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Author Topic: Light cavalry, heavy cavalry musings  (Read 1616 times)

Online OB

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Re: Light cavalry, heavy cavalry musings
« Reply #15 on: August 10, 2022, 12:22:31 PM »
Going back even further it is worth looking at the Swedes in the Great Northern War. 

Swedish cavalry and Dragoons mounted on small horses and charging knee to knee regularly defeated Saxon cavalry mounted on big horses.  The disparity in horse size was so great that one Swedish commander thought his regiment would pass under the bellies of the horses of their opponents.  An overstatement perhaps-but it makes the point.

In those cases formation and training trumped horse size. As for the lead in of the charge I do not know.

Offline Baron von Wreckedoften

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Re: Light cavalry, heavy cavalry musings
« Reply #16 on: August 10, 2022, 02:19:23 PM »
Didn't Swedish cavalry use the wedge formation?  Whenever I used to hear wargamers extol the virtues of that formation, I always used to think: "I bet it wasn't fun being the guy, quite literally at the sharp end!"
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Online OB

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Re: Light cavalry, heavy cavalry musings
« Reply #17 on: August 10, 2022, 02:56:17 PM »
Yes, they did and I guess that was the officer commanding in front.

Offline Cubs

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Re: Light cavalry, heavy cavalry musings
« Reply #18 on: August 10, 2022, 03:00:25 PM »
I do recall that the Swedes favoured the charge with sword and pistol (as also used by Prince Rupert in the ECW) whilst the German states favoured the caracole by heavy, heavily-armoured cavalry with pistols.
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Offline Unlucky General

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Re: Light cavalry, heavy cavalry musings
« Reply #19 on: August 11, 2022, 07:31:01 AM »
Good points and a great discussion.

I play Black Powder and a fair bit of Napoleonics. I understand that Black Powder is not popular or trendy but I observe that in this rule set there is no difference to movement between heavy and light cavalry - and I think rightly so.

I doubt if stamina over the distances which might affect cavalry wouldn't often come into play over battlefields the size most of us represent on a  table-top: especially any differences in capabilities between light and heavy regiments.

As a side note I'm certain Wellesley deployed both types of cavalry in scouting and foraging roles during the Spanish Peninsular campaigns. In campaign as opposed to battle terms it's not like they had anything else better to do.

Offline George1863

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Re: Light cavalry, heavy cavalry musings
« Reply #20 on: August 13, 2022, 06:54:30 PM »
If you accept the distinction of 'medium' cavalry in addition to 'light' and 'heavy' ('medium' being dragoons and lancers) can anyone come up with more than a couple of instances in the entire Napoleonic or Seven Years Wars where hussars, chasseurs or jaegars charged anyone else on the battlefield apart from other light cavalry? This is why Balaclava was considered such an utter balls-up, surely? There was no tradition of this happening, unless light cavalry were following up (at some distance) the mediums or heavies.

Offline jon_1066

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Re: Light cavalry, heavy cavalry musings
« Reply #21 on: August 13, 2022, 10:48:33 PM »
This doesn’t ring true to my understanding.  Just the 1809 campaign saw a number of instances of French and Austrian light cavalry charging all and sundry.  Hussars have a reputation of charging anything.  The Light Brigade at Balaclava was not so much that it was light cavalry attacking more 800 cavalry taking on half the Russian army in fortified positions

Offline FierceKitty

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Re: Light cavalry, heavy cavalry musings
« Reply #22 on: August 14, 2022, 01:44:47 AM »
At Fridewald, the von Ruesch hussars  broke the Hohenzollern unit of Austrian cuirassiers, who were hardly cream puffs, and went on to cut up the Blau Würzburg Infantry. They also carved up some French foot at Minden, and the Bellefonds (Chartres) French horse regiment in a minor engagement later.
This unit is celebrated as one of the best, but certainly shows that lace wars hussars weren't only peripheral skirmishers.

http://www.kronoskaf.com/syw/index.php?title=Ruesch_Hussars
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Offline John Boadle

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Re: Light cavalry, heavy cavalry musings
« Reply #23 on: August 14, 2022, 03:08:03 AM »
There was a certain difference between heavy and light cavalry on the battlefield, but I don't think it's as simple as light cavalry moving at a faster rate.

Looking at the beginning of the period we are considering, the SYW and before, and also at the following period (that of the Austro-Prussian and Franco Prussian Wars) gives us a couple of clues, because cavalry worked a little differently to what they did in between. Light cavalry, hussars, in 1740 were very much undisciplined skirmishers, and really their main function wasn't on the battlefield, where they could not have hoped to fight line troops with any success, though they were noted for a high level of initiative. Prussia led a change in this role during the later 1740's, brought in by one von Winterfeldt(?) Prussian hussars now kept their off-battlefield role, and kept the agile, self-starting approach, but were also properly disciplined, and trained to charge in close order. Given that the Prussian cavalry generally enjoyed an ascendency in morale and confidence during this period, their hussars were able to go up against the line cavalry of most armies. (They weren't as powerful in a charge as Prussian heavy regiments of course.) The British light dragoons who took part in the German campaign during the SYW followed this exact approach with great success, but other armies didn't copy it until after the SYW, when there was a big increase in the numbers of light cavalry, precisely because they now had a more valuable combination of skills. We might say that all the light cavalry of the Napoleonic Wars were the descendants of Winterfeldt's reformed Prussian hussars.

