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Bob Case





Joined: 06 Jun 2013

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PostPosted: Thu 06 Jun, 2013 5:06 pm    Post subject: Tercio tactics question         Reply with quote

Hey - I had a question about Tercio tactics that I haven't been able to find a good answer for anywhere. There's plenty of information out there about Tercios (and other pike-and-shot formations) were initially placed in the battlefield, and about what the distribution of different troop types (pikeman, arquebusiers, musketeers) were at various battles and periods, but I've found myself unable to make a clear picture of how these formations engaged in battle on a nuts-and-bolts level.

I've formed some of my questions using info I've found here: http://forum.milua.org/archive/TactiqueUk.htm

Here's one example of a formation:



I'm told that one advantage of pikeman was their ability to defend against cavalry. But in this formation as it's pictured it looks as though the most obvious targets for cavalry were the mangas. What exactly happened if one or more mangas was charged by cavalry? Whoever wrote the text in the link has this section: "On a battlefield the Infantry would be deployed in one or several squadrons. Each squadron would have the pikemen in the centre and the gunmen on the wings. Like that, the gunmen could harass the enemy infantry, before the assault from the block of pikemen and the pikemen could create a fortress to protect the gunmen from the cavalry.."

Is this what actually happened? It seems like a very complicated maneuver to pull off while you have pistol or lance cavalry charging towards you, especially given the size of the formation. And once you've performed it, are the firearms still used? You would have to fire over or between the soldiers in front of you, which might be dangerous.

Another possibility is in this picture: http://crossfireamersfoort.files.wordpress.co...rralto.jpg (I just used the url because it's very big and I'm not sure how to resize pictures on this forum). One or more ranks of pikeman brace their pikes on the ground and the arquebusiers/musketeers stand behind them. But most tercios I've heard described used roughly a 50/50 split between soldiers with and without firearms. Seems like there wouldn't be enough room in this mehod.

Finally, did the pikemen ever fight in melee, or were they only there to defend against cavalry?

These seem like such simple questions, but I haven't been able to find good answers anywhere. There's a ton of information on this battle or that battle, or about what the soldiers wore, but almost none about what actually happened when a tercios actually engaged the enemy. I also have this problem with other pike-and-shot formations.

If anyone knows the answer to these questions or where I can find it I would be grateful...
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Elling Polden




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PostPosted: Fri 07 Jun, 2013 2:03 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

In brief and grossly simplified:
It a common assumtion these days that pikes where a defensive weapon, as they performed in that role just before they became obsolete.

Initially, however, renaisance pike warfare was extremely agressive, relying on the momentum, range and striking power of what is essentially a 4-5m long spear to break enemy formations.
On the renaisance battlefiled, the pikemen where the hammer, and the guns support. The harquebusiers would soften up the target with volleys at point blank before the the pikemen crashed into them.
In this scenario, the musketeers are the actuall cavalry defence, as their high powered "anti-tank" weapons could pierce the armour of period heavy cavalry.

As the period progresses, focus shifts gradually from extremely bloody pike assaults to firefights, and the pike/shot ratio changes, until the pikes are merely present to prevent the enemy from charging the shot. Which rarely happens, as the oponents have generally adopted the same focus themselves.
By this time, however, cavalrymen are largely unarmoured, and pikemen can deterr them from charging quite efficently. But with the introduction of the bayonet and light flintlock muskets an extra musketeer becomes preferable to a pikeman.

