Pike and Shot: Warfare, Tactics, and soldiers.

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Pike and Shot: Warfare, Tactics, and soldiers.

Post by Steelinghades » 2017-11-11 12:00am

In my eternal quest to better my own knowledge about certain historical periods and the styles of warfare that that Era was defined by. My attention has recently turned to the Era of Pike and Shot, warfare of the 16th and early 17th century.

My questions in regards to this Era are thus:
1: what was the standard tactic of this Era, how was it used; it's strengths and disadvantages?

2: What was the size of armies during this period, the percentage breakdown of types of units making up armies of this time? What I mean by this is 80% infantry, 15% cavalry, 5% artillery; that breakdown isn't historical but it got my point across.

3: What was cavalry's role during this Era?

4: What were the types of artillery?

5: What were the types of infantry?

6: What were the types of cavalry?

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

Post by Alyrium Denryle » 2017-11-11 01:53am

Steelinghades wrote:
2017-11-11 12:00am
In my eternal quest to better my own knowledge about certain historical periods and the styles of warfare that that Era was defined by. My attention has recently turned to the Era of Pike and Shot, warfare of the 16th and early 17th century.

My questions in regards to this Era are thus:
1: what was the standard tactic of this Era, how was it used; it's strengths and disadvantages?

2: What was the size of armies during this period, the percentage breakdown of types of units making up armies of this time? What I mean by this is 80% infantry, 15% cavalry, 5% artillery; that breakdown isn't historical but it got my point across.

3: What was cavalry's role during this Era?

4: What were the types of artillery?

5: What were the types of infantry?

6: What were the types of cavalry?
All of these questions actually varied considerably over time and region. For instance, the makeup of pikemen, musketeers, and assorted other infantry (Halberdiers, swordsmen etc) varied a hell of a lot. Spanish Tercero(sp) for example used more Pike than the Swedes under Gustavus Adolphus did.

Generally though (as I understand it), the role of the pike was to control physical space and protect the real killing power of the army, which were the musketeers and artillery, from attack by other infantry and cavalry and pinning other pike in place so that cavalry can flank them. Cavalry wanted to kill musketeers, and if possible flank and route already-engaged units of pike. Muskets and artillery shoot people.

Early in the period, sword and halberd were kept in reserve to create or exploit gaps in pike formations, but that fell out of favor and the halberd started to be used as a weapon/insignia by officers and non-coms, or in places where a pike was impractical (like for guards in a fortification or something).

For cavalry, you have shock cavalry who use a combination of pistols and melee weapons of various sorts (lance or sword typically) and dragoons who could fight on horseback or dismount to fight as musketeers on foot.

As for artillery... at this point cannon weren't really standardized in any way shape or form...
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Re: Pike and Shot: Warfare, Tactics, and soldiers.

Post by Simon_Jester » 2017-11-12 04:28am

Basically, the whole "pike and shot' era was a massive transitional phase, starting with characteristically 'high medieval' warfare of the late 1400s*, and ending in the 'fix bayonets' warfare of the 1700s.** Infantry small arms and artillery both underwent a huge amount of evolution throughout this time. There were some key players in driving this evolution, though. Just off the top of my head, I suggest looking into:

-The Spanish tercio, which was one of the archetypal ways to organize a pike/shot army.
-Mauritz of Nassau and his infantry drill, which were a foundation of the transition beyond the tercio.
-Gustavus Adolphus's campaigns, and how he integrated more artillery and musketry into the pike/shot combination in a more flexible way than the tercios.
-The caracole as a cavalry tactic, and some of the more drastic divergences from that tactic such as the Polish lancers.
-The trace italienne school of fortifications, and the traditions of siege warfare that culminated in Vauban's methods.
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*(mostly muscle powered weapons, very primitive artillery that were nonetheless turning fortifications inside-out on a regular basis, infantry with the discipline and weapons to stand against heavy cavalry finally becoming widespread)

**(standardized artillery, body armor out of the picture, infantry mostly armed with bayonet-tipped muskets)
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Re: Pike and Shot: Warfare, Tactics, and soldiers.

Post by Simon_Jester » 2017-11-12 04:30am

Oh one thing, cavalry was actually HUGE in this period, at least for a lot of armies. Comparable in numbers to the infantry, often enough.

The biggest reason for this was that you needed cavalry in order to forage for a field army. Infantry can't forage very well in a lot of situations, because they can only carry so much and they can only travel so far from your base camp to do so. Cavalry foragers can spread out over several times more land and carry back a lot more supplies.

