The Art of Standing Still
During the Middle Ages, armored knights were considered superior in almost every way to other soldiers for two important reasons. (1) Horses and (2) how they were used.
Put a couple of hundred men on horseback and send them charging towards the center of your enemy’s line. Statistically, you won. Most Kings and lords, regardless of the number of men they brought to the field, were only as strong as the training/discipline of their men. If they weren’t explicitly trained to receive a cavalry charge, they were as good as lost.
A charge by mounted and armored men is devastating, not because of the knights themselves but the fear they bring. Think about it. You have a bunch of poor likely uneducated soldiers (the fyrd) who were dragged off to a fight because of their lord’s feudal obligation they barely understand, scared out of their minds, praying to God to save their souls when suddenly it happens.
The thunder of approaching hooves and then over the horizon it appears. A solid line of faceless men clad in armor on horseback bearing down on them. Men who look so much bigger on their massive stallions and with their big sharp swords and lances. Is any god-fearing, barely trained, recruit is going to stand against THAT?
No. They break and run for their lives. And that’s where a charge succeeds. Men run away. Men get trampled by horses or each other. Maybe the knights cut them down or the men following the charge stream behind to butcher whoever’s left. That’s what a charge is. Creating chaos in the enemy’s line and exploiting it. And it happened so many times.
^Battle of Hasting, England 1066: After the Norman charge against the Saxons fails to break the center they trick the Saxons into breaking their shield wall. The Saxons pursue the fleeing Normans, who then immediately turn around, surround, and butcher them.
^Battle of Gembloux, Netherlands 1578: A mere 1200 Spanish cavalry charged an English/Dutch force 20 times their number. The ensuing panic amongst the defenders broke their formation and resulted in massive casualties for them.
^Battle of Dyrrhachium, Albania 1081: A small force of Norman cavalry completely routed a Byzantine infantry force, including a force of the legendary Varangian Guard.
^The Winged Hussars at the siege of Vienna in 1683.
The heavy horse dominated warfare for centuries, the fear of the charge and how it could break apart formations. But nothing lasts forever.
Horses aren’t dumb beasts, but rational, intelligent animals. They will not charge something that they cannot dodge or potentially hurt themselves against. And that’s where the two most critical components of a successful cavalry charge come in (not accounting for terrain, morale, weapons etc.).
The horse HAS TO KEEP MOVING. A Knight on an immobile horse isn’t a threat. He’s just a bigger target to a guy with a spear. The momentum of a charge keeps an attack moving forward, allows units in the rear to press forward, and prevents clogging of the front line. A bunch of men milling about on horses is what any archer would call a fish in a barrel.
The enemy HAS TO BREAK FORMATION. A horse is a creature of logic. It will kick and swim if it is in water. It will not try to fall from a height (say a cliff) that it can hurt itself from. And it most certainly will not charge a solid object it cannot avoid. Any warhorse, no matter how well trained, would falter at the prospect of charging a line of determined men with sharp pointy spears. A horse charging through a bunch of men running away? No problem.
Without these two key factors, almost every cavalry charge against a solid line in every scenario fails. Men on horseback get bogged down on stalled horses. Horses won’t charge a shield wall. Men with spears decide maybe they want to poke these men on horseback who suddenly aren’t so terrifying.
That’s why as time progressed, armies increasingly instilled in their men one core concept. Don’t let fear dominate you. Men who lost their nerve broke formation. And formations that broke were slaughtered. But, keep your nerve and just take a look at history.
^Battle of Nagashino, Japan 1575: 12,000 cavalry and infantrymen of the Takeda clan charged a combined force of the Oda/Tokugawa clan. Aside from pikemen, the Oda/Tokugawa also fought from behind a makeshift barricade along with a substantial number of arquebus-equipped infantry. The Takeda charge stalled and lost approximately 10,000 men before withdrawing.
^Battle of Tours, France 732: When a line of Moorish invaders attacked the Frankish army of Charles Martel, the Franks stood firm. After some time of melee fighting, the Moorish cavalry retreated when rumors of French scouts plundering their baggage train reached the front lines. A general route ensued. Rather than chase their foe, the Franks instead held firm and by the next day, it was clear victory was theirs.
^Bannockburn, Scotland 1314: English cavalry charged into Scottish pike formations. When their horses stalled in the mud and against the Scottish schiltrons (phalanx), the Knights were isolated and ground down by stubborn Scottish defenders.
^Battle of the Golden Spurs, Flanders 1302: A hasty charge by French knights fell upon a line of solid Flemish infantry and pikemen. After the charge bogged down due to bad terrain, most of the French knights were forced to dismount and were surrounded and butchered.
^Battle of Agincourt, France 1415: A massive charge of French cavalry was cut to pieces attacking a line of English longbowmen and was forced to dismount. Due to the English position, the French advantage in numbers was nullified and a mass attack stalled in cramped conditions. The charge lost momentum and eventually, the French were routed.
