Woods Combat, Part 1: Basic Movement and Combat

Written by Sir Kirk fitzDavid. Originally appearing in the Online Bird of Prey, Volume 9, 2003

I.  Introduction

Calontir has a history of good fighting on the open battlefield, and the Calontir shieldwall is probably the most effective tactic ever devised for SCA bridge combat.  However, I believe our woods fighting tactics are our weakest area.  In woods battles we are at best indistinguishable from other kingdoms’ fighters, and at worst we flounder around in helpless purple blobs.  This series of articles is intended to:

         (1)  Identify the basic factors in woods combat,

         (2)  Describe training techniques to make individuals and units more effective in woods fighting, and

         (3)  Develop new tactics for units from small squads to large infantry/skirmisherforces.  All of these are aimed at making the Calontir army as feared in the woods at it is on the bridge.

 

II.  Basic Factors

Woods movement and fighting in SCA combat can generally be divided into three groups:  In the woods themselves, on trails, and in and around clearings.  These divisions are clearly artificial, and you must keep in mind that every woods battlefield presents a unique blend of them.  In addition, woods combat presents special command and control problems to unit commanders.

         A.  Movement and Combat in the Woods: 

                  i. Movement:  Obviously, moving through the woods presents a challenge, affecting where and how you move and how tired you are when you arrive.  The trees and bushes are obstacles preventing direct travel.  Dense underbrush or poison ivy or oak can be impenetrable.  And your vision is often blocked, so you can’t see more than a few yards.  All of these make it difficult to even get where you want to go.  The woods also govern how you move. Logs and uneven terrain force you to step carefully and move more slowly.  The plants hang up on shields, weapons, and even armor, dragging you back or tripping you up.  They tend to spread groups into long thin lines, where the tail often can’t keep up with the head.  The lines are hard to stop, and even harder to turn around and go back the way you came.  Moving in the woods also tires you out more quickly than the clear.  Woods battlefields are usually many times the size of open battlefields, and their obstacles make your path even longer.  The trees themselves cut off the refreshing wind, but usually make up for this by providing plenty of shade.

                  ii.  Combat in the Woods:  Combat is also affected by the woods.  Long weapons are hard to swing or aim.  Shields get hung up on vines just when you need to block with them.  Every tree becomes an immovable shieldman, for good or bad.  Trees and bushes break up formations, making teamwork difficult.  It is hard to move about while fighting because of the danger of tripping, so the tendency is to breakup into small groups fighting until one is wiped out, then the survivors join into the nearest fight or retreat away.  All of these factors affect both sides, so the trained unit can take advantage of the problems of the untrained unit.

         B.  Movement and Combat on Trails

                  i.  Movement:   Movement on trails is deceptively easy compared to moving through the woods.  You can move fast, with two or three abreast on the big trails.  Turning around is easier if everyone can simply reverse directions.  You also know where you’re going.  However, trails do not always go where you want them to.  They sometimes have thick underbrush on each side, concealing off-road enemies, and a long strung out column is easy to ambush.  If you must deploy to fight, you almost always have to move into the woods which will cause some disorganization. 

                  ii. Combat:  Combat on trails is usually similar to fighting in the woods, since you often are forced to move off the trail to fight.  While on the trail itself, however, fighting is generally a little more conventional.  Your shields or long weapon is easier to use.  Movement back and forth along the trail is easier and your footing is generally more secure, and the leader can give orders easier.  However, by sticking to the trail a large unit can only get a few fighters into action.  Therefore, a small unit can delay or harass a bigger unit, while the big unit’s leader may lose control of the troops he sends into the woods.

         C.  Clearings

Movement and fighting in clearings are a kind of special case when it comes to woods combat.  Away from the clearing edges, movement and fighting are just like in the open field.  Near the edge, however, there are some definite combat advantages to the unit in the clearing.  If you are posted on the edge of a clearing, you have most of the movement and combat advantages of troops fighting in the clear, while your opponents in the edge of the woods labor under the disadvantages of the woods.  You can attack and bottled up troops leaving trails and entering clearings unless they deploy in the woods first.  The major disadvantage to being in a clearing is having to leave it to accept the problems of woods and trails.

         D.  Command and Control

SCA combat usually has enough problems with command and control.  Units wander off by themselves, fighters don’t hear orders or disobey them outright, and nobody talks enough.  The woods make all these problems worse.  Long columns of troops get separated by the least delay in the middle of the line.  The woods block both sight and sound so commanders can’t be heard from a distance, and can’t be seen easily.  Fighters don’t want to leave the trail, where travel is easy and fighting simple, and go off to thrash about in jungles full of mud and poison ivy.  People must concentrate on simply moving, let alone telling those around them what’s going on.  Again, however, these problems can be turned to the advantage of the well trained unit, since it can exploit them at the enemy’s expense.

 

III.  Formations

The very nature of woods combat limits the number of basic formations available for movement and fighting in the woods.  Trees tend to act like the teeth of a comb, straightening out any tangled or overly complex formations.  Indeed, woods movement will usually reduce your choice of formation to one of three types:  Single file or column, multiple parallel columns, and line abreast.

