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Cavalry and chariots against infantry
#16
I think we all agree that cavalry was effective, and cavalry charges were effective, but we tend to disagree on whether cavalry was particularly effective in a head-on shock attack against formed infantry, or if it relied on other tactics, which battle narratives might sometimes skip over, such as harassing the infantry with javelins and closing in if and when gaps appear in the formation of the infantry.
#17
Quote:Okay, I am not that familiar with Napoleonic warfare. I have read Nosworthy's book on Napoleonic tactics, but his work covers specific topics while assuming general knowledge I don't have. I think I can still understand some of the sections on Napoleonic infantry vs. Napoleonic cavalry however, and get the following impressions:

1. Cavalry could attack formed infantry in various ways, but cavalry often waited near the infantry, waiting for the infantry to make a mistake, or for artillery to arrive, or for carbine-armed cavalry to defeat the infantry.

2. Infantry relied on the bayonet, not the musket, to defeat attacking cavalry.
The sources that I have seen all involve infantry firing with muskets and cannons at the cavalry as they approached. If you read The Face of Battle you will see that Keegan believed that this was very important in disrupting a cavalry attack. The gaps between squares were also important as they allowed the cavalry to keep running forward but avoid the men with nasty sharp things. We can see similar mechanics during Tissaphernes' charge at Cunaxa, and on the alleged first day of fighting at Bannockburn where English infantry and cavalry supposedly charged a force of Scots arranged in a ball and parted to ride around it throwing things and shouting.

Philip J. Haythornthwaite has done some handy syntheses of Napoleonic battle mechanics as well.

Quote:3. Cavalry could use the carbine or the lance to defeat formed infantry.
I have not seen much evidence of cavalry using firearms effectively against infantry, but I have not read very widely. The trouble of course was that the infantry had a lot more muskets and were better at using them, even if 3/4 of them were on the wrong side of the square and they were packed into a vulnerable target.

Quote:I think we all agree that cavalry was effective, and cavalry charges were effective, but we tend to disagree on whether cavalry was particularly effective in a head-on shock attack against formed infantry, or if it relied on other tactics, which battle narratives might sometimes skip over, such as harassing the infantry with javelins and closing in if and when gaps appear in the formation of the infantry.
Not quite. I think that it was usually a bad idea for cavalry to charge into the front of a dense mass of infantry which did not start to run away or part to let them through as they approached. But I believe that this was a regular part of the tactical repertoire of armoured cavalry (or scythed chariots) in many places and times, and that it was not suicidal or doomed. And in the case of scythed chariots, a few dozen dead chariot horses and a dozen dead charioteers would be a good trade for winning a battle between tens of thousands of soldiers ...
Nullis in verba

I left this forum around the beginning of 2013, but I hope that these old posts have some value
#18
Thanks.

I mentioned Nosworthy's With Musket Cannon and Sword already, and going over it, I misremembered some things.

He emphasizes both the morale effect and the intense shaking that a cavalry charge could inflict on infantry. (p. 311) both of which made it difficult to use muskets against cavalry. (p. 311) (and might have made it difficult to use weapons on either side?)

He emphasizes that musket-armed infantry could get one good shot against charging cavalry. (p. 312) Although they technically had time for several shots, the first would be the best volley, and would be wasted if fired at extreme range. Because horses wounded by bullets could be unpredictable and would not necessarily shy away from the bayonets, he explains that the infantry tried to fire at 30 English paces, 75 feet, not closer. (p. 315) I may have overestimated the reluctance to fire at shorter ranges though, I don't know. I can't find any reference to the use of carbines against infantry, it looks like I misremembered something, and I had assumed that something must be keeping the infantry from firing on account of it.

He notes that horses wounded by bayonets tended to back off, while horses wounded by bullets were unpredictable. (p. 313) He discusses the tactic of forcing the horses to rear and fall onto the infantry's bayonets. (p. 315) which apparently involved riding almost to the infantry and then backing. I don't have the riding experience to understand this or to judge how difficult it was.