Of course, this also meant you needed to forage grain and/or greenstuffs for the horses themselves, which became a vicious cycle.
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Re: Pike and Shot: Warfare, Tactics, and soldiers.

Post by Simon_Jester » 2017-11-12 11:39am

Artillery began as "superheavy siege engine" weapons at the beginning of the period. Massive bombard cannon that threw very heavy shot at very low muzzle velocities, because the metallurgy of the era couldn't make guns capable of throwing faster shot, and because the benchmark for cannon performance was "can you throw a 100-pound rock significantly harder than a trebuchet would, Y/N"

At the low end you had much smaller 'small arms' weapons being crafted that were by today's standards something like a shoulder-fired heavy weapon: bulky, technically complicated, and relatively unreliable, but hoo boy did they pack a wallop. Much harder to armor against than arrow fire.

There were various early cannon of all the sizes between these two extremes, but those were the roles that existed at the very beginning (e.g. 1500). Over time, metallurgy and cannon-making got better, and the size of the siege artillery pieces began to decline somewhat because you could have a relatively high-velocity 24-pounder gun instead of a low-velocity 200-pounder. The small arms didn't get a lot better for a long time because the matchlock was still the order of the day for most firearms until some time in the 1600s.

In the 1600s you start to see more reform in the artillery and the rise of a distinct category of "field artillery" that can keep up with marching infantry columns, as opposed to the big ox-drawn guns you would use to reduce a fortress or sink a warship.
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Re: Pike and Shot: Warfare, Tactics, and soldiers.

Post by Elheru Aran » 2017-11-12 04:43pm

The basics have been covered here, but really. When you first posted that, I thought 'go thee hence to the library'. Still applies.

There's a LOT of knowledge to be found here... but really you're going to want solid references and something a little more comprehensive than we can provide. If all you want is some casual information for writing a story? Well sure, heck you probably have enough for that already. But if you want something deeper to get a real idea of the period, you're gonna have to do some footwork.
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Re: Pike and Shot: Warfare, Tactics, and soldiers.

Post by Formless » 2017-11-12 08:38pm

Steelinghades wrote:
2017-11-11 12:00am
5: What were the types of infantry?

6: What were the types of cavalry?
For infantry, there are musketeers and pikemen, and there are times where you still see more traditional archers and crossbowmen. Of course, they slowly get phased out during this period. You also see skirmishers, and interestingly it seems that certain types of shield started to get popular precisely because of gunfire; e.g. the Scottish targe (also used in Spain, where we get the word "target" from). Armor in this time gets concentrated in the torso where bullets tend to hit you, so a shield of some sort is useful for protecting the limbs in melee.

A note about polearms: although the tactics are called "Pike and Shot" a pikeman wouldn't necessarily have a true pike. A pike is just a simple spear about ten feet long or more, and they were common. But because the clash of pikes was an important feature of the style of warfare, other types of polearm persisted during this time which try to get a leg up over a simple spear. Halberds for instance are differentiated from earlier poleaxes because they are just as long as pikes, and it seems the idea was to chop up other pole weapons until they broke. Glaives with all sorts of pointy and hook shaped bits are quite common from this time period, with the purpose being to trap and displace other pole weapons while maintaining the advantage. Winged spears have a two-fold purpose: the wings are useful for trapping other pole weapons and also for preventing the spear from over-penetrating targets (because if someone got truly impaled on a pike, the pike was out of action). And there are much more besides that. Basically, when you see a Renaissance pole weapon you will see all sorts of weird bits and bobs on the end, any and all of which are meant to in some way trap or break other polearms during contact with the enemy.

These clashes were quite notorious for being bloody and brutal, and also for getting so close at times the polearms became useless entirely. This is why swords remained so useful, because once in that range where even the third rank of pikemen can no longer meaningfully stab at the enemy, a good side sword or falchion will remain an able weapon. Moreover, this is when greatswords were invented (at least in Europe), and their purpose on the battlefield is explicitly as a weapon for breaking into and destroying pike formations. Think of them as a type of polearm that's shaped like a sword. When it works its quite efficient, really, because you only need a couple of men with zweihanders to break into a formation and cause havok. The pikemen won't have their hands on their sidearms while in formation, after all, so the reach advantage goes to the man with the big sword. They may have to choke up on it for lack of space, but conveniently these swords were designed to facilitate that. Its one more way of defeating pike blocks, although it took basically a madman or a highly experienced soldier to do it. Once a greatswordsman penetrates a pike block, it could not only break the formation apart but possibly cause a rout.