         A.  Single File or Column

                  i.  Movement:  Single file movement through the woods is the basic form of travel.  The first man breaks a trail, and the others follow in his footsteps.  He can almost always find a path, and since everyone follows him, it’s easy to make turns.  If your column isn’t too long, the head can support the tail if it’s attacked.  However, single file has some serious disadvantages.  Your column can easily get strung out by the least delay in the middle of the line.  Fighters in the back may not be able to keep up with those ahead.  The line is hard to turn around if the way ahead is blocked or the need arises to go someplace else.  On trails, single file (or column, if the trail is wide) is again the usual form of movement.  It is fast and easy, and everyone knows where you are going.  It doesn’t get strung out as easily, since fighters with delays can be bypassed by those behind.  However, as in the woods, your formation can get very long.  You can best use single file, then, when on a trail or when you need to move fast, particularly when there is little chance you will be attacked while moving.

                  ii.  Combat:  Single file is at a serious disadvantage in woods combat.  Because of its length, any single part of the line can be overwhelmed before the other parts can help.  The back of your line can even be wiped out without the head knowing there’s a fight.  It takes time to deploy even to attack, since the rear has to catch up with the front.  The length also makes single file easier to spot, and it’s particularly easy for an enemy scout to get an accurate count of your numbers.  A long line has a hard time responding to orders because of its very length. 

         B.  Multiple Column

                  i.  Movement:  Multiple column movement sacrifices some of the mobility of single file for gains in combat power and ease of command.  Ideally, 3 or more columns move parallel to each other through the woods.  As in single file, each column leader breaks a trail for the fighters following.  However, because each column will meet different obstacles, they have to carefully keep each other in sight to keep up with one another.  In addition, the column leaders have to make sure the files don’t get too far apart.  On the plus side, the formation is much more compact than single file, so it is easier to control from the center.  On the minus side, the formation is difficult to turn since the outside columns must move much further.  On trails, only one column will be able to use the trail, and the others will have to keep up through the woods.  Light forces in the woods should usually be able to keep up with heavy infantry on the trail.  To best use multiple columns, you should not be moving too far or making a lot of turns, so the columns can keep together.  Conversely, you should also have a clear objective to head towards, so all the columns can find the best paths without continuously looking for direction from the leader (who is probably in the center column).  In any case, multiple column movement should be practiced to get the kinks worked out.

                  ii.  Combat:  The multiple column formation makes up for its somewhat clumsy movement with its combat flexibility.  Since it is more compact, the fighters can respond more quickly to threats.  If either side column is attacked, you can easily reinforce it from the center column(s).  Similarly, the column heads or tails can support each other.  When attacking, the multiple file formation deploys much more quickly than single file, and provides a wide front automatically.  Attacking a single column head or tail on a trail, your multiple columns already have the single column flanked on both sides.  Attacking a unit from the side, you can give each column a different mission, such as blocking reinforcements, flanking, or carrying out the main attack.  The unit commander should be located near the middle of the formation, so he can keep in touch with all the columns.  The columns should also keep close enough together that each of their leaders is in voice contact with the unit commander, so he can direct them as best as possible.

 

         C.  Line

A line formation has serious draw backs except when the woods are very open, or if the unit is about to attack.  It is very difficult to control, and the ends cannot support each other if necessary.  Also, it is also almost impossible to turn, and will fall apart if it has to move through any difficult obstructions for any significant distance. 

 

IV.  Resurrections

Most woods battles are resurrection battles.  This brings a number of factors into play which are unimportant in field and bridge battles.  Since most fighters get killed and return to combat, putting them to proper use can be decisive.  Each fighter who is killed and returns to action must face fatigue, being with a group which is unfamiliar and probably smaller than the one he or she started with, and finally getting back into the action where it will have an effect on the outcome of the battle.  Heat related problems are exaggerated by fatigue.

         A.  Fatigue 

When you are about to re-enter a battle, you have already marched into the woods, probably walked up and down hills, been in at least one fight and got killed (not usually an exhilarating experience), and slogged out to the resurrection area, which no doubt seemed 10 miles away.  You are hot and sweaty, and sometimes in a nasty mood.  You probably just had a drink, maybe a bite to eat, and either want to run in so you don’t miss any more of the fun or don’t really want to go back at all.  You do have a few advantages, though.  You know where some of the fighting was taking place, and probably have an idea whether your side is winning or losing.  You may know where the enemy’s banner or command post or whatever is.  When you  are the leader forming up a group to rejoin the battle, you should at least look to see if all his troop are ready to follow, or if some really need more rest.  Unless everyone is very fit, or there is a real emergency, you should conserve your energy by moving at a walk or stopping frequently, and by taking easy paths wherever possible.  If you have an option when to join battle, you should stop for a moment before rushing in, so that the group has had time for a breath.  Foremost in your mind should be the fact that fresh troops have a great advantage attacking worn out ones.

         B.  Groups  

When your group forms up and leaves the resurrection area, it is almost invariably smaller than the one you started with.  Usually there are troops from many units, unlikely to work as a team and often with an unbalanced weapon blend.  Since they will be tired, they won’t be thinking as clearly as usual.  None of them will know all of what’s going on, yet you can probably put together a reasonable picture of the action by talking to all of them.  If you are the leader, you should try to get them to think together, and perhaps try to get the fighters to pair up to cover each other.  The leader must explain the situation and their objective as he sees them.  In particular, he should tell them where he thinks they should go and why.  If you aren’t the leader, try to get him to explain what he has in mind.  With a common purpose, the mixed individuals will work more as a team.  If he is killed on the way, try to keep the force together and get to the objective. 

