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Ben Pitawanakwat




Location: Toronto, Canada
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PostPosted: Tue 13 Apr, 2004 2:00 pm    Post subject: Zweihander usage.         Reply with quote

Hi all,

I stumbled my way into myArmoury.com, actually, and found the featured article on the Swiss most enjoyable. I noticed the few "massive sword" threads, and have read that zweihander's were used to break apart pike formations. One thing I haven't been able to find anywhere is how one would actually go about break a pike formation with a zweihander. It's a small topic, I know. Were they used to chop apart the actual pikes, whereupon the infantryman would then be free to engage the pikemen, or were they used to sort of "deflect" one's way through the pikes?

Just a small question. Thanks in advance!

Cheers,
Ben
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Allen W





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PostPosted: Tue 13 Apr, 2004 2:46 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Pike formations are tremendously co-dependent organizations with each pikeman relying on the front of spikes provided by his neighbors for his defense as a pike is hopelessly unwieldy for personal defense. Severing or beating down/aside pikes in the opposing square creates a gap into which halberdiers and two-handed swordsmen could enter and further disrupt the formation. Once these pikes are no longer reenforcing one another friendly pikes exploit the gaps and ideally set the opposition to flight. Such pike squares are also vulnerable on the flank so even a weak two-front counter could theoretically destroy a much larger pike square. This is why the Swiss preferred operating with two separate squares forming a divided front while a third was held in reserve.
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Ben Pitawanakwat




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PostPosted: Tue 13 Apr, 2004 3:14 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Ah, that lays that burning question down to rest. Thanks for spelling it out for me. Happy

Cheers,
Ben
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Felix Wang




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PostPosted: Tue 13 Apr, 2004 6:43 pm    Post subject: (with grinding of teeth)         Reply with quote

I am sorry, but I would like to disagree with some of the above. This issue has come up several times recently here and at SFI, and it seems enlightenment must come one person at a time (sigh).

Zweihanders and halberds did not cut their way into a pike block through the pikes. There is no literary evidence for this that I know of, and precious little iconographic evidence. There are pictures of single men with zweihanders or halberds in the front line facing pikes (heroes or commanders, perhaps); but not a whole rank of such men, nor a clustered "assault group". There was such a thing as a "forlorn hope" which was scattered in front of a battle line, but no one seemed to have expected them the shred their way into a pike column - if they could do that, they wouldn't be forlorn, they would be invincible.

To repeat myself (with apologies to anyone who has read this before):

The use of zweihander swords and halberds may not have been to break into a solid pike front, but to dismember it once it was already stopped/disrupted. Two popular ways of stopping a pike block and disordering its front ranks were with an opposing pike column, or using some sort of physical barriers and massive firepower to blow holes in the pike block. Once this was achieved, a variety of shorter range weapons could be used very effectively, since the problem of getting past the long reach of the pikeheads had been resolved.

When two blocks of pikemen met, it was possible for the entire first rank of each side to fall (dead or wounded) in the initial encounter. Then, the pike front ceased to be solid, and as the columns pushed forwards the front row pikes were broken, trod underfoot, pushed up or otherwise disordered. This is different from what happened when other troops attacked a pike block - since the first thing the other troops (with shorter weapons) had to do was fight the pike heads, in order to get close enough to fight the pike men. This could be done, but most armies seem to have favored fighting pikemen with pikemen.

If zweihanders really could chew a path into / through a pike block, the other side would quickly have formed "anti-zweihander squads" (which could be the same weapon - just like tanks are used to fight tanks). There is no record of such a type of unit or soldier, which suggests it wasn't a major issue.

A diagram (explanation below)



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Last edited by Felix Wang on Tue 13 Apr, 2004 6:53 pm; edited 1 time in total
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Felix Wang




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PostPosted: Tue 13 Apr, 2004 6:48 pm    Post subject: continued         Reply with quote

a battle plan from 1547, by a Italian captain named Tiberio in the English service, for use in Scotland. He had a mixed company of English and mercenary troops, and he deployed them as shown in the diagram. (Gervase Phillips The Anglo-Scots Wars 1513-1550)

An explanation of the plan shown above:

Each letter is a soldier. The firepower is mixed bows and arquebuses, and deployed in front of the shock troops. The core of the formation is a block of pikemen. They are flanked on either side by sword and "buckler" (target) men. The reserve/backstop force is of bills. No Zweihanders are involved, but the bills are very similar to halberds, and the swordsmen here fill functions similar to other short-arm troops.

