Human Factors In Warfare: Dispersion

Photo of Union soldiers on the Antietam battlefield by Alexander Gardener.

As I have written about before, the foundation of Trevor Dupuy’s theories on combat were based on an initial study in 1964 of the relationship between weapon lethality, casualty rates, and dispersion on the battlefield. The historical trend toward greater dispersion was a response to continual increases in the lethality of weapons.

While this relationship might appear primarily technological in nature, Dupuy considered it the result of the human factor of fear on the battlefield. He put it in more human terms in a symposium paper from 1989:

There is one basic reason for the dispersal of troops on modern battlefields: to mitigate the lethal effects of firepower upon troops. As Lewis Richardson wrote in The Statistics of Deadly Quarrels, there is a limit to the amount of punishment human beings can sustain. Dispersion was resorted to as a tactical response to firepower mostly because—as weapons became more lethal in the 17th Century—soldiers were already beginning to disperse without official sanction. This was because they sensed that on the bloody battlefields of that century they were approaching the limit of the punishment men can stand.

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Shawn Woodford
Shawn Woodford

Shawn Robert Woodford, Ph.D., is a military historian with nearly two decades of research, writing, and analytical experience on operations, strategy, and national security policy. His work has focused on special operations, unconventional and paramilitary warfare, counterinsurgency, counterterrorism, naval history, quantitative historical analysis, nineteenth and twentieth century military history, and the history of nuclear weapon development. He has a strong research interest in the relationship between politics and strategy in warfare and the epistemology of wargaming and combat modeling.

All views expressed here are his and do not reflect those of any other private or public organization or entity.

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