynamics (including coining the terms "aerodynamics", "aerofoil" and the mistranslated "phugoid"). With respect to medieval warfare though, his main achievement was Lanchester's Power Laws - relationships for determining the strength of military forces. These laws apply to many things as well as warfare, including for example the success of the Japanese electronics industry.

Lanchester's Linear Law

Lanchester's Linear Law describes the relative strength of "ancient" military forces where melee combat predominated. Therefore, each combatant could only engage one enemy. In effect, a battle could be modelled as a large number of single combat encounters. However where one army had a local superiority in numbers, they could put two combatants to the enemy's one and hence increase their chances of local victory. Lanchester studied the casualty figures in battles and the number of troops engaged and came up with a linear law as follows:

Lanchester's Linear Law.
  • Ao = Initial Number of General A's troops.
  • A = Final Number of General A's Troops.
  • Bo = Initial Number of General B's troops.
  • B = Final Number of General B's Troops.
  • E = Efficiency Factor

The Efficiency Factor shown here is a measure of the efficiency with which Army A fights compared to Army B. It is affected by things like fatigue, discipline, skill, weapons, armour, strategy and many other things besides (including luck). Therefore, there is an aim to have more efficient troops. This is most commonly seen in pure melee fights on walls, where the best melee troops generally win as their efficiency factor is greater.

Lanchester's Square Law

Lanchester's Linear Law was found not to hold true for "modern" battles where greater use of ranged weapons including longbows and muskets allowed a single ranged combatant to engage many enemy combatants and allowed many combatants to engage a single combatant simultaneously (eg. a volley of arrows). Lanchester then developed his Square Law by looking at "modern" battles.

Lanchester's Square Law.

The difference is in the squares. In regular combat, not only does the larger force win, but it wins by a bigger margin. If superiority is taken to a great enough degree, then the victor will suffer no significant losses.

Lanchester's Square Law also gives some hope to the smaller force. Since the troops numbers are local numbers rather than across the whole battlefield, then splitting the enemy force into multiple parts and destroying them a few at a time would allow a small force to defeat a large force in a battle that would, according to Lanchester's Linear Law, be impossible to win.

Lanchester Strategy

Lanchester Strategy can therefore be developed as a way to maximise the success of your troops:

  • Divide the enemy: By dividing the enemy army into multiple elements, you reduce the enemy's numbers and hence set yourself up for an easier victory.
  • Engage each element separately: By engaging the enemy army one element at a time, you split the battle into several separate battles that you can win one at a time. Note that this also helps to keep situational awareness as the tactical environment is simpler.
  • Commit the maximum number of troops against the minimum number of the enemy: This maximises the difference of the squares, hence maximising your kills to losses ratio.

Lanchester Strategy in a nutshell can basically be referred to as "Divide and Conquer" - a strategy that is used by militaries the world over today.

Applying Lanchester Strategy to Medieval 2: Total War

This is quite simple on the battle map. Engage the enemy army one unit at a time. Charge all six units of Knights Templar into the rear of a single unit of enemy infantry. Mob the enemy general with five units of Spear Militia. Bring the maximum force to bear on a single unit and you will defeat that unit quickly and with relatively few losses. Therefore, you will be able to wipe out the enemy army one unit at a time while taking far less losses than the enemy does.

It should be noted that combat in M2TW is a mixture of Lanchester's Linear Law and Lanchester's Square Law. Therefore, care should be taken to avoid getting into "linear" battles if possible. A meat grinder on the walls is all well and good, but there isn't the opportunity for fancy tactics to increase your efficiency factor or commit large numbers of units to the battle. It is basically about four of your men against four of the enemy (depending on the width of the wall). If the enemy have a lot of Spearmen in the plaza, then don't send your spearmen in (and certainly don't send your cavalry in) if you have missiles left. Shooting them only costs you a few arrows, boulders or bolts that you are going to get back by the next battle anyway. When you have to engage in "linear" battles (ie. when your archers have run out of arrows and there are only a few enemy spearmen left in the plaza), then you send in your troops and try to maximise the efficiency factor with flanking and the like. If at all possible, you should be using flanking and missiles to shoot hell out of the enemy before they get to you and engage in a more even battle. Play the Battle of Agincourt for example, if you want a "linear" battle, then don't use your arrows and watch your army get wiped out. If you want a "square" battle, then use your arrows to their best effect and decimate the enemy infantry before it arrives at your lines, engage the enemy a few units at a time and wipe them out.

Lanchester Strategy in the Commercial World

If you look at your TV, your DVD player, your VCR or any number of electronic devices, you will notice that the vast majority are made in Japan (the established brands, that is - there are a few new brands coming through). After World War II, Japanese business was forced to use new business practices to survive, so they adopted many new techniques, including Lanchester marketing Strategy. Instead of equal competition with the established western businesses, their solution was total market domination of a single area (for example cassette recorders). Once this had been achieved, the next step was total domination of another area, then a third and so on. This allowed them to branch out over several decades and corner virtually the entire consumer electronics market between them.

In M2TW, this can be used on the campaign map. There are less different types of area to dominate, but it can be considered geographically. It is more effective to attack an enemy faction by invading with multiple full stacks and besieging multiple cities at once than to send four full stacks against four different enemies at the same time. Sometimes it is necessary to split your forces for strategic reasons, but the fact remains that when invading a neighbouring faction, the more forces you can commit simultaneously against a small number of enemy forces, the less chance the enemy have to react and the more successful your invasion is likely to be.


Hopefully, this article has been useful to you. Using the principles laid down by Lanchester when you play M2TW, you can increase your kills to losses ratio by fighting "square" battles, increasing the availability of your troops in campaign. It should also allow you to pick your defeats - if you are going down, you can force the battle towards a "linear" fashion, which will force the enemy to lose more troops, hence damaging the enemy's chances of defeating the next army that you can put in the area. Think about utilising your troops effectively to maximise the difference of the squares to reduce your own casualties while increasing enemy casualties.

Good luck and may your troops always be successful.