Pike and Shot: Warfare, Tactics, and soldiers.

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Re: Pike and Shot: Warfare, Tactics, and soldiers.

Post by Formless » 2017-11-27 03:39am

Zinegata wrote:Indeed, most of your arguments are a classic example of someone who is emblematic of those who apply extremely scant historical evidence (a handful of engravings made years after the actual battles) while ignoring actual physical realities and focusing on one-off examples.
At least I've given evidence, and several besides the one woodcut at that. Until you give evidence of your own rather than offering martially unsound criticisms, you have no right to complain. At least two people agree with my main point, and Sea Skimmer seems mostly on board (given his statement about halberds being used by men outnumbered in the strict sense you are fixated on)
By your measure we should consider pikemen to be useless against cavalry because we have cases of them breaking before a cavalry charge due to a failure of nerve by the men in the formation.
That has nothing to do with the argument, and you know it. Cavalry were useful against pikes because they could flank, but generally no, only heavy cavalry specifically charged headfirst into forward facing pikes and later bayonets. Any other way would be suicidal, because a horse is a big ass target. You expect to lose a lot of horses in a frontal charge. It can't be helped.
So why would pikemen arrange themselves several ranks deep especially on the attack - most famously in the case of Swiss pikemen? If you say only those who can actually see the enemy would use their weapons then the vast majority of the column was actually useless. Why persist with such an insipid way of putting men in formation where the majority exist only to twiddle their thumbs and be butchered?
Read Sea Skimmer's posts. In later centuries, formations with as few as five ranks became more normal, because it takes time for old ideas of warfare to lose primacy even after they have gone obsolete. Having more men in formation than could see, let alone touch the enemy had been the normal mode of infantry deployment for centuries. It made sense because you expected to lose some men to ranged weapons like bows and, before that, javelins. Having a surplus of men was a good thing, because as the front ranks start dying those in the rear can reinforce them without leaving an opening in the front that the enemy could break through. Fewer ranks are easier to penetrate, and once penetrated those men can be surrounded and slaughtered fairly easily. But with the advancement of cannons you have a situation where a single cannonball can rip through the formation and kill an entire column of people at once. This fact is critical to the evolution of infantry formations and deployment right through to the Napoleonic era. We find breastplates from Pike and Shot times that have big, cannonball sized holes going through both sides of the armor. There is no doubt how the wearer died-- nor how any of his friends standing behind him went out either. But in the early part of the pike and shot era, there were fewer cannons on the battlefield, and the muskets weren't so strong they could reliably penetrate a good breastplate. This is when the term "bulletproof" was coined, after all. It referred to the dent left during ballistic tests done by blacksmiths who shot their own armor, to prove (hence the term) to their customers that it would save their lives from gunfire.

So the front ranks are there to be human shields for anyone behind them (both other pikemen, and more importantly as stated the ranged weapons), and the back ranks are there to reinforce the front ranks should they start to fall during push of pike. My understanding is that over time, this practice lost its utility because of increasingly common cannons on the battlefield, and ever more powerful gunpowder in the muskets. At which point, the pike really had lost its usefulness altogether. But it still took a while for people to realize this fact, just as it took a couple hundred years before anyone realized you could stick a blade on the end of a musket and replace the pikes entirely with muskets.

Also, whatever the Swiss did wasn't universal. Different nations deployed pikemen in different ways. There was no universally agreed upon "best practice" for deployment of pikemen at the time, in Europe or anywhere else where similar tactics had taken root. It was often a matter of preference by a particular nation or military leader. You seem intent on ignoring this basic point despite it being mentioned many times in the thread.
Because the answer, of course, is that your vision of how pikemen fight - or at least those who took full advantage of massed pike blocks - is wrong. The pike is not the weapon of an individual. It is the weapon of a formation.
Really? You really think that's what I am arguing? This is a pure strawman. I am quite certain that you only understand that the pike is a formation weapon, but don't actually understand how formations fight.

No matter what era we talk about, no matter what kind of weapons that fit into that style of formation, the first rule is you don't get in other people's way if they are in formation with you. If the formation is based on polearms, the worst thing you can do is lower your pike from a rank too far behind the front. A pike is twenty feet of wooden inconvenience for everyone in front of you, so you keep it in parade formation unless you are either in the front lines, get moved to the front lines, or the front lines die. Its as obviously important to formation fighting as learning to march in lock-step.

