Matchlocks versus Flintlocks

The turn of the 18th century brought an end to the era of matchlock muskets and the flintlock arrived to reign for over 100 years. Most historians accept the fact that the flintlock was a vastly superior weapon, but how much of an edge did the musket really have?

First let’s look at the basic concept of the matchlock musket. Matchlocks evolved throughout multiple wars, but the first of them were operated by a lever. The lever would trigger the pin with attached match cord to move down and light the powder in the pan. Later, matchlocks developed to have a trigger. The muskets were usually at the shoulder of the musketeer, measuring 140 cm (4’5). To load a matchlock, you would pour some powder in the pan, close the pan and blow off the loose powder, pour powder and ball down the barrel, ram the charge, light the match, and fire. The process would usually take a minute for inexperienced musketeers, but many could fire twice per minute.

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Part of a 17th century French drill manual on firing a matchlock musket

Now let’s look at the flintlock. The flintlock operated with a simple system with a hammer, frizzen, and pan. The musket was similar in length and weight to a matchlock and were used in the latter 17th century and continued to be used throughout the 18th century and even through the Napoleonic Wars, ending in 1815. Loading a flintlock was easy to learn for common infantrymen. The soldier would pour some powder into the pan and close the frizzen over it. Then, he would charge the musket by pouring the ball and powder into the barrel from a cartridge. The bullet would be rammed and then he would pull back the hammer. The flint would strike the pan and spark the powder, firing the musket.

Many would label the flintlock as the superior weapon immediately since it clearly arrived on the battlefield after the development of matchlock muskets. However, the flintlock did not have much of an edge at all. Loading times were staggeringly similar. Trained musketeers in the 1680s and 90s fired flintlocks in 30 seconds, just two seconds less than the average time to fire a matchlock (according to John Tincey in Osprey MAA 267). The weight and lengths of these muskets were comparably the same, too. Both weapons would frequently misfire due to problems with their pans and damp powder would not fire from either musket. Many musketeers continued to use the matchlock into the very early 18th century. So why was it replaced?

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British musketeers at Blenheim, 1704 – The War of Spanish Succession was the first war in which the matchlock truly was replaced on the battlefield. It was still used, however, by some Russians in the Great Northern War.

Matchlock musketeers carried their powder in wooden cartridges slung around their shoulders, nicknamed ‘apostles.’ Musketballs were carried in a pouch, and powder for their pans was in a horn. Including this, the musketeer had wadding in a separate pouch. These were very fiddly to operate, and would waste time. In the heat of battle, a musketeer may forget which ‘apostle’ he used and may forget wadding, causing a muzzle flash but no shot. Musketeers in the flintlock-era solved this problem by using paper cartridges, which were quicker to load and more effective. Flintlock muskets also had the ability to attach bayonets to them. The plug bayonet could be used by matchlocks, but this prevented firing, and many matchlock musketeers relied on swords or their regiment’s pikemen to defend them. Socket and plug bayonets were more common for the flintlock, and when Louis XIV first introduced the socket bayonet, it was exclusive to flintlock muskets. Flintlocks also removed the problems with matchcords, which would fizzle out on many occasions and cause uncoordinated firing from companies. Flintlocks were perfect for volleys and therefore suited the evolving style of European armies.

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The pan of a matchlock musket

The advantage is taken by the flintlock thanks to technological advances away from the musket itself. When presented head-to-head, these muskets were not much different from one another. Mass production in the Industrial Revolution played a large role in the flintlock overtaking the matchlock as the primary weapon on the battlefield, as well as the disappearance of pikes and the evolution of the Marlburian-Era tactics.

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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.

 

Book Review: Dutch Armies of the 80 Years’ War 1568-1648 (2)

Osprey Publishing recently released the second part of their Dutch 80YW Men at Arms Series. I reviewed Bouko de Groot’s first title already, so it’s time to complete the series. Book two covers the cavalry, artillery, and engineers which de Groot mentions were key to the war. The war was full or sieges and a surprising amount of trench warfare. As well as Maurice of Nassau’s infantry reforms, he also changed the cavalry and used much more artillery than his Spanish opponents. The sieges of major cities would require strong artillery, so Maurice made sure his Dutch forces were equipped well. His engineers were also trained in bridging, fieldworks, entrenchments, and more.

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Praise:

de Groot’s previous book was great and sold out on the Osprey Website quickly according to their company blog. This book is reminiscent of his last work. Each of the branches is split up clearly so you can see the evolution form the three stages of conflict. A map showing all of the sieges in the war is provided for you as well to give the reader an idea of how important siege tactics would become during the war. There are some interesting illustrations, one of which is part of the drill manual for firing a pistol on horseback. Many people who study pike & shot era warfare know of the complex manuals of musketeer drills, but this was the first I had seen of a cavalry drill. Bouko de Groot gives specifications of each artillery piece the Dutch used throughout the war and Gerry Embleton’s colour plates are superb, showing limbered artillery. One interesting point the author makes is that “[the] 80 Years’ War changed the craft of war into a science,” and his section on engineering is a proof of that. From an improvised dam made of horses to Friese ruiter, the engineers of Maurice’s army were incredibly capable and quick thinking. There is also a general round up of the whole army towards the back and it talks about weapons, munitions, formations, and command structures which is nice to review.

