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Dmitriy Sobolev




Location: Moscow, Russia
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PostPosted: Thu 20 Apr, 2006 2:39 am    Post subject: Question about cavalry melee weapons.         Reply with quote

Greetings to all forum people.

There is an interesting article on this site about decline of a lance in favour of pistol in cavalry. Both weapons were used in charge. But a charge can be followed by melee.

Speaking about heavily armoured cavalry, it's hard to imagine that a single-handed sword (or even some sort of a sword-rapier, like pappenheimer) will be efficient enough against ironclad gendarme, or imperial cuirassier, or polish hussar. In the essay I read on the thearma.org stated that sword can not cut through plate armour. If this is true for heavy knight war swords, then sabre or sword-rapier hardly have a chance to score a kill.

I have a very scanty information about using of a striking weapons, like mace or war hammer ("horseman's pick") in cavalry. I read that in some cases maces and war hammers were used as a distinction for officers (like spontoon or partisane in infantry). However, I'm wondering about how widely were these weapons used in european cavalry of Renaissance and later times (Thirty Years War). Were they issued as a regulation weapon and/or often used as a weapon of choice against armoured enemy, or they were casually used only by some individuals preferring them?
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Eric Myers




Location: Sacramento, CA
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PostPosted: Thu 20 Apr, 2006 12:52 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Hi Dmitriy,

If I remember correctly, the sword made a comeback as a cavalry weapon as the use of armour by both infantry and cavalry decreased. With regards to cavalry armour, 3/4 and 1/2 armour largely gave way to breastplates, and the usage of unarmoured light cavalry increased tremendously. As a side note, don't discount the armour value of wool coats - there are plenty of examples of wool coats stopping musket shot.

Also don't forget that cavalry is a great offensive weapon, but generally a poor defensive one. In other words, unless both rider and horse are armoured, cavalry should charge through enemy lines, not stop in them for melee. The shock value of that much mass moving that fast is hard to imagine for anyone who hasn't seen it (or been in a cattle stampede), and there are lots of cavalry manuevres that make use of this.

Much of the dynamics changed again as firearms increased their range, accuracy, and rate of fire. For example, in the mid 1700's a musket could fire once, in the time it took a horseman to cross the musket's effective range, but by the end of the Napoleonic wars, a rifle could be reloaded and fired three times while the horseman was charging. Once the revolver came into the world, there was no reason for cavalry to have a sword anymore, it just weighed them down.

Eric Myers
Sacramento Sword School
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Felix Wang




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PostPosted: Thu 20 Apr, 2006 2:41 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

There was tremendous change in the amount of armour used between the early Renaissance and the mid-17th century, and weaponry changed accordingly. Basically, weapons varied as the degree of protection changed. By the mid-17th century, men armoured cap a pie were a rarity, and almost everyone was vulnerable to a cutting weapon. Throughout the period in question, a thrust could still be effective, (if difficult to aim accurately), so a swordsman had a least one way of killing his enemy. Many horsemen carried multiple weapons - hussars might have a saber like sword for soft targets and a long stiff estoc-like koncerz for thrusting, and a mace or hammer as well.

I think the idea of "regulation" armament is basically not a Renaissance one, but only begins afterwards. Heavy horse were the last holdouts of the aristocratic warrior mentality, rather than the regimented soldier mindset, and I believe that heavy horsemen tended to bring the weapons they thought they needed.

About firearms - the relationship between horsemen and infantry didn't really change until the 1850's. Aside from experiments like Ferguson's rifle, the rifles of the Napoleonic wars fired no faster than any musket, and in earlier periods somewhat slower. The first demonstration that infantry had really increased their survivability against horsemen was at Balaclava, where the Highlanders repulsed a Russian cavalry charge while staying in a "thin red line".
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Eric Myers




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PostPosted: Thu 20 Apr, 2006 3:12 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Felix Wang wrote:

About firearms - the relationship between horsemen and infantry didn't really change until the 1850's. Aside from experiments like Ferguson's rifle, the rifles of the Napoleonic wars fired no faster than any musket, and in earlier periods somewhat slower. The first demonstration that infantry had really increased their survivability against horsemen was at Balaclava, where the Highlanders repulsed a Russian cavalry charge while staying in a "thin red line".


