# How effective would Dragon-Dragoons be?

So, based my other question here, concerning dragons, one thing that came to mind, and was brought up often was that a dragon knight system with 1 guy on 1 dragon would lead to the guy not doing very much at all, as the dragon would do all of the fighting, killing and flying.

So, I thought, what if you put more than 1 guy on that 1 dragon then. So, the idea is that a dragon could wear some sort of harness jacket thing that allows for these dragoons to strap themselves onto the dragon. The dragon would then fly into enemy formations, blasting it with fire, than the dragoons can then detach themselves from the dragon and fight on foot.

Most of the notes and details one might need to answer should be in the above referenced question, but if there are anything extra, feel free to ask.

However, there are some amendments I would want to make, most notably the effectiveness of other armies against dragons. Dragons are still able to move through groups of archers and/or mages fire, but may not survive prolonged fire from large groups of people. Additionally, it is not so easy for dragons to be able to completely blast away entire battle groups as well, either due to needing to recharge their fire breath, magic or some other reason.

Other notes would be that not all dragons are the same size, with young ones being horse size at best, and the elder ones akin to flying cathedrals. There are even older ones, which can be the size of mountain ranges, but let's just say they are always just sleeping, so no need to write about them. Anyways, the smaller horse sized dragons would only be able to hold one rider, but a barn sized dragon may be able to hold more.

To clarify the question,

• Would Dragon Dragoons, which are to say, troops who arrive in a fight with a dragon, who then dismount the dragon to fight on foot, be effective?
• I also do not mind answers which want to also talk about cost-effectiveness.
• Have you thought about archers who could shoot arrows from the dragon's back? They would be hard to hit as long as the dragon is flying and have a huge advantage on other troops that are limited to the ground. Though I suppose it would take expert archers to hit anything from the back of a flying dragon. – MoritzLost Feb 23 '15 at 13:45
• Naomi Novik's Temeraire series is an alternative history of the Napoleonic Wars in which both side have air forces composed of dragons manned by crews. In that series the crews use rifles and bombs to attack troops on the ground. For a medieval setting you could substitute the gunpowder weaponry for archers, large rocks, and maybe boiling oil or fire. While transporting troops is useful, the ability to attack from above with impunity has proven extremely effective since powered flight was invented. – Mike Nichols Feb 23 '15 at 15:17
• This sounds like the Fantasy equivalent of a helicopter gunship/transport carrying troops into battle. – Erik Feb 23 '15 at 15:45
• This idea was explored with some depth in The Wheel of Time, by Robert Jordan. The Seanchan invader's flew winged beasts called to'raken': To'raken are one of the Seanchan exotics; large flying animals, that resemble raken, except larger and brown rather than grey and herbivorous not omnivorous. They are not as agile or fast, but are strong and can fly for much greater distances without rest, or carry heavier loads. Their primary purpose is transportation of troops or cargo, transporting as much as a 1k pounds over distances of two hundred miles. – Dacio Feb 24 '15 at 6:51
• They would be great for insertion/escape type situations too- the dragoons are here and then they're dra-gone. – glenatron Feb 24 '15 at 14:17

So what you're talking about here is the military concept of Combined Arms.

The idea is that you combine disparate military groups into a single higher-order unit, with the benefit being that each group "type" brings different strengths and weaknesses.

Would Dragon Dragoons, which are to say, troops who arrive in a fight with a dragon, who then dismount the dragon to fight on foot, be effective?

They would be effective if any of the below are true:

1. Dragoons cover a weakness of the dragon. Like you said - your dragons need time to recharge, and can't take sustained fire. Properly armored troops can provide them relief to recharge, and can interrupt/stop concentrated attacks by charging those mages/archers - hard to shoot a fireball when you need to worry about a sword going at your face.
2. Dragoons are necessary. For example, consider city fighting. A pure-dragon force could be effective in a city, but you wouldn't want to see the property damage bill. A dragoon/dragon combined force can clear buildings and take ground without that damage, and the dragon can sit back and provide fire support.
3. If Dragoons and Dragons are synergistic. This is a scenario where combined, they have capabilities that wouldn't be possible alone. In a modern army, think of troops + artillery - having someone on the ground to feed you coordinates makes artillery incredibly more effective, and troops being able to call down artillery fire makes them more effective. Off-hand I can't think of a way to do this with dragons though.

