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Thread: Triangle Formation over Square Formation?

  1. #1
    Bobby the Huntsman's Avatar Civis
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    Icon10 Triangle Formation over Square Formation?

    The square formation, first utalised by the romans whilst fighting in parthia, but only later adopted by traditional armies with the introduction of the musket and other firearms.

    As we all know the square formation was used to deter cavalry from attacking, but was there ever a battle, or expermimental period, where triangles instead of sqaures were formed to protect from cavalry.

    If so, did it work, when was it used, by whom, and where? If not, why was the square better, surely the less amount of vertacies (3) meant the triangle would have more firepower?

    Did people simply not realise the potential, or am i just being stupid and there are some obvious downsides to the triangle that i am missing.

    Would horses refrain from charging a triangle like they did a square? All these question and any more interesting points i would like answered in this thread!

  2. #2

    Default Re: Triangle Formation over Square Formation?

    While it might have more firepower, I imagine that, due to the sharper angles involved, a triangle would also have weaker corners. In a specifically anti-cavalry formation, that would be a very bad thing. Not to mention it's probably easier to form a square, you just have to make two parallel lines, triangles are a bit tougher in that respect.

  3. #3

    Default Re: Triangle Formation over Square Formation?

    All sorts of formations were used to deter cavalry. The Austrian's for instance developed a whole range of anti-cavalry formations including the square and the masse. The only really important factor to deter cavalry was that it had to be dense enough to deter a horse from trying to either jump it or push through it. Mike Loades showed for instance that a horse can push through a shield wall if it is only three ranks deep, mainly because the men can step out of line to avoid it. However, when he increased the depth of the shield wall to six ranks the volunteers were unable to avoid the horse and it got stuck, allowing the volunteers to simply reach up and pull him off it.

  4. #4
    Prince of Darkness's Avatar Campidoctor
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    Default Re: Triangle Formation over Square Formation?

    Forming triangles are extremely hard during the heat of battle, and artillery simply can blast away the triangles, especially on the weak corners.
    Triangles have less sides than squares, so less sides=more men on each sides=denser formation=more casualities from artillery. Just a thought though, never heard of triangle formation, but the wedge formation of cavalry is simillar to a triangle.

  5. #5

    Default Re: Triangle Formation over Square Formation?

    I've never heard of cavalry using a wedge formation either.

  6. #6

    Default Re: Triangle Formation over Square Formation?

    I assume we are discussing gunpowder era so I will stick to that. First, a triangle with the correct angle is hard to form, whereas a square is easy to form and can be done very quickly. Without the correct angle the triangle would lose lots of firing capability and further weaken its already vulnerable corners. Think about the effort needed to quickly form a square, you as a soldier merely have to stand shoulder to shoulder with the guy next to you, and a guy stands behind you. The officers tell where to bend the square, and no matter the amount of men the angle of bending is always the same. Also a square can be very imprecise and still work effectively. Now think about quickly forming a square with a triangle, the less men, the steeper the angle, which means that not only do you as a soldier have to be instructed at which angle to face, but the officers have to shuffle around men until they get the right size for the triangle (a problem too with the square but with a triangle as you shuffle men you have to change the angle of stance repeatedly). With a square you are nothing but four lines put together, but with a triangle the same cannot be said as you are not really three neat lines put together, and this is due to the fact that as you get closer to the corner of the triangle, you lose to line aspect of it and you get nothing more than a mob that fills a corner as men have to crowd together and attempt to stay compact. With a square you are a line that happens to be at a right angle with another line, and neither side really has any movement problems nor is there interference. With a triangle you are literally hitting each other when thinking of it as two lines, and therefore the point at which the lines meet is extremely vulnerable to attack.

