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The antagonist of my story is planning to prosecute a war on as many as three fronts. What historical examples could I draw on to make such an operation seem plausible, even if it's doomed to failure in the end? Are there any best practices that a competent (if insane) antagonist should employ in this situation?

Context:

  • Technology in this world doesn't neatly map to a particular era of real-world history, but is entirely pre-modern (nothing past the early renaissance era).

  • My antagonist has recently invented firearms/explosives and rudimentary chemical weapons, and has equipped his army with them. No one else has this technology.

  • The antagonist is fighting nations that have access to powerful magic and is relying on his firearms and chemical weapons to counter this advantage. Detailing the magic he's up against would probably expand the scope of this question too much, but more info will be provided if requested.

  • This takes place across subtropical/tropical regions. My antagonist's army will have to contend with savanna, subtropical forest, tropical rainforest, and potentially swamp and desert environments. His enemies will obviously have the home field advantage, which I expect will be especially significant in jungle, swamp, and desert.

  • Two of the nations my antagonist is invading have long coastlines, and one has an abundance of navigable rivers. My antagonist's naval strength is meh but he has strong naval allies. Only one of the nations he is fighting has any navy to speak of.

  • My antagonist's soldiers have no magic whatsoever, but the antagonist himself is a powerful and intelligent warlock. He is supplementing his human forces with chimeric monsters, which will make up the bulk of his jungle invasion force and provide support as needed elsewhere.

  • As his trump card, my antagonist intends to deploy a reanimated dragon, though this will take time to prepare and requires access to key resources currently in enemy territory. Due to both lack of knowledge and cultural taboos, there is zero danger of his enemies pulling an uno-reverse and using a reanimated dragon against him. Dragons have been extinct for millennia and the tactics previously used to extinct them are all but lost.

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    $\begingroup$ What is the goal of your protagonist? Conquest? Sick of antagonist meddling? $\endgroup$
    – Willk
    Commented Jun 9, 2022 at 16:40
  • $\begingroup$ Stupidity makes any warfare tactic strategy plausible to be thought of. $\endgroup$ Commented Jun 9, 2022 at 17:08
  • $\begingroup$ @Willk This is a war of conquest, driven by an uptick in nationalist populism and my antagonist's insatiable ego. $\endgroup$ Commented Jun 9, 2022 at 17:45
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    $\begingroup$ Not 100% historically accurate, but the warring states period of China, popularized by the book Romance of the Three Kingdoms (and video game of same name, also Dynasty Warriors), may be a decent inspration for a somewhat plausible multi party war with magic. $\endgroup$
    – Lintor
    Commented Jun 9, 2022 at 17:57
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    $\begingroup$ This boils down to adequate resources and the presence of at least three trustworthy lieutenants. Without adequate resources to overcome the enemy's inevitable surprises, the antagonist will simply lose the war. Without the lieutenants, the antagonist must leave their seat for long periods to personally lead campaigns and is vulnerable to usurpation. Since most tyrannical megalomaniacs lack BOTH adequate resources and trusty underlings for world conquest, it's more a question of what they can achieve with what they have, and how well they can intrigue to deny enemy use of resources. $\endgroup$
    – user535733
    Commented Jun 11, 2022 at 18:00

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The same reason as two front ones

Battling on multiple fronts doesn't seem much different from one front even. The only consideration is if you can attack on multiple fronts. Each extra doesn't make much difference.

Look at the second world war. There's a ton of reasons for the second front. We can point to the hubris of the men in charge. We can point to the uneasy alliance that existed between Germany and Russia. We can point to the new blitz strategy that was highly effective in attack, allowing for destruction and advancement in a short time with relative few losses.

In just that war we have hubris, strategy, diplomacy and effectiveness. Probably a lot more, as it was to give the new reich plenty of space.

Romans at one time were fighting on multiple fronts for different reasons. They were just attacked from many sides as their territory became large and unwieldy at the time. But at an earlier time it could be because they had the power to subdue others effectively, making the empire bigger and more wealthy. It could also just be to pacify the enemies.

All this to say that it should be easy to point to a ton of reasons why to attack on many fronts. Ego certainly, but a new technology is susceptible to espionage. Fear of not having this power long can help your reasoning for many fronts. You want to expand, subdue, take or whatever else before the power loses it's potency. Take your pick and if in doubt a quick search to any big empire should help.

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The strategy of almost every multi-front attack is to blitz the enemy on one front, neutralize the threat, then move the forces to a second front, and repeat.

The problem has always been that the best plans always fall to pieces the moment the first shot is fired. Seems the enemy just does not always co-operate with your plans.

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    $\begingroup$ "No battle plan survives first contact with the enemy." $\endgroup$
    – Tom
    Commented Jun 9, 2022 at 18:31
  • $\begingroup$ For a real-life example see the 6 days war in which Israel fought basically fought all of their neighbours and won: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Six-Day_War $\endgroup$
    – SirHawrk
    Commented Jun 10, 2022 at 6:53
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The crazy warlock seem to have mobility locked up. Best strategy for him to take would be a Blitz as stated before. where firepower and mobility are maximised in his favor. Though add to this, diversionary tactics that will draw away defenders from his targets. Even fake attacks from imaginary armies or fleets.

Communications also should not be minimised in this theater. Where your Warlock where though magic or magical beast has a monopoly on rapid communications, ie: intelligence troop movements, deployment orders etc.

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Best practice:

(1) Win the wars in series, not in parallel. (So invade one adversary, defeat them, move to the next). This was the Schlieffen Plan. Germany was concerned that France and Russia (on either side of Germany) might attack it from both sides at once. The plan was that Russia, being very large and having poor infrastructure (few trains) would take a very long time to get its army onto the German boarder. Enough time, it was hoped, for Germany to have already defeated France. So fighting one then the other.

(2) It sounds like by "war on three fronts" you mean war against 3 separate nations. The number of enemies does not have to be equal to the number of fronts. If our antagonists country is surrounded by the other three then yes it sounds like 3 fronts, but it might not be.

Historical Examples:

The best I can think of is WW2 Germany. At one point they were fighting on the Eastern front as well as both France and Germany.

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Peru declared war on all it's neighbours simultaneously back in the day.

It ended up losing most of it's male population and a big chunk of land.

It went to war in multiple fronts because it's leadership were nutcases. Nazis did the same thing.

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