He discusses wave and echelon attacks, as well as the use of low-lying ground to conceal the cavalry's approach. (pp. 315 to 319)

And there is some controversy over the relative effectiveness of cavalry against formed infantry even in the Napoleonic era, when we have relatively more documentation, in addition to the controversy over whether the switch to the musket and bayonet made infantry more vulnerable or less vulnerable to cavalry.
#19
Marja Erwin wrote:
Quote:I think we all agree that cavalry was effective, and cavalry charges were effective, but we tend to disagree on whether cavalry was particularly effective in a head-on shock attack against formed infantry, or if it relied on other tactics, which battle narratives might sometimes skip over, such as harassing the infantry with javelins and closing in if and when gaps appear in the formation of the infantry.
Let us get this straight, I am not doubting if charging head on against formed infantry was effective, it could be extremely effective. I am doubting that this head on charge led to a collision between horses and men. I am suggesting that two things could happen, either the horses flinched and fled, or the foot-soldiers flinched and fled, chased by the horsemen.
I have been eyewitness to police cavalry charges, and to Marcus Junkelmann and his Roman cavalry unit sweeping the Roman field at Nijmegen clean of young hooligans, when the latter broke through the fencing and ran onto the field. Charging cavalry can be extremely intimidating, especially in colourfull, dehumanising gear.

It is exactly this intimidation that either allows the horsemen to win the contest, or the foot-soldiers, hitting their shields, shouting and "waving pointy things" to come out as winners.
#20
Sean Manning wrote:
Quote:Not quite. I think that it was usually a bad idea for cavalry to charge into the front of a dense mass of infantry which did not start to run away or part to let them through as they approached. But I believe that this was a regular part of the tactical repertoire of armoured cavalry (or scythed chariots) in many places and times, and that it was not suicidal or doomed. And in the case of scythed chariots, a few dozen dead chariot horses and a dozen dead charioteers would be a good trade for winning a battle between tens of thousands of soldiers ...
I hope you do not mind me saying so, but you are contradicting yourself. It is not a good idea, but nevertheless the regular part of the tactical repertoire of armoured cavalry (or scythed chariots) in many places and times. And it is not suicidal and doomed, but if it was suicidal, oh well, than it was a good idea anyway, because who cares about a couple of suicidal maniacs and their suicidal horses when the outcome of battle between such large numbers are involved?

I suspect the maniacs themselves cared. What made them do it? I keep on asking this, what made the horseman throw his pony on the spears of the infantry? I think we have become so innured to the horrors of total war that we automatically assume that soldiers went to war to be massacred, but is it true? And even if it is, and the ancient and medieval warriors sacrifised themselves willingly for whatever reason they might have had, ideology, religion, whatever, what made their horses suicidal? Did those armies really train such expensive soldiers as horsemen and charioteers for kamikaze against lowly infantry? It simply does not make sense.
#21
Quote:I keep on asking this, what made the horseman throw his pony on the spears of the infantry?

I posted a couple of examples of this sort of 'suicide attack' by cavalry against formed infantry back here. In both cases (Khushab and Aliwal) the breaching attack seem to have been the work of a single recklessly bravura individual. The second is interesting (if we can trust it!) as it suggests that ordering such an attack was actually not that unusual ("We had to charge a square of infantry").

However, I think we can agree that such frontal attacks by unarmoured cavalry were not a general rule!

The surrounding thread has a lot of interesting debate on this exact question:

Roman Heavy Cavalry Fighting Techniques

In particular, some of the ideas about Cataphract and Clibanarii tactics are useful here. Both types of cavalry seem expressly intended to break through infantry (as a successor to the Persian chariot, perhaps?). The Parthian attack at Carrhae involved large numbers of horse archers, and only when the arrows had caused the Roman formation to buckle or thin were the heavy cavalry sent in, presumably to exploit any breaches in the lines.

Nazarius, in Panegyric IV, describes Maxentius' clibanarii at Turin in AD312: "their training for combat is to preserve the course of their assault after they have crashed into (arietare) the opposing line, and since they are invulnerable they resolutely break through whatever is set against them' (IV, 23.4)

Constantine, in this case, defeated the clibanarii by 'drawing [his] lines apart' to 'induce an enemy attack which cannot be reversed'. He then closed his lines again, trapping the enemy horsemen and despatching them with iron-tipped clubs. 'Iron's rigidity did not allow for a change in direction of pursuit'. (Ibid, 24.2)

This suggests that the clibanarii were directed in particular at what appeared to be weak points or breaches in the opposing line*, that they advanced in tight 'rigid' formation at a steady speed, and were supposed to barge through the weakened enemy formation by force and impetus, presumably using their lances at close range to push men back from the breach. I suppose it's possible that the head armour of the horses acted something like blinkers, preventing them from shying or rearing at the sight of the infantry line, and forcing them on into and through whatever appeared as an opening ahead of them.

