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Cavalry and Lancers through history

#1
Seems like a good idea for a thread.

I have been fascinated by cavalry in its various forms for some time now.
Several things have contributed to this interest including:
(in no particular order)
1)Reading Winston Churchill's account of a charge by his Lancers unit at the battle of Omdurman. - The Infantry stayed put, the lancers didn't break and they went right through boot to boot. Think this through and it really is astonishing.
2) Being stampeded by three riderless horses on a farm where I was out shooting. They came at me from about 200 yds away at a full gallop. I stood my ground as there was nothing else to do and they pulled up at the last moment but the effect was memorable to say the least!
3) Seeing a film display at the Royal Armouries at Leeds where a Cavalryman demonstrated the development of swords/sabres and the techniques used in their employment in battle. The slow motion shot where the trooper hit a melon with the flat of his blade was amazing: the blade flexed into almost an "S" shape - remarkable metallurgy.
4) Buying a lance for £20 in a junk shop. It appears to be an Indian Pattern lance dated 1915. (look up the "lance" thread for details.)
5) Reading an account of how Haig developed Lancers before the first world war with an emphasis on marksmanship and with machine gun support to exploit breaches in enemy lines, a technique that did work in the initial months of WW1. (See "Haig -Butcher or the best we had?" in this forum.)

Churchills account can be found here and I include an extract below.

I also came across this video that is of interest. It is from a feature film but depicts Polish Cavalry and Lancers in various battles. If nothing else it gives a good idea of what an infantry v Cavalry encounter would have involved althougth they lack the boot to boot technique of the British Cavalrymen. Perhaps this is just a fault of the film. The Polish were famous for their lancers though and inspired the formation of our own lancer regiments hence the white and red pennons.

No doubt those with superior knowledge can correct some details above but I hope that some of these links provide some food for thought or some enjoyment at any rate.

Winston Churchill said:
Two hundred and fifty yards away the dark-blue men were firing madly
in a thin film of light-blue smoke. Their bullets struck the hard gravel
into the air, and the troopers, to shield their faces from the stinging
dust, bowed their helmets forward, like the Cuirassiers at Waterloo.
The pace was fast and the distance short. Yet, before it was half covered,
the whole aspect of the affair changed. A deep crease in the ground--a dry
watercourse, a khor--appeared where all had seemed smooth, level plain;
and from it there sprang, with the suddenness of a pantomime effect
and a high-pitched yell, a dense white mass of men nearly as long as our
front and about twelve deep. A score of horsemen and a dozen bright flags
rose as if by magic from the earth. Eager warriors sprang forward
to anticipate the shock. The rest stood firm to meet it. The Lancers
acknowledged the apparition only by an increase of pace. Each man wanted
sufficient momentum to drive through such a solid line. The flank troops,
seeing that they overlapped, curved inwards like the horns of a moon.
But the whole event was a matter of seconds. The riflemen, firing bravely
to the last, were swept head over heels into the khor, and jumping down
with them, at full gallop and in the closest order, the British squadrons
struck the fierce brigade with one loud furious shout. The collision was
prodigious. Nearly thirty Lancers, men and horses, and at least two hundred
Arabs were overthrown. The shock was stunning to both sides, and for
perhaps ten wonderful seconds no man heeded his enemy. Terrified horses
wedged in the crowd, bruised and shaken men, sprawling in heaps, struggled,
dazed and stupid, to their feet, panted, and looked about them. Several
fallen Lancers had even time to re-mount. Meanwhile the impetus of the
cavalry carried them on. As a rider tears through a bullfinch, the officers
forced their way through the press; and as an iron rake might be drawn
through a heap of shingle, so the regiment followed. They shattered the
Dervish array, and, their pace reduced to a walk, scrambled out of the khor
on the further side, leaving a score of troopers behind them, and dragging
on with the charge more than a thousand Arabs. Then, and not till then, the
killing began; and thereafter each man saw the world along his lance,
under his guard, or through the back-sight of his pistol; and each had
his own strange tale to tell.

Stubborn and unshaken infantry hardly ever meet stubborn and unshaken
cavalry. Either the infantry run away and are cut down in flight, or they
keep their heads and destroy nearly all the horsemen by their musketry.
On this occasion two living walls had actually crashed together.
The Dervishes fought manfully. They tried to hamstring the horses,
They fired their rifles, pressing the muzzles into the very bodies of
their opponents. They cut reins and stirrup-leathers. They flung their
throwing-spears with great dexterity. They tried every device of cool,
determined men practised in war and familiar with cavalry; and, besides,
they swung sharp, heavy swords which bit deep. The hand-to-hand fighting
on the further side of the khor lasted for perhaps one minute. Then the
horses got into their stride again, the pace increased, and the Lancers
drew out from among their antagonists. Within two minutes of the collision
every living man was clear of the Dervish mass. All who had fallen were
cut at with swords till they stopped quivering, but no artistic mutilations
were attempted.
 
#2
Imagine having a modern Prime Minister who had gone through that kind of experience (and the rest of Winnie's scrapes)....
 
#3
Im not sure that Haig was such the architect of Cavalry tactics at the beginning of WW1, id look more at Gough and oor Wullie, the Cavalry certainly at Ypres proved their worth and shed their blood equally with the Infantry, and mostly on foot.

Funnily enough contrary to belief, most Cavalry Regiments spent their time in the trenches as Infantrymen, I dont think my lancer Regt saw their horses after 1914 much.

Most of the Cav units seen on horses were Indian or units brought over from there.
 

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