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Quinn_Inuit
01-26-2015, 06:13 AM
Ahoy, maties! Do any of you scurvy dogs know anything about what kind of tactics one would use to board a ship and defend against such a boarding? I know approximately nothing.

Please assume the following:


The people doing the boarding are very interested in capturing their target and its passengers in one piece.
The target ship is not incapacitated, but neither can it escape. (The attackers snuck up on them at night.)
No one has firearms. In fact, very few people even have spears or swords...most of the combat will be with cudgels.
Neither ship is equipped with any heavy weapons, as neither ship is intended to see combat (both are intended to be escorted at all times). Combat is going to be strictly man-to-man.
The attacking ship is a troop transport and does have boarding equipment. (It would normally have a heavy weapon or two, but these have been removed for other reasons.)
{Added info}The ships are not precisely analogous to carracks, but that's pretty close. Imagine a really long carrack with none of the downsides of the extra length for plot reasons.{/Added info}

I know these are sort of strange conditions, so I don't expect anyone to come up with a custom-tailored boarding strategy for me. Instead, I'd just appreciate some sort of lesson about how boarding tactics worked in general. I've spent an hour on Google looking for historical works on the topic, and I've had more or less no success. I'm not sure if I'm using the wrong keywords or if everyone considers old Errol Flynn movies the last word on the topic.

King Neptune
01-26-2015, 06:30 AM
Sneaking up can be an excellent tactic, because the boarders will be on board before they will be noticed. I assume that the boarders will outnumber the defenders, because the attacker is a troop transport, so it should have many men. Another consideration is the relative height of the ships out of the water. It is easier to attack a ship the deck of which is lower than the deck from which one is attacking. So have them swarm from one ship to the other and beat the defenders with cudgels until there is no resistance left. Smacking heads with belaying pins is usually effective.

Richard White
01-26-2015, 07:02 AM
Grappling hooks will be essential to ensure the two ships do not drift apart.

Do not slip between the ships into the water. Even if you survive drowning, you'll probably be crushed by the massive ship bodies.

If the ships are roughly the same height, then boards with large spikes in the ends could be used. If the boards are lifted high enough and then let drop on the opposing ship, the spikes will dig in and you'll have (semi) stable walkways to the opposing ship.

With no gunpowder, it's going to come down to two things - skill of the fighters and numbers of fighters. To be honest, in a scenario like you're describing, it'll probably come down to numbers. Even the best fighters can be taken down if five or six people jump on them. So, whoever gets there firstest with the mostest will probably win the fight. *grin*

Darron
01-26-2015, 07:18 AM
Could you add to your info what time period we are working with? I know you said no guns, but I'm trying to think about common ships from different eras and plausibility of sneaking up on them in the night (speed, stability of boat so as not to crash into the other and wake everyone, etc).

Quinn_Inuit
01-26-2015, 07:23 AM
Sneaking up can be an excellent tactic, because the boarders will be on board before they will be noticed. I assume that the boarders will outnumber the defenders, because the attacker is a troop transport, so it should have many men. Another consideration is the relative height of the ships out of the water. It is easier to attack a ship the deck of which is lower than the deck from which one is attacking. So have them swarm from one ship to the other and beat the defenders with cudgels until there is no resistance left. Smacking heads with belaying pins is usually effective.

Aye, the boarders will outnumber the defenders, and the boarders are under the impression that they have the element of surprise on their side. Swarming is their basic plan, but what I'm curious about is what their targets would be. My initial tactical inclination in this case would be to have them in three teams, with one team's target the helm area, and the other two attempting to secure the places on deck with staircases from below. With those secure, you can cut off reinforcements to the deck and attempt to defeat the crew there in detail before moving below.


Grappling hooks will be essential to ensure the two ships do not drift apart.

Do not slip between the ships into the water. Even if you survive drowning, you'll probably be crushed by the massive ship bodies.

Both excellent points that I will keep in mind.


If the ships are roughly the same height, then boards with large spikes in the ends could be used. If the boards are lifted high enough and then let drop on the opposing ship, the spikes will dig in and you'll have (semi) stable walkways to the opposing ship.

