My last Attack On Titan article listed some military failings in the show. The biggest were because they didn’t have any professional soldiers, and this led to spectacularly poor decisions. But it’s unfair to level so much criticism without offering ideas for improvement. The technical level of human society approximates the mid-1800s: they’ve had their industrial revolution, but haven’t quite got to mechanising everything. Even so there are plenty of things that would make a difference.
What hosed me off most about the military in Attack On Titan was the indescribably poor organisation and complete lack of professionalism on display. This leads to suicidal tactics, lousy planning, and a general failure to be effective. There’s no point in tactics that don’t serve your strategy and the humans desperately need a strategy more sophisticated than “wait for the titans to go away”. So let’s start there.
Strategy and Operations:
Coming up with strategy is difficult, because we don’t know much about the titans. So it needs two parts – one in which they hold off the titans and learn more about them, and one in which their source is attacked once it’s been identified. Using the same phrasing as before, the strategic statement is “We will defeat the titans by learning where they come from, and then destroying it.”
All the military branches need some organisational levels between “squad” and “corps”. Say it with me – the primary advantage of superior numbers is greater freedom to pursue multiple avenues of attack. Since humans have superior numbers, it makes no sense to throw them away in small groups. Making use of them requires better organisation, so the basic operational group should be five squads of twelve soldiers assigned together more or less permanently (a “platoon”). Although every squad should have a scout or two in it, one squad will be specialised in that role. Another squad will specialise in the care and feeding of the heavy weapons I’ll be mentioning later. The other three will be general-purpose ‘tactical’ squads. Having them permanently assigned to the same platoon will give everyone a chance to train and get used to working together, and is a manageable number to keep under control once the fighting starts.
We also need another level above that of five platoons, which will look a lot like a larger version of the structure above: one scout platoon, one weapons platoon, and three ‘tactical’ platoons. Let’s call this a “company”. We can stop there, since larger groups are going to be unwieldy to manoeuvre in the field, but even those groupings should help organise matters.
(Why am I talking about field forces? Because that’s how we take the fight to the titans. Sitting behind the walls is not going to make the titans go away; at some point we’ll need to venture out. And when we do, we have to be able to beat the titans we encounter.)
Operationally, both the Survey Corps and Garrison Corps are going to be busy. The Garrison Corps needs to not only take care of any titans that wander up to the walls, but also find ways to defend outposts outside them. This is going to mean developing specialists in engineering and artillery (prime subject for consideration: the concept of “defence in depth”). The Survey Corps, meanwhile, will have to provide advance warning of titans and also start conducting longer-range patrols to find out where they’re coming from. In addition to this, they get the job of capturing titans as needed for research purposes.
I’m sorry, but this business of everyone swinging around and waving swords has to go. It is just stupid, and it results in one or two people going up against a titan at a time. The casualty rate is appalling, and it doesn’t even work very well. Start by remembering the basic phases of a battle – find the enemy, fix them in position, and then destroy them. Since we have these platoons from earlier, let’s get as many of their members as possible engaging each titan.
To find the titans, we need scouts who can pass back information without getting eaten. I’m all in favour of avoiding the titans where possible but sometimes it won’t be, so let’s proceed on the assumption that we’re going to bring one down.
To fix a titan, we need some way of keeping it in the same place long enough to do something nasty to it. Luring it into bad terrain might help but it can’t be relied upon. So we need some way of blinding and/or crippling it before we try for the kill. Fortunately, we already have some answers. We know that titans’ eyes, muscles, and tendons are just as vulnerable as those on a human (although they grow back a lot quicker). They also can’t easily break the cables used by the manoeuvre devices.
Which brings us to the third phase, destruction. The only way to kill a titan is by destroying the nape of its neck, but you don’t have to do that with a sword. We’ve seen that high-explosive shells from cannons will work, as does merciless pummelling from another titan, so enough physical damage will do the trick. That makes it easier.
So there’s the outline of our tactics against titans. Find them, manoeuvre them into position, and then engage them from multiple sources. First to disable them, then to kill. You’ll note this is exactly what humans have spent millennia doing against large animals, so we know that it works. But titans are considerably more resilient than mammoths, so we need something more potent than sharp sticks.
