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"SYW Cavalry Charging in Columns of Squadrons?" Topic

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Snowcat28 Apr 2013 4:37 a.m. PST

Did SYW cavalry sometimes charge in columns of squadrons? eg a 6 squadron regiment charging in successive waves of 2 (or 3) squadrons. If they did sometimes charge in successive waves of squadrons, how did this tactic function?

What books do you most highly recommend for details and accounts of SYW cavalry organisation and exploits?


crogge1757 Supporting Member of TMP28 Apr 2013 7:03 a.m. PST

I'd recommend Charles de Warnery, Remarks on Cavalry, London 1798. The English translation of the French original published earlier. The man was a Prussian general. Admitted he writes on post 7YW state-of-art cavalry tactics, but heavily draws from Prussian experience of the Silesian Wars, I recall.
For all other Armies cavalry, you are better of studying Malbourghian period tactics, for not much if anything had changed.
Cavalry arranged in columns of escadrons for the attack, in terms as a deliberate tactical formation, that would have been exercised during training, was known to the Prussians only, to my understanding.
The charge of the Bayreuth dragoons at Hohenfriedberg 1745 gave birth to this new tool of employing cavalry.
A regiment was placed behind the infanterie in reserve and await the moment the enemy infantry wavered or a gap was found large enough to piece through the enemy line. The cavalry was to take advantage of this opportunity, and charge right through the gap with deployed escadrons behind another and only thereafter each escadron could now charge the enemy in flank and rear with each escadron selecting its targets on opportunity.
Cavalry held in reserve behind the infanterie for this purpose was found in the battle of Prague for ex. In this battle, though, Zietens horse reinforced the left cav. wing and as a result, found more pressing tasks to deal with. The same at the battle of Leuthen. Here Württembergs cav reserve was initailly placed behind the Prussian infantry, but later was sent to sustain Driesens cavalry wing of the left. At Kolin, 18 June 1757, the Gensdarmes attacked the Ausrtian infantry in this manner, but were repulsed by very determined Austrian Grenadiers which showed no signs of wavering. Poor timing here, I guess. Also at Kunersdorf, some dragoons actually did give it a try once more, but again with little success.


timurilank28 Apr 2013 7:14 a.m. PST

A lot was dependent on terrain, the opposition and the moment of employment. list the sources referenced and many of these are available as an e-book. The following link lists the categories listed.


These, I found useful.


Perhaps, less challenging:


Personal logo Der Alte Fritz Sponsoring Member of TMP28 Apr 2013 7:24 a.m. PST

Frederick mentions the cavalry attack in squadrons in his book Instructions to His Generals. He believed that it was a Prussian "secret weapon" so I infer from this that the other countries probably did not use this tactic. I also suspect that the Prussians probably stumbled upon this by happenstance in one of their early battles, and so Fred decided that it could work in some instances.

The charge of the Bayreuth Dragoons at Hohenfriedberg was one of those lucky coincidences that Frederick experienced early in his career. They were a 10 squadron sized cavalry regiment (most were 5 squadrons), so it was a brigade sized formation in its own right. During the battle, the Prussian commander of the left wing cavalry forgot about the Bayreuths and so they kind of hung back while the opening cavalry scrum was being fought on the left. The Bayreuths managed to work their way across some marshy terrain, just in time to be in the right position at the right time to smash through the Austrian infantry iine, which had been severely weakened from the infantry fire fight. The resulting charge went down in the history books as one of the most famous cavalry charges of the era. Whether or not they used column of squadrons in this charge, I just do not know.

Snowcat28 Apr 2013 6:24 p.m. PST

Great replies, thanks. I'll look into those books and links. (I've spent years researching and buying books for periods other than the SYW – now I've turned to it, and found my mid-18thC collection of resources somewhat threadbare!)

For the SYW, Charles Grant (in 'The War Game') described the frontage of an average cavalry squadron (150 men) in 2 ranks occupying about 100 yards, approx 80-90% the frontage of the average infantry battalion in 3 ranks occupying about 110-125 yards.

Given that the average cavalry regiment was 4-5 squadrons, or 6 in the case of the Austrians, this creates the impression that 1 cavalry regiment lined up against 4-5 infantry battalions, and charged them at almost a 1:1 ratio of squadron vs battalion. For some reason, I found this a bit 'light-on' for the cavalry (150 men on horses vs 600 men on foot). Am I mistaken in this assumption?

I'd read that English dragoons just prior to the SYW were still charging in column of squadrons 'Marlborough-style'; the first squadron if checked by the enemy would peel off to right and left, and the 2nd squadron would charge.

If this could feasibly be accomplished, it made more sense to me that lining everything up in 2 lines and charging, and hoping for the best on the first strike. However, my little Osprey on Prussian SYW cavalry shows how behind the thin but very wide cuirassier line, would be a second line of dragoons, and a further third reserve of penny-packet hussars. With this luxury of available cavalry, I suppose the willingness to engage the maximum number of enemy battalions frontally per cavalry regiment makes sense…? Of course, all of this assumes the cavalry are intended to be used against infantry in the first place. :)

As timurilank alluded, terrain or the specifics of the opposition could force a cavalry regiment to fight in a narrower formation than usual, effectively in column of squadrons. And the Bayreuth dragoons being such a huge formation (1500 men+), may have been forced to do this for logistical (command-control) reasons alone.


