Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Military Innovation: Gustavus Adolphus

Gustavus Adolphus in the Battle of Breitenfeld
The Thirty Years War became the result of political and religious divide in the Europe. Protestant states fought against Catholic States. The powers of Europe chose their sides and made Central Europe the battlefield. It also became the stage for the rising star; a major power in Europe – Sweden. Militarily, Sweden displayed its new strength thanks to the innovation of its King – Gustavus Adolphus.

King Gustavus Adolphus (1594 – 1632) was the thinker and executioner of the reform and the strengthening of the Swedish military before the Thirty Years’ War. At a young age of sixteen, he was crowned King of Sweden in 1611. Although young, he had experience warfare first hand. He joined in campaigns against the Poles and Russians. He was also fond of reading treatises in military affairs. He read works from ancient Rome to Medieval world. He was also updated with new military innovations made in Europe. The most interesting form him was the army created by Dutch military under Maurice of Nassau. In a rough and dangerous affairs of Europe he saw the need for a strong military force. He also had the ambition to make Sweden a major power in the continent. Hence, he was inspired and driven to create a strong professional military force.

Upon the enthronement of Gustavus Adolphus to the throne, Sweden was not major military power. Poles and Russian could defeat the Swedes. Its soldiers were ill-equipped and ill-trained. Another problem of the military was its lack of manpower. The harsh climate of Northern Europe brought problems in recruitment. The winter of the north meant that less food could be grown. Thus, many men choose to stay in their farms and waste no time in growing sufficient food make both ends meet.

Gustavus Adolphus then moved to initiate new policies to create a professional, well-trained, and disciplined military he envisioned. With the help of his chancellor, Axel Oxenstierna, conscription began. From the existing system of militias, conscripting able men became easier. Every provinces of the Kingdom began to draft men into the army. But Gustavus did not to impose a mandatory military service for every men in the Kingdom. He knew that it would be an economic disaster, especially when the conditions were already harsh. Nevertheless, in a modern sense, Gustavus Adolphus created a virtual national army. An army made by a homogenous people that spoke the same language. It also brought moral to the conscript because they were not fighting alongside a stranger. They were fighting alongside their fellow Swedes. This sense of Swedish identity brought motivation and determination to the soldiers to fight.

Axel Oxenstierna
To become a professional army, it must be a standing army. Meaning, it doesn’t disband in times of peace. Being a soldier was not just to become a sideline job but a career. Thus, to keep the conscript stay and content, regular payment of salaries were made. The Kingdom of Sweden could support some parts of payment of its soldiers thanks to the riches confiscated from the Catholic Church within the lands during the Protestant Reformation. The state could pay yearly wages and cloth allowances. But Gustavus and Axel Oxenstierna introduced a system to make the communities of the conscript to take part in paying their own soldiers. Soldiers with a rank of private would receive payment from a part of the taxes paid by the farmers in his community. He would also receive lodgings in that community in exchange for his services in working the lands in times of piece. Hence, the community would be proud of the soldiers and army that would be fighting in the front in their behalf as Swedes. But in times of war, Gustavus Adolphus was generous enough to pay the soldiers monthly wages from his own pocket if possible. Besides wages, Gustavus also initiated some kind of pension for his soldiers. Those who served for twenty five years in the army and those who reached 50 would be given lands, which was largely available than cash. With salaries and pensions, Gustavus aimed for Swedes to think that there was money to be made and a career as a soldier. And being soldiers as a career is a step in building process of a professional army.
Besides creating a standard army, regular payment of soldiers had another ethical and moral reason. Soldiers paid with salaries were less susceptible to looting and carnage. A professional army had to have a good image of civilize soldiers and not just as warrior fighting for loot.

Although the shortage of manpower was not completely solved. Gustavus continued hiring mercenaries (mostly Scots) to fill in the ranks. But unlike other armies that merely let the mercenaries fight as a separate unit, he wanted the mercenaries to fight alongside his Swedish army. He wanted them to integrate them as part of the army itself and continue the aim of creating a cohesive army.

After recruitment, Gustavus also made changes in the training of the soldiers. Alongside physical and combat training, discipline was taught highly. Strict rules were imposed. Trainees were not allowed to swear, drink, and went out with women. They were made to concentrate in their training. To develop his army fighting together in battle, military exercise involving numerous units were launched. This was to make each soldier know the parts they needed to play and the things they needed to do in combat situations.

To make his army flexible and maneuverable in battle, Gustavus Adolphus made changes in the organization of the army.  The commonly used organization in Europe and in the Holy Roman Empire was the tercio. In a tercio, thousands of men lined up in a square ten men deep. Pikemen were inside and surrounded by arquebusers. During the 16th century, it was innovative made Spain a powerful country in Europe. But the tercio had weaknesses. It was rigid. The concept of the tercio worked with arquebusers firing their shots and pikemen move forward to defend the shooters while reloading. In charging, the rigid concept became more visible. Because arquebusers were in the back while reloading, pikemen advancing would have no space to move back or sometimes retreat. A pikemen wouldn't also have the luxury of swinging from left to right. One reason was their long pikes were heavy, hence, difficult to move. The same thing also happened during defenses. With this problems, if a general could exploit this weaknesses, a massacre of tercio would be possible. Another problem brought by the tercio, especially for the Holy Roman Empire was the over reliance in firepower. Tercios of the Holy Roman Empire had more shooters than pikemen. During those days, guns were not well developed. It was cumbersome, inaccurate, and short range. Not to mention, it took a long time to reload. In addition, tactics to use guns effectively were not yet develop. For individual soldiers, they became mere followers and pawns in a war. They only needed to follow the orders of their commanders and their skills as individual soldiers would not be shown.