Exact weapons and tactics of course depend on the part of Europe (as well as beyond Europe; e.g. the Japanese fervently adopted Portugese tactics as quickly as they could manufacture muskets). For instance, in Eastern Europe the musketeers would also sometimes have a type of poleaxe called a bardiche. Such poleaxes could double as shooting stands, and were obviously more effective in melee than the blunt end of a musket. Note that while it was usually the job of the pikemen, cavalry, and skirmishers to engage in melee, musketeers also had to do it occasionally as well; hence the swashbuckling stereotype you see in The Three Musketeers. Usually they would have sidearms like a sword and buckler, but it was pretty common for the guns themselves to be used as clubs. This may or may not be the origin of the Native American gunstock warclub which looks exactly like a rifle turned backwards (it could be an indigenous design, or it could be an attempt to imitate the way European firearms were used in melee).

As for cavalry, there are all sorts. You have lancers, who remained useful all the way from the age of impact warfare until the end of the 19'th century. You have dragoons, who are basically light skirmishers also armed with short muskets in many cases. In Eastern Europe, heavy armored cavalry remained in use all the way until the early 19'th century. I admit, though, that I don't have as much knowledge of cavalry warfare as I do the infantry side of things, but my impression is that things actually didn't change as much on the cavalry side as you might expect from the pre-firearms era.

Oh, and something to know about the earliest firearms: often when you see people demonstrate handgonnes, they misleadingly portray it as either a two man weapon, or as a weapon you had to use with one hand and couldn't aim with. However, period artwork pretty much always shows that even in the earliest days of firearms, people were able to aim and fire the weapon from the shoulder without help. It turns out that this is because modern reeinactors use the wrong powder in their weapons. That is, they use modern corned powder that wasn't available until the early days of the Pike and Shot era. As the speaker in this video explains (in a thick Russian accent, unfortunately) the only kind of gunpowder available in the early days was dusty serpentine powder. As he demonstrates in the video, serpentine powder takes a while to build enough pressure to overcome the friction between the ball and the barrel, and that causes what we would now call a hang-fire. But this fuse like effect gives the shooter enough time to bring his hand with the match back to holding the weapon so that he can aim it as best he can. So while hang-fire is now considered a bug of black powder weapons (and downright dangerous with modern firearms), at the time it was a feature. This is important because as soon as new kinds of powder came about they forced the evolution of new firearm designs and trigger mechanisms. But even after the gun takes its familiar form, the delay between ignition of the primer and the weapon discharging still had an effect on aiming. And yes, despite what some people think, early musketeers did take aim at their targets. The idea of volley fire came about later, really after the pike and shot era was ending and the power of the weapons were making armor more and more prohibitively heavy, expensive, and rare.
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Re: Pike and Shot: Warfare, Tactics, and soldiers.

Post by Simon_Jester » 2017-11-13 05:12pm

Although just because they were aiming, doesn't mean they were hitting their targets all that reliably. Powder smoke was a thing then too, although lower rates of fire might have made it less blinding...

On the other hand, skirmisher rifles were a thing in the late 'pike and shot' era, although you had to hammer the ball down the grooves in the rifling with an iron bar and a mallet as I recall.
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Re: Pike and Shot: Warfare, Tactics, and soldiers.

Post by Lord Revan » 2017-11-13 05:23pm

Simon_Jester wrote:
2017-11-13 05:12pm
Although just because they were aiming, doesn't mean they were hitting their targets all that reliably. Powder smoke was a thing then too, although lower rates of fire might have made it less blinding...

On the other hand, skirmisher rifles were a thing in the late 'pike and shot' era, although you had to hammer the ball down the grooves in the rifling with an iron bar and a mallet as I recall.
From what I've read that was the case, that in fact lead to the development of breach loading small arms as rifled muzzle loaders were such a pain to load and it wasn't efficient for a skirmisher to carry several preloaded rifles with them all the time (to avoid loading in combat).
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Re: Pike and Shot: Warfare, Tactics, and soldiers.

Post by Formless » 2017-11-13 06:17pm

Rifling on pre-19'th century combat weapons was almost unheard of, as was breech loading. If you see a short barreled rifle from this time period, it was almost certainly a hunting weapon. German hunters seemed to like short rifles as I recall because of the methods used at the time (often on horseback, with the hunter being relatively non-committed to bagging a specific species just so long as an opportunity presented itself). Smooth bore weapons were simply faster to reload, period. The only type of soldier who would use a rifle was either a sniper (more common in later 18'th century contexts) or people defending a castle or fortress (where you have the luxury of sitting behind cover).

