6.17.2004

Historic general of the day: Jan Zizka

Jan Zizka was years ahead of his time when he created a tactical system based on gunpowder sometime around 1420.

Bohemians had rejected the Church and as a result Pope Martin V launched a crusade to hunt them down as heretics.

Zizka, who was in his 60s and blind in one eye, appeared in 1419 leading a few hundred peasants which he knew were no match for armored knights, so he marched them to an out of the way town called Tabor for a little training.

What emerged was one of the most effective and diciplined war machines the world has ever seen. The Hussite tactical system was based on armored wagons filled with men wielding crossbows and handguns and protected by pikemen and wheeled cannon. These "wagon forts" decimated the armored knights even when the foe held ten to one numerical superiority.

A lot of details have gone missing over the ages, but wherever Zizka fought there were usually more enemy dead left behind than Zizka had in his entire force to begin with.

Ironically, Zizka was wounded early on and lost his other eye. But his men were so well trained that he still led them blind.

Several crusades were launched over the years but it wasn't long before the Hussite reputation was enough to win the battles as the invaders cut and ran at the sound of the approaching wagons.

Though Zizka died in 1424, the system lived on for another decade until greed and politics led to many of Zizka's former officers being sent to battle Zizka's successor. Two armies, both using the same wagon forts, cannon and tactics met in Lipany in 1434 in a fratracidal duel that was the death of the system that had served them so well.

Afterward, many tried to revive or copy Zizka's tactics but none succeeded.

more on Zizka (google)

Updated for definitions:

Definitions which I should have given the firs time:

The term "Hussite" refers to people who rejected the church and became the targets of the crusades. The word is based on the name John Huss (or Jan Hus), who was a Bohemian (or Czech) priest in Prague's Bethlehem Chapel where he preached reformation against the corrupt clergy, a popular idea at the time. The good church took care of that problem by burning him alive in 1415.

Errata:
King Wenceslas IV, descendant of "Good King Wenceslas" was the ruler of Bohemia and played a central part in much of this.



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