The Illusion of the Decisive Battle


On a recent installment of Talking in Stations, TEST Alliance FC Progodlegend offered an opinion on the Catch and Tribute wars as “the first modern wars”. He opined that where Dominion Sov had been like ‘land warfare’, the new meta for capital warfare in EVE was shaping up to become ‘naval warfare’. When pressed for an explanation of what he meant by that, Progod responded with a description of the Fleet-in-Being concept, and cited the Battle of Jutland in World War I, and went on to say that “Japan suicided a lot of their ships” in World War II. Continuing his explanation, he added, “Naval warfare is all about decisive battles, you know, one battle, where you know, once a side loses enough of their ships to where they can no longer engage the enemy, the war is over. You know, that naval war is over, naval warfare for that war is concluded. It’s down to blockades and land warfare. In land warfare, there’s front lines, you know, you’re advancing your front lines, there’s a lot of fights, there’s a lot of engagements, and you’re taking—in EVE’s case—space one step at a time.”

It’s a great analogy. It’s evocative, it’s got a clear distinction of ‘this is how it works here, and this is how it works there, and you can see they’re very different’. It also supports his larger point—the difference in the metagame between Dominion Sov and Citadel Sov—very well. There’s just one problem with it:

It’s completely wrong.

There are a lot of assumptions built into that analogy, indicating a somewhat incomplete understanding of things like Mahan. Like a lot of things, it passes the common sense test. It sounds right, it feels right, without ever actually having to deal with real scrutiny. When it gets that scrutiny, though, it doesn’t hold up so well.

The biggest problem Progod’s analogy has is that he’s separating warfare into two distinct areas that—within the scope of his analogy—don’t actually have the distinction he’s assigning. The kind of singular, decisive, one-and-done attack he says is a ‘naval tactic’ is also the basis of one of the most significant, effective, and short campaigns in the annals of land warfare.

The Battle of France

The Battle of France was six weeks long. Yes, that’s significantly longer than any single fight in EVE, but considering the previous German invasion of France (ie: World War I)  had taken four years with a lot less success, the Battle of France has to be considered a decisive engagement. Combined arms and mobility tactics in the early part of the campaign swept the Wehrmacht through Belgium and around the Maginot Line, and forced the British Expeditionary Force to evacuate from Dunkirk. That took from May 10 to June 5, 1940. It’s not the decisive part. The decisive part is that after forcing the evacuation to England of the trapped British and French forces, the Germans then still had to deal with sixty French divisions.

They took Paris nine days later. The French government fled in a panic, and as a result, the army collapsed into chaos. Fast, decisive, and singular, the Battle of France represents everything Progod ascribed to ‘naval warfare’, except of course the ‘fleet-in-being’ concept. At the time, the rapid assault (dubbed ‘Blitzkrieg’ in the UK press, a term that was never actually used by the German military) was seen as a shocking new form of warfare. That contrasts highly with the accounts of officers of the Wehrmacht at the time, who described it only as aggressive officers making the best use of the tools at their disposal under rapidly-changing battlefield conditions. Those accounts are further supported by the opinions of modern military scholars, who view the highly mobile, coordinated doctrines of the Wehrmacht as an application of traditional German tactics to the new, powerful technology of the day.

In short, new tools, but classic German land warfare. But let’s look at the other side of the coin.


Progod cited the Battle of Jutland as his example of a ‘decisive’ naval battle which, if you’ll recall, means the before that, there was naval warfare going on. Afterwards, “naval warfare for that war is concluded. It’s down to blockades and land warfare.”

The problem, of course, is that World War I saw that as the starting conditions: the German High Seas Fleet, following a doctrine of maintaining the fleet as largely a single, unified hammer, was kept in German ports on the North Sea, in striking range of England.

The Royal Navy’s response was laid out by British maritime doctrine under both Fisher and Churchill. That doctrine was simple and direct: the Grand Fleet. The Grand Fleet maintained a force roughly 60% stronger than the High Seas Fleet near Germany in English and allied ports. Simultaneously, other fleets of the Royal Navy protected the Straits of Gibraltar, the Suez Canal, and other strategic points for the international shipping upon which the British Empire depended.

In August of 1914, only days after the war began on July 28, the Grand Fleet moved into a blockading posture, sealing Germany up. From the very beginning of the war, things were already “down to blockades and land warfare”.

Jutland changed nothing. The Germans attempted to draw a scouting squadron of battlecruisers into a trap in order to begin breaking the blockade, but the Royal Navy had gotten wind of movements from the High Seas Fleet, and moved a detachments of battleships to reinforce Admiral Beatty’s battlecruisers.

When the engagement actually happened, the British had 151 ships: 28 battleships, 9 battlecruisers, 34 cruisers, and 78 destroyers. The detachment of the High Seas Fleet consisted of 99 ships: 16 battleships, 5 battlecruisers, 6 pre-dreadnoughts (which were not only slower and more lightly armored, they could not bring all of their primary armament to bear on a target), 11 cruisers, and 61 torpedo-boats (short range, lightly armored, and exactly the thing the ‘Torpedo Boat Destroyer’ type of ship was invented to kill). In EVE terms, think of them as goku-bombers: no cloaks.

The British had fully 50% more ships. They weren’t burdened by the outdated pre-dreadnoughts the Germans were using. For every torpedo boat the High Seas Fleet had, the Grand Fleet had 1.3 destroyers designed specifically to kill them.

The British lost 14 ships: 3 battlecruisers, 3 cruisers, and 8 destroyers, with a total displacement of 113,300 tonnes. 6,094 British sailors and officers were killed, 674 wounded, and 177 captured. The Germans lost 11 ships: 1 battlecruiser, 1 of the outdated pre-dreadnoughts, 4 cruisers, and 5 torpedo boats, totalling 62,300 tonnes. 2,551 men of the High Seas Fleet were killed, 507 wounded, none captured.

