A Brief History of Prussia

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1525- Duchy

1618- Brandenburgers

1701- Kingdom under Frederick I

1713- ‘The Soldier King’

1740- Frederick the Great

1772- Poland partition

1807- Battle of Jena

1815- Blucher in Belgium

1862- Bismark

1866- Battle of Koniggratz

1870- German Empire

1914- WW1





Johann von Tilly: the Holy Roman Empire’s Underrated Hero

The Thirty Years War raged across Europe in the 17th century with the Habsburg powers of Spain and the Holy Roman Empire clashing with Saxony, Sweden, France, and many others. While many place Albrecht von Wallenstein at the height of Habsburg strength, one commander of the Catholic League forces is overlooked- Johann Tserclaes, count von Tilly.

Johann Tserclaes, Count von Tilly

Tilly was born in the Spanish Netherlands in 1559 to Jesuits, the “warriors” of the Catholic Church. Tilly’s first combat experiences were in the 80 Years War against the Dutch with the Spanish. When Tilly was 35, he joined the Habsburg forces to fight the Turks in the Hungarian plains.

In 1609, Maximilian I of Bavaria created the Catholic League as opposition to the Protestant Union and Tilly was called upon to reform the Bavarian forces. The league would offer military support to any of its allies when provoked, and in 1618, the Holy Roman Empire called upon the League for aid. Ferdinand II claimed to own Bohemia & the Palatinate, ruled over by Frederick V, since his father had previously ruled the land. In an attempt to reclaim their lands, the Habsburg monarch turned to his Catholic allies to the west. Tilly’s forces combined in 1619 at Wurzburg, where the entire force numbered around 20,000. 7,000 of these men were Bavarian soldiers whom Tilly had previously commanded. The Bohemian revolt spread into Moravia, Styria, the Tyrol, and other parts of the Holy Roman Empire.

On November 8, 1620, Tilly’s Catholic forces clashed with the Czechs at the Battle of White Mountain. Outnumbering his opponent by almost 10,000 men, Tilly knew this battle would clear the way to Prague and it was imperative for him to win. The Czech forces of the Bohemian Estates (hereby known as the Estates) positioned themselves on high ground overlooking a valley. Artillery was places throughout the Estates’ lines while the middle was populated by Czechs and Austrian mercenaries. The Imperial forces under Count von Tilly were set in three lines with Cossacks from Poland and Spanish cavalry on the flanks. Imperial cavalry on the right wing charged the Estate positions to which their commander, Christian Anhalt, could not respond to. The left collapsed as the Estate infantry and cavalry routed. Anhalt commanded his middle to attack the Imperial forces but Tilly absorbed these assaults and managed to surround the Czech, who was captured. Irish Catholic Henry Fitzsimon led his troops to crush the rest of the Estate forces and Tilly achieved a stunning victory. Tilly continued past Prague and into Germany where he continued his string of impressive victories, much to the admiration of Ferdinand II.

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Estate forces being surrounded by Catholic cavalry at White Mountain

By 1625, Christian IV of Denmark sought ambitions to the south in the ever expanding 30 Years War. Tilly and Albrecht von Wallenstein led their forces north in order to confront the Protestant forces and in 1626, Tilly confronted the enemy at the Battle of Lutter. Tilly’s artillery was used to a massive advantage and when they repulsed a Danish assault, a cavalry charge routed the reorganizing Danes from the battlefield. Lutter cost the Danes some 6,000 men out of their 20,000; Tilly lost 200 men. With the Imperials in Jutland, Christian IV was forced to sign the Treaty of Lubeck which made him abandon support to the German Protestants.

Tilly was appointed commander of the Imperial Army afterthe Wallenstein debacle. Wallenstein’s power hungry manner and ignorance toward the Emperor cost Wallenstein his life. With Count von Tilly in command, Ferdinand II ordered him to move against the Swedish forces of Gustavus Adolphus who had invaded Germany in 1630. The Swedes had adopted Maurician tactics of the 80 Years War and created arguably the best fighting force of the pike and shot era. Tilly’s siege of Magdeburg ended in a victory, but his invasion of Saxony cost him an important ally. At Breitenfeld in 1631, Gustavus Adolphus’ forces devastated Tilly as his flank attempt was refused and eventually slaughtered by the Swedish-Saxon force. Tilly was forced to retreat back to Bohemia after losing 27,000 soldiers. Tilly positioned his troops on the River Lech and Gustavus Adolphus attacked rapidly. Tilly was wounded and died two weeks later.