The three-dimensional manoeuvre device has flaws. It requires a lot of ability to use as well as conveniently placed terrain, and only lasts about 20 minutes before the gas cylinders need changing. But it does give users much more mobility, which is important. So we’ll keep it, but add an item for anyone using it: a helmet. Something like a football or aviator helmet would be fine, all it has to do is provide some cushioning. Concussion must be a daily risk.
The real question is how to disable the titans for long enough to do something more lethal. The harpoon cannons used by the Survey Corps are good, although inconveniently large for a single person to carry. How about a single-shot version? That way everyone can carry one or two, and a volley of those will still cause problems. Everyone’s got one and they don’t have to hold the titan completely still: they just have to slow it down and distract it while we do something nasty to it.
As for what that might be… well, if the PC game Quake has taught us anything it is that thou canst not kill that which doth not live. But thou canst blast it into chunky kibbles.
This is a Panzerfaust. When I was looking for something portable but powerful enough to bother a titan, this came immediately to mind. It’s a disposable antitank weapon, comprised of a high-explosive warhead and a gunpowder rocket, and it’s about as simple as these weapons get. It’s also light enough for someone to carry a couple without being slowed down. Manufacturing them in large quantities is entirely possible for the humans. A fragmentation warhead might not kill a titan, although then again it might. But it will blow off limbs, shred muscles and tendons, and generally wreck shit. A volley of these will make it much easier to administer any finishing blows required.
Of course these are weapons for infantry. We’re going to want something heavier occasionally. Now, I have a soft spot for artillery in all its forms. But some of the types which would be effective against titans just aren’t practical in this setting, and most of the rest wouldn’t be very effective. The cannons are ok, but not really mobile. What we need is something that packs a punch, is quick and easy to bring into action, and can genuinely keep up with the horses that are the only useful form of transport outside the walls.
Light cannon (example) would be about 75mm in calibre, breech-loading, and firing either an explosive shell or some sort of chain-shot or expanding projectile. I’ve got my doubts about the capacity of the humans to manufacture both this and it’s ammunition in quantity, although I suppose if they can make the 3D manoeuvre device they can manage it. But you’d have to make your shots count, because you’d only get a couple every minute.
Rate of fire is not a problem with Gatling guns, of course. Even a hand-cranked version (example) can put out several 10mm bullets a second, so hits from dozens of them will add up pretty quickly. This is also a big drawback: it gobbles ammunition in prodigious quantities, which is going to cause problems for supply outside the walls. It also requires even more in the way of precision manufacturing capability. Most importantly, it might struggle to disable titans. Their regeneration is impressive, and they don’t have many vulnerable spots for a lucky bullet to hit.
A multiple rocket launcher (example) is also a possibility. Accuracy is not their strong point, although probably no worse than a smoothbore cannon. But they do have a hefty payload capacity and they’re simple, cheap, effective, and reliable. Fire them singly if you’re a good shot, or salvo them if several titans bunch up. They do take time to reload, however, and their ammunition is bulky.
All of these are worth a shot (pun definitely intended). Field tests would be required to see which are best-suited to equip mobile formations, and that might change depending on the situation. If I had to choose just one, however, it would be the rockets. As with the Panzerfausts, a salvo isn’t guaranteed to kill the titans (although I think it stands a decent chance). But it will disable them while they try to regenerate from the huge damage it does, and that makes it much easier for someone with a sword to finish them off.
Given all this about rockets and guns and high explosives, you might be wondering why I’m still talking about swords. It’s true that I think using them as your primary means of bringing down titans is indescribably stupid, and although the swing-up-and-slice-the-neck thing might be necessary if you run out of other weapons it is still very much second-best. But a titan with a leg shredded by a rocket blast is going to have its neck conveniently close to ground level, and at that point finishing them off with a sword lets us concentrate on other things.
Scouting and Reconnaissance:
Erwin Smith is regarded as a genius by the Survey Corps, and he is somewhat less clue-deprived than everyone else. But keep in mind this guy’s scouting scheme involved small groups scattered across the landscape, riding at full speed, and shooting off smoke signals whenever they saw something. And this was an improvement on previous methods. We can do better than that.
