Home Forums Medieval How often did melee troops actually close to melee?

This topic contains 23 replies, has 10 voices, and was last updated by John D Salt John D Salt 4 months, 3 weeks ago.

Viewing 24 posts - 1 through 24 (of 24 total)
  • Author
    Posts
  • #88226
    Ivan Sorensen
    Ivan Sorensen
    Moderator

    One of the things I see very commonly in black powder era texts is that there’s a lot of “charging” but not very much “hitting each other with sticks”: Usually one side or the other gives way first.

    In medieval era warfare, if you had to hazard a guess, how often would one side give way versus how often did two infantry formations crash into each other and fight it out?

    I should clarify I am thinking primarily of infantry vs infantry here, not horse.

    Any notable examples?
    Medievals is totally outside my normal sphere of reading, so any book recommendations are quite welcome too.

    • This topic was modified 6 months, 2 weeks ago by Ivan Sorensen Ivan Sorensen.

    Nordic Weasel Games
    https://sites.google.com/site/nordicweaselgames/

    #88235
    Thaddeus Blanchette
    Thaddeus Blanchette
    Participant

    Human nature being what it is, I’d say not that often, actually.

    We get slapped around, but we have a good time!

    #88236
    Not Connard Sage
    Not Connard Sage
    Participant

    Human nature being what it is, I’d say not that often, actually.

     

    Battlefield archaeology across Europe being what it is, I’d say quite often, actually.

    http://www.yorkpress.co.uk/news/916452.Skeletons_of_bloodiest_day_/

    How the bones of 1185 soldiers became part of the largest battlefield skeletal collection

     

     

    "I go online sometimes, but everyone's spelling is really bad. It's... depressing."

    #88255
    Ruarigh
    Ruarigh
    Participant

    It would be interesting to know how much time was spent hitting each other versus standing just out of reach and yelling insults, given that battles like Towton are supposed to have lasted all day. Also, how many of the wounds were to the front versus how many inflicted as the losers fled? That might go some way to answering the question about how often they closed with the enemy.

    Never argue with an idiot. They'll only drag you down to their level and beat you with experience.

    https://emidsvikings.ac.uk/
    #88256
    Not Connard Sage
    Not Connard Sage
    Participant

    It would be interesting to know how much time was spent hitting each other versus standing just out of reach and yelling insults, given that battles like Towton are supposed to have lasted all day. Also, how many of the wounds were to the front versus how many inflicted as the losers fled? That might go some way to answering the question about how often they closed with the enemy.

    It takes a lot of time to kill a lot of people with hand weapons.  All that stabbing, hacking and slashing is quite tiring. I speak from second, or possibly third, hand experience from my time practising kendo.

    For the other, it’s entirely possible that someon has analysed the archaeological record. Perhaps in this.

    http://booksandjournals.brillonline.com/content/books/b9789004306455_003

    https://books.google.co.uk/books?id=Ha-8CgAAQBAJ&pg=PA204&lpg=PA204&dq=Battle+Trauma+in+Medieval+Warfare:+Wounds,+Weapons+and+Armor&source=bl&ots=eGEtzZ90gC&sig=XNaNT_rHYU9miKG68-EbmTesz0A&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwjd3O-UgajaAhUqJsAKHcLkDOgQ6AEIejAP#v=onepage&q=Battle%20Trauma%20in%20Medieval%20Warfare%3A%20Wounds%2C%20Weapons%20and%20Armor&f=false

    https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK332959/

     

    Of course, it must be borne in mind that in the melee the enemy isn’t necessarily standing obligingly in front of you. If someone unsportingly hits you from behind while you’re trying to kill his mate you’re just as dead, but the nasty gaping hole in the back of your skull might suggest to the 21st century doubter that you were legging it.

    This may be a rather facile example, but if the bloke in the middle gets it wrong he’s going to get a deeper parting in his hair than he expected.

     

     

    More archeological evidence

    http://www.culture24.org.uk/history-and-heritage/military-history/pre-20th-century-conflict/art356828

    https://www.economist.com/node/17722650

    Trauma, warfare and violent death at the Black Friary

     

     

     

     

    "I go online sometimes, but everyone's spelling is really bad. It's... depressing."

    #88268
    Ruarigh
    Ruarigh
    Participant

    Cool. Thanks for the links. That gives me more reading to do if I can find an accessible copy of the book. Sadly it’s not in our library here. I’ll have to see if I can get it by ILL.

