War-Gaming Lord Of The Rings

I’ve been binge-reading a blog called “The Angry Staff Officer,” and he has an excellent article entitled “Center For Galactic Lessons Learned,” where he tactically analyses both sides of episodes four, five, and six of the original Star Wars trilogy. I’m shamelessly stealing this idea, while at the same time encouraging all of you to take a look at his writing. I thoroughly enjoy it.I’ll be analyzing the forces of good and evil in J.R.R. Tolkein’s trilogy, The Lord of the Rings, though I will be taking all of my material from the movies of the same name. Why? Because the average American has never read the books (which ARE better), but anyone who hasn’t seen the movie series that won eleven Academy Awards should punch himself in the baby-maker.

(All photos are from http://www.photopin.com)


Keep in mind that this is a massive epic, which by definition spans several decades and countries. I don’t want to get too into the weeds on every individual species/army/unit involved, so don’t send me a message about how I totally forgot Alpha Troop, 1-207th Rohirrim Cav, or 3rd Battalion, Seventh Orc Regiment. The following are the characters on which I will be focusing.

Friendlies – Gondor, Rohan, Elves, and a few Hobbits, Ents, and a Dwarf. A wizard or two and some eagles (more like blue falcons).

Enemy – Orcs from Mordor and Moria, Elephant dudes from the eastern countries, Nazgul, various spies and a wizard.


Good Guys – From the get-go, we can see that they are totally on the defense. Laaaaame…

For the most part, we see the major engagements taking place in friendly territory, where they are fighting desperate battles on their own turf against numerically superior forces. Essentially, they go from stronghold to stronghold, defend it from attack, then leave it to go defend another equally depressing stronghold.

They never quite manage to go on a true offensive campaign, choosing only to send two untrained civilians into enemy territory (without any type of support, communication, or guidance) as their sole Hail Mary. I think Gandalf was smoking a bit too much “Old Toby” when he was drawing up the overall strategy.

“So (cough cough) I’ll give the greatest, most evil…whatever it’s called… to a pointy-eared midget, get a few badasses to argue with me for the whole movie, and then we’ll see what happens. Where’s my Funions?!”

Honestly, their methods of doing any sort of military action are so short-sighted as to be laughable. There is little to no concern about what happens after a battle (such as site exploitation), or how to defeat their enemy away from their families and cities. Much like the Rebels of Star Wars, they choose to go against numerically superior armies in conventional battles, and put all hope in a rather expensive, desperate hope. Luckily it paid off, otherwise it would have been a long three movies about dudes walking into a volcano for no reason. Sure wouldn’t want THAT to happen…

Bad Guys – The forces of evil are, as always in Sci-Fi/Fantasy storylines, very well organized, with an excellent strategy and an aggressive offense. Preparation apparently took decades, probably reaching into centuries. Armies were built, spies were utilized, opposition was divided, and they took the fight into their enemy’s hometown. Sauron knew what his weakness was (the One Ring), and aggressively sought to fix the issue, as opposed to certain Emperors we shall not name (but whose name begins with a “P” and rhymes with “Shmalpatine”).

Let’s break down what happened. Before even invading, Sauron sent in spies to create an insurgency. He riled up the Wild Men to attack Rohan. He pulled a CIA move when he got the most powerful wizard to become one of his assets, then turned the freaking kings of Rohan and Gondor against their own people. By the time anyone actually did any physical invasion, the armies of their opposition were rendered almost completely ineffective, almost all of their arable farmland had been destroyed to prevent resupply, and there was already a foot hold firmly established in Isengard. All Sauron had to do was mop up any resistance, and he was more done than that turkey on “National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation.”

It was only through the actions of a couple of hairy children carrying the One Ring back into a volcano (spoiler alert) that they were utterly obliterated within the course of minutes. They should have won, and would have if it were not for some Dues Ex Machina bullcrap. If modern militaries took for forces of Sauron and Saruman as a model for operations, well… the whole world would be speaking ‘Merican right now. 

Offensive Capabilities

Good Guys – Ok. They had great conventional assets. Their infantry from Gondor and cavalry from Rohan were the bees knees. There were some skilled but unreliable sniper assets from the Elves, but they only felt like showing up for one freaking battle. Elrond apparently wanted them all to get their Combat Action Ribbons, and get a new battle streamer for their colors before being a little punk and leaving town.

What about armor or artillery? Air assets? AIR ASSETS?! That’s a bit tall glass of “Nope.” Freaking eagles only showed up at the end after the battle, and that was to do a CASEVAC! They could have been utilized like fighters, drones, or Close Air Support, but they stuck with CASEVAC!

