Battle tactics of Mordor

Aldarion

Member
Joined
Jul 7, 2019
Messages
18
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).
 

.matthew.

Well-Known Member
Joined
Jan 12, 2020
Messages
224
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...
 

Overread

All Hail Skaven!
Joined
Aug 22, 2007
Messages
4,033
Location
Hunting in the woods
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.

Many of his efforts are to help divide the peoples of Middle Earth. Through his agents he drives a wedge between Gondor and Rohan. Through pirates he strikes at key settlements up and down the river to deny Gondor reinforcements. He knows the Elves are leaving and that the Dwarves are isolationist just like the Elves; plus previous events have weakened dwarves already. Balrog and Dragon have done for much of the Dwarven unity and power.

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.
 

Venusian Broon

Defending the SF genre with terminal intensity
Supporter
Joined
Dec 7, 2011
Messages
4,464
Location
Edinburgh
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.
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.
 

Aldarion

Member
Joined
Jul 7, 2019
Messages
18
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.
Yeah. I removed those two because a) they are obvious and b) I had already covered them here (albeit not in detail). But even these do not really show much - Tolkien really was not interested in specifics of battle tactics, George Martin goes into much more detail, albeit GRRM somewhat misses out on psychological side of things from what I have seen.

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.
Agreed. In fact, strategic side of things is really well developed in Lord of the Rings, it is tactical which is missing - where in most of fantasy it is the opposite, you have well-described and even realistic tactics coexisting with teleporting perpetuum mobile armies with mechanic horses and military leaders who have strategic aptitude of a lobotomized snail. But that appears to be a conscious decision on Tolkien's part, as he was aiming less for a feel of a history book or a Byzantine military manual, and more for a feel of Illiad or Beowulf.

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.

--------------------

Also, I remembered that Battle of Gladden Fields is described in Unfinished Tales, but I am not sure how applicable that is to Third Age - orcs there do lack both Uruks and Trolls, after all. Same goes for Siege of Helm's Deep (one where Helm Hammerhand died), which is also against just orcs. And in neither battle, IIRC, are orcs actually from Mordor. There may be a couple of others I am missing.
 

.matthew.

Well-Known Member
Joined
Jan 12, 2020
Messages
224
He did just survive WW1. I imagine most of the vagaries were a deliberate distancing from the horrors of the Somme. At the same time, his vision of battle would have been influenced by this - massed forward movements, lacking in any real tactics aside from the odd cavalry flanking.
 

Venusian Broon

Defending the SF genre with terminal intensity
Supporter
Joined
Dec 7, 2011
Messages
4,464
Location
Edinburgh
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?!)

But I don't claim to be a Tolkien expert, so happy to be corrected! :)
 

Aldarion

Member
Joined
Jul 7, 2019
Messages
18
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!)
You are correct there, actually.

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?!)
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.
 

Venusian Broon

Defending the SF genre with terminal intensity
Supporter
Joined
Dec 7, 2011
Messages
4,464
Location
Edinburgh
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.
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. :)

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. ;)
 

Aldarion

Member
Joined
Jul 7, 2019
Messages
18
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. ;)
It is indeed possible that that was the case, but I would not call it a cop out. The groundwork was there, even before that particular scene - we already knew that different groups of orcs do not work well together.

And I don't think Tolkien was a complete pantser. It is true that he did not have completely outlined plot in mind; but his world was so well thought out that plot would evolve naturally from it. Which OTOH also led to some problems. Especially since he also had two or three plots to synchronize in terms of timeframe in which they happened, so his "pantsing" often required significant reworking.
 

Foxbat

None The Wiser
Supporter
Joined
Jul 24, 2003
Messages
7,737
Location
Scotland
Given who Sauron is and (I'd suspect) his view that all other lives are essentially worthless other than that they can serve him, I'd say that tactically, he'd be likely to employ the Human Wave technique often used before and in WW2.
 

reiver33

Only Forward
Supporter
Joined
Jul 14, 2008
Messages
1,640
Location
Dumfries
The Uruk(-hai) fought in formation, forming wedge and cutting down several riders as they attempted to reach the Forrest. Their large shields would suggest a fyrd style shield wall capability.
 

