BOOK REVIEW – ALAN SHEPPERD – THE THIRTY YEARS WAR IN PETER LAWFORD’S –THE CAVALRY 1976 Book Club Associates
The 1618-1648 war saw many changes in European warfare, largely due to the development of wheel-lock pistols, enabling cavalry riders to carry small firearms as well as lance and sword. New tactics and strategies were developed, and the best strategist was Sweden’s King Gustavus Adolphus, known as The Lion Of The North.
Adolphus developed a regular army, with constant training, and regular pay, even in peacetime. He was the first general to recognize a need for field hospitals, and offered many other benefits to military service. His regular army also took in many mercenaries, and soldiers wishing to learn his tactics.
With pistols, Cavalry were taught to conduct short, sharp charges, and hassle blocks of musketeers, and pike units, which often made them vulnerable. Gustavus had the tactic banned. Gustavus broke the giant geometrical wedge and block formations, preferring smaller more manageable units easily able to interact with one another and move more quickly. Armour was lightened and often simply dispensed with. Cavalry took on a variety of roles, from scouting, to dragoon work, riding to battle and then dismounting to fight as musketeers on foot. The number of officers was increased to provide a network of command between the various fighting units. Men had to train constantly off the field. Cavalry would flank the foot divisions now, riding in to exploit any gaps in the enemy defences made in the height of battle. .
In 1630-1 Count Tilly, of the Netherlands, was sent to bring down the Swedish forces, and he provoked them with the brutal massacre of the population of the entire city of Magdeburg in May 1631. On the 15th September, the armies clashed at Leipzig, in open field, Gustavus used smaller formations, and put 2,000 musketeers in direct support of the cavalry. Intense cannonading drove Tilly to attack Gustavus’s flanks, to have his forces systematically decimated by disciplined formation firing by the musketeers. Tilly himself was wounded in the desperate retreat his surviving men had to make.
A horseman riding alone during another attack on Liepsig a few months later killed Gustavus, but his tactics and training programmes survived him.
The essay continues with studies of the French V Spanish battles of the later stages of the dreadful wars, though with little emphasis on the cavalry as the author gets carried away with general battle descriptions, but it’s a valuable essay all the same. He ends with a brief description of Croat mercenaries, unwilling to learn the use of pistols, preferring to harass the enemy with sword often from the rear. The Croats were despised as much by their allies as their opponents and excluded from any peace deals or rewards gained after victories they helped secure. .
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