From The Mews, February A.S. XVIII (1984), No. 51 by Master Pavel Yosefvich, republished in the Online Bird of Prey, Volume 2 (Beta Issue) 2001
From the Princess’s Champion,
Hello again. This, my second letter as Champion, is the proverbial killing of two birds with one stone. This is also my letter as secretary of the War College.
As the War at Thousand Hills and Pennsic have shown, shield walls are very potent weapons. Here are a few ideas that I’ve cooked up concerning the composition and techniques of use for the wall.
The need for a standard shield size and shape made itself known in both wars. Historically, armies that fought as units — not skirmishers such as the Vikings — have used standardized shields. Another case for standardization is the Ansteorrans; they have been making good walls with their huge, square barn doors for years now. The Greeks, Romans and Saxons all used a standard shield in their formations. We would do well to emulate them.
This is not to say that we should require all fighters to have the same equipment. We should be happy with every warm body we can get, no matter how armed. But we should encourage some standardization. The least painful way to do this is by forming special units.
The two standard shields I would like to see are: a 3′ by 4′ shield based on the V’tavia war-shield design (the V’tavia shield can be bought with everything but the edge padding for $30.00 from the V’tavia Armourers Guild); and a smaller square (testing will have to be done to see what size is best). With these two sizes of shields, we could set up a true shield wall.
Short mass weapons, medium broadswords, short stabbing swords and daggers should be the weapons of a shield wall. We could also accommodate special cases such as spear and shield in the smaller shield line, but the larger shields are more restricted.
Standardization will help in the planning of any campaign that the army of Calontir has to fight. The concept of special fighting units will help this standardization.
Techniques and Tactics
The first rank should be of large and, hopefully, standard shields; the second rank should contain the smaller shields and the artillery (pole arms, great swords and spears). The third and following ranks should be a mixture of reserves with shields near the outer edges so as to be able to meet a flanking movement. The last three ranks should be a shield wall in their own right. This is for an open field battle and could be modified for any given situation.
The first rank should have a left overlap with the shields to their sides. Most of our fighters are right-handed. A left overlap will keep all but a few spears and pole-arm thrusts from pushing through. Those that did would be coming at a steep angle and could then be grabbed and pulled by an alert fighter. They would also be coming to his front, not his undefended back. A left-handed fighter would be great on the left corner of the wall. The large shields should have a short stabbing sword or a lanyard mass-weapon-and-dagger combo. At Pennsic XII, some of the foes pushed their way into our line on their knees. Fire from above kept them busy defending themselves. Most of our front-rank fighters on their knees either didn’t have thrusting tips, or their weapons were too long. If they had been properly armed, they could just have stabbed the helpless foe. The large shields with mass weapons could have the weapons on lanyards with a dagger on the inside of their shields. A patch of Velcro on the inside of the shield and Velcro on the dagger could affix the dagger to the shield and allow the fighter to grab the dagger and put it back in a hurry. Mass weapons are aptly suited for knocking the hooked weapon off the top of a shield.
Second-rank shields should get as close as possible to the first rank, putting their weight against the back of the front shields and supporting them. They should also overlap the smaller shield over the top of the larger, forming a roof over the front rank. If the second shield is in a low crouch and leaning back a little, this makes pulling their shields almost impossible without getting zapped in return.
Artillery, with a 1′-1 1/2′ gap to work between second-rank shields, can work from a relatively safe place. As long as the wall is strong, they only have to worry about straight-in attacks, while still being able to fire angled shots at their opponents. When on the move, the artillery should keep their weapons out of sight so that the foe can’t get an idea of our numbers.
As our cavalry has shown, a special unit with a purpose is effective. I propose a special shield unit called “THE WALL.” To be in this unit, a fighter must authorize in weapon and shield and dagger, must build or buy a standard shield, and must be willing to follow the orders of a loud-mouth SOB such as myself. As an incentive to join, I think a badge should be adopted, one for the small shield and one for the large shield. Also, the WALL fighters should be able to paint their shields in a special manner approved by the Prince/King himself. Special care should be taken to make the shields feel their true worth.
In service to Calontir
NOTE: This article and many others are also available via Pav’s web page at http://comp.uark.edu/~pavel/