"... until Abu Klea, a fully-formed British square had never been broken by assault."
'E's the on'y thing that doesn't give a damn
For a Regiment o' British Infantree!
...............So 'ere's to you, Fuzzy-Wuzzy, at your 'ome in the Soudan;
...............You're a pore benighted 'eathen but a first-class fightin' man;
...............An' 'ere's to you, Fuzzy-Wuzzy, with your 'ayrick 'ead of 'air -
...............You big black boundin' beggar - for you broke a British square!
Some where in the distant past I read that there where only 3 occasions when Cavalry had broken a Properly Formed Square.
The KGL business in the Peninsular is well known.
I am sure a Austrian Regt charged and broke a French battalion.
And I am sure that Brit Hussars broke a French formation in the closing stages of Waterloo, if they where formed up I do not know.
The Old tale of 'Square Broke' in Brit Army being guaranteed way to provoke certain units to fight is very old tale, but as to which Regt I have no idea..
A few years back now my step father was getting bike lessons of an ex black watch bloke. He new I was joining up and I had a chat with him a few times.
I certainly remember him telling me about various things, including wearing spats which were cut flat across the front. I remember him saying it was to remind them not to break the line from a battle years and years ago.
Not having a dig at the BW, just recounting what I was told from this bloke who claimed to be an ex RSM.
Holmes is almost certainly quoting Frank Richards who wrote, in the early twenties; of life in the Royal Welch Fusiliers in 1900;
I've just dug my copy out and it gives;
Frank Richards said:
..but if a Welshman went into a pub where a Highland soldier was, of the regiment whose square was once broken by the Mahdi's dervishes in the Sudan, he would sometimes ask for a "pint of broken-square." Then he would have his bellyful of scrapping for the rest of the night, because this was an insult the Highlanders could not forgive.
As the event in question allegedly took place only a short time before, it might have been a true reflection of what happened or it might be a mythical regimental slur (like the 'raping of nuns' being the reason for a regiment's black facings) - I've no idea.
Sir Henry Newbolt also mentions a broken square in vitai lampada
The sand of the desert is sodden red, --
Red with the wreck of a square that broke; --
The Gatling's jammed and the colonel dead,
And the regiment blind with dust and smoke.
Although that was probably written with a great deal of poetic licence!!
At Abu Klea (1885) a number of Mahdists got into the square after a gap was left due to the overunning of a naval Gardner gun on one flank. The rear "side" of the square about turned and volley fired into the enemy which sorted that out fairly swiftly.
At Tamai (1884) there were two British brigade-sized squares on the move. One battalion which was on a flank was the Black Watch who were ordered to charge a unit of enemy. This left a gap in the square which the enemy drove into but flanking fire from the adjacent square again sorted that problem out. However, there was a fair amount of "disarray" before the square was eventually reformed.
So I suppose the answer is yes, on both occasions the squares were broken but in the end recovered.
At the battle of Tamai the square was "broken" because some companies of the Black Watch and the Yorks and Lancasters were ordered to charge a hidden formation of Mahdists, by General Graham. This left a wopping big gap in the formation into which the Mahdists entered. So it wasn't so much the square being broken by the enemy's force of arms, but more due to confusion and poor command and control.
edit: see Dubb's comments above, he beat me to it.
IIRC, The Black Watch involved in the problems that forced the 28th Foot to fight back to back at Alexandria, resulting in the 28th Back Badge and the Black Watch cut spats.
The 69th (later the Welch Regt) were ordered to change formation at the wrong time by the Prince of Orange at Quatre Bras and cut to pieces- they weren't broken, they were caught in Transition. It's depicted in one of the Sharp episodes as being his fictional Regt but the detail is good enough for TV drama....
Yes, at Aulbeura [Sic]a British square was broken (Can't remember off hand which Regiment of Foot). In the course of that battle's stand up, knock down firefight French Light Dragoons got in to a British regiment that had not had time to complete the formation of their Square.
This was the event that led the Duke of Wellington (as was to become) to comment, "even the best troops run away. What matters is, if they come back afterwards"
Garcia Hernandez, KGL Heavy Dragoons broke two French Battalions in the immediate aftermath of Vittoria in 1813.
The third battalion of the French Regiment stood firm. This is notable as ALL THREE battalions had formed properly prior to the KGL charging home. I believe the first broke as a Dragoon horse that had been shot slid in to one face of the square and this allowed the second rank of Dragoons to get in.
The second was broken by French routers from teh first square breaking its cohesion, thus allowing the KGL Heavy Dragoons to get in that one too.