The clever combatant looks to the effect of combined energy, his fighting men become as it were unto rolling logs or stones. For it is the nature of a log or stone to remain motionless on level ground, and to move when on a slope; if four-cornered, to come to a standstill, but if round-shaped, to go rolling down.
Thus the energy developed by good fighting men is as the momentum of a round stone rolled down a mountain thousands of feed in height. So much on the subject of energy.
–Sun Tzu, The Art of War, Chapter 5: “Energy,” [21-23]
King Gustavus Adolphus made Sweden a military power in Europe during the Thirty Years’ War. Some consider him to be the father of modern warfare because of his aggressive tactics and emphasis on mobility Spain had dominated Europe using massive tercio formations of pike and shot, but King Adolphus knew how to tear them apart with smaller and faster formations and combined arms.
For those not familiar with the term, combined arms is simply using more than one kind of military unit to achieve an objective, to defeat the enemy. Pike and shot is a great example of combined arms. The pike kept the enemy at bay (particularly heavy cavalry) so the shot could… well shoot.
Combined arms is the fruit of civilization. The ancient Greeks and Romans used combined arms, using phalanxes of infantry with cavalry, skirmishers and missile troops would screen the heavier formations.
The use of combined arms, aside from a few notable exceptions (such as the Byzantines), was largely lost in Western Europe during the Middle Ages. By the Thirty Years’ War, especially with the advent of gunpowder, the use of combined arms had been on the ascent for some time.
Gustavus Adolphus mastered the use combined arms. Hence, if you’re a wargamer, studying King Adolphus and understand the basics of combined arms will benefit you on the tabletop.
1.Smaller Battle Formations
Some wargamers like large battle formations, for bigger punch. The problem is they can be huge target for missile fire. And the biggest drawback is they are unwieldy.
Adolphus insisted on smaller formations of pike and shot. These were far more mobile and could surrounded the enemy.
Individually, they are usually weaker than larger formations–don’t get them in pitched combat. Yet they are best when it comes to shooting.
In gaming terms, I’d rather have two smaller units fire at a single large unit, rather than have a large unit fire at a smaller unit. You get two shooting actions as opposed to one.
2. Mobile Artillery
Some wargamers like the biggest artillery pieces they can find. This is fine, if your conducting a siege and need to knock down a wall.
Adolphus favored smaller field artillery, regimental cannons that could easily be moved to support infantry or even cavalry. These infantry support guns lacked the range of their heavier counterparts, but they added an extra punch. But they often can limber and leave.
One of my favorite tactics is to use smaller artillery to support or to defend against charges at a critical spot.
3. Salvo Fire
Adolphus trained his troops to fire in two or more ranks, often at point blank range. The effect was devastating on opponents who used the old tactic of firing in a single rank or firing at a distance before closing in.
In games that allow salvo fire, take advantage of it. Let your opponent get close… then bang!
In game which don’t have salvo fire, consider the following options:
Concentrated fire. Have two or more units shoot at single enemy unit.
Indirect fire. Can you troops hit a target without line of sight? Do it.
Tiered fire. One unit of missile troops is at the base of a hill. Another is on top of the hill and can fire over the heads of the first unit.
A final Caveat: Be Aggressive… But Not Too Aggressive
Adolphus used aggressive tactics, mobility, and fast moving troops to unbalance his opponents. He often led troops in the field.
The downside of being overly aggressive is you risk exposing your flanks to the enemy or getting cut off from your own forces.
In Adolphus’s case, he became separated from his men at the Battle of Lutzen (1632). He had lead a cavalry charge against the enemy, but things became confused in the smoke and fog covering the battlefield. His body was recovered later.
He had died from multiple wounds.
Next on The Art of Wargaming: “Get There First.”