Sunday, October 6, 2013


The Temple and the Tactical Imperative.
The Shield Wall was an infantry formation unique to Western Medieval forces of the Crusade Era and to the Roman Republican and Imperial infantry.   The shields of the Shield Wall were heavy and large to protect the spearman and the gap between another whose offensive firepower was delivered over the shield.  The primary grip was close to the top and horizontally so that the weight of the shield was carried by the left shoulder by the left arm in a tight “Strong Arm” grip.
 Absorb.  The tactical imperative used in by the defense against the Fist (warhead, blade, blunt end) is to absorb the shock or dissipate it. This also applies to castle walls and fox holes.

The “Strong Arm” grip held close to the shoulder also is reflected on the placement of grips on the shields themselves.  At least one horizontal grip or handle is placed close to the upper edge of the shield and sometimes another horizontal handle across the forearm nearer to the center of the shield depending on size.

The Shield Wall as the name states is a wall that doesn’t or shouldn’t move.   This would risk a gap in the front ranks which is a very bad thing to happen to the infantry.  Once the overlapping shields expose the fighters behind, they become vulnerable.    The English (Anglo-Saxon) shield wall stood on Senlac Hill for twelve hours before the wall was cracked by a Saxon contingent that thought it was Plunder Time and went after some Normans moving to reorganize, reform, and return.  Some say this was a feint, and perhaps it was.

The Bayeux Tapestry shows what happened after

This sort of indiscipline was the death knell of many a battle for whom lost their cohesion. One of the distinguishing tactics of the descendants of the steppe way of war was the bait and switch by fast and flexible forces, usually mounted archers of which more will be told in a following edition.  The bait and switch tempted Crusader knights to do their specialty, the Charge with Couched Lance,  The light horse would evade and withdraw until the Knights cohesion was lost, horses blown, and a gap between them and their infantry. 

The Battle of Liegnitz in 1241 as depicted in the war game link above (8:11 with music) illustrates how the Mongols destroyed a Western Army resulting in the conquest of most of what was Russian at the time. It was not until Ivan the Terrible was the damage undone.

The Tactical Imperatives of that battle give show the Mongols had the right stuff, at the right place and time.  The only Imperatives the West had was the resilience and armor of the mounted knight to parry and absorb Mongol hits.  Over the centuries that followed, the Russians and Poles developed light and middle weight cavalry to be able to evade and return to worry the cohesion of opponents East and West. 

See also maps at of Battle of Mohai Heath:      BATTLE OF MOHI HEATH 1241

To redress imbalances between the heavy mounted knight with power and speed, but not much flexibility and the heavy armored infantry with the ability to absorb but not the speed to evade or duck has been addressed continually down through the ages.   In the Crusade Era, this meant fast and light both mounted and on foot.  These forces were usually have weapons with some range and/or speed. 

In the Battle of Liegnitz, mounted crossbowmen were used to add the speed of the horse with effective long range firepower.  Crossbowmen, mounted or not suffer from a slow rate of fire.  Eastern forces used mounted long range bowmen on horseback, but they dismounted to fire as was the case with the US Cavalry in the Old West and with Mechanized Infantry before the Bradley.  The default Steppe warrior and descendants used a short range rapid light arrow or bolt from horseback. They could evade Western spears and arrows to pour enough arrows to confuse and trip.

The Battle of Crecy between England and France over who was who in 1346 shortly after the Crusade Era in the Levant shows the trade offs between crossbow and longbow.   The French were so eager to smash the English that they deployed the Genoese crossbowmen before their wagons with their big shields, the ground mounted pavise behind which archers and crossbowmen conducted business.

Caught in the open by English Archers in range and with a very high rate of fire, decimated the Genoese. They started to back up, but the flower of French chivalry rode them down, and into the mud the knights did ride.

