Pikemen in battle

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Grenadier
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Pikemen in battle

Post by Grenadier » Sat May 10, 2014 4:58 pm

Ok, I'm trying to clarify the common belief that pikemen were concentrated in the center of the battalion. Having read several organizational requirements from Hall, Schorr and others I have become confused. Since, for most armies, each company of the battalion has it's own pikemen, wouldn't it be prudent that they stay with the company to provide protection, for how could concentrating all the company's pikemen in the center of the battalion possibly prevent cavalry from wiping out the flanks? I just don't see how the 100 or so pikemen could fan out into a square and the 400 or so musketeers, some up to 75 yards from the center find sanctuary before being ridden down.

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Re: Pikemen in battle

Post by j1mwallace » Sat May 10, 2014 11:04 pm

On occasion units would do what they called fraising the battalion where the pikemen were evenly spread along the line. This was less effective than performing a ring of pike or hedgehog. It carried on until the bayonet became effective
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Re: Pikemen in battle

Post by PaulMc » Sun May 11, 2014 12:05 am

Hi gents. The French had a few different ways of using their pikemen. One in particular I can think of was a detachment on each flank and some formed in the centre. I'd need to look up Nosworthy's book for the others. I imagine other nations had similar tactical doctrines, it's been some time since I read it.
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Re: Pikemen in battle

Post by Russian James » Sun May 11, 2014 5:42 am

I'll need to check, but iirc the Russian model was for every second or fourth man in the front rank to be pike armed...

Probably how I'll be modelling my units.
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Re: Pikemen in battle

Post by Tacitus » Sun May 11, 2014 6:40 am

Grenadier wrote:... how could concentrating all the company's pikemen in the center of the battalion possibly prevent cavalry from wiping out the flanks?
I think you have been fooled by a very common misconception that seems to have a strong influence on virtually all English books on this topic (and possibly many other languages as well). Namely that the purpose of having pikes was only to defend your infantry against cavalry. This is not true, pikes were also very useful in attacking enemy infantry. The sheer sight of a concentrated cold steel attack with pikes was terrifying for anyone who stood in front of it. The Swedish army found this tactic very effective during the Great Northern War as the opposing forces rarely waited to recieve the assault but usually fled when they saw it coming. And the tactic was not just some peculiarity for the GNW as Gustav II Adolf also used his pikemen in an aggressive manner during the TYW.

However, if you were fighting a defensive battle, then it could be a good idea to spread out the pikemen in the battalion. And this was also done, as in the examples mentioned above. Another example is Poltava where four Swedish battalions, which had been separated from the main force and faced an attack by Russians, were organised so that the pikemen stayed with their company just like you proposed in your post.

I think the real reason why pikes disappeared had more to do with a shift in tactics, from cold steel attacks to a reliance on fire power, than it had to do with bayonets just making them redundant as cavalry defence. A pike was still superior to a bayonet in close combat but if you felt a need for more fire power then the pikes had to go.
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Re: Pikemen in battle

Post by turrabear » Mon May 12, 2014 2:50 am

Tacitus wrote:
Grenadier wrote:... how could concentrating all the company's pikemen in the center of the battalion possibly prevent cavalry from wiping out the flanks?
I think you have been fooled by a very common misconception that seems to have a strong influence on virtually all English books on this topic (and possibly many other languages as well). Namely that the purpose of having pikes was only to defend your infantry against cavalry. This is not true, pikes were also very useful in attacking enemy infantry. The sheer sight of a concentrated cold steel attack with pikes was terrifying for anyone who stood in front of it. The Swedish army found this tactic very effective during the Great Northern War as the opposing forces rarely waited to recieve the assault but usually fled when they saw it coming. And the tactic was not just some peculiarity for the GNW as Gustav II Adolf also used his pikemen in an aggressive manner during the TYW.

However, if you were fighting a defensive battle, then it could be a good idea to spread out the pikemen in the battalion. And this was also done, as in the examples mentioned above. Another example is Poltava where four Swedish battalions, which had been separated from the main force and faced an attack by Russians, were organised so that the pikemen stayed with their company just like you proposed in your post.

I think the real reason why pikes disappeared had more to do with a shift in tactics, from cold steel attacks to a reliance on fire power, than it had to do with bayonets just making them redundant as cavalry defence. A pike was still superior to a bayonet in close combat but if you felt a need for more fire power then the pikes had to go.
wasn't this used by roo's at poltava as he wanted to extent the frontage of his line . if i rember correctly it wasn't very effective due to the lack of pikemen.
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Re: Pikemen in battle

Post by Tacitus » Mon May 12, 2014 8:39 pm

turrabear wrote: wasn't this used by roo's at poltava as he wanted to extent the frontage of his line . if i rember correctly it wasn't very effective due to the lack of pikemen.
That does not ring a bell for me. As I understand it, the purpose was only to make it easier for the Swedish force to hold their ground against a large approaching Russian force. This tactic was also used in Fraustadt, but the purpose in that battle was to increase the battalion's depth from four to six ranks in order to compensate for the almost nonexistent second line in the Swedish OOB.