With no gunpowder, it's going to come down to two things - skill of the fighters and numbers of fighters. To be honest, in a scenario like you're describing, it'll probably come down to numbers. Even the best fighters can be taken down if five or six people jump on them. So, whoever gets there firstest with the mostest will probably win the fight. *grin*

The ships will have to be slightly too far apart for a basic corvus to work, but I'll see if I can come up with something solid for boarding equipment.

That's a good point about swarming tactics. The attackers will outnumber the defenders by a solid 2:1 and know it. I'm just not sure how they'd deploy to capture the target and take advantage of that numerical superiority.

Quinn_Inuit
01-26-2015, 07:30 AM
Could you add to your info what time period we are working with? I know you said no guns, but I'm trying to think about common ships from different eras and plausibility of sneaking up on them in the night (speed, stability of boat so as not to crash into the other and wake everyone, etc).

Done. This isn't set on Earth, but think something like a really long carrack.

As far as sneaking up at night, they don't have to worry about being heard for plot reasons. Stability is an issue, though.

Trebor1415
01-26-2015, 11:44 AM
Are the attackers going to take prisoners or is this a fight to the death?

If the defenders realize they are outnumbered, and are most likely going to die anyway, that will make them fight harder and make them seriously consider trying to scuttle (sink) their own ship to keep it out of the attackers hands. They could open seacocks, set fires, etc.

This is especially true if the attackers control access to the deck. If the defenders can't get up on deck, and know they will die anyway, they'd do what they could to sink the ship from below decks. This is soemthing the attackers will have to plan for.

Quinn_Inuit
01-26-2015, 05:08 PM
Are the attackers going to take prisoners or is this a fight to the death?

If the defenders realize they are outnumbered, and are most likely going to die anyway, that will make them fight harder and make them seriously consider trying to scuttle (sink) their own ship to keep it out of the attackers hands. They could open seacocks, set fires, etc.

This is especially true if the attackers control access to the deck. If the defenders can't get up on deck, and know they will die anyway, they'd do what they could to sink the ship from below decks. This is soemthing the attackers will have to plan for.

The attackers do intend to take prisoners, but I'll make sure at least some of the defenders consider the scuttling option. I'm really more interested in what tactics you think the attackers might use, though.

King Neptune
01-26-2015, 05:40 PM
Aye, the boarders will outnumber the defenders, and the boarders are under the impression that they have the element of surprise on their side. Swarming is their basic plan, but what I'm curious about is what their targets would be. My initial tactical inclination in this case would be to have them in three teams, with one team's target the helm area, and the other two attempting to secure the places on deck with staircases from below. With those secure, you can cut off reinforcements to the deck and attempt to defeat the crew there in detail before moving below.


I think that would be the way to go: secure the command and control, while cutting off reinforcements. Then taking any remaining personnel out of action.

Even better is taking control before most of the defeners even know about it.

WeaselFire
01-26-2015, 10:47 PM
Most often, boarding parties succeed against unarmed ships because the unarmed crews give up. There are a number of cases where boarding parties never even had to board to take the target. So you have a wide latitude in your story, especially since it's not even on Earth.

Normally, boarding parties would work to disrupt three areas of ships operation. Propulsion, steering and command. Fouling the rigging and the rudder would take care of the first two, killing or capturing the captain is the third. The vast majority of merchant sailors didn't have, and really still don't, any loyalty to the ship, company or cargo.

Everything changes in a military operation. There you could be faced with combat to the death across both sides.

Jeff

Bolero
01-27-2015, 12:19 AM
Potentially also swinging across on ropes from the rigging.

No projectile weapons at all - as in no spears or bows and arrows? Stone age man had those.......

Also read Hornblower books for slightly later (Napoleonic) with gunpowder. But cracking good descriptions. Give you a checklist/picture of things to think of.

If you want the target in one piece, and do have to go for the steering, you need to be able to repair fairly fast. But if it is the big oar dragging in the water period, rather than wheel and rudder, (forgotten what carracks had) then that wouldn't be too hard.
In terms of interfering with sails, need to look into how to release ropes fast rather than hacking through them. Belaying pins spring to mind, but don't know enough to know if they were on carracks and if you can pull one out and the rope wrapped around it is freed, or it all works differently.

