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"Push of the Pike" Topic


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Command Musketeers07 May 2007 9:15 a.m. PST

This maybe fall under the 'newbie' question – however did the Push of the Pike really happen?

My point being if we look at the bayonet charge (1700 – 1815) 90% of the time one side would break and run before bayonets were crossed.

Further more if two bodies of infantry did close and went at it with pikes wouldn't it be to the infantrymen advantage that once pass the point to drop his pike and use a side weapon/sword?

Pictors Studio07 May 2007 9:32 a.m. PST

Push of pike rarely happened but it did occur, notable at Edgehill where the two sides got to push of pike before drawing apart to shoot at each other some more.

It was probably difficult to get past the "point" as the point was probably several pikes deep. I would imagine it would be difficult, not impossible, for anyone to lay into the enemy with the sword as the few men getting through might be well outnumbered by the enemy who also has a sword.

Grizwald07 May 2007 9:33 a.m. PST

Having watched re-enactors in action they advance with their pikes at an angle, come to within a couple of feet of each other and engage in what can only be described as a "rugby scrum" – seeing who can physically push the other side back. With respect to all re-enactors I really don't think that's what the historians meant by "push of pike". After all, what's the point of carrying such a long unwieldy weapon if you don't actually inflict harm with it (or even threaten to)?

IMHO, what really happened is that the pike blocks advanced and when close enough, levelled their pikes and kept on advancing. The moral threat of a forest of pike points coming towards you would have to be experienced to be understood. Musketeers would presumably attempt to get underneath the levelled pikes and attack the pikemen but I imagine opposing pikemen would have been mutually threatening, leading to one side or other breaking before contact was made.

hurcheon07 May 2007 9:54 a.m. PST

Mike

I've said this before last time this came up.

Re-enacting pike combat you have point of pike and the rugby scrum type.

Point of pike looks better, but is harder to control and remain safe. And indeed leads to arguments about who is dead.

The Rugby scrum push of pike has a visible effect for the crowd. It is, relatively, safer, and you can recycle he fallen more easily.

re-enactment has to compromised, which is why big axes get a poor rep, the compromise you take to make them safe takes away their effectiveness.

Back to pikes.

Drill I have seen has them at Point of pike versus infantry, and grounded versus cav. But often the purpose of pike is to protect the muskets rather than to engage each other.

Command Musketeers07 May 2007 10:15 a.m. PST

I live in Canada and a while ago we had the Battlefield Britian series on History Television. One of the episodes was on Naseby. In this episode it suggest that after the intial clash of the pike the Musketeers and Pikemen engaged in hand-to-hand with musket butt and sword.

I believe this was a BBC production?

Grizwald07 May 2007 10:19 a.m. PST

"The Rugby scrum push of pike has a visible effect for the crowd. It is, relatively, safer, and you can recycle he fallen more easily."

True, but is it historically accurate?

running wolf07 May 2007 10:34 a.m. PST

How would a deep block of pikes, say 20 ranks, dissolve and give way? I imagine those in the front rank can not retreat unless those behind them give way, but how would the rearmost ranks know what happens at the front? What would make them fall back or rout?
If the contest was mostly moral, then those pikemen who routed should have been pretty safe from pike armed opponents. A routed mob of pikemen having dropped their weapons could certainly move much faster than opposing pikes in formation. From that I would conclude that the majority of casualties would be inflicted during the rout by pursuing horse or lighter infantry. Is this correct or am I missing something?
Another puzzle for me: If a deep pike block advanced and came within reach of the enemy the front rank would naturally want to stop, but how would the rear ranks know this and stop as well instead of pushing over the front rank? If the rear ranks of both sides kept pushing ahead, would they not squash the front ranks into each other making them unable to use their weapons? Thanks for any explanations.

Pictors Studio07 May 2007 10:41 a.m. PST

"but how would the rearmost ranks know what happens at the front? What would make them fall back or rout?"

Same was as in any contest, they see other units running away to their rear or see the cavalry run away, or get spooked for some reason and think no one is looking. As the awareness reaches the next rank that there is no one behind them they start running away and so forth.

"Is this correct or am I missing something?"

You are missing that most pikemen of the ECW period and slightly on either side of it, were not fighting each other but saving the musketeers from cavalry. The musketeers would probably give chase with clubbed muskets when an enemy formation ran. Again, this is in most cases.

"If the rear ranks of both sides kept pushing ahead, would they not squash the front ranks into each other making them unable to use their weapons?"

I'm sure that all kinds of things like this happened but as you march forward you would keep your eyes on the line of troops ahead of you. You would see and hear them stop sometimes and you aren't running forward but walking, their might be some bump. Plus your officer is yelling to you to make ready to stop or that the enemy is on hand or what have you.

Barmy Flutterz07 May 2007 10:46 a.m. PST

I think the origional question is going to depend on the era. Pure Pike blocks verus Pike and shot. I don't know much of anything about the ECW other than uniform colors, but I don't think it was often the intention of those blocks to clash. The Muskets were deadly and the Pikes were to fend off the horsies more or less.

Compare that with, for example, Swiss Reislaufers who were absolutely going to head into the thick of it even if their employers said otherwise. Novara and Marignano saw these guys use their pointy sticks against like armed adversaries.

The Black Band Landsknecht in service under the French at Pavia supposedly died near to the last man where they stood fighting their imperial counterparts. That would qualify as a pretty serious push session.

Thats just off the top of my head and in brief.

