Ming Chinese arquebusier tactics

Even though matchlock gun did not completely replace the more primitive handgonne in China during Ming period, Chinese nevertheless held the weapon in high regard. They were also familiar enough with the weapon to be able to develop their own arquebusier tactics without outside reference.

The most common practice seems to be simply mix the arquebusiers together with artillerymen. Arquebusiers also fought behind the cover of fortifications or war wagons. Ming arquebusiers preferred to use countermarch and rotating ranks, whether they were mixed with artillerymen or fought in their own unit.


Fire Discipline
Three rotating ranks
Ming Chinese Arquebusier Counteremarch
Ming arquebusiers firing in three ranks. This image is often misattributed to fourteenth century 'Huo Long Jing (《火龍經》)',  but in fact comes from seventeenth century 'Jun Qi Tu Shuo (《軍器圖說》)'.
Perhaps the most common tactic used by Ming arquebusiers, this tactic had been in use during Song period. It was originally used with crossbows, then adapted to handgonnes and rockets by Mu Ying (沐英) during fourteenth century, before being finally adapted to arquebuses. 


Five rotating ranks
Ming general Qi Ji Guang (戚繼光) utilised five rotating ranks of arquebusiers in conjunction with his Mandarin Duck Formation. Signal horn was used to relay command to the arquebusiers, with every blow from the horn followed by simultaneous firing of one rank of arquebusiers.

This tactic was also advocated by Ming official Zeng Xi (曾銑).


Five rank salvo fire
With one long, drawn out blast from the horn, all five ranks of Qi Ji Guang's arquebusiers would discharge their guns in one very large salvo. This tactic was only used when the enemy was at moderately close range. The arquebus salvo would be immediately followed by another volley of arrows, crossbow bolts and rockets.


Reload assistant method
Reload asistant method employed a five-man arquebusier team that consisted of one gunner and four reload assistants. While there was only one gunner in the team, the team was still assigned five matchlock guns.

This method enjoyed greatly improved accuracy and rate of fire, as it allowed the gunner to focus solely on aiming and shooting. The downside was that if the gunner was taken out of battle, entire team lost its function.

Qi Ji Guang commented that this method was only usable if the arquebusier team was deployed at a relative safe and easily defensible position.


Zhao Shi Zhen's reload assistant method
Shen Qi Pu Ming Arquebusier Tactic
Zhao Shi Zhen's reload assistant method, from 'Shen Qi Pu (《神器譜》)'.
Ming firearm specialist Zhao Shi Zhen (趙士禎) proposed a different firing method that has four arquebusiers and one reload assistant. It was essentially a compromise between the rotating ranks and reload asistant method.

Zhao Shi Zhen also advocated Turkish practice of shooting in kneeling position.


Other Tactics
Firecrackers
Wokou (倭寇) and other enemies of the Ming often exploited the slow reloading speed of matchlock firearms by crouching low to the ground during the first volley, then quickly charge the arquebusiers before they could reload (this tactics was very similar to Highland charge employed by Scottish Highlanders). To counter this tactic, Ming arquebusiers and artillerymen used firecrackers to produce fake gunshots to deceive and confuse their enemy, luring them to charge prematurely.

Zhao Shi Zhen also designed several multiple barrel arquebuses as an answer to the Wokou's tactic.


Cooling the barrel
As Chinese-manufactured gun barrels were generally of inferior quality and could burst easily after three to four shots, Chinese arquebusiers were forced to resort to ingenuity to solve this problem. Applying water-soaked cloth to cool off gun barrel was a common practice, as the humid South China has an abundance of water. However, this method was less applicable to the drier North China, which was also one of the reasons why matchlock gun did not see widespread use there initially.

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