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Exposition: This story takes place in a fictional world set in medieval-esque times, where shapeshifters exist in the sense that they have one human and one animal form. In a kingdom called Caelus, humans are the majority and systematically oppress/use violence against shapeshifters. Tired of the violence, some shapeshifters band together and start a rebellion.

From a "main base" and a few other smaller locations around the kingdom, the rebels would fight the human forces by sending out troops from these areas to perform guerilla warfare. This includes destroying supply lines, seizing control of valuable locations, etc. The "main base" would be large to accommodate a great number of people but would be hidden away in thick forests near mountains.

Question: Is it realistic to have the rebels remain in one "main base" and carry out revolutionary tactics from there? Or would it be more realistic to not have a base but live among the general population and carry out "missions" that way?

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closed as primarily opinion-based by jdunlop, JBH, Gryphon, Cyn, elemtilas Jan 30 at 3:13

Many good questions generate some degree of opinion based on expert experience, but answers to this question will tend to be almost entirely based on opinions, rather than facts, references, or specific expertise. If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

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    $\begingroup$ You might enjoy Robert Siverberg's Majipoor books such as Lord Valentine's Castle $\endgroup$ – Spencer Jan 29 at 22:07
  • $\begingroup$ FARC, Paraguayan People's Army, Sendero Luminoso, Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front and in general the long list of guerilla movements. Almost by definition a guerilla movement needs to have control over some small or large piece of territory. $\endgroup$ – AlexP Jan 29 at 22:14
  • $\begingroup$ What are the goals of these rebels? What are the human civilian views of these rebels? As in, shapeshifters are the minority, but are they an expendable servant class or part of the regular folk? Also, are shapeshifters identifiable if they don't shapeshift? $\endgroup$ – Lonha Jan 29 at 22:22
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    $\begingroup$ Hello Maddie. If you think it through, you've provided too little information to answer that question. What is the geography of the area? What resources are available to both parties? What opportunities are available for attack and defense? What are each groups strengths and weaknesses? Without this and more, all answers are just guesses, no answer being better than any other, and that's considered off-topic for this site. I'm going to vote to close (VTC) as primarily opinion-based. This is an opportunity, not a judgement, to improve your question before less useful answers roll in. $\endgroup$ – JBH Jan 29 at 22:32
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    $\begingroup$ An interesting reading (for the "rebels live among us" strategy) could be Heinlein's "the Moon is a harsh mistress", in particular the part where the protagonists create their organization and plan to overthrow the government. $\endgroup$ – McTroopers Jan 29 at 23:33
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The short answer is no, but what you really need to know is why, so let's discuss the longer answer instead.

This is in fact how many rebellions operated in the past, and unless you have a massive groundswell of popular support, it doesn't work because tying yourself to a base means you need something that your established government is better at controlling;

Logistical support.

Once you're dealing with bases and territories, you need to be able to safely move food, supplies, equipment, troops, engineers, et al through that territory. Also, you're now in a position where whatever happens, you need to defend that main base. That means that your guerrillas always have to come back for defensive duties, regardless of their missions, whenever that base is found and attacked. You're also exposing yourself to the application of siege tactics, which brings up the other point; you need a steady and reliable source of food and water for the people in this base. That's much harder to hide in terms of unaccounted supplies than is a distributed network of operatives.

There's a very good reason why modern 'revolutionary' and/or terrorist outfits work in the cells model; it means that if the authorities break into one cell they only get a small part of your network, and the others have time to adapt to that cell missing from their midst. Also, the supplies of food, water and equipment don't raise too many suspicions when procured in many small domestic purchases from many geographic locations. That also makes logistics easier because each cell operates independently, buying from local markets meaning that there IS no supply line to defend, or keep secret, let alone a whole base.

Militaries on the other hand need supply lines still for reasons other than what the original theories discussed; modern militaries are not supporting massive movements of personnel, they're supporting massive movements of equipment. Keeping (say) a squadron of F-18s combat ready and running daily sorties in a modern conflict takes parts, people, fuel, munitions, etc. and it's the support of these massive machines that the cell model can't handle. Also, modern armies need their chains of command so that their attacks are coordinated with deep precision in order to achieve a very specific objective, which is something that the cell model also doesn't support.

Your rebels on the other hand have a rather unfocused objective; overthrow the government. To do that, you don't need coordination on the scale of a modern military, and you don't need big machines of war. You only need teams out there wreaking chaos wherever and however they can.

It's a lot easier to break a machine than it is to keep it running smoothly, whether that machine is a computer or a nation. Even in medieval times, this was true.

The biggest issue you're going to have with the times and a cell model is that cells rely more heavily than other military models on communications, especially covert communications. This isn't practicable in a medieval environment, at least not in the manner that one would expect. Still, if you have a good team of hither-to unknown agents crossing the countryside as travelling salesmen (or similar) who are also great at secreting messages into their loads, saddlebags, etc. then it's entirely possible that such a model could be achieved. The one advantage that you have is that your shapeshifters all have a common enemy that they see as an existential threat, so you don't have to keep them on point in terms of the cause; you only need to keep them on point as to how to prosecute that cause. That, at the very least, should make things easier.