(* As has been said before, in the case of these very heavy cavalry, the terrifying effect of an attack could have been enough to open such a breach, of course! Even if forced to a halt, a mass of panicking armoured horses and men with long lances would have presented a formidable challenge to an infantry line. Only the most resolute men could have stood their ground against it.)
#22
I'm surprised no one has mentioned Philp Rance's work in this area- grbs.library.duke.edu/article/download/101/101

What this shows is that if infantry were prepared to stand up to even Clibanarii/Catafractarii they could generally beat them off. Its when infantry started to waver or they lost morale and were not sure if they could withstand the attack that the mounted troops gained the upper hand.
Adrian Coombs-Hoar
#23
Quote:Sean Manning wrote:
Quote:Not quite. I think that it was usually a bad idea for cavalry to charge into the front of a dense mass of infantry which did not start to run away or part to let them through as they approached. But I believe that this was a regular part of the tactical repertoire of armoured cavalry (or scythed chariots) in many places and times, and that it was not suicidal or doomed. And in the case of scythed chariots, a few dozen dead chariot horses and a dozen dead charioteers would be a good trade for winning a battle between tens of thousands of soldiers ...
I hope you do not mind me saying so, but you are contradicting yourself. It is not a good idea, but nevertheless the regular part of the tactical repertoire of armoured cavalry (or scythed chariots) in many places and times.
That is only a contradiction if you assume that soldiers only use wise tactics. I see nothing to justify that assumption in the last five thousand years of military history! One might compare how soldiers towards the end of the Cold War prepared for a style of warfare which all the experts told them would kill them within a week or two and probably end civilization. Or see De Vries' Infantry Warfare where he documents how in early 14th century Latin Christendom, cavalry attacks on a standing infantry army usually ended in disaster for the attacker. But because battles were rare, and horsemen arrogant, it took decades for this to be generally acknowledged by Latin soldiers. Usually, after an especially big disaster the soldiers in one country changed their tactics, at least against the enemy which had defeated them.

Quote:And it is not suicidal and doomed, but if it was suicidal, oh well, than it was a good idea anyway, because who cares about a couple of suicidal maniacs and their suicidal horses when the outcome of battle between such large numbers are involved?
Respectfully, Eduard, that is a straw man. Suggesting that scythed chariots would probably suffer heavy casualties in an attack on infantry who did not run away or part as they approached is not the same as saying that such an attack was suicidal. And it is very easy to find examples of soldiers who accepted duties which could potentially put them in a situation where they would probably die!

Quote:I suspect the maniacs themselves cared. What made them do it? I keep on asking this, what made the horseman throw his pony on the spears of the infantry? I think we have become so innured to the horrors of total war that we automatically assume that soldiers went to war to be massacred, but is it true? And even if it is, and the ancient and medieval warriors sacrifised themselves willingly for whatever reason they might have had, ideology, religion, whatever, what made their horses suicidal? Did those armies really train such expensive soldiers as horsemen and charioteers for kamikaze against lowly infantry? It simply does not make sense.
Eduard, you keep repeating things like "throw his pony on the spears" and assuming that such attacks were suicidal for the cavalry horses and riders. I suggest that the first step is to write battle narratives at the traditional big-picture level, and then to perform a Face of Battle analysis of the mechanics of these big events to understand how they could have worked. The high-level analysis tells us things like "at the Battle of the Standard, King David and his cavalry passed right through the line of English spearmen, axemen, and bowmen" then the Face of Battle analysis obliges us to figure out how that was done. The second stage is very difficult and requires us to read the sources carefully and consider what they brush over and how what they describe could have worked, not to reject them based on assumptions about how something which no living man has seen worked. I have a few tentative ideas, but I will need more thought and more reading of the early sources before I am willing to put them in public.
Nullis in verba

I left this forum around the beginning of 2013, but I hope that these old posts have some value
#24
I would advise much caution when discussing gunpowder tactics. Things are tactically very different and the meaning of "a formed battle-line" in the 18th, 19th, even early 20th centuries is not equivalent to that of a Roman or Greek army, nor even that of a Gallic or Illyrian one, in order to serve as parallels. For example, lines (and columns) were nothing like a shield-wall. Their depth was very shallow, their motion much more varied as well as equipped with nothing to defend against enemy bullets and shells that would very easily disturb perfect (or even proper) cohesion. Companies, battalions... all arranged wit wide gaps for the cavalry to pass through and attack them on their rear... When that one volley of bullets was not enough to stop the enemy horsemen they would easily get trampled. Such was the fate of any infantry that did not form in compact or close ordered line in any historical time. In squares, men stood more densely exactly to that purpose and of course relatively small squares were the only solution for armies that did not form in very lengthy lines and depths, a tactic that was appropriate for maximum fire-power but did not allow for closing ranks throughout the battle-line to face charging cavalry. Furthermore, a cavalry charge in the Napoleonic years had tactical effects that were new to these weapons. For example, by charging infantry and actually forcing it to form in squares they rendered it much more vulnerable to cannon fire, which was in itself a reason for organizing such a charge in the first place.
Macedon
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George C. K.
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#25
Quote:Study land battles in 14th through 16th century Europe

Why limiting to just this time period? Why not including times prior to 14th and after 16th centuries?


