Author Topic: Cavalry Manoeuvres  (Read 402 times)

Cantabrigian

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Cavalry Manoeuvres
« on: June 02, 2021, 12:43:56 PM »
I've been reading Siborne's "Waterloo Letters" which is a collection of letters from British officers at Waterloo describing the movements of their units.  While obviously outside our period, there probably is some applicability in descriptions of what cavalry did in a battle, rather than on a drill field.

The major impression it gives is that they were incredibly fluid, with lots of repositioning, and changes in direction and formation for example when traversing bottlenecks in the terrain.  I was particularly interested in this description of how a cavalry charge was started:

General Vivian himself accompanied me to give me the original direction, and in that direction when put into it the Regiment proceeded onwards.

That direction diverged to the left, bringing our right shoulders forward.
[Letter 76]

There's lots of stuff about bringing shoulders forward on one side or another.
  • Mike Moreton

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Re: Cavalry Manoeuvres
« Reply #1 on: June 02, 2021, 12:55:35 PM »
Quote
There's lots of stuff about bringing shoulders forward on one side or another.


It's because its how the commands were given, if you look in the manuals (which thanks to our noble editor, I've done a bit of now :) )

"Right shoulder forward" turned to the left, "Left shoulder forward" to the right. 

  • Anthony Clipsom

Mark G

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Re: Cavalry Manoeuvres
« Reply #2 on: June 02, 2021, 07:37:56 PM »
I eagerly await the brave rule writer (but correct) who moves past stationary cavalry melee.

But your are correct that the mechanics of engaging horsemen in combat is worth understanding, rather than the minutiae of the drill commands themselves.

  • Mark Grindlay

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Re: Cavalry Manoeuvres
« Reply #3 on: June 03, 2021, 08:49:52 AM »
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But your are correct that the mechanics of engaging horsemen in combat is worth understanding

The trick is working out what is applicable in our period, and what is just general ideas of what is feasible with cavalry.  Did cavalry move about as much on the ancient battlefield as they did on the Napoleonic, with big sweeps of manouever, or were they more prone to engage their opposite numbers pretty much straight on?

On the moving cavalry melee, I wonder if Mark (or others) has any more thoughts on this?  Do the melees drift within an area, as parts push forward, others give ground?  Or does one side drive the other?  And over what area are we talking (which has implications on laying out the gaming table)?
  • Anthony Clipsom

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Re: Cavalry Manoeuvres
« Reply #4 on: June 03, 2021, 08:34:19 PM »
He does, it pretty much boils down to making cavalry melee fluid and based around repeated charge and countercharges.

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Andreas Johansson

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Re: Cavalry Manoeuvres
« Reply #5 on: June 03, 2021, 08:42:58 PM »
In a battle-scale game, would that be very different from DBX style recoils and pursuits? (Apart from, presumably, recognizing melee as a game-mechanically distinct phenomenon from short range shooting.)
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Mark G

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Re: Cavalry Manoeuvres
« Reply #6 on: June 05, 2021, 08:07:06 AM »
It would.
Outside of 60s Hollywood, you can’t go from stationary to full charge in ten metres.

And when you look into the better documented cavalry eras, they would withdraw a fair old distance before reforming and preparing to charge again.

The crusaders used to use infantry to reform behind.  Others used reserve formations.  More modern eras would only commit small squadrons at a time from each regiment, it being almost an absolute that it wasn’t the biggest charge which won, but the last formed one; with most cavalry engagements being a series of small unit charge and reform actions.

But those few massed divisional charges get all the attention.

There are good simple game mechanics to start from even when you can’t model regimental sub units on the table.

But you have to first accept that cavalry can’t hold ground, and are useless when stationary in melee.

Possibly, you’d also look into chariotry passing through rather than bouncing back.
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Jim Webster

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Re: Cavalry Manoeuvres
« Reply #7 on: June 05, 2021, 10:13:37 AM »
It would.
Outside of 60s Hollywood, you can’t go from stationary to full charge in ten metres.



I'm sure I read somewhere (Hyland?) that Romans trained their horses to go into a position with their back legs more 'under them' so they could accelerate from a standing start faster. But still, not ten meters
  • Jim Webster

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Re: Cavalry Manoeuvres
« Reply #8 on: June 05, 2021, 11:07:35 AM »
It would.
Outside of 60s Hollywood, you can’t go from stationary to full charge in ten metres.



I'm sure I read somewhere (Hyland?) that Romans trained their horses to go into a position with their back legs more 'under them' so they could accelerate from a standing start faster. But still, not ten meters

As usual, we need to allow for what could be done to what was done in different circumstances.  Medieval jousters accelerated very hard from stationary to gallop in seconds, at the same time dropping their lances into the arrête and taking aim at their opponent.  Cavalry units, however, moved around at a much lower pace and began their contact move much further apart, applying their spurs on command as they closed to keep the unit together for max impact.  There is a general acceptance that the medieval cavalry charge panned out as Matt Bennett described it in his famous paper i.e. in a similar way to European cavalry charges from 18th century on, though whether they started so far apart or geared up through stages in quite the same way, I think, remains speculative.
Again on medieval cavalry, it is much less clear what they actually did than we would like - your reading between the lines a lot of the time.  But cavalry meeting cavalry would seek to go through the enemy, then turn back.  If that didn't happen, a confused and probably running melee broke out.  Cavalry could rally back, covered by other squadrons - Italian condottiere certainly could cycle through squadrons in an attack.  We know cavalry fell back when stuck against infantry and could ,if controlled, reform and charge again but needed quite a bit of space to do so - too little space caused disorder and disorder could turn the withdrawal into a rout.

