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"How did 17th century cavalry break off from combat?" Topic

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1,844 hits since 8 Dec 2012
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Comments or corrections?

Elenderil08 Dec 2012 6:39 a.m. PST

Looking at the situation in western Europe in the TYW/ECW period.

Period manuals seem to take one of two positions for the deployment of horse based on differing views of how horse would break off from combat.

The first one is that unlike foot they don't deploy in chequer board but directly behind each other. This is because, unlike men, a horse needs room to wheel about to make a 180 degree turn. Having supports directly behind means that once the unit has wheeled it can retire down the interval it is now facing.

The second view is that they should deploy just like foot with supports formed up in line with the intervals in the front line. This suggests that the horse will break directly to their rear. Does anyone have any evidence (any period considered) for how cavalry units broke off from combat, say from close combat (in contact with the enemy) and from ranged combat (say from more than 15-20 metres away from the enemy)?

raylev308 Dec 2012 12:09 p.m. PST

Typically in a cavalry charge the riders rode literally knee to knee.

I believe the command they used was, "run away, run away!"

DucDeGueldres Inactive Member09 Dec 2012 3:07 a.m. PST

A typical question I've wondered along time about, when testing wargame rules.
Although I accept that wargame rules should be practical on the wargames table, I always think: 'Suppose that they have to retreat, how should I deploy my support so that this doesn't lead to unwanted interpenetration of friendly units'.
When I read in the rules that interpenetration of friendly units is no problem, as long as you end behind them, I get the feeling that this does not sound right.
I guess one of the main issues of a brigade or army commander was how to deploy your units with a good balance between support and routes for retreat.

Although no answer to your question I wanted to share your thoughts from a wargaming point of view.

The Duke

abdul666lw Inactive Member09 Dec 2012 10:38 a.m. PST

Indeed the charge was done in very close order (otherwise it failed to have any effect, e.g. the 1st 'wild' charge of the Maison du Roi at Fontenoy, done en fourrageurs: in open order). Thus breaking off was for sure done in intense disorder.
At the upper level the practice was to deploy a second line in support of the chargers: this second line was 'dotted', with intervals between the troops or companies to allow the evading first line to pass through. Now this 'dotted line' formation is not allowed by most rules sets, which require the minis belonging to the same unit to remain in base-to-base contact. It can be implied in the 'interpenetration' rules, e.g. interpenetration causing neither delay to the evaders nor disorder to the interpenetrated if the second line is 'extended' (minis deployed in 1 rank instead of 2) in good order and immobile?

DucDeGueldres Inactive Member10 Dec 2012 4:07 p.m. PST

Abdul, that sounds like a reasonable solution.

Crofter Inactive Member10 Dec 2012 4:08 p.m. PST

If taking into consideration a charge you have 3 outcomes.

Failure to break the defenders, run away.
Break the defenders, take ground.
Defenders run before the clash, ground taken or much more likely pursuit of varying lengths of duration.

I would suggest all the above end with your cavalry formation being in some state of disorder and requiring dressing.

To answer your question in regards to break off, I have rarely read an account where a charge has been repulsed with the cavalry retiring in a good formation. The spirits of the men may be high but the formation as such is disordered. Result is they retire unformed, to my mind this is an advantage as it allows for greater fluidity when flowing around other units and structures to gain access to the rear.

A disordered formation does not mean the men fail to maintain their troop adhesion or sight of their officers, this often results in a swift reforming of the lines for the next attempt. I'm talking 18thc and beyond here as for ecw and tyw ….?

my half a dinari's worth


Elenderil11 Dec 2012 7:28 a.m. PST

Chef Du Whip
The system I am working on has pretty much the outcomes you list. Any melee combat creates disorder breaking off creates disorder. I was considering if I needed to displace by a small amount to right or left to simulate the body turning as a whole towards one side, especially if breaking off from firing at an enemy before contact. I was looking at possible effects on the follow up formations of unwanted interpenetration and where period theorists believed the support line should form to reduce the risk.

From my own reading and the comments above I am tempted to go with chequer board as many period illustrations show that formation.

Grandviewroad Inactive Member27 Dec 2012 6:36 p.m. PST

as a gamer, I'd say to abstract it. Or you can achieve the results by saying "may retire back through any gap of 'x' width (a base, or something) in the unist behind.

fighting battles wasn't like a parade ground, so it's pointless to have parade ground mechanics in a game, anyway.

my 2 bits.

companycmd05 Feb 2013 12:39 p.m. PST

No cavalry ever disentangled themselves from melee. Once joined, the melee is totally un-managable, unknowable and if you lose, you're dead. If they did run away, they didn't come back and where pretty much exhausted for the rest of the battle. Answer: don't get into melee in the first place.

Pijlie Inactive Member07 Feb 2013 1:44 p.m. PST

It was the Age Of Reason. So they argued a mutual withdrawal.

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