This is as much an application of common sense as it is knowledge of period artwork, literature, and modern reconstruction of that period's fighting methods. If you can't see an enemy to aim your weapon at, you don't aim it at all, except in training.
Lol, so your one guy with a sword can take on five to ten pikes attacking at the same time? Note that we have sources based on mercenary pay and number to know the swordsmen were only a fraction of any formation with pikemen - so unlike illustrations we do know for a fact they would be outnumbered by this amount.
Do you not understand the concept of front lines and rear lines? Or are you just so committed to being an idiot you refuse to see a difference between melee combat and modern fire based tactics? Stand in a crowd sometime and ask yourself how many people in the crowd could actually reach out and touch you. Not many, right? It does not matter how many people are in the crowd, this is geometrically true. Its the same thing in melee combat, only there are weapons in between you and the crowd of people. Fortunately, one of those weapons belongs to you, and is either a big sword, a long axe, or a pike if you are a man in formation.

Was being a swordsman or halberier a tricky job? Yes. Absolutely. Did people sign up for it? Yes, because they were paid extra for their talents. Did they have to fight ten men at a time? Fuck no. If the pikes were that densely placed (somehow) they would have no room to maneuver around and avoid strikes, making the job of halberdiers and swordsmen easier if anything.
Moreover if they could consistently take on superior numbers like this then why the hell bother with pikemen? You could just replace every pikemen with a swordman and they would be both able to defend the army's guns and smash enemy pike's formations!
Consistent results isn't the point, rather, plausibility and historicity is. The question is, why did they use halberds and greatswords at all? Note that they didn't use them during the entire Pike and Shot era, they used them while they could and then they went obsolete too. Besides, we have already established that the pike is a defensive unit to protect the guns from, among other things, cavalry attacks and other guns. Swords don't do that nearly as well. These men were meat shields, and they knew it. That's why they were so happy to adopt bayonets the instant someone thought of the idea. Well, at least as soon as someone thought of the socket bayonet, anyway. Good ideas need time in development.
That your HROARR illustration puts swordsmen in this area denial space, frankly, is a demonstration of how artists removed from actual events and working on a 2 dimensional medium (drawings) tend to completely ignore that a real battle exists in three dimensions.
Real battles did not exist in three dimensions until the invention of the airplane. :wanker: You are just trying to make your argument sound smarter than it really is. Again, your fixation on the Swiss example is blinding you to the larger picture of pike and shot warfare. They are one example of how to do it within a context that evolved over several centuries, throughout all of Europe and beyond. During the same time that the Swiss were fighting this way, the British were making great use of field artillery, which would eventually lead to tactics that made the Swiss method obsolete. Remember, the pike is half of equation. The other half is right there in the name of the fighting style. Shot. As in muskets and cannons. And, well, also cavalry, but for whatever reason their contribution is left out of the era's name. Point is, the artwork at HROARR? Most of it isn't Swiss.

For that reason, I don't see any point in debunking the rest of your post, even though there is plenty of stupid to debunk like the degree of training swordsmen get compared to rank and file pikemen or the futility of pointing a pike (or any other weapon besides a powerful enough musket) at a breastplate. You are just wanking to how awesome the Swiss were in your mind without putting them into context next to the Italians, Spanish, Germans, Portugese, British, Japanese, French, Russians, etc.
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Re: Pike and Shot: Warfare, Tactics, and soldiers.

Post by Sea Skimmer » 2017-11-27 10:27pm

Zinegata wrote:
2017-11-26 11:42pm
So why would pikemen arrange themselves several ranks deep especially on the attack - most famously in the case of Swiss pikemen? If you say only those who can actually see the enemy would use their weapons then the vast majority of the column was actually useless. Why persist with such an insipid way of putting men in formation where the majority exist only to twiddle their thumbs and be butchered?
Most pikes were kept vertical for a really simple reason in the end. The users are human. They get tired as hell holding an 12-18ft long pole level for hours on end while marching around in armor. Holding the pole vertical is much less tiring, extending the time the entire formation can remain combat effective. You can find plenty of woodcuts from the proper centuries showing them doing this even while in action. That was one of the places swordsmen came into play, just a few of them could keep a large number of pikemen busy and slowly exhausting themselves, unless driven off by friendly cavalary, or as I mentioned, until like the 1480s anyway, teams armed with Halberds or similar shorter polearms.

The era of the pure Swiss pike formation in major battles was pretty damn limited anyway, and it was the very defeat of this concept in 1515 that reallly ushured in the pike and shot era. Decade over a span of a couple centuries. The basic problem always was no matter how good a pike sqaure, it can't deal with any kind of obstruction on the battlefield. For most of their history, at least into the 1470s, the Swiss fielded signficant numbers of Halberdiers and Swordsmen in their formations. They never mixed in the front ranks, they would sortie from the flanks and rear through gap opened in the square to do battle when required. More or less another sort of ranged weapon for the formation, a bit like an APC dropping troops and then recovering them.