Balin Shortstuff07 May 2007 10:57 a.m. PST

"The Rugby scrum push of pike has a visible effect for the crowd. It is, relatively, safer, and you can recycle he fallen more easily."

True, but is it historically accurate?


No, because keeping the pile level during a "scrum" would cause injuries and deaths. That's accurate, but has legal implecations.

Personal logo Lentulus Supporting Member of TMP07 May 2007 11:02 a.m. PST

"What would make them fall back or rout?"

There are some interesting cases (from the 15th and 16th centuries) where pike blocks suffered enourmous casualties because front or flank troops were trying to evade fire or fall back while being compressed by rear ranks -- troops were smothered by the mob.

macconermaoile07 May 2007 12:34 p.m. PST

While under artillery fire from the Scots at Benburb, the regiments of Qwen Roe started chanting
"Pike" "Pike". They were wanting to get stuck in.
If they were only in a defensive role, they would hardly have reacted in this manner. Also the Scots put down their defeat, to the fact that their pike heads were too broad. Thereby being less useful to stab with.

Phillius Supporting Member of TMP07 May 2007 1:08 p.m. PST

"Also the Scots put down their defeat, to the fact that their pike heads were too broad. Thereby being less useful to stab with"

That just sounds like another excuse for failure.

The references to the Italian Wars, the Burgundian Wars and similar, are far more relevant than references to the ECW and re-enactors in this case. As Barmy pointed out, there are plenty of cases of pikes fighting to the last man on the continent.

reddrabs07 May 2007 2:26 p.m. PST

From experience and from reading – pikes rarely ran into a push -
it broke up the formation
you could impale yourself on the opposition points.

Being pushed over is very easy. In re-enactment, the scrum move is very compact but people do fall. The actual push is looser and you can be bowled over.

Can a pike penetrate good woollen cloth in this situation? Good question to ponder. If you close, there's not all that much room to build up a good stab.

The view in a "p o p" was limited – you see him in front and a few others. If you get hit in the flank by cavalry, it'd be a huge suprise.

How the Swiss did it beats me – yes, I've read up on this The question of running in … for me the jury is out.

As for the muskets, well they hang about and get smokey until the real men have sorted it out. How pikes saved musketeers from cavalry is often said but think about the issues.

The rugby scrum is modern.

Ilodic07 May 2007 6:32 p.m. PST

I will put my two cents worth in, as I have a theory about "push of pike." I believe it has for the most part to do with living conditions…let me explain. During most of the middle ages, and a great part of the renaissance, armies comprised professionals/merceneries. When you lived in a time when your life revolved around farming and religion, the best you could hope out of your short life was adventure of somesort. Most people did not travel more than a few miles out of their place of birth their entire life! Being a professional soldier meant a few things. First of all you did not have to worry about the crops dying, as a farmer did. You were garenteed (at least in theory) regular pay, food, shelter, and got to travel the country side and perhaps become a hero, even if it meant dieing as one. The 17th. century is the first time the world really begins to see standing armies where conscription becomes necessary as "life at home" got better. This was to become even more true during the 18th. and 19th. century with the advent of the industrial revolution, when armies in the hundred's of thousands begin to emerge, and by WWI, in the millions! Thus, being a mercenary in the Swiss army in the 15th-16th. century, it was your job, something you had willing you signed up for, expected, and got paid a large sum to put your life at risk and fight to the death. Pike warfare during these times was very "hand-to-hand" sort of speak. There were pike blocks that willingly pressed into one another, their brethren impailed with wounds, dieing before them, and yet they pressed on. All of these soldiers were professionals. Retreat meant death, perhaps a fate worse. Simply speaking, the armies, beginning in the 17th. centuries were composed of men who were not of the same quality as centuries prior. You did not have a man with a sword or bow, trained with the same degree of profecientcy. ECW armies were given little training. The shot were taught to load and fire as fast as possible, sometimes not even bothering to shoulder the musket, just touch the priming pan with the smoldering hemp cord with the musket held under the arm. And when melee did come, the musketeers did not draw their swords, but acted as any non-professional soldier would, attacked with what was in hand, a giant club (musket butt.) For the pikemen, being not of the same calibre as their counter parts of the past, dropped the cumbersome 16 foot long spear in favour of a shorter spear (a sword.) Remember, the pikemen were at this time very rarely ever taught to be agressive, as they were in a sense just bayonet men who did not have muskets, and detached regiments of musketeers were rare in ECW armies. I do no not of a single instance of pike only units, perhaps in the Scots armies in dire circumstances. In short, push of pike during the ECW was rare, and for good reason, they were simply not trained to the degree of rigor as those in the past.

Ilodic

vtsaogames09 May 2007 3:44 p.m. PST

As for how did they run in big blocks, during the Napoleonic Wars it was noted that when columns in combat broke the running started in the rear and communicated itself to the front. A column of companies might be 18 ranks deep not counting file closers.

The people in front at least were confronting the enemy – folks in the back just stood and caught shots that missed people in front, without the release of fighting back. It was rather like standing in a crowded subway car while people around got killed or maimed from time to time.

RockyRusso10 May 2007 7:59 a.m. PST

Hi

Agreed, Keegan makes that observation in, I believe, "The Face of Battle"…we used his observations like that as the basis for our morale rules in "Art of War".

