- Jul 7, 2019
Tolkien generally avoided discussing military matters in too much detail, so where does he show Sauron's battle tactics (beyond the obvious such as Battles of Pelennor and Morannon).
Well lets begin by separating the armies out. The elves won't mix with the humans, the humans won't fight with the dwarfs, and the dwarfs would rather go get drunk without hearing all the short jokes. So stick all those into three big blocks and move them forward against the horde of Mordor. I guess you can send the Ents in a line at the front because nobody cares if any of them survive...
As he divides the peoples of middle Earth his unruly packs of orks can strike. They are not an advanced warrior, they seem to rely heavily on brute strength and weight of numbers to overwhelm their opponents.
I think the obvious ones you're removing are basically the two major battles we have with Sauron and thus are where we see most of his battle tactics come into play. After that its mostly small skirmishes and fights that we see. Unless there's more in the Silmarillion, though my experience is that he doesn't go into great detail in that book.
I think he more paints a picture of the battle and leaves the tactics as a less developed entity up to the readers imagination. He does the big bits on how the Orks dig in for "trench warfare" style siege when attacking the White City. Honestly I think that overall you get the sense that his tactics are divide and conquer with superior numbers.
Problem is that the Orcs/Goblins/Uruk-hai is that they seemingly hate each other almost as much as the other races of Middle Earth. They get into bloody, brutal fights to the death just with different clans of the same race and seem to require bigger orcs with whips to keep them in line.
Frankly most of Sauron's magic and loyal servants must have been spending most of the time just trying to keep their own army in shape, never mind attack human, elves and dwarves.
Actually, a) bigger orcs with whips are Uruks, and b) Uruks also kill each other (see Shagrat and Gorbag). However, they do seem to have group/unit pride and cohesion, even if their warped and treacherous nature gets into way of that (but not always - that however would require a whole essay to discuss - which I already did here). So I am not sure Mordor's army is that inefficient.
There's a clear distrust/argy-bargy with the Uruks and normal Orcs after they take Merry and Pippen, and also a camaraderie between the Uruk as you state, (I think I remember that!)
However I'm also thinking about the murderous fight that took out most of the troops in Circith Ungol (conveniently!) that are, again from memory, between two distinct tribes of orcs, and then when Frodo and Sam pretend to be 'short Orcs' and slip in with the evil forces marching closer to Mount Doom that's when they meet the 'whipping orcs'. I could be wrong, but I don't think there are any Uruks in Mordor (I thought they were an invention of Saruman?!)
I bow to your expertise! I am much more a SF reader, although I've read a lot of fantasy, including LotR of course, so my comments were from my recollections just a couple re-readings of that book and quite a lot of viewings of the films.You are correct there, actually.
Saruman's are Uruk-hai. First Uruks are stated to have come out of Mordor in T.A. 2475. It is those Uruks who overwhelmed Ithillien and took Osgilliath, although Boromir defeated them and liberated Ithillien, though Osgilliath remained a ruin.
"Two tribes of orcs" are actually two different commands - it seems that Minas Morgul is an independent command not directly under Barad-dur, and there is some friction between Morgul orcs and Mordor orcs. I discussed it at some length here, but basically 1) Morgul orcs have different sigil, 2) orcs at Cirith Ungol answer to Barad-dur directly, while Morgul ones seem to be part of a different command chain. But this does seem to translate into some sort of tribal loyalty, such as when Snaga states that he “fought for the Tower against those stinking Morgul-rats”. Mind you, it is unlikely that forces of Gondor are much different in that regard, seeing how their organization is based on Byzantine thematic system - but there at least regional loyalties do not translate into mutual murder.
In the writers sense, rather than worldbuilding sense, I feel Tolkien just needed something to help Sam get Frodo back after encountering Shelob, and as he was a classic pantser writer he came up with the two groupings of orcs practically wiping each other out. To my plotter eyes this is a bit of a cop out and a tad unsatisfactory.
Sauron was focused on waves of unruly mobs, trench warfare and generally throwing more bodies at the enemy than the enemy could deal with. Coupled to his divide and conquer strategy it meant that he could basically use his agents and influence to break alliances and then throw his sea of orks at the enemy, overwhelming them without any major strategic prowess. Which fits as orks are shown to be violent and unruly and thus not predisposed to cleaver and complex tactics as a whole (though I'm sure there are those at the top who were smarter than average).
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