In terms of manoeuvering cavalry, we might note Byzantine practice, which may give useful insights.

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Andreas Johansson

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Re: Cavalry Manoeuvres
« Reply #9 on: June 05, 2021, 05:51:54 PM »
It would.
Outside of 60s Hollywood, you can’t go from stationary to full charge in ten metres.

And when you look into the better documented cavalry eras, they would withdraw a fair old distance before reforming and preparing to charge again.
DBX recoils are longer than 10 m (typically 45 m for DBMM horsemen), but not, it's true, generally back-to-where-we-started affairs.

The DBMM "repulse" is something of that sort, but it's not a common outcome in cavalry v. cavalry fights.

Quote
Possibly, you’d also look into chariotry passing through rather than bouncing back.

I don't think I've ever seen a period account of chariotry passing through anything - not that that means much given the level of documentation we've got. For your possible interest, though, HFG (a DBX set for the 18-19th centuries Phil never got around to publishing properly - the latest draft was put on Lulu by Sue) has cavalry passing through enemy in some circumstances.
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RichardC

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Re: Cavalry Manoeuvres
« Reply #10 on: June 12, 2021, 06:17:24 PM »
A ruleset worth looking at is King of the Battlefield.  This is an 18th century set admittedly but has some interesting mechanics.

Cavalry vs cavalry melee is totally different to when infantry is involved.

It is all about who has the last formed unit to be thrown in.  The whole melee happens in a single bound but with eligible units being added alternately by each side.  Fresh units have an advantage.  Outcomes include rally backs.  But usually one side eventually breaks and withdraws or routs (with the chance of reforming based on losses and troop quality). Gives the game a totally different feel.
  • Richard Case

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Re: Cavalry Manoeuvres
« Reply #11 on: June 12, 2021, 06:34:21 PM »
Thought I'd share this recent find.  It's out of period but interesting.  It is from the Battle of Huj 1917. 

Anyhow, after trotting as close as we could in line of troop column, we came under heavy fire from the Turkish guns whereupon the order was : "Form Squadron- From the Centre Extend!” Then the order "Canter" was given …… "Draw Swords——Charge ! “I thinks it was Tptr. Strutt who blew the “Charge." Captain Valintine, of Snitterfield Bushes, went off with a fine "View Hulloa" and never before or since have I seen or felt such a surge of fierce excitement. The "Hunt" was on with avengeance ; a "burst" such with as may never be seen again.Everyone was shouting and cheering and the weird hunting cries that were screeched must have astonished and, probably, no little flurried the enemy ………and the horses were as  wild and excited as the men.

Yes, a "by the book" charge by regular cavalry!  Shows the stages of a well-delivered charge; manouever into line at the trot, accelerate to canter to close the distance, deliver the "burst" at the gallop.  Even then, the burst is a wild affair, which is why you didn't start it very far from the enemy to avoid disorder (I think the manuals talk about 60 yards). 

How much this can be applied to cavalry in our period is, of course, a debating point, but it does reinforce the point of standing start to full charge is a bit Hollywood. 

P.S. to finish the story, the cavalry over-ran the Turkish positions, despite them being uphill, armed with magazine rifles, supported by Maxim guns and batteries of artillery.  They lost 110 of 190 horses.  Captain Valintine of Snitterfield Bushes was mortally wounded and received a posthumous MC.

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Re: Cavalry Manoeuvres
« Reply #12 on: June 15, 2021, 05:47:29 PM »
Thought I'd share this recent find.  It's out of period but interesting.  It is from the Battle of Huj 1917. 

Anyhow, after trotting as close as we could in line of troop column, we came under heavy fire from the Turkish guns whereupon the order was : "Form Squadron- From the Centre Extend!” Then the order "Canter" was given …… "Draw Swords——Charge ! “I thinks it was Tptr. Strutt who blew the “Charge." Captain Valintine, of Snitterfield Bushes, went off with a fine "View Hulloa" and never before or since have I seen or felt such a surge of fierce excitement. The "Hunt" was on with avengeance ; a "burst" such with as may never be seen again.Everyone was shouting and cheering and the weird hunting cries that were screeched must have astonished and, probably, no little flurried the enemy ………and the horses were as  wild and excited as the men.

Yes, a "by the book" charge by regular cavalry!  Shows the stages of a well-delivered charge; manouever into line at the trot, accelerate to canter to close the distance, deliver the "burst" at the gallop.  Even then, the burst is a wild affair, which is why you didn't start it very far from the enemy to avoid disorder (I think the manuals talk about 60 yards). 

How much this can be applied to cavalry in our period is, of course, a debating point, but it does reinforce the point of standing start to full charge is a bit Hollywood. 

P.S. to finish the story, the cavalry over-ran the Turkish positions, despite them being uphill, armed with magazine rifles, supported by Maxim guns and batteries of artillery.  They lost 110 of 190 horses.  Captain Valintine of Snitterfield Bushes was mortally wounded and received a posthumous MC.

When charging with a group of hoplites, which is more like a cavalry charge than you might think, we move through walk, trot, and run stages. You don't need commands for transition, it just happens naturally as those in front change pace.
  • Paul Michael Bardunias

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Re: Cavalry Manoeuvres
« Reply #13 on: June 15, 2021, 06:06:51 PM »
I think we would find the regulars of the ancient world used words of command for cavalry.  The Byzantines did and, given their commands were in latin, it's probable the Roman cavalry did too. 
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