And watch out for lanterns and cook fires. Don't spill them and set the ship on fire.

Further thinking - if a cargo ship, might be hard to scuttle because most of the outside skin of the ship would be buried under cargo - probably - just a thought you need to check as I don't know enough.

Quinn_Inuit
01-27-2015, 04:48 AM
I think that would be the way to go: secure the command and control, while cutting off reinforcements. Then taking any remaining personnel out of action.

Even better is taking control before most of the defeners even know about it.

Definitely. They're not looking to fight, they're looking to win.

Quinn_Inuit
01-27-2015, 04:54 AM
Most often, boarding parties succeed against unarmed ships because the unarmed crews give up. There are a number of cases where boarding parties never even had to board to take the target. So you have a wide latitude in your story, especially since it's not even on Earth.

Very interesting point, thank you. That hadn't occurred to me.


Normally, boarding parties would work to disrupt three areas of ships operation. Propulsion, steering and command. Fouling the rigging and the rudder would take care of the first two, killing or capturing the captain is the third. The vast majority of merchant sailors didn't have, and really still don't, any loyalty to the ship, company or cargo.

Everything changes in a military operation. There you could be faced with combat to the death across both sides.

Jeff

Excellent points. This is somewhat more of a military operation than civilian, but it still holds. I hadn't considered the importance of taking out the ship's officers, but it makes perfect sense. I'll make sure they go after the ship's officers as well as the propulsion and steering mechanisms.

Quinn_Inuit
01-27-2015, 05:05 AM
Potentially also swinging across on ropes from the rigging.

I'll keep that in mind. It'll be awesome if I can make it work.


No projectile weapons at all - as in no spears or bows and arrows? Stone age man had those.......

A reasonable question. The ships in question simply aren't carrying much in the way of weaponry for various reasons.


Also read Hornblower books for slightly later (Napoleonic) with gunpowder. But cracking good descriptions. Give you a checklist/picture of things to think of.

Cool, thank you for the recommendation.


If you want the target in one piece, and do have to go for the steering, you need to be able to repair fairly fast. But if it is the big oar dragging in the water period, rather than wheel and rudder, (forgotten what carracks had) then that wouldn't be too hard.
In terms of interfering with sails, need to look into how to release ropes fast rather than hacking through them. Belaying pins spring to mind, but don't know enough to know if they were on carracks and if you can pull one out and the rope wrapped around it is freed, or it all works differently.

And watch out for lanterns and cook fires. Don't spill them and set the ship on fire.

Further thinking - if a cargo ship, might be hard to scuttle because most of the outside skin of the ship would be buried under cargo - probably - just a thought you need to check as I don't know enough.

Those are good considerations. I'll fold them all into the tactics the attackers are using.

Once!
01-27-2015, 06:13 PM
Lumme, but that takes me back to the days when I would read Hornblower and Alexander Kent novels! I have to admit I've never boarded an enemy vessel in real life, but I must have read about it hundreds of times. Some more or less random thoughts...

How much of a guard does your target ship have? Are they expecting trouble and so have several people on watch? Or are they all below decks getting drunk and swapping bawdy stories about parrots?

Does your attacking ship sneak up by being ultra quiet (in which case no-one will notice until the last minute) or do they pretend to be a friendly ship (in which case there might be a small welcoming party)?

How do your attackers get on board? If you are looking for realism, I wouldn't have people swinging on the end of ropes. In Hollywood, maybe. In real life, probably not. We are far more likely to be putting both ships alongside each other and jumping.

Certainly agree about grappling hooks, otherwise the two ships will drift apart.

Do we have sails and rigging? If so, that's another way to board - although quite a bit riskier. Climbing up the anchor chain is another favourite route.

Once on board, a great deal will depend on whether your attackers have the advantage of surprise or not. Even a small band can capture a large ship if everyone is either asleep, drunk or telling the aforementioned parrot stories.

Quinn_Inuit
01-28-2015, 05:41 AM
Lumme, but that takes me back to the days when I would read Hornblower and Alexander Kent novels! I have to admit I've never boarded an enemy vessel in real life, but I must have read about it hundreds of times. Some more or less random thoughts...