    With regard to your comment about getting hit from behind, I wonder how unstructured and freewheeling melees really were. If a bloke gets behind you while you are trying to kill his mate, what were your mates doing letting him get there? If he’s there on his own, then how long will he last among your second and third rank mates? Also, if the lines have broken up that much, does it mean that the battle has reached a crisis point? I’m fairly sure that the sort of freewheeling melees we see in Vikings or The Last Kingdom are not even close to the reality of battles in this period.

    On your comment about killing people taking time and being tiring, that’s why I wonder if there were not significant pauses in battles. I’m really only thinking about medieval battles, where there do not seem to have been systems in place for relieving the lines, and where breaking through the enemy line probably signalled the start of the end of the battle.

    Never argue with an idiot. They'll only drag you down to their level and beat you with experience.

    https://emidsvikings.ac.uk/
    #88269
    Thaddeus Blanchette
    Thaddeus Blanchette
    Participant

    It would be interesting to know how much time was spent hitting each other versus standing just out of reach and yelling insults, given that battles like Towton are supposed to have lasted all day. Also, how many of the wounds were to the front versus how many inflicted as the losers fled? That might go some way to answering the question about how often they closed with the enemy.

    Exactly. Grave evidence is difficult to use in this case as, by definition, it involves people who were actually killed in something resembling hand to hand combat.

    But most deaths probably took place after one side had lost and was running away.

    I think a lot of posturing, pushing and shoving took place and, certainly, plenty of missile fire  was probably exchanged. But actual melee, understood as people whacking at each other with handheld weapons in (to use a dictionary definition) “a confused fight, skirmish, or scuffle”? I bet that was rather rare. I bet that, as in later days, most combats were resolved one way or another before the groups actually engaged. If they weren’t, the two lines probably stood around tossing insults at each other and occaisionally pushing at each other with their shields (and maybe spears) until they got exhausted or until the morale of one of the groups broke.

    This seems to be what happened at the Battle of Towton, from which a lot of the evidence cited by Conrad Sage, above, is drawn. The slaughter really didn’t start until the Lancastrians routed. That’s where most of those bodies in those graves were produced, I gather.

     

    We get slapped around, but we have a good time!

    #88305
    Patrice
    Patrice
    Participant

    There certainly was posturing at the beginning of battles; and most causalties happened when one side ran away and was then slaughtered by its opponents; but in most cases the infantry (the warriors on foot) actually met and fought at close quarters. Almost all mentions of important battles include this.

    (um, yes, perhaps when one side ran away before the battle we have no mention of it at all; but in many cases we roughly know what happened).

    “Infantry formations” often also included nobility. And although it’s possible to run away while wearing full armour, it’s quickly exhausting, and it brings shame, they were not educated to do it.

    There was even some people mad enough to fight to death for fun when they were bored by garrison life, as in the Combat des Trente in 1351
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Combat_of_the_Thirty

    As for books, Ian Heath (Armies of the Dark Ages, Armies of the Middle Ages) is one of the “wargamers bibles” I cannot do without. it includes description of tactics, soldiers, heraldry, and of many battles of these periods.

    http://www.argad-bzh.fr/argad/en.html
    http://argad.forumculture.net/

    #88924
    Ruarigh
    Ruarigh
    Participant

    Perhaps in this. http://booksandjournals.brillonline.com/content/books/b9789004306455_003

    I’ve read through this book now. Sadly, it does not answer the question I posed. Still, it was interesting. The main point I picked up was that analysing battlefield injuries from the archaeological record is complicated, and that many researchers have been over-imaginative in their interpretation of what the injuries mean in terms of the progress of the fight. A secondary point, which I have always thought but is nice to have some evidence for now, is that the majority of injuries are to the head and limbs. Armour protects the body, and one does not simply drive a sword through a coat of mail, despite Hollywood depictions to the contrary. This gives greater weight to the argument that descriptions of armpit and groin wounds in the Icelandic sagas represent a very real fear of being struck in these vulnerable areas.

    In terms of swirling melees, there was nothing in there about infantry fights that suggests they broke up in the way that they do on Vikings or The Last Kingdom. However, one of the articles did reference late medieval descriptions of a cavalry charge that broke up into a lot of individual fights. So there’s that.

    A third thing I took away from this book was how well people survived grievous injuries. So many really bad wounds had healed or partially healed. Many more than I would have thought possible. Oh, and honey. Honey seems to work as an antiseptic and was used to treat wounds. I never knew that.

    Finally, I am particularly intrigued by the various comments about how facial scars might reduce one’s social status rather than being seen as heroic. I need to do more reading on that.

    Never argue with an idiot. They'll only drag you down to their level and beat you with experience.

    https://emidsvikings.ac.uk/
    #88954
    Ruarigh
    Ruarigh
    Participant

    It’s been a long time since I read The Face of Battle. Maybe time for a re-read unless there is newer scholarship on this.

