History Blog: The Battle of Gaugamela
by, 12-19-2015 at 05:59 PM (1128 Views)
The battle of Gaugamela demonstrated Alexander's tactics consisting primarily of shock action maneuvers against Darius's massive Persian Army.
By 331 BCE, Alexander the Great of Macedonia conquered all of Greece, Syria, and Egypt before preparing to defeat another Persian Army at Gaugamela. Persian Emperor Darius the Great assembled a huge army designed to crush King Alexander’s Macedonian Army with a massive infantry and enormous cavalry reinforced by sharp shooting Persian archers and specially designed war chariots equipped with blades. Darius III chose the level plain of Gaugamela, near Nineveh’s celebrated ruins in northern Iraq because he wanted the terrain of the prospective battlefield to be fought on smoothed level ground where his many chariots could operate with maximum effectiveness against the Macedonians.
The Battlefield Positioning
Although professional historians debate about the size of the participating armies, Alexander’s Macedonian Army consisted of about 33,000 infantrymen and 7,000 cavalrymen while Darius’s Persian troops consisted of approximately 65,000 infantrymen and 15,000 cavalrymen. Darius employed a conventional battlefield arrangement by placing his lightly armed infantrymen in the center, with his cavalry on the wings. He arranged his war-chariots in front of his army to charge the enemy while his archers showered down arrows on the invaders. He waited for the young aggressive Alexander to make the first move.
Like Emperor Darius, King Alexander arranged his phalanx of heavily armed infantrymen in the center with his cavalry occupying both wings. Since Alexander had smaller numbers, he occupied a narrow front where he placed a fast-moving reserve force of cavalry and light infantry behind every wing. If the large formation of the Persian Army attempted to envelop his small formation, these reserves would rush to reinforce any weak points in his formation.
For many military historians, Alexander’s masterstroke arrived when he shifted the entire balance of his forces to his right wing where he was capable of delivering the decisive blow against the Persians.
The Battlefield Tactics
During the battle, Alexander sent his Macedonian phalanx forward toward the massive Persian Army, but with each wing arranged in a reversed diagonal formation, which was designed to provoke the Persian cavalry into making a pre-mature attack. When they charged, the Persian Army left open vulnerable gaps in the center of Darius’s army, which Alexander’s forces exploited. The long and deadly spears carried by the Macedonians eventually neutralized Darius war-chariots and the Macedonian Greeks channeled into one of several gaps in the Persian front rank where Persian warhorses and cavalrymen were trapped and killed by those in the ranks behind.
When the Persians Army began driving back the Macedonian left flank, Alexander gathered together his reserves into a massive wedge-shaped formation and launched a violent attack toward the gap in the center of the Persian ranks, tearing through defenders and forcing them backward on both sides of the wedge. During this time, Alexander’s left flank was significantly weakened and crumbling fast under the weight of the relentless Persian attack, appearing to offer King Darius a brief, but fleeting glimmer of hope for victory before he painfully realized this battle was lost. Alexander eventually turned and rescued his battered left wing after defeating most of the Persian Army.
Darius took flight and fear rapidly spread throughout the Persian Army, which began a headlong retreat while being cut down to pieces by the pursuing Macedonian Greek warriors. The Macedonian victory meant the conclusion of the Persian Empire founded by Cyrus II the Great and conquered by Alexander the Great, who became the master of southwest Asia.
The Battle's Significance
King Darius escaped from the battle, together with Bessius, the commander of the left wing of the Persian Army. However, Bessius murder Darius before he could raise another army and Bessius was slain a year later by Alexander’s men. The Macedonian Greeks were now effectively masters of the Persian Empire, with designs on conquering eastern territories in Pakistan and India.
Alexander’s tactics employed shock action to create organized chaos to defeat the Persian Army. Darius believed he was near victory right up to the moment when Alexander delivered the decisive blow. Although this battle only involved foot soldiers and simple weapons, the battle of Gaugamela demonstrated how effective shock action combat can be against any adversary. Alexander’s battle tactics provided an enduring model for commanders across the centuries, who used them to great effect beginning with horse cavalry, armored mechanized cavalry, air cavalry, combined arms warfare of Germany’s Blitzkrieg, the helicopter air cavalry of Vietnam, and the shock and awe employed by the US led coalition army of the Second Persian Gulf War.