The fraising at Fraustadt was organised in such manner that pikemen formed the two middle ranks with the musketeers in the two front ranks and the two ranks in the back. However, I also have a contemporary picture below showing a battalion at the battle of Düna 1701 where the Swedes were defending a bridgehead. In that painting the battalion is deployed in four ranks with alternating pikemen and musketeers in each rank.

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Re: Pikemen in battle

Post by Grenadier » Tue May 13, 2014 2:02 am

I suspect we need to break this into the two distinct periods and theatres of operation. It is well documented that the period of 1680-1710 saw the decline and final fall of the pike due to the adoption of the fast firing flintlock and the socket bayonet in most of Europe. Tacitus, I agree that the Swedish doctrine during this and the previous period was that the pike was an offensive weapon but I would hazard to say that for the the rest of Europe the pike became a strictly defensive weapon used to protect the musketeers from marauding horsemen, that is, until everyone had a socket bayonet. During this period even the offensive minded French gave up the pike as a useless emcumberment and Marlbourough finally pursuaded the Dutch to give it up in 1708.
Now let's turn to the 1660-1680 period. The flintlock was just being introduced so the vast majority of units still had the slow firing matchlock, and, at best, a plug bayonet. Firepower was becoming a much more important determining factor in tactical doctrine but battalions still relied upon the push of pike to settle the matter as well as a deterrant to cavalry.

I've become increasingly interested into the Dutch Wars and Scanian War which lead me to my query, although it's pertinent to both periods. Let's take the example of the Danish during the Scanian War 1675-1679. Info lifted from Dan Schorr's site says battalions consisted of typically 4 companies each with roughly 24 pikemen with a brace of 30 musketeers left and right which you think would give us a battalion with 4 pike blocks spread along the length. However, the next bit of information states that the company's pikes were all concentrated at the center of the battalion and that these would form a square into which the musketeers would retreat into. It is this contradiction of formation that has me scratching my head. Is there any information or manuals stating just where pikes were stationed in battle formation? It seems that every author I've read states all pikes were formed in the center which just doesn't make sense to me.

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Re: Pikemen in battle

Post by Tacitus » Tue May 13, 2014 1:52 pm

Grenadier wrote: I agree that the Swedish doctrine during this and the previous period was that the pike was an offensive weapon but I would hazard to say that for the the rest of Europe the pike became a strictly defensive weapon used to protect the musketeers from marauding horsemen, that is, until everyone had a socket bayonet. During this period even the offensive minded French gave up the pike as a useless emcumberment and Marlbourough finally pursuaded the Dutch to give it up in 1708.
I do not dispute that the introduction of the bayonet coincided with the downfall of the pike in most armies. My point is that pikes cannot be defined as just an anti-cavalry weapon (even in western Europe). That is a gross oversimplification and it prevents you from understanding why they were deployed in the center of the battalions instead of protecting the full width of it.

The pike was a better cold steel weapon than a musket with a bayonet, and when you wanted to charge your enemy the pikes would be more effective than bayonets. But a musket with a bayonet had the obvious benefit that it also could be used to shoot your enemy, as well as being a more than adequate cold steel weapon. Most armies during the period of 1680-1710 draw the conclusion that they had more to gain by getting more firepower than what they lost by replacing a better cold steel weapon with a lesser alternative. But this had much to do with which tactic you preferred and the Swedes obviously used their bayonets not to replace pikes and add firepower but to increase the effect of their cold steel attack.

What choice each army took was also influenced by which enemy they fought. The Swedes delayed the Russians from abandoning the pikes and actually caused the Danes to reintroduce the pikes after an absence of several decades. And if I am not mistaken the Austrians had more cold steel and body armour fighting the Turks than when they fought the French.
Info lifted from Dan Schorr's site says battalions consisted of typically 4 companies each with roughly 24 pikemen with a brace of 30 musketeers left and right which you think would give us a battalion with 4 pike blocks spread along the length. However, the next bit of information states that the company's pikes were all concentrated at the center of the battalion and that these would form a square into which the musketeers would retreat into. It is this contradiction of formation that has me scratching my head. Is there any information or manuals stating just where pikes were stationed in battle formation? It seems that every author I've read states all pikes were formed in the center which just doesn't make sense to me.
Companies were purely administrative units and did not fill any tacitical role on the battlefield, so there is no contradiction here.

There is an abundance of contemporary paintings/drawing and infantry manuals which have the pikemen concentrated in the center of the battalion. However, things might have changed at the time the pikes lost its importance in the various armies. The Russians did not concentrate their pikes in the center during the GNW, they fraised them in the first line. Concentrating the pikes in the center is in my view a clear indication that they also filled an offensive role. If you exclusively used the pikes as a defensive weapon then it would make most sence that you always spread them out throughout the entire front of the battalion (which even the aggressive Swedes did on occasion when they had to defend ground against attackers).
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