         C.  Getting Reinforcements into Action

                  i.  Where to Go:  All fighters, and particularly leaders of groups leaving the resurrection area, should have some idea of either where the major fighting is going on, or, if their side is defending a banner or other fixed object, where that is so they can go defend it.  Alternatively, a unit could have a rally point for resurrected fighters to return to if they don’t know of any better place to go.  A rally point will allow units in the woods to be reinforced by sending back messengers.  Thus, large units can be rebuilt to launch major new attacks or reinforce defenders. 

                  ii.  Getting there:  If you have an objective, your group returning to battle needs to get there as quickly as possible, stopping only to rest.  You must not be distracted by enemy scouts or scattered enemy fighters, and have to  avoid fighting except to quickly overrun smaller enemy units directly in your path.  This will keep you from wasting your energy and numbers.  You will therefore have a useful unit when you arrive.  If your group doesn’t have an objective and is only going to fight what you can find, keeping together at least will improve your odds of beating opposing units that you run across. 

                  iii.  How to arrive:  When your unit arrives at your objective and there is a battle taking place, try to get an idea of what’s going on before you commit.  Coming in on the enemy’s flank or rear can cause havoc, particularly if killing from behind is in effect.  A momentary pause before attacking will also give you a chance to catch you breath, but don’t wait until the enemy has formed a line to screen you to attack.  Even if you arrive at the end of a losing battle, you should attack if the enemy does not outnumber you greatly.  He will be tired, you will be fairly fresh, he will be disorganized and you will be be organized.  Consider sweeping up a few enemy stragglers even if you can’t take on the main body.  Picking off a few troops then getting away successfully can take the shine off an enemy victory, and may entice some of them to follow you  to where you can turn and jump them.

         D.  Heat Problems  

Just because you’re out of the sun doesn’t mean you won’t have trouble with the heat.  Woods are often warm and humid–not as warm as direct sunlight, yet this means the heat can sneak up on you.   Take the usual precautions while you’re at the resurrection area:  tank up on water, rest with the helm off and the armor loosened, and decide whether you’re really ready to go when the time comes.  Group leaders bear a certain responsibility for their fighters, and should keep an eye out for problems.  If you don’t, your force will waste away and some may have serious heat injuries. 

 

V.  Scouts

Since this isn’t a work on scouting, I will only cover a few points.  Scouts should be able to report in as much detail as possible, particularly in regard to the numbers, direction of travel, and location of the enemy forces they locate.  They should report directly to unit commanders, not mouth off in front of any old fighter.  If you have some fighters acting as skirmishers, they should try to screen out enemy scouts, but should not chase them so far that the skirmisherscannot get back to help you.  Scouts make ideal messengers since they can move fast and work on their own, but don’t waste too many this way and leave yourself without your eyes.

        

 

VI.  Other terrain features

         A.  Hills

Many woods battlefields, such as Pennsic, are also pretty hilly.  Their primary effect is wear out fighters quicker, but they have significant effects on movement and combat.  Units will of course move slower up hill, but it can be hard to keep up with the leaders in either case, so units can become spread out.  The tail of a unit descending a hill is more exposed than on the flat, since the head cannot help it out as quickly.  In general, units attacking uphill are at a major disadvantage.  Your head is more exposed, movement forward takes more energy, and running is more difficult.  If the hill is steep, the enemy can push you down without killing you.  You are also more fatigued if you had a long march up the hill before going into combat.  If you have the time, try to scout the area to find an undefended way up the hill to get even with or above your opponent.  If this is impossible, at least take care to organize your force for the best attack.  Attacking down the hill means your legs are more exposed, but your head is much harder to hit.  You get a big speed boost when moving down the hill to hit a gap or attack a flank.  Remember that it is easy to get hurt when falling or rolling down a hill, so you must be more careful than on the flat.

         B.  Water 

Most fighters don’t like to cross water or its companion, mud.  The footing is usually bad, it’s hard to keep your speed up, and there always seems to be a guy with a spear on the opposite bank ready to poke you in the face just when you need to look down.  A narrow stream or gully, therefore, is a good place to defend when outnumbered since the attackers really don’t want to get to you anyway.  When attacking, it’s usually worthwhile to try to flank the defenders out of position by crossing up or downstream from them, and hitting them while part of your force continues to threaten across the ford.  The truly dedicated can throw their aluminum shields down to form a bridge (I don’t think plywood or steel will survive this kind of treatment).  If you’re sure you’ll attack across a stream, it might even be worth dragging a scutum along to form a bridge.  A scutum on a bank also makes an excellent physical barrier to crossing a stream.

         C.  Barriers 

Fallen trees and dense bushes make excellent barriers in the woods.  Dense bushes can anchor one end of a line, while a large log can be hazardous to cross and expose the crosser to spear and polearm fire.  A well planned defense can incorporate and combine these barriers into a line as strong as one on a bridge.

 

So, You’re a Sergeant, Huh? (Now What?)

Written By Sir Kirk fitz David, with Foreward by Sir Halvgrim. Originally published in the Online Bird of Prey, Volume 7 Jan-Mar 2003 Issue

Over the years I have been honored with various command roles within the Army of Calontir and have watched numerous others fill these rolls too. In general most folks seem excited about the prospect but then as the time for War roles closer these feelings of excitement often turn into ‘cold feet.’

Even though they may have been filling the roles in an “unofficial” capacity for years, when they get an “official” role some folks often start to wonder exactly what it is they are suppose to do and/or doubt their abilities to do the task at hand. These feeling are natural in my opinion. As humans most of us are competitive and are driven to succeed (ie want to do a good job and not mess up in front of our peers). 

