Modern infantry warfare began in the sixteenth century with the advent of the pike, which transformed the concept of the infantry.
Modern infantry warfare began in the sixteenth century with the advent of the
Although the Swiss did not invent drill, they created a degree of emphasis and elaboration that had not been seen since the days of the Roman legions. In the sixteenth century, if one wanted to be an effective pikeman, one had to learn and practice, and then continue to practice. Every man, from front to rear, had to be a professional. Amateur militia could and did attempt to master the drill and weapons of the professionals, but they were nearly always swept aside if they got in the way of professional pikemen.
In the sixteenth century, the word “professional” was generally synonymous with
The pike alone was inadequate for battle; pikemen were at a serious disadvantage against missile weapons. At Bicocca
The successes of the
Despite its flaws, the
The most common method was to arrange the shot in a formation of eight to twelve ranks. The first rank would fire and fall away to the rear of the formation to reload. The next rank would then step up and fire, followed by the next, followed by the next. The commander could time his shots to regulate the expenditure of ammunition or intensify his fire as needed. An eight-rank formation could sustain a rate of fire of one volley every five seconds. These formations could advance or retire while firing and deliver aggressive, point-blank attacks at a jog or run. They could also double their ranks to the front, thus turning eight ranks into four, and deliver a single smashing volley in the face of an enemy charge.
This formidable combination of firepower and shock effect made infantry the anchor of any battle formation. Ironically, however, the infantry’s limited mobility meant that it was not usually the decisive force in battle. A common scenario would be for the infantry to plod ahead and lock its opposite numbers in prolonged “push of pike” and point-blank musketry, while the cavalry battled on the flanks. The
For most of the sixteenth century, pikes favored extremely deep formations of as much as a hundred ranks depth. At the core of these formations would be the colors and the “double-pay men,” who would issue forth through the intervals between the files to smash a stubborn enemy with halberds or two-handed swords. The shot, in massive formations, would form blocks on the wings. The advantage of such formations, often called “battles,” were their tremendous staying power; there was always someone to take the place of the man who fell. Such formations could also form a 360-degree defense in seconds by facing every man to the outside. They could also provide a place of relative safety in the rear ranks, where new recruits could be seasoned. They almost certainly provided a huge morale boost, assuring each soldier that he was part of something massive and invincible. They were, however, also tremendously wasteful of manpower. The Dutch commander Maurice of
The firearm spread rapidly and was adopted from Japan to Morocco. The
Outside Japan and western Europe, the adoption of the firearm did not bring with it a parallel adoption of pikes, a development of drill, or an improvement in the status of the infantry. In India’s Mughal Empire, Persia, and Muscovy, infantry remained at best old-fashioned and at worst rabble. The
Only in the Ottoman
Interestingly, while Europe continued to develop increasingly more deadly and efficient ways of making war, the armies of the East changed little until they found themselves the objects of European imperial ambitions in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. They then either adapted to a European model or were conquered.
The simultaneous adoption of the
In the eighteenth century, these well-drilled lines of infantry dominated military operations. Cavalry could still deliver a decisive blow, and artillery was getting more mobile and more deadly, but most battles were being settled by steadiness, discipline, and the effective use of infantry firepower.
The French Revolutionary Wars
Following the Napoleonic Wars, infantry formations became more loose, and drill became less rigid. Attacks became less about marching mechanically into the face of the foe, and more about enthusiastic bayonet charges, supported by massed artillery. The nineteenth century conscript and reservist armies had to be more motivated by nationalism and belief in a cause than by drill and iron discipline.
The introduction of the
As formations became more loose, and men tended to seek cover, officers became concerned about losing control of men whom they could not see and who could not see them. They worried about soldiers panicking and wasting ammunition in blind firing or finding a hole and staying there.
During World War
While casualties increased at Verdun (1916), the Somme (1916), and Vimy Ridge (1917), there were developments taking place that would point the way toward the future of the infantry. The French were developing a system for small-unit operations that involved some units providing covering fire, while others maneuvered to new firing positions, whence they would provide covering fire in their turn. They had perfected the “fire and maneuver”
The Germans formed elite corps of heavily armed and well-trained shock troops called Sturmtruppen, or storm
The most significant development for the infantryman in World War I was not tactical but technological. The British solution to the trench warfare problem was the
In World War
The twentieth century infantryman became a member of a combined arms team that balanced the strengths and weaknesses of foot soldiers, tanks, artillery, and to an increasing degree, aircraft. He also became accustomed to operating more autonomously than ever before. The modern battlefield is an alarmingly empty place. Friends and foes alike are concealed, and all are disbursed. The infantryman can see only a few friends and can usually glimpse the enemy for only a few fleeting moments. Modern infantrymen must be able to work in small and often unconnected groups toward a common goal. Soldiers are made to understand the plan and their place in it and should be willing to continue to carry out the mission even when out of the sight of leaders. Many infantries have not met this standard, and large numbers of soldiers in any operation spend the whole time isolated and paralyzed by uncertainty, but success in modern combat depends on some significant number of soldiers continuing to carry on, despite uncertainty.
U.S. soldiers from the 289th Infantry make their way down a snowy road in Belgium in January, 1945.
In World War II, infantrymen who had been assigned to tank formations frequently rode in armored personnel carriers that provided enough mobility to keep up with the tanks, as well as some protection. The armored personnel
At the end of the twentieth century, infantry remained central to operations in Vietnam and Korea, and in counterinsurgency operations in Northern Ireland. In large-scale, conventional wars such as the Gulf War
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