There were about seventy five people on the field, and after the sides settled out, we had about a third the number of the other side. We had a slight edge in experienced fighters, and it was one of my only opportunities to actually be in charge of the troops. I’d been hitting the history books in preparation, looking for tactics that might translate to our situation. I found a pretty good one.
It depended on some oddities of the human mind. People don’t do what they should in group fights. Outnumbering us, they should have just swarmed us into oblivion. Sure, we would have killed some of them, but probably not many. And they would have handily won the battle. But people don’t think that way. If they did, we wouldn’t have to train soldiers, would we? People tend to cluster together, and wait for someone else to do something. And no matter how much someone yells at them from behind…even when there is no actual risk in front of them…they will hesitate to advance on someone with a sword. Sometimes it’s fear, but just as often it’s the desire to try to win. Wanting to show off by making a kill makes you stop and think about how to do it. The overall effect is lack of advance. Fearful people and the show-off people slow down and the majority, who just wait for others to act, slow down in response.
The standard SCA rapier melee usually resolves into two lines (“Shield walls”) slowly inching towards each other. Flankers will mill about, sometimes causing the opposing line to separate or fold up. The common strategy is nothing more than doing whatever you can to get around the sides of a line, hoping to roll up the opposing force into an ineffective ball. Spectacular wins can happen when a flanking group can get behind an opposing wall and run hell for leather, causing lots of damage. Five or six fleet-footed or aggressive people can easily win a battle against much larger forces.
My tactic involved two groups of flankers. One group, the “Broken Lances,” were the show ponies. The scary guys that everyone was afraid of. I put them on the right flank and told them to be a distraction. I wanted them to threaten a deep flank without committing. They would keep the entire wall focused on what they were up to, and draw the attention of any special teams the other side had put together. I gave them permission to exploit any serious gaps…if their antics managed to cause the opposing wall to split into two walls, they could drive between the split, but otherwise they were just to keep people paying attention to them.
That cut out a portion of our force, and I chopped out another small group. It left us with a really thin line, maybe twenty or so people against thirty to forty in the enemy wall. I told the people in the wall to spread out to cover the whole front of the opposing line, but not to engage until the signal. I was getting some funny looks at this point, as I had split our outnumbered forces…dividing ourselves in a way that should have seen us methodically crushed. I had taken our best chance, our strongest fighters, and told them to effectively do nothing. When I explained my idea, I got nods…but no one seemed to really believe it would work.
My thinking was that the thin line would still slow the enemy. Even outnumbering us, they would still slow when approaching our wall. And all of them would be watching the Broken Lance, wondering what evil they had planned. When the battle started, it all went according to my plan. I watched the opposing, confident line approach…and slow. And I waited until the distance was just right.
My team were the “Children of Hell” and we meant to die. We were a suicide squad, a last ditch chance at making an impact on the enemy. I had no hope of winning this battle, but I would be damned if we would die without making one hell of an impact. The Children of Hell were me and a small group of fighters. Not the best, not the most well known…but the most trusted. I knew, absolutely knew, that when I moved these people would move with me. They would not hesitate, they trusted me and I trusted them. I needed them absolutely. We waited, watching, from the left flank. Ignored, except for a small squad waiting to stop us from flanking.
When the two walls were just far enough apart, and the Broken Lances were being the biggest threat, the Children of Hell charged. We attacked no one. We didn’t charge at the enemy, we charged between the lines, from left all the way to the right. I expected us to only make it part way…I got stabbed about a third of the way and died. The rest of the Children, against all odds, lived all the way to the end. As we ran, we held our swords up in front of us…smashing aside the swords of the enemy, and giving our thin line a brief opportunity to attack in our wake.
As I scrambled to a safe place on the sidelines, I turned to see if we had managed to do any damage. I expected to watch our valiant troops dying, and the Broken Lances making a dramatic last stand, but what I saw made me speechless. We’d won. Our line had charged the opposing wall, sweeping in behind us, throwing themselves against other side. The battled has lasted less than thirty seconds in total, and the entire opposing side was wiped out, with only a few dead on our side. If I go to Valhalla when I die, I want all of those people at my side for the eternal wars.
Sadly, it was my last chance to lead troops. The SCA only lets champions lead, and I was never much for winning tournaments…I was champion for this event solely because I had been chosen so by the Baroness. The period fencing manuals are great for studying dueling skill, but the early military manuals and records of battles are really worthy of more study. The sixteenth century can be a real, if sadly secret, treasure chest of knowledge. Some of the earliest tactical books are online, but still untranslated. You have to put some work in… You can also learn a lot by studying the common formations, their uses, and the answers to their strengths.
Of course, it also helps to have a good laboratory to test things out in…something that doesn’t exist in the WMA world yet.