Any specialist of Tower Defence will tell you: an effective fortification is based above all on the good coverage of all the angles. A recipe that modern means have made it possible to overcome. But, sometimes, the good old methods allow to quickly ensure a defense in a hostile zone.
Above: the work of the 17th RGP of the French Army in 2018, in Mali..
In 2010, this memorable scene from Call of Duty Black Ops put us in a very perilous situation: that of the defenders of an American forward base in Vietnam.
Control the field
The truth is that in war, weapons have changed, but not some rules. One of the most important rules is to seize the best position, fortify it and then hold it. And in the modern context of external operations, armies have specialized in the construction of the famous FOBs, outposts designed to hold key areas of a territory.e.
NATO, for example, has built hundreds of them (always square or rectangular) in the valleys or on the peaks of Afghanistan, choosing their locations carefully. Only in Far Cry do they still build bases below high points or cliffs !
Vauban fortresses… against terrorism
Nostalgic fans of the Stronghold saga will remember that a good medieval fortification (i.e. high and thick) can withstand most sieges… at least until the appearance of cannons !
From the Renaissance onwards, with the arrival of gunpowder, military engineering had to reconsider itself. Sebastien Le Prestre de Vauban proposed to King Louis XIV a star-shaped structure that would serve as a model for French strongholds during the European wars..
The Vauban fort is designed to optimize the defensive firepower in several angles. Thus, each “arrow” of the star covers its neighbor. In Empire Total War, Vauban forts are a technological must during your conquest campaigns.
And now they are making a comeback, with the addition of modern means: cement blocks, HESCO gabions, anti-vehicle ditches, and of course modern weapons. Cameras, drones or balloons also ensure a permanent surveillance of the perimeter, in addition to the traditional sentries.
The French have been working hard lately to revive the tradition, with several works in Africa, especially in the Sahel, or as below in Ivory Coast, the work of the 43rd BIMA.
Another famous example, the French army reinvested and modernized in 2015 in Niger the former colonial fort of Madama, which it had itself occupied more than a century earlier !
Finally, let’s stay in the Sahara to show the unprecedented “Great Wall” built by Morocco between 1980 and 1987: 2700 kilometers of artificial dunes, on two or even three lines, decorated with anti-tank ditches, artillery batteries, barbed wire … and anti-personnel mines.
If these fortification models are not very suitable in the face of a heavily mechanized assault, and even less so in the face of the air force, they remain quite effective for controlling an area in the context of a counter-insurgency war.
While Tower Defence is in fashion, and the recent RTS Age of Empires IV emphasizes the importance of fortifications, these few examples show us that even in today’s theaters, some rules remain unchanged, offering a curious mix of tradition and modernity.