Monday, 8 October 2012

No gunpowder, but what about the musket?

So we've seen that a pre-Napoleonic army would have trouble standing up to a Roman legion's artillery, but post-Renaissance armies had muskets, that's got to make a difference, right? Maybe, maybe not. It all boils down to how those muskets are used. Right through to the invention of the machine gun, muskets and rifles were used in exactly the same manner the Roman legions used their pilums - a four foot long weighted javelin. Muskets and pilums were meant to break up infantry formations. In the case of the pilum it was a one shot weapon. Muskets did have an advantage of reloading for a second time...but that's just it...time.

Lets have a look at that gamers hypothetical of a Roman legion advancing on a European army from, say, the 1750s. The 'modern' army has some four thousand smooth bore muskets arranged in three ranks. Likewise the Romans are stretched into three ranks to keep the modern army from flanking them. The Romans are advancing at 4.5-miles per hour and have 4,800 pilums. Just one minute before the two sides are within hands reach of the other, the Roman lines come within range of the muskets at around 120 yards. The musket volley strikes the Romans' first rank, but their armour, shields and extreme range keep the second and third lines intact. The modern army begins reloading. They have forty seconds to fire a second volley before at least 3,200 steel tipped javelins strike at all their lines. Without armour or shields, the pilum volley could easily reduce the modern infantry by half. Twenty seconds later and the two sides - one armed with short stabbing swords and the other with bayonets come together. It all boils down to that second volley. If the 'modern' army can't reload before the Romans throw their pilums, then they will be outnumbered by the advancing Roman infantry who are better armed for hand to hand fighting. Of course, by the time of the American civil war, rifled muskets were hitting targets at 500-yards - facing multiple reloads was the game changer for all types of infantry - and the reason why so few traditional infantry advances actually succeeded by this time.

Find out if Calvus had much of a throwing arm