Quote:(thus we have medieval accounts of multiple charges)

We also have accounts of multiple charges from other periods (like 16th - 18th centuries).

=======================================

Cavalry smashing infantry head-on while charging up the slope of a hill - example No. 1:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pVdO0sAUaz8
#26
I have a few tentative ideas, but I will need more thought and more reading of the early sources before I am willing to put them in public.

Fair enough, it will be interesting to read them, but I hope you will not find me presumtuous in saying a few things about what you are prepared to share.

That is only a contradiction if you assume that soldiers only use wise tactics. I see nothing to justify that assumption in the last five thousand years of military history!

I think you are mistaken. I believe one first of all has to assume that soldiers are sentient human beings of flesh and blood, and performing a logical and functional type of warfare, however crazy it might seem at first sight, and however crazy their commanders might be. If you are not prepared to see them as human beings, governed by emotions and trying to deal with a terrible situation as best as they can, you will end up describing an ant-attack. Again, you are projecting the evils of total war onto ancient and medieval warfare, and that might very well be a mistake.

Eduard, you keep repeating things like "throw his pony on the spears" and assuming that such attacks were suicidal for the cavalry horses and riders. I suggest that the first step is to write battle narratives at the traditional big-picture level, and then to perform a Face of Battle analysis of the mechanics of these big events to understand how they could have worked.

I think that you are mistaken here too. Writing battle narrative at the traditional big-picture level relies on other battle-narrative at the big-picture level, and only very slightly on what actually happened. As you would know from Keegan, the narrative tradition is basically corrupt, or rather, it suffers from literature rearing up its ugly head. If you make this the basis of a reconstruction, no wonder you have to deny throwing your horse into a mass of spears is suicide.

I am sorry Sean if I sound school-masterish, I just hope I can persuade you to start with logic and psychology, not with a seductive literary tradition, when you develop your ideas.
#27
Quote:Eduard, you keep repeating things like "throw his pony on the spears" and assuming that such attacks were suicidal for the cavalry horses and riders.

Yes, these are IMHO misconceptions on the part of Eduard. There are many misconceptions about cavalry charges - and this opinion of Eduard is IMO one of them. As a research material for this thread, I provide some links from other similar discussions on other internet fora below:

Cavalry not only could beat "regular spearmen" or "just spearmen", but there are also examples from history of cavalry defeating pikemen. Some of them (+ how it was achieved) are described here:

(I think that Eduard even participated in discussion from the 1st link below - unless it is another person with the same nick - a post of user with nick Ataman that I link below, was a reply to some Eduard):

http://archive.worldhistoria.com/polish-...page5.html

http://archive.worldhistoria.com/polish-...age12.html

http://www.radoslawsikora.republika.pl/m...Liubar.pdf

http://www.twcenter.net/forums/showthrea...596&page=4

http://www.militarium.net/forum/viewtopi...5&start=20

http://forum.axishistory.com/viewtopic.p...0#p1763150

http://www.twcenter.net/forums/showthread.php?t=463297

http://www.historum.com/medieval-byzanti...es-26.html

Perhaps there are much more of similar threads on various fora in the internet.

But generalizations are not good - cavalry constantly evolved and changed, improved or declined, over time. Ancient cavalry was not the same as Medieval, Medieval not the same as Early Modern, Early Modern not the same as Napoleonic. Then we have issues such as presence or lack of horned saddles, stirrups, armor (for men & horses). Type & length of melee weapons used. Tactics used. Etc.

