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AT-ATs managed to get to the surface of Hoth - during the Battle of Hoth.

Why didn't the Empire send other forces in alongside the AT-ATs?

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Two reasons to land the other troops:

  1. Pretty much all modern Earth militaries learned early on that armored vehicles themselves are less effective than combined assaults (support by artillery, infantey and air).

    As it was, rebel air force (groundspeeders) very effectively opposed the AT-ATs, without being hindered by Imperial air support.

    And Luke took down AT-AT because there were no Imperial stormtroopers to cover his approach on foot.

  2. If you land all your troops - some of them could take the shield down during the course of AT-AT attack.

    As such, sending in only AT-ATs first gives rebel forces more time to escape.

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    they sent the at-at's because the rebels were entrenched and sending infantry down would have seen heavy casualties. the at-ats will tank the enemy fire, destroy the shield generators, allowing for orbital bombardment, and shock troops to clean up the survivors. the entire fleet is also sitting in orbit allowing for no escape (until the ion cannon messes things up). landing ground troops immediatly would have lead to a slower longer battle then the at-at's as the entrenchment was ment to resist a ground invasion by infantry, not heavy mech. – Himarm Dec 17 '14 at 16:09
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    shouldn't this be an answer rather than comment? – niico Dec 17 '14 at 16:10
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    @Himarm You should write it up anyways. You can always add photos and more references after your initial posting. It's not at all uncommon to write up a base placeholder answer while you work on a more comprehensive one. – phantom42 Dec 17 '14 at 16:16
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    Didnt also fast walkers land aside the atat's? I THINK I remember a scene when look just almost got stomped where an at-st is shown on screen – Thomas Dec 17 '14 at 21:03
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    For the same reason they didn't deploy with any AAA. :P – Smithers Dec 17 '14 at 22:44
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Because of the shield generators, the imperial fleet could not bombard the rebel base. This leads us to only one option: a ground assault to destroy the shield generators, so that orbital bombardment can happen. The rebels had set up trenches defending the shield generator as they knew that a ground assault was inevitable. battle map

Because of the rebel defenses, an infantry assault with storm troopers is a bad idea. Assaulting a heavily-defended position on foot or with light vehicles is costly in manpower, as well as time-consuming: you have to overwhelm the fortified position, and infantry doesn't cut it. Especially when you have a group of AT-ATs with you. They are heavily-armored and cannot be easily destroyed by your foe. They were able to walk right up to the shield generators, taking minor losses and decimating the rebel defenses, and ultimately destroying the generators. It was the perfect plan. However, they failed to take into consideration the ion cannon. Whether they did not know of it, or they failed to see the risk, it enabled the rebels to get past the blockade.

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    I have one problem with that answer - that is, the assumption that the Empire cares about manpower costs. After all their space-dogfighting doctrine is based on cheap expendable TIEs in large numbers – Deltharis Mar 14 '15 at 12:23
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    @Deltharis surely the main cost that the Empire is trying to negate is the Time as opposed to man power. Being bogged down in a trench warfare would take time that the Empire didn't have, even with the speed of assault that the AT-AT gave, the rebels were able to evacuate their base. Any troops landed with the AT-AT would either be too slow to keep up with the AT-AT or too lightly armoured to survive against the snowspeeders. The rebels had no armaments to deal with the AT-ATs and it took unforeseeable unorthodox tactics to despatch a handful. – Cearon O'Flynn Jan 5 '16 at 16:10
  • Too bad that V-150 Ion Cannon could not traverse low enough to fire on the AT-ATs. No Direct Suppression on Hoth. – PhasedOut Nov 23 '16 at 21:23
  • Unorthodox tactics? You have very heavy slow (not fast) vehicles with a super high centre of gravity on spindly little legs. A child could work out that you just need to put them off balance. Also, how did the AT-ATs get through the shield? If something that large can walk under it - craft could fly under it. More plot holes IMHO. – niico Nov 24 '16 at 1:52
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None of the answers so far actually address the question - although they do a nice job of explaining why the AT-ATs were sent in at all.

In almost all other depictions of the Battle of Hoth (various games, and the remastered versions of movie) we see a combined force of AT-ATs, AT-STs, speeders and infantry attacking the rebel lines. Even the original version of the movie included a couple of AT-STs.

So the answer is - the AT-ATs were not sent in alone, but we don't see a lot else in the original movie.

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    That probably also had to do a lot with the special effects budget and capabilities at the time the movie was made (if I remember correctly it was by far the BIGGEST battle with energy guns that was shown in any film at that time) – Thomas Dec 18 '14 at 8:39
  • In the version of TESB that I recall, there were other Imperial forces besides just the AT-ATs—they were simply the largest and, therefore, most prominent. – Josh Zmijewski Dec 18 '14 at 9:38
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    @Thomas - almost certainly the biggest miniatures battle at the time... and incorporating miniature infantry alongside the AT-ATs would have been very hard – HorusKol Dec 18 '14 at 22:42
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    I don't understand how having combined ground forces changes the nature of the shields? If an AT-AT can walk under the edge of a shield, surely an AT-ST or stormtrooper can? The shields prevented orbital bombardment. – HorusKol Dec 21 '14 at 22:00
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    @niico - not sure about planetary domes. While no longer canon - a couple of books describe them more as multilayered planes with offset (and invisible) holes to allow ingress/egress. We do see domed shields in Ep.I and The Clone Wars - but they're at a local scale - we also see that slow moving ground vehicles and infantry are able to pass through the shields, while their energy weapons are absorbed/deflected. – HorusKol Dec 1 '15 at 0:05
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The shield generator was strong enough to withstand orbital bombardment from the Imperial Fleet, but it did not protect the entire planet of Hoth. AT-ATs were able to land far away from the Rebel base and approach from the ground. The AT-ATs were tasked with destroying the shield generator so that the Imperial fleet could commence orbital bombardment:

General Veers: My Lord, the fleet has moved out of lightspeed. Com Scan has detected an energy field protecting an area of the sixth planet of the Hoth System. The field is strong enough to deflect any bombardment.

