The warfare in 16th and 17th centuries or Pike and Shot era

Dec 2016
123
Spain
I started to read the book "Fighting Techniques of the Early Modern World AD 1500 ~ AD1763" by Jorgensen et al.



I am now in the very early modern warfare, with the start of the widespread use of gunpowder and the development of artillery and firearms (16th century). I am struggling to understand the very complex infantry formations, not to mention the turning maneuver cavalry tactic known as caracole (snail). Why formations were so complex in this period? At some point in the battlefield, those infantry formations with squares of pikemen and squares of arquebusiers on the corners wouldn't turn into chaos? What was the reason of the pikemen revival from classic era warfare?
 
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Sep 2014
1,219
Queens, NYC
Pikemen came back in the 15th century to hold off cavalry. They still served that purpose into the early 18th century.
 

Ichon

Ad Honorem
Mar 2013
3,722
Go back further to see the development of pike and shot tactics.

There was a brief interlude (relatively to history) where infantry dominated offensive armies gave way to cavalry armies during the 700-1100 CE that wasn't based much on military superiority but on social organization and logistical capability. As free cities, communes, and non-knightly armies began to revive infantry skill at arms (basically semi-regular drill and some relatively socially lowly ranked commanders with fighting experience) it was largely due to social changes where freemen, guildsmen, and urban professionals (when the majority of the population were still agrarian farmers) had the political power to organize and train at fighting skills. As time went on and the infantry training become better and the size of armies began to grow with regular levies while the warrior classes were also losing economic power as trade increased the relative value of crafts/manufactures vs land rents of knights there was also a growth of central authority opposed to concentrations of military power other than a monarch whose growing authority and taxation options allowed the recruitment of larger armies than any of the lower-ranking Lords who had been able to successfully challenge Royal power in the previous centuries because a few Lords could put as many knights into the field as the king.

The free cities and commoners were not wealthy enough to compete with mounted armies of the knightly classes early on (eventually the communes were wealthier than many kingdoms for a period) but these groups could arm themselves with pikes and fight in coherent blocks with their neighbours in defence of their homes and citizen rights which mounted knights initially had difficulty overcoming these organized groups of infantry purely by the power of the knight charge which forced the armies of the Lords to adopt cannon, other infantry often armed with crossbows, and heavier armour on both the knight and the cavalry horse. The example of the Swiss infantry inspired much copying and the introduction of better artillery, larger armies, and more specialized roles in those armies made for constant evolution of battlefield tactics with the classic pike and shot emerging in Italy with and being carried into the Low Countries by the Tercios. The Spanish Tercio was basically a re-imaging of Swiss tactics with the addition of disciplined cavalry and swift adoption of handguns in a systematic way.

The Swiss mercenaries had long used archers and crossbowmen as part of their columns of infantry but had never added a cavalry army nor systemized the proportions of pikes vs crossbows/handgunners vs cavalry mostly because every Swiss levy was slightly different and the Swiss who fought for mercenaries were hired based on their infantry reputation with French and Italians paymasters usually hiring other specialized ranged and cavalry units or using their own native soldiers in those roles.

The Spanish took their experience fighting Swiss, French, and Italians in Italy and combined all the specialized roles into one fighting system. As the technology and tactics spread every army in Europe implemented their own style depending on their particular strengths with some like Polish-Lithuania keeping a high proportion of cavalry while various German states tended to be more following the Swiss model of infantry heavy while France went for cavalry and artillery then Sweden used artillery and infantry with cavalry reserved for special attacks and of course the famous Tercios that were a fairly even balance of infantry, artillery, cavalry, and muskets.
 
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May 2019
218
Earth
I'll add a question to this thread if anyone can answer it:

It seems to me, from reading a bit about the 16th century (particularly the Spanish conquest of the Americas and raids by Elizabethan "Sea Dogs") that there was a period in this era where crossbows and firearms co-existed within armies. Was this just something that happened in the Americas, owing to the distance from there to gunpowder makers, or was it also common among armies in Europe during this period? If so, what sort of doctrine was there concerning the mixed use of crossbows and firearms within the same force?
 
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Matthew Amt

Ad Honorem
Jan 2015
2,997
MD, USA
Pikes go back well before the 15th century! The Flemings were using them in 1302, but as early as the late 12th century there are militia requirements in England that have the lowest classes of troops in gambesons and helmets, with spears but not shields. To me, that indicates a pike phalanx.