    Never argue with an idiot. They'll only drag you down to their level and beat you with experience.

    https://emidsvikings.ac.uk/
    #92127

    Perhaps in this. http://booksandjournals.brillonline.com/content/books/b9789004306455_003

    I’ve read through this book now. Sadly, it does not answer the question I posed. Still, it was interesting. The main point I picked up was that analysing battlefield injuries from the archaeological record is complicated, and that many researchers have been over-imaginative in their interpretation of what the injuries mean in terms of the progress of the fight. A secondary point, which I have always thought but is nice to have some evidence for now, is that the majority of injuries are to the head and limbs. Armour protects the body, and one does not simply drive a sword through a coat of mail, despite Hollywood depictions to the contrary. This gives greater weight to the argument that descriptions of armpit and groin wounds in the Icelandic sagas represent a very real fear of being struck in these vulnerable areas. In terms of swirling melees, there was nothing in there about infantry fights that suggests they broke up in the way that they do on Vikings or The Last Kingdom. However, one of the articles did reference late medieval descriptions of a cavalry charge that broke up into a lot of individual fights. So there’s that. A third thing I took away from this book was how well people survived grievous injuries. So many really bad wounds had healed or partially healed. Many more than I would have thought possible. Oh, and honey. Honey seems to work as an antiseptic and was used to treat wounds. I never knew that. Finally, I am particularly intrigued by the various comments about how facial scars might reduce one’s social status rather than being seen as heroic. I need to do more reading on that.

    If you can, get a copy of SPADA 2: Anthology of Swordsmanship (v. 2). In it is an article by Richard Swinney and Scott Crawford, Medical Reality of Historical Wounds. Swinney is an Emergency Medicine Physician makes comparisons with a selection of cases of trauma involving 2 inch deep thrusts and light cuts and some serious ones, like a drunken guy getting run through the abdomen with a swordcane at a party and still dancing for 5 hours.  While you’re at it, get Spada Volume 1 too, as Chivalry Bookshelf went under, due to mismanagement.

    Even in skirmishing, there will be something resembling group tactics, with wounds aimed at immobilization, with a possible finishing blow by someone else. One on one duels are just for entertainment, though cavalry combat has always been fluid after the first collision of formed bodies and spanning a larger area, akin to fighter combat. This is why having a formed fresh body was important, even in medieval warfare, involving men-at-arms engaging in separate groups of 25-50.

    #92144
    Ochoin
    Ochoin
    Participant

    If we’re talking psychology, surely men whose principle weapon has an edge and who are expected to use it won’t be that shy.

    I think a differentiation between such melee  troops and men whose chief weapon is meant to kill at a distance, either through bow or firearm, seems valid. Their mindset would differ and produce the effect of shrinking from exchanging blows.

    donald

    #92155
    Ruarigh
    Ruarigh
    Participant

    If you can, get a copy of SPADA 2: Anthology of Swordsmanship (v. 2).

    Thanks for the suggestion. I’ll see if I can get my hands on a copy.

    If we’re talking psychology, surely men whose principle weapon has an edge and who are expected to use it won’t be that shy.

    Will that not depend upon their experience and motivation? Knowing you are meant to get stuck in, and being faced with others whose job is to get stuck into you might be a bit daunting if it’s your first time out.

    Never argue with an idiot. They'll only drag you down to their level and beat you with experience.

    https://emidsvikings.ac.uk/
    #92169
    Ochoin
    Ochoin
    Participant

    O

    If you can, get a copy of SPADA 2: Anthology of Swordsmanship (v. 2).

    Thanks for the suggestion. I’ll see if I can get my hands on a copy.

    If we’re talking psychology, surely men whose principle weapon has an edge and who are expected to use it won’t be that shy.

    Will that not depend upon their experience and motivation? Knowing you are meant to get stuck in, and being faced with others whose job is to get stuck into you might be a bit daunting if it’s your first time out.

     

    Of course. I’m sure you’ve read ” The Red Badge of Courage”?

    Best book on the psychology of a soldier I know.

     

    donald

    #92178
    Not Connard Sage
    Not Connard Sage
    Participant

    Of course. I’m sure you’ve read ” The Red Badge of Courage”? Best book on the psychology of a soldier I know. donald

     

    Eh?

    It’s a novel, written by someone who had not seen combat, so I’m not too sure how you reach that conclusion.

    Keegan’s ‘The Face of Battle’, though superficial, is a better book about the psychology of a fighting man. As is Holmes’ ‘Acts of War’.

