So, let’s say in a post apocalyptic world, there are two fighting forces. One army is equipped with Civil War-esque weaponry (cannons, rifles, horses) called the USCA and the other army is fighting with late-1960s American Vietnam weaponry (Automatic Guns, Helicopters, motorized transports) called the Bunker Force.

The USCA outnumbers the Bunker Force at a scale of 17:1, as the Bunker only has 1000 or so personnel. My question is, since there is a large gap in technological advancement, what tactics would be most effective for the USCA to win the battle?

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    $\begingroup$ From where do the Bunkerites get the fuel and spare parts for their helicopters, motor vehicles and radios, from where do they get their ammunition? If it is from the Bunker™, them the Ugly Sons of Corrugated Aliens can simply engage in hide-and-seek hit-and-run guerilla until the reserves of the Bunkerfolk run out. If the Bunkermenschen actually have the industrial base to sustain a modern army this means that they have some tens of millions of people; for certain they can field an army of a hundred thousand or so and send the USCA to the dust bin of history. $\endgroup$ – AlexP Feb 23 at 15:17
  • $\begingroup$ @AlexP: Actually, the base the USCA is currently sacking is the Bunker Forces main Industrial Plant. Not to spoil to much, but the rest of the Bunkerfolk were just genocided away by war robots $\endgroup$ – DT Cooper Feb 23 at 15:25
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    $\begingroup$ I don't get it. To sustain the technological base of a modern army the Bunkerland must have a population of tens of millions of people. There is no such thing as the "main industrial plant". A country which can sustain the industrial and logistic base of a modern army can annihilate a band of 7000 horse-riding bandits armed with swords and muzzle-loaders with the police force of one large city. $\endgroup$ – AlexP Feb 23 at 15:37
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    $\begingroup$ Guerrilla warfare. Look at how the Taliban stalled USA in Afghanistan. $\endgroup$ – pojo-guy Feb 23 at 15:39
  • $\begingroup$ @AlexP: It’s 17,000 people. Also, the Bunkerland is just an underground bunker that US officials retreated to during the apocalypse, it’s not a full fledged nation. They only had a population of 5,000 people, with a lot of automation $\endgroup$ – DT Cooper Feb 23 at 15:49

Fight dirty & avoid actually fighting

If you stick to conventional warfare the civil war equipped faction will lose every time, a tank is pretty much immune even to the strongest cannon that the civil war area faction owns (and everything else they have), this means that a single tank can just steamroll over them.

The same goes for helicopters, there is noting in the civil war area armory that could even hope to hit it so it can just stay high up and rain down hell on the civil war faction until they all die... I imagine for the pilot it will be noting more dangerous then a target practice is.

Even if you move to a 1000 strong modern infantry only the chances are still brim for the civil war area equipped faction as the modern infantry man is easily equipped with more firepower then an entire legion of past days, they can spot them from further away (scopes, night vision, thermal googles), hide better (modern camouflage), fire faster (a pair of machine guns can fire more rounds per minute then the entire 17000 civil war "army" faction can combined), are better armored (modern ceramic plates can stop a musket ball), communicate easier (radios), move faster (cars are fast) & their bullets travel faster & hit harder.

But if we go to fighting dirty then there is a chance, maybe the modern faction have a traitor that poisoned all their food\water supply? (poison existed since the dawn of history), maybe they do to them what they did to native Americans (only this time not by accident) and give them a "surrender" token that includes highly infectious disease?

  • $\begingroup$ I’m starting to think I should up their tech to early WW1 levels, to even out the battle $\endgroup$ – DT Cooper Feb 23 at 16:06

Who is fighting for what?

Those thousand motorized/airmobile troops -- call it a short infantry battalion and a few trucks, APCs, and helicopters -- can defeat any concentration of civil-war-era troops. They cannot maintain many roadblocks, firebases, or search-and-destroy patrols.

  • If the Bunkerites operate in platoon strength or more, try to fade away. Go into forests or broken country, split the unit into smaller teams, and so on.
  • If the Bunkerites send out squads or sections, try to concentrate an USCA company or more and attack. Sure, the USCA will take casualties, but if their troops are halfway disciplined and trained, they will prevail.

Once the Bunkerites realize this, they will be left with roughly ten units that can move halfway safely, and even such a platoon would be vulnerable to a well-executed battalion-size ambush.

And don't forget that the Bunkerites need to defend their airbase, too. That could take a company or so.

Does the USCA have troops who would be willing to die to "take one with them?" If just one or two percent of them think that way, the Bunkerites cannot really move except by air ...


Without knowing too much detail about either side, it's difficult to give more than broad outlines. It would depend on the training of either side, the terrain, the logistics of how each side is supplied, etc.