Alot of folks have these questions build up inside them (and some even start to doubt their own ability) and for some reason feel if they ask, they will look bad and or stupid for asking questions. This is of course not the case. As they say “There is no such thing as a stupid question.” If this is the case with you, don’t give it a second thought, just ask any of the more experienced folks among the Calon Host and they will more then likely be glad to talk with you about it.

Last year several of the up and coming folks in the Army came forward and asked these questions on the War Council list. The following is a summary that Sir Kirk put together of that thread.

General Demeanor

  • Be calm.

  • Be confident–if not in the plan or the situation, then at least in your ability to scrounge fun wherever it is to be had.

  • Do not lose your temper, either at the enemy or your friends. (My personal rule is that swearing is reserved for moments of extreme provocation. Otherwise, you run out of emphasis when you need it most.)

  • Be open to suggestion from below as well as above.

  • Do not tolerate safety hazards–even if they are people.

Pre-War

  • Find out who is in the unit.

  • Attend war maneuvers. Make sure you know the skill level of people around you.

  • Try to ensure everybody some basic training–how to use a scutum, how to fight behind a line with a pole/greatsword, how to charge with a shield, how to stop a charge, how to walk in a line, what kind of pace to expect. You don’t have to teach them, there should be classes/groups they can go to learn.

  • Talk about traffic control, about the ‘Melee Truths (like “leg em and leave em”, 45’ing, high-low, communicating, gang killing big guns)’, etc. The more that people know in advance of war maneuvers and the war, the smoother things will be.

Pre-Battle

  • Make sure everyone has a falcon tabard and has their name on their helmet.

  • Find out the plan – as specifically as you can. Ask your commanders for information, and tell them what you are doing.

  • Make sure the unit know the job the army and your particular sub-command is expected to do in the day’s battles. Tell them everything you know before the battles, and remind them before each individual battle.

  • Get people placed right in your section of line. This includes making sure shields are properly supported by the right artillery, that you have the proper weapons mix for the intended job, and that each person knows what he is supposed to do and who he is supposed to support. Place experienced people with the newbies.

  • Coordinate with the other subcommands. Plan how you handle junctures between you – who covers what, and what happens if you get separated.

  • Let the unit commander know if you’re seriously short of something–no shields or spears, for example. He may not be able to help you, but he still needs to know so that he doesn’t ask the unit to do the wrong thing (full charge with no shields, skirmish with no spears).

  • Make sure your sub-command is aware of any special tactics that might be employed: Doors, pulse charges, spears in and out, etc. Make sure they understand what that means and how they need to react to make it happen /help it succeed.

  • Keep them together when moving. Keep folks from wandering off during waits or holds.

  • Make sure everyone is in place _before_ we have to be. Waiting till the very last moment to get into formation is dangerous. 🙂

  • Coordinate with your commanders. Stay up to date on the plan, tell them how you expect to fulfill the job they hand you.

Pre-Contact

  • Communicate orders to get your people moving. Echo commands. Listen for problems. Call people back if they’ve gone too far. Let your people know what’s going on and what to expect next. Talk, talk, talk; listen, listen, listen.

  • Keep your unit in its optimal formation for whatever we are doing. If they are becoming an amorphous mob while moving – adjust as you go. Make sure everyone has room to fight, and that any reserve is well positioned – traffic control.

In The Fight

  • Traffic control–bring up replacements, pull people out of line, keep enough room for fighting.

  • As a Sergeant you have a duel responsibility – On the one hand you must stay alive to command – but on the other you can’t stand behind and watch your guys die. These are hard to balance. Sometimes you need to be in the thick of things leading your troops. Some commands just don’t get followed well unless someone else is doing it first/too – and that someone just might have to be you.

  • Know when to sell yourself – and make the price high.

  • Change the formation if necessary. If we can’t charge anymore because there are too many dead, put the poles and spears out front to skirmish. Don’t leave shieldmen facing spears by themselves.

  • Keep your eyes open – watch the foe; watch your commanders; watch the unit and subcommnds next to you; watch your troops. Grow more eyes – you’ll need them.

After the Fight

  • Get people re-aligned during reforms. Play sheep dog. If fighters fall behind nudge them into place – if fighters get too far ahead call them back to the safety of the flock. When we break up make sure people reform – call your troops to you and make sure your moving towards the actual reform locations. Once you’re there – make sure folks are pointed the right way and ready to move. If necessary do this “on the move”.

  • Again, coordinate with your commander and your fellow sub-commanders. Find out what’s next and tell the troops.

  • The hardest part of being a Sergeant is knowing when to do something that no one discussed. Battle plans are only that – plans. Once the fighting comes there may be nothing resembling the plan left. Hopefully then your commanders will issue new orders on the fly – but if not you may have to just react. Or there may not be time for communication. There may be a hole you need to exploit – now, or a gap you need to fill – now. There is no good guidance for when to do this – its so situational. Experience will help.

Post-Battle

  • Make sure everybody’s got their stuff. If somebody left injured, try to make sure none of their gear gets left behind.

  • Make sure everybody gets water, and rests if there is time. Discourage the young bloods from wasting too much energy doing pickups between battles (a few is fun, more than that just tires them out.)

Post-War

  • Think about how things went, and how they could have been done better.

  • Ensure the people in your local group have the basics in melee training.

  • Tell good war stories.

Now, this all seems like a lot, But most of it is common sense answers to the questions of how you would like to be treated, what you would like to know, and what’s the best thing to do next.

