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Cavalry and chariots against infantry
#1
Since the thread about peltasts and chariots at Cunaxa is getting seriously out of hand on this particular subject, and a couple of replies suggested making a new thread, here it is:

What happened, or might have happened, or could conceivably have happened, when cavalry (or chariots) charged infantry?

It seems there are two schools here, the one claiming that the horses could burst head on into the mass of infantry, bowling them over and trampling them underfoot, and the other claiming that either the horses or the foot-soldiers flinched: in the first case, the cavalry fled, in the second, the infantry fled, chased by the horsemen.

The first school of thought seems, but I am not sure, strongly influenced by the genre of the battle-piece, while the second is probably mostly influenced by C. Ardant du Pic, J. Keegan etc.

I hope that you will use this topic to post sources confirming or falsefying either school of thought, or make a case for a view of your own.

I will fly my colours: I believe the genre of the battle-piece to be extremely unreliable and full of genre clichées, and therefore requiring critical analysis before it can be used. It was not only produced by arm-chair generals, but also by soldiers, some very adamant that what they wrote was exactly what had happened, but that does not necesarily make it true.
#2
Why is this in the Category: 'Rules and Announcements'?
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#3
Oups, don't know how that happened Big Grin
#4
Moved.
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#5
I definitely lean towards the second explanation, and I suspect that experienced infantry would learn that they are safer standing put against cavalry than they would be fleeing from cavalry.

I think it's important to study ancient accounts of ancient battles, and overcome our modern preconceptions, but it's also important to remember that these accounts usually compress entire battles into short chapters, leaving more unstated than stated. Some historians, such as Polybius, focus on the overall picture. Others, such as Ammianus Marcellinus, focus on specific small actions within the larger battle.

Another important controversy is how much we can learn from early modern clashes between infantry and cavalry, particularly Napoleonic ones. I think we can learn a lot, although long spears and pikes probably offered more protection for the infantry than bayonets did, and we can't be sure how this applies to cataphracted cavalry or to chariots.
#6
Dan Howard:
That's simply not true. Every time this subject comes up people produce plenty of eyewitness accounts of horses doing just that. It would be nice if somone put all of them in a single post so that one link can be posted here instead of having to wade through past threads every time. It is pretty clear that some horses can be trained to ignore their natural tendencies and hurl themselves against a line of spears/pikes/bayonettes.

Edit: here is one example
http://www.myarmoury.com/talk/viewtopic.php?t=27507

Ralph Young:
The principle that you fail to overlook here is that no normal cavalry horse, or formation of cavalry horse, will charge a solid wall. Whether they be hoplites with shield spears, Macedoneans with shield and longer spears, legionaries with shield and gladius, or a square of British infantry with muskets and fixed bayonets. When confronted with what it senses is something solid, the horse (the creature of the pair with the brain), takes charge and maneuvers around and away.

Sean Manning:
I am not overlooking that theory, I am ignoring it because I believe that it is wrong outside the specific context of Napoleonic European warfare. I have read too much contradictory evidence, and my colleague who has spent the last decade training warhorses disagrees.

Dan, thank you for your link. However, I hope you do not mind me saying so but I can't help feeling Churchill's story is a bit neat, contrived and artificial, and many reactions on the site show that I am not alone in my scepticism. In fact, it is a classical battle-piece, explaining everything, full of action and metaphor, and with the usual disdain for the details of what actually happened masked with anecdotes (I like those horses standing still for a moment, muzzle to beard with the dervishes, before bulldozering on). In fact your motto on those heroes, looking for a dry place to fall, sums it up nicely. Seems like trickery to me too. I have asked it before, would you throw your pony on a spear? What is the use of training horses and soldiers to commit suicide?

Sean, would you and your colleague like to elaborate on this subject? For instance, why is what Ralph says limited to the context of European Napoleonic warfare?
#7
Hello Eduardo,

Thanks for your generous invitation, and my apologies again for my distemper. I almost did graduate work on this subject, so it is one that I take seriously.

A detailed explanation for why I do not accept the hypothesis that “no horse will charge into a dense mass of men waving pointy things” would require an article, and I have no time to write one right now. Until then, I suggest that interested people follow the same research program which led me to reject this hypothesis:

Study the mechanics of Napoleonic land warfare, including Keegan's classic study of Waterloo. Note carefully the similarities and differences between Napoleonic and ancient warfare. For example, Napoleonic infantry had cannon and muskets, which disrupted cavalry attacks and forced cavalry to use very shallow formations.

