Rebel leadership continued to be plagued by breakdowns in leadership and planning

Friday, October 5th, 2018

The Angry Staff Officer looks back at the battle for Hoth:

The situation on Hoth was as such: a Rebel task force under the command of General Carlist Rieekan established defensive positions around Echo Base. The heart of Echo Base was the power shield generator which provided overall protection for the base from off-planet bombardment by the Empire’s star destroyers. This capability denied the Imperial Navy use of their chief weapons platform and forced them to deploy ground troops in a conventional force-on-force engagement.

Now, just as with all military debates, there are two schools of thought as to the Rebels’ courses of action. One states that the Rebel base was merely temporary and should not have been defended more than it was; and that General Rieekan’s evacuation of his fleet and garrison was not unlike George Washington’s evacuation from New York during the American Revolution. In essence, Rieeken saved his forces – minus the ground troops lost in delaying the Imperials – and harbored his strength to fight another day. The other school of thought is that Rieeken missed a prime opportunity to deal a devastating defeat to the Empire by luring them into an engagement area and destroying their ground troops in detail. However, this assumes a unified Rebel chain of command with adequate command and control and good staff functions, all of which were nonexistent on Hoth.


Stepping into the communication breach was Leia Organa – serving as operations officer – who provided task and purpose to the pilots of the Rebel task force and briefed them their mission, direction, fire support plan, and coordination measures. Because of this, the air arm of the task force was able to accomplish its mission. The land forces never received the same attention.

General Rieekan’s opposite number was Lord Vader, who also failed to utilize mission command in his operations. Rather than provide vision, Lord Vader summarily executed his primary admiral in charge of fleet operations for making a tactical error. While this did inspire prompt movement from his subordinates, it was also created a risk-averse atmosphere. As the joint commander, Vader issued instructions to initiate planetary invasion while establishing a blockade around Hoth. Vader’s desire to always be in control led him to micromanage his commanders throughout the entire operation. Nothing like holographic technology to enable you to micromanage the hell out of your troops.


As it was, Rebel land forces neglected a golden opportunity. Their intelligence preparation of the battlefield had led them to build their base in the heart of a deep draw, where the only ground approach was through a long valley, flanked on either side by steep ridgelines. However, the Rebels decided that their only defenses were to be a few short lines of trenches backed by heavy weapons systems. Because they had committed themselves to a linear defense, they lost any ability to maneuver in the face of the enemy. They also allowed themselves to fall victim to the enemy’s primary forward-facing weapons on the AT-ATs. By neglecting to build any type of flanking positions, the Rebels lost their chance strike the Imperial armor from the sides and back, where it was the weakest.


General Rieeken entrusted the air cover for the defense to Commander Luke Skywalker. Skywalker – who had gained notoriety for his destruction of the Death Star – was not a trained airspace coordinator. Nor was he an able squadron leader. His assault with snow speeders was right over the top of the forces he was supporting and straight into the guns of the enemy armor. Had he begun his approach over either the left or right ridgeline, Skywalker could have engaged the enemy armor in their vulnerable flanks and rear while keeping his ships out of the limited fan of fire that characterizes the AT-AT. What could have been an effective sortie ended instead in the loss of all ships after only destroying two AT-ATs.


The Rebel center of gravity was their fleet, including transports, supply ships, and life support ships. In getting the fleet to safety and preserving their ability to sustain themselves, they effectively managed to gain a strategic victory while enduring a tactical defeat. Poor maintenance nearly cost the Alliance Leia Organa and Han Solo, however, when the freighter Millennium Falcon nearly failed to start. Lack of spare parts for dissimilar ships was an endemic issue for the Alliance in all of its operations.


The lesson of the Battle of Hoth could be postulated as “ignore the warfighting functions at your own risk.” Rebel leadership possessed many advantages at the outset of the Battle of Hoth: superior intelligence, excellent terrain, exceptional protection from air bombardment, and experienced troops. However, each of these advantages was squandered because there was no system of unified command and control that disseminated plans in an orderly fashion. Rebel leadership continued to be plagued by breakdowns in leadership and planning as it had been in the Battle of Yavin 4.


  1. Alistair says:

    This staff officer has the typical blinkers of an over-promoted captain: common amongst Rebel forces which emphasise small unit tactics with a commando background, but lack command staff training.

    A devastating ground defeat at the Battalion level? What would that matter against an Empire that holds 10,000 worlds in its sway?

    No. Once discovered, escape was the Rebel’s overwhelming strategic and operational objective.

    Emphasising the ground battle would only give the Empire more time to amass it’s blockade. As it was, only Vader’s immediate task force was present. A few hours and that force would be doubled, then tripled, until escape was impossible.

    Vader’s anger at the proximate hyperspace emergence was understandable. He wanted time to establish a secure cordon without alerting the rebels. His hand was forced into a premature ground assault. Such was his haste that, additional archive material shows, several AT-ATs were lost trying to force the moraine north-east of the Nev Ice Flow, before attacking South along the ice-flow itself.

    The criticism of the actual ground battle is also unreasonable. Radio and video logs clearly show Rebel landspeeder pilots describing side-attacks on AT-AT armour as being futile. Indeed, even the heavier P-Tower guns were useless. It is true that Cmdr Skywalker was not a trained air co-ordinator, but was well respected and tactically creative with the (successful) tow-cable technique. It is also not commonly realised he was still recovering from injuries sustained in an earlier Wampa attack and was not at his best.

    This criticism is entirely misplaced at the operational level, and ignores the strategic imperatives of the Rebel situation.

  2. Bruce says:

    “Poor maintenance … when the freighter Millenium Falcon nearly failed to start.”

    Sometimes Lucas overdid the ‘doohickey fails to work as expected’ sight gag, as when the Death Star supercannon fails to go off on the first trigger pull at Alderaan. But his hot rod experience gave him a visceral sense for the running gag of the Millenium Falcon, which is both a hunk of rusty junk and the hottest hot-rodded hot rod ever. And having it down for maintenance when a surprise attack hits emphasizes the surprise of the attack.

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