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"The Swiss infantry in 1476-77." Topic


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Paskal Supporting Member of TMP24 Mar 2022 2:46 a.m. PST

Hello everyone,

What are the exact formations used by the Swiss infantry in 1476-77.

Proportions of each type of fighters, number of ranks, number of files, etc…

Thank you.

dapeters24 Mar 2022 10:05 a.m. PST

Their armies were usually divided into the Vorhut (vanguard), Gewalthut (center) and Nachhut (rearguard), they would attack in echelon. The division were made up of the cantons, with the various gilds being side by side. The better equipped (armored) men being in front. Amongst the poor folks in the back rank would be a couple of guys with pole weapons to kill anyone trying to flee.

Paskal Supporting Member of TMP25 Mar 2022 3:25 a.m. PST

Yes thank you, but what are the exact formations used by theme.

Proportions of each type of fighters, number of ranks, number of files, etc…

Thank you.

Druzhina25 Mar 2022 1:30 p.m. PST

When fighting on their own the Swiss used a larger proportion of other types of troops – at Morat in 1476 they had two cavalry to every five firearms, five pikes and five halberds

from Part 9: Swiss. 'Renaissance Warfare' by George Gush

The numbers of ranks and files varied with the number of men in a column. Every formation was different. The Swiss marched in open order, halved the number of ranks on the battlefield, and halved the number of ranks again before a charge or if threatened by cavalry.

Druzhina
Illustrations of Swiss Costume & Soldiers

Puster Sponsoring Member of TMP25 Mar 2022 3:24 p.m. PST

No fixed formation, except that they formed a rectangle with the experienced (or eager) and often armored men to the front, advanced to close with the enemy and then spread out of the block-formation to get as many men as possible into close combat. Within these blocks they often lumped together in their regional groups, which would sometimes impede internal cohesion, but that rarely played a role as it could not be exploited (only at Marignano some 40 years later, and then not decisively so).

That at least covers the major engagements vs. Burgund. There were plenty of usage of smaller contingents of Swiss in the next decade, often in mixed formations with others (as instructors or mercenaries) and Swiss units took part in some of the Imperial and inner-imperial conflicts in the years before. Afaik in none of these the Swiss acted independently in larger units.

Druzhina27 Mar 2022 1:36 p.m. PST

They don't spread out while halving the ranks. A file leader half way back in the contingent leads his file between the files ahead to make a closer packed formation. Then it is repeated to make an even closer packed formation.

Halberdiers may be led out of the column in certain circumstances.

Druzhina
15th Century Illustrations of Costume & Soldiers

Paskal Supporting Member of TMP28 Mar 2022 3:04 a.m. PST

Thank you all.

No fixed formation except for pikemen who fight in 4 ranks.

Does anyone have any information on the size of Swiss banners and Swiss "Fähnlein" pennants?

dapeters28 Mar 2022 12:39 p.m. PST

My recollection was 16 ranks deep.

Paskal Supporting Member of TMP29 Mar 2022 1:58 a.m. PST

It's weird I read "the first row of pikemen was kneeling, the second bent, wedging the butt of his pikes against the ground, the third holding his pikes at waist level and the fourth at shoulder level" .

16 ranks deep is for Macedonian type phalanges.

Druzhina29 Mar 2022 3:02 a.m. PST

The pikemen are not 4 ranks deep. 4 groups (each led by a file leader) of an indeterminate number of men in single file, become 4 files beside each other after the formation changes.

Druzhina
14th Century Illustrations of Costume & Soldiers

Paskal Supporting Member of TMP29 Mar 2022 7:37 a.m. PST

Pikemen aren't 4 ranks deep?

Read again ian Heath page 53…

4 groups, corresponding to a file of an indeterminate number of men and therefore in single file, become 4 files side by side after the formation changes.

Ah yes and on what front were they fighting?

In 1443, the citizens of Zurich fought with a front of 56 men and a depth of 20 men…

Charlie29 Mar 2022 11:22 a.m. PST

They were definitely more than 3 ranks deep…

Puster Sponsoring Member of TMP29 Mar 2022 2:40 p.m. PST

The "4 ranks" probably come from fightin in denser formation. The distance between the files would be halved by two ranks becoming one, so that more could fight to the front. In defensive formation this would be done again, so that four ranks would become one very dense rank, with almost no place to maneuver but a LOT of pikes. Do this with the first four ranks and you are a pretty piky hedghog, though probably not so maneuverable.