In the comments on the first article, someone mentioned the idea of using airships for scouting missions. This is a really good idea because the titans can’t get at them and might not even notice, and they’re ideal for long duration reconnaissance trips. But there’s not much evidence either way on whether they could be built or not. Even if they can’t, however, the third dimension does offer another option. Your basic observation balloon, tethered by a suitable cable, could be very useful.
As for scouting on the ground, I’m going to mention a word here that might not be familiar to the characters in Attack On Titan: ‘subtlety’. When I was doing recon the ideal was always to get information without anyone knowing we were there. Since titans finding out where humans are is usually followed by them attacking, this seems like a worthwhile ideal. Humans have some inherent advantages over titans: we’re smaller (so we can see them from further than they can see us), we operate fairly well at night (while they tend to go dormant out of the sun), and we have brains. Yes, this will mean getting off the horses once in a while, climbing up hills or trees, and looking around. But that’s still better than riding into a bunch of titans unprepared.
Once we’ve located them, how do we get that information back? I’d suggest a heliograph. This isn’t much more than a mirror, but it’s still one of the quickest non-electronic ways of sending a message. With that, I think we have all the basic tools we need to start making a real difference against the titans.
With all these new ideas and toys, how does it look in action? Let’s take an example; a single platoon from the Survey Corps in the field.
The scout squad leads the way, with its members dispersed in pairs a few hundred meters ahead of the rest of the platoon and covering both the axis of advance and its immediate flanks (the scouts from the other squads are covering the flanks and rear). One pair of scouts discovers a titan and flashes that information back to the platoon commander, who decides to attack.
The scouts redeploy: now they’re watching the flanks and rear to prevent the platoon being given exploratory surgery by any wandering titanic doctors. Meanwhile the platoon commander has located the intended kill-zone and the weapons squad is setting up its heavy weapons (three of them, with a 4-person crew each) to cover it. Tactical squads A & B are also getting set up there – the third (C) is getting ready to lure the titan in. When everyone is set, the platoon commander signals to begin the engagement.
C squad goes out and attracts the attention of the titan, who begins lumbering towards them. They stay well out of its way, however, and keep moving back to the kill-zone. When they get there, the weapons squad opens up with its initial salvo. Most of the shots miss, but the few that hit wound and enrage the titan. It starts coming for the heavy weapons… right in front of squads A & B. A volley of rockets lances out, and several strike the titan. None are enough to kill it, but it has two limbs blown off and is stunned and disabled. Squad B darts out and is able to slice open the titan’s neck – success!
Unfortunately, then things start going wrong. Attracted by the noise, another pair of titans arrive on the scene. They haven’t been told where the kill-zone is, and inconsiderately approach from one flank. The weapons squad re-orients its weapons and begins sustained fire on the new threat. Their objective is not to kill the titans, just prevent them from interfering. Under cover of this supporting fire, squad C is able to get close to the titans. They open with an initial volley of harpoons, pinning one of the titans in place. Two volleys of rockets reduce the other to a quivering heap of protoplasm on the ground, which makes both of them easy targets for swords.
At this point the scouts flash an urgent message: four more titans are converging on the battlefield, led by a 15-metre class! It’s time to get out of here, especially since the platoon has fired almost a third of its basic load of ammunition. The weapons squad starts packing up, and squad C takes up the lead position. Squads A & B, meanwhile, form a rearguard. They move back in bounds to ensure that no sneaky 3-metre titans cause mischief. That is exactly what squad A encounters, but they don’t stop to play: a volley of rockets drops it in its tracks, and the squad moves on. It’s either dead or regenerating for the next 15 minutes; either way it’s out of the battle. And so are the humans.
It’s important to note that this was not an engagement that went smoothly. But because of their organisation and weapons they were able to get away with it and still kill three, maybe four titans; very possibly without losing a single soldier. This is far and away a better performance than they achieved in the anime, which just goes to show what a bit of planning and organisation can do. And, of course, a whole lot of rockets.
And there you have it. My $0.02 worth on what the military could be doing differently in Attack On Titan. I’m not going to pretend that this would solve things overnight – humanity is in a very bad position, mainly because they haven’t been very smart about what they’re doing up till now. But I really do think that a more professional approach would be enough to turn things around.
Question of the post: What do you think of my ideas? What do you think the humans should be doing differently?