Author Topic: How manoeuvrable were cavalry on the battlefield?  (Read 491 times)

Mark G

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Re: How manoeuvrable were cavalry on the battlefield?
« Reply #30 on: November 22, 2020, 09:27:53 AM »
Don’t forget the depth of a horse vs a man.

People are basically a circle (or square or triangle) from above.

They can basically turn on their centre point ( the head).

You just put your left foot behind and slightly to the opposite side of your right foot and twist, and you have a 90 degree turn.

Horses are basically oval (or rectangular or wedges) they cannot pivot on their centre point.  So turning in place is much much harder.  That has implications for all forms of wheeling
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Justin Swanton

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Re: How manoeuvrable were cavalry on the battlefield?
« Reply #31 on: November 22, 2020, 09:35:28 AM »
Yes, undoubtedly.  Because of the ranks, and because the horses on the inside have a much harder job turning in place than men do.

Remember, on a proper wheel, the second rank must wait for the first rank to not only make their turn, but also move forward before the second rank can itself move to the first line starting point to begin its wheel, etc for each rank. 
And given that spatial logic and the need to anticipate the rear ranks to follow and the possible threat of an enemy, the logical place for that first line to stop and the second line to start is when the first rank has wheeled and moved forward to the full depth of the formation before the second rank moves forward to begin.

You can try this yourself with figures- take a 3x3 element of cavalry
Mark the footprint and especially the front corner.
Now wheel the front elements on a corner.  You can’t follow with the second rank until the first then moved forward as half the rear is still occupying some of the space ( the base effectively reminds you how long a horse is) - and you can see the nonsense of the whole formation following the front line of the front element.
 
So you move the front rank forward and it may as well go forward the full 3 deep.  Second rank now moves to the first start, wheels and forward, then third. 
Finally, the formation as a whole is now ready to advance to the new direction as a formation.

You can speed that up by changing from a full wheel on a pivot, to an open wheel that keeps moving, that’s the archway turn, but it requires at least the frontage length again distance before the turn can complete.  Worse if it’s done at speed.

And the whole time in a battle you risk an opponent attacking while this complicated movement is incomplete and your fighting ability is greatly reduced.

Do you see this kind of thing working: front rank wheels in a tidy line and the rear ranks just follow, ranks breaking up but the files remaining intact. When the front rank has completed the wheel and advances, the whole formation naturally reverts to its tide rectangular shape.

 
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Erpingham

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Re: How manoeuvrable were cavalry on the battlefield?
« Reply #32 on: November 22, 2020, 10:31:19 AM »
Quote
Wheeling is done by platoons - 24 men according to the manual - which seems to imply that larger units didn't wheel

larger formations wheeled by platoons/troops.  I'm sure we've shared diagrams of this in the past, last time we discussed the subject.

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Mark G

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Re: How manoeuvrable were cavalry on the battlefield?
« Reply #33 on: November 22, 2020, 10:41:53 AM »
I can’t see any kind of second rank in that diagram, just a bunch of squashed horses
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Mark G

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Re: How manoeuvrable were cavalry on the battlefield?
« Reply #34 on: November 22, 2020, 10:44:28 AM »
What you are trying there is to take an archway wheel and squash it into a hinge .

It’s something you try quite often- making a picture and then suit is evidence.

Try taking to back to the start position and stepping it through a half horse at a time
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Re: How manoeuvrable were cavalry on the battlefield?
« Reply #35 on: November 22, 2020, 11:28:56 AM »
Quote
Do you see this kind of thing working: front rank wheels in a tidy line and the rear ranks just follow, ranks breaking up but the files remaining intact.

I'm not sure real cavalry would turn like this unless following a hairpin road.  Try widening the turning circle, placing the pivot point much further to the left.  You would mess up your formation less and look less like a queue.
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Jim Webster

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Re: How manoeuvrable were cavalry on the battlefield?
« Reply #36 on: November 22, 2020, 01:02:11 PM »
I think you have to define by 'manoeuvrable' as well
Cavalry sent round the back of the army to deal with something on the other wing were probably very manoeuvrable, in that formations would probably loosen out during the movement and then close up as they arrived at their destination facing the right direction.