The reason people didn't use breachloaders wasn't that no one had ever thought of it, because some early cannons were in fact breech loaders. The problem was barrel fouling. Loading from the muzzle actually has a cleaning effect that helps ensure your gun doesn't explode.
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Re: Pike and Shot: Warfare, Tactics, and soldiers.

Post by Simon_Jester » 2017-11-14 02:18am

Well, yes- sharpshooters armed with rifles were definitely an exotic subspecies of skirmisher up through the 17th and 18th centuries.
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Re: Pike and Shot: Warfare, Tactics, and soldiers.

Post by LaCroix » 2017-11-14 07:48am

Kentucky/Pennsylvania rifles date from 170x onwards, and they are a product of German gunsmiths emigrating to the colonies. These most likely were 2nd or third generation gunsmiths (in a saturated european market), or else they would not have to move into new markets. So the rifle as a common hunting weapon in Europe could be placed somwhere in the mid 17th century. By 1740, it has become the most common type of gun in the US.

That was the time when sharpshooter started to rise as a viable unit - it was not useful to train somebody to become one - but if you could get hold of people already proficient in rifles, it was sometimes a better use than to drill them for the line.

The major turning point was 1846, when Minié developed the expanding ball named after him. This meant that you could load a rifle as quickly as a smoothbore, and still get all the benefits (3-5x more range with even better accuracy as the smoothbore at close distance.) This marks the actual end of the "Pike(bayonet) and shot" way of fighting, ihmo.

Modern militaries had only just started switching to this kind of ammunition and rifles in time for the US civil war, and the exorbitant change in casualty numbers made them really think long and hard about how to adapt Napoleonic warfare.

For example - after the civil war showed how stupid bayonet charges had become, and hammering down the importance of cover, it was the beginning of entrenching tools for troops, starting with trowel bayonets, so they could dig shallow holes and earthen cover berms in order to take cover if no natural cover was present.
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Re: Pike and Shot: Warfare, Tactics, and soldiers.

Post by Zinegata » 2017-11-16 10:36pm

Formless wrote:
2017-11-12 08:38pm
These clashes were quite notorious for being bloody and brutal, and also for getting so close at times the polearms became useless entirely. This is why swords remained so useful, because once in that range where even the third rank of pikemen can no longer meaningfully stab at the enemy, a good side sword or falchion will remain an able weapon. Moreover, this is when greatswords were invented (at least in Europe), and their purpose on the battlefield is explicitly as a weapon for breaking into and destroying pike formations. Think of them as a type of polearm that's shaped like a sword. When it works its quite efficient, really, because you only need a couple of men with zweihanders to break into a formation and cause havok. The pikemen won't have their hands on their sidearms while in formation, after all, so the reach advantage goes to the man with the big sword. They may have to choke up on it for lack of space, but conveniently these swords were designed to facilitate that. Its one more way of defeating pike blocks, although it took basically a madman or a highly experienced soldier to do it. Once a greatswordsman penetrates a pike block, it could not only break the formation apart but possibly cause a rout.
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?

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

Post by Formless » 2017-11-17 12:14am

Whether or not the greatsword was an effective anti-pike weapon is not actually relevant to the question of whether they were an anti-pike weapon. Artwork of the Battle of Kappel clearly shows swordsmen with zweihanders attacking pike formations. It was their battlefield role. Note that at least one of your questions answers itself: the swordsman are in front of the pikes they are supporting. They don't get skewered from behind because they are a separate unit who does their job before your own pikemen charge into it. The artwork also seems to show the swordsmen as being heavily armored, possibly more so than the pikemen they are attacking. It would make sense, as the job of plate armor is to help you ignore otherwise fatal stabs. Its not necessarily about them bashing the pikes aside or breaking them (although successive cuts into a polearm will break the wooden haft eventually), so much as using the entire length of the weapon to leverage them aside-- which is pretty much basic swordsmanship. Once you get past a pike's point, its useless, hence why the second and third row of pikemen are supposed to point their own weapons as well. That gives you three lines of points for a swordsman or other soldier to try and bypass. Yeah, its hard, but not inconceivably hard thanks to the very defensive nature of the pike. We know that pike formations did a lot of standing still as it was their job to protect the musketeers. A big reason the bayonet was invented is that towards the end of the era the pikemen started getting bored and nervous, feeling like their only contribution to battles was to be bullet sponges. Many pikemen near the end of the pike-and-shot era would leave formation to pick up the guns of fallen musketeers because they felt that guns were the de facto weapon of choice for actually killing people. Of course, you can't leave your position in the formation or else you destroy its usefulness, hence the need for the bayonet once soldiers and generals as a group decided that pikes were obsolete. So going back to the earlier part of the era when greatswords were still used against pikes, the pikemen can't step forward out of formation to attack or else that creates a possible gap to be exploited; nor can they chase the swordsmen down if or when they retreat. If the swordsmen trick the pike block into making a charge they aren't supposed to make, they've done their job just as well as if they had penetrated the formation.