Awesome. So that gives you as much experience as anybody, really. Submachine guns really change the game, boarding-wise, and searching for drugs isn't quite the same as taking a merchantman as a prize.


How much of a guard does your target ship have? Are they expecting trouble and so have several people on watch? Or are they all below decks getting drunk and swapping bawdy stories about parrots?

They're not expecting trouble, so there's not really a watch. Most of the crew is belowdecks asleep. The only people up are the night shift and one of the main characters.


Does your attacking ship sneak up by being ultra quiet (in which case no-one will notice until the last minute) or do they pretend to be a friendly ship (in which case there might be a small welcoming party)?

Good question. It's a sneak attack.


How do your attackers get on board? If you are looking for realism, I wouldn't have people swinging on the end of ropes. In Hollywood, maybe. In real life, probably not. We are far more likely to be putting both ships alongside each other and jumping.

Certainly agree about grappling hooks, otherwise the two ships will drift apart.

Do we have sails and rigging? If so, that's another way to board - although quite a bit riskier. Climbing up the anchor chain is another favourite route.

I've been giving a great deal of thought over the last couple of days to how they're going to get aboard. I think they best method is going to be for them to go via the sails and rigging. I know it's not the safest or most traditional route, but various factors conspire to make it the most viable in this case.


Once on board, a great deal will depend on whether your attackers have the advantage of surprise or not. Even a small band can capture a large ship if everyone is either asleep, drunk or telling the aforementioned parrot stories.

The attackers think they will have the element of surprise, and are planning accordingly. And they very nearly do.

WeaselFire
01-28-2015, 03:36 PM
Excellent points. This is somewhat more of a military operation than civilian, but it still holds. I hadn't considered the importance of taking out the ship's officers, but it makes perfect sense. I'll make sure they go after the ship's officers as well as the propulsion and steering mechanisms.

Command structure was usually killing or capturing the captain and mate, possibly the navigator and also any command of military forces on board (marines for example). Propulsion and steering were usually fouling and not destruction. Ropes dragged into the rudder to prevent course changes, rigging fouled so sails couldn't be controlled.

Jeff

Quinn_Inuit
01-28-2015, 04:44 PM
Command structure was usually killing or capturing the captain and mate, possibly the navigator and also any command of military forces on board (marines for example). Propulsion and steering were usually fouling and not destruction. Ropes dragged into the rudder to prevent course changes, rigging fouled so sails couldn't be controlled.

Jeff

N00b question for you: if the ship has slowed down enough to attempt a boarding, why would you need to foul the rigging and steering? I thought getting one of those ships moving was a slow process, and that's without guys on your deck trying to kill you.

Anaximander
01-28-2015, 08:16 PM
Generally you'll be moving through the target ship in one of two ways.

If one or more of the following is true:


you have notable numerical advantage
you've lost the initial surprise
the enemy ship is such that a small number of crew can be a threat (they're all armed, or the ship can be easily scuttled, or you want to be sure nobody raises the alarm or sends a message out)
the ship itself is less of a threat (engines are disabled, for example)


...then you'll probably want to go end-to-end. This means you can deal with enemy crew as you find them and be reasonably sure that none of them get past you to do anything you don't want. It's easier than going across the ship because it's narrower, so you need fewer people to make a cordon.

However, that's the less likely case. It's more likely that you're dealing with a ship whose systems are active. If:


you're undetected or can be reasonably be sure of having surprise on your side
you don't have massive numerical advantage
you need to take the ship quickly (because the enemy would be able to mount a resistance that's too much of a threat, or because they could escape if they get the ship moving in time, etc)
you don't want to risk a drawn-out fight


...then your best bet is to send a few smallish units to move through the ship in tight, self-contained groups going straight for the key systems. This will usually be Command, Propulsion, Communications, and maybe Weapons. Depending on the time period and tech level, this might be a case of nabbing the right crew members (captain, pilot, flag/lamp/radio operator) or it might be a case of taking key areas (bridge, sails/engine room, armoury etc) or systems (hacking computers, cutting power lines etc).

