How did Pike formations actually work? - Politics Forum.org | PoFo

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#13433887
So, in the age of shot and pike, where pike-armed infantry generally fought other pike armed infantry while other arms (the afore mentioned shot, artillery and the cavalry) did their bit. References are made to the 'push of pike'... but I don't get it, and I'm hoping someone can explain this for me.

Cavalry, we are told, won't charge home against a pike armed formation because the horse won't happily throw itself into a wall of spikes. Why do the infantry do this then? I suppose the guys at the back of the formation just push everyone else in. But doesn't that mean that the two formations become deadlocked on contact, a sort of sandwich filled with those who died going into contact and those now too compressed to do anything useful? Pikemen were generally not well armoured so I would have thought casualties would be high. While I suppose it would be hard to actually hit someone specifically with a pike, I would have thought a 'wall' of them would be bound to hit someone in the other 'wall'.

I can follow the idea of 'push' in ancient warfare between phalanxes, since combatants (as I understand it) were generally equipped with a shield and were probably more likely to be wearing armour. So in effect they are better equipped to close in and have an ideal tool for pushing the other side. The pikeman does not have these things.

So how does the 'push of pike' actually work? Or have I just misunderstood the warfare of this particular period?
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By killim
#13433960
Pikemans were primarily used against cavalry against which they were extremely useful, because of the "riposte". With the upcomming muskets and archebus the cavalry countered that with the "caracolla", but as they faced muskets and archebus in the infantry formations this sucessful strategy was denied too.

In a clash of infantry vs. infantry, where no side was able to create an initial breakthrough and the frontline was deadlocked, the halberd and claymore bearer that were usually kept in reserve to use a gap in the enemy lines were used to create one.

And yes the Pikemans were only protected by light leather armory since they were cheap, simple and expandable booties.
By pugsville
#13434022
Pikes in almost any period didnt wear much armour. In the the enemy is close enough for it to matter they have already lost. Pikes tend to be about momenteum, pike formations are deep and often push and run over other troops. Cavalry never ride down steady foot with long sticks. I gather in the pike and shot period, there was often a clash/tangle of pike with the pikes being locked together (I'm a bit hazy but thats what I've been told), with the effort being made to push the opposing pikes up in order to push and advance or to allow sword and buckler types to have at the pikes.
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By Suska
#13434076
.

I'm really not an expert but it seems to me..

Pikemen were the defensive arm of artillery units, which were the main offensive unit in city conquering expeditions. Pikemen against Pikemen is not ideal but it nullified the speed advantage of horsemen and protected the cannon. Strategies had changed by this time so that armies weren't looking for other armies to fight, but cities to capture.

Image
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By Typhoon
#13434293
As a Pikeman I will happily oblige with some footage of how it works, at least on the small scale renactments that occur today.

[youtube]6p1Xf_IVbEc[/youtube]

After contact the pike become locked together (especially the front ranks) and then require the driving force from the back of the unit to push them through or over the enemy. Theres a lot of physical contact especially if the blocks are evenly matched, in which case the front few ranks would have been effectively crushed to death, but then the English civil war was particulary bad for that sort of thing.
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By Potemkin
#13434349
Theres a lot of physical contact especially if the blocks are evenly matched, in which case the front few ranks would have been effectively crushed to death

So it's like a gentler version of a rugby scrum then? :eh:
By Smilin' Dave
#13434689
Thanks for the relies guys.

killim wrote:Pikemans were primarily used against cavalry against which they were extremely useful, because of the "riposte".

True. What prompted by question was looking at battles from the English Civil War, where it tended to be pike and shot fighting their opposite number, which the cavalry basically conducted their own war around the edges. In the end it still seemed to be cavalry as the decisive arm, with the winner of the cavalry battles deciding the events between infantry.

With the upcomming muskets and archebus the cavalry countered that with the "caracolla", but as they faced muskets and archebus in the infantry formations this sucessful strategy was denied too.

There was also the addition of 'commanded' shot being added to cavalry formations, basically groups of musket armed infantry who lent firepower to the cavalry.

In a clash of infantry vs. infantry, where no side was able to create an initial breakthrough and the frontline was deadlocked, the halberd and claymore bearer that were usually kept in reserve to use a gap in the enemy lines were used to create one.

This then raises the question as to whether this was all a bit like 'rock soup', where you start the soup with a stone, but the real soup is made with the bits added afterwards. Now, the point of the rock soup story was they didn't need the rock in the first place... so I'm wondering in part why pike were relevant. Halberdiers could fight cavalry just as well as pike, in fact in some ways better, since they have the edges of the weapon to use to finish off the rider, not just stop them.

pugsville wrote:Cavalry never ride down steady foot with long sticks.

They might not have even needed long sticks. A musket with a bayonet after all isn't that long but served in a similar role. Horses unless well trained (AFAIK) won't run into a big dense group of people anyway... I suppose it has the same appeal as running into a wall.

Typhoon wrote:After contact the pike become locked together (especially the front ranks) and then require the driving force from the back of the unit to push them through or over the enemy. Theres a lot of physical contact especially if the blocks are evenly matched, in which case the front few ranks would have been effectively crushed to death, but then the English civil war was particulary bad for that sort of thing.

Seems to be an endorsement of my 'death sandwich' image ;). So, did pikemen use their pikes against each other? In the video they seem to opt for simple 'pushing', but I don't know if that's more an outcome of the re-enactment rather than the tactics used.
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By Suska
#13434698
Horses unless well trained (AFAIK) won't run into a big dense group of people anyway
War horses will, heck, even a fairly normal horse can do it blindfolded.
By pugsville
#13434828
Early firearms took a while to reload, and early bayonets were clumsy, and mostly fitted by plugging the barrel. ECW the infantry were not well trained regulars. The Pikes were much cheaper to turn out and train than firearms and while not greatly effective were useful. I think the replacement of pike would have been faster with regular drilled armies and lack of a expense difference in equiping and training between firearm and pile foot.