What about intel? How do you drive follow-on mission without intel? I’ll answer the question; there’s no way. As anyone who has ever had to plan an operation knows, good intel on enemy locations, capabilities, weaknesses, supply lines, etc. shows you where you can strike in order to get the most economic results. Nooooo, not these guys! They decided that the best way to get a mission was to wait until one of their most valuable cities were under attack, and then go running right into the battle like a bunch of Privates hopped up on Rip-Its.

Let’s not forget that they had Rangers, who seemed to be able to double as true skull-stompers as well as scouts. Seems to me that they were completely underutilized, with the exception of that one company at the border of Gondor. Even as a former Marine, I have to admit that there are fewer things in this world that would make me sad more than the idea of a company of Rangers being underutilized.

Ask yourself if there could have been some effort at unconventional warfare. Did anyone ever think about sending spies into the enemy’s home? With the exception of Frodo and Sam, there were zero attempts at espionage, subterfuge, or sabotage by the good guys. An assassination attempt upon Saruman, Orc leaders, or known HVTs could have slowed down the enemy significantly, and probably brought back quite a bit of useable intel. As it was, they were totally blind as the enemy’s movements until it was too late.

Bad Guys – Holy Mother of Gandalf! Sauron took his entire army and dipped into a vat of awesome sauce, air-dried it behind the jet blast of a functional X-Wing fighter, then rolled it in booby sprinkles. There’s a lot of great stuff happening here, people. As I’ve already said, Sauron had spies everywhere, even in the highest levels of his opposition, feeding him information. His intel section was apparently headed up by the love child of Eisenhower, Mattis, and Napoleon. He had a Palantir to see what was going on in Gondor, he had Gollum working against Frodo and Sam, and the most powerful wizard on the planet doing dastardly deeds in the good guys’ back yard. He even went as far as to place his own eyeball on the top of a tower and set it on fire, just so he could get a decent view of everything. What did the good guys have? That’s right, they had Gandalf smelling his way through the Mines of Moria. All this is just to say that Sauron’s intel game was quite strong.

“Can we runs the S-2 shops?!?!”

Air assets? Yeah, he had them, and he utilized them. Ring Wraiths on those flying lizard-bats were all over the place, doing Close Air Support and bombing runs during battles, and flying recon missions during the lulls. I hope those Nazgul had some sweet callsigns like “Wraith Actual” and “Dash Two.” He even had those crow/raven thingies doing the drone bit by flying around looking for enemy ingress routes.

As far as heavy cavalry and armor, he had the tattooed LSD-fueled elephant guys (C Co 3-507th Packyderm?) stomping Rohirrim pee-pees into the dirt (literally), as well as moving siege towers. There was a great use of artillery against Minas Tirith during the Battle of Pelennor Fields, which crushed (and burned) the walls and morale of the opposition.

Let’s discuss Sauron’s logistics. I’ve heard it said that amateurs study tactics, and geniuses study logistics, so I’ll pretend to be a genius. His armies were consuming the resources of the good guys, and were able to live off of their land easily, while simultaneously depriving their enemy of resources. Supply train? We don’t need no steenking supply train! He even got Saruman to set up a massive armory right in his opposition’s back yard, which was capable of manufacturing literal tons of armor and weapons. I know Tolkein hated industry, and greatly favored the natural world in his writing, but tree worship and leaf-licking doesn’t win wars. The armor and weapons may have been more crude than the Elvish equipment, but I’ll take a whole division of psychos armed with AK-47’s any day over a platoon of androgynous hippies equipped with HK 416’s. 

 Or just this one dude and his AK

Defensive Capabilities

Good Guys – As any student of defensive operations knows, you have to have defense in depth. That means that, should the enemy get past one layer of defense (like artillery), he then has to get through five more layers (mortars, snipers, machine guns, etc.) just to engage the main troops. Even in Helm’s Deep, this was barely done. There were Elvish archers acting as snipers (Legolas = Carlos Hathcock anyone?), but other than the physical walls, there was nothing holding back the enemy. A simple suicide bomber with some HME took out the entire defensive strategy, and gave everyone a wicked case a tinitus. I’m hoping that Aragon established a VA center when he became king, so that all those guys could get their disability claims lost for years on end.

“I’m sorry sir, your appointment has been rescheduled, and you’re going to have to prove to us that you really did lose your leg…on a monthly basis.”

There was no preparation for siege, either. They were almost out of food by the time they arrived at Helm’s Deep, and the residents of Minas Tirith seemed to be freaking out more than a prepared people should.

Neither stronghold had any method of egress. If the walls fell, there was nowhere to go. “It’s all good, dude. We’ll just hide our women and babies in the caves, as if that weren’t a totally fatalistic strategy.”

