In the realm of SCA combat, there are two basic types of melee combat: Unlimited Front battles (open field, broken field, woods) and Limited Front (bridge, castle, and barrier). This essay will deal with the latter of the two, the Limited Front battles. In this type of battle there are two basic sets of tactics. Each set of tactics depends on many factors such as: is the battle timed, what is the goal of the battle, what are the sizes of the forces involved, are missile weapons allowed, and what are the materials available to the commander.
Section One: Offense
The first, and most common tactic for fighting a Limited Front battle is to have a front line of beefy fighters who have big shields and when the lay on is called, charge the other shield wall. Both sides rush to fill the gap and, depending on how lucky the first commander is, ground is either gained or lost. This type of tactic can have its advantages in certain situations such as:
1) The charging shield wall has a much greater weight advantage over the defending shield wall.
2) The receiving force is low on manpower and the charge is sufficient to push completely through the line.
3) The charging shield wall is very low or out of spear men, or
4) The battle is timed and there is a specific goal to be reached (i.e. the center of the bridge) right before the end.
While this tactic presents these advantages, it tends to be very costly in shield men and can be countered easily if the receiving commander plans ahead.
A second tactic for attacking a Limited Front is to use spears as a main weapon of attack. Anyone who is a veteran of a Limited Front battle knows that they can easily turn into a meat grinder slowly chewing up men at the front of the line. This tactic can be useful for long timed battles or in situations where the goal is annihilation of the other forces. For this tactic to be successful, the commander needs three things:
1) A good supply of spearmen
2) A healthy supply of shield men
3) 2-4 front line leaders for the shield wall
A proper ratio should be two shields for every one spear on the line. This line should be set up like this:
With X=Shields, O=Spears, and L=Line leader.
In this situation it is vital that the shields understand that they are NOT to attack the line unless ordered to do so. The two lines should have a "dead zone" of approximately five feet between them, much too far for any shield man to have an effective attack. The sole purpose of the shield man in this scenario is to stay alive and to protect the spear men behind him. The goal of the spear men should NOT be to kill the other shield men, but to eliminate all of the spear men on the opposing side. Once a side is out of spears they have effectively lost the battle for two reasons.
1) The commanders of a battle are usually the ones with the spears
2) Without spears the line MUST charge to be able to attack.
Without leadership, a line will be disorganized and much less likely to charge, allowing the opposing spears time to leisurely dispatch shield after shield until the wall is dead. If a commander knows that a line must charge, he can set his line up to defeat a charge and sustain little damage to his forces. In the above diagram, I have placed a shield wall commander on the far right hand side of the line. This person should be experienced in shield walls and should be able to effectively command the shield wall independent of the spear men commanders. His main duties are to: keep the shield wall in a cohesive unit, advance the shield wall in an orderly fashion one step at a time, and echo commands coming from behind the shield wall. He is placed on the far right hand side since this is the most protected position in a Limited Front battle barring the use of missile weapons.
With these two basic tactics in place, I will now discuss more specific tactics for each attacking style.
The Caladen Maneuver
The Caladen Maneuver is of great use when facing an opponent of greater spear strength but both sides have the same number of men (i.e. you have more shields, but less spears). In this situation, the attackers (you) want to get out of the Limited Front scenario and force the battle onto your terms by breaking into the field behind the defenders. This tactic works slightly better for bridge battles than for castle battles but the idea is the same. The lineup of attackers is different than a static line:
The object is to hit the line on the attackers' right hand side and to push to the right at an extreme 45 away from the bridge. This is done for several reasons:
1) By attacking the right side of the line, sword and spear blows will come at the shield side of the attacking force.
2) The attackers will be throwing blows at the defenders weak side for defense.
3) The defending line cannot effectively refuse left to threaten the flank of the attacking charge without falling over the edge of the bridge.
4) Attacking the edge of a force encounters (at the greatest) only half of the defenders at one time.
This type of attack should put you beyond the Limited Front as well in the backfield amongst the spears where you want to be. The end result should look like this:
At this point the line should dress itself and revert to Unlimited Front tactics but should try to push the other force away from the mouth of the entrance and pin the wall of the castle or the edge of the river. This tactic works especially well if a few (2-3) fighters on the left flank charge the left side a second or two before the main force moves against the right.
