How terrifying is it for well-armored elite cavalry to charge at infantry?Not just as shieldwalls or blocks of spears, but even disorganized infantry?

Nov 2010
7,666
Cornwall
#21
Absolutely ludicrous, pretty much the exact opposite of history. The Roman upper classes fought as cavalry only in Rome's *earliest* years, the monarchy and early Republic. After that they generally only served as officers. By the time of the Empire, Roman cavalry was mostly recruited from provincials, i.e., GAULS, Germans, Spaniards, etc.
Matthew
Yes the Goths, Sarmatians and Alans, to name but 3, were 'famous' for their cavalry. Although those Visigothic horses seemed, from what I've picked up, a lot smaller than the monster cavalry horses of later (?)
 

Willempie

Ad Honorem
Jul 2015
5,305
Netherlands
#22
Not all cavalry fight the same way, even in the same era, so how terrified one felt likely depended on the specific situation. Medieval knights focused on a single, devastating couched lance charge designed to break the enemy formation in one go, but lacked flexibility. They fought as small numbered units (relative to infantry) with a 1:1 ratio of riders to horses. Central Asian cavalry and Jurchen/Manchus had extra remounts that could allow them to act more aggressively, and they used rotational charges and (at least the Mongol Empire armies) changed formations mid-battle. These armies would sometimes have 100% cavalry.

I keep seeing in various posts that cavalry cannot succeed in charges against an ordered infantry formation, but this is not in accordance with the primary sources of the truly elite cavalry in certain eras, even in the 17th century. Manchus and Winged Hussars had units with extremely heavy armor that could simply plow through stable formations like a square, or attack over rough terrain and trenches. Infantry in a tight spear wall (or any kind of formation) are most definitely not immune to cavalry charges. But you would likely need an elite level force like the Manchu, Mongol, or Winged Hussars in these situations. Charging head on into ordered infantry was hardly a go-to tactic, but it seems to have been a viable option if necessary like at Klushino or Sarhu. These situations were discussed in previous threads, i,e Would Pikemen units hold their own against Mongol cavalry?

Some quotes from there (thanks to all those who translated them):
Famed Ming general Qi Jiguang who successfully used pike formations against the Japanese wokou, but found them bad against Mongol cavalry:

"Within the Central Plains, when countering bandits, we can use long pikes to battle the enemy, then how is the long pike difficult to use? It is when 10,000 enemy cavalry are charging with a power like that of a rainstorm. A pike's long thin body can only be used to stab, and upon contact with a horse, the pike will break. This is having one pike only injuring one horse, hence the pike is not reusable. We have ChangDao [two-handed blade] and rattan shields wielded by a pair of hands, but the north have no rattan, but light wood that weighs no more than 10 jin. These can also be used. When the body is concealed behind the shield, and with head downcast [the soldiers] roll forward with the Changdao to cut the horse's leg, this is how infantry becomes victorious. '

The Jurchen/Manchu had a specific unit that was supposed to die in the initial attack in order to distort the enemy formation:

"The tactic of the slave force (Jurchen), is that the death squad is in the front, the elite force at the back. The death squad put on heavy armor, rides two horses when charging upfront, even if they die, those in the back still advances, without fear of retreating because the elite forces at the back will kill them if they do. When the charge disrupts our formation, the elite soldiers then take advantage of that to attack--this tactic is based on those of Aguda and (wanyan) wushu."

Wnnged Hussar tactics at the battle of Klushino by eyewitnesses/hussars:

"about this I shall remember, for it is beyond belief, that the squadrons managed eight or ten times to fall upon the enemy. (…) After these repeated charges and hand-to-hand fighting against the enemy, our equipment was broken and our strength was dissipated (…) The horses were also ready to drop from exhaustion, because they had not received sustenance since dawn and for five hours of battle, they had served with a great will but were reaching the limits which nature imposes."

""[Hussars] Ramming with chests of horses almost all fences, which were initially used by the enemy, bravely plowed into his [Jacob De la Gardie's] army".

""Our horsemen, in a brave charge ramming fences with which the enemy treacherously strengthened their defences, and plunging into pikes with chests of horses, suffered a lot of damage in horses."