That your HROARR illustration puts swordsmen in this area denial space, frankly, is a demonstration of how artists removed from actual events and working on a 2 dimensional medium (drawings) tend to completely ignore that a real battle exists in three dimensions.
Actually a real battle is four dimensional if you're going to try to make a point on that kind of basis, and that last dimension, time, often matters more then anything else. Very lengthy battles have been fought over very small amounts of ground. Pikes are almost predicated on that. Woodcut engravings are generally trying to show a whole span of event, which can make them confusing. On the other hand examples exist of woodcuts of known battles which depict ver complex identifiable chains of events.
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Re: Pike and Shot: Warfare, Tactics, and soldiers.

Post by Zinegata » 2017-12-04 04:13am

Formless wrote:
2017-11-27 03:39am
At least I've given evidence, and several besides the one woodcut at that. Until you give evidence of your own rather than offering martially unsound criticisms, you have no right to complain. At least two people agree with my main point, and Sea Skimmer seems mostly on board (given his statement about halberds being used by men outnumbered in the strict sense you are fixated on)
What evidence? Despite your posturing over Skimmer's posts neither of you have actually overturned the initial argument. Indeed, Skimmer supported my main contention in all of his posts. Again, emphasis mine:

There is actually a fair bit of debate as to whether Zweihanders can actually "break" pike formations, as the idea that big swords smash apart pikes does not hold up during testing. And the sword-and-buckler men employed by the Spanish to try and break pike formations were very often repelled as well in the accounts they were featured in.

It's more likely that swordsmen - who were always a minority in any armies that employed them alongside pike and shot (one account of a German mercenary unit only has 2,000 swordsmen out of 17,000 men, and these swordsmen also had pikes) - were a shock force that were employed only in specific situations. For instance they could take advantage of a wavering or disordered flank, lead the charge into an opposing pike block that has already broken, or they may simply be employed as guards for the unit standard and perhaps even "police" their own pikemen who are wavering.

But charging head-on to try and break a solid pike formation - especially given the relatively small number of swordsmen in any formation - is almost certainly going to just end with a lot of skewered swordsmen. Even if you can break/swat some pikes you're going to end up with many others poking at you; and how exactly are your own pikemen going to avoid skewering you while giving you enough space to swing your sword?


Meanwhile here is what Skimmer actually said, emphasis mine:

"Being in the front rank of a pike formation wouldn't be ideal, but the men at arms involved in these kind of battles had a way harder job. Also got paid much more and generally had far more experience and training. The Spanish Musket put an end to them as the primary means of counter pike squares however, and that job then passed to the first field artillery."

"Ah but that is the point, once two pike squares push into each other they absolutely loose all tactical mobility and face a nearly impossible task of extracting from each other. That's when they become very vulnerable to men at arms probing for weaknesses on the unengaged sides."

"They never mixed in the front ranks, they would sortie from the flanks and rear through gap opened in the square to do battle when required. More or less another sort of ranged weapon for the formation, a bit like an APC dropping troops and then recovering them."

Gee, doesn't it seem like "attacking the flanks" and being a shock force against a wavering pike block instead of a solid one is simply the sensible thing to do on a battlefield instead of persisting on HROARR illustrations as swordsmen being right in the middle of the "pokey" area even though there's so few of them that there could be any number of interpretations besides the fact the artist may have never simply seen the actual battle?
That has nothing to do with the argument, and you know it. Cavalry were useful against pikes because they could flank, but generally no, only heavy cavalry specifically charged headfirst into forward facing pikes and later bayonets. Any other way would be suicidal, because a horse is a big ass target. You expect to lose a lot of horses in a frontal charge. It can't be helped.
It has everything to do with an argument where you're denying the very big problem of swordsmen going right into the most difficult area for them to attack (where all the pointy things actually are) instead of the flanks where they would actually be much more effective.

If the pikemen were being so shitty that swordsmen can reliably charge through them, then it's not going to be very unlikely that cavalry can break through the exact same shitty pikemen despite supposedly being the counter for horsemen.

So really, enough with the useless posturing because you're so goddamn insecure that you can't even admit that you wildly moved goalposts and this is just more old boys club bullshit coming into play.

If swordsmen were so effective that they could break solid pike formations on their own then why bother with having pikemen to begin with? Everyone should have just had huge blocks of swordsmen, rather than - as I originally said - having only a small number of swordsmen who were used primarily as a shock force for key portions of the battle.

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Re: Pike and Shot: Warfare, Tactics, and soldiers.

