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"Questions on the "Composite" German Pike and Shot formation" Topic

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523 hits since 12 Sep 2018
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novushomus12 Sep 2018 10:17 p.m. PST

I have been reading on infantry formations for the Thirty Years period, the English Civil War, and later conflicts such as the Northern War of 1655-60 and Turkish Wars of 1663 and 1683.

In particular, I am interested in how infantry fought after the Swedish brigade formation was introduced and disappeared. I've read that the Imperials and Spaniards in Germany adopted a more linear style as a response (supposedly introduced in Wallenstein's reforms to the Imperial army in the establishment of 1,000 man battalions), and this simplified style even replaced the complex Swedish brigade in the Swedish army, and was copied by other continental and English Civil War armies.

In his Osprey on Pike and Shot warfare, Keith Roberts describes this "Imperial response" as the "composite German tactical style" but his description is of a seven rank deep pike block and with musketeers on the flanks, and this became the fashion for pike-and-shot formations until the widespread introduction of the socket bayonet. This doesn't sound like too much of a radical departure from what the Dutch were already doing.

However, I've seen a description in Guthrie's book on the Later Thirty Years War battles which states that the while the pike block was seven deep, there were three ranks of musketeers in front of the pike block and ten ranks deep on the flanks and this was the formation used by the Imperial army for the rest of the conflict. However, I have also seen Guthrie's work challenged as not being the most accurate, and he makes the somewhat questionable assumption that musketeers in the Imperial army did not seem to salvo frequently.

So my questions are:
1. What did the reformed German style battalion look like?
2. Would later continental armies have used this style after the TYW or were different formations introduced? For instance, would Habsburg armies fighting the Turks later use this formation? Or the Brandenburgian armies in the Scanian wars?

Camcleod13 Sep 2018 8:38 a.m. PST

From what I understand combat formations changed frequently during the late 1500s throughout the 1600s.
The Dutch and Swedes were usually at the forefront of these evolutions with the Imperialists lagging behind.

See the following for a discussion of the evolution of formations during the period:


Winston Smith Supporting Member of TMP13 Sep 2018 11:43 a.m. PST

Someone commented way back in the previous century in a copy of S&T that the "problem" of ideal pike and shot ratios and cooperation was never really solved. The evolution of the musket made the solution irrelevant.

Phillius Supporting Member of TMP13 Sep 2018 1:08 p.m. PST

In line with what Winston says, and what you have read, there probably isn't one definitive answer. Which in itself may have been a driver for replacing the cumbersome pike?

Daniel S13 Sep 2018 1:21 p.m. PST

The problem with Guthrie is that he makes things up to put it bluntly, at times his text is flat out contradicted by the very sources he claims to have used. Sometimes the errors are minor such as when he claims that Swedish cavalry fought 4 ranks deep despite listing several sources in his bibliography which provides solid evidence that Swedish cavalry fought 3 ranks deep. And because his text is not properly footnoted it is impossible to tell how he concluded that 4 ranks was depth used. Other times the errors are much more serious such as when he gives Swedish Field Marshal Johan Baner a background and personality which is pure fantasy. Or when he writes a detailed account of a combat during the battle of Breitenfeld which we know did not happen thanks to an eyewitness account from the battle which is included in a book which Guthrie lists as a source for that chapter.

Not everything in Guthrie's book is made up but between the made-up parts and the other errors the books are so flawed that you basically have to be well read on the subject and have access to an extensive collection of sources to get good use out of them. Volume 2 is less flawed than Vol. 1

Keith Roberts is a good historian, but he did not have enough sources nor the language skills to do the subject justice when he wrote Pike & Shot for Osprey. My review of the book can be read here TMP link for more details about the problems with this book which I had high hopes for as Roberts ECW books were excellent.

To answer your question the 1000-man battalion was not introduced by Wallenstein nor a reaction to Swedish tactics. It appears in German sources well before the war and was advocated by both Protestant and Catholic military writers. The depth may well have varied depending on the year and commander in charge, pre-war writers advocated 10 or 12 ranks most of the time, but thinner formations were to be used when required. Writing while a Swedish prisoner in the early 1640's Montecuccoli says that Wallenstein made the Imperial pikes 7 ranks deep because he wanted the ensigns in the absolute middle of the formation but a 1639 source says that everyone used 10 ranks except for the Swedes who fought 6 deep.
The Swedish army did indeed adopt a simplified formation similar in appearance to the German battalion, it is not clear if they outright adopted the German formation or simply created a new style of Swedish brigade which looked very similar to it by removing the centre squadron of the classic Swedish brigade.
All armies used variations of this style though some did not use the German battalion as a model but rather followed the example of the Dutch including the use of a smaller battalion of around 500 men.
Swedes and German seem to have favoured larger units but even they seldom reached the ideal 1000-man strength. The Swedes in particular would deploy units with very varied strength in the same battle. At Jankow 1645 the smallest brigade was only 500 strong while the larger brigades had over 900 men.

