Polish and other lancers versus Infantry squares

The French claim at least 5 colours taken at QB (could include Dutch as well) as they were all recovered at Waterloo, most Regiment’s histories won’t exactly advertise their loss.
Similarly quite a few British colours are in the french military museum in Paris.
You’re right though, they were more likely to have been caught by surprise and never properly formed square. I wonder how long it takes from column of March or 2 ranks?
Will dig out the excellent 'Waterloo Companion' by Mark Adkin.
 

CaptainCowpat

Old-Salt
I'm no expert, more of an enthusiastic reader, but it seemed a lot of the battles came down to a big game of rock, paper, scissors with infantry, artillery and cavalry.

I would have though that when in squares, exposure to artillery would have consistently been far more decisive than cavalry trying to 'nick a win'. Like someone mentioned above, if even a few pieces of horse artillery were able to get set up then it was only a matter of time before it broke, then cavalry would sweep in to clean up

Would Ney have preferred horse artillery or extra lancers when the squares deployed at Waterloo?
 
@CaptainCowpat
An account of the squares at Waterloo stated that the cavalry trotted about the squares cursing at them - they wouldn't approach until they discharged their muskets and the infantry wouldn't fire until they approached!
Look at some of the wounded lists and you'll find very few attributed to sword or lance - mostly artillery.
Also, two of those Regiments (33rd, 69th( that legged it at Quatre Bras were engaged in the 'crisis' and had lost count of how many times they deployed from square to line and back again dependent on the threat.
 

CaptainCowpat

Old-Salt
@CaptainCowpat
An account of the squares at Waterloo stated that the cavalry trotted about the squares cursing at them - they wouldn't approach until they discharged their muskets and the infantry wouldn't fire until they approached!
Look at some of the wounded lists and you'll find very few attributed to sword or lance - mostly artillery.
Also, two of those Regiments (33rd, 69th( that legged it at Quatre Bras were engaged in the 'crisis' and had lost count of how many times they deployed from square to line and back again dependent on the threat.
See! Sounds like a few French 2-pounders would have livened the afternoon up no end!
 
Interesting to look at the 'fashion' for weapons and tactics. Fifty years before the Napoleonic Wars, with infantry carrying the same weapons (smoothbore musket and socket bayonet), Seven Years' War use of the square was as a manoeuvre rather than static formation, and employed to fight your way out of an envelopment situation. Cavalry during that conflict were armed with sword or sabre, with the lance being restricted to irregular skirmishers. If infantry were threatened by cavalry, they remained in line and shot the donkey wallopers out of the saddle, as the British infantry did at Minden.
 
At the other end of the spectrum from 'fashionable' weapons and tactics, I'd posit that the rise of the lancer in the Napoleonic Wars was more down to economics than tactics. To me, any relationship between lancers and static infantry squares is pretty incidental. As a number of other posters have observed, the way to destroy packed bodies of men is with artillery (see 27th Inniskillings at Waterloo). The rise of the lancer in the era of the socket bayonet and volley fire is a cheap way to provide shock cavalry, using lighter horses, against 'traditional' heavy cavalry. Most regular lancer regiments only armed their front rank with lances, while the 'follow up' ranks were armed as normal light cavalry with sabre and firearm, to exploit the melee once the lancers had broken into the other cavalry units' formation.

Why do Napoleonic infantry adopt static squares, when they are as least as well equipped as their SYW antecedents? The only reasonable explanation I can come up with is that they were less well trained, both to deliver accurate volleys of musketry at speed, and to confidently manoeuvre in the face of the enemy. This is where economics come in, as SYW European armies move from relatively small, professional forces to the mass conscript armies of the Revolution and subsequent Napoleonic Wars.

E2A; see bold
 
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@SkippedOnce
I'm not a. SME but the Napoleonic use of Lancers as we recognise them (light cavalry) nevertheless had their origin in the very heavy Polish 'winged hussars' heavy cavalry as used by Jan Sobieski.

What I find interesting is that 100 years later, WW1 began with cavalry still armed with sword and lance across all major powers.

I wish I had access to some of the red glossy British Army Training and Doctrine magazines. I remember a German NATO General saying something like wars up to end of WW1 went at the pace of a foot soldier, end of WW2 at the speed of MT and that future European conflict will be dictated by speed of helicopters.

ETA - I think it was Napoleons adoption of "the column' as opposed to other intricate foot formations that enabled his armies to not only be trained rapidly but also move rapidly. His armies frequently prevailed due to getting local numerical supremacy where and when needed.
 
@SkippedOnce
I'm not a. SME but the Napoleonic use of Lancers as we recognise them (light cavalry) nevertheless had their origin in the very heavy Polish 'winged hussars' heavy cavalry as used by Jan Sobieski.

What I find interesting is that 100 years later, WW1 began with cavalry still armed with sword and lance across all major powers.

