The Teutonic Order

Military Forces of the Teutonic Order

 

Contents

Composition

Organisation

Battle Tactics of the Order

The Battle of Tannenberg 1410

Teutonic Banners at Tannenberg

 

Composition

The Brethren
Some of the Brethren formed the Military wing of the Order. There were three distinct groups of Brethren, the RitterBrudern, the Diendebrudern and the HalbBrudern.
Under the Statutes of the Order anyone wishing to join the Order had to speak German and not as is often portrayed be German. There were further restrictions on what capacity a new member could serve. The RitterBrudern and HalbBrudern had to be from a Noble family, while the Diendebrudern was open to anyone of military experience. The above combined with the requirement to take monastic vows limited the numbers of Brethren in the Order.

RitterBrudern (Brother Knight)
These monastic Knights were the Elite of the Order. Their equipment was the best available of the time comparable with that of the best Knights of Western Europe. A White Jupon marked with a black cross distinguished the RitterBrudern from other troops in the Order's forces. The number of RitterBrudern peaked in the period just prior to the battle of Tannenberg. The highest figure given by Historians is around 750 though the more accepted figure is around 500. Order records put the loss of RitterBrudern at Tannenberg as 203 (out of the 250 present). The loss of between a third and a half of their total numbers was in itself a disaster but this number included almost every senior officer of the Order.

DiendeBrudern
These Brothers were those not of Noble birth. Their military role was either as lesser men at arms forming the rear ranks to the RitterBrudern and HalbBrudern or as infantry. Their infantry role was usually that of an officer commanding non-Brethren foot. The closest equivalent would be that of an NCO in modern armies as usually a Lay or Brethren Knight had overall command. The Diendebrudern wore a light grey Jupon with a tau cross. A Tau cross is the shape of a capital T.

HalbBrudern (Half Brothers)
These were members of the Order but whose period of service and duties were less than the RitterBrudern or DiendeBrudern. Unlike these Brethren the HalbBrudern did not take monastic vows of service for life. These Half Brothers may well have been an attempt to encourage people unwilling to join the Order for life or those fulfilling lesser Crusader vows. The HalbBrudern wore a light grey Jupon with a tau cross. Unlike other Brethren of the Order it appears that the HalbBrudern were allowed to combine their family coats of arms with that of the Tau Cross. This may explain why examples of such have been found even though the Statutes of the Order expressly forbid such practises. That said even some Hochmeisters quartered their coats of arms with the Order's Cross.

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Other forces of the Order
The Brethren of the Order formed a very small proportion of available troops. The majority were supplied vassals, the rest by volunteers.

The Vassals
There was no uniform law on vassalage within the Order controlled lands. The Germanised areas fell under the equivalents of Imperial law on the subject, all of Prussia being technically a Imperial Fief held by the Order. Conquered Polish and Lithuanian lands appear to have followed Polish precedent on vassal service. Running alongside these was vassalage in the 'Prussian fashion' this only applied to the natives or non-nobles in the case of Polish and Lithuanian lands. German and Polish vassalage differed only in the details so is not covered separately.

MitBrudern (Lay Knights)
Nobility that held land granted to them by the Order. These Nobles were almost always German though some of the border families were Polish in origin. As with much of Europe the holding of land imposed certain duties on the holder. In the case of land granted by the Order the amount defined the service. A surviving Order document relating to land holdings in Chelmno, dated 1223 provides information on two main types of service, The Rossdienst and the Platendienst. The Rossdienst was anyone holding over 40 Ian (also called a Hufen) was expected to muster a horseman in full armour with a barded steed along with two retainers, this forming the traditional German Lance. Note the barded steed may well be a mistranslation and in fact may merely mean a horse in a cloth housing. The Platendienst was anyone holding fewer than 40 Ian and usually refereed to native Prussians who was expected to muster in lesser armour and be mounted. Later Order documents show a reduction in the minimum, some as low as 15 Ian for Rossdienst. However these reductions appear in areas long pacified by the Order. There are two probable reasons for this. Firstly that these 'secure' areas were more effectively farmed/managed and so provided greater wealth. Secondly by the late 14th Century the Order was increasingly allowing vassals to buy their way out of military service so a downward trend in the minimum Ian would have increased revenues. Certainly frontier estates retained larger minima.

