Sunday, September 13, 2015

The Dutch Reforms

Prince Maurice at the Battle of Nieuwpoort by Pauwels van Hillegaert. Oil on canvas

In 1568 the Dutch began their long battle for independence from Spain and would remain at war intermittently for 80 years. The problems faced by the young Dutch republic played an important role in the military reforms that would take place there over several decades to come. Although many of these reforms centred on infantry organization, drill and tactics, the nature of warfare in the Netherlands would be one of many more sieges than battles.

The name most often associated with the Dutch reform movement is Maurice of Nassau (1567-1625). He was the son of William the Silent who had been one of the main leaders of the Dutch revolt. In 1684, at the age of only 17, he became Stadthalter of Holland and Zeeland. In 1590, he was made captain-general of all of the Dutch forces and was then in a position to undertake his reforms.

Like many of the military men of his age, Maurice hoped to emulate the military establishments of antiquity, in particular the Romans. Maurice read military manuals from antiquity, in particular those of Vegetius, Aelian, and the Taktika of the Byzantine emperor, Leo, as well as the works of contemporary commentators such as Justus Lipsius. What emerged for Maurice was an emphasis on regular standing forces and the importance of discipline and drill. But within the context of classical antiquity, Maurice also saw the importance of making more effective use of the constantly improving technology of gunpowder weapons.

One of the most important changes instituted by Maurice was the creation of a standing army. The army was still made up primarily of foreigners serving for pay. Some of these were mercenaries in the traditional sense, while others were foreign troops sent by their monarchs to serve under Dutch command and at Dutch expense (notably from England). In 1603, for example, the Dutch army consisted of a total of 132 companies. Of that number there were 43 English, 32 French, 20 Scottish, 11 Walloon, 9 German and a mere 17 Dutch. The main reason for the preponderance of foreigners was the relatively small population of the Netherlands, combined with the need to keep an army in the field almost constantly for 80 years. Maurice recognized that keeping these companies in his service all year round, rather than discharging them in the off-season or at the end of a campaign, would make the Dutch army a more effective fighting force in the long run.

The maintenance of this standing army also allowed Maurice to initiate new standards of discipline and drill. In this, Maurice was aided by his cousins William Louis and John, counts of Nassau. Maurice and his cousins oversaw the standardization of drill, and equipment, so that all the troops in Dutch service would be using the same methods regardless of their origin. The length of the pike and the armour of the pikemen, as well as the length and calibre of firearms were all standardized. Perhaps more important was the codification of drill at this time in the 'Dutch Discipline'. All words of command as well as the manual of arn1S for both the pike and arquebus and musket were regularized. In 1607 Jacob de Gheyn's Wapenhandelinghe was published - a complete manual of arms for pike, arquebus and musket illustrated with 116 plates, accompanied by the appropriate commands and a commentary.

Maurice also modified the military organization and tactics of the Dutch infantry. Once again Maurice turned to antiquity for inspiration. He hoped to replicate the flexibility of the Roman legion by creating units based upon the cohort to replace the large unwieldy regiments and tercios of his own time. To that end, he reorganized each Dutch regiment into two or more battalions. In theory, each battalion was to be 550 men, the same size as a cohort in Vegetius' antique legio, and was made up of 250 pikemen and 300 men armed with firearms, 60 of which were to form a line of skirmishers. The pikes were to form in the centre of the battalion with arquebusiers and musketeers on the wings.

Moreover, these units drew up in fewer ranks than the earlier regiments and tercios; figures vary but the pikes seem to have been between five and ten deep and the shot between eight and 12 ranks deep. The shot were trained to use countermarch fire, a tactic inspired by Aelian. In this formation the files of shot had intervals between them wide enough for a man to march.

The first soldiers in the file would fire a volley and then do an about face, marching back through the intervals and join the rear rank, all the while going through the drill to reload their weapons. This would be followed by the men of the second rank and then the third and so on. By the time men from the front rank returned to their original position, they would be reloaded and ready to fire another volley and start the drill all over again. This method of firing required great discipline but created a constant volume of fire from the unit. When threatened by cavalry, the arquebusiers and musketeers would retire behind 26 the pikes without disrupting the formation. In battle, the Dutch usually formed their battalions in three lines of battle. These lines could be staggered to resemble a chequerboard so that the battalions in the individual lines could support one another. This bears a striking resemblance to the Roman acies triplex of a legion drawn up in similar formation. Maurice laid the foundations for the early modern standing army based on constant drill and a high standard of discipline. He also developed a system of tactics that truly integrated pike and shot in a coherent fashion. Ironically, throughout the two decades of conflict with Spain, Maurice was only twice able to take his army into battle (both were victories), yet found himself participating in no fewer than 29 sieges.