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A statue of Tilly in Munich, Bavaria

While not the most notable general of the 30 Years War, Johann von Tilly remains an intriguing man whom we do not explore often. From being a Flemish soldier in the armies of the Holy Roman Empire to fighting off Czechs in the Bohemian Estate Wars, Tilly proved to be a major player of early 17th century warfare. His quick and comitted decisions led to many victories, but also drastic defeat at Breitenfeld. His quick death in a minor engagement really puts a stamp on his life and makes one realise how quickly even a general can fall from grace.


Dyrrachium: Normans down South

When one mentions the Normans, people think of William the Conqueror, Hastings, and the Domesday Book. However, the Normans attacked Italy, Sicily, the Balkans, Scotland, the Middle East, and even the Canary Islands. The ex-Scandinavians are remembered for their victory at Hastings, but the Battle of Dyrrachium in 1081 is an influential engagement too. Fought in present-day Durres, Albania, Dyrrachium was the culmination of the Norman’s first conquest into the Balkans, later ending in 1085.

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Alexios I, Emperor of Byzantium

So why were the Normans in the Adriatic? In 999, Norman pilgrims to the Holy Land settled in Salerno. When Saracens attacked the city, Normans fought back viciously an eventually decided to stay in what is known as the “Salerno Tradition.” There are more modern hypothesis but this particular one was a contemporary Italian account., whether it is true or not. What we do know for sure is that Normans aided Lombardy in their war against the Byzantines and many became mercenaries. Normans soon gained control of Southern Italy, and repelled attacks on Sicily by Arabs. They then set their sights on the Byzantine-controlled Balkans.

Robert Guiscard was born to Normans parents who had fought with the Lombards against Byzantium. He became Count of Apulia and turned his Norman troops towards Byzantium and prepared for war. He had experience in Sicily against the Arabs and quickly invaded with his son, Bohemund. In May, a fleet arrived on the shores of the Balkans with 30,000 soldiers. A small force attacked and captured the island of Corfu and then Guiscard’s forces marched on the capital of Illyria- Dyracchium. Alexios I of Byzantium rushed a messenger to Venice to ask the Doge for support. He sent the Venetian fleet who crushed the Normans in the Strait of Otranto with Greek Fire.

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Guiscard continued his siege and prepared to face Alexios I’s army of 20,000 men. On October 16th, Alexios snuck his army to the high ground behind the Norman lines at night in order to swiftly attack next morning. Norman scouts alerted Guiscard who shifted his forces to meet the Byzantine assault. The Norman cavalry feint failed and a counterattack by the Byzantine left routed the Normans. Allegedly, Guiscard’s wife rallied them back into action. The legendary Varangian Guard, made up of Vikings and Saxons, sliced their way through Norman lines but Alexios’ center collapsed. Guiscard exploited this with his heavy cavalry and stranded the Varangians who were picked off by crossbowmen. The Byzantines routed in small pockets which were attacked. Even Alexios himself was attacked and wounded, but managed to escape.

The Byzantines lost 5,000 men and the Normans are estimated to have lost about the same. This was an important study, as it shows how important cavalry really were to the Normans. They did not play a huge role at Hastings, but at Dyracchium, the Normans would have been butchered without them. Venetian troops lost the city a few months later and much of Greece was captured. However, revolts and a Holy Roman Imperial threat forces Guiscard back to Italy where he died in 1085, bringing an end to the first Norman invasion of the Balkans.

10 Amazing Facts about the Ottoman Janissaries

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  1. Janissaries did not wear as flamboyant clothes as many people illustrate them. They more commonly wore brown robes.
  2. They carried a special sword called a yataghan which was curved, had no guard, and was double-edged.
  3. Janissaries were originally recruited at a young age from Christian families and converted to Islam. This would later change.
  4. There were some 60,000 Janissaries in the Battle of Vienna in 1683.
  5. Janissaries were famed for their close-quarter combat and were some of the best in the world.
  6. They were the one of the first armies to use matchlocks on a large basis. Most janissaries used them.
  7. Janissaries did not have to carry weapons everywhere. It was common for them to be piled on a wagon during a campaign to remove strain during long marches.
  8. Janissaries were expertly trained archers as well.
  1. Janissaries were disbanded in 1826 due to the ongoing Tanzimat Reforms by Mahmud II.
  2. Yanisar is used in Ukraine today as a word meaning “traitor.”