One example that could be relevant is the tactics of the Finnish in the Soviet-Finnish winter war. Provided the environment allows USCA fighters to quickly vanish after disengaging (forests, jungles, urban environments etc), focusing on attrition of their supplies (as opposed to manpower) could work.

By constantly harassing smaller outposts, small groups of USCA could continuously attack isolated pockets with sporadic fire with the intention of goading them in to using up much needed ammunition, then falling back without taking any real casualties.

Softer targets, like supply lines, could be prioritized instead of engaging the Bunker Force in any major battle. Using the environment, like felling trees and blocking roads in isolated areas along the supply lines, then ambushing supply convoys would allow them to inflict casualties and more importantly disrupt the logistics of Bunker Force. BF would have to devote considerable amounts of resources to protecting their supply lines once it's clear that the USCA is focusing their attacks on them. Over time they could bleed the supply lines out and wear down the BF before attempting any major engagements.

This does kind of rely on the BF being the aggressors here, and trying to take and hold large territories from the USCA (in which case they would be overstretched with vunerable supply lines). If it's the USCA sieging a BF stronghold (like a port or bunker) or facing them in direct combat, then there is no real way the USCA can actually attack and hope to win; modern automatic weapons would be incredibly effective at cutting down infantry attempting to close in with muskets, not to mention the artillery and air support of BF.

  • $\begingroup$ Welcome to Worldbuilding.SE! We're glad you could join us! When you have a moment, please click here to learn more about our culture and take our tour. Thanks! $\endgroup$ – JBH Feb 23 at 19:51
  • $\begingroup$ Welcome. Actually, they do attempt a siege, after they capture a Bunker Scientist who helps them develop autonomatic weaponry $\endgroup$ – DT Cooper Feb 23 at 20:11

I would start by defining the tooth-to-tail ratio of the technologically superior force. In modern militaries roughly 1/3 are combat troops (“teeth”) and 2/3 are support troops (“tail”). This ratio varies, obviously, but these ratios are reasonable ballpark figures.

So, if 300 of the 1,000 are fighting troops that also infers maybe 12-24 combat aircraft (you can google and research the sizes of squadrons and air wings if you want more precise numbers). Since this is Vietnam-era tech, you’re probably looking at a dozen or so Hueys and a dozen or so Cobras. Just a guess, but that probably means less than 50 tanks. Maybe closer to 25.

The primitive force is clearly outgunned, but we now have idea what the primitive force is up against. A few lucky breaks against the supply chain, or even against the combat forces, will degrade the techno giant below the level needed to sustain combat operations.

So, what does the primitive force do? It should avoid direct frontal assaults at all cost. Assuming similar tooth/tail ratios, a human wave of 6,000 could charge, but the casualties would be horrible. Instead, they need to rely on maneuver and surprise, mostly using hit-and-run tactics.

First priority will be to hit supply lines and supply depots. Without fuel, all those fancy machines stop moving.

Second priority is to stop the enemy air power. Shelling them on the ground with civil war cannons would be the most effective, but it will be difficult to get horse-drawn artillery in range unseen. Guerrilla attacks on forward operating bases to damage the choppers with dynamite is probably more realistic.

Once airborne, the defenders have few weapons that can damage a chopper, barring a lucky rifle shot. But, the defenders have a few options: creating flak by detonating time fuzed artillery shells. You can google and research their usage during the civil war. Also, releasing balloons just ahead of choppers in an attempt to entangle ropes in the rotors. This is probably only effective against low altitude targets taking off and landing. And probably only works once, then the pilots will climb/descend directly over their base. Again, you can google and research recon balloon usage in the civil war to get more details about the capabilities. Both of these tactics will require a fair bit of luck and the element of surprise in order to be effective.

Assuming you can whittle away at the air power, the ground forces have a number of hit-and-run and ambush options available. They won’t be able to penetrate modern armored vehicles, but dynamite will blow the track off of a tank. Blocking the main gun barrel will still cause it to explode. Dropping dynamite into an open hatch will still kill all the occupants. Dynamite with a plunger detonator can still be an effective roadside IED. And shelling infantry with canon balls—if you get a lucky break and manage to get in range undetected—can inflict a lot of damage. Hiding artillery around a choke point like a mountain pass could get an opportunity to ambush a convoy, damaging the unarmored vehicles and accompanying infantry. All of these things require surprise and mobility by the defenders, and generally getting very close to small groups of attackers.

Most likely, although your defenders may win a battle here and there, they are not going to win this outright. However, looking at examples ranging from the American Revolution up-to-and-including British, Soviet, and US excursions into Afghanistan, your defenders can create an long-term, bloody slog that eventually becomes too expensive for the attackers to sustain. In an ideal case, the primitive force may be able to bloody the techno giant just enough to distract it, letting a suicide squad infiltrate some key resource/support station and blow it up, bringing the techo giant to it’s knees.