As if this weren't enough, Rhianwen added.....

  • Be ready to assume command of your unit if the Captain falls. If you're a Captain, be ready to assume command of the army if the General falls. This includes being aware of the battle enough to know what the army as a whole (not just your unit) is doing, and knowing who of the command staff is left alive.
  • A leaderless army is usually a doomed army. (Of course, it can be argued that if the losses were bad enough that several of the command staff have fallen, it's probably doomed anyway.) But even an unwise command is almost always better than no command, and people like to die feeling like they're doing *something*. It's more satisfying, somehow. . . . 🙂

Rock, Paper, Scissors; Or Analogies of a Mad Man

Written by HG Dongal Eriksson, Originally Published in the Bird of Prey Online, Volume 7 Jan-Mar 2003 Issue

See, I was going to go with The Backyard Napoleon’s Pocket Guide To Melee Tactics, but HE Fernando was SO gracious,

Basically it breaks down to the three basic ways of fighting in a fixed front battle.


Shield walls = rock.
Spear work = paper
Charges (including pulse charges) = scissors
Shield walls (rock) beat charges (scissors).
Spears (paper) beat shields (rock).
Charges (scissors) beat spears (paper)


This is generally true for any type of battle situation, and more so for controlled frontages (Bridges, Gates, etc.) It tends to hold true in more open situations, as well, ON A LOCAL LEVEL.


So you have this knowledge, now, how do you put it to use?


We can assume that the other guy also has at least an instinctive knowledge of the same rules of battle, so they will try to tear your walls down, pulse charge your spears, and crush your charges on a hard wall. The KEY is transitions.


You need to anticipate the need to transition from any mode to any other, and you need to do them as seamlessly as possible.
By anticipation I mean both: having the people tasked and in place to make the transition; and also getting a read on what the opponent is trending into. It is important as well not to telegraph your transitions. If your sergeants are screaming “spears out, spears out!”, they bad guys have time to line up the pulse charge they need to knock them down.


Another thing to remember about transitions is that even success in a given evolution probably means that you have changed the face of your opponent, so you should change up to take best advantage of the new situation. What I mean is, if you send a line of spears up and pull over the bad guys’ wall, you are then in a situation of either paper on paper, if they don’t have a lot of secondaries, or paper on scissors if they do, and sooner or later those secondary shield guys are going to tire of being targets and charge. Conversely, if you pulse charge (scissors) their spears (paper), what is behind that is probably a rock, which is why we’ve been drilling on a pulse charge being exactly that, go out, and come back.


Another point to remember is that there are optimal contact ranges for these transitions. If two walls are facing, there are three basic ranges they can be at. At the longest range, there is enough room for both sides to send spears out between the walls, and you end up with a pure spear duel. While you can win the duel, it is a manpower victory (either skill OR numbers), not a tactical one. It is also brutally boring for the majority of your army, so stay out of it as much as possible. At medium range, one side or the other has enough room to send out spears, but not both. If you are at this range, what you should do depends on whether you’re the side who can get your guys out there. If so, great, but if not, you need to either shorten or lengthen the range. The reason is, if they have just enough room to get their spears out, your pulse charges are going to be costly, because their spears have a wall to retreat into, and backup to hit the guys charging them. Moving under fire at this range sucks, but it is less costly than maintaining it with the opponent having the advantage. Take the fight to them, or back up so you have room to pulse. At close range, neither side has spears out front, though some are probably fighting between the shieldmen and over them. Again, your response is dictated by the makeup of your opponent. If they are a tight wall, with their spears and poles fighting mostly from behind their shields, you gain fire superiority by filtering a few spears and poles into your front rank. Conversely, If they are a loose mix of spears and shields, then get right up into contact, and let your polearm maniacs really go to work.


So, when does it NOT go like this?


Sometimes you, or the other guy, has a mission that precludes being able to transition to all of the forms, like having to stick to a certain piece of terrain. Sometimes time constraints limit your options. Sometimes you simply don’t have the manpower, or the weapons mix available.So there you go. It’s quick and dirty, but keeping these points in mind as a commander or sergeant will help you keep tactical superiority over your little piece of the battlefield.


]I)ongal

Tactics Used in the Battle of Cannae

Written by Lord Petru Sergeiescu. Originally Published in the Online Bird of Prey, Volume 4, Apr-Jun 2002.

Author’s note:

I initially decided to write this article for two reasons. The first was to bring forth a part of history that, while occurring well before the typical SCA time period of 600-1,600 AD, is an important piece of military knowledge. The second was to adapt the tactics used in the battle of Cannae into a useful strategy for our own mass combats. As I talked to others more knowledgeable than myself in the wonder and frustration of being an SCA commander, I opted to forego the second reason and concentrate on the history surrounding this battle between Hannibal’s Carthaginian army and Rome. This, hopefully, will not be too boring for you. I hope you enjoy reading this article as much as I thoroughly delighted in researching and writing it!

Petru Sergeiescu
tconn@ku.edu


Cannae: Hannibal’s Victory

The Roman Empire was growing in the third century BC. It continually expanded its borders, subjugating any whom stood in its path. Much of Europe was beginning to feel the impact of Rome’s continual thirst for land and power. When this expansion reached Africa, it ran across another country with a similar mindset. Carthage was, in its own right, a military and cultural powerhouse. Like many other cultures that encountered the Romans, it did not like the idea of being under Rome’s control. Unlike many others though, it could do something about the presence of Romans on Carthaginian soil.

