Strategy and tactics involving the military use of wyverns has changed over the centuries and has a direct correlation with the technology of the time.
As mentioned in history, the first aeronauts were sorcerers who used their flying mounts as quick transports to and fro. It may surprise some to learn that using wyverns in a military function was not an immediate application, considering how many modern militaries employ wyverns. Unlike today, the ancient sorcerers had no gunpowder with which to make firearms and bombs.
Wyverns are ferocious beasts and are difficult to guide in the heat of battle. They do not always discern friend and foe and can be a danger to both allies and enemies. The earliest aeronauts served in non-combat roles, mostly scouts and couriers. It was not until sorcerers were able to selectively breed more agreeable animals that wyverns were able to be tamed for military service.
One should not think that this means that wyverns were made to be completely obedient. Any modern aeronaut can vouch for a wyvern’s ferocity. Wyverns were initially used in combat as harries and skirmishers. They harassed small groups of enemies and skirmished with troops on the peripheries of larger battle formations. The wyvern’s natural weapons are well suited for smaller engagements. One may think that the bow and arrow would be well suited to aeronautics, such a weapons is too unwieldly while mounted. The same is said for javelins and spears. Combat was limited to using an animal’s natural weapon, including claws, teeth, tail barbs, and projectile flame. Aeronauts later dropped clusters of bronze flechettes from above. Flechettes would be used for centuries. Nations too poor to employ gunpowder still use them.
The sorcerers of the later Dominion further refined wyverns for use in combat. They developed more specialized breeds for different roles. The Ranelv Dagger and Ranelv Reaper are two combat breeds that trace their lineage back to the Dominion and still exist today. The sorcerers’ numbers were never enough to staff an aeronaut on every wyvern. They developed ways for a single sorcerer to mentally control multiple wyverns. It was not unheard of for a single sorcerer to guide a dozen wyverns in combat from a remote location.
The Ranelv Daggers were extensively used in this role. Daggers have less stamina than most other wyverns. They spend their vitality in short but powerful bursts of speed and fire. They were sent onto a battlefield where they would wreak havoc amongst the enemy and once their stamina had been spent, they would be easier to guide back into their cages. Their savage temper meant that they would attack enemies with minimal guidance from a sorcerer.
This form of combat is seen as barbaric in modern warfare. A single sorcerer has less control when one’s consciousness is spread out among multiple wyverns. Setting a flight of savage beasts upon soldiers offers the opposing side little chance to surrender. It is also riskier for civilian casualties.
The development of gunpowder in the late feudal age greatly changed how wyverns were utilized in warfare. Aeronauts would carry black powder bombs and drop them on infantry and cavalry. Such munitions are still in use today. Black powder bombs are much more effective than flechettes.
The early days of black powder warfare also saw the first extensive use of aeronaut fighting aeronaut on high. Aeronauts had to contend with other aeronauts in addition to enemies on the ground. A wyvern can easily be goaded into fighting another wyvern. Their projectile saliva proved to be effective against other wyverns and aeronauts. Their barbed tails can also rake opponents while flying passed.
This period had an influx in the diversity of wyvern breeds. Sorcerers employed by each nation used their powers to create different breeds to different specifications. Sorcerers are still employed to create new breeds to better adapt to modern warfare. The modern designations for wyvern breeds came into practice in this period. Light wyverns can comfortably carry a single aeronaut and the aeronaut’s supplies. Medium wyverns can comfortably carry two riders and their equipment.
The first heavy wyverns capable of carrying three people were bred in this period. Heavy wyverns were bred to carry more ordnance for the purpose of being more effective bombers.
It did not take long for aeronauts to utilize firearms when mounted on high. Firearms are easier to handle than bows and arrows. They can be used against targets on the ground and on the wing. A common tactic while using single-shot firearms was to have two aeronauts mounted on a single medium wyvern. The fore aeronaut would act as the sharpshooter and the rear would act as the loader. The pair would have two firearms exchanged between them. The sharpshooter would aim and discharge the firearm and pass it back to the rear aeronaut. The loader would load a firearm as the sharpshooter shoots and passes the loaded arm up to the sharpshooter and accept the discharged arm to load it again. This efficient system made firing much quicker.
The invention of grenades has also provided an additional weapon to the aeronaut’s armament. Grenades are easier to arm than traditional bombs.
Repeating firearms greatly changed how aeronauts fought. It no longer became necessary for a dedicated loader to facilitate a higher firing rate. A single aeronaut can discharge half a dozen bullets within a minute or less. Light single-man wyverns became more useful, as they provide less volume as a target and a single aeronaut with a repeating firearm and fire as many bullets as an aeronaut on a medium wyvern in a minute. Modern aerial combat doctrine has placed less emphasis on utilizing a wyvern’s natural abilities since repeating firearms came into play.
Just as aeronauts have developed tactics for fighting each other in the air, infantry, navy, and ground cavalry have developed tactics and weapons for combating wyverns from the ground. The oldest anti-wyvern weapon is also one of the oldest recorded weapons in history: the bow and arrow. Enemies of the ancient Ranelv Dominion employed auxiliary troops armed with longbows to shoot down wyverns that were spotted in the air.
Firearms were also utilized against aerial cavalry whenever the opportunity presented itself. Some troops preferred blunderbusses to muskets due to the wide spread of the shrapnel that a blunderbuss fires. Having such a wide spread makes a moving target easier to hit.
A single bullet can easily kill a man but wyverns are much hardier animals. Bullets designed for use against wyverns are often envenomed. Different concoctions of venom exist with different effects. Just as venoms are researched, so too are medicines to counteract their effects. Sorcerers and doctors of every nation with an aerial force are in competition with each other to produce the most virulent toxins and healing tonics.
Artillery cannons on the ground and on warships can be repurposed as anti-wyvern guns with minimal effort. Guns can be loaded with shells that release clouds of flechettes in a wide spread. Some shells are designed to explode in mid-air into clouds of deadly shrapnel.
Modern advances in firearms have created man-portable guns that fire large projectiles the size of a rocket without recoil. Select infantry troops have been deployed with these recoilless guns and they have even found use among aeronauts.
Incendiary bullets are one of the more recent inventions for use against wyverns. They were first utilized around the same time that repeating firearms were becoming commonplace. Incendiary bullets have a hollow cavity inside filled with phosphorous or some similar chemical that burns when ignited and leaves a trail of smoke behind. Incendiary bullets are often steel-capped to better penetrate a wyvern’s hide. The burning phosphorous ignites the methane in a wyvern’s gas sacs. The extent of the damage depends on the location and size of the sac hit. A burnt sac can cause pain and hinder respiration functions at the least. The fire from a combusting sac can ignite other sacs and burn the entire animal from the inside out at the worst.
Just as weapons have developed over the centuries, so too have tactics. Combat in the earliest days of modern air cavalry was very chaotic. Large groups of aeronauts would clash with each other using what weapons were available to them followed by the wyvern’s natural weapons when ammunition is expended.
Air cavalry became organized along the lines of ground cavalry. The basic unit is the lance. A lance consists of five to six wyverns. More or less is not unheard of. Lances typically fly in an arrowhead formation with the lance commander at the point of the arrow.
One of the more modern tactics is to further divide a lance into smaller pairs. This makes for two to three pairs per lance. The purpose of this organization is to make lances more flexible in combat.
With technology in a constant state of evolution and political motivations ever changing, it is unknown how aerial cavalry will change in the future. What is certain is that the aeronauts and their wyverns will adapt to such change or die in the attempt.