Rocky

Rich Knapton10 May 2007 10:21 a.m. PST

How was ‘push of pike' accomplished. I have studied this issue for several years (seriously), I have, where available, gone back to 16th and 17th century documents to get a handle on this. This is what I discovered. First the term ‘push' meant ‘thrust'. So what we are talking about is the thrust of pikes. Pike fighting was done with a series of thrusts and wards. It was pikeman against pikeman. The manuals such as Jakob de Geyn's is misleading. They show how units are to move in unison. However, the actual pike fighting is individual against individual. You don't fight in unison. So, these type of manuals stop just prior to when pike fighting actually begins. Since it is man-to-man the front rank does the majority of the fighting. The rear ranks are instructed to not crowd the front ranks so these rankers have room to fight.

At least, this is how landsknechts were taught to fight and through them most other pikemen. As such, this type of fighting required the pikeman to hold the pike toward the rear of the pike. Not so the Swiss. The Swiss were taught to grasp the pike in the middle and literally push their way into the enemy formation. The idea was to break the cohesion of the unit The enemy unit is then at a vast disadvantage. The interpenetrated ranks are pushed back onto the rear ranks forcing the pikes of rear ranks upwards in order to not skewer their friends in front of them.

Pikemen were the critical part of the infantry. Battle could not be considered won until the enemy pikemen were destroyed. This is why shot was instructed to fire at the pikes. Vtsaogames is correct pike unit dissolve from the rear. The guys up front are too busy fighting. However, don't think of Napoleonic blocks when thinking of 16th-century pike blocks. 16th-century pike blocks were made up of highly trained smaller units. The pike block could separate and come back together at the command of drums. A pike block was able, on the field of battle, to divide itself in half and form two units where there had been one. This includes two sets of command where there had been one..

Beware of using examples of how pikes fought or didn't fight from the ECW. Roger Williams estimated that it took anywhere from 3-5 years to train a good pikeman. This meant that civil war pikemen didn't come up to Continental standards until towards the end of the war. Now it is true that pikemen assisted shot when cavalry attacked but shot assisted pikes when it involved infantry. The idea was to use the disruption of the fire from the shot in order to help the effectiveness of the pike attack. To say the only function of the pikes were to protect the shot is inadequate.

Rich

Personal logo Condottiere Supporting Member of TMP10 May 2007 10:37 a.m. PST

I was waiting for Rich to chime in. He didn't disappoint. :)

Personal logo Condottiere Supporting Member of TMP10 May 2007 10:43 a.m. PST

First the term ‘push' meant ‘thrust'. So what we are talking about is the thrust of pikes.

Or the "thrust" of the body of pikemen, as in a charge forward. "A forceful shove or push." Terms can be tricky and applying our "modern" understandings or interpretations can muddle things up a bit.

The pike block could separate and come back together at the command of drums. A pike block was able, on the field of battle, to divide itself in half and form two units where there had been one. This includes two sets of command where there had been one.

Well trained pike blocks, perhaps.

Are there any accounts of this happening on the field of battle, rather than as part of a parade or review? I am familiar with the Landsknechte doing these types of maneuvers on a parade ground, but I have not run across any descriptions of this happening on the field of battle.

Ilodic10 May 2007 1:44 p.m. PST

I agree with Rich about the pike units being more then simply defensive ones, despite the fact my comments may have suggested otherwise. However, one must look at why the pike was abandoned later in the century. (I feel as though I might have begun another entirely different converation.) It is true the rise of the fintlock and the demise of the pike coincided, and the two existed for a period of time towards the end of the century (later if you consider the GNW.) So what was it about the flintlock, other then perhaps the higher rate of fire, that "lead" to the demise of the pike? Surely some brilliant person had concieved of conbining the musket and pike into a single weapon during the centuries of its use. Why did it take so long?, and if it was to provide more firepower, why did the plug bayonnet survive for decades until the socket variey?
A few weeks ago I had a chance to talk with some ECW reenactors in Jamestown and we discussed this in some length. I was assured the push of pike did occur, though it was very rare during the ECW period. The subject of the BBC's production of "Nasby" was discussed, a program I have seen on PBS about 4 times already… very enjoyable and good "eye candy" for those military minded, and I had been told it was accurate. Though one must remember out of the thousand's, yes thousands of skirmishes (some being only a dozen or so men) during the ECW, the exception was chosen to be told. The entire series "Battlefield Britain" is a very good one, though it is still a series of exceptions, hence the interst for discussion.

Ilodic

Rich Knapton11 May 2007 1:15 a.m. PST

My apologies to Command Musketeers for this diversion. The question about the replacement of the pike by the bayonet is an interesting question. Nearly everyone who has written on the question seem to automatically relate it to the needs of battle. However, sieges were far more prevalent than battles. Has anyone thought that the replacement was a response to the needs of siege warfare rather than battle?

Rich

camelspider11 May 2007 2:00 p.m. PST

As such, this type of fighting required the pikeman to hold the pike toward the rear of the pike. Not so the Swiss. The Swiss were taught to grasp the pike in the middle and literally push their way into the enemy formation. The idea was to break the cohesion of the unit The enemy unit is then at a vast disadvantage. The interpenetrated ranks are pushed back onto the rear ranks forcing the pikes of rear ranks upwards in order to not skewer their friends in front of them.

It wasn't just the Swiss, and I think it's overstating it a bit to say that most pikemen "jousted" with their opposite numbers, excepting the Swiss who pushed. Pikes were almost invariably carved so that they were thickest in the center, tapering toward both ends, and holding a spear so carved toward the rear would have been a tricky enterprise indeed.

For an example of how pikemen of less than superb training could and did literally push as a body, there's the Battle of Benburb, in the Irish Confederate Wars, when the pikemen of the Confederates literally pushed the Covenanters all the way back into the loop of the Blackwater. There's an interesting book that covers this, called "Catholic Confederates at War."