Light Infantry Screening Force (Flank, Front, Rear and Gap)

The Bayeux Tapestry shows infantry being used in ways not often recognized, that of flank and “gap” screening missions.  Traditional doctrine and practice recognizes Reconnaissance and Security as two forms to address larger or more dangerous forces.   There are differences in the mission. 

Security Forces orient on the force being protected, while reconnaissance orients on the enemy force.  Two security force missions are the norm, the blocking force and the screening force.  The difference is firepower. Both try to force the enemy to deploy for battle early and slow them down. Normally, these forces are entitled by Front. Flank, or Rear screening or blocking forces.  There are also gaps to be screened and/or protected that are not commonly labeled as such. I use the term “Gap” to describe the Guard or Screening mission (Gap Screen or Gap Guard).   

Screening forces were used by the Normans at Hastings as depicted on the Bayeux Tapestry as archers running along between two groups of Knights on horseback.  Archers and light infantry with small round shield held with a center grip are seen as very small in the margins of the Tapestry.

The Tactical Imperatives leveraged in Security Missions include holding initiative pertaining to the eyes and the brain, while being able to force the other side to slow down, get cautious, but unable to stand and fight for long 

The Medieval 2 Total War (HASTINGS IT IS NOT)rendition show a vigorous but completely erroneous rendition of the arms, equipment, tactics and techniques. The game shows both sides with round shields held with Center Grip, whereas both sides in the Tapestry have the kite shield and use the Strong Arm Grip.   Both sides are shown the sword as the primary line infantry weapon but held in a “couched” position (adopted decades after the battle). The net result as shown in the game (closer look) some spears are protruding through the shields.  This was an error I made in cross checking what worked.

The same rules and roles of combat in the Crusade Era apply to all of the after.  That which shifts with technology, mission, enemy, terrain and the cultures involved, are the Tactical Imperative. 


The Archer: Tactical Imperatives become active when at least one side gets “in range” the other with at least one weapons system.  “Range” and “Speed” are the two sides of the sandwich. The Tactical Milieu is the mix of Imperatives.   In the Crusade Era that meant the fast moving light cavalry or light footed infantry plus the ranges of their weapons against any enemy force that is out of range of those who are. Crusade Era maximum ranges of weaponry were in hundreds of yards and the distance cavalry could close. 

In close battle, which differs from close order battle because the enemy is close.  The most effective ranges were less than arm’s length plus the range of the weapon.  That put the spear ahead of the sword, and the javelin and thrown axe ahead of either.  But it is the Archer that opens the tactical imperatives for the dismounted. They are usually first to close the range with the enemy deadly enough to stop walking and to get ready to fight.

No one has found written records (firing tables) for medieval archery, yet the revival of the bow for hunting and sport does provide comparable data, giving modern steel versus bone and wood. Firing tables or comparisons of the maximum effective range of a rifle versus a bow and arrow on point targets are interesting stories, but in close order battle is against a crowded foe that covers a football pitch at  shoulder to shoulder distance apart.  Engagement by bow, arrow, crossbow and bolt were against area type targets much in the same way machineguns are deployed.

Thus the use of the machine gun against area targets applies as well to other rapid firing ranged weapons with regard to the ground and the enemy.

The definition of “maximum range” depends on the shape and size of the target.  Archery is closer to firing a machine-gun which has a “beaten zone” in which is defined in part by the Circular Area of Probability (CEP), the shape and size of the target, and the azimuth laterally and in depth from the firing position.     The optimum target for a machine gun is enfiladed, the long axis of the target is the same as the gun-target line.  Since the machine-gun is a rapid fire weapon, the beaten zone is moved left and right to cover targets of width.  As did the Archer.

