Opposing Armies And Formations

The battlefield tactics used during the English Civil War do not exist in isolation, they are part of the military practice which developed in western Europe during a series of wars during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. The most significant were the Dutch Revolt in the Low Countries (1567-1648), the French Wars of Religion (1562-98) and the Fronde (1648-53), and the Thirty Years War (1618-48). The latter is commonly thought of as a German war but its campaigns ranged over Denmark, Bohemia, northern Italy, the borders of France and the northern frontier of Spain.

Protestant Englishmen, Welshmen and Scots had served as allies and mercenaries in Dutch armies fighting against the Spanish Empire and in several Protestant armies during the Thirty Years War. In particular numerous Scots served as officers in the Swedish Army under Gustavus Adolphus. Smaller numbers of Catholic Englishmen and Irishmen had served in Spanish armies. Englishmen did not develop radically new tactics during the Civil War or the associated wars in Scotland and Ireland, but by 1644 they had become as effective in using the tactics of their time as the best soldiers in Europe.

A satirical pamphlet showing clerics as artillerymen. A useful contemporary English illustration of a field artillery piece.

Harquebusier. This class of cavalryman was originally used for firepower support for cuirassiers. Harquebusiers were cheaper to equip than cuirassiers and by the 1630s commanders were using harquebusiers as part of their main battle cavalry.

Harquebusier. This class of cavalryman was originally used for firepower support for cuirassiers. Harquebusiers were cheaper to equip than cuirassiers and by the 1630s commanders were using harquebusiers as part of their main battle cavalry.

Battle Formations

In 1642 an English commander's choice of the battle formation for his army was based on one of the four main models then in use by Protestant armies. This was not simply a choice of one of four formations as variations existed for each and innovative commanders would develop changes of their own. The choice of a style of batde formation represents the commander's preference and was the necessary starting point for the deployments he hoped to use in battle. The European commanders who created these models, such as the Dutch Prince Maurice of Nassau and the Swedish King Gustavus Adolphus, were noted for the care they took to train their men in their chosen battle formations by carrying out military exercises involving the whole army.

Having drawn up the battle plan he had chosen, the commander may have made alterations during the campaign in response to changes in the size of his army, such as a large detachment or the addition of fresh troops, or following intelligence on the size and composition of the opposing army. He would also have had to consider changes, if he had time, once he had seen the ground on which he intended to fight or had received advice from his scouts on the enemy position he was to attack.

The Dutch styles

The origin of all four models of battle formation lies in Prince Maurice's Dutch Army reforms. As with most of their reforms, the Dutch drew inspiration from classical Greek and Roman military systems but adapted them to take account of developments in military theory and practice and weapons.

The two most common deployments used by the Dutch Army are illustrated. Both remained the basis of Dutch theory during the 1630s as the Dutch Army continued to use these formations rather than copy those introduced by the Swedish King Gustavus Adolphus.

The Swedish style

The third Protestant model was Gustavus Adolphus's Swedish infantry brigade formation. The accompanying illustration shows both versions used by the Swedish Army. The first was a brigade of four squadrons used between 1628 and 1631 and the second was a brigade of three squadrons


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The Prince oi Orange at Vorstenburgh and Rees. These were the two most common deployments used by the Dutch Army. (Derek Stone)

first developed during 1627-28 and used again between 1631 and 1634 when a shortage of pikemen made it necessary to do without the fourth, reserve, squadron.

Gustavus Adolphus was killed at the height of his fame as his army defeated Albrecht von Wallenstein at the battle of Lutzen in 1632. Within two years of Gustavus Adolphus's death Swedish forces abandoned the Swedish brigade style. This may have been because in order to be effective it required a high percentage of experienced or veteran officers, sergeants and soldiers.

The German style

The Swedish model had been spectacularly successful in Gustavus Adolphus's great victory over the Imperialist army at the Battle of Breitenfeld in 1631. Imperialist officers excused their defeat on the grounds that their over-confident commander Jean 't Serclaes, Count Tilly, had mounted an all-out attack with no reserve. However, they reviewed the size of their infantry formations and the Imperialist commander Albrecht von Wallenstein's battle plan for the later stages of his campaign in 1632 showed infantry drawn up in smaller units and in three successive lines.