During the ECW (as often happens) the better troops quality wise was the cavalry, and with the more committed better quality.

As for Warhorses, pfft guys with sharp sticks as long as they dont panic (disordered foot in the open will get cremed by cavalry) and hold steady are never ridden down by cavalry. For large slabs of history you have an elite mounted fighting force versus some hasty often unwillingly peasant militia not well equiped so the domanice of cavalry over foot seems to be supported by history. But steady drilled foot with long sticks will never be ridden down by cavalry war horses or not.
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By Suska
#13434854
steady, drilled foot[men] with long sticks
Were not always so easy to come by as you seem to be implying. and they get scarcer and scarcer the closer and faster a big armored horse gets. You're right, I concede, but its not a silly tactic if you don't feel like dying today, let the horse do that bit. So pfft all you like. Cavalry was still being used up to the early 20th century in the best armies in the world.
By pugsville
#13434944
I'm not denigrating cavalry, I'm a fan of ancient cavalry armies generally. But the tactical sucess of fontal charge by cavalry against steady well trained foot with long sticks is pretty close to zero. I play tabletop ancient minatures and generally with a cavalry army. Cavalry and foot both have their uses, it's choosing the right tactics for the situation. A lot of the time Knights were the major force historically there was little steady foot around.
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By Typhoon
#13434988
So, did pikemen use their pikes against each other?

Yeah the video above is not particulary good for showing the 'point work', the first two or three ranks charge their pikes (which in an SK block is pretty much everyone) and then close in on the enemy block until you come together. As a result of renactment not too much pushing occurs at this point, the two block just come together, hold and then retire in an orderly fashion, before going into a push as you see in the vid.
One thing you get an idea of from handeling the pike is how unweildy it is when you have it pointing at someone, the balance is all wrong so its very easy to push the point away and then stand on it if you really want to upset the other side. Cocky musketry on the verge of death is particulary bad for this sort of thing.

Horses are just annoying, unless pike gets caught off guard you just put your pike at an angle against your foot with musket, drummers and water carriers to the centre and wait as they go circling around you, then back to the real work.

So it's like a gentler version of a rugby scrum then?

Pretty much and especially for the small reinactments of today (I think if everyone in the vid was taken into account it would equal the size of an authentic pike block), and you have to have a certain somthing to regulary stand in the front rank.
First time I did it we sent four royalists to hospital with broken wrists, ankles, ribs etc and second time we sent two, third time everyone had heat exhaustion as pike do not have good summer gear (cloth shirt, thick jacket, buff coat, back & breast armour, breeches, leggings, gloves and a helmet with cap), takes about a week for the bruising to go down when your third or second row in... :D
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By killim
#13435006
If we are talking about the usage of Pikes i refer primarily to the late middle age/early modern times from 15-17th century.

Image

This illustrates a normal clash of infantry during the 30year/100year war. As you see the pikes are usually very long compared to the halberds, because they had to be longer than the lance of the knights/cavalery. The halberds were mainly used by the professionel soldiers, because they were more expensive. An example for this are the NCOs on both flanking sides of the formation.

Other good images by the traditional swiss mercenary you can find here.

If you have a chance to visit Rome you can see them perfom some drills even today if you are lucky.

Here is the best English speking example i found at Youtube:
[youtube]FENUF7hllI8[/youtube]
Imagine this in a very larger and deeper scale with hand to hand combat based on short swords or anything similar and the pikes drawn to kill at the initial impact.
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By Typhoon
#13435585
^The SK's yearly Parliamentary Training event, not sure which two regiments are involved in the action though.

One thing to note from the illustration is how many of the pikes are pointed upwards rather than at an enemy during the push, not really how you would envisage a large pointy stick being used in combat but these you go.
User avatar
By MB.
#13435952
This thread makes is very clear that pikes were weapons intended to pin attacking formations. I would like to ask the pike enthusiasts here how valid the phalanx comparison is. I hear it frequently.
By pugsville
#13436755
A single pike can be turned aside easily, it's not a weapon for single combat. Facing mass pike formation it's lot less simple, and normally against other infantry who are also in massed formation there is much less room manavouer. Pike can be a bit all or nothing, if disordered it tends to go downhill pretty quick. Well drilled and ordered pike in open flat ground are pretty hard to beat. It's about momentium, once the enemy on the backfoot pikes will roll over most foot.
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By BurrsWogdon
#13482185
A single pike can be turned aside easily, it's not a weapon for single combat. Facing mass pike formation it's lot less simple, and normally against other infantry who are also in massed formation there is much less room manavouer. Pike can be a bit all or nothing, if disordered it tends to go downhill pretty quick. Well drilled and ordered pike in open flat ground are pretty hard to beat. It's about momentium, once the enemy on the backfoot pikes will roll over most foot.


Is that essentially why billhook beat pike at Flodden Field?
User avatar
By Vanasalus
#13495375
Smilin' Dave wrote:So how does the 'push of pike' actually work? Or have I just misunderstood the warfare of this particular period?


Watch the following clip. Hopefully it will answer your question.

[youtube]26C758K4Fc0[/youtube]



P.S. What a wonderful movie "Alatriste" was.
User avatar
By Cookie Monster
#13495387
The opponents of the Spaniards in that scene are not Dutchmen, they are the French at the Battle of Rocroi.

It's good film though, the sword duels were excellent.

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