"this [fight] looks curious, almost like a game. See, they are looking around them before they fall, to find a dry spot to fall on, or they are falling on their shields. Can you see blood on their cloths and weapons? No. This must be trickery."
-Reidar Sendeman, from King Sverre's Saga, 1201
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Radovan Geist




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PostPosted: Fri 07 Jun, 2013 2:41 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

I would second what Mr. Polden wrote, adding one thing: pikemen started to become largely obsolete on the European battlefields already during the 30-yrs war, with introduction of lighter muskets that allowed more efficient firing. together with a better use of light field artillery, it provided better protection from the cavalry attacks. That was reflected in changes of the composition of regiments during the 30-yrs war: by its end, musketeers were in much greater numbers.
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Radovan Geist




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PostPosted: Fri 07 Jun, 2013 2:50 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

as for the original question on tercio: check Osprey book Pike and Shot Tactics 1590 - 1660. It has a chapter on the Spanish army. With all the reservations one might sometimes have to the historic accuracy of Osprey books, this one seems OK.
And here is a part of what is says about the tactics of tercio:

"When attacked by cavalry, the intention was for the shot to be protected by the length of the pikes, and 'the right and natural girdelinge of shott indeede ought to be no more shott in ranke, then that the pike may well cover and defende', this being 'three or four shott at the most'. Where the number of shot was greater than could easily be protected by the pike the tactic was to form a hollow square or oblong, with three or four ranks of shot outside and protected by the pike and the surplus shot brought inside the square." (p. 29)
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Daniel Staberg




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PostPosted: Sat 08 Jun, 2013 7:22 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Radovan Geist wrote:
as for the original question on tercio: check Osprey book Pike and Shot Tactics 1590 - 1660. It has a chapter on the Spanish army. With all the reservations one might sometimes have to the historic accuracy of Osprey books, this one seems OK.
(...)

While the Osprey "Pike & shot" was written by Keith Roberts who has written some excellent of English civil war subjects his book on Pike & shot tactics is not nearly as good as one would expect.

The author seems to lack the language skills necessary to make use of original Spanish, German, Dutch and Swedish sources. As a resuklt the book is very anglo-centric in it's choice of sources, the only times non-English works are quoted is when they are available in English translations. This lack of sources creates huge gaps in the authors knowledge and causes the book to be seriously flawed from the start.

The treatment of the Spanish army and it's tactics disapointing due to being both superficial and ill-informed. While the author is aware of several of the most important Spanish works of the late 16th Century he has not used them (with one exception) but instead relies on works written by English or Irish authors. (Works wich turn out to be unrealiable or actual fakes when compared with the texts by Spanish or Italian officers.) He seems unaware of most the developments of the "Spanish" military theory in early 17th century which can be found in the important works of writers like Basta, Brancaccio, Lechuga and Melzo. His evalutation of the Spanish tactics in the 17th Century relies on a single Irish author whose actual service in the Spanish army can not be confirmed.

The descriptions of Spanish tactics & formations is short and basicly rehashes the 'classic' description of large & wastefull formations. This is astonishing as detailed information on the Spansh army is available online for quite some time. If one distrusts websites there are scholarly works like Albi's "De Pavia a Rocroi", Hrincirik's "Spanier auf dem Albuch" (as well as his joint volume on Nördlingen written together with Engerisser) or Dr. Picouet's "Les Tercio's Espagnols 1600-1660).

"There is nothing more hazardous than to venture a battle. One can lose it
by a thousand unforseen circumstances, even when one has thorougly taken all
precautions that the most perfect military skill allows for."
-Fieldmarshal Lennart Torstensson.
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Daniel Staberg




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PostPosted: Sun 09 Jun, 2013 5:20 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Radovan Geist wrote:
I would second what Mr. Polden wrote, adding one thing: pikemen started to become largely obsolete on the European battlefields already during the 30-yrs war, with introduction of lighter muskets that allowed more efficient firing. together with a better use of light field artillery, it provided better protection from the cavalry attacks. That was reflected in changes of the composition of regiments during the 30-yrs war: by its end, musketeers were in much greater numbers.

Pikemen were not "obsolete" during the TYW or even later.