There's nuances to the way weapons get deployed on battlefields. Its not all about brute force.

Swordsmen of any kind wouldn't really be the best tool for attacking flanks; that's the cavalry's job. Always has been. You need superior maneuverability over foot soldiers to be effective at flanking and encircling. Same with attacking a routed or disorganized force: if someone is fleeing from you on foot, do you want to chase them on foot or from horseback? Obviously the latter, because horses win any speed contest against humans. And since greatswords are literally the size of polearms, about the only one of the jobs you propose that wouldn't be fulfilled just as easily by a more conventionally sized sword (like a bastard sword or a basket hilt broad sword) is body guarding, which the Spanish and Portugese sources on Montante drills and fighting methods devote quite some time to... but in a civilian context.
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Re: Pike and Shot: Warfare, Tactics, and soldiers.

Post by Formless » 2017-11-17 12:37am

Addendum: Greatswords could also be used to help defend the pikemen, as seen here, here, and here. Because pikes are just that fucking long, the swordsman has plenty of space between him and the men actually holding the pikes within which to swing his weapon, and because he isn't obligated to stand in formation he can roam around or move to engage people specifically trying to get into the formation with weapons like his own or axes/halberds (as seen in the second and third images).

There are a lot more period images of pike-and-shot warfare to be seen at HROARR.
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Re: Pike and Shot: Warfare, Tactics, and soldiers.

Post by LaCroix » 2017-11-17 06:46am

I think the first picture depicts them trying to stay outside of pike range and attack the pikes. You certainly can't cut them in one stroke, but hiting them (and a lot of them) repetedly before the clash of formations will cut one, especially if you stroke downwards. A blow downwards on a pike that traps the tip against the ground will certainly break the shaft. And with the sword this long, you can hit a pike like this, and have enough momentum to push it down and then impact with force. Or have two men hit the same mass of pikes from opposite directions - pikes caught that way are very likely to take a lot of damage.Some people will try to lift or pull away their pikes to protect them, but if you do so, you allow the guy with the big blade to step closer and maybe hit you directly.

So the heavily armored Zweihänder swordsman serves multiple functions.

1. If you have enough time, you can actually break a lot of them, which creates a weak spot your formation can exploit. Given enough time, you can destroy enough of them to make them redeploy and maybe only have 2 ranks of pikes instead of 3, and a lot of people holding on to nothing but long staffs. They also may be able to work their way into a formation, opening a breach, if not countered by other swordmen or guns.

2. While a single hit will only break a pike if the end of it was braced against something (like, the ground, or another man's weapon or body), a good hit will certainly weaken them enough to make them break earlier during the pushing and shoving. If all you have time to do is having a swordsman running across their line and swinging this sword at as many of them he can, it still will weaken their fighting ability.

3. Restrict their mobility. The guy with the blade will chop your pikes, and if he manages to break a few, he will start chopping you. One or two swordmen will be able to effectively anchor an enemy formation to their place, allowing their formation to retreat or maneuver. Empoying enough will see the pikes retreat, as they need space to deploy their weapon, and the general psychological pressure of a guy swinging a 5 foot blade in your directing.

4. Targeted attacks. They are armored well enough to quickly advance by swiping some pikes away, and then deliver a blow to a barrel of a gun, or the musketeer itself.

5. Defense against all of the above.
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Re: Pike and Shot: Warfare, Tactics, and soldiers.

