Written by Sir Kirk fitzDavid. Previously Appearing in the Online Bird of Prey, Vol 10, 2004
To improve Calontir’s performance in woods fighting, our fighters must train specifically for what they will encounter there. This means we must practice fighting in the woods regularly, with an eye toward eliminating our problems and improving our advantages. I will describe a few drills with specific purposes, but I don’t have a drill for every situation. Instead, I will try to lay out training objectives and the related problems so that you can design your own drills.
Since most of our training will take place in the local groups or at small events, with different terrain and changing numbers of fighters, try to come up with drills to take full advantage of what you have. Drills should train you to fight better in the woods, but they need not involve trying to win a melee, or even, for that matter, fighting at all. Games can teach as much as fighting. Remember what works and what you had fun doing, and discard what doesn’t work. In a few months, Calontir as a whole will have built up a useful batch of drills, and we can then use them to teach regularly.
II. Moving in the Woods and on Trails
A. Getting Prepared
Woods are a vast obstacle course when you are trying to move through them. You must go around trees, over logs, up and down hills, and through clinging bushes. To avoid distractions and delay, your equipment should be in top shape. Make sure your leg armor works, you can breath, see and hear in your helm, and you can twist and turn easily in your body armor. You will have to lift your legs up to step over things, and be able to turn in place as well as look around you. Because sound doesn’t travel well in woods, your armor should be padded or muffled so you can hear things around you. Fix armor that will snag bushes and hold you up. Choose your weapons with care. Do you really need that spear, or will you have too much trouble dragging it along? Will your enemy use the trees to keep you from targeting on him?
B. Moving in the Woods
i. Objectives: When you practice moving in the woods, you should be improving your speed, conserving your energy, and becoming sure-footed, maneuverable, and quiet. At the same time, you have to keep in mind the vegetation, terrain, and safety. Speed is paramount in a woods fight, since you can use it to attack or retreat at will, move to hit flanks, and react to enemy actions. Conserving energy while moving stretches endurance, while saving breath for that burst of speed or fighting. Sure-footedness keeps you from tripping or falling, maneuverability lets you use your speed well, and being quiet lets you hear orders or the enemy without being heard yourself. Learning to use the vegetation and hills will let you pick the best path to move quickly, conserving energy by not snagging bushes or moving up and down hills too much, and keeping from tripping and injuring yourself.
ii. Techniques and Drills: The best way to learn to move in the woods is simply to do it and gain the experience. Pick out a point to go to, the farther away the better, and strike off towards it. Go as quickly as possible, but pay careful attention to where you step. Do this in armor (without helm or weapons) to get used to the weight, snags, binding leather, and noise. Use your hands to pull or push on trees, climb over logs, or move bushes. Jog for short stretches in clearings. Besides improving your speed, endurance, and sure-footedness, you’ll find out what really makes noise or hangs up on your armor. If you do this before battle, you will also familiarize yourself with the battlefield. If you take weapons and shields, hold the shields in tight to your body to reduce snagging. Let long weapons drag behind you, holding spears or polearms by the head. They will follow you along without hanging up.
After you’re familiar with moving about, competition drills will further improve your skills. Tag in armor builds speed and forces you to use trees to move and dodge. Armored foot racing improves speed and endurance. Other simple games, such as follow the leader, can help endurance and ease of movement. Hunts combine armored movement with combat, and bring all the movement skills into play.
C. Moving on Trails
i. Objectives and Relavent Factors: The primary advantages to moving on trails are that you can move fast to a known spot without getting tangled up or tripping. The disadvantages are that your force starts spread out and will probably get spread even further, you are set up to get ambushed, and the trail may not go where you really need to go. Drills, therefore, need to emphasize fast movement (while avoiding spreading or bunching) and awareness of surroundings (to spot traps). You also should be able to leave the trail in an orderly formation.
ii. Drills: Anybody should be able to move quickly down a trail. The challenge is in getting a group to do it together. To properly encourage them, tie them together in a line, with a few feet of rope between each. They will, of course, be wearing their armor. After several groups get the hang of it, try timed races along a (safe) stretch of path. The experience should be interesting as well as useful. Another drill race, which is designed to increase fighter’s observing skills, is to send a group of fighters down a path looking for colored flags. The one with the most flags wins. The flags should be located 10-20 feet off the path, but visible from it. To get a flag the fighter must leave the path, pluck the flag, then re-enter the path from the point he left it. Fighters should be wearing their helms, so they get used to looking around while in gear.