    If you wish a deeper perspective S L A Marshall and David Grosman investigate what makes a modern soldier fight and kill in ‘Men Against Fire’, ‘On Combat’ and ‘On Killing’.

     

     

    "I go online sometimes, but everyone's spelling is really bad. It's... depressing."

    #92188
    Ochoin
    Ochoin
    Participant

    Crane spoke extensively with ACW veterans. Discount that if you like

    I would also argue that novels can have more truth than factual studies. Let’s see…..”War and Peace” or certain modern books on Napolenic artillery?

    However, as our Americans friends say, YMMV.

     

    donald

    #92189
    Guy Farrish
    Guy Farrish
    Participant

    I suspect that Red Badge of Courage is a nice, easily absorbed corrective to the clockwork soldier view of combat that many wargamers have.

    However I’d agree that while pretty accurate considering Crane wasn’t ever near a battle, it isn’t the end of the story regarding the psychology of combat.

    But much the same could be said about Marshall – his figures are under some considerable doubt regarding accuracy and methodology, and Grossman who has been flavour of the months for many many months now, has his own growing band or doubters, revisionists and critics

    Engen

    Is a nice intro – see Tom Aveni for a police critique of Grossman’s ‘Killology’ theories as sold to North American policing.

    As for Contact in mediaeval melee – good luck!

    Start with The Western Way of War and end up with Grossman – be prepared for a lot of side tracks, blind alleys, political agendas – no really! and differing models of human nature – ‘Bambi’ vs ‘innate evil’ (?) and everything in between. Are fighters born or made, is it all about a reluctance to kill, is battle innoculation all you need, how does slaughtering animals on a routine, pre industrial, basis affect the equaton, if at all? Try extricating religious beliefs/ cultural strereotypes/racial ‘theories’/plain bias and propaganda from the recording of battle never mind more recent interpretation of the data.

    Add in modern burgeoning thories of brain and mind, and letting ’em charge in and throw a d6 will, for the time being, produce as convincing a model as anything (you can then argue about whether they lost the ‘posturing battle’ and were slaughtered as they ran, or won the physical ‘fencing’ or ‘shield pushing’ tournament. Unless you can persuade a few hundred of your friends to get together and attempt to slaughter each other with edged weapons one Saturday (no re-enactments, all sharp weapons and real intent to kill only please) you are unlikely to find a definitive answer to what really happened in the last 25 metres of the mediaeval infantry battle. (and even then people would argue that people are less violent now so the result would be moot – and of course illegal).

     

     

     

    #92190
    Not Connard Sage
    Not Connard Sage
    Participant

    As for Contact in mediaeval melee – good luck! Start with The Western Way of War and end up with Grossman – be prepared for a lot of side tracks, blind alleys, political agendas – no really! and differing models of human nature – ‘Bambi’ vs ‘innate evil’ (?) and everything in between.

    Contamine’s  ‘La Guerre au Moyen Age’  might be an interesting detour along the way. Along with the ‘Agincourt’ chapters of  Keegan 😉

    "I go online sometimes, but everyone's spelling is really bad. It's... depressing."

    #92196
    Guy Farrish
    Guy Farrish
    Participant

    Yep! I thought I would let their path be a heuristic experience!

    But if they missed Contamine, they probably would not be worthy, grasshopper.

    #92210
    Ruarigh
    Ruarigh
    Participant

    Thanks for the link to the Engen article, Guy. Interesting critique. I note that it mentioned the differences between fighting up close and fighting at a distance. It left me wondering about the willingness to put oneself in harm’s way rather than the willingness to kill. How willing would people have been to get withing hitting range of the other guys?

    I was also wondering, because Engen touches on it, about the difference between individual and group psychology. A lot of this literature seems focused on the individual, but, as Engen notes, people in groups will act differently.

    On balance, I think you’re right that d6 to charge and d6 to stand against the charge is as good a model as any for the time being. Maybe further developments in cognitive theory will change that but for now, we have have the models we have and they work for a decent game.

    Never argue with an idiot. They'll only drag you down to their level and beat you with experience.

    https://emidsvikings.ac.uk/
    #92215
    John D Salt
    John D Salt
    Participant

    But much the same could be said about Marshall – his figures are under some considerable doubt regarding accuracy and methodology, and Grossman who has been flavour of the months for many many months now, has his own growing band or doubters, revisionists and critics

    Engen

    Is a nice intro – see Tom Aveni for a police critique of Grossman’s ‘Killology’ theories as sold to North American policing.

    The name Aveni rings a bell in the dim recesses of my mind, I may have harvested some shooting data from something of his at some point, but I can’t recall a specific source. Could you oblige?