Gustavus Adolphus wanted to develop the idea of a tercio to a more mobile and effective unit. He created infantry brigades. A brigade was composed of 1,200 to 1,500 men. And each brigade was divided into a squadron made of about four hundred. And each brigade would form a square six men deep instead of ten men deep tercios of the Holy Roman Empire. Another thing he changed was in the composition. Instead of shooters outnumbering the pikemen, Gustavus’ squadrons had pikemen outnumbering the gunners. The decision was practical. It was in the sense that pikemen forming the core of a formation would allow a unit to be maneuverable and faster in attacking. Gustavus realized that gunners would not be a huge threat because their weapons were inaccurate and hard to reload. Having pikemen was easiest, they just needed to charge forward.

In order to support his new organizational system of units, changes in the weapons of the infantry were made as well. To make the pikemen maneuverable, Gustavus answered it by shortening the length of the pikes, thus making it lighter. And to add additional deadly element to it, iron tips were added. For the gunners, the arquebuses were abandoned. Gustavus was able to hire artisans who produced new matchlock muskets that were lighter as were as easier to fire. Later on, the guns that the Swedish army used did not required a rest to fire. It could be fired from the shoulder unlike their counterparts in Europe. To make it easier for soldiers to fire and reload, standardization of weapons were made. Calibers were standardized so that ammunition could also be standardized. Previously, soldiers had to measure the amount of powder that they load to the guns. And measure took time. Also, because of different calibers, the amount of gun powder differs and caused logistics problems. For Gustavus’ army, ammunition were standardized by placing in a roll of paper the amount of gun powder and ball needed to reload the guns. The soldier just needed to tear the paper, pour the content then fire. Lesser time to reload meant additional firepower. Also, it compensates to the lesser number of shooters per unit. Another result of the standardized ammo resulted to soldiers beginning to wear bandoleers were their ammunition could easily be taken.

But one of the greatest innovation of Gustavus Adolphus in the military was in field of artillery. He realized and understood the importance and tactical use of artillery. Thus, he strove to improve Swedish artillery. He standardized the calibers of his cannons to 24, 12, and 6 pounders cannons. To make his artillery movable, he made it lighter with shorter barrels and thinner metal in the artillery tubes.  Gustavus Adolphus also developed mobile artillery units that could move quickly in the battlefield. Mobile artillery units that deployed to critical positions where they could provide needed fire support. These artillery units used 3 pounders cannons and carried around in carriages. Two to three men accompany and manned the cannons. Every mobile artillery was assigned to an infantry brigade. Each infantry brigade had two mobile artillery units at their disposal.

With his army manned, trained, and armed, Gustavus Adolphus also made changes in the tactics of his army. First, he changed the ways of using the gunners. At that time, gunners fired at their own will. This was in the case of the Holy Roman Empire. Gustavus on the other hand, trained his soldiers to fire together – in salvo. Firing in salvo allowed even inaccurate guns to bring devastating damage to the enemy. And to bring a continuous salvo of musket gunfire, Gustavus positioned his gunners in the front of the pikemen in a 6 man deep squares. The front line kneeling so that the first to line could fire simultaneously. In attacks, gunners could weaken the formations of the enemy after which the pikemen could advance and strike down the enemy. And with compact tercios of the enemy, the job would be easier.

Another change in the tactics of Gustavus was the use of cavalry. Gustavus Adolphus had in his disposal the famous Finnish light cavalry known as the Hakkapeliittas. The Hakkapeliittas with other cavalry units were used as shock troops. Gustavus had adopted the tactics of cavalry units he saw during the military campaigns against the Poles and the Russians. Like the Poles, he made cavalry units fire their guns during the charge. Upon impact they used their sabers and stroked down their enemies. With this tactics, the Swedish cavalry became respected in Europe.

Gustavus Adolphus reform in the military served Sweden well in the Thirty Years War. Sweden stunned Europe in the Battle of Breitenfeld and Lech in 1631 and 1632 respectively. They suffered a defeat in Alte Veste in 1632 but then won another victory in the Battle of Lutzen. But the victory in the Battle of Lutzen came with a price. King Gustavus Adolphus of Sweden, the great military innovator of his Kingdom, died in line of action. A victim of the chaos and the fog of war.

Nevertheless, Sweden emerged from the battle and the war as a great military power. King Gustavus Adolphus became known as the Lion of the North and the Father of the Swedish Empire. Gustavus Adolphus innovation in the Swedish Army, became exemplary to many European nation to follow. Many of his innovation continued to be seen today. From the basic infantry brigade to mobile artillery units, Gustavus Adolphus shaped military history towards modern warfare.

See also:
Gonzalo de Cordoba
Hundred Days Reform: Other Reforms

Archer, Christon et. al. (eds.). World History of Warfare. Nebraska: University of Nebraska Press, 2002.

Brzezinski, Richard. Lutzen 1632: Climax of the Thirty Years War. Oxford: Osprey Publishing, 2001.

Keegan, John & Andrew Wheatcroft. Who's Who in Military History. New York: Routledge, 1996.

The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Warfare: From Ancient Egypt to Iraq. New York: DK Publishing, 2012.

Weigley, Russel. The Age of Battles: The Quest for Decisive Warfare from Breitefeld to Waterloo. Indiana: Indiana Univesity Press, 1991.

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