    Now, against cavalry a triangle could work, granted. But, the musketry fire (the real killer of a square) would be greatly reduced with a triangle. First, one has to understand that rarely would a horse charge a square, instead the horse would stop, cower, and then run. The whole point in the square is to keep the horse from charging, so the idea that a square is used to let a horse run into the square's line where the horse is bayonetted to death rarely happened. Instead, it would be musket fire that would kill the horse as it stops (if the horses' rider even allowed it to come into musket range). Now this works all fine and dandy with a square because you have an entire line facing a side, and three others facing all other areas of approach. The corners are not particularly vulnerable because men from both lines on a corner have a decent firing arc to hit horses attempting to come at a corner (a squares corner was much less "cornerish" than we like to think anyways, it was never perfect). With a triangle would would think that at all times two lines would technically at once be able to cover not only what is in front of them, but an overlapping firing arc covering the corners because of the angle at which the triangle is. However, this is only true on two sides, leaving one side naturally flat and therefore leaving two corners extremely vulnerable to only he fire that that corner can lay down. All you have to do to realize this is to draw a triangle on a piece of paper and look at all the places a soldier from any given point could theoretically fire, you will have one extremely coverable side, and then two corners and a flat side (the "bottom" line of the triangle if you draw it like a pyramid) that are very prone to attack and have little firing coverage (in particular the corners). Now, to solve this problem all you have to do is take a square, rotate it to look like a diamond (which on the battlefield obviously it would not have to be rotated, it is both a square and a diamond shape depending on your perspecive of where you are standing) and suddenly you have fixed the problem of having exposed corners, as the lines then all have overlapping firing arcs on the area that a cavalry charge would attack a corner at. So, in that respect, a triangle actually has more exposed posititions than a square.

    Now, as for artillery, obviously the men are more closely packed in a triangle, artillery has a greater chance of hitting and thereby ripping holes in the line, and therefore allowing an area from horses to get through (horses almost only broke a square when artillery hit holes in the line, there was one of a dying horse landing on british men in a square in Spain and allowing other French horses to fill the gap, breaking the square). So, in this aspect, a triangle is again more vulnerable.

    Also, when cavalry attacked it was rarely pure cavalry, Waterloo was a stupid exception that should not even have happened (as it was Napoleon's policy that artillery, infantry, and cavalry compliment each other, not act independently). So, with a cavalry charge it is rare that it would not either be followed up or preluded by an infantry attack (always accompanied by artillery fire). Now, with a square, only one side of the square can engage, meaning that you bascially have a flat line in the front, and a bunch of useless other wasted infantry in the back. But this is ok, because you still have a solid line to fire and for moral to keep men from running. With a triangle depending on which way the triangle is facing, you either go up against one flat line (ok, similar to a square) but you also could go up against two steeply angled back lines. This would be a waste of firepower since there is almost no way the men at the back of the steeply angled lines of the triangle could even reach the men of the other line, and the fact that the triangle will hardly be a perfect straight line and to think that the men could rotate a bit and have room to shoot without risking a huge amount of friendly fire is ridiculous. So if an enemy formation attacks the side with two angled lines (mind you, if you were forming a triangle against cavalry attacks and as I stated before this part of the triangle was the strongest while the "flat" side is the weakest against cavalry, you would more than likely be making it so the two steeply angled lines face the enemy, meaning and infantry attack would go up against the steeply angled lines) the enemy has greater firepower against a small amount of men that can even shoot at them, and the enemies ranks are not even in a neat row, so routing them would be relatively easy.

    I hope you can follow this, if I was doing this in person and could draw it out it would make much more sense, perhaps I will draw something up on paint and attach it to this thread to show you what I am trying to describe.

    EDIT: Uploaded pictures, they are absolutely horribly made...but they do the job I guess. Hopefully they are easy to follow, note obviously that theoretical means what one would think could be the advantages of a triangle but that in fact arent.
    Last edited by Tiberius Tosi; June 06, 2010 at 01:59 PM.
    Forget the Cod this man needs a Sturgeon!

  7. #7

    Default Re: Triangle Formation over Square Formation?

    I don't have any sources in front of me, but I do know that triangle formations were occasionally used. I don't know any specifics, but I'll find out what I can.

  8. #8

    Default Re: Triangle Formation over Square Formation?

    Quote Originally Posted by 43rdFoot View Post
    I don't have any sources in front of me, but I do know that triangle formations were occasionally used. I don't know any specifics, but I'll find out what I can.
    We might be required to make a distinction between troops that ended up in a triangle formation and those that intentionally formed a tri-angle rather than a square.

    As far as I know (and I'm prepared to be proven wrong) there is no drill recorded that allows troops to form a triangle. Every drill manual I've seen relies upon the square to repell cavalry. However, it did occur to me that in situations were the platoons forming one face of a square become so depleted by casualties that they cannot maintain the frontage on that face then one side of the square would gradually shrink until in extreme circumstances the two opposing corners in trying to maintain their dressing would meet, effectively forming a triangle simply due to the losses inflicting on the men that should have formed the now non-existent side.

    I've certainly read of squares losing so many men that they became triangles, but I'd never really thought of the process of how it happened before.

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