Gustavus Adolphus Created a Warfare Template That Endured For Centuries
Gustavus Adolphus II (1594 – 1632) was king of Sweden from 1611 to 1632, during which time he transformed Sweden into a great power. He reformed the Swedish army and introduced military innovations that emphasized linear tactics, and the efficient use of combined arms. That made Sweden the premier military force during the Thirty Years War (1618 – 1648), and revolutionized warfare by creating a model that would be emulated by military commanders for hundreds of years.
Gustavus Adolphus built upon the innovations of Maurice of Nassau, and simplified logistics by standardizing his army’s artillery and muskets. He also paid attention to drill and discipline, until Swedish soldiers became Europe’s most professional men at arms. Adolphus went Maurice of Nassau one better, by cross training his men, such as training Swedish infantry and cavalry to service artillery pieces. That enabled them to serve as gunners at a pinch if their own artillerists fell in battle, and if they captured enemy guns, they could immediately turn them on their foes. Similarly, if the need arose, a killed cavalryman could be replaced by an infantryman, and vice versa.
While Maurice had reformed the Dutch army, dense Spanish style tercio formations remained the norm throughout the rest of Europe. Adolphus adopted Maurcie’s smaller infantry battalions, and reduced their density to only five or six lines. That allowed most of the soldiers to participate in combat. By contrast, only about half of a tercio’s soldiers could directly engage in their opponents, unless and until those in front of them were killed or wounded.
The Swedish king also introduced artillery to the lower levels of command. Before Adolphus, artillery was centralized and controlled by the army commander. Adolphus equipped his regiments with light field pieces, which could keep up with attacking infantry. That gave lower level commanders greater firepower in both defense and offense. Between reducing the density of his formations and equipping regiments with artillery, a Swedish brigade of about 1300 men could pour out more firepower than a tercio of 3000 men.
Adolphus also trained his infantry to fire in volleys. He was innovative with cavalry as well, and reintroduced shock tactics by training his horsemen to charge opposing lines. As artillery softened up enemy lines, the infantry would advance, halt a short distance from the enemy, fire a devastating volley from close range, then charge their reeling foes before they recovered. When the enemy broke or was about to break, the cavalry would be unleashed to finish him off. That combined arms model, with artillery, infantry, and cavalry acting in conjunction, would become the standard emulated by western armies for centuries. The broad outline is still followed to this day.