If you regard file leaders and file closers as NCOs there are an awful lot of men in a cavalry unit to shout men back into formation and get stuff tightened up. Everybody knows who they're behind and who they're next to

My take is that for something like moving round the back of an enemy line to get to the other flank the cavalry would form column, and columns could wheel as they pleased since the column leader would have no problem letting the few horsemen in the front rank know exactly where he wanted to go, with every one else just following suit. But columns aren't fighting formations so this could be done only if there was no danger of being charged whilst en route.

 I suspect it would depend on terrain. Why form up in column of squadrons (or whatever your smallest unit is called) when you can just have them advance abreast because there's so much open ground?

If you have a turma of 30 men, with three  decuriones it's either three files of ten or perhaps six files of five.
So assume the former. Why have your turmae following each other where there's plenty of room. Have them travel abreast, perhaps with as much distance between units as the unit takes up, and you can cover the ground easily. (Remember the huge Persian columns of Xerxes spreading out over many miles of frontage  ;)  )
All you have to do is give an order to close up and you're in a reasonable approximation of battle formation. Certainly you'll be in better order than the troops who're still fighting on the wing you're joining
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Justin Swanton

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Re: How manoeuvrable were cavalry on the battlefield?
« Reply #37 on: November 22, 2020, 03:11:27 PM »
I think you have to define by 'manoeuvrable' as well
Cavalry sent round the back of the army to deal with something on the other wing were probably very manoeuvrable, in that formations would probably loosen out during the movement and then close up as they arrived at their destination facing the right direction.

If you regard file leaders and file closers as NCOs there are an awful lot of men in a cavalry unit to shout men back into formation and get stuff tightened up. Everybody knows who they're behind and who they're next to

My take is that for something like moving round the back of an enemy line to get to the other flank the cavalry would form column, and columns could wheel as they pleased since the column leader would have no problem letting the few horsemen in the front rank know exactly where he wanted to go, with every one else just following suit. But columns aren't fighting formations so this could be done only if there was no danger of being charged whilst en route.

 I suspect it would depend on terrain. Why form up in column of squadrons (or whatever your smallest unit is called) when you can just have them advance abreast because there's so much open ground?

If you have a turma of 30 men, with three  decuriones it's either three files of ten or perhaps six files of five.
So assume the former. Why have your turmae following each other where there's plenty of room. Have them travel abreast, perhaps with as much distance between units as the unit takes up, and you can cover the ground easily. (Remember the huge Persian columns of Xerxes spreading out over many miles of frontage  ;)  )
All you have to do is give an order to close up and you're in a reasonable approximation of battle formation. Certainly you'll be in better order than the troops who're still fighting on the wing you're joining

The problem with this is the assumption that a long line of cavalry (often easily as long as the infantry battleline) could wheel whilst maintaining cohesion. Is there any evidence cavalry could do that? The huge Persian columns certainly weren't battlefield manoeuvre formations. (:-O
« Last Edit: November 22, 2020, 03:21:57 PM by Justin Swanton »
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Re: How manoeuvrable were cavalry on the battlefield?
« Reply #38 on: November 22, 2020, 03:19:13 PM »
What you are trying there is to take an archway wheel and squash it into a hinge .

It’s something you try quite often- making a picture and then suit is evidence.

Try taking to back to the start position and stepping it through a half horse at a time

It was just a question really: could a squadron wheel like this, the front rank keeping order, the other ranks going to heck whilst the files remain intact, and everything coming back together after the wheel was completed? It would certainly speed up the process.
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Jim Webster

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Re: How manoeuvrable were cavalry on the battlefield?
« Reply #39 on: November 22, 2020, 03:34:13 PM »

The problem with this is the assumption that a long line of cavalry (often easily as long as the infantry battleline) could wheel whilst maintaining cohesion. Is there any evidence cavalry could do that? The huge Persian columns certainly weren't battlefield manoeuvre formations. (:-O

I'm not sure a long line of cavalry would ever attempt it. After all let's assume you have a cavalry wing you want to wheel. As general you send a messenger to the commander of the wing (or he spots the need and orders it himself.)

