First of two essays by Hector of the Black
I think that SCAdian commanders are failing to
make effective use of one of the most effective weapons in their arsenals. That
weapon is the SCAdian scout. I have some very specific ideas about scouts and
scouting. I am a heavy fighter, not a scout. However, that does not necessarily
invalidate my opinions. As valuable as scouts are -- or can be -- scouts can
help win a battle. Only heavy fighters can actually win that battle, by holding
ground and by defeating the enemy's heavy fighters in close combat. The trick is
to integrate scouts into the fighting Army, to combine their strengths with the
strengths of the heavy fighters and to create an unbeatable, inter-disciplinary
team. These essays address one approach to the employment of scouts in a
Basics: Area vs. Point Reconnaissance
Before I go on, let me explain the two basic
ways to employ scouts. This concept is, basically, the same way any military
commander employs his observation and reconnaissance resources, from the
Eyeball, Mark One through to ground-mount radar. A scout can observe an area or
a specific point (not many other options, eh?). In the Middle Kingdom, Master
Erik Eriksson and his Shadow Dancers have provided area reconnaissance on the
Pennsic battlefield for several years. In this set-up, the scouts, working
singly or in teams, are assigned specific areas of the battlefield to observe.
When they see something, they report back to a higher headquarters. The scout
commander, Master Erik, makes sure the entire battlefield is covered with
How the area reconnaissance scouts report back
is, in many respects, the ultimate limiting factor of area reconnaissance in SCA
combat. A member of the scout team has to get up and run back to wherever a
commander is, to pass the information. The time spent running back with the
information is time in which the observed enemy can change their location,
activity or intentions. This also assumes the runner can find the headquarters
and the commander to whom information is to be passed, and it also assumes the
scout will survive the journey. The deeper in enemy territory the scouts are
located, the juicier the information that will be discovered, and the more
dangerous the trip back will be.
Once the message is passed, the scout may
expect a new assignment, which means somebody at the headquarters had better be
able to task scouts; the King or Prince may have other things on his mind. Or,
the scout may expect to return to his or her team in the forward area. Rejoining
the team assumes the team hasn't been forced to move by circumstances. There are
a lot of maybes and what-ifs in all of this!
As you probably can tell, while I have great
respect for Master Erik and the Shadow Dancers (especially in the deep
reconnaissance role to find banners) I am not convinced the benefits of area
reconnaissance in the Pennsic woods battle outweigh the value of the resources
employed. The farther afield scouts are deployed, the older their reports will
be when runners bear them to the commander. Old information can be worse than
useless. That's my tactical opinion, and we can argue tactics all night
(preferably over a beverage). However, I have a profound respect for local,
point reconnaissance. When I have been helping move groups of fighters through
the woods, I generally have very specific questions about my surroundings:
I really don't care very much about the Big
Picture as a unit commander; I leave the broad sweep of battle to Their Assorted
Majesties. I want to know what is going to effect my immediate movement. I want
to have eyes that will look over the next hill, so I know what to expect and how
to deploy before we struggle over the rise. I want to avoid unpleasant surprises
from my flanks. That's the sort of information I want scouts to hand me, over
and over again as the battle unfolds.
A Possible Scout Organization While On The
A unit the size of Ealdormere (see my essay
"What is a Unit; an Opinion" for more details on this contentious
topic) needs a handful of scouts to provide immediate reports on the ground to
the front and flanks. Were I the Constable of Ealdormere setting up the staff
organization for our Prince at War, I'd want one or two scouts, working as a
team, on the left and right flanks, and three or four scouts working to the
front. Pairs are always best; one can watch the ground and the other can warn
the first scout of possible problems (like Eastern scout-killers). Once data has
been gathered, one can run back and pass information, the other can keep
watching, gathering data and ready to run back if an emergency occurs.
This concept of point reconnaissance works to
the front and the flanks; as a general rule the need for information from the
front is more urgent. That's why I suggest two pairs of scouts or three single
scouts working forward.
If I had the luxury of LOTS of scouts, I'd
also post a team of scouts to the rear of the Principality, to provide
all-around observation and to maintain contact with neighbouring units. However,
since friendly fighters moving up from Resurrection Point generally dominate the
rear, as a general rule a rear sentry post would be the least of my worries.
How to Task Scouts
Orders for a scout should be simple; the
easiest way to task scouts for reconnaissance is to ask a question:
>> Is there enemy over the next hill?
>> Is there any enemy on or behind that
high feature over there?
>> Where is the banner guard?
Keep the questions simple; make sure the
scouts can give a simple, clear answer. What a commander wants is a steady flow
of clear, concise reports. If you as a commander ask a simple question it won't
take the scout a ten-minute area study to collect the information you want. In
the situation I am describing, my scouts will never stop moving. I would ask a
question and the scout would be off at a run to find an answer. The scout would
dash up the hill, sneak-and-peek for five or ten seconds, turn around and run
back. The commander would receive an all-clear or a warning and then the scout
would be asked another question.