Aldarion

Member
Joined
Jul 7, 2019
Messages
18
The Uruk(-hai) fought in formation, forming wedge and cutting down several riders as they attempted to reach the Forrest. Their large shields would suggest a fyrd style shield wall capability.
Agreed, though I do not recall mention of large shields?
 

Overread

All Hail Skaven!
Joined
Aug 22, 2007
Messages
4,033
Location
Hunting in the woods
You could say that Sauron was using WW1 tactics and Sarumon was using WW2.

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).

Sarumon was using industry and science to produce a new kind of ork warrior. He bred and armed them with his industry of war fuelled by his advanced understanding of the sciences. His troops were far more elite, better fed, better bred and educated. Whilst just as violent they were far more ordered in how they approached things. I think that he also had fewer of them and whilst he was breeding a large army, he still had a numerical disadvantage against most. So he relied heavily upon better and smarter troops to achieve his goals.

Both shared the same weakness in that they put all their eggs into one central site, Sarumon more than Sauron though as feral orks are littered about the land in general. That and Sauron's land was country sized whilst Sarumon was a single location that wasn't anywhere near as heavily fortified. Sarumon didn't expect attack and certainly hadn't expected it to come from Ents. He'd likely assumed any assault would come from men which in that region was Rohan. Where he'd already been using Sauron's same divide and conquer approach.
 

Aldarion

Member
Joined
Jul 7, 2019
Messages
18
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).
What is interesting is that Sauron actually had much better developed long-term strategy than Saruman. After he got shanked by The Last Alliance, Sauron actually used attrition, stealth and misdirection to wear his enemies down. All those hordes of Easterlings, and - some say - even plagues, they were there simply to chop at Gondor bit by bit. Likewise, instead of outright conquering Arnor, Sauron let them kill each other in their feuds and then simply got rid of the remainder. Saruman? His best hope was that he could find the ring, although what he did in Rohan was actually adequately throught out and may even have worked if not for Gandalf and Treebeard (but yeah, forgetting about a Maia and a ten-thousand-years-old walking tree is not exactly a recommendation of a strategic prowess).
 

Overread

All Hail Skaven!
Joined
Aug 22, 2007
Messages
4,033
Location
Hunting in the woods
He didn't so much forget as didn't expect Gandalf the White to appear in Rohan. Once revealed Saruman struck with full force and fast. His intent clearly to maximise what damage he could do and shatter Rohan before Gandalf could reunite the various groups under one banner. He'd likely have won too, even though his army broke and ran in the end. He could breed new warriors at an insane speed and equip them with weapons and armour and training faster too. He'd also clearly got no problems using his advanced knowledge and might well have pushed development of more gunpowered based weapons and other assorted technological gains to give his forces every edge.

Indeed the Ents were the key part that broke his fortress when his armies were away. That the Ents went to war was a surprise for all including the Ents and even then it was a very close call that they chose to war instead of choosing to retreat further into their depression (its clear that the loss of their womenfolk and the changes in the world had driven the Ents into a kind of depression that was resulting in more and more of them going to sleep and never waking - becoming feral trees).
Ents were also more likely to be something Radagast was "supposed" to be working with in his role as the Brown Wizard; however he'd clearly also somewhat fallen from his original mission. So Saruman never thought that the Ents would be a threat, nor indeed any creatures of the wilds. Gandalf I think ends up steadily walking the path of three wizards in one, even though he might be grey and then white its clear that he tries to do the task of many to overcome the failings of his brothers.
 

paranoid marvin

Run VT Erroll!
Joined
Mar 9, 2007
Messages
2,156
Sauron was fighting a war of attrition; he could keep 'manufacturing' orcs and eventually he would wear down dwarves men and elves (who could not so easily be replaced). As for conflict between them, well Saruman had a very uneasy partnership with Sauron (and likely would have been fighting him if he gained the Ring). Uruk-hai thought they were better class than the orcs of Mordor, and they do have been superior in all respects. The orcs thought they were superior because they followed the more powerful master. As for the orcs in the tower; they were fighting over a mithril shirt valued at more than the value of The Shire). Even if there weren't various factions, they would have been clawing each other to pieces over it.
 
Top