Wistric’s Weekly Warfare 36: Charging, revisited

Back almost two years ago, I held forth in one of these on the topic of charging. I feel it’s worth a revisit. Possibly, my exterior has become more leathern, possibly, I’ve just learned how better to control my opponents, or, I don’t know, grew a pair and toughened up, but I’m starting to think that charging is not as unwarranted a tactic as all that.

Take the Gulf Wars field battle as an example.  My SOP against a line is “Flank it, then destroy it from the backfield”.  The majority of the time this is a viable tactic.  Certain exceptions, though, deny it as a possible strategy:
Limited front engagements (broad bridges or gaps, where the line can anchor on both ends) or
Your allies have placed you at the center of their line and told you to make a hole

In these cases, two of the Four Things are removed immediately: you can not run either flank, and are only left with light engagement and charging.  Remembering our objective of either breaking a line holding a limited front, or breaking a line in the center because that’s where we’re put, lightly engaging tends to be slow and not always guaranteed to be successful.  You can weight the odds in your favor, by grouping a strong batch of your fighters together and sending them against a weak target, but in general this attrition will occur at such a moderate pace that the enemy will be able to reinforce, meaning success will not be quick, and will open your own side to being depleted.

Which means, and I really can’t believe I’m saying this, in these particular situations, charging is probably going to be your best option. But it’s still not a great option.  The first problem:

You can’t train charging with the general rapier populace

Looking back at WWW23, and the two styles discussed there, they are essentially different only in foot speed and the attempt to deliver a killing shot on the way through.  These are significant differences, but whichever option is chosen (or a blend of the two), they both have the same moderate to high threshold of required skills.  You have to understand measure and tempo sufficiently to know when to sweep the blades; you have to understand mechanics and leverage sufficiently to sweep multiple blades with your one, in a safe and secure manner; you hopefully should set up a killshot at the same time; you have to be able to assess a line and identify its weak points; you have to be able to move between your opponents without colliding wit them; you have to be willing to take hard hits as you enter; and you have to be able to do this all at a jog, without breaking stride.

Quite simply, you will not be able to take the army politick and train it to do this en masse.  Developing this skill set takes a long time and a lot of energy, training it would require repeated, regular sessions over the course of a year or more, and the payoff would only come in one or two situations.

But there’s also no need

These same skills are developed in normal melee fighting, and in tournament fighting: measure, tempo, judgment, leverage, mobility, body mechanics… it’s combat, pure and simple.  And the vast majority of fighters who are already skilled in melee can apply those same skills to charging correctly, safely, and effectively.  At most, that subset of fighters should train charging, especially overcoming the innate urge to engage lightly and instead maintaining their pace and pushing through.

Strategic Considerations

But let’s say you have that subset of fighters trained to sweep blades and pass between fighters on the move.  Should you even give the order to charge?  And what does a charge actually accomplish?

Well, again, charging as far as I can be persuaded is useful only in limited front, non-killing cup line engagements.  In these situations, will it kill everybody the charge hits?  Nope.  All it will do is disrupt the cohesion of the line it hits, pushing back the enemy line, breaking it apart as fighters break off to fight chargers, and leaving a temporary opportunity.

Will it disrupt the line sufficiently?  This is the big one to think of: If your charge is only two or three people, don’t bother, it won’t get the job done.  Sure, they might make an opening, and sure they might disrupt the line, and somebody could jump in and use it, except that a Hold will be called.  Assume it will happen, your plan has to take account of this fact.

So, your Forlorn Hope then has to be sufficiently large enough to, at first impact, make a hole that cannot be re-sealed quickly (so, at least 5-6 fighters wide).  It has to be backed up by a force that, when the Hold is called, is sure to be at close engagement with the enemy on either side of the line, not holding off at long range, and thereby able to prevent them from sealing the gap at “Lay On”.  And this force should treat “Lay On” as a signal to launch a pulse charge immediately.  THAT may require training, or just a good explanation prior to the battle, not sure.  There’s also the slightly chumpy expedient of stepping forward into a kneeling position when “Hold” is called, and when “Rise if you’re able is called” coming out of it with a forward step (thereby gaining one pace of measure).  Girard taught me that one, so if it’s chumpy, blame him.

But, again, this ain’t anything we should even think of training to undeveloped fighters.  Keep it for the advanced fighters; long service has its perks.

2 comments to Wistric’s Weekly Warfare 36: Charging, revisited

  • Girard

    Well, if you are going to do the kneel and rise thing, you’ve got to be slick about it. You are putting your knee where your front foot is, basically saying that you are claiming the land to the front most part of your body. In The heavy fighting arena, we often kneel on holds, so it’s not out to of the ordinary. I don’t know how well it would work in rapier, where you’d be stepping out of your line and into the points of many people. Your entire line would have to do it.

    Also, in heavy, the goal of a charge is one of two things – move your opponents off some piece of land that you want or blast through and disrupt their lines. In the first type of charge, you only kill by pushing people over the edge of something. In the second type of charge, the goal is to kill commanders and range troops in their backfield (sheildmen aren’t usually worth killing).

    It sounds like a rapier charge is a suicide mission to try and kill some provost in the backfield who’s giving orders.

    • I think that, currently, rapier charges are generally suicide missions/assassin delivery devices. But I think they should serve the same purpose as heavy charges but achieved through somewhat different methods: by disrupting their lines, you force them to fall back and reform (unless a Hold is called that allows them to reform on the spot), or you deliver a functional force into the backfield that can take out command staff or destroy line units from behind thereby opening more holes.

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