He'll pass it down to unit commanders. In a Roman army, the Ala. But that is unlikely to be one long line. It'll be a line of subunits each of which is virtually a column. I would have assumed the subunits as columns would just wheel as they moved forward, just as if they were following a road or track. It's something easily practiced
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Justin Swanton

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Re: How manoeuvrable were cavalry on the battlefield?
« Reply #40 on: November 22, 2020, 04:05:02 PM »

The problem with this is the assumption that a long line of cavalry (often easily as long as the infantry battleline) could wheel whilst maintaining cohesion. Is there any evidence cavalry could do that? The huge Persian columns certainly weren't battlefield manoeuvre formations. (:-O

I'm not sure a long line of cavalry would ever attempt it. After all let's assume you have a cavalry wing you want to wheel. As general you send a messenger to the commander of the wing (or he spots the need and orders it himself.)

He'll pass it down to unit commanders. In a Roman army, the Ala. But that is unlikely to be one long line. It'll be a line of subunits each of which is virtually a column. I would have assumed the subunits as columns would just wheel as they moved forward, just as if they were following a road or track. It's something easily practiced

How exactly does that work? If a line of subunits wheel as they move forward then they have formed a column. Or do you mean the subunits echelon forwards, wheel, and now, in a line echeloned back and facing right or left, move up the subunits to form a straight line again?
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Jim Webster

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Re: How manoeuvrable were cavalry on the battlefield?
« Reply #41 on: November 22, 2020, 04:24:25 PM »


How exactly does that work? If a line of subunits wheel as they move forward then they have formed a column. Or do you mean the subunits echelon forwards, wheel, and now, in a line echeloned back and facing right or left, move up the subunits to form a straight line again?

Certainly with the Roman cavalry the sub units may well have been columns. Even if five ranks deep they'd still only be six ranks wide. So that sort of unit would have no real difficulty wheeling, they'd have plenty of time to practice.

Then if marching along the road in 'columns of 3' they'd automatically 'wheel' at every bend. So it's not something they'd need to practice, it would be instinctive.

So I'd see the line as a group of subunits standing next to each other , the unit commander shouts wheel. Somebody from the unit will go and stand as a marker so they know where the new line is to form and each sub unit moves forward and then turns into line. I cannot see why anybody should 'wheel'
I see the process as being very different from infantry. After all we think of infantry as forming lines, probably conditioned with seeing Napoleonic infantry battalions three men deep.

Even a cohort would have the centuries with eighty men, eight and ten frontage. All you need to wheel a cohort is somebody to mark the far end of the new line, then each century can send an optio forward to mark their end position, and they just advance, turning a bit as they do because you just have to follow the file leader and he just has to keep an eye on the man 'outside' him and the man at the end stops when he reaches the optio
On a ten man frontage and men reasonably spaced it isn't too difficult. The next century just moves forward and swings into place. I cannot see a 'line' wheeling because the 'line' isn't a unit. It's a collection of units
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Mark G

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Re: How manoeuvrable were cavalry on the battlefield?
« Reply #42 on: November 22, 2020, 05:25:25 PM »
If you really want to understand how sub units move, look at 18th C and napoleonic evidence for the broken down diagrams.

But keep in mind.  These are ancient armies you are really interested in, and they agree battle and form up opposing each other in almost all cases.
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Re: How manoeuvrable were cavalry on the battlefield?
« Reply #43 on: November 22, 2020, 05:56:29 PM »
If you really want to understand how sub units move, look at 18th C and napoleonic evidence for the broken down diagrams.

But keep in mind.  These are ancient armies you are really interested in, and they agree battle and form up opposing each other in almost all cases.

But did, for example, Napoleonic cavalry manoeuvre in line or in files? Certainly infantry were far more linier than Ancient infantry
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Mark G

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Re: How manoeuvrable were cavalry on the battlefield?
« Reply #44 on: November 22, 2020, 07:07:13 PM »
Missed the point Jim.

Justin is not clear on how a unit would manoeuvre by sub units.

The best way to get a grip on that is to look at those well documented methods from the modern era, of which there are many good and clear examples.

Once he gets that, then he take take the concept back in time and apply it.

He’s not going to find a one to one mapping, but he will find it easier to conceive what might be happening with more conceptual models to draw from.
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