Criticism:

The map at the beginning is very informative, but extremely jumbled and hard to understand. It takes a while to locate a specific battle you are trying to find. In some of the sections, I was also left with wanting more. I would like to have known what other field fortifications the engineers made, how forts were built, more information on the cavalry such as the horses they used, and more on trench warfare. The notion of Dutch and Spanish soldiers tossing grenades at one another, firing wheelocks at close range, and getting stuck in with a sword is absolutely fantastic, and I was left with a feeling of not being satiated.

The book overall is very good and if you have the infantry book, I would highly recommend this book as a companion. Embleton’s plates do not disappoint, de Groot explains everything a novice would wonder about equipment (improving much on last time), and covers the army as a whole. De Groot also has a Facebook page devoted to the 80 Years War, so why not give it a look here. There is info on flags, reenactments, and some amazing contemporary prints.

Rating: 4/5

Wargame Figures: New Model Army

The New Model Army was created in 1645 during the English Civil War and they were the first English troops to wear the trademark red coat. Fighting against the Royalists and the Irish, the New Model Army was extremely religious. The Puritan troops fought many famous battles such as Naseby, Preston, Limerick, and Galway.

Here are the figures I created including musketeers, pikemen, flag bearers, dragoons, cuirassiers, and artillery:

New Model Army

Feel free to print out your own figures here and check out all of the other paper miniatures I’ve designed.

10 Amazing Facts about the Swiss Army

1. The Swiss were available as mercenaries throughout the middle ages, most notably as expert pikemen.

2. The Swiss Guard serve as the Vatican City’s Army.

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The Swiss Guard

3. Napoleon had four Swiss regiments in his army during the Napoleonic War.

4. The Swiss had a civil war in 1847 called the Sonderbund War. The Sonderbund consisted of Lucerne, Zug, Uri, Fribourg, Valais, and Schwyz.

5. Everybody 19 and above must serve in the modern Swiss army for a few years.

6. The Swiss Army in the First World War only consisted of 100 professional soldiers.

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A Swiss infantryman in the Napoleonic Wars

7. The Swiss accidentally invaded Liechtenstein in 2007, but both sides decided it was completely fine and no fighting broke out.

8. Karl Elsener created the legendary Swiss Army Knife in 1891.

9. The Swiss Air Force is closed on the weekends and at night.

10. William Tell, a Swiss folk hero, has a song written about him in 1501 called the Tellenleid.

Book Review: Dutch Armies of the 80 Years’ War 1568-1648 (1)


This book, published by Osprey Publishing, discusses the Dutch Infantry in the wars against the Spanish from 1568-1648. The author, Bouko de Groot, is a graduate of Leiden Clog 1University and served in the Royal Netherlands Army. He outlines the drastic changes that Maurice of Nassau brought to the Dutch military, and later, to the world of pike and shot.
Maurice’s revolutionary tactics are explained well and presented in diagrams drawn by the author. The 80 Years’ War is divided among three separate wars: the Civil War, the War for Independence, and the Coalition War. There is a map of all the locations of battles presented in the book, and de Groot relates tactics and soldiers with examples of certain battles during the wars. The uniforms are covered well, and the author will be releasing a second book about 
the Dutch cavalry, engineers, and artillery later on. 

Praise: I was very pleased with this book, as it uses prints from the era to show some intriguing elements of the Dutch forces. One interesting part of this book is de Groot’s “Regimental Genealogy” which tells you what regiments (Dutch and foreign) served in the Dutch forces at the time. The illustrated plates of the soldiers and their descriptions were very well done by Gerry and Sam Embleton, and it conveys the wide array of weaponry and uniforms that were used in the 80 Years War. There is also an interesting set of illustrations of flags throughout the war. I appreciated the descriptions of the changes in Dutch tactics, and how they affected those of the Germans, English, and Swedes in the 30 Years War, English Civil War, and other battles of the time.

Criticism: Most of my criticism for this book is purely based on my lack of knowledge of the pike and shot era of warfare. De Groot does not explain to you what a “caliver” is, so I looked it up myself, and discovered it was an early musket that had a standardized bore so it was easier to load. These soon were replaced with the matchlock. I felt as if the uniforms could have been described in more detail, perhaps by giving examples of some period dress the units would have worn.

Overall, this book was a great introduction to the 80 Years War, and the development of warfare during the 16th and 17th centuries. I was very pleased, and would definitely say it is worth purchasing if you are interested in that time period, or would like to learn more about tactics of that period as well as the uniforms of Dutch infantry themselves.

Rating: 4.5 / 5

If you would like to read de Groot’s interview with Osprey Publishing, you can find it here

If you would like to purchase “Dutch Armies of the 80 Years’ War”, click here