Study land battles in 14th through 16th century Europe, including such battles as Bannockburn, Courtrai, and Marignano. There would have been a lot fewer dead cavalry in all of these battles if horses always refused to come close to a mass of spearmen. Read Keegan's account of Agincourt carefully. Also have a look at the Combat of the Thirty, where on one account a handful of cavalry were able to break up the formation of thirty “English” men-at-arms which had fought off its enemies all day.

Talk to people who have trained warhorses or police horses, especially ones who have studied how people before the 19th century did it.

I believe that anyone who does these three things will find it difficult to recite “No horse will charge into a dense mass of men waving pointy things.” Instead, they will have a long list of things which could happen, of which the horses shying away is only one. I don't think that our models of combat between horsemen and hoplites should be any simpler than our models of combat between hoplites and hoplites.
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I left this forum around the beginning of 2013, but I hope that these old posts have some value
#8
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.

3. Cavalry could use the carbine or the lance to defeat formed infantry.

4. Horses normally shied away from formed infantry. However, wounded horses were unpredictable and sometimes crashed into the infantry. Even unwounded horses could sometimes be persuaded to rear and walk close to the infantry, and this could force them to fall onto the infantry bayonets.

5. Infantry formations tended to try to avoid musket fire at close range because of the unpredictability of wounded horses. I expect infantry formations would also have avoided throwing javelins at close range. Cavalry formations could use carbine fire at close range. I expect they could have used thrown darts and javelins too.

6. I expect that longer spears and pikes would limit the effectiveness of the rearing tactic, and would also limit the effectiveness of the cavalry lance.
#9
Study the mechanics of Napoleonic land warfare, including Keegan's classic study of Waterloo. Note carefully the similarities and differences between Napoleonic and ancient warfare. For example, Napoleonic infantry had cannon and muskets, which disrupted cavalry attacks and forced cavalry to use very shallow formations.

I think you will find Ardant du Pic (Keegan's most important source, but he believes Ardant is his Christian name, which really is Charles, but everybody calls him colonel) very interesting on the subject of shallow attack formations. He does not connect it with guns but with other cavalry.

I believe that anyone who does these three things will find it difficult to recite “No horse will charge into a dense mass of men waving pointy things.” Instead, they will have a long list of things which could happen, of which the horses shying away is only one.

Well, I have done those three things, but I am afraid I still don't get it. So for argument's sake, let us suppose that a horse does charge into a dense mass of men waving pointy things. Then what?

Seems to me the soldier loses a valuable horse and his plunged to the ground, even if he takes a couple of foot-soldiers with him. Since he is using relatively heavy armour (as he is a large target sitting on horse-back, and as he does not have to carry this armour across the battle-field like a foot-soldier), and could very well have landed partly underneath his horse, he is a dead man, however much his kamikaze action might have frightened the foot-soldiers around him. If he attacked in a deep formation, the horses behind him will trample him and trip over his wounded horse. If he also used a lance to attack the infantry and the weapon did not break, he has either lost it or has been launched by it over the crupper of his horse, after which it might well have impaled a comrade following up behind him.

But I am sure I am wrong, and somehow the whole thing resolved itself without looking like a gigantic suicidal pile-up. But how? Never mind what the literature says, that is a whole different ball-game, but what is the logic of the thing?
#10
The answer is "sometimes". After an examination of all the sources mentioned by Sean and more besides you'll discover that sometimes the infantry were disciplined enough to stop a charge head on and the horses impaled themselves on points. Sometimes the horses stopped or shied away before contact. Sometimes the riders broke off after a limited engagement and wheeled away to reform and make another pass. Sometimes the horse defeated the front ranks only to be stopped by ranks deeper in the formation. Sometimes the horse overwhelmed the line and charged straight through to emerge from the back of the formation. Sometimes all of the above happened at the same time at different parts of the line or during different phases of the same battle.
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#11
As a matter of interest, do any of the contributors to this thread so far ride at all? (and not just round and round in a riding school).

Has anyone stood on the ground and watched a line of horses galloping towards them? Or experienced the power behind a field of horses as they thunder over the turf; the sound of their approach almost as disconcerting as the squeaking and clanking of a modern tank, the ground shaking as they pass?

It's thrilling and exciting - seriously adrenalin fuelled - for horse and rider and as flight animals the horses get carried along; it's also impressive but nerve racking for those facing it.

If cavalry against infantry was nugatory effort or had no effect, why did if persist across centuries? Tactics and equipment changed, size and weight of horses changed too and cavalry evolved with each new threat until finally replaced by motorised tracked and wheeled vehicles (which still aren't as agile across certain ground and obstacles! And you can't eat a tank in extremis ;-) ).