It's interesting to note that the Irish fought in rather deep formations, like the Swiss, the landsknechts and many other 16th Century formations. These are the formations that would benefit from pushing the most, and later, shallower pike arrangements from the 17th C. would probably have featured more jousting and less of the collective push of pike, when they fought at all.

As to it not lasting very long, Sir Francis Vere's memoirs suggest the contrary was often true. He recalls leading his regiment into the Spanish "at push of pike" in one incident during the second relief of Rheinberg -- Vere was wounded, unhorsed, and he lay between the pike staves of the opposing side until the English had pushed the Spaniards back away from him. But this did not end it – the push went on and on until some Shot he had earlier sent off to the flank appeared and began pouring fire into the flank of the spaniards, which caused them eventually to give way.

Gustav A11 May 2007 4:49 p.m. PST

It's perfectly possible to fence with pike regardless of wethe roen sues the 'Swiss' and the 'Landsknecht'grip. They both evolved out of the Lichtenauer School of fencing which formed the core of the German martial arts from the 14th Centiru well into the late 16th Century. The 'Landsknecht'style is based on the guard known as "pflüg" while the 'Swiss' based their on the guard "Ochs". Indeed 'Ochs' is the better of the two when using a pike as much controll is lost using "pflüg" with a 5.3 meter pike. (Which is why pike fencing slowly went out of use as pikes grew longer. Fencing gets essentialy no treatment in Wallhausen's works or in Nassau's massive Kriegsbuch.)

Rich Knapton11 May 2007 11:52 p.m. PST

LarryDunn: "It wasn't just the Swiss, and I think it's overstating it a bit to say that most pikemen "jousted" with their opposite numbers, excepting the Swiss who pushed. Pikes were almost invariably carved so that they were thickest in the center, tapering toward both ends, and holding a spear so carved toward the rear would have been a tricky enterprise indeed."

The description of the difference between Swiss pike fighting techniques and that of the Landsknecht and, by extension because the fought alongside the landsknechts, the Spanish comes from Monluc. Since he fought with the Swiss and against the landskenchts and Spanish, I think he knows what he is talking about. He certainly knew more about pike fighting than any of us.

Captain Gars, tell me ore about the Lichtenauer School of fencing.

Rich

camelspider15 May 2007 10:40 a.m. PST

Rich, the Montluc quote I'm aware of says that the Swiss pointed their pikes downward, whereas the Landsknechts pointed theres upward. Montluc prefers the Swiss method. That's different, though, from saying that the Swiss pushed as a body whereas the landsknechts jousted as individuals.

Also note that the Irish used the Spanish pike drill (many of the Irish had served in the Spanish armies), and as I've pointed out, they pushed collectively as a unit with their pikes.

An interesting source on this is Delbruck's chapter "Tactics of the Spear Units" (or some similar title) in his book that's been reprinted under the title "The Dawn of Modern Warfare." Delbruck does mention that several tracts were printed in the 16th C. advocating a jousting form of combat, but, as D. mentions, these appear to have been largely ignored, and time and again one reads of period battle accounts of pike units shoving as a body, with tremendous pressure building up from the rear ranks.

Of course, there was no standard drill for all Landsknecht formations, some units getting more training than others, some perhaps even training to use a fundamentally different pike-fighting method. But as D. points out, the accounts of battles largely describe unit pushing, rather than jousting, and the accounts of Irish pikefighting in the 17th C. agree with this when it comes to large pike units. (The Irish were virtually the only people using the deep attack column of pikes in the 17th C.). Jousting was probably something done only by pikemen in the 17th C., once the units became shallower, and the number of pikemen much smaller.

camelspider15 May 2007 10:46 a.m. PST

Oh, forgot to mention -- let's keep in mind that the first Landsknecht units were trained by Swiss instructors. Nothing definitive, as training can certainly evolve, but it was the genesis of the Landsknecht as a soldier, and many units have a strong institutional memory. (To this day the Arab Legion maintains many British traditions.)

Gustav A15 May 2007 3:55 p.m. PST

Johannes Lichtenauer was a German master who laid the written foudnation for the "Kunst des Fechten" (The Art of Fighting) in the late 14th Century. The wether he was the invator behidn the kunst or merly a very good master who codified and developed older techniques is a matter of debate, I lean toward the later.
Either way he had a huge impact through his teachings and most later German masters of the 'Kunst' clearly based their art his teachings.

The 'Kunst des Fechten' is complete martial art system for a man-at-arms and involves everything from wrestlign and unarmed combat to armoured fightign with sword & pollaxe. Several master taught mounted comabt as well. The spear was an essential part of the kunst and clearly became the fundation for the art pike fighting. Of course as pikes grew longer they became less suited to this kind of fencing which is why it faded away. Having recently handled 16th late century pikes at Graz I can tell you that they are not well suited for fencing while the 3m half pikes would have excelled when used that way.

Rich Knapton15 May 2007 5:59 p.m. PST

Larry maybe you better reread that section. This is not at all what Monluc said.

"Now sir,' said I to Monsieur de Taix, 'it is time to rise,' which he suddenly did, and I began to cry out aloud: 'Gentlemen, it may be there are not many here who have ever been in a battle before, and therefore let me tell you that if we take our pikes by the hinder end and fight at the length of the pike, we shall be defeated; for the Germans are more dexterous at this kind of fight than we are. But you must take your pikes by the middle as the Swiss do and run headlong to forces and penetrate into the midst of them, and you shall see how confounded they will be."

