View Full Version : (Ancient) Special Forces/Commandos and Fires

03-31-2012, 02:52 AM

My question is probably aimed at people who know a thing or two about special forces/commando/guerrilla forces at any time in history.

I'm writing a fantasy tale set in an (obviously!) fictitious world, but if I had to compare it to a period in history I would say it has most in common with Ancient Greece, Ancient Rome, Ancient Persia/Middle East and Ancient Egypt, in terms of available technology.

I have a group of commandos that specialise in operating behind enemy lines. They raid enemy camps, free PoWs etc. In one scene, they're camping out for the night and having a discussion. They've set-up camp in an area out of direct line of sight of an enemy town, but they're still in enemy territory.

I was wondering how viable it would be for them to have a fire. Is this something they'd be likely to do? Do modern special forces do it? Is there a special type of fire they might make, that burns with a very low flame? Would it change anything if it was raining lightly as well?

I'd rather they have a fire if possible as it would add more atmosphere to the scene, but if it's a completely stupid thing for them to do then I wont have them do it. I know it's a fantasy world too, so I technically make the rules, but I like to keep my facts grounded in reality where possible.

Drachen Jager
03-31-2012, 02:59 AM
AFAIK there was no such thing as Special Forces in the context you're bringing up prior to the 20th century (or perhaps late 19th). Armies marched towards each-other and died like men. None of this namby-pamby sneaking about.

03-31-2012, 03:28 AM
Well, I beg to differ :P, seeing as the term "guerrilla" came about in the Napoleonic age. I know what you mean, a specific Special Forces unit may not have existed before the 20th century, but guerrilla units must be as old as war itself.

Any way, I came across this that seems to be a step in the right direction:

Dakota Fire Hole (http://www.survivaltopics.com/survival/the-dakota-fire-hole)

If anyone with real world experience or additional knowledge can trump this though then I'd like to hear from you, thanks :)

03-31-2012, 04:00 AM
AFAIK there was no such thing as Special Forces in the context you're bringing up prior to the 20th century (or perhaps late 19th). Armies marched towards each-other and died like men. None of this namby-pamby sneaking about.
Raiders, scouts, skirmishers, hit-and-run, sabotage, espionage, assassination, sappers, etc, etc have existed in many forms throughout history, from small tribal bands, through auxilliaries attached to organized traditional forces, from Roman Republic to the Renaissance.

Sun Tsu and Jiang Ziya both talk about using special forces type units and tactics.

The link to the Dakota fire pit was an interesting factoid.

03-31-2012, 03:02 PM
Gaius Mucius Scaevola

03-31-2012, 03:29 PM
I would think it'd be cold camp.

Scott Kaelen
03-31-2012, 07:54 PM
Hey P,
Haven't got time to do a crit yet, but scanning the Cooler I noticed your post.

If your guys are in direct line of sight from an enemy town and deep in enemy territory, then they would definitely not light a fire, but rather find an easily-defendable spot where they are also least likely to be stumbled upon by an enemy patrol or even by a wandering shepherd who could alert others.
If they're in mountainous terrain then they might scout for an out-of-the-way cave, in which case, if the cave entrance is concealed well enough, they could make a small fire in the back.
If you need a light source for the camp then you'd probably get away with using the dim light of the stars and moon/moons. If it's for warmth then they don't need a fire, only a blanket and/or bedroll. If it's to heat a meal then they'll have to just go with the dried jerky in their packs for now.
Whatever the reason, a fire in open terrain or even in a wooded area would very likely give away their location. Unless, perhaps, they are disguised as local woodsmen or some such... Often, elite troops that infiltrate deep into enemy territory are skilled at blending in in various ways.

04-01-2012, 12:25 AM
Native Americans were well trained in staying hidden. If they had a fire, it would be with very dry, non-smoking wood, very small. Flames would be concealed either by location or putting up something to block the view. Fire would be used for cooking, then put out and you'd move your camp a few miles away. (By the way, if you want to stay hidden, you do not set up your camp at a water hole.) Beyond the visual problem with the smoke, smoke can be smelled at considerable distance (I've smelled smoke from over a mile).

Traveling light and fast you'd have a cold camp with jerky.

Why are they having a fire? Why is it worth risking their lives for one?

Best of luck,

Jim Clark-Dawe

04-01-2012, 03:39 AM
Much depends on the nature of your world, but if you're using historical elements, then I don't think there'd be any problem having a fire. Not because it wouldn't be seen - but because there were so many of them about.

In modern times, yes, a fire would attract attention, and no 'commando' unit would risk it. Not then. There'd be any number of people living rough, or in shacks without chimneys who had to keep their fire outside. In a forested area you'd find hermits and outlaws and bandits, there'd be woodcutters and foresters, and if it's a cold enough night for your heroes to want a fire then those others would have them too.

If it suits you to keep your area largely unpopulated, there are also the early industrial fires which would be burning all night. It's the smoke rather than the flames that show from a distance, and your characters' smoke could be indistinguishable from that of a charcoal-burner's mound or a lime-kiln. Both of these would be around in the kind of period you're discussing - and both create smoke even at night. If your characters are cunning, they'd place their fire right next to one.

Even assuming your enemy town is alert, they'd be highly unlikely to investigate a single small fire - unless it was right in the middle of a field, or somewhere obviously out of place.

Good luck with it anyway - it sounds interesting.

04-02-2012, 06:54 PM
I feel like Swordswoman is dead on. Also, by nature of being an elite group, they are going to have a tendency towards arrogance, and while in reality may not stand a chance against a much larger force, they probably won't see it that way, and so if they want a fire, they'll make a fire.

As far as modern tactics, only in the most dire of circumstances would a fire be made. You can see a spark from a cigarette half a kilometer away.

04-04-2012, 01:52 AM
The book Three Byzantine Military Treatises (http://www.amazon.ca/Byzantine-Military-Treatises-George-Dennis/dp/0884023397), edited by George T. Dennis, may be of inspiration to you. It contains three early medieval treatises on how to conduct hit-and-run warfare in the hills of Syria. The time period is a little later than your setting, but the technology is more or less the same as the ancient world (give or take a few stirrups and horseshoes). There's a lot of information in the book about how to organize a scouting party, where to camp, how to set up an ambush, and more fun stuff.

04-04-2012, 05:52 PM
A very good recommendation Ariella, thank you :)

And thanks everyone else as well. Currently I'm writing the chapter without a fire, but that's just because my characters are in a contested zone where it probably would be unusual if discovered. When they move deeper into enemy territory I'll likely follow swordswoman's suggestions and have them set fires up more frequently.