Post by Zinegata » 2017-11-20 03:52am

Formless wrote:
2017-11-17 12:14am
Whether or not the greatsword was an effective anti-pike weapon is not actually relevant to the question of whether they were an anti-pike weapon. Artwork of the Battle of Kappel clearly shows swordsmen with zweihanders attacking pike formations. It was their battlefield role. Note that at least one of your questions answers itself: the swordsman are in front of the pikes they are supporting. They don't get skewered from behind because they are a separate unit who does their job before your own pikemen charge into it.
As with most military artwork it is instructive to remember that most are separated from actual events by a factor of years, in this case the etching was made 17 years after the battle itself and likely by people who never witnessed the events themselves.

That said, it's actually worth noting that the pikemen clearly are not even bothering to aim at the swordsmen in this etching. Instead, most of them seem to be aimed upwards - where there is another unit of pikemen aiming their weapons downwards. That actually puts the swordsmen on the flank of the pike block they are attacking - which is the scenario you dismissed but which I pointed was a much more likely use of said swordsmen.

Moreover, the idea that swordsmen are not skewered by being in front of their own pikemen is a very bad one. Recall that a good portion of the pike block is behind the frontline and would not have a very good view of the battle; making it quite likely skewer anyone in the no man's land between the two pike blocks. I would also greatly question the idea that sending swordsmen on their own - who again are at most only 1/5 of the pike block - against a numerically superior block would not result in the swordsmen swatting away a pike or two and then getting skewered by three other pikes.

The numbers simply don't work in their favor. It only works if the enemy pike block is already occupied by something else, and the only space they can do their work is in fact the flanks.

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

Post by Formless » 2017-11-20 05:20am

I'm going to say this once: click on the link to HROARR, look at all the artwork there closely, then shut the fuck up. Numerous images depict not only greatswords being used the way I am talking about, but axes and halberds as well, which aren't any different lengthwise than a greatwsword and are also used to attack and break pikes. When numerous images clearly show swordsmen and halberdiers fighting right in front of the pikes and not getting stabbed in the butt by their own pikemen, its clearly NOT A THING THAT EVER HAPPENED. Literally no pikeman would lower his spear if he can't see where he is pointing it for exactly the reason you highlight! They can't see where they are pointing the damn pike! Plus several more reasons as well. Lowering it from any further back than the third file is a pointless exercise and probably gets in other people's way to boot. Every image of pike blocks (and lancers for that matter) you see will confirm this: everyone farther back than the third rank has their pike pointed to the sky, and sometimes its only the first rank with their weapon at the ready. Lowering a pike means it is now supported primarily by your body, and they are still a fifteen to twenty foot long wooden pole; over time you are going to get tired holding that thing horizontally. If you have it in parade position, its not so difficult. Its just like a walking staff. Still, once you do have it pointed in the direction of the enemy no soldier is going to be so damn stupid as to skewer his own allies unintentionally. Its not that damn hard to avoid, as we can reasonably assume that the pikemen weren't literally blind.

As for numbers, they are tactically irrelevant because again, the pike is a defensive unit for the army's guns, moron. The soldier holding it is far more static than the swordsman or axe wielder is, wielding a weapon whose length makes it relatively clumsy and easily leveraged away by shorter weapons in a bind. So a swordsman-- or halberdier!-- who attempts to attack a pike block is never going to actually be engaging more than a few men at any one time. Its not like the modern day where all the soldiers have guns and can concentrate fire on a single target (if they feel like wasting ammo). This is melee combat we are talking about, and that puts an upper limit on how many people can attack you at once. There is literally a treatise on the jaegerstock/half-pike that boasts that if you practice the drills contained within often enough, you can fend off up to thirty swordsmen at once while surrounded in an open space. A jaegerstock is similar in size to a montante or zweihander. And that boast isn't as ridiculous as it sounds, because of those thirty people geometry states that less than a dozen can actually reach you at a given time; the other twenty are left standing around like schmucks waiting for their turn (to get whacked in the head and stabbed). A greatswordsmen has a similar advantage against static pikemen in formation, and moreover he knows that his back is safe from attack.

