The Battle of Scarif will likely go down as one of the bleakest moments in Star Wars history. We all kinda knew going in that there was a really good reason why K-2SO and his less memorable companions wouldn't be appearing in subsequent movies, but I don't think anyone was really prepared for a total culling of the protagonists.
In hindsight, that was a really ballsy moment for a huge franchise like Star Wars. Whatever faults Rogue One might have had (and it had plenty), one can't help but applaud the team for managing to make each death feel like a punch in the gut, even if I couldn't tell you the names of any of the protagonists other than K-2SO once it was over with.
Maybe I'm just deaf, or maybe they didn't spend enough time developing Blind Monk Guy or Generically Attractive Sexual Tension Man before blasting them to bits. Who can really say?
I'm not ashamed to admit that I shed a single manly tear watching all the heroic sacrifice, but in the whole time, there was this little worm of thought crawling around in the back of my mind, eating holes in all the carefully crafted emotion.
What was that thought, you ask?
"My God, how dumb can you be?"
From a tactical standpoint, nearly everything the Rebel fighters did was horrifically stupid, to the point where I can barely stand to watch the movie a year later without yelling at the screen. I'm not one of those guys who has to vet-splain any and every little flaw in a war movie (unless that movie is The Hurt Locker, which requires a bag of cough drops and a bottle of Everclear to make it through to the end), but there are layers of stupid here which could take years to properly unravel.

Once again, the Angry Staff Officer blog did a really good general overview of just how badly they screwed the pooch. No More Task Force Rogue Ones gives a very good general overview of the situation, and I highly recommend that you give it a read. For the record, I promise I'm not just aping their stuff. It's great supplementary reading, but I've got a different objective in mind for this analysis.
We're not going to try to unpack the whole battle, because as I said before, that would take ages. One could literally write a book on everything that went wrong, and provide a half dozen ways in any given instance to make it right.
Today, we're looking at one firefight in particular: the one where Blind Monk Guy and Machinegun Monk Guy bite the dust trying to trip the switch that does something or another of some importance.
By this point, the battle felt less like something from a war movie and more like something you'd find in a video game about a war movie. Go here, plug the doohickey into the whatsit, but wait, you didn't pay $2.99 for the Data Transmission Starter Pack, so off you go to hit this switch over here while swarms of mooks try to eat your face.
In the movie, the good guys allow themselves to get herded into the mouth of one of the many, many bunkers that seem to pop up for no discernible reason other than because the Empire murders all of its architects once they've finished their jobs. They've got to get to the switch, but they're pinned down by enemy fire, and every time someone tries to make it to the switch, they got shot repeatedly. Finally, Blind Monk Guy proves that you don't have to be a Jedi to be one with the Force, as he calmly walks out to the switch, does the thing that one does with switches, and dies. The Machinegun Monk Guy decides to follow suit, because this is a universe where a broken heart is apparently a terminal condition.
Death rates in high school must be staggering.
There's just so much wrong with this scene that it's hard to begin with any one part. Why did they let themselves get pinned down in a fatal funnel? Why did the medic stop to treat a guy in the middle of a firefight, right out in the open? For that matter, why didn't he bother to treat himself after taking a karking shot to the chest? Who the hell designed the Imperial communication network on Scarif?
Instead of nitpicking every little thing that went wrong, we're going to go with what they should have done to accomplish this one little portion of the mission without getting everyone killed. To start off, we're going to run a METT-TC analysis of the objective in order to figure out where everything sits.
Mission: Trip the switch that does the whatsit.
Enemy: A metric kark ton of stormtroopers, mostly equipped with small arms and grenades, backed by heavy armor in the form of walkers. Limited air support that's mostly TIEd up (pun absolutely intended) with the craft the Rebels were able to get planetside.
Terrain: Mostly sandy beaches, jungle, and an open area around the switch. Also, a bunker.
Troops Available: A handful of Rebel light infantry, Machinegun Monk Guy, and Blind Monk Guy. Precious little in the way of casualty producing weapons, save for the aforementioned Machinegun Monk Guy.
Time: None. This is a snap kick, and the whole of the mission depends on them completing their task.
Civilian Considerations: None. This is a military base. If it moves, it's a valid target.
From the outset, things look bleak. They have to get to that switch, but they're overwhelmingly outnumbered, and there's seemingly nowhere to go. There's no time to think, no time to plan, and they've got to get this done RIGHT FREAKING NOW.
So what saves the day?
Training and coordination.
There's a series of tasks that the Army refers to as Basic Soldiering Skills. These are things that everyone, from the knuckledragging infantryman to the office clerk are supposed to be able to do in their sleep. It almost never works out that way (I once watched a guy from out battalion's attached Forward Support Company shoot a 6 during rifle qualification, out of a possible 40), but in general, the more likely you are to be shot, the more likely you are to train in these tasks.
When all else fails, a good squad leader who has properly drilled his men can execute a mission with no time and no planning solely by relying on the muscle memory he's worked so hard to pound into their thick skulls. If you do something enough, your body begins to be able to complete the task all on its own, with little or no conscious thought.