You can find the basic appearance of the German battalion in these battle drawings made by Swedish military engineer Conrad Mardefeldt (later a Swedish field marshal so he had quite the career)
Wittstock 1636

Leipzig 1642 aka 2nd Breitenfeld:

Imperial units and their allies are identified by red flags.

What is usually left out by the artists is that each "wing" of shot was subdivided into smaller units of around 40-60 men which had gaps between them to provide the musketeers with the space needed for movement and manoeuvre while in combat.

Post-TYW all armies kept the basic layout of the battalion with pikes in the middle flanked by on each side by wings of shot. But the trend was for units to get smaller, the Swedes abandoned the use of large brigades and went back to using the four-company infantry squadron as their basic combat unit. Just to confuse us they called these units brigades and during the Northern War of 1655-1660 Swedish brigades would often march onto the battlefield with as little as 300 men.

At times the battalion sizes could be very varied, at St Gotthard 1664 the Imperial infantry deployed in battalions of about 500 while the "Reichsvölker"had some 6200 infantry in 6 battalions but the smallest battalion were a couple of small allied German battalions of only 300 men each.

Daniel S13 Sep 2018 1:29 p.m. PST

I would venture that by the middle of the 17th century the professionals had pretty much agreed on what the ideal ratios of pike to shot were. The problem was that the ideal ratio was diffrent depending on wether your focus was a campaign in the open or siege warfare. (1:1 vs 1:2)
And it proved hard form many armies to keep those ratios due to the conditions in which the wars were fought. Often armies had to be happy if they could reach the 2nd best ratio.

And of course then technology and warfare evolved which overthrew some of the older conclusions….

Marcus Brutus14 Sep 2018 5:01 a.m. PST

I have Robert's book but I'm still a bit confused on the different tactical systems of the TYW. For instance I don't really understand the differences between The Dutch and Swedish infantry tactics.

novushomus14 Sep 2018 7:29 p.m. PST

Thank you so much for your posts and insight, especially Daniel. I came here with an inquiry before about the Imperial regiments that participated in the Northern War of 1655-60 and again I have been obliged.

I have a rough understanding of this period. Being from the United States, this is, unfortunately, a historical period that is often ignored by historians and publishers here (not a popular interest unlike the American Civil War or the Second World War), and I am hampered from checking primary sources by both space and language. It is a shame that some of the Ospreys I have bought suffer from this same limitation. I am interested in the Habsburg/Imperial armies of this period starting with the Swedish phase of the Thirty Years War and extending through the War of the Holy League.

To that end, my impressions came from the Ospreys (including the ones on Lutzen and Vienna, the aforementioned Imperial Ospreys, the Pike-and-Shot Osprey), and several books including Andrew Wheatcroft's and Simon Millar's Vienna works attributed Imperial army reforms to a mixture of Wallenstein in the 1630s and Montecuccoli afterward (and to clarify, Wheatcroft entirely attributes this reform to Montecuccoli). I am glad to learn that these reforms towards more linear formations actually seem to have predated Wallenstein's tenure as Generalissimo.

So it seems is safe to assume that generally an infantry battalion of the period was a central pike block with musketeers arranged on the flanks – especially after the Thirty Years War. The musketeers were not shoulder-to-shoulder but rather what would resemble modern military formations with spacings to allow for the firing of files and countermarching.

Guthrie's description of three musketeer ranks in front of the pikes in addition to the flanking units is what triggered my curiosity about this, especially as illustrations of Dutch battalions and Swedish brigades abound, but I had not seen this in depictions of Imperial units.

Daniel S19 Sep 2018 8:24 a.m. PST

Marcus Brutus,
Given the limited sources available to Roberts that is hardly surprising, in particular the Swedish system is difficult to reconstruct due to gaps in the sources that do exist.
For a more details on the Dutch system I recommend Bouko de Groot's two Osprey volumes on the Dutch army.

A sample Dutch order of battle from 1621 can be seen here
I have no comparable Swedish drawing but this 1930's reconstruction of the Breitenfeld deployment captures at least the outline of the Swedish system.


However, the gaps between the units are too small and the distance between the two lines is too short in order for the drawing to fit the page in the book it was published in.
The Dutch system was more open with ample space for the middle units to move up or the front line units to fall back. But the opens spaces left gaps that could be exploited by the enemy in some circumstances and reduced the firepower of the first line. The Swedish system was more concentrated and more linear. More firepower up front and fewer gaps in the front line but also less space for certain manoeuvres.
One major difference was the command structure, the Dutch divided the infantry into 3 corps, vanguard/battle/rearguard which fought alongside each other while the Swedes deployed in two "träffen"/lines with a "Battle" (1st line) and a "Reserve (2nd line) according to Monro. Each line could have its own local reserve of cavalry in support.
The Dutch cavalry deployed with the company as the basic combat unit and the companies in a regiment were separated by gaps to allow for movement. The Swedish cavalry fought in multi-company squadrons massed together in a single body. (Just to mess with us the sources show that at least into 1630 Swedish cavalry would deploy in the ‘Dutch' style in some circumstances)

These are a few of the diffrences, going through them all would require full scale essay.

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