Once you've wreaked enough chaos with Guerrilla warfare, then you have to start organising on a larger scale and bases become necessary. But in the early stages where the rebellion is small and prosecuting a strategy of decentralised strife, having a base just provides the enemy with an easy target should it ever be revealed.

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First principle of war - selection and maintenance of the aim

Before worrying about tactics, the first thing the rebellion needs to think about is what their (realistic) aim is. "Hmmm... we're a minority, despite being shapeshifters we are not so individually overpowering that we can dominate the humans by force. Do we have a real plan or are we just planning on dying well?"

Essentially a minority that does not have some advantage that completely compensates for their numerical inferiority has four choices that are not obviously suicidal:

  • Exodus. Get everyone out and move to a more politically friendly part of the world. The only purpose of any military actions is to protect refugee columns and resupply points.
  • Autonomous homeland. Establish a defensible part of the kingdom of Caelus as a Shapeshifter Autonomous District, preferably an area that is currently home to lots of shapeshifters and relatively few humans. Chances of this working are vastly improved by an alliance with an external polity that has an interest in the shapeshifters succeeding.
  • Regime change. If the anti-shapeshifter sentiment is only driven by a minority within the kingdom, a decapitation strike against that faction might be seen as a way to end the conflict. In practice, any collateral casualties are likely to swing more of the populace against the shapeshifters, but the shapeshifters may not realise that.
  • Hearts and minds. Rather than going for a violent regime change with the likelihood of polarising more of the population against them, non-violent protests, civil disobedience etc combined with targeted acts of kindness to help the humans and convince them to stop persecuting the shapeshifters. Depending on the prevailing philosophy this may be the best option, but probably does not fit the common view of a "rebellion", although it may be reported that way by a totalitarian government.

Once the aim of the rebellion has been determined, only then can the merits of different options to achieve that aim be assessed against the (British / Commonwealth) principles of war linked above.

Logistics:

Without extremely wealthy backer/s a rebellion is always going to be short of money. This will lead to considerable personnel resources devoted to income generation - given their exclusion from legitimate business this will typically come from illegal activities - smuggling, drug dealing, prostitution and protection rackets. A network of safehouses, boltholes and agents in place will be required to support these fundraising activities plus intelligence gathering activities, noting that the drug dealing and prostitution will typically provide both funds and intelligence if managed well. As a result, even if there is a "main base" there will also be a distributed network of support locations.

Why a main base?

Given that you need to have a network of safehouses, what benefits do you get from a bigger base?

  • Morale boost - this is somewhere that your supporters can openly be what they are without worrying that one little slip-up will result in their torture or execution. They can see that there are others like them and they are not alone. These qualities are hard to measure but overwhelmingly important. While this exposure to others is a risk to security, having perfect security but no one willing to commit to the cause due to low morale is a losing strategy.
  • Mission planning and preparation - especially in a low-tech environment the leaders need to get together to plan their missions and allow the troops to train and rehearse. Do not underestimate the value of rehearsals - even walking around in a clearing letting everyone see who is going to be the person next to them etc is vital when preparing for ambushes, attacks, withdrawals. It can also show weaknesses in a plan that were not obvious in paper (eg squad A will be in the line of fire of squad B).
  • Training - unless they were part of an army before, rebels are unlikely to be trained in soldiering. It is very hard to teach camouflage, scouting, engineering, marksmanship, melee fighting and all the other related skills in a safehouse environment (and it is likely to compromise the safehouse). A large training area is needed. It is also necessary for groups of soldiers to train together - a soldier is not an individual fighter, he is part of a team. Throwing a bunch of individually trained fighters who have never worked together into an ad hoc fighting force will never be as effective as the same fighters who have trained together and have the necessary teamwork.
  • Medical facilities - troops injured in battle need somewhere to heal (or die) in safety. While it is possible to hide troops that were injured in skirmish the other night with sympathisers in the general population, any thorough search will turn up the casualties with obviously battle-related injuries and result in the permanent loss of both the casualties and sympathisers. This is related to the morale comments above.

Base requirements

However, a base is a vulnerability - if the kingdom's forces capture it then it is a potentially irreplaceable loss of materiel and personnel. So what does the base need?

  • Security - it must be well-hidden and/or strong enough to withstand assault and have enough secure routes in and out that the kingdom cannot neutralise it by blockading it. This may be where the shapeshifters have an overwhelming advantage - for instance, a coastal cave complex only accessible through underwater tunnels is almost immune to attack by low-tech humans but easy and fun to access for dolphin or otter shapeshifters. Equivalents can exist for other animals - low tunnels for wolves, eyries for bird shifters etc. This also includes counter-intelligence activities to keep the location of the base secret for as long as possible.
  • Sustainability - the base must be well-supplied with fresh water, food, construction materials etc.
  • Location - the base needs to be close enough to the targets of the campaign that troops undertake missions and return (possibly with casualties) within a feasible timeframe. This will be somewhat at odds with the security requirement.

Summary

First the rebels need to work out their overall aim. Then they can decide if this aim requires one base, no base or lots of bases. Then they can go shopping for location/s.

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