This is handy, because when the manure hits the air circulator, you're not exactly thinking rationally. The Fight or Flight response is very effective at rerouting your brain and body's resources to deal with the situation at hand. That adrenaline surge can help you perform superhuman feats, but it does kark all for your ability to think in a rational manner.
Example: In spring of 2013, I was sitting on a lonely little mountain top in the Sinai desert. There were nine of us total on an observation post the size of a postage stamp, surrounded by cliffs on three sides. We were used to the local Bedouin tribes moving freely through the area. We had no idea what they were up to most of the time, but if they came within view and started acting suspiciously, we were supposed to observe.
On this particular day, they lined up along the far side of a canyon about 400 meters to the north of our OP. We couldn't tell what the hell they were doing, so as was standard procedure, I took my binoculars, stood on top of our protective wall, and tried to get a better view.
As the first gunshots came in, my thoughts were as follows: Wow, they must be terrible shots to miss my gargantuan ass. Who the hell tries to shoot someone from half a klick away with an AK? Am I wearing pants? Okay, cool, pants. God I need a smoke.
By the time I got to the part about the smoke, I was mildly surprised to find myself in my bunker, looking over the top of my 240, watching the road leading up to our OP. I didn't think about throwing on my IOTV, grabbing the machine gun and hauling ass to my post. We spent so much time training for the possibility of an attack that, when one came, no one had to think about what to do. We just did it.
Had the Rebels on Scarif trained properly beforehand, that battle might have gone differently.
The first thing their squad leader should have done, aside from not let his squad get chased all over the damn base with no sense of coordination whatsoever, was identify a place where his squad could get the hell out of enemy fire and begin suppressing it effectively. Ideally, they would have approached from the treeline rather than the waterline, as the trees offered a great deal more cover than the exposed beach.
Everyone ran towards the bunker, because it was big and solid and could shield them from enemy fire from three directions. Unfortunately, there was only one way in and one way out, and even the poorly coordinated stormtroopers could keep them pinned down.
A better option would have been to dig hasty fighting postitions in the sand using whatever explosives they had onhand. Maxim 44: If it will blow a hole in the ground, it will double as an entrenching tool. The bunker might still have been useful; if they had it at their backs, it could have provided a semblance of cover without trapping them all in a fatal funnel. Get the squad on line, with some semblance of cover, and start laying down suppressive fire. This is where that big honking blaster that Machinegun Monk Guy had would come in handy. It was their best casualty producing weapon, and we've seen it mow down hordes of troopers with little difficulty.
In the face of coordinated, accurate fire, with the addition of the ghastly rate of fire from the machinegun, the uncoordinated and undisciplined enemy would have to either get their crap together in a hurry or die trying. Once enemy fire is effectively suppressed, all they had to do was keep the troopers' heads down and send a couple of guys low crawling out to the switch.
Once the switch is tripped, the objective is complete, and they could have retreated to the relative safety of the jungle, where superior coordination could have gone a long way towards countering the superior numbers of the Empire. While taking care to keep the enemy suppressed, they could have bounded backwards, one fireteam at a time. Fireteam Alpha, as we'll call it, bounds backwards while Fireteam Bravo lays down fire. Once Alpha is in position to the rear of Bravo, they lay down fire and Bravo bounds backwards.
This is one of those drills that every single person who goes through US Army Basic Combat Training has drilled into their skulls, nearly from the word go. It's not advanced secret squirrel tactics. It's Basic Soldiering Skills. It's dead simple, and deadly effective. Had the Rebellion bothered to train their infantry with at least as much rigor as the average guerrilla army, the Battle of Scarif might have gone a lot differently. Hell, they might have even got out before Tarkin decided to test out his shiny new Death Star.
So how can this be useful in RP?
If you plan on focusing on small unit tactics, you can benefit from that same sort of training. No, I don't mean enlisting in the army. If that's what you want to do then go for it, but for the purpose of writing, there's still a lot of resources out there that don't involve signing your life away.
The best visual depiction of modern infantry tactics you'll likely find comes in the form of a TV show called Generation Kill. The HBO series follows a Marine Recon unit during the initial invasion of Iraq in 2003, and it gets a lot right about the tactics. It's not perfect, but I've yet to find anything better.
You can also find manuals for small unit tactics online, both officially produced by the Army and by other, less credible sources. The average Army manual makes for extremely dry reading, but if you can stay awake, there's a lot of good stuff there.
If you live in an area where it's feasible to do so, you can also take up paintball or Airsoft. Both are poor substitutes for actual combat and training, but even a small taste of what the real thing is like can improve your understanding dramatically.
Videogames with a strong emphasis on small unit tactics and teamwork can also be a helpful resource, though there's only so much you can get out of most of them. CoD and Battlefield don't count; they're about as close to the real thing as a 4 year old's drawing of an airplane is to flying a fighter jet.
And finally, practice writing all this stuff out. Don't just wait until an invasion to break it out. Plan out skirmishes with likeminded individuals, and try your damnedest to employ what you've learned. Writing out small unit tactics is a pain in the rear at first, but once you get the hang of it, it comes naturally. Which is a good analogy for the real thing, when you think of it.
That concludes today's lecture. As always, if you have questions or comments, feel free to drop them below. But, like always, don't be an ass, or I will delete them. Thanks for reading.