So what you'd probably do is some combination of the above. Smaller dragons would act as your scouts/reconnaissance/stealth (special forces) teams. Bigger dragons are fire support and/or troop transport.

Alternatively:

Another off-the-wall idea I had - Dragons are, mythically, usually vulnerable mostly in 1-2 spots. So maybe you hit the eyes, or that one place on their breast that scarred and didn't heal right, and they ignore everything else. So what if you put armor over your dragon's vulnerable spots - including the eyes - and during the fight, your Dragoons "control" the dragon by sending them signals? Where to move, where to breath, flying, etc. Think "how to train your dragon".

Of course that just moves the vulnerable point to the tiny Dragoons, so you'd probably want multiple people on top, with some as backups. But overall you're still probably ahead, because losing a Dragon is orders of magnitude more costly than losing a single dragoon.

• "Off-hand I can't think of a way to do this with dragons though" semaphore? Calling down a dragon strike is so fundamentally cool that I'd be happy to wave a few flags about if that's what it takes to direct the high-flying dragon to its target. – Steve Jessop Feb 23 '15 at 16:12
• Like a unit on the ground flagging down a high-altitude, high-velocity dragon flyby airstrike? Sold. – Dan Smolinske Feb 23 '15 at 21:15
• If there is magic, people can shoot balls of "fire" with different colors to symbolize different enemy groups and positions. A high red ball would mean that something bad is going to kill them all. A low white ball would be to symbolize that they are left with no archers. A green one at mid-height could mean that the gates are down. An high yellow one could mean that they have heavy earth-air firepower (lots of archers or cannons). – Ismael Miguel Feb 24 '15 at 15:56
• @SteveJessop I believe that the only reason humans don't go into battle festooned with armored hamsters is that we haven't yet trained them to be effective combatants on their own. Once we do, we will simultaneously have the most awesome and the cutest army ever. – KSmarts Feb 24 '15 at 18:48
• @grimmsdottir If you go high magic you can also have wizards who can project a magical force-field which protects from dragon fire. Then the dragoons would dismount, go in and kill the wizard, as soon as he falls the shield is gone and the enemy is open to the dragons primary weapon! – Falco Feb 25 '15 at 10:03

# Overview

In the classical typology, you could think of dragons as Heavy Cavalry when operating on their own. This doesn't necessarily have much to do with horses, but rather it means that they are most useful as shock troops, using momentum to disperse enemy formations.

They also have very high mobility, and so can be used as Light Cavalry, pursuing the routed enemy troops. However, they share a couple of disadvantages with cavalry, namely:

• You can't very well use a dragon as a garrison.
• They are not very good at defence; if you let them get surrounded by a mob of enemy archers, they will either have to fly away or die a death of a thousand cuts.
• They can't be used for urban warfare (unless you want to just set the city on fire and level it, but that could destroy things you might have wanted to keep) or in difficult terrain, although the definition of difficult terrain is different for dragons and for cavalry. They probably won't be able to see what's going on under the forest canopy, in narrow gorges or anywhere there's overhead cover.

Additionally, compared to a squadron of Horse, a dragon can only be in one place at a time, so it might not be able to pursue an enemy that simply decides to flee in all directions.

# Options

The classical definition of dragoons is horse-mounted heavy infantry. They would ride somewhere on their horses, then dismount and fight as heavy infantry normally would. If you did just that, and took, say, spearmen for a mediaeval equivalent, you could have dragon-mounted heavy infantry.

As mentioned in Dan's answer, you could use them in some combined arms tactic; e.g. have the dragon drop your infantrymen, have them form a line and advance against a similar formation of the enemy, only having the dragon use its fire-breath on either the enemy line of battle or their archers before the lines meet. This would amplify the effectiveness of both kinds of troops, and allow them to succesfully engage the enemy in greater numbers than they could separately.

You could also have the infantrymen garrison a (possibly makeshift) fortification and use the advantage of air-support (and effective counter-artillery) to defend a strategic spot, while the dragon could retire to a covered courtyard to rest.