Volunteers, Crusaders and Adventurers
Prior to 1400 the Order was able to recruit large numbers of volunteers for its campaigns. These volunteers were mostly German however some Grandees of European Nobility also took part. Henry Bolingbroke (later Henry IV) of England for instance campaigned twice in Prussia in the 1390's. These volunteers served for a variety of reasons, some to fulfil crusading vows, others for prestige and many for loot.

German Colonists
From its earliest conquests in the Baltic the Order encouraged German Colonists to settle in the new territories. This created numerous 'German' Towns and villages. As a result by the late 14th Century the Order was able to call upon quite significant Militias from these towns and villages. These Militias did take to the field though their usefulness was as suspect as their German counterparts, their primary function was defence of their town. The Richer Burghers of the towns were able to buy their way out of field service by supplying a mercenary replacement. This was either a
mounted Knight or a foot soldier depending on their wealth.

Native troops
The Order recruited large numbers of native troops to serve with their armies. These contingents were invariably lightly equipped and the least effective of the Order's soldiers. They were however abundant and provided the bulk of the army and as often as not took the brunt of the casualties as well. The quality of these troops was also highly variable. The Border provinces of the Livonian territories provided an enthusiastic levy for the Order as they were usually employed to fight their traditional enemies the Estonians. The long held Prussian Provinces tended to provide the least effective levy, presumably as their fighting spirit had long been crushed by Order control. It was the provinces that bordered Lithuania and Poland that produced the best native troops and also the most revolts. Overall the best were the light horse who were usually recruited under the Platendienst, these forming contingents known as Turkopolen. The levy foot were usually bow or spear armed and carried a shield. They however faired badly in European style warfare, these native foot may well have formed the majority of the infantry ridden down by the Lithuanians at the start of the battle of Tannenberg. That said the lightness of the native foot made them highly useful for the more normal raid and counter raid that distinguishes much of the Order's frontier wars of the period. They were far more effective in the woods and marshes of Lithuania than the heavily armoured mercenary infantry and Knights of the Order.

Mercenaries
The Order used mercenaries to bolster its forces, particularly as more vassals bought their way out of military service. These mercenaries were usually German in origin, for no other reason than the fractured nature of the Holy Roman Empire created large numbers of these troops. Precise numbers are not known though the Polish Chronicler Jan Dlugosz states around 4,000 hired troops were present at Tannenberg out of some 30,000. What is not clear is whether Dlugosz is referring to mounted Knights only. This is probable as Dlugosz give scant information on the foot of the Order. Accounts of the Order confirm the approximate numbers of Dlugosz. They note 1237 Knightly lances were present at the battle of Tannenberg, assuming 3 to lance that gives a total of 3711 men. These lances were paid 11 marks per month. To put this in perspective this would buy 8 cows or 400 geese at the time of Tannenberg.


Organisation
The basic mounted element of the Order's forces was the Gleve or Lance, see Medieval German Pages for more detail ( Feudal Forces). These lances were grouped together into Banners which formed the standard combat units of the army.

Knightly Banners
The Knightly banners of the Order army formed the majority of its forces. These Banners can be put into three distinct groups, Order Banners, Vassal Banners and other Banners.

The Order Banners
These Knightly Banners varied in size and composition. Normally a Banner represented the forces of a Komturei. This would comprise of the RitterBrudern, the Diendebrudern, MitBrudern, HalbBrudern of the Komturei and all their mounted retainers. Alongside these the Banner could also contain any mercenaries hired to replace Burghers of the Towns and those that had bought themselves out of military service. Separate Banners could also be fielded by Bailiwicks, Procuratorships, towns and cities, and even occasionally Bishoprics. Though in these cases it was usually only those on frontiers that were of sufficient size to be able to form their own Banners. Sometimes several Komturei or associated divisions would combine to form one Banner fighting under the Landmeister of a Province.
The very nature of the Order, that of Monastic rules and Obedience, meant that these Banners were highly disciplined and accustomed to obeying orders. These banners were in effect Professional troops and did not display the impetuosity and disregard for orders commonly associated with medieval Knights.

Vassal Banners
This is a bit of a misnomer. These banners were in reality a mix of Mercenaries, MitBrudern and small contingents of German volunteers. The majority of these Banners were either MitBrudern or Mercenaries. What distinguishes them from the Banners discussed under 'Other Banners' below is that they were usually led by a Brethren Knight, usually a RitterBrudern. Their composition meant that their effectiveness was somewhat less that Order banners as they were unaccustomed to fighting as a cohesive unit. Never the less these troops were usually disciplined and well organised.