If it is known that the charging cavalry are quite willing to crash into their enemy cost what it may, it must have a psychological effect on the infantry ranks; and all cavalry need to exploit and roll up a line of infanteers is that first gap. They only have to do it once for the doubt to be in the opposition's mind thereafter.

Not for nothing were the 17th Lancers called the Death or Glory Boys (and still part of the British Army as the Queen's Royal Lancers).


[attachment=6473]17th_Lancers_badge.jpg[/attachment]


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#12
What we commonly call shock cavalry tactics in pitched battles has nothing to do with what we often fantasize about, that is thousands of iron-clad horsemen clashing with a bang into massed lines of infantry... That armored cavalry would, on occasions, charge (that is advance towards at any speed) against infantry is undoubted. That the horses would normally effectively fall upon a dense line of stationary men arranged as a wall, is very doubtful.

The question here is :

Was charging with cavalry into massed lines of densely arranged men who kept their cohesion up to and over the point of impact considered a viable tactic in pitched battles?

In my opinion it was not and was usually avoided.

However, this does not mean that charging TOWARDS infantry was also not a viable tactic. Especially in much later times (in ancient times such accounts are extremely rare), cavalry would indeed charge towards infantry but this does not mean that it charged INTO them. It did and hoped that the footmen set against them would falter and thus present the gaps necessary for a horse to truly gallop or trot into the infantry formation. Most armies would not have a large number of well-trained, well-equipped footmen who would psychologically and to a man withstand the psychological pressure of such a sight. Most would of course not flee but should some break the shield-wall presented to the horses by changing the angle they held their shields, by trying to push through the ranks in fear, by not paying attention to their relative position to the men next to them, by casualties or even disorder inflicted by the missiles of the cavalry, then the horses would have no problem to ride "into" the infantry line. I am not a really experienced rider but I saw that a horse has no problem to gallop into a gap that is only inches wider than its body width. Of course it would not gallop into an obstacle but I many times (trying to see how close I could get it to pass) had my feet actually hit both obstacles, on the left and right, while the horse galloped through.

Thus cavalry charges (into infantry masses) could be effective against :

1. infantry that did not perform a synaspismos
2. infantry that could not keep its synaspismos for any reason (inexperience/fear/whatever else)

But when there were well-trained footmen in the enemy army, men who fought in phalanx and not in some open formation (not necessary skirmish/diesparmeni taxi), cavalry would normally:

1. charge and retreat when it was clear that the enemy would not falter or with limited melee action in the few places where the infantry did not manage to keep cohesion (thus we have medieval accounts of multiple charges)
2. not charge
3. wait for the right moment when an enemy infantry formation would fall into disorder because of any reason.

Very revealing information we can find in the Byzantine manuals where the cataphracts are urged to not be afraid to charge against (not necessarily into) infantry. Admittedly among the heaviest armored horsemen the cataphracts were ordered to attack infantry which clearly showed that this was a viable tactic BUT they were afraid, which also clearly shows that it was not considered safe.

However, and this is the gist of my position, although cavalry could under circumstances indeed charge into massed infantry lines, it was not considered a safe tactic by militarily organized nations to use against militarily organized nations. In ancient times, such charges were even more uncommon.




Regarding chariots, according to the Greek sources, there were two different types in the east. The scythed and those of the "Libyan" (or "Trojan" IIRC) type. The latter acted in skirmish as platforms for missile troops while the former were indeed used against enemy infantry massed formations. Their effectiveness rested in the same principals with those of the cavalry. IF the infantry kept its cohesion, their effectiveness was minimal (-of course in a line 500 or more meters long "keeping cohesion" did not mean through the whole length of the line, maybe in one or two spots some kind of problem would indeed be created and the horses would charge into them-). There is no pitched battle account where the scythed chariots really won the day. BUT, in all these battles, the fear exists. This means that against less organized, experienced and well-trained infantry, like that of Asian nations against which it was supposed to be normally used, it could really make the difference, building up their fame. I guess that for every major battle we know of against Greeks and Romans, the Persians fought 10 against their own Asiatic neighbors, tribes etc, where the scythed chariots cut their way through faltering and fleeing lines of panicked men,exactly as for every major battle, there would be 100 examples of minor incidents or less massive battles, where the cavalry charge would really smash faltering and fleeing infantry of less organized/experienced opponents.