Neither new muskets nor light artillery om their own provided effective protection against cavalry attacks until well into the 18th Century. Even the Swedish army which had pioneered new firing methods (salvo fire and platoon fire) and had an artillery which was at least 50-60 years in advance of everyone else found it's infantry units badly mauled if caught unsupported by pikemen or friendly cavalry. While firepower could certainly repukse frontal charges if the conditions were right poor visibility or the terrain would allow enemy cavalry to launch a charge without being exposed to effective fire. In a flank attack even a small squadron of 100-200 cavalry could wreck a 1000 man infantry brigade if the later lacked sufficient pikemen.

Units with few or no pikemen also found it hard to stand their ground against enemy infantry which had pikemen unless supported by ample artillery or protected by fortifications. There were even times when the mere appearance of enemy pikemen was enough to throw the musketeers into panic and cause a rout.
Even with flintlock muskets, paper cartridges and platoon firing it proved very hard to stop a determined attack by trained pikemen. In the battles of Helsingborg 1710 and Gadebusch 1712 the Danes ended up second best when facing Swedish infantry which still used the pike. At Gadebusch even the elite Danish Genadiers were forced to give ground when forced into close combat with the Swedish pikemen.

The "decline" of the pikeman during the TYW has been both exaggerated and misunderstood.

Exaggerated because because of flawed research that compared very high theoretical numbers of pikemen from the early 30YW and and the pre-war period with much lower numbers from the late war and post war period. However a study of actual muster rolls shows that pikemen were much fewer in number in the "early" period than is commonly thought. For example the 4 Spanish Tercio's which took part in the invasion of France in 1596 had only 28% pikemen while the muster of the Spanish infantry in the Netherlands in 1601 showed only 33.4% pikemen. In Germany we find the Duke of Holstein's Imperial regiment which in 1627 had 327 pikemen and 1361 musketeers. In 1622 the Catholic Leauge regiments of Sprintzenstein & Florainville had 31% & 30% pikemen and so on.


Misunderstood because the reduction in numbers did not take place because pikemen were "obsolete". Rather they were still quite effective in battle but commanders had come to prefer prefered sieges, manouver warfare and "stomach strategy" to fighting large scale field battles. There was limited tasks for the pikeman in the "small war" which made much of the daily routine of such warfare. (Raids, convoy duty, foraging, renconaissance, beating up enemy quarters and so on. )
The pikeman was a specialist who lacked flexibility of the musketeer. (General Monk remarked that if one planned to fight a war of field battles then one needed one pikeman for every musketeers but if one fought a war of sieges then you needed two musketeers for every pikeman. )

The reduced numbers of pikemen were also frequently not due to a deliberate policy of recruiting less pikemen and more musketeers but due to the soldiers themselves throwing away the heavy pike and uncomfortable armour in favour of the musket. Being a musketeer also offered greater possibility to loot and forage since it was the musketeers who were most employed in the "small war". Lack of pay made it hard for officers to enforce equipment regulations and for some it certainly seemed uncessary to mantain expensive pikemen given how rare field battles were.
So by 1641 only some 20% of the Imperial infantry was armed with pikes, this however was however viewed with displeasure by the senior commanders who took steps to enforce regulations and as a result the number of pikemen again rose to around 33% of the troops.

"There is nothing more hazardous than to venture a battle. One can lose it
by a thousand unforseen circumstances, even when one has thorougly taken all
precautions that the most perfect military skill allows for."
-Fieldmarshal Lennart Torstensson.
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D. Graemer




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PostPosted: Tue 18 Jun, 2013 3:06 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Radovan Geist wrote:

"When attacked by cavalry, the intention was for the shot to be protected by the length of the pikes, and 'the right and natural girdelinge of shott indeede ought to be no more shott in ranke, then that the pike may well cover and defende', this being 'three or four shott at the most'. Where the number of shot was greater than could easily be protected by the pike the tactic was to form a hollow square or oblong, with three or four ranks of shot outside and protected by the pike and the surplus shot brought inside the square." (p. 29)


It is impossible to effectively protect the Mangas of a Spanish Tercio with the "length of the pikes".

