Hussites: Religeous rebels with guns

This is a piece of history that I’ve recently stumbled upon. The Hussite Wars. The Hussites were religious reformers before Martin Luther made it popular. They were a diverse group of wanna-be reformers in what is now the Czech Republic, Poland and Southern Germany. They sent some suggestions to Rome for ways to clean up the Catholic church but instead of listening to them, they had their leader, Jan Hus executed. This didn’t go over well with the Hussites. They didn’t send any more kindly worded letters, instead they went to their closets, put on their camouflage, grabbed their guns and began loading their magazines. This was in 1415, so while everyone else was using swords, spears and arrows, these guys were packing heat. Here’s a spoiler alert, their armies had lots of guns and their enemies had swords, I’ll let you guess which side won more often. These guys weren’t playing around. All that chivalry stuff, it went right out the window. They weren’t going to line up in pretty little lines and wait for horns to blow. These guys had their own way of doing things.
First, they transported everyone in large wagons, each wagon had a certain number of guys with guns, guys with bigger guns, guys with pikes and guys with flails. (The Hussite’s national weapon, like how Utah has a State Gun.) When they found the enemy, they’d draw their wagons up near the enemy, put them into squares, like how American settlers would circle the wagons, hide behind protection and start shooting the enemy. Their enemies were traditional Medieval armies with mounted knights and guys with swords. Well, since the Hussites put themselves in little moated forts, it’d be crazy to attack them head on. So, the Hussites just started shooting the enemy from a distance to make them do something foolish. If the knights ran away, they’d “loose” the battle. If they stayed, they’d continue to get shot. So, their only option was to attack. I’ll be talking about a lot of battles here, but I’ll sum them all up right here: The noble knights charged the mobile fortifications, the Hussites would shoot them and their horses and the charge would usually fail before it even reached the Hussites’ carts.

instead of formations, they just made forts with lots of guns.

 

They invented the tactic "Hey, let's use cover!" Its an official military term.

Oh, and just in case destroying the enemy charge wasn’t enough, after the enemy was broken, the Hussites would send out their own cavalry and trained killers and run the enemy down and destroy them utterly. Unlike chivalric knights, the Hussites didn’t take quarter or spare anyone. They destroyed their enemy until there was no more enemy left. In many ways they were a very modern army. They concentrated firepower to destroy their enemy’s ability to resist. They understood attrition and that “taking the field” just wasn’t enough.
Well, this worried the Catholic leaders throughout Europe.

What?? A group of people that have different ideas! That will never happen!

So, the Pope, rightfully worried, called a Crusade. Now, remember, a Crusade is big medicine. This isn’t some small “I think we should send a strongly worded letter.” This is “Jihad, the systematic and deliberate destruction of all life on Arrakis!”
So this enormous Crusade filled with Germans, Lithuanians, Estonians, Poles, and anyone else that wanted a piece of the action came to destroy these filthy rebels.

The Crusade preparing for battle

So, this Crusade comes up and rips their shirts off and talks smack…so…the Hussites just start shooting them. I told you how this battle would go down. The knights charge, get slaughtered by guns and then the Hussite cavalry comes out for the final smackdown. Well, this first Crusade against the Hussites failed. (yes, first. There were several more.)
After their victory, the Hussites could have run all over Germany, but they were too busy arguing among themselves about what religious improvements could be made. It turns out that they didn’t like having a king so they had a direct democracy. They voted about what all they would do. So, you have a group of democratic, religious rebels with modern military ideas of warfare.

"Hey, Polk, did you bring up the extra ammo?" "No, I was too busy arguing about the poverty of priests." "Oh, that's okay then."

A second Crusade was launched. A giant army entered Bohemia and began to besiege one of the cities there. When they heard the Hussite army was coming, they just ran away. I wish I could describe it more gloriously than that, but they ran away in fear without facing the Hussites. Not the best Crusade to ever happen but sadly, not the worst.
The Pope then called a THIRD Crusade. This one failed before it even began. They tried to organize, but the Germans couldn’t agree on anything and instead of invading the Hussite territories, the Hussites began to invade German territories. Then they began to invade and raid any country that helped the Germans…or even thought about helping them. They called these “Beautiful Rides” and they “rode” into the territory of all their enemies. It wasn’t like anyone could stop them.
Again, they began to make demands for freedom of religion, even for Orthodox Greeks, but the Pope refused and launched a FOURTH Crusade. Have you seen a pattern forming with the outcome of these crusades? If not, I’ll tell you, the Hussites shot to pieces this Crusade with the help of the Polish. The polish were Catholics and didn’t like these Hussite fanatics, but they hated the Germans even worse.
These Hussites were beastly on the battlefield. They were revolutionary in their tactics and took a modern approach to warfare, the likes of which wouldn’t be seen for hundreds of years. It turns out that it pays to bring a gun to a sword fight.

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12 comments on “Hussites: Religeous rebels with guns

  1. Desert Rat says:

    The Pope at this time was obviously insane, if the definition of insanity is doing something over and over again and expecting different results. Those were some pretty clever tactics on the part of the Hussites, and quite the facepalm failure on the part of the Crusaders.

  2. Glenda says:

    Kinda like Indiana Jones! Just whip out a gun, and shoot. So where did they get their guns? I know the Chinese invented gun powder, so did they – the Hussites, invent the gun? Or was that a Chinese invention too, that the Hussites stole? I just don’t know anything about this time period, but I love their bold thought out strategies. I fine them amazing. Totally interesting. I would love to hear more about them.