The First Punic War was fought between 264-241 BC, with Carthage losing to the Romans, but retaining much of its sovereignty. The Second Punic War officially began when Hannibal landed on Italian soil. It should be noted that Hannibal was not out to conquer Rome. His mission was to “reduce the political power of Rome so that she should no longer be a constant menace to the prosperity, or even the continued existence of Carthage” (de Beer, 1969). To do this, Hannibal had to win enough battles and inflict enough damage to the Roman’s aura of invincibility that her city-states would rebel and/or defect from the Republic.

The pinnacle of Hannibal’s 15-year campaign on Italian soil was the battle of Cannae. The tactics Hannibal employed to defeat a superior Roman army have been studied and implemented throughout history. Prussian and German generals in WWI and WWII called decisive, complete victories ‘Cannaes’. General Norman Schwartzkopf, UN commander during the Gulf War, studied Cannae and employed the principles Hannibal used in his quick and highly successful attack against the Iraqi (Goldsworthy, 2000).

In order to fully appreciate the impact of Hannibal’s victory at Cannae, one must look at not only the tactics used during the battle, but the events that transpired both before and after Rome’s clash with the Carthaginians. This paper will briefly describe the events leading to, the fighting of, and the effects of Cannae on both Rome and Hannibal.

I. A Call to Arms

Hannibal was becoming a thorn in Rome’s side. Having already made his famous crossing of the Alps, Hannibal had battled his way deep into Italy. Successive victories at Ticinus and Trebia in 218 BC, followed by more decisive triumphs at the battles of Lake Trasimene and Volturnus in 217 BC had stirred the Roman Senate into taking immediate action. To make things worse, Hannibal’s army had escaped Dictator Quintus Fabius Maximus at Campania and settled in for the winter of 217/6 BC at the protective citadel at Gerunium.

In the early spring of 216 BC, Hannibal moved his troops south from Gerunium to the practically abandoned town of Cannae. This move served two purposes: To remove the threat of a possible Roman attack on Hannibal’s flank, and to provide his troops with much needed supplies (Peddie, 1997). Cannae was used as a granary by the Romans, and was the ideal location for Hannibal to replenish his food stores. The town itself was situated on a large, flat-topped hill that overlooked the plunder-rich Aufidus (Ofante) River plain. He was shadowed by a smaller Roman force led by Consuls Servilius Germinus and Atilius Regulus, who had assumed command after Fabius and Master of Horse Marcus Minucius Rufus were forced to relinquish their posts (Lazenby, 1978).

The Senate elected two Consuls to lead the army that would thwart Hannibal. The first, Gaius Terentius Varro, was by many accounts a hotheaded political placement. He was from a wealthy merchant family, and had risen through the political ranks by receiving the popular plebian vote. The second Consular appointment was made to directly oppose Varro’s election. Lucius Aemilius Paullus was a veteran commander of the First Punic War and was the patrician candidate put forth by ex-dictator Fabius. According to the historians Polybius and Livy, Paullus was a capable man who favored the Fabius defensive “wait and see” philosophy (Bradford, 1981).

The Roman army raised for these new consuls was the largest in the Republic’s history. While there is an argument among historians as to the exact number raised for the campaign of 216, the prevailing number tends to be eight legions of 5,000 men each. It was expected that Rome’s allies would match this number, bringing the total up to an astounding 80,000 men. The cavalry for this juggernaut was reported to be around 6,000 men, including allied support (Bradford, 1981).

Varro and Paullus departed Rome with their newly raised army and headed towards the army of Germinus and Regulus, already following Hannibal and heading towards Cannae. “The two Consuls took command on alternate days, in accordance with (Roman) custom” (de Beers, 1969). This was to be the army that would crush Hannibal and anyone else that got in its way. Rome’s might was in full view of the ancient world, and Varro and Paullus intended to show everyone exactly how nasty the legions could be when called upon to act.

II. Roman Soil Is Bloodied

After Varro and Paullus met up with Germinus and Regulus, they sent Regulus back to Rome, citing he was too old to campaign and fight (Caven, 1980). The now combined Roman forces marched towards Cannae. As they neared the now plundered town, Paullus noticed that the area was flat and open which heavily favored Hannibal’s superior cavalry. He recommended to Varro that they use the hill upon which Cannae sat as a defensible position, thus removing yet one more card from Hannibal’s deck of tactics. Varro, who commanded the Roman forces that day, disagreed and proceeded to advance the army onto the Aufidus plain. Hannibal harassed him with his light cavalry and skirmishers, but the Romans were able to successfully defend against them.

Meanwhile, Hannibal had moved his camp from the eastern side of the Aufidus to the west, where the ground was even flatter and more open. The next day, Paullus moved the main portion of his army across the river too, but left one-third of his army on the eastern bank to suppress pillaging and to collect water. The date was now late July. The heat was stifling, making water collection a necessity for both armies. The two armies stayed camped in their respective locations for two days; separated by a mere 1 1/2 miles. During the second of these two days (August 1), Hannibal offered battle. Paullus refused. Hannibal, who well understood the importance of the Aufidus’ water to the Roman troops, sent his Numidian cavalry to the smaller Roman camp to harass and kill any water-bearing slaves that were found outside protective fortifications. According to Polybius, the Numidians boldly rode up to the edge of the Roman encampment, causing havoc and thoroughly disrupting the supply of water to the Roman camp (Caven, 1980).