You could also try assaulting a city by having the dragon create a wall breach (either by fire-breath or just by dropping rocks) and then storming the breach, and continuing the fighting inside. This city assault would be much more effective than the traditional way, because you can just fly in and attack immediately, without having to wait for siege engines to be built or hauled in, and giving the enemy very little notice.

# Alternative uses

If we abstract the definition of dragoon a bit, we could also try mounting other kinds of troops on dragonback.

Archers might come to mind, but I'd be disinclined to try that; they won't do much more damage than the dragon itself on foot, and it would be extremely difficult to fire accurately from dragonback.

So, you could use light infantry. They could penetrate forests and other terrains with overhead cover, and try to drive the enemy out from under it, where the dragon could incinerate them. Having a dragon around would also probably discourage enemy heavy infantry from forming up, so you light infantry could move and advance with impunity in open terrain (if no cavalry is present or if dragons spook horses).

If you're really into high mobility and can manage the technical difficulties, you could try strapping horses onto a dragon and have him transport a unit of light cavalry. They could seek isolated battalion-size units of heavy infantry, have the dragon attack them to break their formation and then use both the dragon and the cavalry in pursuit, for maximum casualties.

# Conclusion

Depending on your setting and what kind of troops (and training for them) you have available, using a dragon as a transport will significantly broaden your tactical options. You could have a unit of either heavy foot, light foot, dual-trained troops (though these would be considered "elite" and therefore rare and expensive) or even cavalry transported on dragonback, and deployed tactically for best effect. If you can manage it logistically, dragon-mounted dragoons are definitely a viable option.

By the way, this has sort-of been explored in literature; Naomi Novik's Temeraire series describes dragon combat in the Napoleonic era. Some dragons do have breath capabilities, and these are used primarily as shock troops (or against ships, which is strategically crucial in the setting), the others mostly use direct physical attacks against ground troops or other dragons, but also have a platoon of riflemen on their backs. Because dragons are bonded with their captains, mid-air boarding is also a common tactic. Applications of dragons as strategic transport are also explored in the series.

• Your suggestion of "having the dragon create a wall breach... and then storming the breach" reminds me of the ending of Dragons of Winter Night. god I miss that book, must re-read that tonight – jhocking Feb 23 '15 at 21:00
• Good points, I especially like the idea of strapping horses onto the dragon. Imagine a Dragon, with some Dragon-Dragoons, as well as some Horse-Dragoons. Those Horse-Dragoons can then ride horses riding dragons. – grimmsdottir Feb 24 '15 at 0:53

The easy answer is to see dragons basically as planes.

With planes you can:

• do recon,
• move stuff around,
• bomb something on the ground,
• attack other planes.

You can adapt that to dragons:

• recon: good with small dragons, you'll probably want the dragoon to have a telescope? Or something to write what the dragon sees? Or a way to transmit it to someone at HQ (telepathy, radio, flame signals...)
• move stuff around:

• it can be soldiers so as to ambush soomeone (similar to para or gliders).
• it can be food to sustain the army
• it can be offensive or defensive equipment
• bombing and attacking other planes/dragons: that's what dragons are good at. If you want to reinforce those, you can always make it carry something: to make it more offensive, you add archers, spell-casters, bombs, ballistas... You can also add more defense by adding healers, armor,...

Two things worth noting:

• Even with enormous dragons it will be hard to move big armies because you then have to feed your soldiers.
• Dragons have to eat. Do they carry there food? Hunt? Go back to base? Carry someone to hunt for them?
• Nice answer skysurf3000, welcome to the site. – James Feb 23 '15 at 15:16

I think you're approaching this from the wrong perspective. I think the dragon riders wouldn't be much use in the actual battle. Instead, I see them as a crew full time supporting the dragon.

• Healers heal the dragons wounds and keep its energy high.
• Wardens keep defensive shields to protect the dragon and her crew.
• Sorcerers burn up incoming projectiles and provide cover fire for the dragon.
• Telepaths relay communications to the dragon and the crew, and act as a kind of captain-on-deck.

I think if you think of the dragon as a big ship with a support staff it becomes a lot more efficient.

• I like the idea of the dragon being a ship, with support crew as well. I suppose that dragons can become quite impractical, needing quite a bit of support and logistics to field, so they can load the dragon up with a small crew as well to let the dragon fight longer – grimmsdottir Feb 24 '15 at 1:00

My first instinct is to use the dragon/dragoon team as an anti-fortification tactic.

