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"Pikes in the GNW" Topic

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Clays Russians16 Sep 2011 1:52 p.m. PST

being interested in all things Russian, I am thinking of doing GNW but the huge preponderance of horse to foot kinda turns me off some, the idea of pikes tho I find quite cool (I cut my teeth on ECW). was the use of the pike really as widespread as rule writers say? and when did the armies of the GNW drop the use of this weapon? any info would be helpful,… ordering books from OMM when birthday comes around. (Starting with Grant two volume set)
regards Clay

Personal logo Der Alte Fritz Sponsoring Member of TMP16 Sep 2011 2:39 p.m. PST

I'm not so sure that there was a larger amount of cavalry than there was infantry…

but then, I'm relatively new to this period.

DFLange Supporting Member of TMP16 Sep 2011 8:57 p.m. PST

The Swedes clung to pikes and the Russians may have kept pikes around just because the Swedes did. Cavalry played a bigger role in the relatively open spaces of Eastern Europe than they did in the more confined West. Pikes with their longer reach were more effective against charging cavalry than muskets with bayonets (especially as the first bayonets were not as effective as the socket bayonet). Not only that but Swedish "Ga Pa" tactics demanded shock action and pikes were considered a very effective infantry shock weapon. As time went by and the socket bayonet proved its worth the pike became less popular. Even so the Danes considered adding pike to their infantry late in the War. After Poltava the Swedes could not rearm all of their infantry with pike and some regiments went to an all musket lineup. I am not sure when the Russians finally dropped the pike completely but probably like the Swedes it was only after the end of the war.

Swampking17 Sep 2011 2:41 a.m. PST

It all depends on which time frame within the GNW you're gaming. In the early stages, the horse to infantry ratio was a tad bit higher for the Russians, less so for the Swedes and average for the Danes and Saxons. The Poles, on the other hand, had a huge horse corps at Klisov in 1702. In general, if you game Poles in the GNW, you're gaming a horse army.

Once you get away from the main army of Karl XII, you can have almost any ratio you want. Lybecker's Finnish/Ingermanland corps in 1708 was a fairly well-balanced corps, as were his Russian opponents. Armfelt's Finnish corps in the post-Poltava Finnish campaigns was overwhelmingly infantry.

From what I've read, the Russians started dropping the pike after Poltava but I'd say you could keep it all the way to the end with the Russians.

You could also game the various Norwegain campaigns, those are really neat – the expansive forests leave very little room for cavalry, the same can be said of the Finnish campaigns as well. Basically, if you want cavalry stick to the campaigns of Karl in Poland and Russia, if you don't want that much cavalry investigate the smaller campaigns.

Dowvoovoo6617 Sep 2011 5:26 a.m. PST

The Swedes had the pike to the bitter end. After all they had very little powder most of the time. And given the 'close to attack' tactics they did very well with it.

Clays Russians17 Sep 2011 5:46 a.m. PST

Norwegian Campaigns?
tell me more, is there a good history that breaks down the military aspects of the GNW? That is probably a dumb question but I am totally uninformed. Only thing I know anything about from this period is of course the WSS. Also looking for a good guide to the 'first' peninsula war. Interesting that the Bourbon armies actually thru out the coalition armies. Shine a different light on the 'platoon fire' issue why dont'cha.
Regards Clay…..
good gawd these blue moons are absolutely frickin georgous.

Swampking17 Sep 2011 8:48 a.m. PST

Blue Moon is okay for Swedes but Dixon is better in my opinion, especially for the infantry!

Yep, Karl invaded Norway twice or thrice [can't remember which right now]. Good general histories in English are hard to come by but the uniform guides published by Acedia Press are very good. Peter Englund's 'Poltava' book is also quite good, as are the various biographies of Karl XII by Bain and Voltaire – yes, yes, I know some of you will say but 'Voltaire isn't a historian and he doesn't write history' – poppycock to that I say! Voltaire's history of Karl gives a great feel for Karl's character. You can also pick up a good biography of Peter the Great by Massie or Tolstoj [don't know if this has been translated into English yet].

For the GNW, your best bet is the uniform guides published by Acedia Press, as these are chock full of info on the various armies. Too bad Dan Schorr's 'Northern Wars, 1656-1721' site is no more but you should be able to access it via the net's 'Wayback' machine. When you do, it provides info on the GNW Saxons, Danes and Norwegians + other info as well, such as orbats for some of the lesser known battles, trophies captured, etc.

If you can find a copy of Adlerfelt's 'Campaigns of Karl XII' in English [it was published back in the 1700s but I've seen pdfs in German], then you'll have some good background for the opening years of the war.

A good overall view of the First Peninsular War is 'No Peace Without Spain' by Hugill [at least I've found it useful]. There are also a few pdfs floating around regarding the armies of the period as well.

Oh, do you have Duffy's 'Russia's Military Way to the West'? If not, you might want to pick it up as it's a fascinating history of the Russian military from 1700-the 1790s.

If there's anything specific you're interested in regarding the GNW Swedes, just drop me a line and I'll be happy to help.

DFLange Supporting Member of TMP17 Sep 2011 8:50 a.m. PST

Two good books on the Poltava campaign in English are The Battle of Poltava by Peter English and the The Dawn of the Tsarist Empire by Nicholas Dorrell. Robert Frost writes some good background information on the period. I would like to see a military history of the whole Great Northern War in English. Anybody know of one?

alincoln198117 Sep 2011 3:23 p.m. PST


I assume that you are mainly talking about the Swedes and Russians here. But remember there were lots of other armies involved in the GNW – some have already been mentioned.

In any case as far as the Swedes and Russians were concerned they both, in theory, kept their pikes until the end of the war, but not always in practice. After 1709 the Swedes suffered from a shortage of pikes. The battalions were supposed to have them but many units had less pikes than they were supposed to have or even none at all.

The Russians also in theory used pikes until the end of the war. But from 1710 to 1715 they, or at least the main field army, put there pikes into storage. The reason for this was there was no threat of a confrontation with a Swedish field army and they were mainly involved in sieges and fighting the Ottomans. Pikes were not need for these activities but in 1716 the regiments took them out of storage for a planned invasion of Sweden. It is not always clear when the units had pikes or not afterwards, or indeed with minor armies. But the implication is that they would have them if they expected to face a Swedish army – i.e. the kind of thing we would probably game.

‘Grant two volume set':

You mention getting this – do you mean ‘The Armies and Uniforms of Marlborough's War'? If you do be warned that these do not cover the GNW armies. They are good books but only about the Western armies.


There is a new book on the campaign in Spain in 1710 – link . This same company has a book on the Russian-Ottoman war of 1711 soon. More material on the GNW and the Spanish campaigns (and other campaigns?) is supposed to follow.

This site also has quite a lot of GNW stuff here –

mekelnborg21 Sep 2011 4:16 p.m. PST

Add to the book list Frans Gunnar Bengtsson, The Sword Does Not Jest, St Martins Press, 1960. This is his bio of Charles XII. Probably at your library, if you look for it.

He was a good author generally and has some top of the line Viking material too. Here's an appreciation of him.

Over at the Pike and Shot Society there are increasing studies showing that the western armies kept pikes longer than we have been told, also more of them than we have been told, including evidence indicating Marlborough's army had them in a ratio harkening back to the New Model Army days, but they are still sorting that out. If so it's pretty radically different from what we have been assuming.

Robert Burke07 Oct 2011 12:45 p.m. PST

My understanding is that the Russians did not use pikes against the Turks. So I have an extra stand of musketeers for each of my Russian battalions so I can swap out the pike stand.

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