Originally Posted by Akula2ssn
I think that probably presupposes gaining control of planets was an objective of the war. If you aren't really interested in gaining control of a planet and are just content with destroying the enemy presence on it then you can certain just nuke the planet from orbit and just move on.
I actually kind of question if the war was really a very large scale war like what we see in the Dominion War or something much smaller. If it was a large scale war, I'd find the likelihood of either side not seeing each other rather difficult to believe. Instead I can see something on a smaller scale like the Quasi-War from 1798-1900 between the United States and France. That war was almost exclusively fought at sea. Most of the battles were small and often involved privateers instead of just regular navy warships. The war was essentially a conflict over freedom of the seas. France had began seizing or attacking American merchant ships heading to Britain, the British later would do the same to American merchant ships heading to France. At the time the war was starting, the United States Navy didn't exist. The only maritime service the United States had at the time was the United States Revenue Cutter Service (present day US Coast Guard). As French privateers increased their attacks, Congress authorized the creation of the United States Navy. So much of the combat capable ships supplied while the US Navy was being built were provided by the Revenue Cutter Service. Overall, the combat during that war was light, with only a few notable engagements between capitol ships. Losses for the US Navy were light with only one armed US Navy ship lost in combat, but it's estimated that by the end of the war France had seized over 2000 American merchant ships.
The Earth Romulan War might have really started out with the Romulans harassing merchant ships, in much the same way we see in ENT with the drone ship. From there Earth and its allies mobilized their forces. After that the war might have simply been confined to an area of space that was vital to shipping between Earth and its allies. Not a particularly spectacular war, but still a state of war none the less. There probably weren't many large battles. Even in full blown wars, large naval battles are generally few and far between and it's not unheard of for a 4 year long war to go on with only 2 major naval battles. Chances are, Earth and its allies had ships patrolling the area, the Romulans had ships patrolling in search of merchant ships to attack. One on one skirmishes were probably common, maybe a few squadron battles here and there. Then maybe once or twice you had what might have been a major fleet action like the Battle of Cheron. Major fleet actions are very risky since both sides have to commit huge portions of their standing fleet.
It's not out of the realm of possibility to have a war without ground engagements, but chances are if you run with the idea that there were no ground engagements then you probably end up reducing the scope of the conflict. I think the Star Trek Space Flight Chronology has a more grand view of the war, I personally think the conflict itself may have been a lot less interesting than the events leading up to it, especially if we take ENT with Earth having very few capital ships of its own to begin with as well as Vulcan reducing its fleet size. Overall, you can play with it just about anyway you want considering how little information there is on the event that can be agreed upon as fact.
As you said, the only explanation is that the war was not fought to occupy planets but to destroy bases, populations and forces on those planets. They didn't want to occupy Federation territory, the goal must have been to destroy Federation presence in those territories because if a ground war ever happened, surely the two sides at some point would come face to face.
Also nice analogy with the 19th century French/American conflicts. You sure know your history! If the Earth/Romulan War was fought on any scale such as the Dominion War, it would be hard to believe neither side came face to face and speaking of the Dominion War maybe the Romulan reputation at the time was something like the Breen, secretive, always in the shadows, no one's ever seen one and lived to tell it as I think Worf said. But you're right. It could go any way 'cause there's so little info out there on the Earth/Romulan War.
Another thing that always sort of tripped me up was that line of Bones' in TUD where he's trying to save Chancellor Gorkon and he says he doesn't even know his anatomy. The Federation and Klingons fought a war that lasted decades and they certainly met face to face and captives were taken on both sides. I find it hard to believe the Feds wouldn't be familiar with Klingon anatomy. But that's scifi, there are plenty of inconsistencies all over Trek as many other franchises.