In your case:


attackers have surprise
victim vessel is active and theoretically capable of fleeing
combat is hand-to-hand, no ranged weapons
attacking ship is a troop transport, and therefore presumably the attackers are troops, ie. trained soldiers of some kind
attackers want to minimise both the damage to the victim ship and the number of casualties (ie. there's an incentive to avoid intense fighting)
victim ship is long (so going end-to-end will take time, and there may be something in the untaken portion of the ship that the defenders can use to their advantage, or destroy before the attackers get it)


Based on these factors, my chosen strategy would be to break of a few decent squads or teams and send each one off towards a different system.


one goes for wherever the ship is controlled from, to take charge
one goes for propulsion systems so the victim crew can't try to flee
one goes for communications, so the victim ship can't call for help
one goes for whatever defensive capability the victim ship has (weapons or whatever), so they can't try to fight their way out or use damage to the attacker's ship as a bargaining chip

Besides those teams, I'd hold some troops back to be quickly deployed to assist any of those teams that run into trouble. Also if for any reason you think the command crew aren't going to be in the place the ship is commanded from, send a team specifically tasked with finding them and securing them somewhere they can't do anything you don't want. The main idea here is to carry out the ship-to-ship equivalent of a coup d'etat, and take out the key parts before the rest has a chance to react.
I'd also consider sending larger, less specialised groups towards crew concentrations (wherever the enemy crew sleep, for example, or where they eat if it's near mealtime) to contain any resistance and keep them away from anything they can use to fight back, all together somewhere they can be watched.

And of course, definitely make sure you have a team standing sentry to stop the enemy from taking your ship while you're preoccupied taking theirs.

Quinn_Inuit
01-29-2015, 07:31 AM
Generally you'll be moving through the target ship in one of two ways.

If one or more of the following is true:


you have notable numerical advantage
you've lost the initial surprise
the enemy ship is such that a small number of crew can be a threat (they're all armed, or the ship can be easily scuttled, or you want to be sure nobody raises the alarm or sends a message out)
the ship itself is less of a threat (engines are disabled, for example)


...then you'll probably want to go end-to-end. This means you can deal with enemy crew as you find them and be reasonably sure that none of them get past you to do anything you don't want. It's easier than going across the ship because it's narrower, so you need fewer people to make a cordon.


That makes sense once you've dealt with the primary concentrations of resistance, but cleanup actions seem premature till you've secured your key tactical objectives.



However, that's the less likely case. It's more likely that you're dealing with a ship whose systems are active. If:


you're undetected or can be reasonably be sure of having surprise on your side
you don't have massive numerical advantage
you need to take the ship quickly (because the enemy would be able to mount a resistance that's too much of a threat, or because they could escape if they get the ship moving in time, etc)
you don't want to risk a drawn-out fight


...then your best bet is to send a few smallish units to move through the ship in tight, self-contained groups going straight for the key systems. This will usually be Command, Propulsion, Communications, and maybe Weapons. Depending on the time period and tech level, this might be a case of nabbing the right crew members (captain, pilot, flag/lamp/radio operator) or it might be a case of taking key areas (bridge, sails/engine room, armoury etc) or systems (hacking computers, cutting power lines etc).

In your case:


attackers have surprise
victim vessel is active and theoretically capable of fleeing
combat is hand-to-hand, no ranged weapons
attacking ship is a troop transport, and therefore presumably the attackers are troops, ie. trained soldiers of some kind
attackers want to minimise both the damage to the victim ship and the number of casualties (ie. there's an incentive to avoid intense fighting)
victim ship is long (so going end-to-end will take time, and there may be something in the untaken portion of the ship that the defenders can use to their advantage, or destroy before the attackers get it)


Based on these factors, my chosen strategy would be to break of a few decent squads or teams and send each one off towards a different system.


one goes for wherever the ship is controlled from, to take charge
one goes for propulsion systems so the victim crew can't try to flee
one goes for communications, so the victim ship can't call for help
one goes for whatever defensive capability the victim ship has (weapons or whatever), so they can't try to fight their way out or use damage to the attacker's ship as a bargaining chip

Besides those teams, I'd hold some troops back to be quickly deployed to assist any of those teams that run into trouble. Also if for any reason you think the command crew aren't going to be in the place the ship is commanded from, send a team specifically tasked with finding them and securing them somewhere they can't do anything you don't want. The main idea here is to carry out the ship-to-ship equivalent of a coup d'etat, and take out the key parts before the rest has a chance to react.
I'd also consider sending larger, less specialised groups towards crew concentrations (wherever the enemy crew sleep, for example, or where they eat if it's near mealtime) to contain any resistance and keep them away from anything they can use to fight back, all together somewhere they can be watched.