I wish I had access to some of the red glossy British Army Training and Doctrine magazines. I remember a German NATO General saying something like wars up to end of WW1 went at the pace of a foot soldier, end of WW2 at the speed of MT and that future European conflict will be dictated by speed of helicopters.

ETA - I think it was Napoleons adoption of "the column' as opposed to other intricate foot formations that enabled his armies to not only be trained rapidly but also move rapidly. His armies frequently prevailed due to getting local numerical supremacy where and when needed.
European light cavalry as we know them had their origins in the Hungarian hussars, and Russian cossacks who opposed the armoured Polish cavalry. Some of those Balkan irregular cavalry were armed with lances during the Seven Years' war. 'Hussar' (anglisised) only means 10th man, not lightly armed, nimble cavalryman. The Polish winged hussars were as relevant to 18th C Western cavalry as the French knights at Agincourt.

Polish winger hussars were employed against (at best) matchlock-armed infantry who fought in formations 10 ranks deep: their rate of fire was much slower than flintlock muskets, and the infantry relied on pikemen to keep the cavalry away, as they had no bayonets (the socket bayonet, which meant you couldn't fire, didn't emerge in the West until the early 1700s, and so even later in central and Eastern Europe). The Russian militia in the Napoleonic Wars still fielded large bodies of pikemen.

Columns are always a quicker way to move than lines, as you don't have to continually dress alignment and ensure only one person is heading toward the objctive, to stop the flanks from concertinaing inwards, and also moves faster.
 
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European light cavalry as we know them had their origins in the Hungarian hussars, rather than armoured Polish cavalry.

Yeah, but the Polish winger hussars were employed against (at best) matchlock armed infantry who fought in formations 10 ranks deep: their rate of fire was much slower than flintlock muskets, and the infantry relied on pikemen to keep the cavalry away, as they had no bayonets (the socket bayonet, which meant you couldn't fire, didn't emerge in the west until the early 1700s, and so even later in central and Eastern Europe).

Columns are always a quicker way to move than lines, as you don't have to continually dress alignment and ensure only one person is heading toward the objctive, to stop the flanks from concertinaing inwards, and also moves faster.
Another aspect of Napoleons Polish Lancers of course is that they only ended up on his OrBat after beating the Prussians and Austrians away from the territory previously recognised as Poland and reigniting the idea of an independent Polish state (along with the Duchy of Warsaw).
Using idiosyncratic units, e.g Mamelukes seemed as much a case of 'get some in' rather than special skills.
Was using Egyptian Mamelukes, Moorish in appearance, really such a good move in Spain after their legacy there? - they got hacked to bits!
 
Another aspect of Napoleons Polish Lancers of course is that they only ended up on his OrBat after beating the Prussians and Austrians away from the territory previously recognised as Poland and reigniting the idea of an independent Polish state (along with the Duchy of Warsaw).
Using idiosyncratic units, e.g Mamelukes seemed as much a case of 'get some in' rather than special skills.
Was using Egyptian Mamelukes, Moorish in appearance, really such a good move in Spain after their legacy there? - they got hacked to bits!
Except that Polish Legions (a legion being a mixed infantry-cavalry formation) had been fighting with Revolutionary France in Italy since the Third Partition of Poland in the 1790s, and the Grand Duchy of Warsaw didn't come into existence until 1807.
 
My tuppence worth:
Lancers are no more, or less, effective, than other cavalry. As the British “upgraded” light dragoons to hussars (and then some of these to lancers) I suspect it has much to do with esprit de corps rather than firepower.
(Hence 13/18 H and 15/19H amalgamating and choosing “Light Dragoons” as a way to differentiate themselves).
Light cavalry, however designated, is a poor offensive weapon against well-disciplined infantry with good morale. A lance is no better than a sabre. Against a hastily-formed square where the troops are shaky, it’s a gamble. Otherwise suicidal.
Better use heavy cavalry, who should, morale willing, trot into the enemy and lay about themselves come what may. Again, they would hope for a collapse of morale from the infantry and the light cav would cut down the losers.
People massively underestimate the speed of the “charge”. Movies show a gallop for hundreds of yards. More likely the last twenty and should break a line of wavering troops. If they were lucky.
Anyway, lancers, dragoons, hussars, whatever. Mainly about fashion. Good way for the Colonel to distinguish himself and not a bad recruiting tool.
 
