Drumhead court-martial

A court-martial held in the field to hear urgent charges of offences committed in action

A drumhead court-martial is a court-martial that happens on the battlefield to hear important charges of crimes that happened during the battle.

The drumhead court-martial of the Finnish 15th Brigade in July 1944

The term is said to come from the use of a drumhead as an improvised writing table.[1]


The earliest recorded use is in an English memoir of the Peninsular War (1807).[2] The term sometimes is similar to summary justice. It has an implied lack of judicial neutrality, as noted in the transcripts of the trial at Nuremberg of Josef Bühler.[3]


  1. Definition from Brewer's Dictionary
  2. 'Court martial, n. 1.b. drumhead court-martial', Oxford English Dictionary Online (2009), citing Sir Charles Shaw, Personal memoirs and correspondence, comprising a narrative of the war ... in Portugal and Spain (1837), II, 449.
  3. Transcript at the Nizkor project