Monday, February 11, 2013

Spotlight on: Kabinettskriege continuity

Dear Reader,

Today, societal change occurs at a breakneck pace. Society is radically different today than it was 50 years agao, much less 150 years ago.  Thus, it might seem ridiculous to say that the Kabinettskriege period could encompass such a wide time span. If the Kabinettskriege period lacks continuity, the Kabinettskriege model of looking at warfare from 1648-1789 falls apart. With that in mind, look at soldiers from 150 years ago: 

150 years ago (The American Civil War)

compared with current soldiers:

Modern Abrams Tank with Crew

So, the change is apparent, yes?

Now, compare soldiers from the beginning and end of the Kabinettskriege period, encompassing roughly the same length of time. First we have the 1640s-1650s:


Soldiers from the beginning of the Kabinettskriege period (Scanian War)

Compared with soldiers from the 1770s-1780s:

Soldiers from the end of the Kabinettskriege period (American War of Independence)

While there are important changes, the soldiers seem much more similar than modern times compared with 150 years ago, don't they? 

Continuity in Combat Experience
There is a great deal of continuity in combat experience from the beginning to the end of the Kabinettskriege period.  From the 1670's to the 1780's, theorists debated whether or not you should drive the enemy from the field with use of firepower or attacks with cold steel. In the 1630's, Gustav II Adolf, King of Sweden, developed tactics based on infantry and artillery firepower and decisive sword attacks with the mounted arm. These reforms were closely connected with the Dutch school of military reform. 

At the turn of the 18th century, Swedish king Karl XII switched the primary method of engagement to swift infantry and cavalry attacks with cold steel, often not even bothering to support his forces with firepower. While the Swedes under Karl XII were wildly effective if they could break their enemies lines, the Karoliner army met its match at Poltava in 1709, where they were destroyed by Russian firepower. 

Cavalry Tactics
The goal of cavalry was to break into enemy formations and cause havoc and terror with sword strokes. The  prospect of being hit with a cavalry sword was much more terrifying than having to stand in line while being shot at, according to the research of Dr. Christopher Duffy. Thus, if the cavalry could get in among the more numerous infantry soldiers, they would often panic and flee, allowing the cavalry to chase them down at their leisure.

The best way to resist cavalry was to not allow them to enter a formation. Infantry would form a square if isolated, or simply deter the oncoming cavalry with firepower if the flanks of the formation were covered. If the infantry could resist the approach of enemy cavalry, than the cavalry would usually have to withdraw. The best example of this is the battle of Minden in 1759, where an English and German infantry brigade withstood the charge of the French  cavalry.

The 37th Foot at the Battle of Minden

In most of the battles of the Great Northern War, (1700-1721) the Swedish cavalry were able to break the enemy line and cause massive casualties during the rout. A prime example of this is the Battle of Fraustadt, fought on February 13th, 1706.  During the War of Austrian Succession, the Prussian Ansbach-Dragoon regiment was able to generate similar success at the battle of Hohenfriedberg in 1745. Finally, during the American War of Independence Tarleton's Legion caused similar mayhem at Camden and Waxhaws. Thus, while the technology of warfare changed throughout the period, theories of warfare remained relatively unchanged. 

Infantry Tactics
For the entirety of the Kabinettskriege period, authorities debated whether an attack with pikes and bayonets was more effective than using infantry firepower. During the Nine Years' War, military theorists began to note that infantry with muskets (either matchlocks or flintlocks) were more effective at driving off cavalry attacks than infantry armed with pikes. Coupled with the development of the bayonet, this led to a steady decrease of the number of pikes in armies, with the pike being almost totally abandoned by the 1710's. During the early Kabinettskriege period (roughly 1660s-1710s), various armies relied alternately on shock attacks and firepower to win battles. The British and Dutch relied on infantry firepower, while French and Swedish theorists relied more on shock tactics.

 During the middle Kabinettskriege period (roughly 1710's-1750s) theorists such as Jean Charles, Chevalier Folard, argued that armies should incorporate large masses of men in a close formation, the relatively thin, musket armed battle line remained the primary military formation of the period. Folard attempted to revive the pike, and use it in the context of a large column supported by skirmishers. While some authors believe that his ideas presage Napoleonic tactics, Folard was completely ineffective in spreading his ideas.  During the Seven Years' War, at the battle of Rossbach in 1757, Frederick II of Prussia disparaged Folard's ideas when the French attempted to employ a column attack slightly similar to Folard's concept.

Throughout the vast majority of the Kabinettskriege period, infantry fought in long lines, three to four men deep, and used firepower in an effort to convince the enemy to flee. Under more specific circumstances, based on the policies of a particular nation or general, the tactics could change into something based more on shock warfare.

Artillery Tactics
Of the three arms, artillery went through the most change during the Kabinettskriege period. During this period, guns were employed more and more frequently, and generals began to view them with more respect. Many nations, such as the Austrians in the years before the Seven Years' War, systematically updated their artillery forces, and gave them a massive boost of modernization. Frederick II of Prussia had great respect for the power of cannons, stating that artillery "adds dignity to what would otherwise be an ugly brawl." This point was likely driven home at the battle of Torgau, where a massive concentration of Austrian artillery slaughtered the best forces in Frederick's army.

So, while important changes occurred in military technology and theory,warfare remained similar from 1648-1789. This justifies the use of the Kabinettskriege model when approaching the 17th and 18th centuries.

Thanks for reading,

Alex Burns

(Portions of the above are part of an academic paper by the author, his intellectual property, and have copyright pending. Do not copy without permission.)

1 comment:

  1. Amazing Blog! I love history..and this blog is so fun to read.