The exact role of the troops may vary, but the general outline seems pretty clear. The skirmishers shoot, followed by massed missile troops. The faster-shooting bows help cover the slower but powerful arquebuses. If the enemy continues to get closer, the missile troops move to the rear/sides, and the pikemen receive the main impact. The swordsmen can close in on the flanks of the enemy. (They can also be used in a more mobile role in rough terrain or if the formation itself is flanked.) The bills can be deployed on either side of the pikes, or if needed, are the final backstop to any enemy attack. By the time any enemy has broken through to the bills, longer arms like pikes will be broken, disordered, or discarded in the crowd.

No one is standing in the front and expected to cut his way into a line of enemy pikes. (And the Scots did use pikes, as at Flodden and Pinkie). The pike block is the core and foundation of this formation, with everyone else supporting or assisting them.

On the issue of the vulnerability of the sides of a Swiss pike block, the record suggests they weren't all that fragile:

At St Jakob en Birs, a Swiss force attacked the “Armagnac” force of the Dauphin Louis in 1444. The Swiss force (which apparently expected reinforcements at any moment) charged into a mercenary force fifteen times their strength, and broke through its center. They were inevitably surrounded, and attacked by horse and missile troops until the sun went down. All 1500 odd Swiss were dead; as were 2000 foemen around them. The Dauphin was so impressed by this seemingly suicidal courage that he abandoned his invasion.

The Armagnac force was composed of the roughest, hardiest, and most dangerous mercenaries who pillaged France during the Hundred Years' War - they were assembled by the French King and sent off to Switzerland to get them out of France. After encircling a force one-fifteenth their size with archers and heavy armored men-at-arms, it took them all day to finish off the Swiss, and they lost more men than their surrounded "victims". The flank and rear of the pike block obviously were not weak points.


Last edited by Felix Wang on Tue 13 Apr, 2004 7:03 pm; edited 1 time in total
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Allen W





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PostPosted: Tue 13 Apr, 2004 7:01 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

A valiant effort Felix but you ignore the obvious. Zweihanders and halberds were typically used from within pike blocks to break such stalemates. There is a reason that the Swiss and Landsknechts are most associated with pikes, halberds, and zweihanders(plus cannons and arquebusiers). The vast bulk of your post only sets the context of mine.
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Felix Wang




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PostPosted: Tue 13 Apr, 2004 7:06 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

"Zweihanders and halberds were typically used from within pike blocks to break such stalemates"

Exactly. They are not out front, cutting into the pike front. They are backup troops, to exploit the collision of two pike lines.
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Allen W





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PostPosted: Tue 13 Apr, 2004 7:10 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Felix one important point you seem to miss is that zweihanders, halberds, and bills(or any cutting polearm for that matter) were tactically interchangeable when part of a pike formation. Your choice of a British example is also puzzling as zweihanders never saw great use there. Examples from within the Holy Roman Empire would have been far more appropriate.
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Felix Wang




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PostPosted: Tue 13 Apr, 2004 7:16 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Allen W wrote:
Felix one important point you seem to miss is that zweihanders, halberds, and bills(or any cutting polearm for that matter) were tactically interchangeable when part of a pike formation. Your choice of a British example is also puzzling as zweihanders never saw great use there. Examples from within the Holy Roman Empire would have been far more appropriate.


Sorry, but I don't have a battle plan from the HRE - if you do, please share with us.

A) "zweihanders, halberds, and bills(or any cutting polearm for that matter) were tactically interchangeable"

B) the British (actually Italian - the officer is Italian) plan uses bills

C) ergo, this plan is exactly as applicable as one from the Emperor Maximilian.
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Allen W





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PostPosted: Tue 13 Apr, 2004 7:18 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

First let me apologize as our simultaneous posts are losing sink. You already sighted the Forlorn Hope who are so named because they did fight out front. Zweihanders, halberds, etc. were stationed in various positions and these changed from time to time and from country to country. As zweihanders are typically a germanic weapon it is best to stick to Germanic examples. I have seen reprints of various period illustrations showing dopplesoldners posted in a front line ahead of the pike square as well distributed among pike files and in large formations surrounding standards.
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Allen W





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PostPosted: Tue 13 Apr, 2004 7:24 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Felix Wang wrote:
Allen W wrote:
Felix one important point you seem to miss is that zweihanders, halberds, and bills(or any cutting polearm for that matter) were tactically interchangeable when part of a pike formation. Your choice of a British example is also puzzling as zweihanders never saw great use there. Examples from within the Holy Roman Empire would have been far more appropriate.


