Concerning Melee Tactics

Unto the Rapier fighters of Atlantia do Lord Giacomo Vincenti and Lord Alan Gravesend send greetings and salutations. We write to you concerning the techniques and tactics of the three man melee team.

Team Basics

Before we go directly in to the meat of the subject, we must speak of the team, and more importantly, of team work. The three man team is made of one team leader and two team members. Why three man teams? On the battlefield, two is a very lonely number, and one is a dead person walking around. The three man team or triad is the first number at which a team really has defensive and offensive capabilities. They may not be ignored. If you are ever in a melee and your formation is broken, FORM UP, RIGHT NOW!

Get in a group of at least three, and stay alive. Whether help is on the way or you must kill them all yourselves, your odds of survival go up astronomically when you join a team.

The team leader is responsible for controlling the team, reading their opponents’ intentions, and delivering effective killing power to the opponent. How this is accomplished is the meat of this missive. The team leader need not be the most effective individual fighter. It is much more important that he or she have good battle sense, some idea of tactics, and a firm grasp of the plan. Many, many times in past and current history it has been proven that the best warrior does not necessarily make the best leader or soldier. The team leader must determine the position in the formation that will allow him to accomplish his three main goals: to control the team effectively, to apply the maximum amount of killing power to their opponents, and to deceive the enemy as to his intentions.

When you are a member of the team, your thoughts and deeds must be subordinated to the needs of the team. The team members are responsible for providing the all around defense and “terrain control” for the team. Team members must remember that they have two other people depending on them. Allow the team leader to control the team, and you will stay alive. The team members must be aware of the location of their leader and their partner(s). It is very important that the team members fight an active defense. By an active defense we mean that the team members are extremely dynamic, that they use effective team work through verbal communications, attack and defend in short, quick, controlled movements and neither expose themselves nor their compatriots to a sudden counter attack. This is the key to the triad defense. If the team members are not aware of oblique or cross-over shots they will quickly find themselves dead. {Giacomo adds: I make 90% of my kills in melees by using oblique attacks into my enemies hands, arms and armpits. I can make these shots because my team members keep me alive, safe, and give me a stable environment to make my shots. I COULD NOT DO THIS WITHOUT EFFECTIVE TEAMWORK!!} Team members must keep their position in the formation. This allows for all around defense and effective control.

REMEMBER THIS: There are no single kills in team combat, and there is certainly no honor in allowing your team to be killed because you were glory seeking. Your responsibility as a team member is to the team.

Basic Formations

We shall discuss two basic three man team formations, the line and the wedge. Formations are important for two reasons: they give coherence and purpose to a group, and knowing the formation gives the fighter an idea where her team members are, even when she can’t see them; she should not have to spend the time looking for them. These basic formations are the basis for all advanced melee principles. Like all tactical principles, they apply to larger and smaller units as well – but with scale, the details change; your mileage may vary…

The line is probably the most commonly used formation; it is simple and effective. It allows for adequate control and can cover more terrain than the wedge. Facing may be quickly changed by having the team reverse its direction of march. It allows for good defensive and effective offensive work. The line is one of the two formations recommended for use in a charge. There are several critical points about the line which must be stressed. First, the line must stay DRESSED. This means that they are lined up in a straight line, roughly “shoulder to shoulder.” If you hear on the field, “get your dress,” or “stay in line,” it means line up in a straight line. Look to your right or left, and see if your team forms a straight line – if you are not in line, get in line. Second, if you allow yourself to be pulled out of position, even a half a step, you will be killed. If this happens to you, then in a word, you’ve been SUCKERED. Third, if you retreat behind the line, then your team mates on either side may be taken out. Worse, your team may be broken up and destroyed. Normal distance between team members in a line is about 18 inches. This allows for mutual support and engagement along the entire length of your line.

When fighting in a large melee, close up tight (actually shoulder to shoulder) and move as a unit. Do not break away from the larger unit, and don’t allow gaps to form in the line. In a large melee as a part of the line, your main job is to stay alive. You are the defense and the most important part of the team. Without a rock solid line on which to base their maneuver, a team will be split and destroyed. Remember your basic principles as you come in contact with the enemy; short, quick, accurate movements, and cover your team member. If called on to charge, do not outrun your team members and stay in line. Also on the charge do not stop at the enemy, GO THROUGH HIM. The weakness of the line formation is that it may be taken in the flank or the rear and destroyed piecemeal. For these reasons, the line formation allows only limited defense in open terrain.

The wedge is formed by placing the team members in a rough triangle, about two feet apart. This formation allows for all around security, excellent team control and a high concentration of killing power in a limited area. Killing power is concentrated through the team leader designating a target and every one attacking that target simultaneously. All around security is gained through simple facing movements, left, right and rear (if pressed heavily, one team member may face in each direction). The leader may position him/herself in the rear or in the lead. In the rear position the team leader is a step behind the two team members. This allows the team leader to survey and control the situation. The lead position puts the team leader a pace ahead of his team, enabling them to guide on his movements, without the need of verbal directions (i.e. FOLLOW ME, DO AS I DO).

