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Hussite Wagon Forts - A Challenge To Heavy Cavalry In The Late Middle Ages | Late Medieval Warfare


The Hussite wagon fort, also known as Wagenburg answered a problem in late medieval warfare that puzzled military leaders of the time: how could infantry deal with armies of heavily armored knights on horseback? Initially the Hussite armies consisted mainly of ill-trained farmers and city dwellers, often only armed with the daily tools of your average farmer such as threshing flails, pitchforks but also polearms. But they made a virtue out of necessity and combined their farmers wagons, which they soon turned into war wagons, with early handheld firearms and small artillery and managed to defend successfully against well-trained and well-equipped knights. Throughout the medieval and early-modern periods a number of strategies and infantry formations were explored to fight heavily armored knights effectively. One strategy was to choose the terrain of the battles with great care, to use field fortifications and bottlenecks such as the Scottish at the Battle of Loudoun Hill in 1307, the Flemish at the Battle of Kortrijk in 1302 or the English at Crécy in 1346. Another strategy was to deploy deep pike squares as did the Swiss at Nancy in 1477, the German Landsknechte at Bicocca in 1522 and the Spanish Tercio at Rocroi in 1643. However, in the early fourteen-hundreds, the Hussite wagon fort was a particularly spectacular way of coping with knights. Contemporary historiography tells the story of the Hussite’s military innovation as follows.

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Sources: Durdik, Jan, Hussitisches Heerwesen, Berlin (Ost) 1961. Schmidtchen, V., Kriegswesen im späten Mittelalter. Technik, Taktik, Theorie. VCH Acta humaniora, (habilitation dissertationan at the University of Bochum1984), Weinheim 1990. Schmidtchen, V., Karrenbüchse und Wagenburg. Hussitische Innovationen zur Technik und Taktik im Kriegswesen des späten Mittelalters. In: Volker Schmidtchen, Eckhard Jäger (Editors.): Wirtschaft, Technik und Geschichte. Beiträge zur Erforschung der Kulturbeziehungen in Deutschland und Osteuropa. Festschrift für Albrecht Timm zum 65. Geburtstag. Camen, Berlin 1980 (erschienen 1981), p. 83–108. Delbrück, H., Das Mittelalter. Von Karl dem Großen bis zum späten Mittelalter (Geschichte der Kriegskunst, Band 1)., 1907. (NOTE: Delbrück is an important author for military history but often outdated due to the age of his books, so read this with care!)