That’s not a decisive victory. In fact, it’s really not a victory at all. If this scenario happened in EVE, both sides would claim victory, and reddit would just look at it all and say ‘so, what, nobody wanted to fight?’ The German fleet re-engaged briefly after nightfall because the British were between them and home. The British, though, utterly failed to recognize that the Germans were just noping on out of the fight. They thought it was just a few destroyers skirmishing. Meanwhile, the entire German fleet crossed the British line of battle within visual range of the trailing battlecruisers, which had gun crews ready to fire. The officers in charge of those crews managed to simultaneously think someone else would give the order to fire, and never inform the admirals who would have given it.

The High Seas Fleet remained a fleet-in-being the entire duration of the war, operating primarily in the Baltic in order to prevent any opening of a northern invasion corridor. Jutland is not, and never has been, remembered as a decisive battle. Even the strategic situation remained almost exactly the same: Germany was blockaded before Jutland, Germany was blockaded after Jutland. Out in the Atlantic, the major threat to British interests in WWI was the same as it would be in WWII: U-boats. If there was any ‘decisive’ naval engagement of the war, it would be the sinking of the RMS Lusitania, and the effect it had in nudging the American population closer to joining the war.

The significance of Jutland, rather, is that it marked the last time battleships from opposing nations engaging one another in direct combat was the primary focus of the battle. Throughout all of World War II, with the most powerful battleships in the world in the Pacific in the form of the American Iowa-class and the Japanese Yamato-class, it never happened. And it never happened, in EVE terms, because the meta shifted.

Meet the Meta

Regarding World War II, Progod said the Japanese “suicided a lot of their ships.” For the moment, let’s assume he’s not imagining kamikaze battleships. I’m not really sure what he does mean, though, or how it in any way supported his idea of a ‘decisive’ battle.

The Battle for the Pacific can be roughly broken down into two phases: Before Midway, and After Midway. Sounds like Midway’s that ‘decisive battle’ Progod’s talking about, doesn’t it? The one where the losing side loses so many ships that they just can’t continue the war?

It wasn’t.

Midway was definitely a decisive battle. It had nothing to do with the number of ships lost, and everything to do with how things went down, and will-to-win. The critical numbers here are 31, 48, 4, and 1.

The first of those numbers, 31, is the number of days before Midway that the decisive victory started. May 4, 1942, the beginning of the Battle of Coral Sea. The Coral Sea can be seen as the moment the meta fully shifted from Jutland. At Jutland, the entire fight was surface vessels. In Japanese victories against the Royal Navy in the early parts of the Pacific War, even as air power took over the primary strike role in fleets, surface vessels still came close enough to fire directly on another. At the Coral Sea, the opposing surface fleets never fired on one another. They never even saw one another. Everything was air power.

The real significance of that 31, though, is that Shōkaku and Zuikaku—two of the IJN’s 6 large fleet carriers—were taken off the board. Shōkaku was heavily damaged and in need of repairs, and Zuikaku lost so many aircraft that both had to return to Japan. One of the USN’s large fleet carriers, Lexington, was damaged so badly she had to be scuttled, and another, Yorktown, was reported sunk. She survived, though, and was ordered back to Hawaii for repairs. Which brings us to the second number, 48.

When Yorktown returned to Pearl Harbor on May 27 for repairs, drydock crews estimated 2 weeks to get her patched up enough to return to duty. Admiral Nimitz, however, ordered that she be made ready to sail alongside Admiral Spruance’s Task Force 16. Repair crews working round the clock cut the turnaround time down from two weeks to 48 hours, and Admiral Fletcher’s TF 17, with Yorktown at the center, sailed out of Oahu on time on May 30. Yorktown’s air wing was at full-strength, having received aircraft that had been slated for Saratoga, which was steaming west from California after refitting.

The reason Yorktown’s repairs were so critical is that Spruance had 2 carriers, Hornet and Enterprise, while the Japanese advance force, under Admiral Nagumo, was steaming east with the four remaining undamaged fleet carriers of the Imperial Japanese Navy: Akagi, Kaga, Soryu and Hiryu. Yorktown brought the number of functional aircraft carriers in the defense operations to parity with the Japanese. As the battle unfolded, she would be listed as ‘sunk’ twice by Japanese pilots, only to finally capsize after being torpedoed while under tow home after the fighting was otherwise over. With the IJN’s eyes repeatedly finding Yorktown, Hornet and Enterprise were never directly attacked, enabling Spruance to continue aggressive operations throughout the battle.

By contrast, the Japanese forces lost three of their four carriers in the initial assault of aircraft from the American carriers, with the fourth, Hiryu, destroyed hours later. A single heavy cruiser was also sunk as a result of USN aircraft, with another damaged in a collision while attempting to avoid an American submarine attack.

And that’s the last two critical numbers there: 4, and 1. 4 IJN carriers and 1 USN carrier sunk.

Decisive battle? Yes, very much so. But again, let’s look at Progod’s criteria for how this applies to EVE:

“Naval warfare is all about decisive battles, you know, one battle, where you know, once a side loses enough of their ships to where they can no longer engage the enemy, the war is over.”

USN forces: 3 carriers, 7 heavy cruisers, 1 light cruiser, 15 destroyers, 233 carrier-based aircraft, 127 land-based aircraft, 16 submarines.

IJN forces: 4 carriers, 2 battleships, 2 heavy cruisers, 1 light cruiser, 12 destroyers, 248 carrier-based aircraft, 16 floatplanes.

More importantly, though: IJN forces coming up behind the carrier group that did not participate:
2 light carriers, 5 battleships (including Yamato), 4 heavy cruisers, 2 light cruisers, ~35 support ships.

Take a look at that ‘did not participate’ list. Those represent two different groups of additional vessels moving in support of the carrier group, but dispersed as much as 700 nautical miles away. They also, given the severe depletion of aircraft on all three American carriers and Midway itself, likely had enough fighter aircraft to provide air cover for the planned bombardment of Midway.