1) Gets into the back field
2) Reverses point of advantage (shield vs. spears)
3) Also good if the defending team outnumbers attackers who are trying to escape from a closed area
4) Can be used to pin defenders against a wall or pushes them to their deaths.
1) If the initial charge is stopped, forces are lined up either against a wall or against the side of the bridge.
2) Invading force can get pinned inside castle if the forces are mismatched.
This maneuver requires a unit used to working and moving together. The idea of a pulse charge is to close lines with the enemy for a few seconds (10 at the most) to let the spear men behind the shields attack deep into the enemy ranks. By charging and then refusing long term engagement, the attack should take the enemy by surprise and not allow them to ready themselves for the charge. It is most important that the attacking shield wall only close to contact and not try to break through the line since that would trap fighters behind enemy lines when the charge pulls back. Pulse charges in a long term battle accomplish a few different things:
1) Allows spear men to kill deep in the enemy's lines, hopefully killing line commanders and spear men.
2) Confuses the enemy - they will not know the difference between another pulse charge and a concerted effort to break through the line.
3) If executed correctly, it should kill more of them than you.
1) If enemy countercharges, then line could be broken.
2) If executed poorly, it will kill more of you than them.
Advancing the Line
This is a common tactic for fighting Limited Front battles. There are two ideal formations for this tactic:
1) Short, beefy shield men up front with tall spear men behind
2) Tall, beefy shield men up front with short spear men behind
Since this never happens, work with what you have. the frontline shields should maintain gaps of about four inches between their shields to allow spears room to work between them. the shield men should keep their shields square in front of their bodies with their swords flat in front of their faces to deflect spears. Spears should be interspersed between shields (again two shields for one spear) to keep from fouling each other's shots. the line should be advanced one step at a time by the line commander. I have found it useful to tell the line what I am going to do and then do it. Example: "Ok, we're going to move the line forward a step at a time on my command.....step.....step.....step....." and so on. It doesn't really matter if the front line of the other side hears what you are doing if you are simply moving forward. From my experience, I have found that opposing shield walls will move backward of their own accord after my side has taken one or two steps. If your shields keep their formation tight they will usually be able to move forward a few steps without getting anyone killed. While in all other maneuvers in the Kingdom now our forces will simply walk forward, it is important for the shield men to step forward with their left leg and pull their right leg forward after. This keeps the line together at an even pace and allows them to brace themselves in case of a charge.
Slow Shield Advance/Defending a Point
This tactic is a good halfway point between an offensive tactic and a defensive tactic. The object of this maneuver is to take small sections of ground without getting anyone killed in the process or to defend a point safe from spears and most charges. To perform this maneuver a commander will need a line of fighters with BIG shields (scutums preferably) and some fighters slightly taller than average. The basic idea is to let gravity and physics be your friends.
Once the line has obtained a goal (here we will use the center point of a bridge as an example) or is very close to it, the commander should:
1) Send his biggest shields to the front to form an interlocking line
2) Have them drop to their knees and ground the shields
3) Have taller fighters come forward and place their shields over and slightly in front of the bottom fighter at a 45 degree angle
4) Have the spear men come forward to defend the line
This maneuver works best if there is some amount of room between the shield walls, if there is a team practiced at it, or if the line runs forward to the objective at the initial lay on. To move this wall forward, the man on the ground must inch his way forward in pace with the fighters on the sides as well as the person protecting his top. this formation is very protective against a charging line or spear men as long as there are no gaps in the shield wall. Unfortunately, this formation will also take away most of your offensive power since there are no holes for spears and it should be too high for spears to work over. To disengage this tactic, the top shield man slides backward while the bottom shield man stands at the same time. This results in a double shield wall in case there is a charge at this point. Once again, the advantages to this formation are:
1) Really protective of both poles and shields
2) Allows small sections of ground to be covered in relative safety
3) Great against a sustained charge of men
1) Fairly immobile
2) Removes offensive capability
3) Uses alot of manpower
Here is an example of what the shield placement should look like:
Section 2: Defense
When things go badly or if the numbers go against you or you are the defender in a situation, as is often said a good defense is a good offense as well. In Limited Front battles a commander is faced with two options for defense:
1) To defend a choke point such as a length of bridge or the corridor to a castle
2) to defend the entrance/exit of a bridge or a castle
Defending a choke point has its advantages and disadvantages. If the defending force is smaller than the attacking force, the advantage of numbers is lessened since only a certain number of fighters can engage either side at any point in time. a stationary shield wall, like the Defending a Point example can be used since it cannot be flanked and must be attacked from head on. the basic disadvantage is that neither side has any real fighting advantage and the side with the larger numbers will usually win by simple attrition.