A dragon's might is great for penetrating the walls of a city or fort, but after this its size becomes a huge liability. It can't fight in the city without causing considerable damage to the buildings (and possibly injuring itself on them), while those same buildings provide a multitude of nests for enemy fire. Especially in your setting, where dragons can't take sustained fire, the dragon's size makes it a sitting duck.

This is where a dragon/dragoon team might prove useful. The dragon uses its might to blast/tear an opening in the city's outer wall. Then the dragoons detach to fight inside the city, where the dragon would have trouble fighting. The dragon, meanwhile, escapes to safety, possibly to pick up another dragoon team and then make another run at the walls.

What makes this different from plain old catapults is that you can't safely keep troops close to a point where the catapult is about to fire: flying debris would cause a lot of damage, and if the catapult's margin of error happens to land the shot straight in the middle of your troops, that's a disaster. This means there's a necessary time delay between the point when the catapult's strike lands and the time when the fighters can enter the city, and during this time delay, the defender could prepare something to counter them. A dragon/dragoon team reduces this delay dramatically: the dragon's own body protects the dragoons from being harmed by its strike, so they can be right there to enter the city as soon as the strike lands. There's almost no time delay at all, and so the dragoons become much harder to counter.

• So, dragon-dragoons are like a siege tower, except with fire breath, flying, fire proof and a powerful ram, so not much at all like a siege tower. – grimmsdottir Feb 24 '15 at 1:04

I was thinking that a dragon carrying archers would be reasonably effective, they would be able to protect the dragon a little while it is recharging or while it is grounded.

The other would be for larger dragons to move troops to needed locations in a battle field to help shore up failing lines or protect against flanking maneuvers. They could fly ahead and drop soldiers at choke points, say two or three dragons leap frog company to a narrow valley ahead of the army to dig in and hold it until the rest can catch up and reinforce them.

• Unfortunately, many of the answers think that archers on dragons would not be very effective while the dragon is flying. However, it should also not be too hard for the dragons to basically become giant flying transports to help shore up locations. Then, I want to wonder if strapping yourself to a dragon is what any soldier would know how to do. – grimmsdottir Feb 24 '15 at 1:06
• @grimmsdottir it all depends on a lot of things but yes in general firing from the back of a dragon is not going to be pinpoint shooting. However, a flaming arrow could hit a command tent and they could protect a dragon resting on the ground. – bowlturner Feb 24 '15 at 1:12
• @grimmsdottir shooting arrows with any accuracy in a strong cross wind is not doable. Horse archers spent a lot of time practicing shooting on the move, learning to shoot at specific times in the horses gait. Even still they were only really accurate when shooting almost strait forward, strait back, or if they were near stopped. Dragons are much faster then horses and move in less predictable rhythms making it even harder. You can't really mount enough of them up there to make mass volleys worth it. I'm not saying its impossible, just not very effective. – cmd Feb 24 '15 at 16:30

My first thought was to put archers on the dragon, but they move so fast and in so many directions. It would be much worse then trying to shoot from horseback, unless the dragon is calling back periods of steady time.

Dragon Dragoons seem like a good idea, but dropping them off would create an opportunity to ambush the dragon on the ground. Dragons are so fast in the air you don't want to spend much time in contact. Much like calvary, hit and run. Dropping them off in strategic areas outside of area of engagement would work.

The use I like is the idea of troops being dropped inside the opponent's fortification via feather fall (ring or spell). Obviously these are going to be your elite shock troups, if you are going to use magic. You get DnD paratroopers without the low altitude deployment problem. Extraction gets tricky without high level magic though.

• If you have magic and are using dragoons as paratroopers, I think they should use spears and dive-bomb enemies as they land, like Final Fantasy dragoons. – KSmarts Feb 24 '15 at 18:52
• Hmm, with feather fall you don't really have any speed for a "death from above" maneuver. How would you decrease their speed so they don't splat on impact. – cmd Feb 28 '17 at 23:50

We tend to think of Dragons as massively armored, so infantry with them would have no role. What if they were not so armored, and could be vulnerable to puncture wounds from lances and spearmen. Assume the back is armored enough to deflect archery when shot up into the air in "arrow shower" mode.