The archery equivalent of a beaten zone has been tested in what have been called “Flight Archery” in which the range of the arrows counted more than the targets.   The Turks had the reputation as the best in this category with ranges up to 800 yards.  Considering the most common targets in the Crusade Era were massed targets engaged with massed archers which suggests an effective range out to 300-400 yards/meters depending on the bow and the armor on the targets

There has been a long standing argument about the performance of the longbow versus the crossbow.  The biggest difference is that the crossbow can be combat effective with a couple of weeks training, the long bow takes years.  The Crossbow shoots in a flatter trajectory at a higher velocity, with a point blank rage of 70 yards, and angled up to 45 degrees can reach 350 yards.A Crossbow is extremely slow to reload compared to any bow.  


Mounted Archery suffered from reduced accuracy and range which was acceptable depending on the speed of the mount.   This trade off between speed, armor, and firepower is at the heart of modern tanks design and equally applicable to Medieval times for both mounted and dismounted soldiery.  The M1 US Tank was the first to use gun stabilization so as to fire on the move.  The British and Russians of my day in the hatch preferred the move and shoot. While the Germans and the US was stop and shoot. The US Cavalry in the Old West could charge with pistol and sword or dismount to fire with their carbines or rifles.  The choice was largely dictated by the ground, relative speed, and armaments.  So Archers and Crossbow were often mounted but dismounted to fire on the militaries of this era.

The typical Turkish and Asian mode was to shoot on the move at a higher rate but with a lower range and penetration.

The Mongols, Turks, and their predecessors, the Scythians of the Steppes had the control of who moved at whose initiative.   With the exception of enemies able to block the movement of Steppe horses, by fortification, shield and/or spear wall, or obstacles natural or man made.

Japanese Yabusame mounted archery competition in Japan calls for precision shots at three targets ten meters away at the gallop over a 225 meter course.   The Steppe tradition included close range distances with a lot of arrows at the gallop. Some fired more than one small arrow at the same time.   This was the sort of archery faced by Templar forces, particularly noted in the Battle of Arsuf.

The Steppe and Asian archer uses a distinctly different way of handling the bow and the arrow.  The Asian fires his arrow on the thumb side (right) of the bow and uses a thumb grip on the arrow. The Western archer fires on the finger side (left) using three fingers to steady the arrow and pull the bowstring to the rear.  IMHO, the reason for the thumb side Asian draw is to facilitate shooting to the left without jabbing the horse in the neck with the bow lilted clockwise. 
Other tactical differences of strategic and operational significance. 

The Western armies of the Crusade era differed in a small number of competing arrays.  The Western knight’s charge with couched lance was formidable and not equaled in the East.  There were heavily armored forces in Islam and East, including lamellar armor for the horse.  Unlike the West their lances were carried much like a quarterback in American Football just before the pass. This method is the predominant one in the Bayeux Tapestry.

One comparative advantage to Muslim and Byzantine forces of a wide array of light forces which normally do not close with the main Crusader defensive Shield Walls, but a series of pin pricks to the point that one report in the running battle of Arsuf of the effectiveness of Western forces said that some Crusader infantrymen had up to ten arrows stuck in the mail and padding and continued to march. 

Link to Youtube with Total War rendition of the battle (9.05)  BATTLE OF ARSUF (Click here)
At the running battle of the Third Crusade between Richard I and Saladin between Acre and the port of Jaffa which was the optimum location for logistics support of operations in and around Jerusalem. The heavy infantry of a slowly moving shield wall (which is unusual for walls) that protected the horses from the rain of arrows from fast moving light archers.  The tactical intent of Saladin was to invite the Crusaders to make a charge that he could evade and duck until the steam ran out of the horses, then to charge with his own heavy cavalry to run down a weakened shield wall.

It didn't work out that well, when the Hospital had had enough of slings and arrows, and ordered a charge, as the Shield Wall parted (passage of lines). King Richard knew that this was the time to put all down, and ordered the other orders, Temple as well, and chased Saladin out of town.
There are two questions before the next piece in released:

1.        How do the spear man reverse the spear from thumb side to pinky side towards the steel when in the front line?

2.       How does an archer run and shoot when enemy is in front?  Twist and shoot?


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