Sorry, but I don't have a battle plan from the HRE - if you do, please share with us.

A) "zweihanders, halberds, and bills(or any cutting polearm for that matter) were tactically interchangeable"

B) the British (actually Italian - the officer is Italian) plan uses bills

C) ergo, this plan is exactly as applicable as one from the Emperor Maximilian.


But the thread is about how zweihanders were used. Additionally your italian is devising a plan for Brits based, presumably, on their rescources and thus a British example. Unfortunately I do not have any battle plans to share. Those I have seen were years ago and in sources that I didn't own. Some of them were reprints of contemporary sources in Ospreys including Landsknechts and Armies of Henry VIII.
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Felix Wang




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PostPosted: Tue 13 Apr, 2004 7:39 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Allen,

If you can dig up these illustrations, that would be most helpful. I can't recall any offhand. I quite agree that Germanic references are preferable, but the material on minor tactics of this period is sparse - as I noted, there isn't a comparable diagram that I know of (although the German-language literature may have them). As Tiberio was an Italian, it is highly likely he knew of contemporary Swiss tactics, as the Swiss were widely employed in Italy during this period.

The only image I have at hand is one attributed to Durer. It shows the attack of men-at-arms on a pike unit. I do think it may be relevant - because the sources emphasize the rapidity of attack of a pike block, and there is no mention of units reorganizing at the beginning of an attack because they find the enemy is now dismounted (or otherwise changed). The Swiss in particular seem to have attacked without hesitation or alteration of their formations once an attack was launched.
In this case, of course, the halberds are well behind the pikes.



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Allen W





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PostPosted: Tue 13 Apr, 2004 7:46 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

As I said the formations are variable but a pike formation seen from the rear obstructs anything up front. On a side note there is painting in Munich in the Sixteenth century section showing a pike formation charging from the classic crescentic formation with one "point" of the crescent leveling its pikes and running forward causing the entire formation to wheel left and forward.
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Josh S.





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PostPosted: Thu 15 Apr, 2004 10:51 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

It occurred to me the other day that it may have been possible to cut through pike shafts with zweihanders -and I'm not speaking of the theoretical "ideal situation" of fixed target et al. I was massing around with a chair-stool the other other day with my Windlass German flamberge(grrr!) and gave a pretty hard swing into the leg, it went in about a half-inch. But then I got a nutty idea, half-sworded the monster blade, gave a moderate -not strong, but not weak either- downward swing at an angle more parallel to the grain -it went in about two inches and actually made a slightly deeper cut, horizontally, than the aformentioned horizontal swing. If i had madea full-strength swing, with the sword extended fully(i.e. not half-sworded), it may have easily gone through the 2-inch-square-thick leg. So if one theoretical tactic I've heard of was used(i.e., pikemen locking up each other's pike-heads and then letting the swordsmen run into the midst of this lockup and proceed to run parallel to the battle lines holding their sword vertically to catch and sweep the enemy's pikes aside, then trapping them down on the ground with a downward swing), if a second zweihander-man came up behind the first while the first was holding these pike-heads down, he could probably lop off a few seeing as they would be stationary and relatively easy to hit along the grain. It probably never happened, but it doesn't sound so impossible to me, now that I've considered cuts along the grain, that the possibility of the pike heads being cut off may have existed.
"The accomplishment of man has been to remain fractured, by cause of which we are strong."
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Bill Grandy
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PostPosted: Thu 15 Apr, 2004 11:10 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

While I don't think it's impossible to cut the head off a pike, I do think it's not tactically sound. First of all, if you sever the head off of a pike, that doesn't render the staff totally useless. Perhaps less effective, but certainly not useless. The effort spent making a weapon less effective would more wisely be put into making the weilder ineffective. Second, if you can hit a pike head directly enough to sever it, that means you could have passed the tip and focused on killing the weilder.
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Allen W





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PostPosted: Thu 15 Apr, 2004 11:42 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Bill Grandy wrote:
While I don't think it's impossible to cut the head off a pike, I do think it's not tactically sound. First of all, if you sever the head off of a pike, that doesn't render the staff totally useless. Perhaps less effective, but certainly not useless. The effort spent making a weapon less effective would more wisely be put into making the weilder ineffective. Second, if you can hit a pike head directly enough to sever it, that means you could have passed the tip and focused on killing the weilder.


