Destructive & Formidable by David Blackmore [Book Review]

Destructive and Formidable: British Infantry Firepower 1642 - 1765Destructive and Formidable: British Infantry Firepower 1642 – 1765 by David John Blackmore
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Destructive and Formidable looks at British infantry doctrine using period sources from the British Civil Wars of the seventeenth century up to just before the American War of Independence. If anything you can see the constancy, which drove the success in battle of British forces, even when outnumbered.

Destructive and Formidable

There’s a fairly readable style, and the book isn’t long. The examples are of individual battles and focus only on what the British infantry did, their immediate context and the doctrine/tactics of their immediate enemy. The only place there’s anything more is the chapter on the North American irregular wars. This chapter touches on failures of leadership, and shows an effect of good leadership on the successful application of doctrine. The defeats are more attributable to poor leadership than to failure of doctrine.

Why didn’t British doctrine spread?

Fairfax Battalia fire a salvee in the moat at the Tower of London 2003. (photo: Cindy Holton, 2003)

Blackmore shows a relative isolation in the British officer corps from the debate of firepower vs shock which European armies spent the period arguing about. British doctrine developed by trial and error during the British civil wars. Early civil war battles were inconclusive, yet both sides strove to improve effectiveness. They got closer before opening fire, massed to fire salvees and closed with the enemy to finish them off.

Europe spent the same period in the Thirty Years War yet never came to the same conclusion. Drill manuals from the period emphasise fire, the cavalry doctrine shows shock of impact is what works.

What made the British successful?

My suspicion is one of the main things that keeps the British Army successful in this period is a continuity of experience. From the civil wars there is a near continuous presence of warfare. More importantly the outcome of the civil war is the establishment of a standing army. Even though this is supposed to be temporary, Parliament needs to renew it every year, it remains continuously in being. This means that soldiers pass on their experience to the new recruits, and many officers are professionals. Serving in one war as juniors and returning to later wars as commanders of battalions and armies.

Lessons from the Infantry Battle

Maximum effective range is about 80 yards, at 100 yards less than 1% of shots result in a casualty. At 25-30 yards about a quarter of shots cause casualties. Closing with the enemy is pretty much always decisive (they either break or die). Infantry firing by platoon can stop cavalry with firepower alone if they reserve fire until the cavalry is about 30 yards away. Similarly if you fire at charging Highlanders at about 10 yards (or less) then it ends the charge…


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