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"Polish Lancers, not invincible." Topic

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Tango01 Supporting Member of TMP24 Nov 2010 12:39 p.m. PST

Many times, I had read that on the Russian Campaing the Polish Lancers were the top, the best of Napoleon Light Cavalry.
Well, not only on the Russian Campaign, they show their skills on many other theaters of war too.

I also remember that when the Grande Armée began to retired from Moscou, Cossacks which harassed their lines show some kind of repect to the Polish Lancers which was not the case with other cavalry units (except the Guard).
Even that, in a book I don't remember the name, some officers made a trik to the Cossacks showing Wüttermberg Cavalry on line ready to fight and when the Cossack began to advance at gallop, the riders take off their Wüttemberg jackets and shown the Polish ones and inmediatly the Cossacks run.
Now, that I had the oportunity to read some Russian documents I take note that maybe the history was not really true.

For example, on 8 to 10 July 1812 near the village of Mir, Platov Cossack atack and engage against three Polish Lancers Regiments and the last ones were cut to pieces by the Russians (with some help from Vasilchikov regular cavalry) showing a cleary superiority against the "invencible" Polish Lancers.

So, the Cavalry combat at Mir was only a mere chance? or the tale of the "Invencible Polish Lancers" as the best European Light Cavalry was a lie and the best Light Cavalry were the Russian one?

Many thanks in advance for your guidance.

MajorB24 Nov 2010 12:43 p.m. PST

If you mean "best" as in "never lost a combat" then there ain't no such animal, my friend.

Jovian124 Nov 2010 12:45 p.m. PST

I don't know where you read that the Polish Lancers were invincible in the first place. Well respected, one of the better regiments in the Guard cavalry, and decorated by their combat actions. During the retreat anything was possible – and if part of the Polish Lancers were destroyed during the retreat, so was a large portion of the army. It proves nothing – Cossacks had a terrible reputation in many set point engagements, but did well as harassing forces. There is a huge difference between the two roles.

Widowson24 Nov 2010 12:48 p.m. PST

Nobody is invincible. I like the way that the cossacks are always declared non-combat, yet never tire of finding ways into the fight.

The 1812 campaign was fraught with many incidents and misadventures. Inevitably, the Russians got the best of a lot of them.

Graf Bretlach24 Nov 2010 4:31 p.m. PST

You may have read "Memoirs of a Polish Lancer" memoirs of Dezydery Chlapowski, Polish lancer of the Imperial garde, they did have a very high reputation, a good read, but he doesn't say anything good about the Dutch lancers, then there are the normal Polish lancer regiments as well.

Tango01 Supporting Member of TMP24 Nov 2010 8:09 p.m. PST

I had read it Mr. Graf Bretlach.
Anyway, thanks for the recomendation.


oldnorthstate In the TMP Dawghouse25 Nov 2010 9:59 p.m. PST

Invincible is a tough standard to live up to…they were good light cavalry and handy with the lance. The information about the encounter at Mir is sketchy and its not clear why the Cossacks/Russians were able to rout the Poles, but things happen. Even good units can get beat if poorly led.


le duc28 Jan 2011 4:51 p.m. PST

>>So, the Cavalry combat at Mir was only a mere chance? or the tale of the "Invencible Polish Lancers" as the best European Light Cavalry was a lie and the best Light Cavalry were the Russian one?

Many thanks in advance for your guidance.

Armand such is your knowledge, or understanding of languages, but who is to say that every reference you have stated you read about the 'invincibility' of the 'Polish laancers' may equally have been reference to just those units of the Imperial guard, perhaps?

One event doesn't detract from such a history,since that history was created by a multitude of units and people, places and events. Nor does it make the aggrieved poor downtrodden Cossacks (irregular/ semi-regulated) any greater to have defeated a nominally superior foe. Anyone may be taken at a disadvantage and the weak become the strong.

Alexey Tartyshev28 Jan 2011 6:35 p.m. PST

Possibly invincible term was reversed for the Guard Lancers,and not for line Polish lancers.

Here is what Napoleoneonistika says about Polich Lancers:

"The Napoleonic Wars were time of military glory for the Polish cavalry. They routed the Bavarian cavalry at Hanau, Russian uhlans, dragoons and hussars at Reichenbach, Cossacks in 1812, British light dragoons at Talavera and the 3rd Dragoon Guards and 4th Dragoons at Albuera, Prussian hussars at Peterswalde and guard light cavalry at Lignitz, Austrian hussars in 1809 and 1813, and their cuirassiers at Leipzig in 1813. There were no regular cavalry to stop them.

The were few defeats in the hands of the Cossacks. In 1812 at Romanov, one regiment of Polish horse chasseurs was ambushed by several regiments of Cossacks, at Slonim one regiment of lancers was attacked by several regiments of Cossacks supported by regiments of Russian regular cavalry, and at Mir in 1812 Polish Cavalry Division was attacked by overwhelming force of Cossacks and Russian regulars.
The Polish officers blamed French General Latour-Maubourg for the last defeat. They thought he knew little of Cossacks' warfare. He let his French and Polish cavalry regiments be separated by long distances and fight isolated and unsupported against the numerous enemy. The French, and in general the western cavalry, fared poorly against the Cossacks."

Battle of Mir:
"…Jerome was up against formidable cavalry of Bagration's rear-guard…On three successive days between 8 to 10 July near the village of Mir Platov ambushed and routed Jerom;s advancing cavalry. The biggest victory came on the last day, when six regiments of Polish lancers were destroyed by combination of Platov's Cossacks and Vasilchikov's regular cavalry. It was a first time in the war that the French had encountered the full force of combined Russian regular and irregular right cavalry. It was also the first time they met Vasilchikov, one of the best Russian light cavalry generals. The superiority of the Russian light cavalry, established at the start of 1812 Campaign, was to grow even more pronounced over the next two years of war" (Lieven p 153).

It seems that Polish officers were correct in blaming Latour-Maubourg as he was simply outplayed by by Platov and Vasilchinkov. However, some credit has to go to Cossacks as well – as laying an ambush by a divion size force requires a above all a great skill in "small warfare".

Napoleonistika's statement "There were no regular cavalry to stop them [Polish lancers]" – perhaps should be taken with a pinch of salt since War is not an Olympic competition and conditions were never equal or "fair" to both sides. Once side could be more exposed to artillery fire, more exhausted, more combat-fatigued (previous losses) etc, and as can be seen by the battle of Mir leadership was perhaps the most important factor.

On the light warfare, polish lancers seemed to be inferior to Cossacks as the Polish lancers rule of thumb was: "Never get into a skirmish with Cossacks". (Chlapowski) – of course Cossacks were usually no match to Polish lancers in the open field battle.

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