Other Banners
A catch all to cover Banners that fell outside the professionalism of the rest of the Order's forces. This includes crusading volunteers, Vassals and allies of the Order who provided sufficiently large forces to insist on personal control of their troops. The Duke of Stettin, Casmir V, was such an ally. Stettin was a Polish Dukedom but Casmir allied with the Order in the late 14th century and led his forces against Poland at the battle of Tannenberg. The Crusading volunteers were by the 15th Century almost entirely German in origin. The Vassals Banners were those not led by Brethren of the Order. As such all of these Banners appear to have acted just as impetuously as their Western Counterparts. What information there is on the Battle of Tannenberg suggests that it was these Banners that pursued the Lithuanians too far and were cut to pieces as a result.

Light Horse
A mix of native horse and Turkopolen. Unlike their Lithuanian counterparts the native horse were skirmishers unlikely to be involved in close combat. The majority of native light horse was supplied by the Livonian vassals of the Order and as such may not have participated in the campaigns against Lithuania. Required equipment appears only to have been a horse and a bow. The Turkopolen may have been more capable of engaging in close combat as they appear to have been based or at least named from the their original counterparts in the Holy Land, suggesting a similar role. This implies light armour, lance, bow and possibly a shield in the fashion of the Lithuanian Light horse. There is little evidence for the role of Turkopolen however except that they performed scouting duties for the Order and were used as a second line in battle. The battle of Tannenberg sources make no mention of any pre-battle skirmishing nor of Turkopolen troops being present. This may mean that these troops were not light horse as such but rather lightly equipped retainers intended for combat rather than skirmishing. It should be pointed out however that the lack of skirmishing at Tannenberg may be more to do with the large numbers of Lithuanian light horse present which would have overwhelmed the Order's light horse.

Order Infantry
The infantry fielded by the Order can be divided into two main groups.

Native Levy/militia
Rarely mentioned in sources and usually only in terms of the numbers killed or captured. Organisation was likely to be minimal and their equipment varied. As mentioned previously the native levies were of most use in the raiding carried out by the Order. There are very few 14th of 15th Century references to such a levy being used in large scale battles. Jan Dlugosz makes reference to 5,000 'Servants' at the battle of Tannenberg and these may well be native levy and/or ill equipped Colonist Militia.

'Well Armed men'
The term used by Jan Dlugosz to describe some 6,000 infantry present at Tannenberg. They appear to have been a mix of armoured spearmen and Crossbowmen and were led by Brethren Officers. These units like their mounted counterparts were a mix of Mercenaries, Order foot, Vassal foot and City militias. They probably differed little from their German counterparts. Surprisingly they appear to have been swept away by the first charge at Tannenberg.

Artillery
The Order was by the 15th Century well equipped with artillery. These were however normally confined to siege warfare rather than field battles. Their appearance in the field only occurred in large scale campaigns that expected to fight pitch battles. There were apparently 100 field pieces deployed at Tannenberg. Their effect on the battle was exceptionally limited.


Battle Tactics of the Order


These were essentially the same as most Western European armies of the period. It placed the emphasis on the shock charge of Knightly banners to break apart the enemy army. The disciplined nature of the Order forces did provide them with some more sophisticated tactical opportunities. The Order divided its army into two wings and a centre. What evidence there is for large scale Order battles suggests that deployment was initially defensive in nature.
Infantry and artillery would be deployed in front of the mounted. If sufficient infantry was present this would cover the entire front (as at Tannenberg) otherwise just the centre. The infantry and artillery would be used to soften up and break apart attacking enemy troops and at which point the Mounted Banners would counter charge.
In all cases the Order seems to have made use of a mounted reserve. If the infantry and artillery were merely covering the centre then the mounted of the central command was used as this reserve. At Tannenberg where the infantry were deployed along the entire front the reserve was separate from the central mounted command. The discipline of the Order banners made it possible for the reserve to be shifted about the battlefield something not often seen in contemporary western armies. At Tannenberg the reserve was moved from its position at the centre rear over to the left wing, in an attempt to force the issue.

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Copyright 2002 Matthew Haywood

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