In this situation, a scout must understand his
or her reporting relationship. The scout is providing intimate reconnaissance
support to the supported unit AND TO NO-ONE ELSE. A scout in this case
works for the unit commander or sub-unit commander. If I had a command position
within a Barony and a scout supporting that Barony started wandering off on
missions for the Prince or King, I would be most unhappy, and I would be most
vocal in expressing that unhappiness. In fact, I'd probably throw a large, hairy
hissy-fit at the commander tasking MY scout. I want that information on the next
hill or the trail. I brought a scout and I'm going to get the benefit of my
foresight, dammit!!! (If you want self-gratification, be a local-support scout
and listen to the commanders fighting over your services! Believe me, they
This is not to say that scouts should keep
secrets. If I was a scout working to the front of Ealdormere during an advance
and I saw 200 Atlantians coming up the trail ahead, I'd be running back to my
Prince, telling every Midrealmer I saw en route to prepare for a visit from 200
Atlantians. However, I would just say "200 Atlantians straight ahead!"
as I ran through these intervening units, back by the fastest route possible to
my boss. A scout should have a very clear understanding of his or her task and
taskmaster. If I am working for the Prince of Ealdormere in the woods and I
see 200 Atlantians, I run straight back to the Prince and report. If the Prince
wants me to tell the King thereafter, that's my job and I'll do it. I will NOT
tell the Prince about our new neighbours and then decide on my own to tell the
King; the Prince may have another task for me (like "Okay, where can we go
that Atlantia isn't?"). If a scout isn't clear on who his or her boss is,
the scout should ask immediately. Otherwise that scout will get
"borrowed" by any curious commander within arm's length -- mea culpa;
I've borrowed under-employed scouts in the past. If a scout isn't crystal-clear
on who the boss is, that scout will end up looking for work because a curious,
frustrated commander somewhere won't be asking that stream of questions which is
the reason scouts take to the woods in the first place.
The Information Being Passed
Scouts can be worth their weight in gold, if
they can do specific things. A good scout will:
Here's an example of what I mean. I just told
my scout to see if there are any enemy on the top of the big hill to my left.
Here's the report:
"You wanted to know about the big hill on
the left. There was enemy there less than two minutes ago. I saw six or eight
fighters at the top of the hill, and then I was chased away well before I
reached the top. I'd guess the fighters at the top of the hill were commanders;
mixed heraldry, three white belts, two coronets, no shields. I heard a lot of
noise behind the hill. Do you want a guess of how many fighters I heard?"
(Nodded helmet) "I'd guess fifty or more."
A scout is responsible for collecting data.
The commander will make deductions based on facts collected from all over the
field. Scouts are NOT an intelligence processing service. Scouts are gatherers
of raw data. The commander assembles data from a variety of sources, comes to
some conclusions, makes some decisions and then issues orders to his or her
fighters. The scout's role is to keep fresh information flowing in, so the
commander can make the best decisions possible.
Remember, the commander you are reporting to
has a lot on his or her mind. Keep your report clear and concise. Also remember
your report may be interrupted. Always report the single most important fact
first. That way, if the commander is distracted (say by 200 charging Atlantians),
the critical data will have been passed. In the example above, if something
happened and the scout had to vacate the commander's vicinity after once or two
sentences, the commander would at least know there was enemy on the left.
One other point: in the example above the
scout repeated the question the commander asked, and then answered it. Field
commanders have a lot on their minds, and they may have trouble hearing anything
(including their own thoughts) over the rushing of the adrenaline past their
ears! Repeat the question asked; the commander may have several scouts out, so
now he or she knows which report is coming in. Or the commander may have
forgotten you in the heat of the moment.
Scouts and Resurrection
Scouts are a unit resource. If the unit
commander is killed, the unit scouts report to the next in the chain of command;
scouts should be familiar with the chain of command within the unit they
support. Scouts should keep reporting to the unit until the unit ceases to be a
cohesive whole. In a "standard" (one-death) battle, they then should
revert to the control of the next level up (a Barony's scouts work for the
Principality, the Principality's work for the Kingdom). In a resurrection battle
like the Pennsic Woods Battle, in my opinion the scouts should
wait until a certain point (such as 50% casualties to the unit the scouts
support) and then should pull back and move towards Resurrection Point. They can
"die" and go back for a break and a drink of water with the rest of
the unit. They also can stay forward of the Point, reading the battlefield and
listening to other scouts' reports. Then, as the unit resurrects as a formed
whole and moves back into the fray, the unit commander will find scouts waiting
to lead the unit forward, with reasonably fresh information on the battle and
battlefield. This is a matter of opinion; some commanders may want their scouts
to keep supporting the forward battle, or to transfer their support to an allied
unit. Scouts supporting a unit should determine what the unit commander wants in
this regard before the battle starts.
If a unit's scout is killed in a resurrection
battle, I believe the scout has two options. Either the scout goes back to
Resurrection Point, takes a break and waits for his unit to die off so they can
all resurrect together, or the scout resurrects and rejoins his unit forward.
This second option is not as easy as it sounds. If the scout resurrects he may
come out of the Point to meet a stream of his unit's fighters going in, or that
scout may just get embroiled in another unit's battle. Remember, these are the
woods we're talking about; Murphy rules!
This has been a pretty thorough, though
straight-forward, look at the role and tasks of scouts in the advance. In my
next essay I'll examine some other tasks for scouts, and some other ideas to
maximize the effectiveness of scouts within a unit.
Copyright 1996, 1998 Arthur McLean. All rights reserved.