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"The relative rarity of heavy cavalry" Topic


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Personal logo 4th Cuirassier Supporting Member of TMP17 Oct 2020 5:59 a.m. PST

The thread on the Prussian Hussars reminds me of something I'm always slightly puzzled by, which is this PSR insistence that light cavalry had little battlefield role.

Many armies of this era had, approximately, no heavy cavalry to speak of. Looking for example at post-1806/7, only Prussia's cuirassiers were truly heavy, her dragoons, hussars, uhlans and Landwehr all being light; Britain rarely fielded her heavies and then in small numbers; all Portugal and Poland's cavalry were light except for the latter's two-squadron cuirassier regiment; Spain's dragoons, like Austria's and Prussia's, were in fact light and her nominal twelve 'heavy' regiments lacked horses. Eight of Austria's 35 cavalry regiments were cuirassiers, but they had fewer squadrons than the light, so were less than 20% of the total.

It's really only France and Russia who had a lot of heavy cavalry, not least because in both these armies the dragoons were heavy too.

In short, in many cases if you didn't use light cavalry as battle cavalry, you had no battle cavalry at all.

Most rules I've seen make heavy cavalry significantly more effective than light. I have to wonder if that is correct, because if it were so, why would only two or three armies focus on having a substantial amount of it?

79thPA Supporting Member of TMP17 Oct 2020 7:15 a.m. PST

Was it because of the availability of larger horses in certain area?

Oliver Schmidt17 Oct 2020 7:37 a.m. PST

Heavy cavalry was more expensive, in aquisition and maintenance, as the horses were bigger.

In Prussia, after 1788, a cuirassier horse (minimum height of 5 feet 1 inch) got 3 Metzen oats, 4 pounds hay and 10 pounds straw per day, and a hussar horse (minimum height of 4 feet 9 inches) only 2,5 Metzen oats, 4 pounds hay and 8 pounds straw per day.

14Bore17 Oct 2020 7:41 a.m. PST

Prussia lost their big horses after Jena. Feeding them was the main issue and replenishing them once lost was a another problem. Russian dragoon horses could be big or small depending on the area they were formed is the way I read it.

14Bore17 Oct 2020 7:44 a.m. PST

Empire rules list Prussian Cuirassiers as medium cavalry, my battles between Russians and Prussians does become awkward at times.

MiniPigs17 Oct 2020 7:46 a.m. PST

The British heavy dragoons were basically unarmored cuirassiers. Some countries like the Saxons had a high proportion of "heavies".

Post 1807 Prussia was chronically broke.

In re Austria, why isnt 20% heavy cavalry a goodly proportion? Their dragoons were battle cavalry.

Didnt the French actually reduce their number of heavies from the Revolutionary army to the Empire?

The trend during the Napoleonic wars was towards lancers and they were a sort of liaison between the lights and the dragoons.

Cerdic17 Oct 2020 9:10 a.m. PST

My opinion, as an amateur who's done a bit of reading, is this.

Light cavalry had little battlefield role IF you have a shedload of heavy cavalry.

On a battlefield, cavalry was more effective the heavier it was. So you could use your light cavalry if you had no heavies. They would do the job, just not so well.

That leads to the question, why haven't you got any heavies? Money. As mentioned above, cavalry was expensive to maintain. Heavy cavalry was REALLY expensive to maintain.

So what made heavy cavalry 'heavy'? According to people who know about horses it is all about the size of horse, not the kit of the rider. This leads to another problem for your military-minded autocrat. As the wars went on and horses died, it became harder and harder to find replacements. And big horses in particular were in short supply. It takes several years, and skilled people and land and resources to grow a horse.

The quality of horseflesh is an interesting point, I think. I remember reading about British Hussars attacking theoretically heavier French cavalry and soundly beating them. My wargamer brain went 'how the hell did that happen? The heavier guys should have won'. It would appear that the British had better access to bigger and better horses, so the Hussars were actually mounted on bigger horses. This difference was magnified by the better condition of the Hussars' horses as the logistic situation led to them receiving much better fodder.

This whole horsey business becomes increasingly complicated the more you look into it!

MiniPigs17 Oct 2020 9:28 a.m. PST

So what made heavy cavalry 'heavy'? According to people who know about horses it is all about the size of horse, not the kit of the rider.

It's also the size of the man/trooper that makes cavalry heavy.

We forget about this factor sometimes. just like with grenadiers where it was as often the size of the man that made a grenadier not his efficiency as a soldier.

Cerdic17 Oct 2020 9:33 a.m. PST

Very true. But a big bloke looks a pillock on a tiny horse…

Personal logo John the OFM Supporting Member of TMP17 Oct 2020 9:37 a.m. PST

An interesting factoid I read a few years ago.
It has to do with the pay the men received.
Cuirassiers were supposedly paid 50% more than other "horse".
Dragoons were paid the least because they were paid as mounted infantry. "Light horse" were paid as cavalry, even if they did the same function as Dragoons.