Varro was incensed, as Hannibal had hoped, and on August 2nd marshaled his forces and crossed back over the Aufidus to do battle. He positioned his 2,400 heavy Roman cavalry on the right flank, with the river to their right and the main body of the infantry to their left. On the left flank, approximately 3,600 Latin and allied cavalry were placed with their backs against the hill of Cannae, leaving their left and front sides open. Each Consul commanded one flank. Paullus took the heavy Roman right, while Varro oversaw the allied left. Germinus was given sole command of the largest Roman infantry ever assembled. Varro lined up his heavy infantry in a deep and relatively narrow phalanx formation that would limit their flexibility, but would increase their ability to “punch” a hole a thousand yards wide through the Carthaginian center (Goldsworthy, 2000; Caven, 1980). Goldsworthy (2000) noted that “the entire (Roman) army must have occupied a frontage of between one and two miles”. Ultimately, Varro’s plan was to have his cavalry units last long enough for the center of Hannibal’s army to break before the superior Roman infantry and then he would “mop up” the overpowered African infantry. This plan was used and almost succeeded in Trebia the previous year, but Hannibal’s elephants had thwarted Rome’s victory. Now, without elephants to save him, Varro believed Hannibal would fall before Rome’s might.

Hannibal crossed the river without incidence, using his light cavalry and light infantry to cover the main army’s river fording. He gave command of his roughly 7,000 heavy Spanish and Gallic cavalry to Hasdrubal, and lined them up against the Roman heavy cavalry. His right flank consisted of approximately 3,000 Numidian light cavalry, and was commanded by Maharbal. Much like the Mongols of later years, the Numidians were masters at hit-and-run cavalry tactics, relying on speed and confusion to be effective (Lazenby, 1978). They did not use bridles, but instead entwined their hands in their steed’s mane for control and guided their mounts with their knees.

Hannibal divided his 40,000 infantry into four sections. Roughly 5,000 Carthaginian veterans were placed on either side of the Gallic and Spanish infantry. Due to the successes Hannibal had attained in earlier battles, his African soldiers were outfitted in Roman armor, used Roman scuta, and fought with Roman swords. As was their custom, the Gauls were “naked” (most likely undressed to the waist), according to Polybius, while the Spanish were dressed in their typical white tunics bordered with purple. Both the Gauls and the Spanish had retained their own swords; the Gauls used long, slashing blades, while the Spanish preferred their short, stabbing swords (Goldsworthy, 2000). In all, there were approximately 20,000 Gauls and around 4,000 Spanish infantry deployed by Hannibal into the center of his formation. The fourth unit was comprised of about 6,000 light infantry (skirmishers), including Balaeric slingers and velites, which were used to test and harass the Romans before the battle began in earnest.

It should be noted at this point that there were several important factors involved in this battle besides number of troops. The first of these was hydration. Due to Hannibal’s guerrilla tactics on the smaller Roman encampment the previous day, a majority of the Roman legions and cavalry lacked proper hydration. That, combined with a hot August day in southern Italy and a brutal sun shining in their eyes as the afternoon wore on, would have severely affected performance. There was also a headwind with which the Roman troops had to deal. While the wind itself was not a major factor, the dust that Hannibal’s 50,000 men and horses created would have been enormous and potentially debilitating to sight. Experience was another crucial element in this battle. Hannibal’s men were veterans of at least two campaigns against the Romans. His African troops had been with him since he touched Italian soil. His Gallic, Spanish, and Numidian troops were fierce fighters that had been with him for at least one season of fighting. Rome’s levies were fresh troops. A majority was untested, thus increasing the need for quality leadership. That, coupled with such a large number of troops, played a factor in the events at Cannae. Finally, the terrain itself was advantageous to Hannibal. As mentioned earlier, the Aufidus plain was relatively flat and barren, giving a large advantage to Hannibal’s superior cavalry. Also, the Romans were in front of the hill leading to Cannae and hemmed in on their right flank by the Aufidus River, effectively leaving only their left flank as a viable retreat option (Bradford, 1981).

At the onset of the battle, the Roman and Carthaginian skirmishers began to pick at each other, testing for weaknesses and trying to force their opponent into committing to a plan of action (Lazenby, 1978). It wasn’t until Hannibal’s heavy cavalry charged the Roman right flank that the battle began in earnest. Hasdrubal’s 7,000 Spanish and Gallic heavy cavalry collided with Paullus’ 2,400 Italian heavy cavalry (Peddie, 1997). Immediately, the sheer force of numbers began driving the Romans back. To make matters worse, the river to their right and the infantry to their left effectively hemmed in the Romans. Many left their horses to fight on foot, allowing riderless horses to plunge unchecked through the Roman lines, causing further confusion (Lamb, 1960). The Romans were soon routed and began fleeing back towards their main camp and up the hill to Cannae. Hasdrubal successfully maintained command of his troops and rode behind the advancing Roman infantry and assisted the Numidians attack the Roman allied cavalry (de Beer, 1969).