The entire point of the attack had been to draw out the American carriers into defending Midway from a surface bombardment, so the big guns on the IJN battleships (especially the 18” guns on Yamato) could destroy them. But Yamamoto held the surface forces back, costing his carriers the anti-aircraft and fighter cover that those other two elements would have provided. Most importantly, though, the loss of the four large fleet carriers convinced Yamamoto to turn back. He lost the will to win. At that point, by all estimates that the IJN had, two USN carriers had been sunk, which meant that there was only one left. With 150 aircraft destroyed, that carrier would be running an incomplete air wing—and especially low on strike craft, as most of those had been shot down during their attack runs on Nagumo’s carriers.

As a result of the battle, the IJN still had two large fleet carriers (Shōkaku and Zuikaku, which would both be returning to service), and a number of light carriers. They had the numerical advantage and the advantage in firepower among their surface fleets. The decisive battle in absolutely no way resulted in the IJN losing ‘enough of their ships to where they can no longer engage the enemy’.

It resulted in the loss of their will to win, the loss of their will to force the engagement, to set the terms and tempo of the war. You can’t win a war on the back foot. That’s true of naval operations, and it’s true of warfare on land. Yes, there have been some decisive battles in naval history where one side has utterly decimated the other’s forces. Trafalgar, for example, or the destruction of the Spanish Armada. There have been as many of those on land, though, like Agincourt, or Stalingrad. Stalingrad may not have been quick, but it was definitely decisive.

The key similarity in all of these impactful, decisive battles, hasn’t been ‘they lost so many people the war was just over’, but rather that one side seized the initiative and the other never regained it. The number of truly ‘well, that ended it, and nobody even bothered fighting that phase of the war anymore’ battles in warfare has been fairly small. Waterloo comes to mind. If anyone’s unclear, it wasn’t a naval battle, despite the name. For the most part, though, after a ‘decisive’ battle there’s usually a long, drawn-out mopping up campaign, and most of that’s a slog and a half. Consider: Midway was June of 1942. The Pacific Theater would continue to see fighting for three more years. Yamato’s two sister ships, Musashi and Shinano would both be sunk in 1944, and Yamato herself would survive until 1945.

Progod talked about how after the decisive naval battle, there’s nothing left but land warfare. What he missed, though, is that modern naval warfare exists to support land warfare. Control of the seas isn’t about claiming the seas, it’s about controlling access to land. In the Pacific, nearly every significant engagement of any size before Midway was about invading islands, from the Philippines to Wake Island to the Coral Sea. After Midway, the pattern continued, right through to Okinawa. Midway itself was about using the threat of a bombardment and invasion to draw out the American carriers that had halted the Japanese advance at the Coral Sea.

The Battle for the Pacific was about land. It was about front lines. Before the Coral Sea, the Japanese were consistently pushing their front lines forward. They could do that not because naval warfare is fundamentally different, but because the effect of overwhelming force and greater mobility is the same on land or at sea. They let the IJN dictate the engagement terms and tempo of a war, just like the Wehrmacht simply driving around sixty divisions of the French Army to take Paris. The Coral Sea marked the first time the lines held. Midway marked the point where the Allies began to do more than just not lose. From there, the entire tempo of the Pacific Theater was dictated by the Allies, not the IJN. That wasn’t because of large numbers of ships destroyed at Midway. It was because staring across the chessboard at Spruance, Yamamoto blinked.

When looking to Mahan, or naval history, about ‘modern’ conflicts, it’s important to remember that for roughly a century now, relying on a singular, decisive victory at sea has been a recipe for failure.

So What’s That Mean For EVE?

On the surface of it, a basic misunderstanding of naval warfare—or really, military history—isn’t that crippling a thing in EVE. Knowing how campaigns end in an environment of limited resources and limited manpower (which is far more important; just ask the Japanese air wings) is fundamentally different than how warfare progresses in an environment where everyone can be running incursions in high-sec to keep their wallets fat and their hangars stocked, and nobody permanently dies.

But Progod was talking about capital and supercapital warfare, and doing so in the context of how it’s bad for the game because alphas can’t really get involved. I completely agree with his assessment that alpha clones cannot fly capital ships. No argument whatsoever (except, of course, for fringe cases—people whose accounts lapsed while they were logged off in-space in a super retain the ability to fly the ship and take gates, even if they can’t actually use their skills while they’re an alpha clone).

Having something you still have to pay for to be able to do isn’t necessarily a bad thing, though. CCP needs EVE to be a revenue stream, after all. Just having a F2P game that doesn’t offer any revenue beyond microtransactions gets really difficult to pull off. Even World of Tanks has a subscription model available. There needs to be some incentive for Omegas, and capitals are part of that, along with battleships and T2 hulls. It’s likely that as more clone states are unveiled, we’ll see more granularity in these incentives.

In the larger sense, though, Progod is fundamentally wrong about how ‘carriers are the new battleship’ changes gameplay. In making his point, he said that nobody would consistently be willing to throw away 250-man carrier fleets on fights they know they can’t win, and I think he’s right there. However, that doesn’t really represent a change, does it? How many groups in EVE are willing to consistently throw away 250-man battleships fleets on fights they know they’ll lose? Sure, there are groups who will YOLO for the fun of it from time to time, but with a full fleet?

In my experience, the groups I’ve flown with and against, including TEST, generally don’t throw away full fleets of battleships without having some reasonable chance of winning. Maybe they focus on the chance for a headshot of the enemy FC to disrupt things enough to pull out a victory. Maybe they’re looking to achieve their strategic objective even if they have to get slaughtered to a man in order to pull it off. No matter what, though, there’s some path to victory in there, or they blueball. And there’s nothing wrong with that.

The Bigger Picture

That applies to the larger scope of warfare in EVE as well: people fight when they see a path to victory. Unlike real-world conflicts, you can’t actually threaten to exterminate your enemy in EVE. You can’t present them the kind of truly existential threat that can exist in a real war. Nobody’s family is going to starve because they lost Fountain. Nobody’s children will be rounded up and shot by occupying forces if a system gets overrun, no matter how important it might be. That means that the calculus changes immensely when it comes to what a war is worth.