1) There are far too many musketeers/arquebusiers compared to the pikemen. The "Garnisons" could manage to get to the pikes in time, but never the Mangas. They are too far away and too big, and will not succeed to pull it off when the enemy cavalry is charging.

2) When the musketeers or arquebusiers run to the pikemen for cover, this would demoralise and disorganise the infantry. Not good if you are being charged by cavalry.

3) Where do the musketeers stand when they are being "protected" by the pikes? In front of the pikes? This would make the pike "shorter" and inefficient in melee combat. Also, the formation would be unable to advance. (The practically unarmed musketeer would not play human shield for the pikemen behind him, especially not against other pikemen) Behind the first (two?) ranks of pikemen? This would lower the number of fighting ranks for the pikemen and destroy the cohesion of the pike block. In the middle of a hollow square, as suggested in your quote? Effects are disorganisation, and the loss of the ability to advance in close order. Lacking depth would result in weaker morale and psychological shock power.

I think the spanish tercio was never invented as a formation against cavalry. It is superb against infantry. Mangas can fire at the enemy line, weakening cohesion and morale, followed by the attack of the deep pike block. This would crush any infantry line. Machiavelli notes the strength of the Spaniards against infantry and their weakness against cavalry.
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Guy Bayes




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PostPosted: Tue 18 Jun, 2013 8:41 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

if i were guessing i would say the arquebusiers could pass through the outer ranks of the pikeman and either embed within the pike formation or go entirely through and out the other side of the formation. That has been a pretty common maneuver for skirmishers of various kinds throughout history and does not need to demoralize anyone. There would be room since I would guess the pikes don't march in dense ranks but probably close ranks immediately prior to engaging

Also as long as the Mangas stay relatively close to the pikeman the pikeman can still serve as a deterrent. Remember a cavalry charge has a lot of momentum and generally is going to pass through the target and out the other side, where the pikes are waiting.

I am totally guessing though, interesting question for sure
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Lafayette C Curtis




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PostPosted: Sat 22 Jun, 2013 2:29 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

D. Graemer wrote:
I think the spanish tercio was never invented as a formation against cavalry. It is superb against infantry. Mangas can fire at the enemy line, weakening cohesion and morale, followed by the attack of the deep pike block. This would crush any infantry line. Machiavelli notes the strength of the Spaniards against infantry and their weakness against cavalry.


I'm not sure that I entirely agree with this, but I think it's pretty close to the truth. It was the Dutch infantry, not their cavalry, that really feared the tercios throughout the Eighty Years' War, and similarly it was the Protestant infantry that felt such terror upon the approach of Catholic tercios during the early phases of the Thirty Years' War. The cavalry could simply dance around the tercio, waiting out of range until a friendly infantry unit had engaged the tercio from the front and tied down its attention (making it vulnerable to a cavalry charge from the flank).
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Jaroslav Kravcak




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PostPosted: Sun 04 Aug, 2013 11:27 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

[quote="D. Graemer"]
Radovan Geist wrote:

I think the spanish tercio was never invented as a formation against cavalry. It is superb against infantry. Mangas can fire at the enemy line, weakening cohesion and morale, followed by the attack of the deep pike block. This would crush any infantry line. Machiavelli notes the strength of the Spaniards against infantry and their weakness against cavalry.


My idea is exactly the same, though while they seem to be at their best against enemy infantry, being able to resist cavalry would be the natural byproduct of their discipline and organization. (I think the same about Swiss, though they are mostly glorified for defeating feudal cavalry, I wasnt able to find any indication of them really slaughtering knights en masse, they rather seemed to be able to easily deal with any infantry opposition thrown at them, while knighly cavalry, if well organized, was actually the force with highest potential to cause them trouble. Maybe the same could be said about Tercios, though this remark is aimed at late italian wars, rather than post late 16th century period.)
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