Firearms of this period are outside my real experience, so I don't want to argue this point too far Big Grin but, IIRC, the source for the comment about Napoleonic war weapons is from George T Dennison's "A history of cavalry from the earliest times : with lessons for the future", and has to do with an increased effective range rather than rate of fire.

Eric Myers
Sacramento Sword School
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Felix Wang




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PostPosted: Thu 20 Apr, 2006 4:04 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Ah, yes - a fair point indeed. It doesn't seem to have altered the use of riflemen, though, which only faced up to cavalry when they had formed infantry to fall back on, or maybe some barrier.
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Dmitriy Sobolev




Location: Moscow, Russia
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PostPosted: Wed 26 Apr, 2006 2:05 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Quote:
I think the idea of "regulation" armament is basically not a Renaissance one, but only begins afterwards. Heavy horse were the last holdouts of the aristocratic warrior mentality, rather than the regimented soldier mindset, and I believe that heavy horsemen tended to bring the weapons they thought they needed.
Even in the features of this site there are some evidence of "regulation" in heavy cavalry, concerning use of horse barding, composition of a "lance" unit etc. I think there were equipment standards to be met by any gendarme - plate armour, heavy lance, proper war horse... So, I'm not talking about any "pattern 15** cavalry trooper's hammer", of course. But were such weapons ever mentioned in documents (concerning, say, compagnies d'ordonnance or something like this) as necessary part of gendarme's equipment?
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Benjamin H. Abbott




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PostPosted: Wed 26 Apr, 2006 7:17 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

During the first half of the 16th century, and perhaps earlier too, maces seem to have been standard equipment for heavy horsemen. Lance, mace and sword. In the later 16th century, though, you see the pistol replacing the mace even before it replaced the lance.
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Gordon Frye




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PostPosted: Wed 26 Apr, 2006 9:37 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

As Benjamin says, maces or war hammers were standard equipment for Gens d'Arms. French and Burgundian Compagnies d'Ordonnance required such a weapon to be carried on the saddle by Men-at-Arms, to be used as the secondary weapon to the heavy Lance. The sword was definitely a tertiary weapon! Even as late as the third quarter of the 16th Century the Hammer or Mace is suggested as being carried by the Gendarme, and the Hammer/Pick was known to be carried as late as the mid-17th Century, both my Harquebusiers in England, and Hussars in Poland, as an effective "armour breaker"

Again though, as Benjamin notes, before the end of the 16th Century, long before the Lance was supplanted by the Pistol, the Pistol had pretty much supplanted the War Hammer and Mace as the secondary weapon of the Gendarmerie. In general. There are MANY references and suggestions to the Lancer being "also armed with a pistol" in addition to his Lance, and it is specifically for use in the melee, and as a replacement for the Hammer.

In fact, most of the commentators of the day strongly note that the Pistolier should NOT fire off both of his pistols in the Charge, but reserve the second, and any other pistols for the melee. Since the Pistol doesn't need any muscular power to make it effective against armour, it works just fine at the stand-still as is (maybe even better, since the target isn't moving so much and is closer), while the Lance necessitates the power of the Horse for proper effect. (Of course, the War Hammer and Mace do just fine in the melee too, but require closer proximity to the target...)

Anyway, once plate armour became the standard, swords definitely became a less effective tool for combat, and such items of brute strength and ignorance, such as the War Hammer and Mace, became the preferred tools of the trade for use after the initial contact was made with the Lance. But again, as noted above, the Cavalryman's best bet was to hit, retreat and rally, and then to charge and hit again with the Lance.

Allons!

Gordon

"After God, we owe our victory to our Horses"
Gonsalo Jimenez de Quesada
http://www.renaissancesoldier.com/
http://historypundit.blogspot.com/
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Jaroslav Kravcak




Location: Slovakia
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PostPosted: Thu 27 Apr, 2006 7:46 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

May I ask which way they retreated? Did they came through infantry formation and went out at the second side or charges in turned their horses and run away the same direction they came from? Second option seems quite risky to me.
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Gordon Frye




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PostPosted: Thu 27 Apr, 2006 8:02 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Jaroslav Kravcak wrote:
May I ask which way they retreated? Did they came through infantry formation and went out at the second side or charges in turned their horses and run away the same direction they came from? Second option seems quite risky to me.