    While I do like Engen’s work, his criticisms of Marshall are no better than stuff we have heard many times before. It is really a bit naughty to continue to mention Spiller’s critique of Marshall (which I take it refers to the classic Winter of ’88 paper in RUSI Journal, yes I have a copy in the garage) which ends “Marshall is still right”. There is also the point that Marshall was really just repeating an observation originally due to du Picq, and the further point that Marshall’s 25% of active fighters was very closely matched by Lionel Wigram’s contemporaneous but independent observations from Sicily. Finally, while Engen deserved his MSc (I could have sworn it was a doctorate) in history for his work on the historical Canadian Army questionnaires, he would have been crucified if his work had been in a numerate subject; he does not understand what is and is not a valid statistical inference, and what he regards as “refutation” of Marshall is in most cases nothing of the kind.

    The critique of Grossman is perhaps somewhat better founded, as I understand that almost all research to date has failed to find any link between violent video games and actual violence, and the belief that only mankind engages in intra-specific violence is now thoroughly exploded. According to my pal Paul Syms’s presentation at the 2014 ISMOR (http://www.ismor.com/hadss2014_papers/syms.pdf) warlike behaviours have been observed in 64 other species.

    Now, despite my normal fondness for promoting thread drift, I would strongly caution against taking any results from 20th or 21st century combat (the cordite era) and applying them to ancient or mediaeval battles with armes blanches (the pointy stick era). Combat behaviour underwent a profound shift with the industrialisation of warfare and the emptying of the battlefield in response to nitrocellulose propellants, spitzer bullets, high explosives, and Bessemer steel. ORO-T-295 “Stress in Infantry Combat” (available from DTIC, http://www.dtic.mil/dtic/tr/fulltext/u2/069455.pdf) shows on p.21 some curves illustrating the stress response of various things as measured from samples of the soldiers’ blood and wee. The response goes through three phases: alarm, resistance, and exhaustion. In the alarm phase, levels initially go up (or down) suddenly (shock), then return to normal levels (counter-shock). In the resistance phase, they remain fairly constant. Finally, in the exhaustion phase, the levels collapse or explode as they can no longer be kept under control. This is why, in modern industrialised warfare, we speak of “combat exhaustion”; continued stress wears out everyone in the end. However, the resistance phase may not be reached for many hours after the initial shock. In pre-cordite battles, which seldom lasted more than a day, practically nobody would have got past the shock and counter-shock phases. Their combat behaviour would have been much more volatile than the modern soldier’s. Unfortunately, and contrary to what common sense (“the metaphysics of savages”) would say, this means you can’t use the same morale rules for modern and pre-cordite wargames. It does, though, explain why “psychiatric casualties” were really not a thing before the industrialisation of warfare.

    We now return you to our regular swordplay.

    All the best,

    John.

    #92218
    Cerdic
    Cerdic
    Participant

    Well, I believe that a very small minority of people have a ‘warrior’ mindset.

    I’ve met plenty of people who talk big but are just like everyone else when faced with actual violence. Get on YouTube and watch football hooligans and rioters. There is a gap of a few yards between the opposing sides, into which an individual or small group will dash, attempt to land a couple of blows, then retreat again. Possibly pre-gunpowder battles were not dissimilar. Maybe a tad more organised?

    I’ve met a very few people who respond to violence differently. They don’t seem to have the same sense of self-preservation that most others have! These people fight to win.

    For example. A mate of mine waded in to a bloke armed with a samurai sword. He had his right hand cut off. Warrior mindset…    (They did save the hand and re-attach it!)

    #92221
    Guy Farrish
    Guy Farrish
    Participant

    Hmmm- Aveni – he’s the founder of the Police Policy Studies Council – which as it is American, is a private corporation and  found here:

    PPSC

    and some of his spats with Grossman are here:

    Grossman v Aveni 2001

    but I am struggling to find what I thought I remembered – it may be somewhere in the spin offs from that exchange or elsewhere in the PPSCfiles but I thought there was a better article format somewhere – that’ll teach me not to check first – I’ll keep looking.

    Sorry.

    #92234
    John D Salt
    John D Salt
    Participant

    For example. A mate of mine waded in to a bloke armed with a samurai sword. He had his right hand cut off. Warrior mindset… (They did save the hand and re-attach it!)

    The Deputy Mayor, Finglas, Jan 2008?

    Or the Shangri-La, Liverpool, Nov 2001?

    I’m assuming this can’t be all that common, but there are also a couple of cases from Oz and NZ…

    All the best,

    John.

Viewing 24 posts - 1 through 24 (of 24 total)

You must be logged in to reply to this topic.