Snowcat29 Apr 2013 2:28 a.m. PST

As an aside, according to Duffy, Austrian SYW cavalry formed up in 3 ranks of 44 files. That's a rough frontage of about 60 yards or approx 1/2 the average battalion frontage. So 2 Austrian squadrons side-by-side could in theory charge 1 enemy battalion *if* there was not an enforced sizeable gap between the 2 squadrons. The Prussians used 1 squadron in 2 ranks (100 yard frontage) to more effectively achieve the same result. Does anyone know how long into the SYW the Austrians persisted with 3 rank squadrons?


Personal logo Der Alte Fritz Sponsoring Member of TMP29 Apr 2013 5:43 a.m. PST

I was under the impression that the Prussian cavalry lined up in three ranks and that this was fairly standard for most countries' armies during the period. I will have to take another look at Duffys Army of Frederick the Great later today.

Snowcat29 Apr 2013 6:04 a.m. PST

From 'Frederick the Great's Army 1 – Cavalry':

"By late 1757 a 2-rank line had been adopted, initially to compensate for a shortage of men, but retained when it was found to be more effective; although the 3-rank line remained the official (though rarely practised) disposition. Hussars always formed in 2-ranks."

And from Kronoskaf, in reference to the French cavalry:

"With the instruction of May 1 1765, two years after the war, the French cavalry finally adopted the 2 ranks deep Prussian formation."


crogge1757 Supporting Member of TMP29 Apr 2013 7:16 a.m. PST

Well, all the above is right in some way.
The two rank formation could be adopted by all cavalry. Moreoften this was done to increase frontage when opposing superior forces, as did the Prussians in 1757 – most obviously.
Also much below strength cavalry could be ordered to form up in 2, as did the French cavalry of Richelieu's army by September 1757 – at least this is what Prussian intel reported from their observations. There are propably many more such occasions found during the 7YW. After the 7YW Prussians returned to the 3 rank formation. The 3rd rank was tasked to act as flankers – See Warnery, he should provide this bit.

The column of escadrons formation was used in order to pass through it's own infantry line. That is what the limited frontage was meant for. Forward infantry would simply open its line by having 2 platoons, or so, clear the way.
This is how the Bayreuth dragoons advanced prior to the charge

Snowcat29 Apr 2013 5:58 p.m. PST

Thanks Christian. You truly are a goldmine of useful information. :)

Is it correct that Hussars at least would not be in 3-ranks at all? This is what I've read in a couple of places, but it's starting to appear doubtful . . . ?

If we can conclude that for the SYW, column of squadrons was primarily for moving through gaps prior to charging in different formation, are there accounts of large cavalry regiments operating in separate battle groups? Not so much dispersed squadrons all on opportunity charge – but more 3 squadrons here and 3 squadrons there. If so, did these separate battle groups usually line up beside each other (with some large gap or other unit in between), or just as likely be one behind the other, with the rear group acting as a reserve? Or is this unlikely, and the kind of thing much more normally achieved by separate regiments?

I think I'm looking for another angle on the column of squadrons idea (!). Meanwhile, I've downloaded Warnery's 'Remarks on Cavalry' via Kronoskaf(courtesy of yourself & timurilank). Then I'll buy me a nice copy. :)

Thanks again,

inverugie30 Apr 2013 8:27 a.m. PST

From the same Kronoskaf article quoted earlier which talked about French cavalry in 1765:

'The instruction of 1755 indicated that "considering that its actual composition is better suited to form in two ranks, one should prefer this formation in the course of ordinary service.

'Indeed, during the Seven Years' War, French cavalry regiments were constantly incomplete and were always deployed in 2 complete ranks. If needed, companies lent troopers to each other to complete these 2 ranks (from 42 to 48 cavalrymen) and the remaining cavalrymen were deployed in a third incomplete rank.'

JPKelly02 May 2013 12:49 p.m. PST

An infantry battalion had a frontage of greater than 150 yds.

If we say 750 men in 3 ranks so there are 250 files. The frontage per man would be between 22" & 27" so that gives:

250 x 22" / 36" = 153 yds or

250 x 27" / 36" = 188 yds

Which can also be stated as 20 to 25 yards frontage per 100 infantrymen.

A battalion has a much larger frontage than the typical early SYW cavalry squadron when 3 ranks were used. Of course both the squadron & the battalion would vary in strength.

John Kelly

number405 May 2013 8:28 p.m. PST

How common was it for cavalry to fight as complete regiments?

Snowcat06 May 2013 4:54 a.m. PST

Average infantry battalion size I'm looking at is 600 = approx 120 yards frontage, vs approx 60 yards for squadron of 150 men (or slightly less) in 3 ranks. So 2 x 3-deep squadrons per battalion frontage – except for the issue of the big gap between squadrons…

I can't recall where I read it, but I think it was in excess of 60 yards.

redcoat06 May 2013 9:13 a.m. PST

This useful site gives estimates of unit frontages:

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