On Rome’s left flank, Varro held his ground against the Numidian light cavalry. His troops did not ride after the fleet, shaggy mounts of the Africans, but instead braved their pulsing style of attack. Indeed, Varro was effectively and efficiently upholding his initial plan of having his cavalry withstand attack until his infantry could break the Carthaginian center. However, when Hasdrubal’s heavy cavalry threatened his right flank, Varro and his men rode with haste from the field. The Numidians gave chase while yet again Hasdrubal reformed his troops for attack (Lazenby, 1978).At the onset of the initial cavalry rush, the skirmishers for both sides melted back into their respective lines. The formation presented to the Romans was unique. Hannibal’s Gauls and Spanish troops were arrayed in a convex line, with the outermost point closest to the Roman legions. Intent on destroying their enemy, the Romans began their steady, tightly maintained march towards the Carthaginian forces. The Gauls and Spaniards fought valiantly, but had to give ground due to the sheer number of Roman troops. As they made their slow retreat, their line flexed backward from convex to straight, and then finally concave. Meanwhile, the impetus of the Roman’s forward advance carried them between the two African heavy infantry forces (Caven, 1980). Paullus, after the routing of his cavalry, assisted in leading the Romans towards their foe. As the front line of the Romans began to tire and meet continual resistance from the Gallic and Spanish troops, they realized they had nowhere to go for retreat. By that time, the Gauls and Spaniards had been pushed to the rear of their battle lines. They had yielded ground, but never broke before the Roman legions. The Roman advance slowly ground to a halt as those in front were stymied while those behind continually pressed forward.

At this time, Hannibal signaled the final stage of his battle plan. With the sound of war horns, the heavy African infantry wheeled towards each other and began attacking the Roman flanks (Caven, 1980). Meanwhile, the Gauls and Spaniards redoubled their efforts and applied pressure to the Italian front ranks. It was also at this time that Hasdrubal’s heavy cavalry crashed into the back of the Roman infantry, effectively sealing off any avenues of escape. As the Romans vainly sought to free themselves from this perfectly executed double envelopment, the battle turned into a massacre.

III. The Price of Failure

The number of dead at the battle is yet another debatable point among historians. Livy reported that Rome and her allies lost about 45,000 infantry and 2,700 cavalry, whereas Appian and Plutarch cited 50,000. Polybius maintained that Rome lost a combined total of 70,000 troops. Regardless of the actual total, Hannibal’s victory was impressive. He lost approximately 4,000 Gauls, 1,500 Spaniards and Africans, and 200 cavalry in the battle and managed to immediately capture 3,000 infantry and 1,500 cavalry. 12,800 surrendered the following day instead of trying to fight their way out of the two Roman camps (Lazenby, 1978).

On the other hand, Rome was devastated. Varro fled to the crossroads of Venusia. Paullus was lost in the infantry battle, as was Germinus. Marcus Minicius Rufus, Master of Horse during the previous years’ campaign was killed. Rome also lost two quaestors (high ranking officials who judged certain criminal cases), a majority of her military tribunes (29 of 48), and 80 senators (Goldsworthy, 2000). To put this in perspective, one can look at potentially the bloodiest of all modern wars: WWI. The losses at Cannae suffered over a few square miles equaled the first day of fighting on the Somme. This may not sound important, but the battle for the Somme was spread over a 16-mile front (Goldsworthy, 2000). More men were killed at Cannae than in all four months of the battle of Passchendaele in 1917 (Bradford, 1981), considered one of the bloodiest battles of the “War to End All Wars”.

Aside from the physical loss of nearly 12% of Rome’s available manpower in under three campaign seasons, she suffered an even more dire pain: loss of invincibility. After the debacle at Cannae, Rome effectively left everything south of the River Vulturnus to Hannibal’s army (see map). The southern states in the Roman Confederacy, of course, did not like the idea of being left alone with a foreign army on their soil. Arpi, Salapia, Herdonia, and Uzentum in Apulia declared for Hannibal, as did most of the towns in Lucania, and those in Bruttium that weren’t Greek. Several peoples pledged their loyalty to Hannibal at this time too. The Picentes from the region of Salernum, the Hirpini, and most of the Samnites all favored Hannibal. However, the most important ally Hannibal gained from his victory at Cannae was the city of Capua in Campania. This alliance would prove very beneficial for Hannibal later in his campaign against Rome (de Beer, 1969).

Cannae was Hannibal’s finest hour. Even though he had success against Rome for many years following Cannae, he was never able to repeat such an astounding victory. Cannae was important for several reasons. Beyond being a costly military setback for Rome, it showed that the Roman army was not invincible. It also proved to many cultures of the time that Rome could not protect its own lands, causing Rome to lose political power in the
Mediterranean. However, despite this loss Rome was able to eventually defeat Hannibal and Carthage, thus ending the Second Punic War. Many cultures fought Rome, even sacked her capitol, but never did Rome again  fare so poorly in one battle.

References

  • Bradford, E. (1981). Hannibal. London: Macmillan London Ltd.

  • Caven, B. (1980). Punic Wars. London: George Werdenfeld and Nicholson
    Ltd.

  • De Beer, Sir G. (1969). Hannibal: Challenging Rome’s Supremacy. New
    York: Viking Press, Inc.

  • Goldsworthy, A. (2000). The Punic Wars. London: Cassell and Company.

  • Koch, H.W. (1995). Medieval Warfare. Greenwich, CT: Brompton Books
    Corporation.

  • Lamb, H. (1960). Hannibal. New York: Bantam Books, Inc.

  • Lazenby, J.F. (1978). Hannibal’s War: A Military History of the Second Punic
    War. Warminster, England: Aris and Philips Ltd.

  • Peddie, J. (1997). Hannibal’s War. Phoenix Mill, England: Sutton Publishing
    Ltd.

An Early Article On Calon Shield Wall

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.

Equipment

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.

Special Units

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

Pavel Y’sivch

NOTE: This article and many others are also available via Pav’s web page at http://comp.uark.edu/~pavel/

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.