Darth Vader: The Rebels are alerted to our presence. Admiral Ozzel came out of light speed too close to the system.

General Veers: He felt surprise was wiser...

Darth Vader: He is as clumsy as he is stupid. General, prepare your troops for a surface attack.

AT-ATs were the safest way to attack the shield generator. Their armor was too thick to be penetrated by the Rebels' snowspeeders:

Luke Skywalker: That armor's too strong for blasters...Rogue Group, use your harpoons and tow cables. Go for the legs. It might be our only chance of stopping them.

The plan was that the AT-ATs would only have to destroy the shield generator, and this would allow orbital bombardment from the complete safety of space. Other ground forces would have been unnecessary. Meanwhile, the Imperial fleet would prevent Rebel forces from escaping the Hoth system since the Empire's spaceborne forces were vastly superior to the Rebels'. However, the Rebels were able to use their ion cannon -- which the Empire was unaware of -- to disable the Star Destroyers long enough for Rebel transports to escape:

Princess Leia: All troop carriers will assemble at the north entrance. The heavy transport ships will leave as soon as they're loaded. Only two fighter escorts per ship. The energy shield can only be opened for a short time, so you'll have to stay very close to your transports.

Derek 'Hobbie' Klivian: Two fighters against a Star Destroyer?

Princess Leia: The ion cannon will fire several shots to make sure any enemy ships will be out of your flight path. When you've gotten past the energy shield, proceed directly to the rendezvous point. Understood? Good luck.

It was a very "safe" plan that should have resulted in minimal Imperial losses, but the ion cannon made the Imperial fleet less effective and the use of the tow cables resulted in unexpected AT-AT losses (though the AT-ATs did succeed in completing their objective).

  • Unexpected. The whole flawed design of the AT-AT is breathtakingly dumb. The Empire do not appears to be this stupid? Why not use small ships instead? – niico Dec 17 '14 at 17:09
  • @niico Small ships would have been destroyed easily with AA fire, as well, the shield generator may have only been penetrable with a slow moving vehicle. – Nathan C. Tresch Dec 17 '14 at 19:17
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    @niico: Would a "small ship" with armor equivalent to an AT-AT be able to get off the ground? – supercat Dec 17 '14 at 23:38
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    Also, there's always the meta reason: the coolness factor. – Kroltan Dec 18 '14 at 0:48
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    If AT-AT's can get through the shield - why not any craft? AT-AT's are unstable and very slow. It's not like the Empire is worried about the lives of Tie Fighter pilots is it - and they have plenty. Time is most important here. – niico Dec 18 '14 at 19:11
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The AT-ATs were not sent alone. There is a shot in the movie (I'm not sure if it is in the original, but I know it is in the special editions) of an AT-ST moving alongside the AT-ATs. My thought is that the AT-STs are acting in a support role, much like a Humvee would support a tank during combat operations.

Other answers have also touched on the issue of the shield generator: the only reason we see "Walker" units such as the AT-AT and AT-ST is because repulsorlift vehicles can't pass through the shield, nor can air units fly through it. So, the Empire's only option was to land a heavy assault force of walker units OUTSIDE the shield generator and push their way in to disable it.

Only THEN could they send in the aircraft and troop transports to take the base.

In addition, from the name of the AT-AT (All terrain armored TRANSPORT) we can assume that the AT-ATs carried a group of troops inside them, but rather than deploy those troops and make them slog through the snow and ice, they probably kept them inside until they needed them.

2

Also special Imperial troops engaged the rebels entrenched near the Shield Generators according to Star Wars Battlefront II. The ATAT's were involved in the main advance but ground forces were deployed too. I don't think the game is canon though.

Edit

The imperial ground forces were part of the remaining Fett clones in the 501st.

  • The game is most decidedly not canon. – Valorum Dec 22 '14 at 20:00
  • But it doesn't contradict anything in canon (AFAIK, unless you have a source), and OP didn't mention a canon-level restriction. So this suggestion is valid, IMO. The Imperials did have a combined-arms force somewhere, we just don't see that part of the action in the movie for whatever reason. – Wolfie Inu Oct 15 '15 at 8:18
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The ground forces were IN the AT-ATs, thus the armored transport portion. They had to land so far away because the shield generator, it would have been pretty useless to have totally exposed ground troopers trying to get close or even keep up with the walkers until the shield was down. The empire would not have bothered with speeders adapted to the cold, when a walking tank would do the trick.

  • "All troops will debark for ground assault. Prepare to target the main generator." –General Veers – Mazura Nov 24 '16 at 17:49
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If I remember correctly, the empire did send infantry to compliment the AT-ATs. The rebel base as eventually stormed by Imperial forces and the outer defenses were engaged by special storm troopers (special due to their unusual armor configurations, which probably means that they are specialized in some way).

The AT-ATs did most of the heavy lifting however, destroying the heavy defenses possessed by the rebels and allowing the smaller infantry units to exploit the weakness their absence created.

The real strategic screw-up on the empires part though was the fact that they did not send aerial defenses or an escort of tie fighters to defend the AT-ATs. The AT-ATs only have forward facing firepower and are very un-maneuverable. The rebels exploited this with the rouge squadron they sent to intercept them, an action the empire should have predicted as the rebels have previously illustrated a fetish for small fighter craft. In the face of the faster, far more agile and harder hitting craft the rebels sent, the AT-ATs were sitting ducks and consequently suffered high casualties.

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