And finally, as for that image, things aren't exactly clear in it other than that the greatsword wielders are clearly attacking pikes, and again, that is their clear role on the battlefield. The pike block you claim is pointing their weapons "downward" (relative to the viewer's perspective) appear to me to be part of the same army, they don't actually look like their pikes are pointed "downward" at all, the pikes pointed "upward" is exactly what we expect once we realize that pikes aren't held horizontally while you are standing in the rear lines, and the swordsman are covering for a pike formation that is undeniably retreating off to the left. Moreover, there are pikes pointed their way regardless of who the pike formation is primarily engaged with; the sides of a pike block have that liberty at least (and its another reason pikemen keep their weapon pointed at the sky when at rest). I think you are looking for things to support a pre-defined conclusion in your mind when other artwork does not support that conclusion, and not addressing other points of importance (like the relative mobility of cavalrymen making them superior in every way for flanking maneuvers). BUT however many years there were between the specific battle depicted and the creation of the woodcut, artists from the time didn't simply make things up but instead used references from their own time to inform the artwork. That makes the artwork a valid reference for the use of greatswords against pikemen, especially when backed up by other artwork showing similar things. The artist likely saw similar scenes either play out in contemporary battles, or watched soldiers drill for these kinds of attacks to get an idea of what the fighting must have looked like. The unfortunate thing is that the woodcut doesn't exactly have any kind of text clarifying what is going on or who is doing what and why. Its all up for us to interpret it. And interpretation is a bit tricky when the perspective is so wonky.
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Re: Pike and Shot: Warfare, Tactics, and soldiers.

Post by Simon_Jester » 2017-11-20 06:52am

The one slight complicating factor that occurs to me regarding pike warfare and 'backstabs' or other accidental injuries from the pikes of one's own sides is that most confrontations between pike blocks would devolve into the infamous "push of pike," a large scale shoving and levering match between the opposing pike formations.

When both sides are pushing and shoving each other, and lending their physical weight to press from behind in support of the front ranks, and the pikes start to get entangled with one another... Then it would seem more likely, or at least less unlikely, for someone's pike to go somewhere other than intended, or hurt someone other than intended.
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Re: Pike and Shot: Warfare, Tactics, and soldiers.

Post by Elheru Aran » 2017-11-20 01:13pm

Re the push of pikes-- typically only the first few ranks held their pikes pointing forward, the rear ranks held them vertically or leaning slightly forward. So the only rank which could really get stabbed in the back would usually be the first, as the pikes were long enough that only the rearmost rank could really reach the front rank with their points. Maybe second to rear. Suffice it to say accidental back-stabs would be more likely if the pikemen dropped their spear and drew their sidearms.
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Re: Pike and Shot: Warfare, Tactics, and soldiers.

Post by Simon_Jester » 2017-11-20 09:48pm

If there were swordsmen standing between the pike blocks trying to gain entry, they would be right in torpedo alley, though.

I for one would not sign up for that duty once 'push of pike' had commenced or looked likely to be about to.
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Re: Pike and Shot: Warfare, Tactics, and soldiers.

Post by LaCroix » 2017-11-21 01:15pm

First, you get paid double, and second, you are perfectly safe from the pikes.
You are pretty much completely enclosed in iron, and a pike just can't push through that. "Physically impossible" can't. The only way to get you would be a push at a gap or unarmored section. Even with an arming sword, you'd need to halfsword. Holding a pike, you'd be good if you can steadily aim it at a human torso.

The pikes can't do anything to you, unless you are severely unlucky and stupid enough to stop moving.
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Re: Pike and Shot: Warfare, Tactics, and soldiers.

Post by Sea Skimmer » 2017-11-21 09:30pm

The earliest role of gunpowder in pike and shot formations was to kill the men at arms trying to breakup the squares; they replaced 2-3 man teams of picked halbriders or like armed men whom previously had this job in the formations, long before they replaced the bulk of bow and crossbow men, sustained ROF being too low to do so. 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.

of course just what was going on is heavily dependent on the date and location. Heavy armored (and generally noble born) cavalry is purported to have gone from typically refusing to fight on foot in 1509 (I forget the key siege this involved, but it might have killed Venice, Padua I think) to considering such duty routine in 1525 in the Italian wars for example, but we know that several centuries before this even the most elite knights would in fact fight on foot when seriously required to do so and arranged for by the commanders in advance.

Often we find in warfare people refuse to do things based on past precedents which are not really true, but may have had good reasons to become 'things'. Such as fighting on foot for nobles increased the chance of mass capture, and thus enormously ruinous ransoms (better to die, in a certain strategic sense yada yada) but the reason given would be honor not money.
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Re: Pike and Shot: Warfare, Tactics, and soldiers.

Post by Sea Skimmer » 2017-11-21 09:37pm

Simon_Jester wrote:
2017-11-20 09:48pm
If there were swordsmen standing between the pike blocks trying to gain entry, they would be right in torpedo alley, though.