Also this depends on region - being just Western-Centric is not a good idea. Concentrating on comparison to the Napoleonic period cavalry (while researching Ancient cavalry) is not a good idea too.
#28
Peter, there is no doubt that cavalry has been used against infantry. But in order to draw tactical conclusions one should think about :

a. defining the nature of the attack
b. defining the mechanics of the attack

A most common problem I have when debating this very issue is to make others realize that words like "attack" or "charge" means little in tactics. Especially when drawing from Greek sources, translations are so flawed in accuracy that it is really understandable for readers to misunderstand the relevant texts, often unable to make out even whether the attack was taking place against foot or horsemen. It is clear that you are a proponent of cavalry regularly choosing as a comprehensible tactic to smash into the lines of close ordered infantry and might think that such tactics were successful and thus the average preference of a general, but they were not, at least not in the times and cultures we most often discuss here, when infantry is mostly well trained and equipped, arranged in rank and file, with officers and of adequate numbers to conduct a pitched battle.

However, close ordered cavalry would of course very often charge/attack/assault/engage infantry.

1. with their missile weapons in what could be called a skirmish fashion by dense squadrons.
2. physically, when the enemy was caught dispersed, when they started fleeing, generally, whenever the infantry was disordered.
3. in later times (or extremely rarely during the antiquity) if the opposing infantry was expected to break before or upon impact, because of a number of reasons.
4. because of fanaticism or despair, a rare reason but still did occur.

Especially factor nr. 3 could for certain times and cultures actually serve as a norm, since there are many examples of (at least the mass of) infantry being of low martial value and understandably deemed unable to withstand the charge of fully armored, well-armed, regularly trained cavalry of mostly rich noblemen following some warrior-code.

This is why someone HAS TO be very specific when discussing such tactics and avoid generalizing as we do here. Supporting that this was normal tactics to use by a classical or hellenistic Greek commander, by a Roman commander of most periods, even by a Byzantine commander, is very bold and requires evidence that in my experience does not exist in sufficient amount to support such claims.

In conclusion, this issue, to me, should be very carefully worded as to its variables. What most people are eventually asking in the end, and what should first be answered for any other conclusion to be drawn is :

Would a close ordered line of horses of any breed, size, training and armor mounted by horsemen, after advancing against a close ordered line of infantrymen, fall upon the men barring their way and keep pushing them back without instinctively halting, especially at gallop?

If one concludes that under certain conditions, for example special training and for some breeds of horses such behavior would be achievable, then one has to see if, when and where these conditions were met.

To me, the texts are clear as to the inability/unwillingness of regularly used/trained/equipped horses to push against obstacles, be they human or other horses in combat. I expect for exceptions to of course exist, I remember a video of some horse smashing into another horse in some race, but 10 horses out of 1,000 would not dictate cavalry tactics.
Macedon
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#29
Quote:
Quote:Study land battles in 14th through 16th century Europe

Why limiting to just this time period? Why not including times prior to 14th and after 16th centuries?
Because it is not polite to suggest that someone do more than a few months of research to approach a topic, because that locus is well documented, accessible, and reasonably similar to ancient warfare, and because to reject a hypothesis of the form ”in situation X, Y never happened” it is sufficient to find a single counter-example. Studying the mechanics of cavalry-infantry combat throughout the second half of the middle ages would be the work of years.

This is not trivial research: it requires choosing case studies, reading up on warfare at that place and time, then reading the earliest sources and performing a critical analysis. For medieval history these sources are usually hard to locate and only available in the original language (or if one is lucky, an old and flawed translation which one can use as a crib). Up to this point my reading has been mostly in modern works and extracts from sources, which is why I am very reluctant to be specific about mechanics.
Nullis in verba

I left this forum around the beginning of 2013, but I hope that these old posts have some value
#30
Quote:I remember a video of some horse smashing into another horse in some race, but 10 horses out of 1,000 would not dictate cavalry tactics.

But 10 horses out of 1,000 is exactly a proportion of trained combat horses to all horses.

Because - you know - elite heavy cavalry formations did not fight on "any horse they could find".

There is a reason why for example in 1302 Robert II, count of Artois, bought 5 "great combat horses" for 280 livres each (on average), 2 "cart-horses" for 50 livres each, one "fast horse" for 60 livres, 14 "nags" for 34 livres each and 3 "small horses" for 12 livres each. As you can see one "great combat horse" was worth as much as 5 "fast horses", 6 "cart-horses", 8 "nags" and 23 "small horses".

But among horses physically fit and trained for combat there was still a considerable variety of quality.

In 1628 prices of combat horses used by Polish army varied from 200 to 1000 - 1500 ducats.

By comparison in the same time price of one ox in the city of Lvov was 3,5 ducats.

This means you could buy between ca. 60 and ca. 430 oxen for 1 combat horse. And each soldier of husaria (Polish-Lithuanian elite heavy cavalry) needed to have several combat horses. This is why only very rich people (and their retinues) could afford military service in this formation.


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