What is a Flying Wedge?

Donn Saylor

A flying wedge is a configuration utilized by police, athletes, and the military for charging at opposing groups. Also known as a boar's head, a flying V, or a wedge, this style of grouping people together is used to control or overtake others, typically groups of people who are in conflict with those in the wedge formation. The flying wedge has been employed in a variety of circumstances and arenas, from medieval wars to modern-day riots, from World War II battles to American football games.

The flying wedge is banned by the UK Rugby Union.
The flying wedge is banned by the UK Rugby Union.

The shape, design, and formation of a flying wedge are rather simple and straightforward. A group of people arrange themselves in a V shape, traditionally with one person at the tip of the V. As a whole, the group charges forward, led by the individual at the apex of the formation. A variation of this format is the inverted wedge, which is essentially the opposite of the flying wedge and involves two V formations moving forward side by side, a third group immediately behind and between them, with each grouping arranged in an inverted V shape.

Police often use the flying wedge formation when attempting to control riots.
Police often use the flying wedge formation when attempting to control riots.

The history of the flying wedge is rich and varied. Though no one is certain exactly when the V formation was first utilized, its traceable roots stretch back to antiquity. Ancient Greek peoples assembled in flying wedges during battle, and rulers like Alexander the Great and Philip II of Macedon often led their armies in this manner. The use of the flying wedge eventually spread across the world, and, as the centuries passed, was recognized by subsequent generations as a beneficial maneuver in overtaking and intimidating opponents.

In the world of sports, the flying wedge was most famously utilized during a Harvard-Yale football game in 1892. Harvard first employed the tactic, which entailed the team in possession of the ball "locking together" and advancing forward in a slow run. The play turned out to be an exceptionally vicious one and has gone down in American football history. Despite its element of savagery, the flying wedge play was deemed highly effective. Regardless, it was banned from use in 1894. The Rugby Union in the United Kingdom also prohibits the use of the flying wedge.

Police often use flying wedges when dismantling demonstrations or quelling riots. The formation is ideal for breaking up large groups of people. Law enforcement may also use a flying wedge when escorting a celebrity or other notable figure through a crowd of adoring fans.

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Discussion Comments


@mrwormy, I was in the National Guard for a few years and they drilled us on the flying wedge formation every weekend. If it was done right, very few people directly in front of it could break through our line.


Not that I did it myself, but I remember some activist friends in college practicing a maneuver called the Snake Dance. They said it was the best defense against the flying wedge used by riot police. People would form a long line, one behind the other, and the person at the front of the line would make unpredictable moves, like a real snake. It was an effective way to move a lot of people past the flying wedge.

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