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Weapon in thirty years

The Thirty Years War saw many different styles of weapons and accouterments; however, it is the method in which they were employed that made the basic infantryman a formidable force on the battlefield. What I hope to do in this page is to break down the influence which each of these major weapons groups had during the Thirty Years War and show you how they were used by Gustavus II Adolphus' army.

Taken from Jacob de Gehyn's
Weapon Handling Drill 1607
Long and Short Arms

Although firearms and artillery had been prevalent in Europe since the 14th C., these weapons had little more than tacit fascination for the average field commander in the Middle Ages and early Renaissance. Most of the firearms which existed in the 14th, 15th, and early 16th C. had poor range and were very dangerous to operate. Often theses weapons used non-corned gunpowder, that is gunpowder prepared by mixing the dry elements of Sulfur, Charcoal, and Saltpeter. This posed a problem in preparing the material ahead of time, because the elements would separate out, by their chemical weight, before the infantryman reached his firing position making his powder worthless. In the Late 15th C. the mixing of gunpowder by means of a "wet method" allowed this material to be produced with different sizes of grains (known as corn. Ref: to all grains).

One of the first types of firearms to be developed was the handcannon, which used a cast or hooped iron barrel (made as if it were a wooden barrel and by a cooper, thus giving it the name "barrel"). A simple hole was drilled through the top and near the rear of the barrel or breech, this was the vent hole and it allowed a small amount of gunpowder to ignite the main charge in the barrel. Usually this was set off by means of a length of hemp rope soaked in a saltpeter solution which burned very slowly and hot, about an inch a minute. This material was known as match and for much of the firearms early existence, it would be used by holding it in one's hand.

The first attempt at a mechanical ignition system came in the form of a match lock, so called because it held a piece of match and was designed by locksmiths. The matchlock firearm came in two separate forms at first. The first type of matchlocks to be developed were known as Calivers, and had a shorter barrel and were reasonably light (about 8lbs.). The second type was the matchlock musket, which was much heavier (12 to 14lbs.) but had a better sustained range.

An attempt was made by the Dutch during the 1620's to produce a matchless musket, which would be easy to mass produce, since the wheelock was quite expensive (with regards to wheelocks, see Short Arms). The Swedes quickly adopted, what would later become the forerunner of the flintlock: the Baltic Snaplock. The Baltic Snaplock had the advantage of being reasonably safe around large stores of gun powder; therefore, these weapons were readily adapted for naval & artillery duty in addition to giving special outfits, such as; the snipers and engineers an added element of surprise.

There were many different manuals developed for use of the matchlock during the 17th C. Many of the more widely used manuals were written by Dutch and mercenary officers who had served in the Dutch Revolt or Lowland Wars of the late 16th C. The Dutch developed a systematic method for instructing a soldier (regardless of his station in life or literacy) on the use of his arms and the instruction of officers in how to employ these arms.

Soldiers who had just joined the army would have been instructed on how to use their weapons. For pike and musket, the use of their arms was of the utmost necessity. Drill...Drill...Drill...was the key words for many regiments. Drill was important for several different reasons, for one it kept a soldier from blowing himself and his fellow musketeers up and it was instrumental in instilling discipline. This worked for pike units as well, for whom discipline was crucial in the heat of battle.

Once a musketeer was instructed on the use of his arms, he was then engaged in a series of well orchestrated tactics. The matchlock musket was employed by the Swedish Army on the battlefield in several simple tactics.
• Firing by Introduction: Introductory fire was achieve by the front rank advancing to his officer or Sergeant and then firing only to retire to the rear to reload, while the next rank advances.
• Firing at the Steadfast: The musketeer would fire and return the the rear by either the right hand or through his ranks.
• Firing by extroduction: This was a means by which a block of musketeers could retire but still give fire unto the enemy.
• Double or Triple Rank Volley Fire: This was achieved by advancing the rear ranks upon the front ranks, while echeloning to the right. Triple rank volley fire was performed with the first rank kneeling, second rank stooping, and third rank standing.
• Club Musket: Essentially equivalent to the terror one would feel if they heard the command "fix bayonet." The clubbing of one's musket was done as a last resort and involved a great deal of brutality.

The Swedish army had two main accouterments which accompanied the matchlock musket. One was a bandoleer of charges.

First, was a set of 10 to 20 wooden vessels (known as a charger) strung about a leather belt with a small leather bag for carrying one's musket balls. These were issued from the Royal Armory in Stockholm as late as 1696, and were the predominant method for a musketeer to add pre-measured amount of gunpowder to his weapon. Paper Cartridges were used as a stop gap measure until a musketeer received his bandoleer of chargers and were never really accepted as the primary powder container until the mid to late 17th C. throughout Europe.