It's great to hear first-hand accounts of those who have great experience with horses. Thanks for sharing!
Nice accounts:)
In (west) Europe they did something similar, though the punching of holes was usually left to infantry. Infantry would charge or archers/crossbows were moved forward to create gaps, then the cavalry would move in on those gaps or when the infantry was engaged flank them.
 
Feb 2018
34
Texas
#23
The Battle of Hastings lasted for 9 hours. The English shield wall held for most of the day. Even at the end when all was lost, the huscarls did not run but rallied around the fallen King and fought to the death. There is no evidence the Norman knights had an easy time of it.
 
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martin76

Ad Honorem
Dec 2014
6,631
Spain
#24
I don´t like cavalry... I think it is a pretentious weapons... Well, I guess in medieval Age it was a Terrible weapons (well.. according with movies)... but (maybe because my birth place is the cradle of an excellent infantry.)... I don´t think Cavalyr nothing terrible... Jan Zizka z Trocnova, Don Gonzalo Férnandez de Córdoba, the Swiss and the Almogávares... proved on Earth Planet how to crush.. how to annihilate the Cavalry.... only using Infantry!

For me... where is the old infantry ... let all the others go... out....
 

Larrey

Ad Honorem
Sep 2011
5,629
#25
The terrifying bit about cavalry charges, for the cavalrymen, is that it's kind of a man-made stampede. Once you've set it off, it's going to run. You have to point it properly for directional control, and you really have to time it well (that seems to be the real art of this kind of traditional cavalry warfare), because once it's off there is fairly little anyone can do as a matter of directing in mid-charge. (Apparently the only thing more supposed to be more difficult to time properly than a charge is a counter-charge to cancel one out.)

But the full-tilt charge itself, and possibly getting thrown, is likely a more daunting prospect than at least infantry not in formation.

As a consequence a traditional view of cavalrymen is that they tend to be brave to a fault, but over-thinking things tends to be a hindrance in their line of combat. Consequently a dedicated horse soldier often tends to be a bit on the thick side – by nature or as a matter of mental self-defense. ;)
 

Larrey

Ad Honorem
Sep 2011
5,629
#26
It would have to be the most unforeseen, foreign, new experience for horses to flee en masse - or that they were reading the sheer panic of their riders and realized they were in hot water (it seems like nothing terrifies a horse more than seeing their rider's fear) ... it's more likely that they will continue charging long after you've fallen off, much like how horses complete a jumper course or a race long after their riders fell off.
It was a fairly common occurrence in European early modern cavalry combat that a unit might "pick up" horsemen from the opposing side, since their horses would tend to bunch together with any clump of horses, and not necessarily be aware of things like "sides". :)
 

Chlodio

Forum Staff
Aug 2016
4,300
Dispargum
#27
Consequently a dedicated horse soldier often tends to be a bit on the thick side – by nature or as a matter of mental self-defense. ;)
Also by design. West Point graduates were assigned to various corps like engineers, infantry, artillery, cavalry, etc by their academic standing at graduation. Cavalry officers were always at the very bottom of their class.
 

Larrey

Ad Honorem
Sep 2011
5,629
#28
Also by design. West Point graduates were assigned to various corps like engineers, infantry, artillery, cavalry, etc by their academic standing at graduation. Cavalry officers were always at the very bottom of their class.
Kind of a recognition of the relative demands, yes. Brawn goes a long way in a cavalryman, while an excess of brain adds relatively less than in other branches.
 
Feb 2019
779
Pennsylvania, US
#29
It was a fairly common occurrence in European early modern cavalry combat that a unit might "pick up" horsemen from the opposing side, since their horses would tend to bunch together with any clump of horses, and not necessarily be aware of things like "sides". :)
Haha! That actually does sound pretty typical - something about quickly moving groups can cause them to "join up". If a bunch of riderless horses were quickly fleeing from the front of the group in the opposite direction (away from a fight), that could cause others to want to turn and run as well... I hadn't thought of that. But would there be enough to cause a general retreat? That would mean the majority of riders didn't have their horses under any sort of control (hey, it could happen, I guess). Some of the early examples of spurs and bits were pretty intense and would make it quite a punishment to go against a rider's will - though I guess pain/injury could get them deeper into flight mode. :confused:
 
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