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.
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.
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.
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.
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.