Depends upon the depth of the Infantry bloc. Big Grin

If it's thin, or you have the velocity (and they the porosity) for the Horse to continue through, it can work, but you would have to rally on the far side from your own lines, and charge back through. Usually it's (according to what I can gather, that is) Charge, Hit. Recover, Retreat, Rally. Charge, Hit. etc. Just retreat off to the side, so as not to mask the next batch of Cavalry coming in for the charge.

At least this is how I read it.

When charging other Horse, however, it's a whole different ball game.

Allons!

Gordon

"After God, we owe our victory to our Horses"
Gonsalo Jimenez de Quesada
http://www.renaissancesoldier.com/
http://historypundit.blogspot.com/
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Felix Wang




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PostPosted: Thu 27 Apr, 2006 8:14 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

The plan of charging through the enemy, reforming, and charging back again was used against cavalry, at least in the high Middle Ages. This method is documented for the battle of Bouvines in 1214, as I recall.

"The Viscount of Melun, who had in his troop knights of renown, practised in the use of arms, was fighting at the same time. He attacked his enemies from another side in the same manner that the Count of Saint-Pol had done; he went all the way through them and came back into this battle from another point. "

From William of Breton's version on the deremilitari site.
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Benjamin H. Abbott




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PostPosted: Thu 27 Apr, 2006 9:28 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Of course, the best option is to only charge infantry already engaged with other infantry. Then it becomes a rout and the pursuing cavalry can just bash heads until they get tired.
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Jaroslav Kravcak




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PostPosted: Thu 27 Apr, 2006 10:25 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Well maybe lance division was designed for this purpouse that charging troops covered retreat of previous wave etc till first ranks didnt resupplied once again and maybe give little rest to their horses. Could it be so?

What about cavalry vs cavalry fight in period when only weapons for close combat were used? Seems to me like casualties caused at first contact werecrucial for outcome of fight against two equally strong groups as lance charge provided maximal losses in minmal time and then it would be much slowlier.
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Dmitriy Sobolev




Location: Moscow, Russia
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PostPosted: Sun 30 Apr, 2006 12:53 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Thank you all for your answers!

Concerning cavalry vs cavalry charge, is is also interesting, how they endured a collision when two units charged one another. In later times (say, Napoleonic wars) one of units usually fled before impact, or opposing squadrons stopped before engaging in melee, there was no collision of horses. But for proper use of a lance charge should be delivered at full speed... Perhaps they formed loosely to allow opponents to pass through intervals? In this case, wasn't it suggestive to form up tightly and to intimidate enemy by possibility of frontal collision, like in Napoleonic era?
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Gordon Frye




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PostPosted: Sun 30 Apr, 2006 1:57 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

"Boot top to boot top, loose reined and bloody spurred" was what Cromwell ordered for his men in the Charge in the 1640's, using the Sword as their primary weapon. Two hundred years later (1847), Col. Jack Hayes of the 1st Texas Mounted Volunteers ("Texas Rangers") told his men "Let the bone and muscle of your horses be your weapon!". (That, and "Burn 'em", meaning wait until they are close enough to suffer powder burns as well as gunshot wounds, to ensure a hit with their repeating pistols. Pretty much what Francois de la Noue was saying in the 1580's) It is my belief that Lancers, when charging other Cavalry, also adopted this practice of close order to ensure the maximum shock ensued from their contact with their opponents.

However, on occasion more open order was called for when you WANTED your opponents to pass through without a collision. Henri of Navarre spaced his men within their 6-rank column in such a way as the Spanish and French Catholic Lancers would pass through without crashing their horses into his, but would get to suffer from the pistols of his own riders while doing so. (Both horse and rider will have a natural tendency to aim for the open space between other horses or men, not wanting to actually contact the opponent at full speed. One reason for the close contact between files is to ensure that they DO contact their opponents, and can't vere off.)

So it depends upon the arms used, and the temperment of the commander and his troops.

Allons!