Like I said, Landsknechts fought holding the pike at the hinder end [two-thirds of the pike extended to the pikeman's front] and the Swiss held it in the center. As far as pushing, the only accounts I've come across are those of the poorly trained Irish or Scots. If you can direct me to accounts of trained pikemen fighting in this manner I would be interested.

As far as how difficult it is to fight with pikes, that's why it took someone 3-4 years to become proficient in that kind of fighting. As I mentioned, the Spanish took on the Landsknecht style when Charles V (king of Spain) became emperor.

Larry, with regards to Vere's biography, can you tell me where in his book that encounted happened. I've read Vere's account and I missed that part.

Rich

camelspider18 May 2007 12:11 p.m. PST

Rich, no need for me to reread because Montluc does indeed say that the Swiss hold their pikes downward, while the landsknechts hold their pikes slightly higher. Oman quotes him on that, and other sources do as well. You hadn't quoted which part of Montluc you were referring to, so I assumed that famous quote was what you were meant. You've seen it, haven't you?

I read Montluc's quote you give above rather differently than you. He says that the Germans are more proficient at pike fighting than the French, not that they are better at holding their pikes at the back than the French. Montluc says right before the quote you give, "[U]p to now, every time the French fought the Germans hand to hand, the Germans got the victory." (Quoted from Hale.) He then goes on to say that the Germans are more dextrous at "this kind of fight" than we are, not necessarily meaning holding the pike at the end, more likely meaning pike fighting in general.

I earlier cited Delbruck, who in studying the landsknechts says that the push of pike, with tremendous pressure building up from the rear ranks, is attested to over and over again in the primary sources. If Landsknechts jousted, how can that be explained? Does one quote from Montluc (which, by the way, Hale suspects Montluc never said anyway) disprove all that other evidence?

He also mentions that German tracts repeatedly tried to get the Landsknechts to fight in shallower formations, and to joust rather than push. Why would they call for this if the landsknechts were already jousting? Why if they turned to jousting do we repeately read of them fighting in such enormously deep formations, when the proponents of jousting said that it allowed shallower formations that could outflank the deeper attack columns?

By the way, what's the source that asserts that the Spanish took the landsknect's style when Charles V became emperor? Sounds interesting.

Vere's account of his action at push of pike is in The Commentaries of Sir Francis Vere (1606), chapter titled "Second Relieving of Rheinberg," namely:

[A]nd so presently I can at push of pike with them (the Spanish).

Where, at the first encounter, my horse being slain under me with a blow of a pike, and falling on me so as I could not suddenly rise, I lay as betwixt both troops till our men had made the enemy give back; receiving a hurt in my leg, and divers thrusts with pikes through my garments.

It was very hard-fought on both sides, till our shot spreading themselves along the skirt of the wood, as I had before directed, flanked and sore galled the enemy: so that they could no longer endure, but were forced to give back: which they did without any great disorder, in troop. And, as they were hard followed by our men, they turned and made head manfully, which they did four several times till they broke[.]

Based on all of the above, I can't agree that only "poorly trained" pikemen fought by pushing as a body -- the Swiss did it, after all, so it was not something resorted to by desperate militia. (As the book Catholic Confederates at War states, "there is no reason to suppose that the standard of infantry training was notably poor.") I think it's very interesting that the only army that used large pike blocks on the attack in the 17th century, the Irish Catholic confederates, were pushing as a body, particlarly because the veterans that trained the rest were trained by the Spanish. Pikemen in deeper columns, which most pikemen were in the 16th C., pushed as a body with their pikes in engagements on clear ground.

Rich Knapton22 May 2007 6:07 a.m. PST

Larry: "I earlier cited Delbruck, who in studying the landsknechts says that the push of pike, with tremendous pressure building up from the rear ranks, is attested to over and over again in the primary sources."

Not in this primary source. Delbruck quotes from a document he dates to around 1522. He ascribes the authorship to Georg Frundsberg:

"for the foremost men, who are supposed to do the work, do not wish to be too closely pressed; they must be left room for freely jabbing," otherwise they would be pushed in "as one pushes people into a ditch."

In other words don't have the back ranks push on the front ranks. Let the foremost men have room to fight. This fits well with what Montluc states how the Landsknechts fought.

Larry: "He then goes on to say that the Germans are more dextrous at "this kind of fight" than we are, not necessarily meaning holding the pike at the end, more likely meaning pike fighting in general."

Wrong Larry. Montluc specifically says do not hold the pike by the "hinder" end like the Germans do. By the way, what is pike fighting in general? Monluc only describes two ways to fight with pikes.

Larry: "He also mentions that German tracts repeatedly tried to get the Landsknechts to fight in shallower formations, and to joust rather than push. Why would they call for this if the landsknechts were already jousting? Why if they turned to jousting do we repeately read of them fighting in such enormously deep formations, when the proponents of jousting said that it allowed shallower formations that could outflank the deeper attack columns?"

What proponents are these. What tracts are you talking about? You need to be a bit more specific or you are not saying anything. Anybody can say anything and then try to assert that this can be found in some German tracts.

As to your quote, thank you. The Vere account I have access to is in the Special Collects section of the university library. So if I know exactly where the account is, it will save me a lot of time searching through the book.