So if you land a dragon, a platoon of spearmen could take him out. Or archers could shoot low at spots. Lancer knights, easy kill.

Now add dragoons to your dragons. They make a spear wall to hold off knights and spearmen. The dragon(s) lob breath weapons onto the attackers like artillery, protected like cannon are in our world. You have a potent mix of firepower and defense that can beat any opponent of equal size or even larger size if in a good defensive position. And it can move at high speed with dragon power.

This is a lot like the English longbow armies of the 100 Years war, with dragons subbing in for longbowmen. It would have similar vulnerabilities too - the French did beat the longbow armies eventually, just not in big battles.

• My idea would be that the dragoons dismount from the dragon at certain points, such as dropping the dragoons into a breached wall, or into the middle of a company of archers. Then the dragon would then leave to do other things, some suggest that the dragon could then do airstrikes for the dragoons, or go back to pick up more dragoons – grimmsdottir Feb 24 '15 at 1:02
• Then why need the dragoons? The dragons can do all that themselves. And transport duty is a waste of the dragon's combat power - the defenders can wipe out squad 1 while squad 2 is on the way. – Oldcat Feb 24 '15 at 1:05
• Well, I added some limitations to the dragon's powers and toughness to be make it so that dragons are not completely unstoppable lords of war. Also, they would probably only dismount against the enemy back lines were the highly trained, elite and armored dragoons would have a significant advantage – grimmsdottir Feb 24 '15 at 1:14

That would be Air Assault troops... on dragons.

It doesn't really matter how technically practical it would be -- the main limiting factor would be the physical abilities of the dragons, and you can invent any sort of dragon awesomeness you want out of handwavium. Since creatures of that density and size flying in an atmosphere the density of ours is already hand-wave material, this point is moot.

The idea is totally badass, regardless the aerodynamic impossibilities involved (since when has that stopped any audience from liking dragons?). The real question is whether you can weave a good game or story around this idea, or more probably shoehorn it into an existing story or game idea you have without it accidentally stealing the spotlight.

Remember: Never let your story become a pawn to an external idea, even a very cool one.

• Yeah. although at the moment I am mostly just world building for world building's sake, I love world building, but writing gets me down whenever I read my stuff – grimmsdottir Feb 24 '15 at 2:45
• @grimmsdottir What could be a cooler motivation to write than fleshing this idea out, then? Clean writing is about revision -- its always screwed up the first time through. It would be fun to experiment first-person, diary-style about how not awesome it is to be something badass like a dragon pilot/rider caught up in the inane stupidity of Big Army Bureaucracy. That would even be sort of funny. Too bad I never have time to write -- I've got an Army career of personal experience in a badass job within a crapsack organization to draw on for something like that, too. Would be fun! ;-) – zxq9 Feb 24 '15 at 3:11
• thanks for the motivation, maybe I could write something. – grimmsdottir Feb 24 '15 at 5:21

The other answers have covered the main points, so I think there is a need to look at the Required Secondary Powers regarding wind in flight.

A flying dragon will be rather fast, while probably not as fast as a fighter jet, they will be significantly faster than the fastest horse. This will necessitate some kind of wind protection.

As this XKCD comic shows, it is impossible to stand unanchored on the dragon as long as it is flying above 200km/h. If your dragon can fly faster than that, the soldiers must be strapped securely onto the dragon (probably with wind-protection equipment as well). This significantly complicates boarding actions, since boarders will simply be wind-blasted off the dragon unless they use grappling hooks or the like to anchor themselves to the dragons with each single step that they take.

• 200 km/h is insanely fast; about as fast as a peregrine falcon in a hunting stoop (read: dive strike). That is in the "highest speeds recorded for birds" teritory, not sustained flight. The pace for that would be a lot more leisurely, especially for something as big as a dragon; I'd estimate its cruising speed to be in the 60-100km/h range, which is a lot more bearable for passengers. You would still need to be strapped in for rapid maneuvers, of course. – Mike L. Feb 24 '15 at 13:14

To answer this, I'll make some assumptions:

1 - Battles work pretty much the same, but with dragons. So there won't be too many cases of battles taking place underground or in terrain where the dragon can't get at people.

2 - Anti-dragon weaponry exists, but is small in manpower. For example, ballistae or a few wizards, with some guards.

