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What effects would large scale powered flight have on medieval Strategy and tactics?

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Counterfactual theorizing time! Say one side of a conflict Figured out a magical way to get big ships airborne, but did not develop explosives. What other tactical and strategic advantages would they be able to implement?

I have some ideas, but I'd like some fresh perspectives and possibly new thoughts. Thanks!
 

Raleel

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Rocks, arrows, excellent knowledge of troop movements, deforestation would be required or verboten, depending on if you wanted to hide. A number of technological advancements would probably stem from the aircraft themselves, depending on what was used. Logistics would be quite a bit different and terrain would be less of an issue.
 

ExcessiveKnife

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Well, unless someone also invents anti-aircraft weapons, sieges are ruined forever. A besieger would pretty much be able to monitor both inside the fortification and for miles and miles around, making it hard for the defender to mount any surprise sorties and ensuring any attempts at resupply or relief can be intercepted. A defender, meanwhile, could run an airborne supply chain that would be difficult to disrupt, and also invent airmobile infantry a few centuries ahead of schedule, being able to drop sortie forces behind the enemy siege line under cover of darkness and then scoop them back up once proper mayhem has been inflicted.

The side with the ships just go their logistics chain set on easy mode. With flying ships you don't need to jack around with caravans traveling over land on paths that are rarely straight and often closed by mundane natural events, you just load the ship and head straight towards the destination, road conditions be damned. Hard snow? Hard rain? Spring thaw? The ship doesn't care, as long as there's a decent clearing to park at the destination.
 

corwyn_kop

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Much will depend upon the details of the method of flight. How many air craft? How easy are they to shoot down? How fast are they? How large? Do they need to take off and/or land at a strip, on water, or are they VTOL? Does whatever lets them fly also provide propulsion or do they use sails or something. A slow flying boat will be far more vulnerable to fire from the ground be it whatever artillery is available or something like fire arrows. At the very least, aerial recon will become a thing. Depending upon what the flying machines are like, you could probably get some inspiration from the American Civil War (with limited balloon recon and observation) to the early days of the First World War.
 

Bren at RPG Net

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Airpower becomes a thing. But remember that Rain, fog, clouds, strong winds, and darkness all limit the effectiveness of airpower. So ground forces will conduct surprise assaults and relief and resupply during sieges at a time when airships can’t fly or are limited in usefulness. Also note that historically bombing is way less effective than airpower advocates claimed.

As corwyn mentioned, if air units are rare (due to the expense, hard to obtain materials, or magical skills) you get something like the US Civil War or the very beginning of WWI. If they are more common, but still pretty rare you get something like the least 2 years of WWI. If they are very common you get something like WWII.

If there is rough parity between the sides you get something like the dogfights during WWI (when neither side dominated the air). If the two sides are unequal you get a situation like the later part of WWII in Europe where good weather was a huge advantage for the Allies, while bad weather limited the effectiveness or availability of airpower.

Two examples of airpower in fantasy fiction are the animated series Avatar: the Last Airbender and the Black Company series by Glen Cook.
  • Avatar had a flying bison thingy as well as gliders and later large dirigibles. By the later seasons dirigibles and gliders were somewhat common, so sort of like WWI. And they eventually had some air-to-air battles.
  • Black Company had carpets that were created by powerful magic and controlled by magic users (though they did not need to be as powerful). They were fairly rare and initially only one side had them. So kind of like the US Civil war for observation, though the carpets were also used for insertion of special forces (i.e. player characters) for commando raids. Later larger carpets were constructed that were used for reinforcement and resupply. But they were insufficient for that to be the major source of movement and it tied up powerful wizards.
  • Later Black Company stories had one side with carpets and the other with wind whales (which were huge and could carry maybe a company of troops) and flying mantas. Carpets were equipped with a type of missiles and the two sides engaged in a kind of dogfighting.
 

Nameless McGraw

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This is a really cool idea, I'm glad you posted it.
Some thoughts:
If this is D&D, then air elementals just got really useful.

Whatever the setting, maybe keep in mind that this isn't happening in a vacuum. Every other nation, state, or polity in your world just got REAL interested in developments. They might support (secretly, probably) the side without airpower, just to prolong things and watch how this new thing works, or to bleed the side with the sudden advantage. The side with airpower just became World's Number One Target for espionage, so any offers of alliance, and there will most likely be plenty, are going to come with a price tag, whether it's immediately obvious or not. You're gonna have people using all the power at their disposal to shut this down, or get control for themselves; that probably includes the Church, which has historically often been influenced by secular authorities. People are going to try to get the Pope to condemn powered flight, if only because it threatens their power base. And don't underestimate the influence of MONEY. Those flight captains better be utterly loyal and extremely well paid.
 

Rupert

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The side with the ships just go their logistics chain set on easy mode. With flying ships you don't need to jack around with caravans traveling over land on paths that are rarely straight and often closed by mundane natural events, you just load the ship and head straight towards the destination, road conditions be damned. Hard snow? Hard rain? Spring thaw? The ship doesn't care, as long as there's a decent clearing to park at the destination.
And yet sieges have happened in the 20th century and still happen, even when one side has little to no effective AA and/or one side has complete air superiority. Sieges and fortifications, like tanks, are something that people have been forecasting the end of every time a new weapon turns up, and so far in both cases they've been wrong every time.
 

Rupert

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Counterfactual theorizing time! Say one side of a conflict Figured out a magical way to get big ships airborne, but did not develop explosives. What other tactical and strategic advantages would they be able to implement?
The primary advantage that first shows up is reconnaissance - it only takes a few aircraft to start with, and then command and control - faster messages, especially if the aircraft can be used to relay semaphore messages and the like, and better mapping and tracking of troop movements (including your own, which is very important in a time when losing your own armies wasn't especially uncommon). Next, when you have more aircraft and they can carry larger loads, is logistics - resupply of armies and garrisons, including in areas where they normally can't travel for lack of supplies (deserts, etc.), and rapid movement of (probably smallish numbers of) troops.

Bombing without explosives isn't going to be that useful - sure barrels of rocks dropped on a formation of troops will be disruptive, but so is being shot at by arrows from archers. Unless the aircraft are very plentiful, dropping rocks, etc. isn't generally going to be a good use of their time. This doesn't mean that people won't sue them for this, and for dropping incendiaries on besieged cities, just that it'll turn out to be rather less effective than they thought it would be.
 

mindstalk

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If we're talking about something like airships, that can hover or move slowly while carrying a lot of weight:

Compared to catapults, you might be able to drop a lot more fire- and smoke-bombs, more precisely. Or even to target open wells or cisterns for contamination; and if they're covered, dropping large rocks or iron bars might break through. You may be able to engage in archery against wall defenders from the vulnerable (ward-facing) backside.

Surveillance/intelligence, as everyone said. Possibly communication, especially if they can also move at decent speeds, plus the bonus of being unslowed by terrain (but maybe more vulnerable to weather.)

Developing good maps could be a lot easier if you can just sit above and draw.
 

mindstalk

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Physics of dropping: from 100 meters, things will have an energy of one kilojoule per kilogram, and a ground-level velocity of 44 m/s. Or less, given air resistance. This is slower and less energy per gram than bows, let alone bullets, though dropping a barrel of wannabe shrapnel still won't be fun for the recipients. From 300 meters you're approaching longbow energies and velocities but of course aiming is harder.

Again, unlike catapults, you can try for things like "I'm going to drop rocks/fire directly on the enemy stables/barracks/etc."
 
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