TEST didn’t lose Fountain because they ran out of ships. The number of losses they took at 6VDT-H showed that. The Imperium certainly didn’t lose the north because we ran out of ships, or suffered massive losses that made it impossible to keep fighting. Interestingly, there are parallels between those wars, and the larger examples Progod was looking at (World War I and II).

Like the Japanese Empire in WWII, TEST ran into supply difficulties during the Fountain War. Logistics (movement of materiel, not fleet tenders) broke down. Unlike the Japanese, though, TEST had no strong, singular central figure to rally around or listen to, no Hirohito, no Tojo. TEST leadership quite publicly fragmented. Fingers were pointed in attempts to lay blame, while those pointing the fingers prepared to make their own escape, pockets filled with stolen Alliance assets. Leadership lost the will to win, even if the line members, and most FCs, did not.

The Imperium, by contrast, faced a problem Kaiser Wilhelm would easily have recognized: fatigue. It’s important to remember that the Casino War began long before most of the game realized it. CCP may have gotten on the ‘WWB’ bandwagon after the first massive assault that drove CO2 out of both the war, and the Imperium, but the conflict had been a low-intensity grind on the other end of Imperium space since the previous August. Pandemic Horde, Mordus’ Angels, and others, had been waging a guerilla war against SMA with a tool expressly intended to force the break-up of large coalitions: Entosis warfare.

Entosis warfare is, of course, everyone in EVE’s absolute favorite activity ever. After five months of constantly feasting on the Turkish Delight of New Eden, though, most of the Imperium’s pilots were largely fed up with it. Line members from SMA and Goonswarm, with strong support from more far-flung members like LAWN and the Bastion, had been responding to entosis timers daily. The attackers could share the load between them, with different groups starting timers at different times, and different solo pilots doing the work on different days. For the defenders, though, scouring the constellations under attack meant needing numbers in fleets.

Burnout was inevitable. The line would turn up for fights, even if they had to cross two regions to do it, but by the time yet another round of invasion rolled around, the numbers in entosis fleets were already frighteningly anemic. So the decision was made that Goonswarm’s sov holdings would not be seriously defended. This, in turn, ushered in a wave of mockery and accusations of ‘didn’t want that space anyway’. Of course we wanted that space. We simply wanted our supercapital fleet, and our pilots’ ability to enjoy what they were doing in fleets, far more.

We had the ships to keep fighting. The sheer number of Hurricane fleets we threw away attests to that. Leadership was forced to recognize the toll the months of annoying, frustrating work chasing solo cloaky and frigate entosisers around had taken on the line. The will to win simply wasn’t there, and after the half-year grind of constant FozzieSov defense, that level of burnout and frustration was entirely understandable. So instead, hurfs were blurfed, and fleet activities focused on situations where the line could enjoy the experience. By the time the Imperium withdrew from the theater of war, morale had rebuilt, and the line was looking forward to a new challenge.

And Now For Something Completely Not Different

The Traitors’ War follows that same dynamic. For all Vily and Progod have attempted to spin this as ‘TEST vs Goons’, this is, and has been from the very beginning, an invasion of Stainwagon’s space. Even the framing of the war makes this clear: The name does not—and never did—refer to CO2’s withdrawal from the Casino War, but rather their decision to attack the one non-Imperium power that acted in their defense.

Even TEST’s own alliance addresses and openly-acknowledged plans make it clear that this war is between TESCO and Stainwagon: Vily’s declaration of victory in V-3 included TEST’s intention to take the war toward Impass. The imgur album link he included in that address shows the larger plan: Impass, yes, but also Feythabolis, Esoteria, and Paragon Soul, all regions well out of the reach of any Imperium assistance.

And that is all the Imperium could ever have done: assist. As has been proven again and again in the last eighteen months, allies cannot fight your war for you anymore. When someone is attacked, it is up to them to defend their sovereignty structures. As a result, the defense of Catch hinged not on Imperium forces, but on Stainwagon’s commitment to defending the region. And therein lies another significant failure of understanding that Progod displayed on TiS: That commitment is one Stainwagon has very little reason to make.

Stainwagon, as will no surprise no-one other than perhaps Progod, is primarily based in Stain. The region is NPC space. Citadels can be anchored, but staging in NPC stations cannot be prevented. In the long term, it is impossible to force an enemy out of NPC stations if they are patient enough. It was true of MOA’s long residence in NPC Pure Blind. It was true of Fountain Core’s time living in Serpentis space. It is also true of Stainwagon’s many, many years living and basing primarily in Stain.

Sovholding is a luxury for them, one they indulge in when they can, and do without whenever they must. It is an approach that has seen them weather the assault of entities far more powerful and far more capable than TESCO—including the very NCPL forces that drove TESCO from the north. They have no pressing need to hold sov. As a result, their threshold of effort needed to decide to simply return to Stain and bide their is somewhat lower than it might otherwise be. In the big picture, they lose nothing, and so need risk nothing in its defense.

Progodlegend made the point that once TEST had their own citadels in V-3, they were essentially impossible to force out. But he has good reason to know that this is not the case. Citadels provide a strong defensive point, but they are far from indestructible. If they were, he and his allies would still be in the north. The greater irony, though, is that he made this point while attempting to claim that cyno jammers were the deciding factor in how the recent warfare in Tribute played out, and that they somehow prevented a headshot on the M-O Keepstar.

To make this assertion is to completely ignore all realities of the Tribute and Lonetrek landscape. Had they wanted a headshot, NCdot could have had one at any time. It would have been a trivial matter to restage their supercapitals to lowsec and simply bring them directly to M-O. If headshotting the Keepstar was actually the goal of the campaign, it would have been done early. Rather, NCPL simply used time and repetition to grind the defenders down.

