Melee Polearm, or You Can Club People and Chew Gum at the Same Time

Originally published in May of 1990 or 1991 by HG Valens of Flatrock, republished in the Online Bird of Prey, Volume 2 (Beta Edition)


Over the years, Calontir has developed a strong tradition of using polearms within our large melee formations, while many areas outside Calontir have some to rely upon units based around spears and shields.  For many parts of the Society, polearms have become a weapon system little different from the spear and employed in much the same manner, while Calontir reserves a very central place for this weapon system.

The basic wall-type fighting formations that we have developed and used with such success have created a nearly ideal fighting environment for our polearm fighters.  Behind the big shields they are much better protected than their opponents, and the usually defensive nature of our wall invites the enemy to press closer so closely as they attempt to overcome the wall that the medium and short-range abilities of the weapon are enhanced.  Amid the congestion of a charge, the danger from enemy spears is largely neutralized and the front rank of shield fighters is so hampered that the polearms often times enjoy a period of relative safety with a dozen or more targets within striking range.  (Observation and discussions with fighters leave me to believe that very few of our fighters are ever killed during enemy charges providing the shield wall remains intact.  Most losses are during medium and long range duels before and after charges.)

While our more mobile opponents can make good use of their spears by controlling the range of the battle, out spear fighters must remain with their unmoving shield wall and fight the enemy at the range of their choosing.  Our spear fighters are as skilled as those of our enemies, but they are severely limited by not being able to move during long range duels and by the congestion of the battle line as the enemy presses forward against our shield wall.  The spear, both ours and our enemy’s, have a wide and effective cone of attack at long range, but as range closes so does the arc of fire for a spear fighter, until at very close range, the spearman can only deal with threats directly to his front.

As the enemy presses forward into the six-foot zone in front of our shields, the poles come into effect.  With their overhead swings, the pole weapons have a long range of effective attacks despite the dense crush of the battle line.  Once the enemy rush has been stopped and the lead enemy fighters are crushed against our wall by those following, it is the polearm fighters who must generate the bulk of our offense.

While the enemy fighters are focused on what lies directly ahead, which will usually include one ore more of our spear points; the polearm fighters are still able to attack across a broad arc with great effectiveness. Their attacks most often come from the sides or above while the enemy has their shields locked in front of them as they press forward.

Since, for most of us, hitting people is so much more fun than crouching between the legs of a large unwashed fighter for a couple of hours behind a wall of shields, many of our shield fighters aspire to more from the ranks of shield wall to either spear or polearm as they gain experience.   The first step in this change is to learn to use the long weapons at local practices and regular events during the year.

(Melee polearm is an art form when performed by a group of fighters who are skilled with the weapon and working together.  Calontir is rich in good melee polearm fighters, so consult them for instruction and study their movements on the field whenever possible.)

As the fighters become more skilled with the long weapons and participate in more melees, they need to become aware of the aspects of being Calontir polearm fighters, which are different than simply swinging a large weapon with enthusiasm.  Our fighting system has developed around the leadership role of the polearm fighters, and new members to this group need to understand what is required of the position.  Sometimes these fighters have been termed “sergeants,” in an earlier time they were affectionately called “loud-mouthed SOBs.”  Whatever the name, they have come to be the core of our fighting formation.

In the closely packed bridge units the polearm fighters represent the leadership and flexibility which allows the unit to remain intact despite losses and a continually changing situation.  They provide the information to all the fighters around them and to the commander to the rear.  The information they generate should allow the shield fighters to brace themselves ahead of the next heavy charge or relax to save energy during the inactive moments. It should help the poles and spears identify important targets or threats on the other side, and keep army commanders informed about the status of the fighters.  When this basic structure function the unit and army commanders are free to deal with larger matters, like how the battle is going and what’s happening around us.

While the shield fighters stoically hold the wall together and endure the physical abuse of the front line without being able to take part in the fighting, and the spearmen happily generate offense from the relative safety of the third and forth ranks, the polearm fighters must remain flexible and active for the unit to function smoothly.

Within the framework of our shieldwall we expect every polearm fighter to not only be skilled with his weapon system but also willing to assume the role of sergeant within our command system.  The polearm fighter has been given a central position within the sub-units, which make up a shield wall or field formation.  As a result, for the unit to function well, the polearm fighter must assume leadership for his section of the line and coordinate it with the units around him, and the army as a whole.

With one to four shield fighters in front and one or more spearmen behind him, the polearm fighter must be willing and able to do more than just swing his weapon effectively. The shieldmen in close formation are blind as to what is going on around them and isolated from the command structure by the noise of the battlefield.  Most of the things they can do must be done slowly – up, down, march, turn, etc. – and need preparation before execution.  The polearm fighter must help direct his shieldmen as they move and to maintain their formation while moving or stationary.  The shields must be told what is going on around them and, whenever possible, what is about to happen.  The polearm fighter should relay commands from the rear to his shields and relay requests from his shield fighters to the rear.  Most important for the spirit of our army, when a shield fighter gets into trouble the polearm fighter must do everything possible to help him.  A polearm fighter who is perceived, as being “above” the level of his shieldmen will receive little support from the fighters around him and the unit will become a weak spot within our lines.

Whenever possible, a good polearm fighter will help his spearmen identify and eliminate potential threats on the other side of the line.  Combined attacks with the overhead threat of the polearm and the thrust of the spears can be a tremendously effective team.  The long weapons must function together and both fighters must realize “who has the shot” when dealing with enemy fighters.  Sometimes a polearm fighter will need to cover for the spearman while a long-range threat is dealt with, or the spearman should be blocking while the polearm is striking laterally down the line.  Communication between the two fighters is the key to working together effectively.

One of the important aspects of the Calontir fighting formation is the consistent rotation of fighters into and out of the front lines.  As a polearm fighter, whenever you step into the line, take a moment to assess the situation.  Check with the shield fighters, someone may have been asking for a replacement for several minutes and now is fast approaching exhaustion.  Know the names of your long weapon fighters around you and let them know you have joined them.  When possible, try to find out the general situation of the battle – are we getting ready to attack, awaiting a renewed attack, preparing to retreat or approaching desperation mode?

Another vital part of our unit philosophy is that within the army the skills required to be effective are not the same as those that make someone effective in individual combat.  Out best scutum and secondary shield fighters are not the sword and shield fighters who dominate the tourney field.   By the same token, the spear and polearm fighters who make the largest impact within our army may not be the people who are the most skilled with the individual weapons.  The Calontir army requires more than individual skill to function, it is our level of teamwork which makes us effective and gives us the ability to adapt to meet whatever new twist of the rules they devise.

Calontir has developed a very effective weapons mix behind our shield wall and with practice we can become even better.  We need to train our fighters to function at any position within our formations in order to grow in how we use the army.  From the commander to the newest fighter behind the shield wall, everyone should be familiar with the limitations and abilities of each position within our formation in order to better understand what we are capable of and what is not within our capabilities.

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