Speaking of the Vere account. I noticed that Vere mentions ‘push of pike' but since we are trying to define push of pike that phrase won't help us. Otherwise there is nothing in the account that indicates that the antagonists literally push against each other. He mentions "our men had made the enemy give back." But fighting can force an enemy back without pushing him. He does mention "divers thrusts with pikes." Here he tells us they were thrusting with pikes. I've mentioned that ‘push' is simply another term for ‘thrust' and Vere seems to bear this out. Finally Vere mentions, "but were forced to give back." But this was simply falling back because of arquebuse fire. So there is nothing inn Vere's account to support your contention that pikemen literally pushed each other.

As for the Swiss, you got that wrong. The Swiss didn't want to push their enemy as in a rugby scrum. They would wait while the landsknechts advanced anticipating the files would begin to open up as the landsknechts advanced. They would then insert themselves into the opening files and the enemy pike unit and break it apart (Delbruck and Montluc) Within the enemy pike unit, their shorter thrusting pikes would work better than the longer landsknecht pikes in this more confined spaces.

Larry: "Does one quote from Montluc (which, by the way, Hale suspects Montluc never said anyway) disprove all that other evidence?"

What other evidence? You have Delbruck saying this or that but it's not based on anything. Oh ya, Delbruck says ‘various sources' but what are the sources and what did they say. And yes, Montluc trumps Delbruck because Montluc was there and described what he saw. As for Hale, I believe he was only referring to the French cavalry attack on the imperial pikes which because of the way the battlefield was laid out would have been difficult for Montluc to see what was going on. But then Montluc didn't have to see. He certainly had access to others there that could tell him what was going on after the battle.

So it would seem that neither Swiss pikemen nor landsknecht pikemen would push against one another as in a rugby scrum. If you don't have any primary sources to defend your argument then I suggest we move on.

Rich

lanioheck05 Jun 2007 9:33 a.m. PST

There is some very good academic arguments being put forward here so will only add a couple of observations:

1) I am sure that I remember reading that new recruits were placed in the front rank of swiss pike formations due to the high casualty rates there;

2) I was a re-enactor who first stsred in Jersey in the Channel Islands. We skirmished a lot using shortened pikes but in the 'jousting' fashion. Not very realistic but great fun. It was customary that after lunging one srmed. (with the back hand@ the pike tip would fall to the ground. We would recover our pikes but as we did so we would 'scull' the pike from side to side to deflect enemy thrusts. I remember reading a 17th century writer who complained that ' the troops when recovering their pikes scull them from side to side'. This would have required a fair amount of fighting room and no rear rank pressure;

3) When English troops were sent down to help the Hugenots near La Rochelle a contempory account recorded that the French pikes were shorter than the English ones but that the English threw down their pikes and started throwing stones instead!

4) I have struggled long and hard to try and understand how pikes worked on the battlefield. Another revelation struck me just the other day when I was looking at a very sexy picture of a Touching History ECW set up involving Pikemen storming a defended gate house. Surely it would have been easy to stick the pikes through window apertures etc to force defenders back? Maybe Stuart Reid has always been right and that Pikes were rarely used in numbers in the ECW!

and to finish: I have looked at a clip of the Alastriste movie on you tube abd there is a great represenation of pikes in action!

Paul

Rich Knapton05 Jun 2007 3:20 p.m. PST

I think it is important, as I have said, to understand there existed a great deal of difference in proficiency between ECW pikemen and TYW pikemen. Roger Williams, who often fought as a pikeman in the Low Countries, stated it took 3 years to develop a proficient pikeman. Thus ECW pikemen were just reaching the length of time need to become proficient just as the war was heading into the final stretch. Thus TYW pikemen could be expected to fight in areas their less experienced brethern in the ECW.

Let me give you one example. As I understand it, it was common for ECW musketeers to assault fortifications by themselves. On the Continent, such assaults were done with pikes and shot. Shot was used to drive the enemy back from their defensive positions and pikes to assault those positions.

It was either a case of better training or the English pikes had a better union.

Rich

Gustav A05 Jun 2007 10:16 p.m. PST

But good Sir Roger was writing in the 1590's, well before Maurice & Johann von Nassau's reforms which introduced profound changes in how troops were trained. Delbrück does provide some detials about the subject but Hahlweg is the single most important printed source.

The new methods, including intense drill introduced by Maurice & Johann greatly shortend the time needed to train a soldier compared to the 'old' learning-by-doing system.

Using the new Dutch methods Gustavus Adolphus was able to turn his conscripts into pikemen in a matter of months, not years.

Plenty of all-musket assaults in the TYW as well, especially after the pike arm began to decay post after 1634-1635. By 1641 only 1/5 of the infantry still carried pikes in the Imperial army. Though the early commander certainly prefered the superior pikes as assault troops if the situation allowed for it.

Rich Knapton07 Jun 2007 12:15 a.m. PST

Captn: "But good Sir Roger was writing in the 1590's, well before Maurice & Johann von Nassau's reforms which introduced profound changes in how troops were trained."

First off, you chronology is way off. Maurice became Captain-General of the Dutch army in 1587. Williams arrived in the Low Countries as part of the Earl of Leicester's army in 1585. So Williams could not have written his book "well before Maurice & Johann von Nassau's reforms."

Williams fought for a time in the Spanish army (for which he was criticized). At that time, the Spanish pikemen were known to be the best in the known world. What exactly were the reforms that Maurice instituted that made the Dutch pikeman proficient so much more quicker than the Spanish?

Perhaps you can explain what how new recruits in both armies were trained and how the training of the Dutch was superior?

Come to think of it, what specific reforms did Gustavus initiate that made Swedish pikemen proficient so much faster than anyone else?

While I'm at it, what do you mean by "compared to the 'old' learning-by-doing system?" What is the ‘old' learning by doing system?

