A History of the RAF Servicing Commandos by J.P. Kellett & J. Davies

By J.P. Kellett & J. Davies

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The battle of Falkirk in 1296 marked the last use of heavily armed Scottish knights on horseback. Although the intervening years had witnessed the rise of 'chevauchees' (mounted raids) by the gentry, they had preferred to dismount to fight the setpiece battles. Flodden was no exception; when James IV chose to fight alongside his men in the pike block rather than remain mounted, this was not only a statement of his intent to fight to the death, but also a pragmatic decision - he recognized that his nobles were untrained for service as a heavy cavalry unit.

The craftsmen of Leith went on to put their name to another particular style of polearm in the early part of the century. The 'Leith axe' was described by the historian John Major as a 'double-edged axe' similar to a bardische or glaive, and 'was very similar to the French halberd but was a little longer and a more convenient weapon to fight with'. He goes on to say that these weapons, uniquely, were fitted with a hook at the end of the shaft. The term 'Leith' axe seems to have dropped out of use by the late 16th century, but the use of long-shafted weapons with heavy crescent-shaped blades that extended beyond the shaft, with or without hooks, continued into the 17th and 18th centuries.

In August 1506 the first accounts were raised for the greatest ship of them all: built at Newhaven at a cost of some £30,000 (Scots) , the Great Michael - as she came to be known - was briefly the biggest vessel afloat, and was a watershed in the design of fighting ships. She was probably about 180ft long with a displacement of 1,000 tons, and had an armament of 24 bronze cannon and 3 basilisks. Launched on 12 October 1511, she took another year to fit out. Her ongoing cost was to be her eventual undoing - it cost £500 (Scots) a month simply to pay the wages of the 300-man crew, and victualling added another £168 a month - this, at a time when the national annual revenue was approximately £35,000 (Scots).

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