Defending the end of a bridge or the doorway of a barricade / castle is much better for the defending team than for the attacking. the most common defense is the creation of a kill pocket at the entrance of the castle or end of the bridge. Instead of lining shield men straight across the opening, a convex semicircle should be formed using a double wall of shield men backed by a line of spear men. this will allow more defenders to attack the invaders when they try to force the line. In this situation a force of less fighters could hold off a larger force using numerical advantage.
One type of defense I have seen was used during a bridge battle where one side had lost all of its shield men. all of the spear men came together and formed 3 layers of spears, high, medium, and low in a hedgehog formation. this was purely a defensive position and worked surprisingly well. while I have never taken part in this type of formation it could be put to good use if reinforcements are forthcoming.
Section 3: Those Darn Archers
Up to now all tactics have not taken archery into consideration. In a bridge battle, any experienced commander knows that archers can play havoc with shields and spears alike. Since they can attack flanks and into the backfield from afar, they are dangerous to well laid plans. As usual there are two ways to neutralize archers in Limited Front battles. The first is very straightforward, have your archers kill all their archers. This is the best of all worlds since your archers will then enjoy free reign on the field and can kill spear men on the other side. Secondly, if you have no archers or they have been killed, form a perimeter of shields along the sides of the Limited Front. Behind this perimeter have your spears and off weapons fighters stand for protection. Another tactic is to assign each spear a shield man buddy to protect them from arrow fire. In the case of a bridge or barrier battle it is important to have shield men line the sides of the engagement to keep spears from being shot in the side.
In the event that a commander uses the Caladen maneuver, it is important to try and clear the back field of as many archers as possible once the line has been broken through.
Section 4: General Information
While many fighters have had the chance to play in field battles, serious Limited Front battles, while not rare, are harder to come by. I have been to many bridge and castle battles where I have overheard people say, "So what do we do?" If you are one of the people asking the fore mentioned question, you will more than likely be carrying a shield in this battle so I will address these basic staying alive tips to shield men.
1) STAY BEHIND YOUR SHIELD AND DO NOT THROW BLOWS! I cannot stress this point enough....if you throw a blow you will die....and so may your spear man....and so may the shield man next to you....and his spear man....etc.
2) Listen to commands from behind. these will include: charge, step forward, and retreat.
3) Do not play the hero...jumping forward to try a heroic charge will get you dead...and getting hit 30 times before you fall down hurts.
4) Try to keep your sword sideways in front of your face...this helps block spear shots while still allowing you to see.
5) STAY BEHIND YOUR SHIELD AND DO NOT THROW BLOWS!
6) If you get tired, tell the spear man behind you. Don't just back out of the line...if there are replacements there will be someone wanting to "get into the action".
7) Die defensively! You might be stuck in the "dead zone" for quite a while waiting to roll out or waiting for the marshals to call a hold. Falling 250 pound fighters hurt.
8) While waiting for your turn at the front of the line drink lots of water...these things can last several hours.
9) When charging a shield wall, drive towards the edge of the shield rather than the center. this will give you a better chance of breaking through.
10) Have fun!!!!!!
If I have made any gross admissions or if there is a new tactic that I have not seen or covered, please contact my Knight, Sir Detrich von Eltz of Ansteorra and E-mail him the corrections or additions. I would also like to take a moment to thank several people for their help and inspiration in writing this. Ld. Caladen, squire to Duke Kein, is to thank for the infamous Caladen maneuver (or at least the first person I ever saw use it). Sir Alric Drake was the first person I ever saw successfully pull off anything like a pulse charge and have it work like it should. Duke Kein, who created and published the field tactics for Ansteorra. Without seeing his tactic booklet, the idea for this basic text would still just be knocking around in my head. Sir Greyson of Falconridge, my former Knight in Meridies who, while I was watching a battle, would always ask, "What should they do now?" And lastly, to all the people at Pensic Wars who I have seen try crazy and cool stuff during the bridge and castle battles...some of that had to have hurt.
In Service to the Kingdom of Ansteorra,
Centurion Romanius Scipio Vesperanius