Linear Tactics

Linear Tactics


the theory and practice of preparing for and waging battle in linear battle formation with equal distribution of troops (or naval forces) along the front, employed in the 17th and 18th centuries. Linear tactics were developed when armies were equipped with firearms and the role of fire in battle increased. For waging battle, troops were deployed in a line that consisted of several ranks (the number was determined by the rate of fire of the weapons). This made it possible to carry on fire simultaneously with the largest number of guns. Troop tactics amounted basically to a frontal clash, and the outcome of the battle was decided to a large extent by the power of infantry fire.

In Western Europe linear tactics originated in the late 16th and early 17th centuries in the Dutch infantry, where square columns were replaced by linear formations. In the Russian forces elements of linear tactics were first employed in the battle at Dobrynichi (1605). Linear tactics were fully worked out in the Swedish Army of Gustavus II Adolphus during the Thirty Years’ War of 1618–48 and were subsequently adopted in all European armies. This was made possible by the increased rate of fire of the musket and the improvement of artillery. Gustavus II Adolphus increased the number of musketeers to two-thirds of the composition of his infantry and completely discarded deep formations in favor of a formation with six or fewer ranks.

The superiority of the linear battle formation over the old formation consisting of columns was definitively demonstrated in the battles of Breitenfeld (1631) and Lutzen (1632), but at the same time negative aspects of linear tactics came to light, including the impossibility of concentrating superior forces in the decisive combat sector, the possibility of operating only on open, level terrain, the weakness of the flanks, and the difficulty of carrying out an infantry maneuver, as a result of which the cavalry attained decisive importance in the outcome of the battle. Mercenary soldiers were kept in closed lines by means of harsh physical discipline; but when the formation was broken, they fled from the field of battle.

Linear tactics developed its classical form in the 18th century, especially in the Prussian Army of Frederick II, who by harsh and excessive drilling increased the rate of fire of each line in battle to two or three volleys a minute. To overcome the weaknesses of linear tactics Frederick II introduced the oblique battle formation (the battalions advanced in staggered alignment). It consisted of three lines of battalions with three ranks apiece. The cavalry was also formed in three lines. Artillery was placed in the intervals between the battalions, on the flanks, and in front of the battle formation.

Despite the refinements that were achieved, the linear tactics of Frederick II’s troops continued to be stereotyped and inflexible. Russian military leaders of the 18th century Peter I, P. S. Saltykov, P. A. Rumiantsev, and A. V. Suvorov used linear tactics while searching for new methods of waging battle. Peter I created a reserve in his linear formation; Rumiantsev used the extended order and carré (rectangular formation). Together with the linear battle formation, Suvorov introduced columns and used the carré, extended order, and a combination of all these forms of troop battle formations. By the end of the 18th century linear tactics had exhausted their possibilities. The French and Russian armies, followed by other armies, switched to new tactics based on a combination of columns and the extended order.

Until the end of the 18th century linear tactics also prevailed in the navy. To wage naval battle, ships were formed in a line, and the outcome of the battle was decided by a frontal clash and simultaneous fire from the guns of most of the ships. At the end of the 18th century the navy switched to a new kind of tactics —mobile tactics. The foundations of mobile tactics were laid by the Russian admirals G. A. Spiridov and F. F. Ushakov. In the present day the phrase “linear tactics” is ordinarily used in referring to such things as unmaneuverable battle formations and lack of depth in them, even distribution of forces along the front, and inability to maneuver with a change in the situation.


References in periodicals archive ?
Some skirmishers had to precede these dispersed columns, but skirmish lines and linear tactics were avoided.
Though this supports his later contention that the English officers had adopted an appreciation for initiative and independence (something woods warfare inculcated more than linear tactics training), the section seems to be too detailed for what it contributed.
The linear tactics of the time, where soldiers stood in long battle lines, shoulder-to-shoulder, did much to reinforce soldiers' cohesion.