Rich

Gustav A07 Jun 2007 12:39 p.m. PST

Since Maurice's reforms were only begun in 1590, the very year in which Williams published his 'A brief discourse of war' Sir Roger would have have had little or no exposure to even the earlies stages of the reforms. Furthermore the reforms took 10 years to develop and reach manturity which Hahlweg considers them to have done so by 1600, i.e 5 years after Sir Rogers death and 10 years after "A brief discourse of war" was published.

Rich Knapton07 Jun 2007 11:26 p.m. PST

No no Capt'n. You wrote Williams wrote his book "well before Maurice & Johann von Nassau's reforms." It turns out that Williams wrote his book in the same year the reforms began.

But where is the rest of it?

What exactly were the reforms that Maurice instituted that made the Dutch pikeman proficient so much more quicker than the Spanish?

How did new recruits in both armies train and how was the training of the Dutch so superior?

What specific reforms did Gustavus initiate that made Swedish pikemen proficient so much faster than anyone else?

And, what do you mean by "compared to the 'old' learning-by-doing system?" What is the ‘old' learning by doing system?

You made these assertions so surely your prepared to back them up. You don't have to provide chapter and verse. Just give the information. And, no I'm not asking for Hahlweg's opinion.

Rich

Rich Knapton17 Jun 2007 11:08 a.m. PST

OK Cap't time's up. Here are the answers.

"What exactly were the reforms that Maurice instituted that made the Dutch pikeman proficient so much more quicker than the Spanish?"

Answer: None. Maurice's reforms were aimed at using smaller more responsive units. Proficiency is a matter of time. It is only through time that one becomes proficient at anything.

How did new recruits in both armies train and how was the training of the Dutch so superior?

Answer: Both the Spanish and the Dutch approached training in about the same way. New recruits were sent to rearward areas to learn the basics of fighting in a unit. This was all done before they were assigned permanent units. The Dutch rearward areas were obviously in the Netherlands. The main rearward area used by the Spanish was Milan. There is no indication that the Dutch pikes were any better trained than the Spanish

"What specific reforms did Gustavus initiate that made Swedish pikemen proficient so much faster than anyone else?"

Answer: None. Gustavus was concerned to raise the ratio of pikes to shot. He needed more pikes. His concern to raise pikemen meant that he raised pike units relatively quickly but it would take time for them to become proficient.

"And, what do you mean by "compared to the 'old' learning-by-doing system?" What is the ‘old' learning by doing system?"

Answer: There was very little "old learning-by-doing system." Earlier, to become a pikeman one had to join an existing company run by a military contractor. One learned by being trained in the company. A trained proficient company was a military asset. Un-trained companies probably didn't exist. No one would spend good money on such a unit.

Rich

Rich Knapton17 Jun 2007 11:40 a.m. PST

Back to the original question of 'push of pike'. I just read Henry Hexham's account of the siege of Maastrict. He was there. On a number of occasions Hexham describes assaults on barricades in terms of "they came to push of pikes". In fact, on one of those occasions he mentioned an officer who was killed by a pike thrust. Thus the term was not just used on the battlefield but whenever pikes came to blows. Another way to say ‘push of pike' is to say ‘thrust of pike'.

Rich

Personal logo Condottiere Supporting Member of TMP17 Jun 2007 7:37 p.m. PST

Another way to say ‘push of pike' is to say ‘thrust of pike'.

I'd be interested to know if there is a specific example where the phrase "thrust of the pike" was used in the collective sense. The term "Pike" as used in the phrase "Push of the pike" could be used as a collective noun, meaning the pike battalion, whereas "thrust of the pike" might mean the individual weapon (e.g., that officer who was killed by a pike thrust mentioned in your post).

Rich Knapton19 Jun 2007 4:05 p.m. PST

During one occurrence at the siege of Maastrict, Hexham writes: "Our men made the best resistance they could, and were at push of pike with them a long tyme." It was hand-to-hand fighting over barricades. Pike in its collective sense simply makes no sense. You would have the rear ranks crushing the front ranks against the barricade effecting the enemy not at all. It makes more sense for ‘push of pike' to be interpreted as a figure of speech for fighting with pikes. In this case ‘push' or ‘thrust' would be synonymous.

Rich

Personal logo Condottiere Supporting Member of TMP19 Jun 2007 7:36 p.m. PST

Pike in its collective sense simply makes no sense. You would have the rear ranks crushing the front ranks against the barricade effecting the enemy not at all.

Then again, in military terms, a collective command is far more probable. I was talking with a Marine Lt. Col. (an old friend) and his comment about the use of such terminology is that it almost certainly would refer to a collective term. "Charge the pikes"…."push of the pikes".."thrust of the pikes" would more likely than not be referring to a unit tactic than some sort of individual fencing term. Sure, a melee might devolve into some sort of series of individual feats of arms (e.g., fencing), but the basic terminology may very well relate to unit tactics.

We also must consider the observer, translations, etc. and not get too "stuck" on a particular word or phrase. It may mean the same thing, more or less.

RockyRusso20 Jun 2007 9:09 a.m. PST

Hi

A decent reading of Shakespere will demonstrate how dramatically ordinary words will shift meaning from then to now.

And the point in this discussion here is the concept that the reason trained troops fight"above their weight" is the team work involved. "push of pike" i suspect is likely correct, and most read too much into it. In the open one can demonstrate the weight involved in multiple rank involvement. But across a wall or something, there is also the consideration of teamwork.