New Model Army: The Artillery and Staff

New Model Army: The Artillery

There was no set organization for the artillery, but for major field actions the New Model usually had a strong artillery train. Initially of 56 pieces of various calibres, the artillery doubtless grew in size as captured equipment was absorbed. Two companies of what were termed 'firelocks' accompanied the artillery. These were infantry armed with flintlock muskets, whose role was the protection of the gunners, the artillery train, the powder store and the wagon park generally. The issue of the latest type of hand-held firearm to these troops was essentially a safety measure. Their duty required them to be in constant proximity to the artillery train where, more than anywhere else in the army, there tended to be loose powder exposed in open barrels, or split in the heat of an action. The presence of musketeers with ever-burning slow matches would have been unacceptably hazardous; the chronicles of the Civil Wars offer us many examples of tragic accidents of this type. Major Desborough was the officer in command of the 'firelocks' at the formation of the New Model, and his men seem to have numbered around 120 or 130.

A company of pioneers was attached to the main artillery train; these worthies seem to have enjoyed semi-civilian status-certainly no uniform details are recorded. Their function seems to have been to assist in the passage of the artillery train along what passed for roads in 17th century England.

New Model Army: The Staff

The 17th century English army had a surprisingly large and organized staff. Serving directly under the commander-in-chief (in the New Model in 1645, Sir Thomas Fairfax, the Lord General of Parliament's forces) was the Lieutenant-General of the Horse-a post initially filled in the New Model by Oliver Cromwell (1599-1658). This officer ranked as second-in-command of the entire army and commander of all the cavalry of that army. Below him was the Commissary-General of the Horse, the second-in-command of the cavalry. Below the Commissary-General were two Adjutant- Generals of Horse; a Quarter-Master General of Horse; and a Muster-Master-General of Horse (this officer, at the outset one William Stone, had two deputies, and was responsible to the Treasury for the army rolls). The cavalry staff was completed by a Markmaster-General of Horse and a Commissary-General of Provisions.

The Sergeant-Major-General of the ·Foot had command of all the infantry in the army, and was the third-ranking officer in the overall hierarchy. To assist him he had a Quarter-Master-General of Foot and an Adjutant-General of Foot. The fourth-ranking officer in the army was the Lieutenant-General of the Ordnance, who controlled the artillery and engineers. Attached to the headquarters establishment was a Judge Advocate, with two Provost-Marshal-Generals, one of foot and the other of horse. A Commissary General of Victuals was responsible for the difficult task of keeping the army fed while on campaign.

New Model Army: The Horse and Dragoons

New Model Army: The Dragoons

The New Model initially had only one regiment of dragoons, commanded by Colonel John Okey. This was 1,000 strong, with ten equally-sized troops of 100 men. The dragoon was a hybrid soldier, a cross between infantryman and trooper, and the company organization in Okey's regiment reflected this. Each company had a captain, a lieutenant, a cornet and a quartermaster-cavalry ranks; but each company also had two drummers for signalling, as in infantry units.

Initially Okey's regiment followed the true dragoon or mounted infantry practice, i.e. they arrived on the field of battle on horseback but dismounted to fight. However, it would appear that they began to function more and more as regular cavalry, and in 1650 they were officially converted into a regiment of horse (receiving thereby substantial pay rises!). The strength and number of companies in a dragoon regiment varied considerably, depending on the task to hand. Morgan's Regiment, for example, raised for service in Scotland in 1651, had in October of that year eight troops-but in January 1653 we find only four troops each of only 60 men. Dragoon units were fairly easily raised, for most counties had companies of militia dragoons. They were particularly useful units for 'police' duties; and it is rare to find all ten companies of Okey's Regiment serving together after the Naseby campaign.

New Model Army: The Horse

The basic unit of cavalry was the troop, averaging some 60 troopers but rising occasionally to as many as 80. Generally there were six troops in a regiment, but instances of eight were not uncommon. Cromwell's own regiment of horse, dubbed 'The Ironsides', was a double-strength regiment of 14 troops, and upon the formation of the New Model provided enough men for the entire regiments of Fairfax and Whalley, with a cadre left over to form a basis for other units. Once the New Model cavalry became organized the regimental strength settled down at six troops of 100 men each.

The colonel and the sergeant-major each commanded a troop, the remaining four being led by captains. Troop officers were a lieutenant, a cornet and a quarter-master. The colonel's troop was frequently led by the senior lieutenant of the regiment since, as in the infantry, the colonel was often a general officer, absent on other duties.

The cavalry are one instance in the New Model of strengths being up to establishment, and sometimes even over the required figure. In the force Cromwell led to Ireland in July 1649 he had an overstrength regiment of horse of 14 troops under his personal command. This was subsequently split in two, and Cromwell's major, Thomas Shelloourne, was given command of the second regiment.