Follow the money.

Stoppage17 Oct 2020 10:13 a.m. PST

Re horse supply.

Apparently larger horses take longer to train than smaller ones.

A cousin had a trakehner and told me that it'd take six years to train him (dressage) whereas the bay pony she had had only taken four years.

Nine pound round17 Oct 2020 10:51 a.m. PST

" We forget about this factor sometimes. just like with grenadiers where it was as often the size of the man that made a grenadier not his efficiency as a soldier."

There's a reason for that. Hand to hand, the larger man has an inherent advantage, and the bigger his height and reach, the more strongly that advantage compounds. That's why combative sports are divided by weight class- because otherwise the size differential would make too many matches one-sided.

Frederick Supporting Member of TMP17 Oct 2020 11:39 a.m. PST

As John says, follow the money; when you are in the thick of it and the bullets are flying, heavy cavalry is great – on the other hand, in peacetime when you need to have fast trooper to impress on the local peasantry the importance of coughing up taxes for their liege lords, light cavalry are both perfectly adequate and much cheaper; for the frugal autocrats, having a boatload of light cavalry makes a lot of sense

Even if you look at the "big powers" in heavy cavalry, for line cavalry for most of the First Empire the French had 2 regiments of carabineers and 12 regiments of cuirassiers versus 30 regiments of dragoons, 30 regiments of chasserus a cheval and 12 or so regiments of hussars (i.e. 14 versus 42 regiments); for the Russians for a good hunk of time they had 9 regiments of cuirassiers versus about 55 regiments of other types of cavalry

Personal logo Unlucky General Supporting Member of TMP17 Oct 2020 11:56 a.m. PST

I feel certain from the infantryman's POV there was little difference. Any sized man on a horse is towering above you with either a lance or a wicked length of cutting steel. Very nasty.

I suspect any differences come down to cavalry on cavalry encounters. A larger horse with a larger and perhaps armoured rider looks to a smaller cavalryman like any of them might look to an infantryman. Reach and height advantages in melee would be a distinct advantage.

Given the loss in horses through campaigning and battle, would not the French have been pressing the horses of defeated armies into their service also? The more you win, the more you gain and conversely the more you lose the harder it becomes to make up the loss. It would go a long way in explaining shifts in cavalry composition across nations throughout the period. Just a thought.

von Winterfeldt17 Oct 2020 12:41 p.m. PST

According to people who know about horses it is all about the size of horse, not the kit of the rider.

Not necessarily, look at the Russian cuirassier horses, not that high, but enduring

Personal logo 4th Cuirassier Supporting Member of TMP17 Oct 2020 2:03 p.m. PST

@ Frederick

I make that 44 heavy regiments and 42 light.

Quarrie says that

When Napoleon returned from Elba in 1815 he authorised a million francs for the purchase of remounts, out of which he was able to secure 900 heavy cavalry horses, 787 for the dragoons, 1,084 for the lancers and 3,785 for the hussars and chasseurs, giving an average price of around 300 francs for a heavy cavalry mount, 100 for a light.

The arithmetic only works if dragoon horses were heavy.

MiniPigs17 Oct 2020 2:12 p.m. PST

I understand that dragoon horses weren't necessarily heavier but were more clever. Some of them were even capable of a decent game of backgammon. You have to pay more for a clever horse.

Nine pound round17 Oct 2020 2:21 p.m. PST

The French did press foreign horses into service- they were used to remount dismounted dragoons after the Jena campaign. The Saxon cavalry's mounts were supposedly particularly prized.

The experience of twenty years of warfare, with constant purchases and requisitions, must have been hard on the Continent's equine population. I suspect one reason that the British cavalry were so well mounted was the Channel: no foreign remount service to disrupt the studbooks and breeding plans.

Personal logo deadhead Supporting Member of TMP17 Oct 2020 2:29 p.m. PST

Why do you need cavalry at all, before the internal combustion engine?

Let us try a list;

Reconnaissance (above all).
Harrying the enemy's supply lines.
Protecting your flanks from recce or harassment.
Pursuing a broken enemy.
Charging formed infantry in squares (oh sure, let us try that).
Facing enemy cavalry, who look so butch in their cuirasses and square portmanteaux.

OK, other than the last, Lights win every time for any commander.

Cheaper. Far more useful. More of them. Easier maintained (Belgium in a five day campaign is not Spain or Eastern Europe/ Russia)


For every role Lights beat Heavies hands down

Nine pound round17 Oct 2020 2:30 p.m. PST

Don't forget enforcing the Riot Act.

robert piepenbrink Supporting Member of TMP17 Oct 2020 4:02 p.m. PST

Don't underestimate terrain. Countries fighting on the North German Plain tend to be heavy cavalry prone. Bavaria and Wurttemberg much less so. As several people have pointed out, heavy horse trump dragoons and light horse, but if there are no heavy cavalry around, dragoons and light horse work out fine against infantry, and are substantially cheaper and easier to maintain.