II. Combat in the Woods and on Trails
A. Combat in the Woods
i. Objectives and Relevant Factors: To succeed consistently in woods combat, fighters need to use the terrain to its best advantage. Trees for shields, logs for skirmish lines, hills to hit from above, bushes for concealment, entaglement, or channeling enemy movement– use your imagination. All these obstacles tend to break up the forces, so individual fights often break out. The unit that can act as team therefore has a great advantage. To fight as a team, each fighter should have a role such as point man, leader, or rear guard. You can then devise specific drills for the team, such as attacking a unit, defending a point, screening, bugging out, etc. To get the most out of the drills, each fighter should of course understand the objective.
ii. Drills: Woods combat drills can be devised for almost any number of fighters, but to teach teamwork and woods skills they should usually be for small groups of fighters. To teach the use of trees and bushes, single sword hunts and single sword vs sword and shield duels can be useful and fun. Small group melees, with uneven sides (say 5-on-3), teach the smaller group to work together and the larger group to use its size for quick kills. The small group in this type of melee should probably be defending a fixed point (to prevent chases), and success should be judged on how long they can hold out. Rotating leaders will give everyone experience in command. Another team drill is having several teams hunt each other down. To make it more interesting, each team can have a different mission, such as killing a specific individual, surviving intact, gathering flags, or some other goal.
For larger groups, team barrier fights within a restricted area can simulate a meeting engagement in the woods. The gauntlet drill in the woods also requires a fair number of people, but is an excellent tool to teach moving while under attack and keeping the objective in mind. Another drill is to have part of one group act as a rear guard under attack, while the rest of the group must get away. Killing from behind will give the rear guard the incentive to not get surrounded.
B. Combat on Trails
i. Objectives and Relevant Factors: If you are in a force moving on a trail, your objective should be to move as quickly as possible to your objective. To do this, you may have to fight off ambushes, break through roadblocks, or have part of your force screen your sides or rear, then disengage with minimal losses. Conversely, if you are facing a larger enemy column on a trail, you may want to ambush it, delay it by setting a roadblock, wipe out it piece by piece by chewing up its tail as it moves, or harassing it so much they must stop to chase you away. Also, if you are using a trail, when you arrive at your target you must be able to deploy and attack quickly and in good order.
ii. Trail Fighting Drill: A single trail fighting drill can serve to train fighters on many objectives. The forces are split into two teams, one much larger than the other (at least 3-2, and probably 2-1). The large team will be moving on the trail, to a known point, and the smaller team will set up in the woods ahead of it. Each team will have a specific mission, unknown to the other team. Possible missions for the large team include moving out to the known point as quickly as possible while suffering minimal losses, hunting down and wiping out the smaller team after it is spotted, and protecting a specific item or person while moving. The small team can chose from ambushing the head or tail of the unit and killing as many as possible, killing a specific person or stealing an item at any cost, delay by setting up and defending a roadblock, or screening the large force for as long as possible with few losses. The large unit moves out down the trail when the smaller is ready, and events take their natural course. Between melees, the fighters try to figure out what when wrong and who fulfilled their mission better.
III. Large Unit Drills
Training large groups of fighters (20 or more) brings special problems, along with all the challenges of teaching smaller groups. Controlling and coordinating a large group’s movements and combat, and reorganizing it after a fight are particular problems. The usual large Calontir masses are spread out and bogged down by woods, and can’t move easily except on trails. By sub- dividing your large group into smaller, more manageable groups with their own leaders, you can control them better and more easily bring all your troops into play at once. All fighters should be able to move in coordinated groups, quickly deploy for attack, reinforce nearby groups which fall under attack, and automatically move to surround and wipe out any small blocking force.
Something as simple as moving in parallel columns through the woods needs to be taught first, since most other drills will evolve from it. Moving through the woods in three or four groups, all moving parallel and keeping up with each other, requires some practice to perfect. Moving with the center group on a trail and the outside groups in the woods is harder, since the outside groups will have to work harder to keep up. Deploying for attack will usually mean the outside groups will fan to the outside, while the center group(s) will move to link up each outside group. All the while, everyone must take care to avoiding bunching up, and the fighters must arrange themselves to support each other (spears with shieldmen, etc). When reinforcing outside groups under attack, groups should stick together, and not only head for the point of attack but move to extend your line and if possible wrap around the enemy flank. Similarly, when your parallel columns run into a small group blocking the way, the outside groups should automatically head around the enemy flanks to catch them from behind while the center group attacks or screens. After attacks the survivors need to quickly reform into their groups, and the leader may have to reorganize the subunits to compensate for casualties. Large groups should also be drilled for many other situations, such as deploying for attack to the right or left, left or right wheel turns, one group breaking off to screen, etc.
IV. Leadership Training
Just as each fighter needs to be trained to use the woods to his advantage, leaders need to learn how to spot and use the opportunities that the woods provide. The best teacher is experience, and leadings squads in small unit melees is an excellent place to start learning. A good leader will keep in mind the objective of the melee, terrain, the condition, skill, and weapons of his fighters, and the quality of the enemy. Large unit commanders will also have to keep track of where his subunits are, and how to keep in touch with them.
For Calontir to improve its woods battle performance in the future, we need to develop a training program which will improve the skills of individuals, small groups, large groups, and leaders. I hope that local groups will experiment with drills and let others (especially me or other members of the War College) know what works best. I would like to develop a “how-to” book of woods drills incorporating instructions for drills for as many situations as possible. By making our training as widespread, standardized, and as complete as possible we can then put together a large and feared woods fighting force.
I am in debt to Lord Kalos and Viscount Sir Ternon for their suggestions, and to Sir Robert and Baron Charles for their encouragement.