The first phase of the war took place while Pandemic Legion was still involved in preparing for, and flying in, the Alliance Tournament. During that time, TESCO saw their only sustained victories and ability to counterattack on NCdot holdings. While a number of observers publicly criticized NCdot for their inability to deal with CO2 on their own, when viewed through the lens of the Casino War, the tactic begins to make more sense: CO2 was being played on their pride. A few probing attacks, and CO2 predictably began retaliatory strikes—and began pushing the optempo of the war, and the burden on their own pilots. At the same time, NCdot was able to focus on sov timers when needed, but shift a large portion of the burden of maintaining optempo to the much larger pool of pilots in Pandemic Horde, Guardians of the Galaxy, and other allies.

As a result, once the AT was out of the way and Pandemic Legion could fully commit to the war effort, the attackers remained relatively fresh, despite four months of combat. With PL’s full entry into the theater, entosis operations began again, using Force Auxiliaries to generate and win timers, and forcing defensive fleets to turn up to protect cyno jammers as well as to defend the timers.

The result? By the time NCPL and their allies decided to attack the M-O Keepstar, it had been the only significant target remaining for two weeks. Most of EVE had expected the attack to come a week earlier. And when it did come, TESCO put forth a token defense, at best. NCPL hadn’t delayed the attack because they needed to deal with cynojammers—as stated earlier, they could have attacked directly at any time. Instead, they had used a long, grinding campaign that required far less effort on the part of their individual pilots than on the defenders’ to make the results of the Keepstar battle feel inevitable. They ground down TESCO’s will to win.

Only Idiots and Tryhards…

So what’s the takeaway from all of this? It would be easy to tar and feather Progodlegend here. He presented himself, perhaps unintentionally, as an authority. In part that presentation was based on two wars in which he’d been a significant military leader. He then offered a vision of how wars would be fought in the future based on a particular interpretation of recent events, and an analogy citing historical references to illustrate his point. And he got it all wrong. Not just the historical references, but why things unfolded the way they did in both Tribute and in Catch. All of it. So yes, it would be easy. But it would be wrong.

Rather than focus on what he was wrong about, focus instead on why he was wrong, on why so many FCs and pilots in EVE would have been equally wrong. It’s a running joke in EVE that only idiots and tryhards quote Sun Tzu. There’s a good reason for that: most of The Art of War is as much a treatise on the psychology of soldiers as it is a manual of strategic principles. After all, one of the first and most fundamental princples of strategic warfare is that you need soldiers. But EVE players aren’t soldiers. They can walk away whenever they like. At the same time, though, we have to be wary of being too dismissive, of some of the lessons military history can offer, such as the importance of proper logistic capabilities, or the critical role of scouting and intelligence.

Or the illusion of the ‘decisive battle’. Just because a battle is historically significant doesn’t mean it provided any kind of decisive inflection point in the larger conflict that framed it. Even if it was decisive, it’s important to understand why, and to remember that the Hollywood imagery of ‘We blew up the Death Star, everyone admits we won!’ is almost never the case. Land or sea, decisive inflection points aren’t just possible, they’re positively littering the pages of history. When they arrive though, their power and impact doesn’t come from the amount of casualties, or some incredible knockout blow that ends the war right then and their. It comes from one side’s ability to capitalize on their advantage, and the other’s inability to recover from the setback.

Sometimes there are clear mistakes at the top. TEST leadership fell to squabbling in Fountain. Yamamoto failed to see his plan through after losing his four large carriers. Sometimes, the situation just breaks down beyond the point of recovery. The French Army couldn’t re-establish cohesion and central command planning after the fall of Paris. Line members in EVE burn out after long, protracted wars with high optempo. Materiel can be replaced, given time. What makes a setback unrecoverable, what truly loses a war, is losing the will to win it.


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  • David Matterall

    update: Progod and Arrendis talk on comms — (

    Wow, mind blown. How did you learn all that naval military stuff? haha.

    Great analysis of the past year of wars, I think there is a lot to unpack there and you gave a lot to think about.

    January 25, 2017 at 8:14 AM
  • Ganthrithor

    This article is dope a/f. Thank you!

    January 25, 2017 at 8:22 AM
  • Rammel Kas

    I like this read. Real power in EVE does seem to rest with those who keep their willpower in store.

    And yes you’re more spot on about the willpower of the IJ Navy high command becoming impaired. This is a theme I also encountered reading about a biography of one of their most successful destroyer captains from WW2. There were a lot of errors which could be attributed (like repeating compromised plans) to desk-admirals in Tokyo rather than captains at Robal or Truk, especially towards the end.
    Link for the book:

    January 25, 2017 at 9:21 AM
    • Bill McDonough Rammel Kas

      Oh, nice! Thanks for that link, I’ll definitely be checking it out.

      January 25, 2017 at 3:44 PM
    • BamStroker Rammel Kas

      Hey man, just wanted to say great tip on the book. I picked it up on Kindle after I saw your comment and I’m about halfway through now. It’s fantastic.

      January 28, 2017 at 7:31 AM
  • Terrible Goon Spy

    Masterful, though I would contend a few slightly different personal interpretations of some events.

    Stain has difficulty in co-ordinating help, goons and russians have consistently not met or formed together in defense ops in a timely fashion. This makes it impossible to fight an even numbered engagement.

    While progod is wrong in the how and why, when 400+ hostile people are sitting in your primary staging hub, blocking you out of your castle and away from weapons, you need force of equal magnitude to repel them if you want your castle back.

    This is the time of guerrilla warfare, annoy the piss out of people, don’t let them rat, mine, build, or fly safely in their own homes. Give them no recourse or means of retaliation. Do this successfully, and it builds your morale, trains your blops and hot droppers, and saps your enemy of their will and material.

    You can blitz and crush your enemies in one swift thrust, take them to task and grind them down from unassailable positions, or give them no reason to fight you being there. The last one is basically crashing on their couch, putting up some forts, and living out of their sov like an unpaid renter. That is the height of the art of war in EVE; having people give you a place to live without having to do anything for it.

    January 25, 2017 at 1:34 PM
  • Lrrp

    Great article. I could attest to the “will to win” way back when the corp I was in (TGRADS) was part of BRUCE. Speak about a alliance losing the will to win, their leader is a prime example.