The second item was a musket rest. The unique thing about a musket rest is that although the name and weight of a musket would make one believe it was designed to alleviate the musketeer of the weight of his weapons, it was in fact designed for an entirely different purpose. The matchlock musket is unusual in that it has a rather low muzzle velocity and a heavy barrel. The musket rest was designed to keep the musket leveled at the target and balance the musket's unusual characteristics. A unique spin-off of the musket rest was the Sweinfedder, also known as Swedish Feathers. The sweinfedder was a half pike, about 5 to 6 feet in length, and had a loop for which a musket could be rested upon. These items afforded the musketeer protection from cavalry, while still implementing the need for a musket rest. When in camp these items were placed through a wooden beam and form a chevaux de frise (an infantry obstacle).

Scweinfedders mounted as a chevaux de frise

Short Arms

Generally the most prevalent short arm during the Thirty Years War was the wheelock pistol. these firearms were originally created in Germany during the early part of the 16th C. and remained a mainstay of cavalry outfits. The original design of the wheelock pistol is referred to as a "puffer pistol," since it had a rather large bulbed handle. The ball at the end of the handle was meant for easy extraction from a cavalryman's holster. By the end of the 16th C. and early 17th C. there were many different varieties of wheelock stock shapes, including the now familiar pistol stock shape. The locks were generally designed by watchmakers and this leant it to its nick name the "Watchmaker's Toy." The lock itself was wound up and powder place in the barrel and priming pan. When the user was ready to fire , he merely dropped a piece of iron pyrite held in the jaws of an arm, known as a cock. When he was ready to fire he merely had to pull the trigger and the weapon would be discharged. Iron pyrite was used instead of flint, because flint tended to wear down the serrated wheel. The wheelock tended to be rather persnickety and required constant maintenance.

Puffer Pistol and Spanner
Another short arm, which saw limited use amongst the Anglo mercenaries to serve on both side was the snaphaunce. The snaphaunce was essentially a smaller version of the Baltic Snaplock and was considerably more reliable than the wheelock; however, it requires a source of small flints, which were originally less common than small bits of iron pyrite.

Often times cavalrymen would circle before the enemy and discharge their pistols, a maneuver associated with the Imperial Cavalry of Ferdinand II of Styria. The Carocale, as it was known was a very effective use of the pistol, but a poor use of the effect of cavalry

Gustavus II Adolphus initiated a reformed use of the pistol in cavalry engagements and ordered his troopers to clash at the gallop with sword in hand. Once contact was made, the pistol would be drawn forth and discharged at point blank range. One would literally touch his victim and fire the pistol, since the muzzle velocity was fairly poor it would often times not kill it's intended recipient.

Taken from Jacob de Gehyn's
Weapons handling drill 1607

The pike man was an intrical element to any 17th C. army, since the bayonet had not been developed to protect musketeers from cavalry charges. A pikeman was generally considered the finest element of the infantry, who's bravery could be traced back to the 15th C. In the 15th C. the Swiss, who were outnumbered by the Burgundian army of Charles the Bold, held fast against the oncoming cavalry charges by using these 15ft spears in a tightly blocked square. The lessons learned in the 15th C. still rang true in the 17th C. and the pike formed the cornerstone of any 17th C. army.

The Swedish army employed a greater number of musketeers than pikemen, approximately a 2:1 ratio of musket to pike, whereas there Imperial counterparts employed a far greater number of pikemen on the field. The reasons were fairly straight forward for the heavy use of musket over pike. It was much more inexpensive to equip a troop of muskets verses a troop of pikemen.

Swedish Tercio of the 1630's
*Note the muskets represented by a "P" flank both sides of the pike in the center
Aside from a pikeman's primary weapon, the pike, he was harnessed into a front & back breast plate with tassets. This was meant to protect his torso from pike and sword. He was also issued a helmet. Often times these soldiers were employed in exploiting breeches in breastworks and other siege defenses, but their primary role was to guard the musketeers from cavalry onslaughts.

A Swedish/Dutch Pattern Pikeman's Helmet 1630's


When one thinks of a musketeers, we see Erol Flynn dazzling us with his swordsmanship. Reality tells us something quite different from the silver screen. In truth musketeers and pikemen were issued simple broad bladed swords meant for hacking through armor and flesh. The infantryman would have received little to no sword training during the Thirty Years War and would have had to relied on his and other veteran infantrymen to teach him the ways of the sword.

Officers were quite another matter. Most officers were well experienced in the use of the sword and rapier. Of course this is an over generalization, but many came from middle to upper class backgrounds, which allowed them the luxury of literacy. Literacy allowed them to study the swordsmanship publications of that period. They could also afford a better, more ornate, sword. These weapons ranged in a variety of different blade and hilt styles.

A series of Swedish Infantry and Cavalry swords from the early 17th C.

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