In such situations, I think it would be a great idea for the dragon to deal with the anti-dragon threat immediately. However, due to the nature of the anti-dragon (that is, it's good at killing dragons), you'll want to send someone else to deal with it. That's what your dragoons can do: the dragon drops them off behind the enemy infantry and somewhat close to the anti-dragon, and they keep the dragon safe as it does what it does best. After taking down the heavy artillery and magic users, if the dragoons haven't been killed or fought off, they can go after enemy archers or flank the enemy infantry; basically, they continue to wreak havoc, forcing the enemy to split up and deal with them.

At this point, your dragoons are probably all going to get murdered, so you should either make them expendable, not use them to their full effectiveness, or have the dragon come pick them up again. That last option is probably the least likely, as you're going to want to get the most usefulness out of your dragon as possible, so keeping it fighting is paramount. I'd make the comparison to ODSTs in the Halo universe, but I imagine there's a more historical precedent for dropping units behind enemy lines to almost certain doom.

The kind of tactic I would avoid using is having the dragon fight alongside the dragoons. That would be like having your cavalry fighting alongside your infantry; your dragon would be slower, less effective, and more easily killed. Its best option is to drop off its cargo as quickly as possible, then get back to flying fast and killing faster.

EDIT: Let's say assumption #1 is false, and battles are only fought in situations where dragons are not effective (forests, canyons, etc). In these situations, I imagine the transport role would be much more useful, and instead of going off to fight afterwards the dragon would return to camp and pick up another squad of dragoons. These dragoons will probably have to be specially trained/equipped to get around whatever obstacles there are, otherwise they'll be just as ineffective as the dragon. Specifically, they may have to rappel from the dragon and/or climb down to the ground.

If assumption #2 is false, either the dragon wrecks the enemy army and doesn't need dragoons, or the first squad isn't enough and the dragon might need to go pick up another one.

• Regarding your first point, if one nation has a more capable human force but fewer or less effective dragons, they would probably try to battle in canyons or forests or wherever it is that dragons are not effective. – KSmarts Feb 24 '15 at 18:56
• @KSmarts Yeah, I figure no one would actually agree to fight a battle against a dragon unless the terrain suited both sides equally. Maybe I'll add something about that to the answer. – DaaaahWhoosh Feb 24 '15 at 19:02

The only idea I haven't seen mentioned is the flying aircraft carrier. Imagine the dragon lifting a few soldiers with gliders strapped to their backs. At altitude, it releases the archers and they rain death from above. The archers may need to be in 2-man gliders with a pilot/bomber and archer. If the dragon(s) could release the gliders from behind enemy lines, they could cause a lot of havoc, but with the disadvantage that they have to land behind enemy lines or fly over the lines to reach friendly ground. Even dropped from friendly airspace, the gliders would have the benefit of gravity and elevation while shooting/bombing. In this mode, the dragon becomes a glorified elevator which substitutes for a nearby hill/mountain (which may not be present at the battlefield).

If each dragon only had a few gliders to worry about, it could release them at high altitude (where they could start with bombing), let them glide down to some flight floor (where they can snipe with bows), and then pick them up again in mid-air, to bring them back up to the flight ceiling. In between, it could strafe enemy lines and do its normal dragon-thing. The gliders would be a force multiplier for the dragon's flying ability, to potentially devastating effect.

In the same way, dragons could act as long-range siege artillery by lifting battering rams made out of giant logs and stubby glider wings (and, of course, an iron ram head). Since dragons are not necessarily experts at ballistics and aerodynamics, you would ideally want the ram to be guided on the way down (so the dragon can drop it from very high and far away, which provides both safety to the dragon and lots of kinetic energy for a big boom). Some elite pilots could ride the ram down, using basic flight controls, and jump off at the last minute, deploying their personal gliders for a safe landing. If you drop it from high enough, a battering ram will have enough energy to blow through not just the main gate, but pretty much any reinforced structure made of stone, so you could blow a hole through any large part of the outer wall that is easy to aim at. Of course, you still have to deal with the moat, but you don't need a roof on the ram to defend against elevated attacks. Also, the ram should be moving fast enough close to impact that it is nearly impossible to hit with arrows, so the pilots should be mostly safe (except for the fact that they are riding an inert missile!).