Personal logo McLaddie Supporting Member of TMP17 Oct 2020 8:17 p.m. PST

… this PSR insistence that light cavalry had little battlefield role.

In short, in many cases if you didn't use light cavalry as battle cavalry, you had no battle cavalry at all.

I am not sure why this is even a question.

1. Were light cavalry brigades/regiments seen on the battlefield assigned to battlefield formations? Yes

2. Were light cavalry brigades/regiments reported to have 1. charged, 2. engaged in combat with different arms? Yes.

3. Where light cavalry assigned to battle formations throughout the twenty years of war? Yes.

4. Name famous cavalry generals. How many were light cavalry commanders?

5. Can you name a battle where light cavalry WASN'T involved in combat?

The cost for most heavy cavalry wasn't that much more than light infantry. The cost of outfitting a hussar wasn't much different than a dragoon, a lancer much different than most heavy cavalry [sans cuirass]

To insist that light cavalry had little battlefield role is to be pretty ignorant of Napoleonic battle. It isn't a matter of what the light cavalry was supposed to be good for or do outside the battlefield, but how they were actually used regardless.

von Winterfeldt17 Oct 2020 11:56 p.m. PST

To add light cavalry was employed all the time in most fatiguing work – like reconnaissance, outpost duties, patrolling, skirmishing with the enemy, while heavy cavalry was usually not employed for such mundane duties and could maintain the strength of the horses better.

Personal logo SHaT1984 Supporting Member of TMP18 Oct 2020 1:04 a.m. PST

So whats PSR apart from something obscene?

Also to mention:
-security
-LOC
-Escort duty
-Admin/ Messaging/Posts

"rarity of" is a bit extreme, scarcity, only in certain nations probably -means a full analysis needs to be done- to determine what is normal (%, grouping/ strength/ relevance/ longevity etc.) and check all derivatives from those stats.
WSY?
d

Martin Rapier18 Oct 2020 1:14 a.m. PST

Yes, enquiring minds want to know what PSR is. I'm struggling to imagine the Plastic Soldier Review being an authority on the operation of Napoleonic cavalry.

robert piepenbrink Supporting Member of TMP18 Oct 2020 4:21 a.m. PST

Public Service Report I think. Public Service Announcement is more common in the US. Think advertisements telling you things the government would like you to believe. The broadcast stations in the US have to do a certain number of them as a licensing requirement. And of course Armed Forces Radio and TV--Germany and Korea in my day--had even more of them to fill in the spaces where there would have been commercials. I saw more Marine recruiting commercials while on duty in countries with no USMC units…

Brechtel198 Supporting Member of TMP18 Oct 2020 5:10 a.m. PST

Heavy cavalry was more expensive to organize and mount than light cavalry. The larger horses were more fragile, health-wise, than the smaller horses used by light cavalry.

In the French service, heavy cavalry and dragoon regiments were smaller than light cavalry regiments.

Cuirassier and carabinier regiments had 89 all ranks per company, dragoons 119, and light cavalry 144. And the 'standard' cavalry regiment of the Consulate and early Empire had four squadrons each, which would later change when regiments became larger or provisional regiments were formed. Each squadron no matter what type-two companies each.

A well-cared for horse could usually carry one quarter of its own weight. The average cuirassier complete with kit and weapons weighed in at 309 pounds; a dragoon at 273 poundes, and a light cavalryman at 251 pounds.

The rank of chef d'escadron was used for all mounted units-cavalry, horse artillery, gendarmerie, as well as train units.

Brechtel198 Supporting Member of TMP18 Oct 2020 5:12 a.m. PST

To add light cavalry was employed all the time in most fatiguing work like reconnaissance, outpost duties, patrolling, skirmishing with the enemy, while heavy cavalry was usually not employed for such mundane duties and could maintain the strength of the horses better.

'Mundane'? Necessary would be a more useful term. And light cavalry was also employed on the battlefield along with their heavy brethren.

Personal logo McLaddie Supporting Member of TMP18 Oct 2020 9:58 a.m. PST

Heavy cavalry was more expensive to organize and mount than light cavalry.

Apart from 30+ pounds body armor, why would cuirassiers or more particularly, non-armored heavy cavalry be more expensive? Unless heavier horses were that much more expensive. Organizational-wise, wouldn't a company of 144 light cavalry be as difficult to organize as 89 heavy or 119 dragoons?

Pretty much the same equipment otherwise. Larger regiments of light cavalry would end up being as expensive as a smaller heavy regiment. Or was that the compensation to make them all about equal in actual costs?

If anything, I think the rarity of heavy cavalry vs light would be the heavies more limited uses: Only on the battlefield itself.

Brechtel198 Supporting Member of TMP18 Oct 2020 1:06 p.m. PST

That sounds like an excellent subject for research…

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