The wedge is the other formation recommended for the execution of a charge; the leader must conduct the charge from the lead position. The weakness of the wedge becomes apparent when it stops moving. It may be easily surrounded and engulfed. When it is surrounded, its concentrated killing power is lost (just a matter of geometry) and the team may be destroyed piecemeal. The most effective thing for a surrounded wedge to do is to charge vigorously at the encircling force’s weakest point.

Basic Tactics

We should now discuss some basic tactics for the team. These consist of the holding action, the delay and the charge.

The holding action means just that. The team takes a piece of terrain and holds it. This is most effective in alley ways, on bridges and in other narrow or restricted terrain – on such terrain, a small unit can hold a larger unit off for a surprising time. The holding action is useless in open terrain which favors maneuver: a holding action in the open is just about as useful as an umbrella in a landslide. In a holding action the team leader chooses the formation best favored by the terrain, be it wedge or line. The team then assumes a position slightly forward of the point they must hold. They meet the enemy at that line and hold them there. A rally point is designated at the “hold at all costs position” and the team fights until relieved by friendly forces {NOTE: never leave home without your relieving forces…}. By now, you will have guessed that holding actions will frequently involve the holding team’s destruction. Fun game isn’t it!

The charge is one of the offensive techniques. It allows for the creation and retention of the initiative {that is, the enemy is so busy recoiling from the charge that he cannot mount an effective response}. The charge is a violent attack on the enemy with the express purpose of destroying his unit cohesiveness. Note that we say cohesiveness – the charge does not necessarily have to wipe the enemy out. The goal is to leave the enemy vulnerable to “exploitation in depth” the fancy tactical term for hunting them all down as they scatter. The charge is best concentrated on the enemy’s weakest point. Start about 5 steps from the enemy. The target in a charge is not the enemy’s line, it is rather his rear area. Blow completely through him. Do not stop to engage isolated opponents. The destruction of the enemy will be completed later. The charge must be quick and brutal. The disadvantages to the charge include an increase of vulnerability and tendency to lose track of the goal. Vulnerability comes from the simple fact you are attacking and not defending, and thus a flank attack during a charge can be devastating. Loss of goal orientation occurs when the team members concentrate too much on single individuals they are engaged with, and it will allow the charge to bog down, or fizzle out.

The delay is one of the most difficult military tactics to pull off. The scenario will probably involve a numerically superior opponent, on terrain that favors his numbers, and a second, usually larger friendly unit that will be committed when the tactical situation allows it overwhelming advantage {hopefully, this will be before the holding team is wiped out…}. The team will be called on to delay the enemy’s advance, in depth. This means hit and git. The delay will allow the three man team to harass and harry the flanks and rear of the opposing force. This is done through fast battlefield movement (running) and short quick charges. Delay in depth is a classic light cavalry specialty. Disadvantages of fighting the delay are many and varied. The delay team may be caught by the superior force and destroyed. The team may commit too far and be destroyed. The team will not have enough killing power to significantly reduce the size of the enemy. However, a properly conducted delay will force the enemy to deploy and allow the friendly commander understanding of the enemy’s intentions {see note above regarding the holding action}. The best formation for the delay is the wedge, leader in front.

Finally, we would like to speak briefly of individual and team techniques.


We have spoken much of communication between team members. Communication is probably the greatest force multiplier {meaning a factor that allows a small force that talks to defeat a larger force that doesn’t}. Information provided in a timely manner will allow the greatest effect to be put onto the enemy. Teams should work out a simple system which will allow them to talk to each other quickly and efficiently. At the very least, this means calling out when you’ve been killed. Team members, unless reporting something, should be quiet and listen for the team leader’s instructions.


Maneuvering the team about the field is easily mastered, but only through practice. The team must remain together, and must move as a unit. They may not leave openings to allow the enemy to close too easily. This is best accomplished by working together and subordinating the individuals to the common goal of the team.


You must know when to and when not to take the shot. Most of melee combat takes place within what we would normally consider a good fighting range. This is possible only because you are being covered by your team mates. DO NOT ALLOW THIS TO MAKE YOU OVER-CONFIDENT!! If you over commit by even a half a foot, you are in danger, and you are endangering yourself and your team [see the discussion of the line, above]. You must constantly practice range control and point control, and remember that you will be dancing a fine line on the edge of range. For example, the attempting a draw cut leaves you dangerously exposed; wait until you are presented with an absolutely irresistible opportunity before you try it in a melee.

Choice of Weapons

Always take something onto the field in your off hand. It should be a style that you feel comfortable with. However, we feel that a style that allows for offensive work, with either hand should be considered. This gives two advantages. Firstly, if should you be wounded you do not lose all offensive capability. Secondly, with a defensive style (buckler, sheath, or open hand) all you can really protect with the off hand is yourself. This can quickly become a tremendous disappointment to the rest of your team. The ideal solution is the ability to attack and defend with either hand, simultaneously. Obviously, Alan and Giacomo prefer Case of Rapiers to achieve battlefield supremacy. Please note that one should practice with any style before taking the field with it.

These are a few simple rules to get you started at melee in three man teams. For those of you who already have tactical experience and to whom this is old news, please consider using this as a primer for instruction, so that Atlantian rapier will have a common set of tactical ideas. We hope that this will help; please practice, and until next we meet we remain

In Service

Lord Giacomo Vincenti di Firenze, Lord Alan Gravesend

April 28, 1994

Originally published in The Inside Line