Category Archives: Re-enactment

Destructive & Formidable by David Blackmore [Book Review]

Destructive and Formidable: British Infantry Firepower 1642 - 1765Destructive and Formidable by David Blackmore is a quantitative look at British infantry doctrine using period sources from the British Civil Wars of the seventeenth century up to just before the Napoleonic wars. If anything you can see the constancy, which drove the success in battle of British forces, even when outnumbered.

Development of British Infantry Doctrine

Re-enactors from the Fairfax Battalia demonstrate infantry drill in the Tower of London. Pikes are charged and the musketeers present for a salvee in two ranks. (photo: Mandy Holloway)

This has got a lot of the detail you need to model infantry battles in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. It’s not quite at the level of the WW2 operational research, but it’s good enough. There are comparative weights and rates of fire. Measured hit rates based on range, and commentary on doctrine and how certain tactics worked in certain situations but not others. In short everything you need to design a game (although there’s clearly a morale factor, which Destructive and Formidable covers but makes no attempt to quantify).

There’s a fairly readable style, and the book isn’t long. The examples are of individual battles and focus only on what the British infantry did, their immediate context and the doctrine/tactics of their immediate enemy. The only place there’s anything more in context, and discussion of the commanders impact, is the chapter on the North American irregular wars. This latter chapter also touches on failures of leadership, and shows that there is an effect of good leadership on the successful application of doctrine. The defeats are more attributable to poor leadership and lack of confidence than to failure of doctrine.

Core Infantry Doctrine

The core of British infantry doctrine was to reserve fire until they were close enough to ensure that it was effective. Once fired from close range the British infantry then closed to hand to hand, with clubbed muskets in the early period and bayonets later. Only one or two round were fired, often from a salvee or volley. This kept the effect concentrated, which increased the shock value.

Why didn’t British infantry doctrine spread?

Musket practice by re-enactors from the Fairfax Battalia. You can see the second rank ramming home their charge as the front rank fires. The third rank is charging with powder. (photo: Cindy Holton)

If British infantry doctrine was so successful why did other nations not copy it? Blackmore shows a relative isolation in the British officer corps from the debate of firepower vs shock which European armies seem to have spent the period arguing about. British infantry doctrine seems to have developed by trial and error during the British civil wars to get decisive battles based on the available people and technology. Early civil war battles were inconclusive, yet the British on both sides strove to improve effectiveness. They got closer before opening fire, massed to fire salvos and closed with the enemy to finish them off. Europe spent the same period in the Thirty Years War yet never came to the same conclusion. Drill manuals from the period emphasise fire, the cavalry doctrine shows shock of impact is what works.

What made the British successful?

My suspicion is one of the main things that keeps the British Army successful in this period is a continuity of experience. From the civil wars there is a near continuous presence of warfare. More importantly the outcome of the civil war is the establishment of a standing army. Even though this is supposed to be temporary, Parliament needs to renew it every year, it remains continuously in being. This means that soldiers pass on their experience to the new recruits, and many officers are professionals. Serving in one war as juniors and returning to later wars as commanders of battalions and armies.

Designing a game

My copy of this is flagged in many places, and there are a lot of marginal notations. I fully expect to use it as the core of an infantry combat model for one or more games. There’s a good model explained in the book. Maximum effective range is about 80 yards, at 100 yards less than 1% of shots result in a casualty. At 25-30 yards about a quarter of shots cause casualties. Closing with the enemy is pretty much always decisive (they either break or die). Infantry firing by platoon can stop cavalry with firepower alone if they reserve fire until the cavalry is about 30 yards away. Similarly if you fire at charging Highlanders at about 10 yards (or less) then it ends the charge…

This is an edited version of a post that was first published at

Re-enactors' Market

Went to the traders fair today, mainly because there was an officer’s meeting for Fox’s. While I was there I bought a few books from Paul Meekins, a small pottery kettle and some marbles for Alexander. I also had a tour of Warwick because I was driving sans navigator and went left onto the A425 instead of the A423. Still got there in the end though.

Saw lots of people I hadn’t seen for ages including, Edmund & Emily with little Ed, Paul Meekins, Howard Giles, Charles Kightly, Mutts, and Sophia Sidney. Also saw a fair number of others that I managed to catch up with at Sherwood Forest pretty recently. 