While their defensive tactics stunk worse than a group of hipsters at a Bernie Sanders rally, their physical defense was awesome. Helm’s Deep and Minas Tirith were impressive strongholds, and would have been hard to breach if it weren’t for, you know, giant trolls, wolf-shaped battering rams, and explosives. 

Bad Guys – Interestingly enough, there is little to truly study here. We’ll never know how Mordor would have performed under a siege or full-scale assault, as it just never happened. When the good guys wanted to fight, they literally knocked on the front door and asked permission to fight.

“Can the forces of darkness please come out to play?”

There was one method of infiltration via tunnel, but unlike the Galactic Empire and their confounded exhaust port, Sauron had adequately planned for this. How? By allowing a mutant nightmare of a spider to eat anything that goes through it, then manning a garrison just outside the exit to the tunnel to mop up whatever survived. There would be no way for a platoon-sized element to infiltrate Morder, much less the whole of Aragon’s army, which was what would have been needed to do any kind of offensive action.

Take a moment to also consider the terrain and resources of Mordor. What would have been usable by the good guys? An army marches on its stomach, and there was nothing edible in that desolate wasteland. They would have required a supply train hundreds of miles long to fight through a land covered only in evil and the ashes of Paris Hilton’s self-respect.

Pictured: Either Mordor or Camp Lejuene

Sauron had one glaring flaw, and that was an unguarded doorway into Mount Doom. C’mon, fella! There’s only one method to destroy your secret weapon, and you made an unguarded glowing doorway leading right to it?! Here’s an idea, put a FOB there to guard the thing, or better yet, save some evil taxpayer money by collapsing the door with some well-placed explosives! At the very least, he could have put a few strands of concertina wire in the way.

One last idea, and one I found especially interesting. Let’s say the good guys tried, and succeeded, to land a Special Forces/Jedburg-type team in Mordor, specifically to raise and arm insurgents, and disrupt enemy operation from behind enemy lines. There would have been no one to work with, as every single inhabitant of that land was completely sold out to the cause of destroying all of Middle Earth! It’s not like a Gondorian CIA operative could have turned a group of orcs into “freedom fighters.” Sauron’s defenses were so complete that even a UW strategy would have turned up empty. 

Leader Development

Good Guys – Now we get to something they’re good at. They were able to take guys like Merry and Sam, and turned them into legit big-balled operators. When you look at the final leaders for the world of Men (Eomer for Rohan, Farimir for Gondor, and Aragorn leading as the high king), none of them left any question as to their abilities and leadership. They all were capable of effective small-unit leadership, and commanded unquestioning loyalty from their men in large-scale operations.

Here is the beauty of the good guys; they had strong commanders with the capability for decentralized leadership. Each knew his mission, and was able to carry it out regardless of the obstacles. Having strong leaders who are also capable of paying attention to the ideas of their men is a very tricky line to walk, and the good guys did it all very well.

Much of this can be attributed to the action of Gandalf. It seems that his goal was more of a tutor and a guide for those who needed to rise up to the challenge of leadership. His weak spells sure didn’t help them much.

 Pictures: Varsity team  

Bad Guys – None. Zero. One of the problems of a dictator-style commander is inflexibility in leaders on the ground. Any mistake or deviation from the plan was likely punished, which severely limits the imagination necessary to adapt to inevitable obstacles. While the leadership was obviously strong, there are only so many good commanders you can get when you keep beating down everyone around you. Kinda reminds me of North Korea. 


The forces of evil should clearly have wiped the good guys off the map. In every way, the bad guys were better, being more savage, more numerous, and with a clearer objective than the forces of good. It was only through the efforts of some Jedi-Hobbits (which even their own side admitted were probably doomed) that the good guys won the day. With limited resources, fewer men, no offensive tactics, and a strategy consisting only of survival, the good guys spent an awful amount of time reacting to an aggressive and well-equipped enemy. Thank God for Samwise Gamgee, who literally carried his Blue Falcon buddy up a mountain to accomplish the mission. Ole Sammycakes must have found it hard to walk up that mountain with those giant brass balls swinging to his knees, but such is life for a Hobbit who is too legit to quit.

One last note on the good guys. I think that the Fellowship of the Ring could have benefitted greatly from a series of reunions and some post-combat care. While some of the crew were able to settle down to the manly art of banging their wives and making babies (Aragorn, Samwise), they did nothing for their buddy Frodo, who was suffering from some massive PTSD. Maybe all four Hobbits could have started a Drinking Bros podcast or something to keep poor Frodo from checking out of this world.


I did this for one reason, and one reason only; I love LoTR, so this exercise was fun for me. I’ll probably do another analysis of some other movie, but I haven’t decided which one. I’m thinking either “Harry Potter,” “Twilight,” or “Steel Magnolias.”

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