Sunday 26 May 2024

Clowns to the left of me. Jokers to the right.

This post looks at a new unit of Harquebusiers for my Imperial Thirty Years War and Polish-Lithuanian armies.

28mm Harquebusiers, mainly from from Bloody Miniatures, with a couple of Warlord and TAG, perform a ride-by shooting manoeuvre. 

This unit started around an idea I had to try and use figures in a pose that I have always found challenging to use; the "shoot the guy next to me" pose.

28mm Harquebusier from Warlord Games in the dreaded 'shoot the guy next to me' pose.

The Pose

Figures in this pose exist in many periods, and from many manufacturers.  I have never been clear how sculptors have expected gamers to use these figures.  In the 'olden days' of figure ranges having maybe only one or two figures for a troop type, then this pose could be hideously limiting.  Imagine a whole unit, ranked up, of figures in the pose above; not a good look!  Even nowadays, with broader ranges of figures, the one or two figures in a pack that are shooting to the side have been left at the bottom of my 'pile of potential'. 

In a recent trawl through my collection of riders I came across the rather sad collection, right at the bottom of a box, of all these 'shoot the guy next to me' rejects.  I was considering that these would be a great entry to Wargamers' Room 101 (see Yarkshire Gamer's podacst for more details on Wargamers' Room 101) when a thought struck me; "What if I made up a unit of just these figures and used the pose as a feature?".  If I based the figures so it looked like they were riding by the enemy, while shooting at them, it might just work.  

Shooting From Horseback

So, how did horsemen shoot from horseback in the 17th century?  You don't have to look through too many contemporary battle pictures to see mounted horsemen shooting every which way. I had a look through the 'Militarie Instructions for the Cavall'rie' by John Cruso, first published in 1632, and thought to be the manual used most readily by inexperienced officers in the British Civil Wars who were trying to read-in to their new roles as war broke out.  Despite Cruso providing almost excessive details on how to load pistols while mounted, he provides little details on how to fire them.  

Picture from John Cruso's Militarie Instructions for the Cavall'rie

His only digram showing how to 'give fire' shows the classic posture for firing a pistol forward.  Cruso later mentions that horsemen should be able to fire to the left or right.  He also mentions that some other manuals recommend being able to fire to the rear, but rather dismisses the idea as not being terribly useful (perhaps thinking it is better to focus solely on getting away from trouble!). Perhaps there is something behind figure manufacturers continuing to turn out figures in poses shooting to the side after all.

Illustration by Graham Turner in Osprey Warrior series 'Ironsides - English Cavalry 1588-1688' by John Tincey.

Graham Turner's fabulous picture of a horseman giving fire to his left, whilst resting his carbine on top of his bridle arm (the arm with which he holds the horse's reins), shows a classic pose described in Robert Ward's 1639 book 'Animadversions of Warre'. Ward advise that Harquebusiers should strive to have their enemies on their left so they can use this posture to give fire with their carbines. 

The Caracole

If an individual horsemen could be expected to give fire to any quarter then how did this work for formed bodies of horsemen. Just about every book about warfare in this period tells us that cavalry were trained to fire rank by rank in something called a Caracole. The first rank would fire their carbines or pistols forward at the enemy, and then retire to the rear of their formation to reload, while the next rank came forward and repeated the process.  Once this constant fire had broken the enemy's resolve then the horsemen would draw their swords and charge home to complete their victory. However it is not clear if the rank by rank fire by horseman is what the term Caracole refers to.  

More pictures from Cruso. This is the start of the 'Carracoll'
where the defenders have split to allow the chargers to pass between their two bodies.

Second of the Cruso 'Carrocall' pictures in which the chargers have been thrown into confusion and are now trapped, at the mercy of the two bodies of horse. 

Back to Cruso who describes the "Carrocall" as a completely different manoeuvre in which charging enemy cavalry are defeated by the defenders splitting in two, to the left and right of the chargers' direction of travel. As the hapless chargers career through the gap, they are fired on from both flanks, and then charged in the flanks/rear.  This all sounds terribly tricky to execute, but doesn't sound anything like rank by rank firing. 

Cruso and Ward both mention firing by rank, then wheeling to the left or right to retire to the rear, but do not refer to it as a Caracole.  It is interesting that Cruso advises against this rank by rank fire if you are likely to be charged as he says you will be thrown in to confusion through the rearward motion of some of your own troops. The left wing of the Parliament cavalry at Edgehill obviously did not take this advice! 