Gist of the officers meeting was simply that we need to do some more recruitment, and to assist that effort we need to sort out some flyers and then tart up the website to give people a better idea of what we do, how much fun it is and get them into the idea of joining, The primary audience for this recruitment effort are people who are interested in history but who have never tried re-enactment before. We’re looking at students, wargamers, and general history buffs.

Anyway, to get some momentum going we’ve set up a small working party to knock some ideas on design and content together. Paul Stinton (Fox’s 2ic & also Fairfax Publicity Officer), Marika and myself will try and get something sorted out over the next few weeks. Emphasis on getting it done rather than discussing it. Marika has done a fantastic website for Lord Orkney’s regiment, a 1660s group that portray what became the Royal Scots. we ought to be able to adapt the template for it to have similar material for the Fox’s website.

The other topic of discussion was about getting the bank account signatories updated. What is required is a copy of the latest minutes of the 2009 AGM so that we can confirm to the bank that our officers have changed and who we need as signatories on the bank account.

After the meeting I had a wee look around to see if I could get a small cauldron with a lid. Not being terribly certain what I wanted to buy from a historical accuracy point I didn’t actually buy anything, instead I picked up some leaflets. Best seemed to be Anvil Art although even those didn’t look quite the same as these ones I found on Somerset County Councils museums page about down hearth cooking.  

Detling Military Odyssey

From a Fairfax point of view this was a small do, there being four
pike, twelve musket, two sergeants, one drummer and one officer. It was
an ECWS major though and there were probably a couple of hundred on the
field, certainly one of the opposing pike divisions I saw over 30 pike
in it. There were also hordes of other re-enactors, including a
disturbing number of SS and Hitler Youth.

The Saturday saw
some rain and a very boring battle (we were in reserve and it was a
billiard table relieved only by someone’s very small shed, a couple of
loose fences and some bales of hay). All round us were lots of wigwams
and we attempted bravely to follow the script but in the end gave up
and took a cannon before the KA retreated from the field. All in all
not the most exciting battle and one which I’m sure I could have
handled better as Sergeant if I’d been a little more confident about
use of initiative.

Sunday was a much nicer day and we swapped
ends for the battle. One of our brave musketeers had enough and didn’t
appear, so we were eleven that day. Having resolved not to worry too
much about the script (the cavalry defected to our side before the
battle started so we knew it wasn’t going to hold) we had much more
fun. Our day was more fluid, we got stuck in with club muskets on
several occasions and most of the musketeers fired all their shots
(towards the end we ended up in a rag-tag skirmish line before either
routing or being over-run and killed). Again I’m sure I could have
handled this better, but it was a huge improvement on the previous day.

The best bit was staying to watch the T-34 vs Tiger battle and
the soviet partisans killing a German recce patrol when they stopped
for a comfort break (as it is often euphemistically called round here).

I didn’t stay for Monday as Tracy was working so no idea how
the third day of battle went. We did go shopping but didn’t find very
much that wasn’t WW2 or saddo militaria related. Although I did get 3m
of mustard wool for a nice civvy coat or something. I also managed to
pick a box that meets the MSER standard for storing black powder (from
one of Bright’s that makes them).

Colchester Army Day

Today was mostly spent in Colchester at the Army Day organised by none other than the British Army (with a little help from our friend Howard Giles in Eventplan).

from a late start here (because Alexander was a bit restless during the
night and didn’t properly get to sleep until after 01:00 and then we
all slept a bit longer) and the hour spent going through the middle of
Colchester to get into the event it wasn’t a bad day.

What was
very good was catching up with a number of people and just hanging
about in the shade under the trees. We didn’t make it for the battle at
noon because of the traffic, so all we had was the drill display in the
mid afternoon and the finale where the massed bands (Army Air Corps,
Parachute Regt, Essex Yeomanry and the Essex Caledonian Pipe Band) all
played the 1812 Overture accompanied by mass gunfire at the appropriate

One thing that I did do when talking to Charles Kightly was to promise to advertise the C17 Civvies
discussion list a bit more so that anyone can join it and not just the
closed group we have now (although the intent was always that it was
for anyone with an interest in civilian living history of the mid
seventeenth century to join. Anyway I’ve done a web page as a start
point and will do some more promotion when I get an opportunity.