R

Dash164323 Jun 2007 5:41 a.m. PST

Juat a quicky, it's not "blocks" of pike or "blocks" of musket

Its "Divisions" of Pike or Musket – as per Bariife.

As for re-enactment of Pike combat – in my experiance theres been far more injuries from "comport/press" combat than there has been from "point of pike" – in fact in my regiment theres been none in the last 10 years.

Dave
marquisofwinchesters.co.uk

Rich Knapton23 Jun 2007 11:42 p.m. PST

John, "Charge the pikes"…."push of the pikes".."thrust of the pikes" would more likely than not be referring to a unit tactic than some sort of individual fencing term. Sure, a melee might devolve into some sort of series of individual feats of arms (e.g., fencing), but the basic terminology may very well relate to unit tactics.

We also must consider the observer, translations, etc. and not get too "stuck" on a particular word or phrase. It may mean the same thing, more or less."

There are a couple of problems I have with your suggestion. First you have placed a definite article in the phrase where no definite article existed. The term is "push of pike" not "push of THE pike." 17th century writers were well aware of how to use definite articles. Placing the definite article in the phrase would indicate the meaning of the phrase would include an action and the subject of the action but that is not what it says.

Second the phrase is not indicating a group but rather indicating what the group is doing. We know that from the fact that Hexam has already identified the group: "Our men". In other words, our men have come to ‘push of pike' with the enemy. Thus the phrase does not indicate an action and a group but rather just an action. It is an action associated with the pike. Furthermore it is typified by a particular action one does with a pike.

In addition, this is not a "fencing" term but rather a term to designate the fighting of pikes. Had this term been unique with Hexam then not too much could be read into it. However, it was term used frequently by military writers of the period. Thus it had gained a kind of standard usage. As to not getting stuck on a particular phrase, it is a particular phrase that is under discussion. You cannot discuss a particular phrase without discussing that phrase.

Rich

Rich Knapton24 Jun 2007 9:31 a.m. PST

Rocky: "A decent reading of Shakespere will demonstrate how dramatically ordinary words will shift meaning from then to now."

Exactly. While Hexam and others use the word ‘push' to denote a thrusting action. Today the term ‘push' would be to "exert force on (something) so as to cause it to move along in front of one."

"And the point in this discussion here is the concept that the reason trained troops fight"above their weight" is the team work involved. "push of pike" i suspect is likely correct, and most read too much into it. In the open one can demonstrate the weight involved in multiple rank involvement. But across a wall or something, there is also the consideration of teamwork."

As I see it, you are making the mistake of using the word ‘push' as how we would use the term today not as how 17th century writers used the term with regards to the pike. Also, you are analyzing the term ‘push of pike' out of context. Hexam was using term with regards to a type of fighting his men were engaged in with the enemy. You seem to be reading way to much into the term. Your reading the includes an action, the group by which the action is performed and an assumption of teamwork. Let's use Occam's razor: the simplest explanation is the correct explanation. In this case the term "push of pike" means "thrust of pikes".

Rich

Personal logo Condottiere Supporting Member of TMP24 Jun 2007 5:17 p.m. PST

The term is "push of pike" not "push of THE pike."

Where? Sources?

Besides, push of the pike and push of pike can mean the same thing, right? "The pike" can refer to a single pike or a group of soldiers armed with a pike, correct? And, translations are fraught with peril. laugh

Personal logo Condottiere Supporting Member of TMP24 Jun 2007 5:18 p.m. PST

Let's use Occam's razor: the simplest explanation is the correct explanation. In this case the term "push of pike" means "thrust of pikes".

Same exact argument can be made for the reverse.

All I'm saying is that many of these arguments are to imprecise, and probably will remain so.

Rich Knapton25 Jun 2007 10:37 a.m. PST

John: "Where? Sources?"

I already gave you one sources, Hexam. Look a couple of messages above yours.

John:" Same exact argument can be made for the reverse."

No John. The reverse is fraught with complications not the least is trying to prove that experienced pikemen fought by pushing each other. Also, there is the problem of explaining how pikemen can fight over a wall by pushing each other.

John: "All I'm saying is that many of these arguments are to imprecise, and probably will remain so."

They are not all that imprecise John. Some people have got it in their minds that ‘push of pike' means pikemen fought by pushing each other. This is what re-enactors do so this must have been how it was done then. They do this in spite of the impracticalities of this when the term is used at sieges like the one Hexham describes. And, in spite of being able to show in the historical record any examples of this type engagement among experienced pikemen.

In other words, there are no examples of experienced pikemen fighting in this manner. This type of explanation is impratical when used for pikemen fighting over a wall. Yet people still insist on explaining the term in terms of physical pushing. They do this in the face of a much simpler explanation that ‘push' meant ‘thrust'.

John: "Besides, push of the pike and push of pike can mean the same thing, right?"

You are trying to define the term by the term itself. In order to define the term you must provide corroborating evidence outside the term. I can do this with the term ‘thrust' because this is how 16th and 17th century sources describe how to use the pike, The other interpretation has no outside corroboration.

Rich

RockyRusso25 Jun 2007 10:53 a.m. PST

Hi

Well, except for the observation from Greek and Macedonian and renaissance sources where one formation is descrbing driving another back, and just being driven back has the back ranks start fleeing, resulting in the loss.

The constant discussions of how deapth affects the attack described as "weight", leads to Occum's being "weight of push" of the unit.

I wont talk about the swiss pike block I got to build ONCE……grin.

I suspect, however, that this has reached the "heat rather than light" part of the discussion.

See, John is brilliant, we agree again!

Rocky

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