^1855, The Crimea, British Light Brigade (the 4th and 13th Light Dragoons, the 17th Lancers, and the 8th and 11th Hussars), under the command of Major General James Brudenell, 7th Earl of Cardigan (right) against 20 battalions of entrenched Russian infantry supported by over 50 artillery pieces. These forces were deployed on both sides and at the opposite end of the valley.
A frontal assault by cavalry against fully entrenched and alerted artillery, with an excellent line of sight over a mile in length and supported on two sides by artillery batteries providing enfilading fire from elevated ground is not advised even if you are wearing cool uniforms and riding trained mounts. The results are predictable.
Hell, I just went and hid under the bed just reading that. And I have no clue what my feudal Lord’s obligation is. My wife hasn’t said.
Hiding under your bed will not save you from your wife’s wrath or a cavalry charge.
That particular obligation is between your wife and your feudal lord. The question is whether your firstborn resembles you, and whether your wife has a wistful smile.
This is a family blog so I won’t delve into droit du seigneur (‘lord’s right’), also known as jus primae noctis.
Always wondered why my kid – delete non PC comment here.
Amazing what history can teach those who care to investigate. Therefore, the Ottawa Truckers should stay the course, not move, basically continue with their Winter tailgate party despite the threatening hoards suggested by weasel malcontents in government and media…especially Mr. Skinny Jeans who is vying for worst weasel against Our Idiot Not-A-Savant.
Hopefully the Truckers are reading your post this morning.
the first cracks are appearing in turdeaus wall. ontario and manitoba pulled their vax i.d. mandate. others are discussing it. a judge ordered the fuel that swat had confiscated be returned to the truckers. the police gave it back after they added water. real pro’s there. i read an unconfirmed report that lots of ottawa cops handed in their badges, including the head of turdeau’s security detail. i hope that’s true but i’m not confident. i also have my suspicions about the provinces pulling the mandates as they gave feb.14th effective date. old bait n switch? meanwhile i and all of us here are officially terrorists, according to a dhs memo from the director herr himler himself. “forgive him father for he knows not what he does”.-Jesus. i wish i could be so forgiving, but i am just a sinner after all.
Aren’t we all [sinners]. I ascribe to the standard that forgiveness only comes with repentance, which the non-humble crowd can’t ever allow themselves to broach.
The subversive acts by some in Ottawa indicates inherent weakness, they are not as powerful as they’d like to have everyone believe. Assuming the 80/20 rule, 20% of Americans stood fast from day one of the Lockdown power grab, and continue to do so. Yet because so many folded like a cheap umbrella in a Wyoming breeze, it was allowed to continue unabated, until now…cracks are starting to appear. I’m guessing another month and the self appointed overseer’s will run like Trudeau to their hideouts – or – all of a sudden proclaim victory over Covid and all they did to flatten the curve (bogus), failing to admit it’s a virus that will always be in the environment like the yearly cold or flu. Some will buy into the propaganda.
LL is so on point (as always)…I don’t think we are reading too much into his message.
“Stand your ground. Don’t fire unless fired upon, but if they mean to have a war, let it begin here.”
Captain John Parker, who a scant five months later was dead of “consumption” a.k.a. tuberculosis, on September 17, 1775, aged 46, with the issue far from certain. “Lest we forget.”
Front toward enemy.
Keep it simple.
There is a deep visceral fear created by being run down by a huge animal. One time I was riding an ATV on a sheep ranch on the coast when my sister galloped up behind me on a horse. I was going flat out but she had the speed advantage (3-wheel ATV, rough terrain). My instincts screamed at me, this is BAD! I was surprised by my own reaction.
On Balaklava: yes, this is how junior lieutenants (and Major Generals who should know better) fail their reality exams.
On the other hand, the Brits proved to all present, French included but Russians most of all, that British Soldiers were mad and ready for anything, at any cost. This afforded the British Army a solid advantage in morale: Russians fell for it.
Treatment of Balaklava survivors after the war was shameful, and remains a major blemish on the British Army and ruling elites to this day. It will not be forgotten so long as Alfred Lord Tennyson’s “Charge of the Light Brigade” is read alongside’s Kipling’s own poems regarding the veterans.
And yes, Ottawa truckers should stay the course and hold the line. I find it amazing that there is so little coverage of this drama on this side of the pond, and that little very negative. You need to dig hard to find news. What are the RCMP and Ottawa Police doing about the protests now?
The RCMP, based on several reports, has sided with the truckers. The siege continues. The Army will not deploy to beat the truckers into submission.
The tow truck drivers are (it turns out) truck drivers.
When they steal all the diesel from the truckers, their trucks won’t be able to move.
Didn’t think that one through very well.
I have a copy of the book “The Reason Why” by Cecil Woodham-Smith. About time to read it again.