I have always had difficulty picturing someone just lopping the head off of a pike and like Josh pictured great angular cuts into the grain that if not severing the shaft would allow a broken one to sag and be useless. My view changed a couple of years ago when visiting the zeughaus in Vienna. There I found three severed pike heads that had been cut just behind the head at a right angle to the shaft. They were cut cleanly for about half their thickness and had a short lip where the other half broke free.

Bill Grandy's post doesn't seem to allow for the overlapping pikes of the second, third, and fourth ranks. While I can't envision a single rank of two-handed swordsmen removing all the heads of the opposing front pike rank, the effort might create gaps in the defence into which one's own pikemen, halberdiers, etc. could focus to break the pike block.
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Felix Wang




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PostPosted: Thu 15 Apr, 2004 7:41 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

There is at least one battle which shows the doppelsoldners were not positioned up front: Bicocca.

Hans Delbrueck has this to say: "The masses of [Swiss] even showed mistrust of their own leaders, saying the captians, the young nobles, the pensioners, and the triple-pay mercenaries should move to the front of the column and not shout from the rear."

Charles Oman says this about the Swiss attack: "they were received by four successive volleys from Pescara's Spanish arquebusiers; it is said that all the standards went down, and that the three or four first ranks perished wholesale. But this did not quite check the onset: the Swiss were heard calling for the officers and double-pay men to come to the front, and the summons was not in vain."

In a crisis, the doppelsoldners were called to come to the front of the column and lead the attack; they must have been several ranks back.
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Zach Stambaugh





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PostPosted: Sat 17 Apr, 2004 11:04 am    Post subject: thanx         Reply with quote

thanks for this discussion. i was wondering the same thing. i agree with the assertion about cutting heads being quite possible. however, i would not want to risk getting my blade wedged in a pikeshaft, when i could have pushed it up with the quillons , down to the ground or just to the sides of me and stepped in past the heads and started hurting people.

sorry for the run-on sentence

It is better to be over careful a hundred times than dead once. --- Mark Twain (give or take a slight misquote)
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Joachim Nilsson





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PostPosted: Sat 17 Apr, 2004 1:44 pm    Post subject: Re: thanx         Reply with quote

Zach Stambaugh wrote:
thanks for this discussion. i was wondering the same thing. i agree with the assertion about cutting heads being quite possible. however, i would not want to risk getting my blade wedged in a pikeshaft, when i could have pushed it up with the quillons , down to the ground or just to the sides of me and stepped in past the heads and started hurting people.

sorry for the run-on sentence


Yes, I think that's the best use of a renaissance twohander against pikes; sweep them aside and close the distance to the enemy and go to work on them.
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Jeanry Chandler




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PostPosted: Sun 18 Apr, 2004 1:36 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Allen W wrote:
As zweihanders are typically a germanic weapon it is best to stick to Germanic examples. .


First, my compliments to all posters, this is an interesting and informative thread.

Second, I thnk the dopplehander or zweihander seems to be a swiss invention, actually, which arguably isn't necessarily the same thing as german or even germanic. (at least according to my swiss aunt)

Third, while the British did not use dopplehanders, they were hardly unknown in the British isles. The infamous half celtic, half norse Gallowglass mercenaries, having served on the Continent, brought dopplehanders back with them to Ireland and Scotland. They played a major role in the campaigns of Robert the Bruce among many others, and were known as specialists in the use of what were essentially dopplehanders: six foot two handed greatswords, albiet with a few unique design features such as ring-pommels. There is a famous Albrecht Durer illustration of Gallowglass with two such weapons.

The larger 'claymores' were developments of these weapons, and some of them were larger than any greatsword.


JR

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Emiliano Zapata
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