    • vskiper says:

      Hussite haven’t invented the gun itself, but they have made them small and available to almost ordinary soldier. At the end of the 14th century the guns were bulky replacement for trebuchets. But Hussites have invented the use of guns as we know them today. From the siege equipment to the fire of the battle. Direct fire against single high value targets, suppressing fire to stop the whole units/horde, barrel shots, etc.
      That being said the Czech (who nowadays consider themselves to be peaceful nation) has contributed the mankind heritage with words like pistol or howitzer 😉
      http://getasword.com/blog/1270-hussite-guns-and-ranged-weapons/

    • vskiper says:

      Hussite’s haven’t invented the gun itself, but they have made them small and available en masse to almost ordinary soldier. At the end of the 14th century (two decades before Zizka) gun was bulky replacement for trebuchet. Hussite’s have invented the use of guns as we know them today. From the siege equipment to the heat of the battle. Direct fire against single high value targets, suppressing fire to stop the whole unit, barrel shots against infantry, etc.
      That being said the Czech (who nowadays consider themselves to be peaceful nation) has contributed the mankind heritage with words like pistol or howitzer 😉
      http://getasword.com/blog/1270-hussite-guns-and-ranged-weapons/

      Be hones Hussite’s weren’t bind with all those chivalry conduct of honor. Hussite’s used to bombard the rally-points of the heavy cavalry which their opponents have found “very inappropriate and unfair” but very effective too.

  3. Paul Ballmann says:

    Glenda,
    It is my understanding that there were guns at that time, Vlad Tepes used a hand cannon, a very early firearm, but they were made by artisians gunsmiths. Each weapon was unique to itself, no interchangable parts, and the area where the Hussites came from were some of the best gunsmiths around. As these weapons were made by artisans, they were expensive so they were not suited for large armies, usually only the nobels and very rich people could use them. Think how any new technology, computers or flatscreen tv’s, start out costing alot but as time goes on, the price drops. I hope that answered some of your questions.

  4. Julius Young says:

    Joan of Arc also threatened to launch another crusade against the Hussites. Of course, her plans were interrupted by her being burnt at the stake.

    And yes, the Hussites sort-of invented the gun in the west, or at least they introduced them to western armies. They didn’t have the constraints of chivalry and terrible aristocratic leaders to keep them from making the most out of the new crude technology. This was a Napoleon/Pancho Villa kind of war. The names Pistol and Howitzer are supposedly both derived from Czech words. The pistol simply came from the word for flute, while the “Houfnice” was the short cannon they would sometimes mount on their wagons.

    Guns and war wagons were already getting popular with east Slavs, especially the cossacks, whose way of warfare was strongly influenced by their enemies the Tatars. Zizka fought alongside Russians and Tatars at Grunwald. Perhaps he picked up the technology there. However, what was most important about Hussite warfare was that fit the understanding of the Czech peasants and the Bohemian terrain like a glove. Zizka tried to invade Hungary but didn’t do so well simply because he could not rely on the local peasantry, very much like Pancho Villa’s inability to win over parts of Mexico outside his native Chihuahua. Villa’s use of trains and Soldaderas also mirrors Zizka’s use of tabors and camp-followers who fought when needed. They also both had spectacular mustaches.

    • Max Kronnenberg says:

      “Zizka fought alongside Russians and Tatars at Grunwald.” Alongside who? There were no Russians at Grunwald. There were Poles (mostly), Lithuanians (quite a lot), Tatars (some) and a small regiment from Smolensk, which was a part of Grand Duchy of Lithuania, not Russia.

  5. Devo says:

    How did they fall

    • The other countries just eventually caught with them in the arms race. (AKA. The other countries got a bunch of guns too.)

      • jiri says:

        Wrong. Since there were more than one fractions of the hussites ( orthodox, moderates) the more moderate parts of the movement united against the orthodox. The result- the only way to defeat the hussite army was with another hussite army. The Hussite army was never actually defeated by any other force. It was the internal war, that brought also an end to 3 decades of civil war and it eventually brought some peace to the region and planted seeds to religious reforms across the Europe.

  6. SwordsMan says:

    Well written article. We Czechs are pretty proud at success of our Hussite armies. You just forgot to mention the Fifth crusade. It was just an another epic fail of knights. In battle of Domazlice were 50 000 Hussites and 120 000 crusaders. Knights retreated just after first shots and singing the Hussite songs. Knights lost all equipment, many of them were killed during the panic retreat.
    I will mention one next not too know fact. Jan Zizka, the genial Hussite leader invented a List of Military rules which was pretty modern and unimaginable heresy in medieval warfare.
    Medieval military system was pretty chaotic, you were a noble so u were a kind of chief in army, if u were a rich noble u were even bigger chief. This caused nobles and knights were imune against commands. Medieval army had 1000 opinions how to perform a battle and it was common that knights acted on their own.
    Zizka invented system of command similar to modern ones, he also set system of units like batallions, platoons and so. He set rules for army marching in organized troops like nowadays, nobody was left behind. He also set rules for looting and ransom dividing. It was bring on a pile to being divided between all soldiers (what a magned tor mercenaries, later hussite army was full of Germans who picked this side voluntarily).
    He also set system of punishments for undisciplined soldiers and what was totally crazy there were no exceptions. Punishments were the same for nobles, monks, peasants, men and women (yes, the women fought with men in army and they had the same rights-what a heresy). Officers were promoted by skills not by social class (another heresy agains medieval system, Napoleon got the same revolutionary idea 400 years later).
    Teasing, beating and wounding of military staff by officers was banned. Officer was punished, victim compensated.
    These are only a few rules from the Codex. These military rules or its parts were retaken and used in following centuries by many western armies.

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