In all, tactics should not be viewed only in terms of the few, really big battles we can study. It is naive to believe that shock cavalry and chariots were useless because in 10-20 battles they could accomplish little when used in a certain way. These arms and tactics existed because they were useful in the broader sense of war and battle. However, it is equally naive to suggest that because they existed they were as useful, when thus tactically used, in such battles too. Exactly like terrain, numbers, the composition of the army, its level of experience and training etc would make certain tactics more or less appropriate.
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#13
[quote="Vindex" post=330765]As a matter of interest, do any of the contributors to this thread so far ride at all? (and not just round and round in a riding school).
/quote]

Haven't contributed thus far but would say that, as someone quite experienced with horses (recently was unhorsed though, broke my bow...Sad ) I 100% agree with you that physical acquaintance really changes perspective. You can imagine the psychological shock. Especially if they're very colourful too. That's with a few dozen, a thousand heavy mail clad horses would be even worse.

I think this point is echoed in Macedon's post as well. He's right that these things were adapted to their environs, though I can't imagine anyone seriously referring to Eastern troops like the Persians, Carians, Assyrians etc as being untrained or whatever, though I may have mis-read that.

"In all, tactics should not be viewed only in terms of the few, really big battles we can study. It is naive to believe that shock cavalry and chariots were useless because in 10-20 battles they could accomplish little when used in a certain way. These arms and tactics existed because they were useful in the broader sense of war and battle. However, it is equally naive to suggest that because they existed they were as useful, when thus tactically used, in such battles too. Exactly like terrain, numbers, the composition of the army, its level of experience and training etc would make certain tactics more or less appropriate."

This is key.

I would also point out that for chariots we've studied very little of the available evidence. Crouwell seems to be the best overall study (at least for the bronze age) and that is saying something, Drews wrote a book that is...well its pretty dire both in its overall conception of the Greeks coming to Greece etc and its analysis of certain evidence e.g the Mahabharata.
Jass
#14
When I say untrained, I mean tactically. Sometimes, the members of a warlike tribe would of course be "more" trained in war as they understood it. But training an army for pitched battle is something totally different. Of course, most eastern (and not just eastern but western too if that is the point of objection) tribes would not be devoted war-cultures and as such, most men mustered for war would indeed be much less individually trained as well.

The infantry organization and discipline of the countless tribes and minor nations that the Persians had to regularly wage war against cannot be compared to that of the (major) Greek and Roman armies, not even to that of the purely Persian contingents of the Persian army. Most enemies were tribal armies, lightly armed, fighting without rank and file and of course most battles would be fought against small bands of hundreds or very few thousands, which tactically is very different to a battle where both armies are numerous. Even tribal infantry was an opponent that cavalry would not fall into as long as they would keep close order (Alexander vs the Mallians for example in India) but such armies were much more prone to fear and panic, much more impressionable and much less disciplined. Thus, they would much more often scatter in fear in front of chariots or cavalry making such tactics more appropriate and effective against them.

Btw, does anyone experience upload problems? It seems I have to try it 10 times to manage to upload an answer while reading is no problem.
Macedon
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#15
Sure, I get that, I'm just pre-emptively anticipating the kind of old school discourse this might bring up, awesome Greeks vs Eastern masses etc. Just because you might know better doesn't mean many of our posters do.

Obviously I think the quality is going to vary, but you don't hold big pieces of land in these areas without being very adapt. I've already quoted the major examples of this. As for the Persians themselves well, they've had a bad rep for a while unfortunately though thankfully more and more scholarship is coming out thanks to initial work by men like Pierre Bryant, pretty sure Sean knows a lot too considering.

I'm prone to accept the idea of chariots etc working against less organised troops...which is why I'm so suspicious of the idea - does all the evidence suggest that? are there alternative explanations? Maybe its different kinds of tactics rather than better? This is interesting...

Also the Mallians are an interesting example, if only because the Indikoi logoi are the most suspect and dissonant part of the various Alexander narratives both in how they don't always seem logical and how they seem contradicted from the archaeological evidence e.g this is a long time highly urban area with some pretty wonderful military technology (crucible steel, bows etc) whose language from the early stage reveals a pretty sophisticated military/tactical vocabulary. Unfortunately little work has been done here post Tarn and Narin (Nairn? how is it spelt?) and we need the Hellenistic guys to catch up once they've an idea of wtf was happening in the Arkhe Selefkia and Baktria. Though that's another topic entirely, though fresh on my mind just having advised a would be PG student to stay away from this sort of thing and focus on Rhodos.

I agree with your overall thrust, I'm just suspicious of the why and trying to work out how many assumptions are unfounded and untenable/different ways of viewing the evidence/the evidence itself.

Sorry, I know I have a habit of always attacking and re-attacking before firmly committing to anything, which can be slow and tiring. Just ignore me in my corner guys. Smile
Jass


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