Thereafter both Protestant and Imperialist armies adopted a style, based on the use of a series of infantry units formed in two or three successive lines, which could be described as a German style as it evolved during the Thirty Years War in Germany. The illustration based on Wallenstein's plan shows an example of the fourth model deployment.

Mine Creek Battlefield

deployment of the King's army during the Bishops Wars. This demonstrates the Dutch influence on English military theory immediately before the Civil War.

There are still variations, for example the Imperialists retain a preference for larger formations, but essentially both Protestant and Catholic armies were using similar formations by the later 1630s.

The Cavalry

Cavalry deployed in the Dutch, Swedish or Gennan styles was formed of squadrons composed of several troops of Horse in two or three successive lines. There was some debate in western Europe over the size of the squadrons, some commanders preferring the strength of a few large squadrons whilst others favoured the greater flexibility of a large number of smaller squadrons. The Dutch practice for cavalry was to deploy them in a chequerboard pattern similar to that of their infantry, usually with a regiment in a line of several separate troops. Both the Swedish and the Imperialists preferred to use larger squadrons each formed of several troops.

By 1642 Swedes and Imperialists used both the Dutch chequerboard deployment and an alternative which placed their second line cavalry squadrons directly behind those in the first line. The rationale behind this change was that whereas infantry formations could retreat by an about turn, cavalry had to wheel and if deployed in a chequerboard pattern they would wheel directly into their second line. The risk of a shattered first line of cavalry breaking up its supporting line was reduced by placing the second line units directly behind those in the first.

deployment of the King's army during the Bishops Wars. This demonstrates the Dutch influence on English military theory immediately before the Civil War.

OPPOSITE The three and four squadron brigades as used by the Swedish Army. Within two years of the death of Gustavus Adolphus at Liitzen in 1632 the Swedish brigade had been . (Derek Stone)

Swedish Brigade Tactic

RIGHT Wallenstein's Imperiallst battle plan as und in 1632. A modified form of this plan was used at the battlo of Lützen. The Imperial or German style had been adapted as a result of the defeats suffered against the Swedes. Imperial armies retained a preference for larger units. This example Is based on the original plan found on the body of the Imperialist general, Gottfried Heinrich, Count Pappenheim after the battle of Lützen. (Derek Stone)

An illustration of musketeer's equipment from John Bingham's The Tacticks of Aallan. Most musketeers would have carried these heavy muskets at the outbreak of the Civil War. Few musketeers on either side woulc have worn helmets during the Civil War.

Commanders saw the value dial mutual support by infantry and cavalry offered. A commander could deploy troops of cavalry among his infantry lines or units of musketeers seconded from his infantry regiments to serve alongside his cavalry squadrons. The objective of the former was to cover the retreat of his own defeated infantry or exploit success if they were victorious. An incidental effect was that cavalry deployed behind an infantry formation was screened from the main body of opposing cavalry. The English professional soldier Henry Hexham commented on the advantages of this as used in the Dutch Army, writing that 'if an Enemies Horse should be ranged between his Battaillons of foote, it is needfull then, that the other side should observe the same forme likewise, and to have horse to encounter horse, least they should breake in among the foot divisions, 8c so by this meanes they may with the more convenience second, and relieve one an other, otherwise the Foote being overlayd with an Enemies Horse, having no Horse at hand, to charge and second them, might be easily routed and overthrown'. The Imperialist general Raimondo Monteccucoli writing circa 1642 commented that 'a small squadron of cavalry, acting promptly, can wreak great havoc amongst large infantry battle lines', particularly if the infantry formation was disordered through error or chance, poor leadership or insufficiently trained men. European commanders regarded this as such a useful tactic that they would deploy some of dieir best cavalrymen for this role.

To support their cavalry wings commanders added infantry firepower support either by placing musketeers or Dragoons on the Hanks of the cavalry, using any available cover, or by copying a Swedish tactic that placed groups of masketeers lietween die cavalry squadrons. Some commanders did both. By 1632 die Swedish had begun to make use of light artillery to support their cavalry in addition to using groups of musketeers.

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