Post by Zinegata » 2017-12-04 05:02am

Sea Skimmer wrote:
2017-11-27 10:27pm
Most pikes were kept vertical for a really simple reason in the end. The users are human. They get tired as hell holding an 12-18ft long pole level for hours on end while marching around in armor. Holding the pole vertical is much less tiring, extending the time the entire formation can remain combat effective. You can find plenty of woodcuts from the proper centuries showing them doing this even while in action.
Yes, except that the engravings shown tend to have the frontline pikemen already close enough to be poking each other. So we're either to believe that only the front rank did all the fighting while the rest of the pikemen "rested" and watched their friends die (which some of the examples shown in the thread depict), or that the illustrations were meant to be a more general compilation of various stances a pike formation were supposed to have taken...
Actually a real battle is four dimensional if you're going to try to make a point on that kind of basis, and that last dimension, time, often matters more then anything else. Very lengthy battles have been fought over very small amounts of ground. Pikes are almost predicated on that. Woodcut engravings are generally trying to show a whole span of event, which can make them confusing. On the other hand examples exist of woodcuts of known battles which depict ver complex identifiable chains of events.
... Which is also your point so there's not much need to belabor it.
That was one of the places swordsmen came into play, just a few of them could keep a large number of pikemen busy and slowly exhausting themselves, unless driven off by friendly cavalary, or as I mentioned, until like the 1480s anyway, teams armed with Halberds or similar shorter polearms.
First of all, your examples show that swordsmen can be effective. That they had uses was not in contention.

The objection is to the idea that they could break pike formations on their own. Indeed the way you word your example implies that the swordsmen here are just a skirmishing force - keeping the pike block busy and exhausting them - and that the main hammer blow would come elsewhere.

Secondly, if we assume that a small number of swordsmen can eventually exhaust a pike block into breaking, then how is that different from cavalry who feint-charge at a pike block that eventually loses its nerve and breaks? We know cases of pike units also breaking before a cavalry charge because of a failure of nerves or due to disorder. So was it truly a universal rule of swords beating pikes, or is it simply a reflection that pikes are very ineffective as personal weaponry and that they could only really work if the men using them maintained their formation; and that we should therefore not take swordmen chopping into pike blocks as a common thing unless we also count the examples of cavalry "shocking" a pike block into fleeing?

Finally, and this is based on the assessment of a Russian academic in another forum, was the fact that posting "elite" troops (in the sense that swordsmen are harder to train) with one of the most versatile direct melee weapons on the battlefield right in an area where they were most constrained from using those weapons is an enormous waste. Why throw swordsmen into the meat grinder where there are a lot of pokey things when they could be flanking, when they could be used as a reserve, when they could walk over terrain that the pikemen couldn't reach, or the many, many other ways swordsmen could have been used? It's basically the equivalent the equivalent of forcing Special Forces troops to charge machine guns held by grunts - sure you do it if you really have to, but it's a waste given how else they could be used.

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Re: Pike and Shot: Warfare, Tactics, and soldiers.

Post by LaCroix » 2017-12-04 08:11am

It's more of a rock-paper-scissor thing.

Sword beats pike, pike beats cavalry, cavalry beats sword.
Archers are trying to beat a lot of people at the same time, with disminishing effect as armor is spread to everyone.
Guns beat one enemy at a time, but very slowly.
Cannon beat a lot of everything.
Fast and/or sneaky cavalry beats cannons. Pretty much everything beats cannons if they manage to get close to them.

The thing people forget that the whole pike and shot 'era' was not an actual 'era'. It pretty much a transitional period from medival to Napleonic warfare. The composition of the pike square was constantly changing, adapting to the change that guns imparted to the battlefield as people slowly figured out how to utilize these new tools.

The base premise was that you needed pikes to counter the killer weapon of the medieval period, the impact lance and the mounted knight that employed it. It was the only thing bar an actual fortification to deter such a charge, so you also needed them to protect your other infantry, your archers, and your siege (and later field) artillery.

Problem, your pike formations are vulnerable to heavily armored swordsmen, who could ignore pikes almost completely. So you needed your own swordmen to counter those. But if they are seperate units, the enemy cavalry could avoid the pikes and attack them directly , cutting those down. They also yould try to prevent them to join up with and protect the pikes against an swordsmen attack.

The logical solution was to intermix them with your pikemen. For the same reason, you add archers, and some of these handcannons, and you have a solid unit that can perform against any threat on the field.

Now, the pike was never an offensive weapon in this unit. It's sole purpose is to make a cavalry charge a suicide attack. At first, swordsmen and archers were the killer units in pike formations, and got gradually replaced by (cheaper, more effective and easier to use) halberds and other polearms, and more guns (and archers were also replaced by more guns when even foot solders became mostly immune to arrows and archery training expenses overtook the cost of guns). Once you had mostly guns and pike, people had the idea to make a pike-gun, and invented the bayonet, and we have napoleonic warfare.
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