And of course, definitely make sure you have a team standing sentry to stop the enemy from taking your ship while you're preoccupied taking theirs.

That's all reasonable advice, but what you're describing requires a great deal of tactical skill on the part of the attacking crew. Not just in designing the plan at the company level, but carrying it out at the squad level.

I think what many people forget in our age of highly trained professional soldiers with radios is that, for most of history, only the most elite soldiers traditionally operated in detachments smaller than a modern platoon. The attack plan you're describing would be within the skills of a modern marine detachment, but I don't think average marines from five hundred years ago, or even two hundred, could have reliably operated in so many small groups.

Realistically, you're probably going to only have a few separate teams, and even then you're going to have to be careful they don't end up fighting one another by accident. These are chaotic close-quarter melees between un-uniformed or irregularly uniformed combatants we're discussing here. Going after a few widely spaced tactical objectives is one thing, but you're not going to be able to get them to function as a bunch of small squads effectively or reliably get reinforcements to groups that need it.

King Neptune
01-29-2015, 06:12 PM
Yeah, just get them into the other ship, and hope they win before things fall apart.

Quinn_Inuit
01-30-2015, 07:27 AM
Potentially also swinging across on ropes from the rigging.

Speaking of swashbuckling, I cannot possibly top the method used in the early part of this AMV to board a ship: http://video.i.ua/user/899393/9390/41338/

(Alternate/original link to AMV.org: http://www.animemusicvideos.org/members/members_videoinfo.php?v=11150 )

Anaximander
01-30-2015, 06:08 PM
That's all reasonable advice, but what you're describing requires a great deal of tactical skill on the part of the attacking crew. Not just in designing the plan at the company level, but carrying it out at the squad level.This is true. As I said, noting that the attacking ship has been described as a "troop carrier", I was assuming that the attackers are troops, ie. some form of trained military. They have boarding equipment, and are being deployed to board an enemy vessel, so I'm assuming this is something they're used to and/or have been trained for. Thus I think it's reasonable to assume that either they have the necessary skill, or it's been thought out by whatever tacticians their military has and drilled into them in whatever training they went through.


I don't think average marines from five hundred years ago, or even two hundred, could have reliably operated in so many small groups. [...] Going after a few widely spaced tactical objectives is one thing, but you're not going to be able to get them to function as a bunch of small squads effectively or reliably get reinforcements to groups that need it. A good point; the original post was light on detail so I may well be assuming a more modern time period than intended. Even so, the plan can be made to work without modern communications and the like, provided each team has a clear goal. You can easily tell one team "run for the helm and take control of it"; that's a pretty simple instruction. Likewise for the others "run to the mess and keep their crew there", "find their signalling gear and stop them from using it", "grab whoever seems to be in charge and bring them to me". The tricky part is the next phase, where the enemy is realising they're being boarded and fighting back. The simplest thing to do here is to just issue a general instruction to make a lot of noise if you need help. (If you're trying to take the ship quickly and quietly, this kinda happens automatically.) Then you just have a bunch of guys hang back, and if you hear something that sounds like fighting, you send your lot to run towards the fight and help your guys out. (At this point, it's wise to follow your other observation, and make sure your guys are wearing something that marks them out as obviously yours.)

In the case being described, I'd imagine only the teams sent to secure Command (grab the captain), Control (take the helm) and Communication (prevent use of signals) to be of the "small autonomous squad" type. In fact, possibly only the first two; "prevent use of signals" on an old sailing vessel basically boils down to "keep the crew away from the deck lamps" - I doubt they'd have time to hoist flags while being boarded. So those two groups have clear, simple instructions and "yell loudly" as all the contingency plan they need, and everyone else (except those all-important sentries) just sort of swarms aboard, follows the sound of fighting, and disables any enemy crew they find (again, distinctive uniforms help here). Bearing in mind that these are trained troups, I think they can manage that.