Posted on 24-Oct-2014
Today, drill has little to no practical military applications. Battles are fought with the two sides firing at each from some kind of cover. To have a squad march about during a battle would be suicidal. So why in earth was drill invented?
One of the oldest known army is that of the ancient Greeks, notably that of the city-state Sparta. In those ages, armour was rather rudimentary, so foot soldiers (hoplites) would carry a shield. At a range of 200 meters, slingshots could fire a projectile as fast as a modern day handgun bullet. The shield was the only way to prevent it from causing injuries.
To counter this, infantry would be organized into pharynx formations, a roughly rectangular shape. A mass of armoured soldiers marching towards the slingers in unison was substantially harder to stop. To work effectively, however, each individual in the formation had to move at the same speed. Move to slow, and the formation would break. Move too fast, and risk being targeted by the slingers.
Tactics were needed to win battles. To be able to plan and execute these tactics, units need to act in some way predictable by superiors. Simply asking a unit to move up could result in an entire battalion charge straight forward without a standard set of instructions. These instruction were then known as drill commands.
Even as hundreds of years passed, the method remained the same. Though technology had advanced by the time Romans were fighting for their empire, the concepts staid. The Roman's opponents fought with artillery that could fire more accurately and faster. This only served to intensify the need for proper and advanced drill.
Each unit, or more specifically cohort, in the Roman army were trained to utilize many formations. Arguably the most well known was the testudo, where each soldier would use his shield to form a part of a “shell”. Though rather useless for hand to hand fighting, it was nearly impervious to arrows or slinged stones.
The unique and effective drill of the Romans brought more than just tactical advantages. As the empire grew, so did it's army's reputation. The drill of the Romans was a way they boasted their military might. The sight of the testudo formation approaching city wall was one that inspired fear. So much fear, in fact, that some cities opened their gates for the Romans when they came.
The Romans came and went. During the Dark ages, the time of knights and castles, organised warfare became less organized. The use of drill had went with the Romans, except for one way.
The iconic warrior of the Medieval times: the mounted knight. Heavy, armoured and fast. A single knight charge was enough to decide a battle. The only way to stop it? A well drilled group of pikemen.
Time went on, and even after a revival in the early modern times, drill soon became obsolete with the invention of the machine gun. Today, it's practical military purpose on the battlefield has become a thing of the past. Outside, however, drill lives on.