Caracole is meant to derive from the Spanish word for 'snail' that is caracol.  I don't see a connection between rank by rank fire and snails (especially as this same rank by rank fire on foot is not described as a Caracole). 

The Battle of Fleurus 1622 by Peter Snayers - Rijksmuseum

Peter Snayers' famous painting, now thought to be of the Battle of Fleurus in 1622, in the middle distance shows a large Protestant cavalry formations, riding across the front of enemy Spanish infantry, exchanging fire, in what looks very like the curl of a snail's shell.  Is this a Caracole?  Snayers' painting also shows in the left foreground a shell-like 'circle' of Spanish horse pouring fire into another formation of Protestant horse that are falling in to disorder while Spanish infantry and artillery also add to their discomfort.  

The exact meaning of cavalry performing a Caracole remains unclear to me. What does seem clear is that 'ride-by shooting' (to mix in modern terminology!) was seen as a typical cavalry function, and this could take multiple forms on the battlefield. 

Forming The Unit

With all of this information and uncertainty swirling around my mind (rather like a cloud of confused horsemen in a Peter Snayers' painting!) I started to hatch a plan for using the previously rejected figures in a unit.

Trial set-up of the figures - front rank in ride-by shooting pose (Caracole?), second rank ready to support.

I put together some of 'shoot to the left' figures, together with their horses, and started to experiment with some potential formations that I could use to show the unit in the act of firing on the enemy while riding across their front.  I finally landed on a single rank in the ride-by shooting pose, backed up by a rank in normal poses, which to me looked like they were ready to start their own shooting once the front rank had retired to the rear.  I had been prepared to adopt a wider than normal unit frontage but as it turned out my standard 25mm per horseman frontage seemed to work ok if I accepted a rather haphazard and perhaps unsafe looking formation.  (Anyone who feels this looks far too chaotic should take a close look at the Snayers painting - there is a fabulously detailed version available of Wikipedia link.)

A whole lot of shooting going on!

This approach to forming a unit had the added benefit in that it allowed me to use many of the Bloody Miniatures recent mounted release in a unit, with a sprinkling of Warlord (and I think TAG) figures from the reject box. Some small conversions were required, such as to get a suitable Cornet and Trumpeter figure, as well as making the Warlord/TAG figures fit neatly on the Bloody horses. As with all of the Bloody Miniatures I have had so far, these were a joy to paint. 

Front rank blazing away while the second rank advance,  ready to add their own firepower, or perhaps charge home if the enemy seem to be wavering.

The resulting unit works for me, although I'm sure it will confuse people as to which way the bases are meant to face when being moved about on the table. It was exciting to read in a recent Bloody Miniatures newsletter that there are more mounted figures coming soon.  I am now almost hoping for more 'shoot the guy next to me' figures to be included in the release!

Flag from Flags of War Thirty Years War range.

The Captain and Cornet have invested in 3/4 armour.

Warlord riders on Bloody Miniatures horses. One in the Robert Ward pose, and one not.  

Bloody Miniatures, with the addition of the ever useful trumpet-hand from the Warlord plastic Pike & Shotte cavalry sprue

A Bloody Miniature and TAG riders on Bloody Miniature horses.

Bloody Miniatures doing some shooting.
The rear shot. 

I hope that my journey through old military manuals and paintings will help inspire anyone else out there with a sad collection of neglected figures who are in tricky poses.  Try some alternative basing to get those figures where they belong - on to the table.  They will almost certainly be quickly ridden down by hard charging Royalists, Swedes, Poles etc. but at least they will look a bit different. Better than being stuck in a formation with clowns to left, and jokers to the right, both shooting at you! 

Maybe the new unit will not have to use its casualty marker first time out, but I doubt it very much.
Casualty figure from Bicorne Miniatures, and counter base from Warbases. 

Until next time.

Andy @ The Friends of General Haig.


  1. I love both the idea and execution of it. Great way to utilise those akward poses :)

    1. Thanks, Michal! I am almost looking forward to more figures in this pose now.

  2. Great idea. I'll be saving that for my large based 10mm units. Thanks. Richard

  3. I have only just got into seventeenth century gaming and have really enjoyed reading your blog. Inspirational stuff.
    I have been a little mystified myself by the ‘caracole’ but I think you are on to something there with it as a kind of circular motion and the Snayers painting certainly backs that up. Beautifully painted figures.

    1. Thanks, Morty, much appreciated 👍. It is such a fascinating period - so many rabbit holes to get lost in 😎.