Gordon

"After God, we owe our victory to our Horses"
Gonsalo Jimenez de Quesada
http://www.renaissancesoldier.com/
http://historypundit.blogspot.com/
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Jean Thibodeau




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PostPosted: Sun 30 Apr, 2006 3:28 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Gordon Frye wrote:
"Boot top to boot top, loose reined and bloody spurred" was what Cromwell ordered for his men in the Charge in the 1640's, using the Sword as their primary weapon. Two hundred years later (1847), Col. Jack Hayes of the 1st Texas Mounted Volunteers ("Texas Rangers") told his men "Let the bone and muscle of your horses be your weapon!". (That, and "Burn 'em", meaning wait until they are close enough to suffer powder burns as well as gunshot wounds, to ensure a hit with their repeating pistols. Pretty much what Francois de la Noue was saying in the 1580's) It is my belief that Lancers, when charging other Cavalry, also adopted this practice of close order to ensure the maximum shock ensued from their contact with their opponents.

However, on occasion more open order was called for when you WANTED your opponents to pass through without a collision. Henri of Navarre spaced his men within their 6-rank column in such a way as the Spanish and French Catholic Lancers would pass through without crashing their horses into his, but would get to suffer from the pistols of his own riders while doing so. (Both horse and rider will have a natural tendency to aim for the open space between other horses or men, not wanting to actually contact the opponent at full speed. One reason for the close contact between files is to ensure that they DO contact their opponents, and can't vere off.)

So it depends upon the arms used, and the temperment of the commander and his troops.

Allons!

Gordon


So, what is the result when two equally brave, obstinate, foolish (?) cavalry forces both on well armoured horse actually meet ! A lot of times I would think it would be a case of playing chicken and one side or the other breaking up at the last second and trying to open up their own formation or scatter out of the way.

I would think if nobody " blinks " the results would be messy with a lot of very " unhappy " and " hurt " horses: Train wreck comes to mind. Eek! ( Mutuality assured destruction. )

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Gordon Frye




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PostPosted: Sun 30 Apr, 2006 10:11 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Jean Thibodeau wrote:


So, what is the result when two equally brave, obstinate, foolish (?) cavalry forces both on well armoured horse actually meet ! A lot of times I would think it would be a case of playing chicken and one side or the other breaking up at the last second and trying to open up their own formation or scatter out of the way.

I would think if nobody " blinks " the results would be messy with a lot of very " unhappy " and " hurt " horses: Train wreck comes to mind. Eek! ( Mutuality assured destruction. )


Train wreck is right! I have read that the result is a crash that can be distinctly heard throughout the battlfield! LOTS of horses get killed or maimed, along with their riders. I understand that at Austerlitz when the French and Austrian Cuirassier's hit each other, it was a deafening sound, heard above the surrounding musketry. (I think I have the battle right. It was French vs. Austrians at any event.)

But usually, as in most such things, one side flinches before the actual contact is made: that or they're bowled over, like the Condottieri Horse by the French Gendarmerie at Fornovo.

Anyway, whenever two opponents meet with equal intentions of winning, and with equal determination and obstinancy, you're right, things get ugly, fast. Same thing as when Swiss Pikes met Landsknechts...

Allons!

Gordon

"After God, we owe our victory to our Horses"
Gonsalo Jimenez de Quesada
http://www.renaissancesoldier.com/
http://historypundit.blogspot.com/
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Felix Wang




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PostPosted: Mon 08 May, 2006 1:33 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Two late comments:

First, an interesting idea about the number of times a lance could be used:

"On Thursday, I Jumada 6, the Sultan entered Damascus; it was a day made tragic by the cries of men, their tears, and their supplications to God for his succor. He went up to the citadel, and remained there until Saturday, the 8th, when he descended again and went out with his armies to his tent at the Dome of Yalbugha, outside the city. He and his army prepared to give battle to Tamerlane; the Zahiri mamluks had cut the shafts of their lances short so that they might be able to stab Tamerlane's men one after the other - such was their contempt for his soldiers." This was in 1400.
http://www.deremilitari.org/resources/sources/taghri1.htm

Second, that in 18th century warfare, it was not uncommon for the ranks of both opposing lines of cavalry to loosen up just before an actual collision took place, which resulted in the two lines passing through each other, each trooper trying to hit the enemy to his right and avoid the enemy on his left. Mercer describes this effect in the battle of Waterloo, comparing it to the lacing of the right hand fingers with the left hand fingers. They might then reform, reverse, and pass through each other again.
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