I am not sure, however, wether this applied to the early Swiss. It is described for Macedonian pike and in some later works on Landsknechts – afaik there is no written work on the Swiss and while condensed ranks do happen I have not found this particular meneuver described in detail. In this era the Swiss almost always preferred mobility and getting to grips fast. The only defensive action that I am aware of was in the early phase of Grandson vs. Burgundian cavalry.

Ian Heath draws some fine historical tapestry, but some of his details seem to be not so well sourced but rather extrapolated.

Druzhina30 Mar 2022 4:38 a.m. PST

Pikemen aren't 4 ranks deep?

Read again ian Heath page 53…

On p.53 of Armies of the Middle Ages, vol. 1, Ian Heath describes how the 1st to 4th ranks of pikemen hold their pikes while defending. He does not say there are only 4 ranks of pikemen.

Ah yes and on what front were they fighting?

As I said above: "The numbers of ranks and files varied with the number of men in a column. Every formation was different."


Druzhina
Illustrations of Costume & Soldiers

Paskal Supporting Member of TMP30 Mar 2022 7:03 a.m. PST

He doesn't say it, but I think it is because otherwise he would have talked about how the other ranks of pikemen held their pikes if there had been any.

Druzhina30 Mar 2022 4:41 p.m. PST

If there were only 4 ranks of pikemen, then the ratio of pikemen would be different in different sized columns as bigger columns are deeper. This would mean that as contingents from different cantons were combined into larger formations, some would have to throw away their pikes.

Ian Heath not mentioning other ranks does not mean they did not exist.

In the following sentence on page 53: "Faced by charging horsemen each Swiss square would 'form a hedgehog', i.e. would level their pikes on all fronts."
There would have to be enough pikemen to have a depth of 4 on all sides.

Druzhina
Illustrations of Swiss Costume & Soldiers

Paskal Supporting Member of TMP30 Mar 2022 11:54 p.m. PST

Even if there were as many pikemen as halbadiers at that time plus the officers, banner bearers and pennant bearers and the musicians, they fought in 8 ranks or 9 ranks including the first 4 of pikemen so they could also train their hedgehogs easily .


Ian Heath not mentioning other ranks does not mean they did not exist.He doesn't say it, but I think it is because otherwise he would have talked about how the other ranks of pikemen held their pikes if there had been any.

dapeters31 Mar 2022 1:01 p.m. PST

The interesting thing during the war with Burgundy was the Vorhut (vanguard) seemly would immediately through itself at the Burgundians without forming up.

Druzhina01 Apr 2022 3:11 p.m. PST

This seems to be the reason that the Swiss are often described as attacking "en echelon". As each column arrived on the battlefield it would attack without waiting for the next column to arrive.

The Swiss are described as in deep columns and in squares. An explanation for this inconsistency is that they halved their ranks as described above. This could probably be done as they advanced at a walk.

The depth of a square depends on the number of men in a formation. A square of 1024 men would be 32 by 32, a square of 2025 men would be 45 by 45, a square of 10000 men would be 100 by 100. The number of ranks of pikemen would be proportional to the depth of the formation.

A 1024 man column 8 by 128 would become a square of 32 by 32 after doubling the files twice. A 10000 man column 25 by 400 would become a square of 100 by 100 after doubling the files twice.

Druzhina
15th Century Illustrations of Costume & Soldiers

Stoppage14 Apr 2022 2:18 p.m. PST

The doubling of files is a real eye-opener.

This might explain the different types of order: closest, close, ordinary, open, double-open, etc.

The revelation being that the overall frontage doesn't change – only the number of ranks (and hence, depth).

So no side-shuffling and concertina-like expanding and contracting of frontage.

Projecting this idea onto the seventeenth century – some armies deployed pike in:
- Ten ranks open order doubled down to five close order, closest to two/three ranks;
- Eight ranks open order – so doubled down to four close order, closest of two ranks;
- Six ranks would need to be in close order to then double down to three closest order.

Swedish shot doing their salvee doubled from six ranks close order to three ranks closest.

Someone postulated that only the first two ranks of pikes – the armoured ones would actually fight. If these were doubled then you'd have a single line of armoured pikemen – fencing away at the enemy.

Need to read my notes on the Trewer Rath and the 21-ranks formation.

Stoppage14 Apr 2022 4:27 p.m. PST

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