I for one would not sign up for that duty once 'push of pike' had commenced or looked likely to be about to.
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. The pikemen cannot break formation to drive them off without collapsing the pike square, while the crossbow and bowmen at the center of the pike square have a very poor field of fire at close range. Hugging tactics as we would call them in a modern battle then come into play, if the men at arms get to the edge of the pikes they have a certain freedom of operation. Other men at arms or cavalry are required to counter this in turn..... but in the end all of it could be countered by gunpowder arms leading to gradual simplification of the formations, but ever more elaborate fire based tactics. Eventually that turned into abandoning trying to maintain a square at all, and you get those late 17th century formations where they still had some pikes due to lack of the socket bayonet but in a rectangular regimental style formation that is 5-10 ranks deep.
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Re: Pike and Shot: Warfare, Tactics, and soldiers.

Post by Zinegata » 2017-11-26 11:42pm

Formless wrote:
2017-11-20 05:20am
I'm going to say this once: click on the link to HROARR, look at all the artwork there closely, then shut the fuck up. Numerous images depict not only greatswords being used the way I am talking about, but axes and halberds as well, which aren't any different lengthwise than a greatwsword and are also used to attack and break pikes. When numerous images clearly show swordsmen and halberdiers fighting right in front of the pikes and not getting stabbed in the butt by their own pikemen, its clearly NOT A THING THAT EVER HAPPENED.
Oh fuck off with your "I'm gonna say this once" posturing, you're just looking like an idiot. You got embarrassed and refused to concede to the simple fact that your PRIMARY example made no sense.

The pikemen are again not even aiming their weapons at the swordsmen. If your enemy doesn't even bother to aim your weapons at you I'd imagine you'd win regardless of what weapons you use, so why the fuck would this be a good example other than a fixation on "winning" the argument by deliberately ignoring all evidence contradicting otherwise? The pikes weren't aiming at the swordsmen for a reason - them being distracted by an enemy pike block was the most likely one in the example.

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. 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.
Literally no pikeman would lower his spear if he can't see where he is pointing it for exactly the reason you highlight! They can't see where they are pointing the damn pike!
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?

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.
As for numbers, they are tactically irrelevant because again, the pike is a defensive unit for the army's guns, moron.
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.

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!

Pikemen are in fact a primarily conversion of men with sticks into an area denial mechanism - with the denied area being the area where the pointy sticks are being thrust into. Elite pikemen - like the Swiss - could actually turn this area-denial function into a mobile one; because they could maintain cohesion even while mobile and push the area-of-denial into spaces where the enemy actually was and force them to suffer casualties - leading to disorder and rout. Swordsmen by contrast can't do this but are primarily a shock melee force - meaning they can do great violence to a handful of individuals hopefully resulting in flight of a larger number of men, but are not necessarily able to get past the area denial function of pikemen unsupported by other arms - otherwise there was very little need for pikemen to begin with.

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 swordsmen are not paper-thin. They cannot just slip in between the pikes, unless the pikes were separated by gaps that were man-sized or larger (larger being more likely because otherwise there is no space to swing the sword, and you can only swing a sword if you want to swat away pikes). That means that instead of supporting pike formations, your HROARR illustrations pretty much show that swordsmen would have fatally compromised the pike formation - because you're leaving big man-sized gaps everywhere you intend to put a swordsman. Indeed, that kind of gap may be big enough for cavalry to pass through, negating the whole point of the formation's area denial.

Worse, this vulnerability would exist regardless if the armor of the swordsmen was good enough to deflect pike blows, because as with an actual pike push you don't necessarily have to kill the guys on the other side - knocking them down and opening gaps is sufficient. Unlike in Hollywood men do not necessarily run towards each other and impale themselves on each other's weapons. Seeing a bunch of pikes seemingly aimed at your head or chest is often enough to make people think about running or at least starting to take step backwards.

Moreover, as I said previously - If the swordsmen did ever "slip between the pikes" to assault an enemy pike formation, they would only likely do so against a formation that has already been shaken or near-routing - which was the original contention. Because otherwise their presence actually compromises their own pike block's ability to fight an opposing one that is still holding its pikes up. Against a routing pike block however - the vulnerability cannot be exploited and the swordsmen would be better able to kill and send to flight enemies that were already largely running anyway. By contrast pikes are awkward weapons to use for single execution of fleeing men.

Much more likely though, again, is that the swordsmen primarily live around the flanks. Because then the swordsman would not be interfering with their own pikemen and they would have the freedom of mobility in the flanks. They would not be forced to try and swat away pikes while worrying about staying between their own pikes, and the attention of most men in the opposing pike block would be towards the front anyway.

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