Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Kabinettskriege Warfare: An Introduciton to Weapons

Picture by Joanne Rathe/Boston Globe

Dear Reader,

So, having addressed, why you should care about Kabinettskriege period, and roughly when it occurred, lets move on to what type of weaponry soldiers employed in these wars.

Infantry Weapons

The primary infantry weapon of the Kabinettskriege period was the musket. Muskets were used by infantry  to fire walls of lead in order to kill opposing infantry forces, who were attempting to do the same thing to them. An eighteenth century battle might look something like this:
FĂ©lix Henri Emmanuel Philippoteaux, The Battle of Fontenoy, 1745: The French and the Allies Confronting Each Other

While this view of the Kabinettskriege period might be a bit too "pretty" or simplistic, it gives an excellent picture of what some battles during this period was like. The infantry in lines with officers on horseback, preparing to fire walls of lead towards the enemy. The drummers behind the men provided auditory orders, and inspiration on the battle. The spear-like weapons leveled at the backs of men are called Spontoons. They officers used them to keep panicked soldiers from running away.

The firing would continue until on or other of the lines of men withdrew, and the victors would take the position previous occupied by their enemies.

Gunpowder Small Arms

During the early modern period, their were four varieties of musket used:

1) The Matchlock.
The oldest, and least reliable of the musket family, the matchlock used a burning cord ( a "match") to explode the gunpowder charge, propelling the musket ball towards the enemy. The matchlock was wide used by European infantry from roughly 1500 to 1700, with less developed nations leaving it in use towards the end of that date range.

2) The Wheel-lock.
The second oldest type of musket firing mechanism, the Wheel-lock was primarily used in cavalry pistols, and was to complicated to be mass produced easily for infantry use. In use roughly 1550-1680.

3) The Snaphance.
The Snaphance used a piece of flint to strike a metal bar suspended above the powder charge. While used for infantry muskets,  the Snaphance fell out of favor just before the Nine Years' War, and was still being used by some units at the time of the war. In use roughly 1560-1680

4) Flintlock (Fusil, Firelock).
The French developed the Flintlock in the 1610s-1620s, and this love-able system had wormed its way into the hands of most European armies by 1660-1670. While some older muskets persisted, the majority of soldiers in modern European armies (ie, not the Russians) had Flintlocks by 1690-1700. Of all the muskets the Flintlock proved the most reliable, and would remain in use by most European armies until after the Napoleonic Wars ended in 1815.

Melee Weapons

Infantry used pikes up through the end of the 17th century, although except in the case of Sweden, infantry firepower attained more and more primacy from the end of the 1650 to 1700. Infantry used pikes (long spears) to deter cavalry attacks, and as a means of terrifying the enemy.

The pikes of the Swedish Karoliner can be seen in the background. (Poltava 1709, Angus Konstam, Osprey Publishing) 

In the above picture, you can see the Swedish soldier on the right holding a sword in his right hand. While most armies in this period attacked with bayonets, some armies, such as the Swedish Karoliner, attacked with sword in hand. These swords, known as "hanger" swords, were primarily decorative, and view as a mark of honor by the soldiers. After performing poorly, the swords could be taken away to punish a regiment. If the regiment performed well, they would have the swords returned.


Cavalry during these period took on two primary roles. Horseman could either perform a Caracole attack, in which they would ride up to the enemy forces, discharge both of the pistols they carried, and then retire to the back of their formation to reload. Military theorists designed this formation for use in conjunction with attacking cavalry, and it was used successfully to disrupt infantry formations on several occasions.

The second school of though, promoted by Gustav II Adolf, Karl XII of Sweden, and Frederick II of Prussia, encouraged an all out cavalry attack, in which the cavalry would move forward swiftly, and discharge its pistols a few seconds before impacting the enemy lines. The following depicts a Swedish cavalry charge during the Great Northern War. This picture represents the all out cavalry attack theory.

Box Art from Zvezda Miniature Company


During the Kabinettskriege period, the artillery performed the necessary job of crowd control.  While the cannons fired single cannon balls referred to as roundshot, it was most effective while using cannister shot, which turned the cannon into a giant shotgun. Dan Snow gives an excellent introduction to cannister shot in the BBC production of "Battle for North America." You can watch it here. 


The Kabinettskriege period contains an incredible amount of change in military technology, enough that many books have been written on the subject. This blog provides a simplified, non-academic approach to this story. I spend my days writing academic papers, where this type of history is out-of style. This blog is an attempt to explain a vital part of military history in simple steps. I will become more complex later on, fear not.

Thanks for reading,


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