If we see the 16th century as an era of complex experimentation with various new weapons and tactics, I'd say that's because it was! Everyone was scrambling to use every troop type to full advantage, and looking for inspiration in places like Julius Caesar's writings as well. Not every formation or tactic makes perfect sense to us, but if the troops were determined and made a good fight, it could be argued that whatever they were doing wasn't wrong. Remember, even guns were not battlefield nukes! New weapons and tactics were almost never so sweepingly decisive that they immediately supplanted everything else. Philip of Macedon and Gustavus Adolphus both needed pikes, support infantry, cavalry, and missile troops.

Matthew
 

Nemowork

Ad Honorem
Jan 2011
8,480
South of the barcodes
I started to read the book "Fighting Techniques of the Early Modern World AD 1500 ~ AD1763" by Jorgensen et al.

I am now in the very early modern warfare, with the start of the widespread use of gunpowder and the development of artillery and firearms (16th century). I am struggling to understand the very complex infantry formations, not to mention the turning maneuver cavalry tactic known as caracole (snail). Why formations were so complex in this period? At some point in the battlefield, those infantry formations with squares of pikemen and squares of arquebusiers on the corners wouldn't turn into chaos? What was the reason of the pikemen revival from classic era warfare?
The basic point of warfare is to bring as much force or firepower to bear on the enemy as possible in order to either destroy them or more likely destroy their will to fight so they run away.
The nearest modern equivalent is a football match. Everybody knows the point of football is to get one man to kick a ball into the net. The question is how do you do it. Do you p,ay a defnsive formation to protect your own goal and hope you get lucky with goals or put all you strength in an attacking formation, do a bit of both, do you put your star players in the centre or on the wings?
How many variations of tactics, team formations and style can you think of and how much do they depend on the managers opinion, the Captains playing style or the nations history of tactics and the national character? And thats 11 men on flat ground.

Now imagine having to coordinate cavalry, artillery , muskets and pikes, how many variations of formations you can have. Ebery commander comes up with their own pet theories on how you use artillery, what formation the cavalry should use, whether pikes should lead, whether you go straight in to attack or use flanking attacks. But it allcomes down to the same basic principle of getting the most guns firing at the enemy.
You come up with a plan before the battle and try and carry it out but people get lost, formations get broken up by the terrain, a unit commander decides the original plan isnt working and tries to do something different or the enemy rush you somewhere yo thought they wouldnt and your formation start breaking up or colliding.

Yes it turns into chaos, it happens regularly experienced commanders and units know this and will recover and take advantage, inexperienced units will break and run.
 
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Dec 2016
123
Spain
This is the point I wanted to discuss in this thread. I read that infantry formations were really big in this period, an infantry unit formation may have had more than 1,000 men. With such accumulation of soldiers, I think artillery may have caused devastating casualties.

As for infantry formations, I see them as fascinating but strange at the same time because in a single infantry formation unit coexisted melee with gunpowder: Melee infantry pikemen and halberdiers with gunpowder infantry arquebusiers and crossbows and even in times of Gustavus Adolphusof Sweden small artillery. I can't understand how difficult should have been to maintain cohesion in infantry units with such crazy variety of infantry soldiers of different nature. How did officials achieve that? What if in an infantry unit let's say arquebusiers panicked?

Since I am more familiar with 18th century warfare, I see in this period infantry units were more organized, the unit size was far smaller and melee infantry didn't merge with line infantry. Even considering such infantry organizations in 18th century, academicians claim that when panicked, battlefield may have turned into chaos, but there were still chances to regroup and counterattack again. I can think that in 16th and 17th centuries a single infantry unit regrouping should have been almost impossible because how can you re-organize an infantry unit with more than 1,000 men and such a big variety of soldiers in the heat of a battle?
 
Dec 2016
123
Spain
And another aspect that I was missing... the maneuverability of these infantry formations in the battlefield. I guess that infantry formations of this period had a notorious disadvantage compared with cavalry formations in terms of flexibility and maneuverability, and if we also consider another variable, the terrain, I can't imagine how many problems an infantry unit formation may have had while advancing or positioning in a wooden location or steep terrain.