    January 25, 2017 at 2:36 PM
  • Xavi Bastanold

    Understanding military art and its three-tiered hierarchy can be a life study. It’s understandable if Progodlegend got it wrong. Military analysts in the military continuously get it wrong all the time. Various militaries, including the US, fade in and out of comprehension due to reasons that have everything to do from ego to plain misunderstanding. Hell, even the Germans got it wrong in WWII though their obsession with tactics pulled them along quite effectively in the beginning.

    January 25, 2017 at 3:34 PM
    • Bill McDonough Xavi Bastanold

      It’s completely understandable to get things wrong. That’s why the focus here wasn’t ‘Progod got it wrong, the dumbass’, but ‘this was a really good analogy, but the lessons you’re taking from it might not be the right ones.’.

      January 25, 2017 at 3:49 PM
      • Xavi Bastanold Bill McDonough

        I agree that EVE does replicate life in that when large coalitions engage in ongrid combat there cannot be a ‘decisive battle.’ Where things begin to become decisive is when a constellation switches sov and holds, or even moreso when a region effectively does. And yes, the will to endure through it all while following an effective plan is vital.

        I appreciate your knowledge on the matter and wanted to underscore the complexity of military art even among professionals. Strategy is a nightmare the larger the polity and rarely provides the expected results in the long term.

        This was an enjoyable article, thanks for writing it.

        January 25, 2017 at 4:29 PM
      • Duramora Bill McDonough

        >That’s why the focus here wasn’t ‘Progod got it wrong, the dumbass’,
        Wait- isn’t that anti-EVE or something? 🙂

        Another difference between “Real-life” warfare and EVE warfare that is partially covered by what you said: Most of us have, well, Real-life responsibilities. A captain can’t tell his admiral: “Sorry, sir, but I have to go to work then, so I can’t form up to fight until later”, while its a fact of life for us.

        January 26, 2017 at 8:10 PM
        • Bill McDonough Duramora

          Well they can, but it’s a pretty quick way to get sacked and have your ship given to another officer, yeah. Heh.

          Also, specialization: there are so many things to know about how a ship operates, what it’s capable of, the demands of leading a crew, that obviously enough, the captain of a ship has one ship they run. Even a pilot, while they may be qualified on a number of aircraft, operates one type of vehicle as their assignment, so they know that vehicle inside and out.

          January 26, 2017 at 9:33 PM
  • Robby Kasparic

    A fantastic read. This naval history nerd is satisfied.

    January 25, 2017 at 4:26 PM
  • theseconddavid

    Picking apart the naval warfare knowledge of someone who was speaking live, without the benefit of being able to fact check seems a little petty. And while he slightly miss-stated it, his general premise is correct. The era of fozzie sov revolves around decisive battles that may not break an enemy’s ability to fight, but their will to fight. And in eve, without the will to fight, you do not have the ability to fight. In every fozzie sov war to date, you can point to the battle where the enemy’s will was broken. It is usually a large fight where one side takes unsually high losses and the other side makes a perhaps token, show of force. For the January war and the stain side, that could have been F4R, had the dreads and supers not been lost in those numbers. The results of that fight left both sides claiming a victory. However, the battle for the V3 ihub was that moment for the stainfraggin side, when they both won the objective, the isk war, and showed they could field similar numbers to the F4R fight. There was clearly no victory for the stain side.

    January 25, 2017 at 5:58 PM
    • Bill McDonough theseconddavid

      I don’t think it’s petty to say ‘this was presented, and it’s not right’. If I’d taken it down the ‘PGL clearly has no idea what he’s talking about’ road, or tried to make him out to be a blithering idiot, sure, but as has been pointed out, this stuff is easy to get wrong. It’s more important in that situation to say ‘actually, this is more accurate…’

      For example, you say that in every war under Aegis Sov, you can point to the battle where the enemy’s will was broken. That’s simply not true. The inclination is there to point ot M-O as that battle for the Casino War, and again, it looks and feels right, but like so much else about how things actually happen, what looks right… isn’t. The Sun doesn’t go around the Earth. Most of the mass of the universe isn’t visible and obvious. Solid matter is mostly empty space.

      In the case of the Casino War, M-O had no real measurable effect on the willingness of anyone—except CO2—to continue fighting. We’d already been in Saranen for months, trying to get everyone else into unified staging. The decision not to engage in entosis defense had nothing to do with that, or any other, particular battle, is was purely a matter of line fatigue and a clear-eyed assessment of ‘is there a path to victory?’

      The Fabian strategy was settled on very, very early. The intent had been that once our enemies held the space, we could assume the role of the attacker and begin entosis harassment. Then our enemies would get to experience the same wonderful burnout we’d faced. That strategy wasn’t perfect, but it was effective. If you look back over what happened, we did begin to retake Pure Blind.

      It quickly became apparent, though, that as long as we were in-theater, all of our enemies would remain united. There was no single battle, no decisive loss that proved that, only the consistent behavior of multiple groups. So we left, reasoning that once we were gone, they’d begin fighting amongst themselves.

      We took our first system in Delve on July 30. 3 weeks later, NCPL and TESCO fought the battle of SH1, which was by no means the first engagement of that war. So it seems pretty obvious our expectations were well-founded. There wasn’t as much internal friction as we’d hoped, obviously, but again, our decisions were made based on observed and predicted patterns of behavior, not because of the “battle where [our] will was broken”, as you claim is the case in every post-Dominion war.

      And when that war came to Tribute, where was the singular battle that broke CO2’s will? It sure wasn’t SH1. They were still winning engagements in Deklein and Pure Blind after that. It can’t have been the M-O keepstar battle, their entire defense for the first timer was Gigx, afk at the guns of the citadel. What made them decide it wasn’t worth fighting was pretty obviously the long grind of defense.