My tuppence worth:
Lancers are no more, or less, effective, than other cavalry. As the British “upgraded” light dragoons to hussars (and then some of these to lancers) I suspect it has much to do with esprit de corps rather than firepower.
(Hence 13/18 H and 15/19H amalgamating and choosing “Light Dragoons” as a way to differentiate themselves).
Light cavalry, however designated, is a poor offensive weapon against well-disciplined infantry with good morale. A lance is no better than a sabre. Against a hastily-formed square where the troops are shaky, it’s a gamble. Otherwise suicidal.
Better use heavy cavalry, who should, morale willing, trot into the enemy and lay about themselves come what may. Again, they would hope for a collapse of morale from the infantry and the light cav would cut down the losers.
People massively underestimate the speed of the “charge”. Movies show a gallop for hundreds of yards. More likely the last twenty and should break a line of wavering troops. If they were lucky.
Anyway, lancers, dragoons, hussars, whatever. Mainly about fashion. Good way for the Colonel to distinguish himself and not a bad recruiting tool.
To take the British Army as an example, the only difference between light dragoons, first formed in the Seven Years' War and hussars is the way they dressed, with the flamboyant costume of the hussars appealing to recruits and, as you've said, engendering esprit de corps. Lancers only appear in 1816, after the end of the Napoleonic Wars (another example of taking lessons from the last war rather than looking to the next one) and as their uniforms imitated the Polish uhlans in the same way as the hussars imitated their Southern European originators, is again an appeal to recruitment and esprit de corps.

All cavalry, rather than just light, has little chance against steady infantry with good fire discipline, as its not the bravery of the rider, but of the horse, that matters.
 
Agreed. Horsemen are a matter of fashion.
I think the only horsemen to trundle up to infantry and take battle to them would be heavy cavalry. This would mean great discipline, no means guaranteed. Well disciplined infantry could see them off.
But a massive blast of heavy cavalry could deliver a punch that could turn a flank, against a wavering force.
 
I think the only horsemen to trundle up to infantry and take battle to them would be heavy cavalry.
And yet, the only documented examples of apparently formed squares being broken in 18th C European warfare are by light cavalry.
Albuera - 1st Vistula Lancers
García Hernández - KGL Light Dragoons
 
And yet, the only documented examples of apparently formed squares being broken in 18th C European warfare are by light cavalry.
Albuera - 1st Vistula Lancers
García Hernández - KGL Light Dragoons
Not doubting that. A well-drilled group of soldiers will overcome a lesser force. And asking a squadron of cavalry to charge a square of good infantry is a test of morale on both sides. If, as a cavalry commander, you knew your opposition were resolute, you could hold them there and bring up artillery.
 
Not doubting that. A well-drilled group of soldiers will overcome a lesser force. And asking a squadron of cavalry to charge a square of good infantry is a test of morale on both sides. If, as a cavalry commander, you knew your opposition were resolute, you could hold them there and bring up artillery.
As the Russian Guard cavalry did against the 4e Ligne at Austrerlitz, and though the cavalry captured an eagle, I would argue that it was the damage done by artillery that their presence allowed to be brought within effective range of the 4e, rather than the cavalry itself, that was the decisive element in the defeat of the square.

There are numerous instances of cavalry during the 'horse and musket' era being successful in melee against disrupted infantry formations, including routing British units at Quatre Bras, and the destruction of a KGL bn ivo La Haie Sainte at Waterloo.
 
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First time I've tried to start a thread.
Over the weekend I had a very interesting chat about the Napoleonic wars and one of the things that came up was the Polish Lancers were very good at dealing with British squares and had Napoleon had more of them he could have done a lot better.
First I had heard of this.
I've googled for some information and it would appear that whilst they caused headaches in the end they were no more successful than any other unsupported cavalry against Squares down the ages.
It's pretty hard to comment on someone's line of argument without knowing the details. However, it's unlikely that having more Polish Lancers would have made any difference. As others have pointed out, by the time of the Napoleonic era, sending a cavalry charge against an infantry square had a rather small chance of success unless there were some very specific circumstances favouring it.

When talking about military history there is always a tendency for people to look for a gimmick or secret which could have turned the tide of battle. War rarely turns out that way. The lance had been around for millennia and was a fairly well known weapon. If it had a chance of being a war winner, then I don't think this would be unknown to everyone else involved and they would have employed this tactic themselves.

Battles were fought using the triumvirate of infantry, artillery, and cavalry. Each had its strengths and weaknesses. All else being equal, using them together effectively is what tended to win battles.

Leaving that aside, a few posts have raised the issue of whether horses would charge into infantry. Properly trained war horses would and did on occasion. Modern opinions to the contrary are generally based on modern riding horses, which are very different and are not trained to do so. The reason why it didn't tend to happen much during the 19th century is because that sort of thing tended to end rather badly for the cavalryman, which is why they tended to avoid it.

None the less, it did happen on occasion. Here's the Charge of the Bombay Cavalry at the Battle of Khoosh-Ab (various spellings) during the Anglo-Persian War in 1857. Two Victoria Crosses were won in this. The first was by Lieutenant Arthur Moore whose horse broke into the Persian square. His horse promptly dropped dead (highlighting one of the drawbacks of this approach). The second VC was won by Lieutenant John Malcolmson who fought his way in and rescued his comrade.


 
I think it’s an interesting topic. I think there are just too many variables. Could a well-trained cavalry brigade charge and break a square of infantry? Mistime the charge: doomed. But if you catch them right, could work.
 

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