Note: the larger you make the techno giant, the less likely these tactics will work.

Note2: the primitive forces will have to use terrain to their advantage. In the open plains of the US midwest, the primitive forces have no cover and little chance. Nestled in the Rocky Mountains, though, they may be able to use the terrain to their advantage. So consider your setting carefully.


A superior force will decimate an inferior one every time in a direct conflict. Which is why the inferior force reverts to going underground and fighting dirty. French Revolution in WWII, Vietcong in Vietnam, Americans in US Revolutionary War, Native Americans at Custer's Last Stand... Ewoks on Endor (lol).

Guerilla warfare .. fight dirty, hit-n-run, ambushes, traps.

Clandestine Ops .. send in spies and/or convert civilians & troops on the other side to spy for you (pay them bribes, find members that are unhappy and find ways to make their lives better, etc), infiltrate their day-to-day lives as civilians and set bombs, steal their weapons, sabotage their gear, plant false information.

Propaganda ... war isn't just physical, it's social. So, you start leveraging propaganda. You make a martyr out of every person the enemy kills. You setup social situations where you make the enemy look bad to the eyes of the people (and army is only as good as the civilian population supporting it, so if you can demoralize the populace, you may be able to push popular opinion away from war and towards peace... if the superior army is running the government (military dictatorship), then maybe enough propaganda can get the civilian population to revolt and fight for you). You send out fliers with lies of whatever truths you want people believe (if you say something often enough and loud enough, eventually someone will believe it). Treat prisoners of war respectfully and show them that you're not "the bad guys" and make them question their side of the war.. then send them back home (a seed of doubt planted can grow into a revolution).

War really comes down to tactics.. who has superior tactics. Weapons are just tools, and only useful if you know how to use them.

Sun Tzu's theory was that a superior general won based on tactics and training of troops, not necessarily how advanced the weapons were. You could have a bungling general fielding troops with power armor, laser rifles, etc.. but poor tactics has them getting slaughtered. A great tactician can win b/c they know how best to leverage the troops, tools and arenas available to them.

A good general herds the enemy around. They hit certain places to lure the enemy out to vulnerable areas where it's easier to ambush, attack or trap them.

Sun Tzu was known for running a small band of guys through a large army by constantly keeping one step ahead of them and staying light and mobile. While the enemy general had his heavily armed troops marching constantly and getting demoralized (b/c they couldn't' catch up to Sun Tzu's fast-moving strike force).. eventually Sun Tzu had lured them into an area where he could slaughter them. The heavily armed military was tired after weeks of non-stop marching with little rest. They were also demoralized from having to constantly keep moving and changing routes to keep up with Sun Tzu's seemingly sporadic attacks all over the nation. But, Sun Tzu's goal was to tire out the opponent and wear down their morale while also secretly leading them by the nose to a perfect ambush spot. When he finally fought them, his smaller force won over the superior force.

So, technology doesn't really matter...

Well... it does if the superior force decides to go to extreme lengths.

EG: every alien invasion movie ever made never thinks that if the aliens are so advanced they can fly through space to get to us, then they could probably just abduct one of us to analyze, and create an aerosol virus that would wipe out the entire world's population in a month. Sit in orbit, drop a canister in a populated area, and let viral vectors go to work as it spreads and wipes everyone out.

A superior military that has biologics and chemical weapons could get pretty nasty. They could also be ruthless.. if they have a bomb go off in a village.. they just wipe out everyone in that village hoping they get the spy.

Again, though, this goes back to tactics.. what do you have available, how can you use it, and to what lengths are you willing to go to win.

Sun Tzu feeling on "winning" was that you haven't truly won if there's nothing left. So, he wanted to win by taking over the enemy by keeping as much intact as possible.. that way civilians could rebuild infrastructure quickly and get back to their lives. Plus, you would already have a standing army ready to go... you just retrain them and get them on the same page as you (which is easy if you defeated them with superior tactics.. an army wants to follow the best military leader.. just like an individual wants to follow the strongest leader).

If the superior military doesn't care about the lesser military or population, they could just nuke them from orbit and glass the world (apply so much thermic force that the entire crust just turns to glass / ceramic). Scorched Earth.

So, it would depend on the conflict between the two groups, the morals of them (how far are they willing to go), what they want to have left to consider "victory" (decimate everyone? have people left over? have infrastructure remaining?)

A neutron bomb could wipe out all living organisms and keep infrastructure intact.

So... technology doesn't really matter.. it's tactics and how far people are willing to go. Lower tech societies tend to be willing to do more and go farther, b/c they are simply more desperate. But, they do reach a point...


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