Rome’s Reserves: The Auxilia

Rome’s powerful military was made up of legions recruited throughout its empire, but the large portion of auxiliary troops is widely overlooked. Auxilia were the reserves for the Roman Army, made up of non-citizens who did not enjoy full legal rights as a regular Roman. After 25 years of service, however, the soldier was granted citizenship and left the army. The auxiliary were formed under the reign of the first emperor, Augustus. The auxilia were formed into cohorts of 480 men and were named by their region of recruitment. There were three types of “regiments” in the auxilia:

  • Alae were made of only cavalry
  • Cohortes peditatae were simply foot soldiers
  • Cohortes equitatae were a mix of infantry and cavalry and numbered 600 troops instead of the regular 480. There would be 480 infantry and around 120 cavalry
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An Auxiliary Cavalryman and Infantryman

Huge amounts of soldiers were recruited for the auxiliary during the reign of Augustus because of the large expansion of the empire. The majority of auxilia came from Gaul, or modern day France. By the reign of Hadrian, the number of auxiliary troops was nearly double that of the regular legionnaires. Hadrian recruited from Germany, England, the Balkans, Switzerland, the Danube, the Middle East, Egypt, and North Africa. Troops were not required to speak Latin, and many chose to retain their native languages.

Treatment of the auxilia was much worse than that of the legionaries. A legionnaire was given much better armour than an auxiliary, who mostly received chain mail, lamellar armour, or no protection at all. A regular legionnaire was paid 255 denarii each year while an auxiliary was given only 188. Even a tesserarius (equivalent to a corporal) did not make as much as a regular legionary.

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Roman Auxilia Reenactors

Many of the auxilia were deployed to border provinces or areas in conflict. They were the prime fighting force in the Batavian revolt and the Illyrian revolt. They were also an important part of Trajan’s Dacian Wars in modern-day Romania. Though not as revered as the legions, Rome’s auxiliaries were still a key component of their empire’s success.

Wargame Figures: Russian Imperial Guard in Crimea 1853-56

The expansion of Russia’s empire lead to the Crimean war in the middle of the 19th century, putting a coalition of Anglo-French and Ottoman forces against the massive Russian military. Czar Alexander II’s Imperial Guard were the elite troops of the Russian army, dating back to the times of Peter the Great. Here are paper wargame miniatures for the Imperial Guard to fight battles of the Crimean War.

Russian Imperial Guard

Uniforms of the Ages: Hungarians in Austrian Service

The heavily multicultural Austrian Empire divided its army into two main nationalities: Germans and Hungarians. While the majority of these units were not actually of those nations, the Hungarian troops were some of the more elaborately dressed.

Throughout Austria’s history, the Hungarians have retained the same core elements of their uniform, changing only when the uniform style did. The first appearance of specific “Hungarian” troops was around the reign of Maria Theresa and the War of Austrian Succession. There were Hungarian troops prior to this war, but the special uniforms were not adopted until then. Hungary had only been part of the Habsburg Empire since 1541. A large partition had separated it from Bohemia and placed it under the influence of Austria.

Gyulay Regiment  in the 7 Years War

The most notable part of the Hungarian uniform was the gold braiding on the front of the pants in a knotted style. This “Hungarian knot” was a braided lace design that was notably used by Confederate officers in the US Civil War. For the Hungarians, this pattern was on both pant legs in a golden lace. Unlike “German” troops, the pants of these soldiers were a light blue while Germans wore white or gray.

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Confederate General Braxton Bragg with a Hungarian knot

The uniforms changed over time with style of warfare. Tricorne hats and long coats were soon replaced by helmets and higher pants during the Napoleonic Wars. The helmets were extremely cumbersome, and provided little protection to a soldier when he wore them. In 1809, Austrian troops swapped their helmets for the shako, which was used by almost all of the major world powers at that time. The Hungarian pattern, however, remained on the uniform. By the Napoleonic Wars, the trousers of Hungarian troops had been added to as well; a black and gold stripe ran down the side of the pants. 

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Hungarian Grenadiers

Post-Napoleon, Hungarian troops played an even larger role in the Austrian Army. The ratio of German units to Hungarian units was almost even as the population increased. By the next reforms, Hungarian troops wore the new shorter shako and their coats were given gold lace around the facings. These uniforms would carry them through the Italian Wars of Independence and the Austro-Prussian War.

The Hungarians achieved a dual monarchy in 1867, establishing the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Uniforms remained the same until 1908 when a new, modern uniform was introduced. The hechtgrau (pike-gray) uniform was more subtle than the white and light blue the Hungarians previously wore, but their knotted pattern still stayed on their pants. By 1918, the Empire fell after their defeat in the First World War, and the Hungarian uniform disappeared with it.

Hungary used a drab coloured uniform after the fall of the Dual Monarchy, and discontinued any of the previous gold lace on their pants or coats. By the Second World War, the old uniform style was completely gone, and just as the Austrian Empire changed with age, the Royal Hungarian Army changed too.