Flying wedge

Flying wedge

A flying wedge, flying V or simply a wedge is a charging formation in which troops or riot police are arrayed to form a V-shaped wedge formation, sometimes called a "boar's head", or ἐμβολον in Greek.

Military uses

If the point of the wedge can breach the enemy line, the following troops can widen the gap. As successive ranks of the wedge engage, they can draw their opponents' attention away from previous ranks, thereby protecting them.

The tactic has been especially effective when used by armored and heavily-armed infantry against shield wall defensive formations, where defenders link their shields to form an all-but impenetrable wall, such as was used at the Battle of Hastings. The flying wedge can be used to knock a small section of the wall open, and flank the enemy from inside their own line.

This tactic relies on momentum and penetration. If the point of the wedge can be stopped for even a moment, the wedge can be easily enveloped in a pincer attack. The wedge is still used in modern armies, especially by tanks and other armored units. An example of this is the Panzerkeil or Armored wedge used by the Germans in World War II.

The wedge formation is used ceremonially by cadets at the United States Air Force Academy during the annual graduation parade, when the soon-to-be commissioned first-class cadets (seniors) leave the Cadet Wing. This is the reverse of the acceptance parade, held each fall, when the new fourth-class cadets (freshmen) join the Cadet Wing in the inverted wedge formation.

The Wedge in antiquity and medieval warfare

The wedge, or embolon in Greek, was used by infantry and cavalry. The men deployed in a triangular or trapezoid formation with the tip leading the charge. According to Arrian and Asclepiodotus, the wedge was first used by the Scythians, then the Thracians and from them Philip II of Macedon took it to use as the main charging formation of his companion cavalry. The use of this formation enabled the concentration of missiles against a limited front and thus was used not only to smash into the enemy line, but to also add to the effectiveness of long range, usually hurled weapons like javelins and hand axes. As an infantry formation it is attested by Frontinus to have been used by the Romans in Pydna against the Macedonian line of Perseus.

A complete description of an infantry wedge is given by Sextus Grammaticus in his "Gesta Danorum". He depicts it as a formation 10 men deep with the first rank being comprised by 2 men, each rank comprising of 2 more. Thus, each Viking wedge was composed of 110 men, 10 deep, 2 men on its tip, and 20 on its base. According to the Vikings Odin himself invented the wedge formation.

A wedge whose ranks are not complete in the middle is shaped as an Λ instead of a Δ and is called a hollow wedge or in Greek κοιλεμβολον koilembolon.

Police use

Police riot squads sometimes charge in flying wedge formations, to break into a dense crowd as a snatch squad to arrest a leader or speaker, or to chop a long demonstration march into segments.

Sports usage

The formation can also apply to sports, particularly a formation in American football that was introduced by Harvard in an 1892 game against Yale. Identical in concept to the military formation, the flying wedge was known for being brutally effective, but also resulting in a high rate of injury on both sides. Due to a number of injuries suffered in college football, this and similar formations were was banned in 1894 , though its concept remains in certain modern football plays. The flying wedge is also (for similar safety reasons) banned in Rugby Union

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