Turning to the period of the APW and FPW (my own favourite period), we find a further change has taken place. All European cavalry are functionally heavy cavalry now: mounted on big strong horses, well trained for the charge and melee and with super-high morale, they were all straining at the leash to charge someone, anyone they could get at: enemy cavalry, infantry or guns. (Extremely high losses in 1870 were to cause a rethink.) Regiments classed as "heavy" enjoyed a *marginal*advantage over lighter opponents thanks to slightly bigger horses and sometimes cuirasses, but functionally they were all the same. There was little difference even in the off-battlefield role, where cavalry of all types were very poor at reconnaissance (I'm summarising on this point).

Anyway, during the period of the French Revolution and Napoleonic Wars, I would say the respective qualities of heavy and light cavalry were this. The heavies were usually better in a charge, because of having bigger horses, cuirasses sometimes, but mainly because it was their role. They were trained for the extremely hard-to-master close-order charge, and they often came to it with fresher horses and men (and more up to strength) thanks to being spared from the non-battlefield tasks of reconnaissance and escorts. The light cavalry did have to bear the burden of those tasks. If tactical factors were equal they would be at a disadvantage against heavy cavalry in a charge. The one strength commonly ascribed to them on the battlefield was a higher level of initiative: a quickness in spotting and seizing tactical advantage, a greater readiness to act without waiting for formal orders to come down through the chain of command. (I would say the category of "medium" cavalry was simply a compromise, a fudge indeed, between the two classic roles.)

So did Napoleonic light cavalry move faster than the heavies on the battlefield? As others have already said, there is precious little evidence for this, either in drill manuals or historical accounts. But maybe they were *more likely to move*, because of their stress on bold enterprise! Wargames rules rarely allow for this aspect of performance on the battlefield. Arguably, giving them a faster move is a bit of a way of representing this issue of initiative, albeit in a somewhat abstract way.

Offline George1863

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Re: Light cavalry, heavy cavalry musings
« Reply #24 on: August 14, 2022, 05:10:47 PM »
@ FierceKitty

Friedewald was a skirmish in which two squadrons of the Reusch Hussars drove off a smaller number of opposing cuirassiers before rounding up a number of infantry caught in line of march. This is what light cavalry are meant to do. It is not an example of light horse attempting to break formed infantry.

Offline Hobgoblin

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Re: Light cavalry, heavy cavalry musings
« Reply #25 on: August 14, 2022, 05:52:02 PM »
So did Napoleonic light cavalry move faster than the heavies on the battlefield? As others have already said, there is precious little evidence for this, either in drill manuals or historical accounts. But maybe they were *more likely to move*, because of their stress on bold enterprise! Wargames rules rarely allow for this aspect of performance on the battlefield. Arguably, giving them a faster move is a bit of a way of representing this issue of initiative, albeit in a somewhat abstract way.

That's a very interesting point. There are plenty of skirmish games that have an 'ease of activation' state (Song of Drums and Shakos, etc.); your argument here reads like a vindication of that approach to gaming. It does usually lead to the more easily activated units moving much further and faster. I can't think off hand of historical massed-battle games that use that approach, but there must be some.

Offline jon_1066

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Re: Light cavalry, heavy cavalry musings
« Reply #26 on: August 14, 2022, 08:38:03 PM »
@ FierceKitty

Friedewald was a skirmish in which two squadrons of the Reusch Hussars drove off a smaller number of opposing cuirassiers before rounding up a number of infantry caught in line of march. This is what light cavalry are meant to do. It is not an example of light horse attempting to break formed infantry.

20th Chasseurs broke an Austrian square at Wagram as did the 9th Hussars.  Austrian Hussars attacked French Cuirassiers at Eggmhul (though unsuccessful). Light Cavalry was regularly employed as battlefield cavalry either for want of heavies or in addition to.

Offline FierceKitty

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Re: Light cavalry, heavy cavalry musings
« Reply #27 on: August 15, 2022, 02:13:43 AM »
20th Chasseurs broke an Austrian square at Wagram as did the 9th Hussars.  Austrian Hussars attacked French Cuirassiers at Eggmhul (though unsuccessful). Light Cavalry was regularly employed as battlefield cavalry either for want of heavies or in addition to.

Mmm. I have a suspicion Ziethen or Winterfeldt would have wondered what this thread was about. We can ask them when we get to Valhalla.

 

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