      For this current conflict, again, what you—and Vily, I should note, based on his alliance update—seem to consider a battle that broke someone’s will doesn’t really have that effect. Look at Stainwagon’s history. Look at how they fight wars. They follow what is can be seen as a quintessentially Russian style of winning that stretches back to the invasions of the Mongol Horde: give ground, endure, and outlast. When the Golden Horde swept west, the Rus could have fought. Instead, when the Khans gave the choice of ‘tribute or annihilation’, the Rus essentially paid their taxes and let the Horde sweep on by. When Genghis died, the Golden Horde returned to Samarkand. The Rus were intact, in place, and non-annihilated, so they just kept on trucking. The Persians chose a different route, and Tamerlane gave them the annihilation they opted for. Persia wouldn’t really recover until it became Iran, in the 20th century.

      And that’s far from the only instance of that mindset. Napoleon invades, the Rus fall back with a scorched earth strategy, and outlast him. Even World War II, while they fought bitterly, the bigger picture of the Soviet strategy is ‘hold where you can, fall back where you can’t, and buy time for the factories to spool up.’

      Give ground, be patient, outlast. If you think SW wasn’t prepared to do that more or less the moment TESCO came south, you haven’t been watching them even as recently as the Halloween War. V-3 wasn’t a single battle that broke their will. Entosis defense is a consistent pattern of behavior that simply wasn’t worth their effort.

      They live in Stain. They make their money in Stain. When TEST fielded a Nightmare fleet in F4R, Stainwagon was laughing and saying ‘thanks for the ISK’. When the strength of TESCO moves past and gets sedentary, when CO2 and FCON fall to squabbling because Gigx is never content with having enough space (ask Mercenary Coalition, they got into the Tribute war because he attacked them just like he’d been trying to attack TNT for years), the Rus will return, just like they have every other time.

      January 25, 2017 at 7:16 PM
      • theseconddavid Bill McDonough

        I don’t care enough about the matter to figure out every battle that broke the enemy’s will to fight since fozzie sov. I can point to it in the last few fights stainwagon fought. The battle of GXK station armor timer was the breaking point where SW gave up Immensea to Tri and Fcon. The second armor timer of CJ6, where Tri/vanguard and DRF brought their full force to bear on what was left of Red and SW and Tri and DRF took full control of the east. The loss of both of those staging systems (pre citadel, mind you) was not crippling in either case, but in both SW immediately signed nap/nips to bail out of the fight. I would counter it is very easy to break SWs will to fight. This has become a pattern with them since the goons moonwalked away from the south after BR5. The fights they put up in the Halloween war were impressive even while taking large losses until their victory at BR5. They have not put up such a fight since. They will turtle up in stain and hope someone else does their dirty work for them again.

        January 25, 2017 at 8:37 PM
        • Bill McDonough theseconddavid

          I’d say you’re right about the general assessment of ‘it’s very easy to break their will’, but you’re misreading the ‘why’ of it. It’s not that they’re hoping someone else will do their dirty work for them. Rather, they’re perfectly happy taking and having sov… but it’s not a priority for them.

          It’s like when a large group takes an objective in a strategic battle, but doesn’t win the ISK war. Sure, it’d be nice to come out ISK-positive in a fight, but in the long term, it’s just not something worth caring about. That makes it very easy for them to walk away. In terms of motivation, they haven’t so much had their will broken as just decided ‘meh, :effort:’. In terms of will-to-win, though, yes, that’s absolutely their break-point. But it’s not a single battle at work there, it’s simply that they’re just not really invested in sov to begin with.

          January 25, 2017 at 10:17 PM
  • Sarodinian

    Reading this puts the attacker-biased nature of Fozziesov in a new light for me. The attacking alliances have the ability to split the tedium and burnout amongst themselves. The defender must endure it all themselves, regardless of the amount of help they have.

    January 25, 2017 at 6:17 PM
    • Bill McDonough Sarodinian

      Yup. Everyone can attack, only the owner can defend. The trick there is to force the defense into the entosis game, and not the ‘fleet combat’ game. CO2’s attempts to sortie into NCdot’s space as a counterattack up north focused on what CO2’s pilots wanted: fights. If they’d gone the annoying cloaky route instead, and played the long grind… who knows?

      January 25, 2017 at 7:19 PM
  • PewPew

    Your knowledge of military history is impressive.

    However I think his point still stands. IMO it’s about how long it takes to replace lost ships. If you lose 100 Rifters you can replace them in a day. If you lose 100 Titans you can’t replace them before the war is over.

    January 25, 2017 at 7:02 PM
    • Bill McDonough PewPew

      Dreads are easy to replace. Normal capitals replace almost as quickly as subcaps, and Stainwagon’s got the money. They’ve been farming Nightmare and Machariel BPCs for a decade, and they play the long game. Why do you think that after a huge welp, the number of hulls on the market dips for a day… but the very next day, it’s right back to the same 150 hulls up immediately after downtime? All those machfleets, TEST’s devotion to Nightmares… guess who’s laughing all the way to the bank.

      January 25, 2017 at 7:22 PM
  • Apostophe Noodle

    Excellent work. This is professional level analysis.

    Your point about the ‘weaponized boredom’ used in Eve is, I think, often overlooked by those not involved with things like sov. In my Eve war experience, most people didn’t have complaints about constant ragepings and alarm clock fleets- what they complain about is logging in to do them without there being any hope for an actual fight.
    As noted, by the time the war in the north got hot, we had been chasing around disposable entosis ships for months. Success wasn’t in entosis’ing things, it was in the mechanic that forces a defender to respond but requires no commitment by the attacker to actually show up. With that, all you needed were low SP alts by the truck load in cheap ships you don’t care about– to wear out any defender to the point where they aren’t interested in defending their stuff any more when a real invasion happens.
    When you see how easy it is to lose your space, farm some other content for a bit, then get right back into sov…trying to sell your members on stiff defense is a tough pitch to make. TEST, Imperium and others all retain the organizational structure to own sov empires. They can point at some region, take it, and have it’s resources and defense vertically integrated on a level that would make most RL businesses jealous.
    You cannot kill that in game…you can only kill that by killing the interest of the players that make it happen. This is why alliances know that a burnt out FC or core player is worse than losing all the space in the game. You can easily recover from losing space- but losing leadership….that is what kills your enemy dead.

