Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Jan Zizka, Christian Warrior Extraordinaire

Jan Zizka (zhishka) followed the teachings of the pre-reformation leader, Jan Hus who predated Martin Luther by a century, and whose teachings influenced Luther's beliefs.

Jan Zizka gained prominence as a warrior who defended Czech believers during the anti-Hussite crusades. He pioneered the use of firearms in battle to the point that our words pistol and howitzer can be traced back to his troops' terminology.

Zizka merged the use of armored carts, artillery and handheld firearms into a plan that places him centuries ahead of his time as a tactician.

Žižka helped develop tactics of using wagon forts, called vozová hradba in Czech or Wagenburg by the Germans, as mobile 
fortifications. When the Hussite army faced a numerically superior opponent they prepared carts for the battle by forming them into squares or circles. The carts were joined wheel to wheel by chains and positioned aslant, with their corners attached to each other, so that horses could be harnessed to them quickly, if necessary. In front of this wall of carts a ditch was dug by camp followers. The crew of each cart consisted of 16-22 soldiers: 4-8 crossbowmen, 2handgunners, 6-8 soldiers equipped with pikes or flails (the flail was the Hussite "national weapon"), 2 shield carriers and 2 drivers.

The Hussites' battle consisted of two stages, the first defensive, the second an offensive counterattack. In the first stage the army placed the carts near the enemy army and by means of artillery fire provoked the enemy into battle. The artillery would usually inflict heavy casualties at close range.

In order to avoid more losses, the enemy knights finally attacked. Then the infantry hidden behind the carts used firearms and crossbows to ward off the attack, weakening the enemy. The shooters aimed first at the horses, depriving the cavalry of its main advantage. Many of the knights died as their horses were shot and they fell.

As soon as the enemy's morale was lowered, the second stage, an offensive counterattack, began. The infantry and the cavalry burst out from behind the carts striking violently at the enemy - mostly from the flanks. While fighting on the flanks and being shelled from the carts the enemy was not able to put up much resistance. They were forced to withdraw, leaving behind dismounted knights in heavy armor who were unable to escape the battlefield. The enemy armies suffered heavy losses and the Hussites soon had the reputation of not taking captives.

Known to many as "One-eyed Zizka," he actually lost sight in his one good eye in 1421. Remarkably, the totally blind Zizka continued to lead his troops to victory until he died of the plague in 1424. 

Let's lift a cup to salute a man who in his life and service embodied the very meaning of Christian Martialist: a defender of the faithful.

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