LL, another great history lesson with a message for those who want to understand. Thanks!!
Stand fast works, especially with pikes in hand. As you said, horses are NOT dumb, they know what will hurt them and will do their damnest to NOT get hurt (including but not limited to plastic WalMart bags)… sigh
The Gordon Highlanders motto ‘Bydand’ comes from Doric and means ‘to stand fast and endure’. It’s a worthwhile lesson for all of us.
Victor Davis Hanson has a book called Carnage and culture that I found an interesting read regarding the western world’s culture and it’s influence on disciplined infantry. Well worth the read.
Still amazed that Canada of all places appears to be leading the way. Although you wouldn’t know it looking at the media here, they’re completely ignoring it.
I’m proud of the Canadians, showing a spine and not bending to tyranny.
YouTube videos are informative. One yesterday showed miles of off road construction dump trucks blocking a highway.
The border crossings to Canada (I don’t know how many in all) are blocked. The big ones in Eastern Canada that supply commerce to Ottawa, certainly are accounted for. In any event, the elites, who consider the farmers, tow truck drivers and truckers to be their subjects, have had a rude awakening.
In The Battle of Gaugamela Alexander the Great used this refusal of horses to charge a fixed wall by opening the ranks of his formation and created alleys into which Darius’s dreaded scythed-wheeled chariots were channeled.
The charioteers were killed by spear carriers on their flanks.
This maneuver ended chariots as a viable threat in ancient warfare.
There were two basic war chariots in the ancient world. One was the two-wheel variety (Egyptians perfected, others copied) which were nimble, light, and could be disassembled for transport on draft animals and unpacked when the opportunity for a battle presented itself. The wheels would break down on long journeys. The second, a four-wheel affair, was more of a wagon, slower, more cumbersome, still faster than leg infantry, and offered protection for slingers, archers, and spear tossers in the back. Both were called chariots.
If you killed the horses, though, neither was viable.
You’ll take my life, but I’ll take yours too
You’ll fire your musket, but I’ll run you through
So when you’re waiting for the next attack
You’d better stand, there’s no turning back
The bugle sounds, the charge begins
But on this battlefield, no one wins
The smell of acrid smoke and horses’ breath
As I plunge on into certain death……….
The Trooper, Iron Maiden
Thanks for that.
Horses. Some say they have the intelligence of rabbits but, to be fair, very fast and powerful rabbits.
I’ve always thought the rabbit thing a bit derogatory — not up there with dogs, war dogs, but still… Of course I love riding and riding FAST. At least I used to 🙂
That Arab woman did you in.
First rule of turning and running is: DON’T. He who turns gets the knife, either from his fellows or his foes.
It’s why, though Heavy Horse broke the ranks, Medium Horse (or the heavies, once they disposed of about a 1/4 of their kit, including closed helms (the eyeslot helms)) ruled the Rout. Send the Light Horse around to attack the rear and harass the baggage, break the lines with the Heavy, and let the Medium hack and slash all the runners.
Takes big juevos to stand up to a cavalry charge. It’s why the Romans were so successful against cavalry. And the Greek Phalanx was also in their wars against the Persians and the Trojans.
And it’s what made Switzerland. Literally. Standing walls of pikes and halberds who don’t break when charged by cavalry will win the world.
Waterloo is an example of foot standing up to horse, with the British rifle squares standing up against anything thrown against them.
As to the Normans at Hastings Field? It was actually one of their signature moves, used earlier in both William’s ascendency fights and against the French crown, to charge, fake a rout, reform and come back and whoop-ass. The Anglo-Saxon Huscarls (very very professional soldiers and warriors) held the line and didn’t break and rout. It was the militia, the Fyrd, that got sucked into chasing the Norman horse and broke the shield wall. And then got slaughtered by the Norman horse and archers once exposed.
Funny thing about Hastings. 2 years later a lot of those Huscarls were fighting under William’s banner. And William’s thrashing of Malcolm and the Scots later was done by Norman cavalry and Huscarl shieldwall.
Stand. Stand strong. Hold the line. Always push forward, even when static (seriously, if someone is pushing you, push back, push back hard.) There’s a reason that, historically, European martial arts is more about forward motion than anything else. Either straight forward, or to the side forward. Even when taking a step back, it’s all about forward motion. Seriously, you can retreat while forward moving, it’s weird but can be done, once pressure is off, step back, pressure comes back on, step or stand forward.
Good post, LL. Got my blood warm, nay, hot, and my sword arm twitchy and my shield arm firm. Damn, I miss those days. Dream about them all the time.
You were born 1000 years too late, Beans.
My mind, yes. My highly allergic body, not so much (and I’m allergic to hay and other grasses so horses are a no-go without good drugs, and also allergic to the best warm clothing of the period, all made of wool. Funny how all the back to the past fantasies never talk about allergies and diseases and parasites and all the other horrors of back then, like sepsis and and and…)
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