    January 25, 2017 at 9:44 PM
  • Jacques d'Orleans

    Yamamoto who was a a Naval Attache at the Japanese Embassy in Wahington DC between the wars, had a profound knowledge about the economic capabilities of the USA and at the moment he lost his four carriers he knew that the japanese couldn’t replace them and he also knew that the US War machine which was already starting at the time of Midway would replace the sunk carriers and lost planes with ease. Yamamoto has never blinded himself with “we can win” he always knew that at a long term Japan was doomed to lose the war. Quote: “In the first six to twelve months of a war with the United States and Great Britain I will run wild and win victory upon victory. But then, if the war continues after that, I have no expectation of success.” Yamamoto to Prime Minister Konoe in 1940.
    Yes, he flinched at the chess table, but he didn’t flinch because he lost his will to win, he flinched because he knew that Japan lost the war at the moment the carriers sunk and that made him lose his will to continue the fight.
    But nevertheless your article was a great read!

    January 26, 2017 at 7:00 AM
    • Bill McDonough Jacques d'Orleans

      This is very true, however his entire battle plan hinged on the idea that with the loss of Lexington and (as was thought) Yorktown at the Coral Sea, if he could knock out the remaining fleet carriers of the USN, he had a chance at forcing the US to decide it wasn’t worth fighting for British holdings and the Philippines. He might even have been right.

      Spruance initially wanted to pursue the remnants of Nagumo’s carrier group, before turning east again when he couldn’t find them. If he hadn’t, Yamamoto would likely have found Hornet and Enterprise before he gave up. The fault in his reasoning there was that he didn’t need to turn back. Nothing from Pearl has the 1200 nautical mile range to endanger the Japanese surface forces, and Midway itself could be neutralized by bombardment of the airstrip. He didn’t have to give up the search. A little more persistence, and he might have had the knockout blow that would have forced Nimitz to regroup and reconstitute around Saratoga, as the Essex carriers wouldn’t come into service for six months, and Ranger and Wasp were in the Atlantic. With another six months of unfettered dominance, he might have been able to secure the theater.

      January 26, 2017 at 8:27 AM
      • Jacques d'Orleans Bill McDonough

        Thanks for your reply. 🙂
        Yes, maybe with six more month he would have been able to secure the PTO, but I’m not sure if that would have been permanent or just a prolongation of the war. There are so many other factors to consider, like the USN Submarines causing heavy losses to the Japanese Merchant Navy, the already overstretched Japanese Industry which couldn’t replace the losses and so on and so forth. An interesting topic for future historians, that’s for sure.

        January 29, 2017 at 4:51 PM
  • IGE

    Doesn’t decisive battle mean that following that point the numbers have shifted sufficiently that one side is now clearly unstoppable barring a miracle?

    The reference PGL made to the Japanese suiciding their ships elicited the Battle of the Philippine Sea (aka The Great Marianas Turkey Shoot) or the Battle of Leyte Gulf where the carriers were decoys in my mind, not Midway. In fact, while I think your article is brilliant, I would like to contest you on the loss of will and decisive battle point. Following Midway the Japanese Navy did not lose the will to fight and indeed continued to seek a decisive battle like at Midway. However, despite relatively low losses between June 1942 and June 1944 in terms of major fleet assets the Japanese Navy did not stand a chance at winning after Midway and this is not just a loss of willpower issue, but instead material. This I think was PGL’s point.

    Despite being a much larger engagement than Midway, the Philippine Sea was nearly a foregone conclusion, with the only question being how much damage the Japanese could inflict. In Eve this would be like saving a timer and inflicting greater losses than incurred, but knowing when they came back you would lose. Toyoda and Ozawa could only forestall the inevitable with a total victory, much like what would have happened had Napoleon won at Waterloo, what with the Austrians and Russians sending 300,000+ men towards France. The Japanese were forced after Midway into a situation where taking a huge risk for the slim chance of a total victory was their only hope at seriously prolonging the war. Again, the battle is decisive because once the calculation has shifted there is almost no chance of winning it back, If in EVE both sides have nearly equivalent cap/SCs in total, and the attacker loses 4x what the defender loses in a single battle then the basic calculation is changed, and now the attacker becomes the defender and must look to upset the balance, but the likelihood is that because there is now a disparity in capital/supercapitals that gap can never be made up barring their own decisive victory.

    Also on a side note I wouldn’t trot out the destruction of the Spanish Armada as a decisive battle because there was very little battle and the losses occurred over months. There the Spanish lost about 25% of their fleet and the vast majority of those losses were to the weather and long voyage home around Scotland.

    I want to reiterate though that you did an incredible job and I couldn’t stop reading this article, I just wanted to challenge you on a couple of things, not necessarily disagreeing with you though based on your overall points.

    January 26, 2017 at 11:09 PM
    • Bill McDonough IGE

      A decisive battle does not necessarily mean a battle where the numbers shifted to an unrecoverable point, only a battle where the initiative and direction of the war are seized and set. As an example, First Manassas/the first Battle of Bull Run was a decisive battle. It set the tone for the early war in a way that wouldn’t be blunted until Gettysburg. It certainly didn’t make things unrecoverable for the Union.

      And while your point about the Philippine Sea is certainly well-taken, Yamamoto could have regained a positive footing after Midway if he’d been willing to be bolder. US Air wings were severely depleted. If he hadn’t abandoned the hunt for Spruance, he likely would have been able to destroy both Hornet and Enterprise, and there’s simply no way Nimitz would have been able to mount any serious defense beyond Midway with only Saratoga.

      Without the American fleet carriers, the IJN would have been able to resume the offensive that stalled at the Coral Sea, and from that position, build up additional land-based air power. Remember, it wasn’t a shortage of aircraft that led to the Kamikaze, but a shortage of experienced pilots. Those six months (and more, really, considering the role the two surviving Yorktown-class carriers played after Midway), would have given the Japanese military more time to train those pilots and get them experience in the air.

      January 27, 2017 at 12:43 AM