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Cavalry versus Dense Infantry

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Cavalry versus Dense Infantry
Post by mortree   » Fri Dec 23, 2016 11:25 am

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Excellent point by author. Except he is dead wrong about why = root reason being horses balking at running over people.
Horses in aggressive mode love runing over any animal chest high to head high on them and smaller than them. Agressive mode being either love of running, pissed off or just feeling like challenging you for fun.

Personal experience has shown me that people avoidance only holds if horses are in escape mode and aware that humans can rope them etc. Or in the "friends" mode (but don't count on that if they are frolicking). I have been knocked yards off my feet several times by horses that had had plenty of room to go around. I have even had the pleasure of being T-boned by a larger (950 pound) horse while riding a lighter (750 pound) horse. That too was not a accident as the larger horse seized the bit from my younger sister to carry out the full speed ramming. Watch a few rodeos or better some film of horse herds in same field with hornless cattle.

Truth is horses aren't very smart on average. So David's wise horses won't charge dense cavalry due to knowing the likelihood of leg breaking is wrong. They won't figure it out ahead of time and its a learning experience they won't survive. It is quite possible that undisciplined (poorly trained/timid temperment) horse might refuse due to not being able to see a path through the formation. Not sure about what horses would do about dense formation of animals lower than chest high -- that might well stop them.


So why is dense infantry so effective?

Most riders will realize that after mowing down the first 4 ranks (for light lancers) they and their horse will lose moment and effectively come to a stop. That has twofold consequences: #1 a pile up of any following cavalry on their back (the frontline cavalry actually forming a protective barrier for the infantry) and #2 even surviving infantryman will be able to easily swarm and stab the big nearly stationary target.

Having lanes through loose cavalry is mostly a rider thing as it lets them keep moving through. Although it is true that any undisplined horse that shies (horses startle for the most unexpected reasons) will collide with nearby horses in side by side cavalry -- most disciplined and aggressive horses will charge for the joy of it, the herd experience and hopefully trust in their riders (discipline relationship).

More Examples of Horses will run into the damned things that they can plainly see...

A couple of riders in my uncles farming area were killed (at separate times over 35 years) due to horses running into trees in broad daylight in lightly wooded areas. Most probably a case of inexperienced riders assuming horses would avoid trees without specific guidance (sometimes true) and trusting horses assuming riders knew when to turn. Almost learned that one myself but fortunately it was only a 10 foot cedar and the horse had already shown it thought raking a rider off against underbrush or small trees was funny. Also had a horse that wanted to run decide to intentionally turn sideways and run over mailbox instead of taking direction to go around (there was a bit of an "oof!" as the 4 inch diameter post was several inches higher than her belly).
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Re: Cavalry versus Dense Infantry
Post by phillies   » Fri Dec 23, 2016 12:15 pm

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There are extensive memoirs of senior cavalry officers of the Napoleonic period, and they leave a very different impression than you claim. 'run down one person' and 'run into a wall of people close packed and several deep' are quite different.
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Re: Cavalry versus Dense Infantry
Post by Duckk   » Fri Dec 23, 2016 12:40 pm

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Some good research by these fine folks in posts 23, 26, and 28:

http://www.twcenter.net/forums/showthre ... alry/page2
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Re: Cavalry versus Dense Infantry
Post by Keith_w   » Fri Dec 23, 2016 4:52 pm

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phillies wrote:There are extensive memoirs of senior cavalry officers of the Napoleonic period, and they leave a very different impression than you claim. 'run down one person' and 'run into a wall of people close packed and several deep' are quite different.


Especially if those people have sharp pointy objects in their hands.
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Re: Cavalry versus Dense Infantry
Post by Bluesqueak   » Sat Dec 24, 2016 7:26 am

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Horses will 'refuse' if they think they can't jump an obstacle. Even highly-trained event horses will do that; they're not the very smartest of animals, but they're generally smart enough to think 'no way can I jump over that'.

I'd say a group of shoulder-to-shoulder soldiers carrying nasty sharp objects certainly counts as an 'obstacle'. The horses would willingly head for any gaps - but if there are no gaps visible, they'll either refuse or try and go around the square.
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Re: Cavalry versus Dense Infantry
Post by Annachie   » Sat Dec 24, 2016 8:21 am

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Well, no. Cavalry will go around the square.
Given it's druthers the horse will go anywhere but the square. :)

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Re: Cavalry versus Dense Infantry
Post by Keith_w   » Sat Dec 24, 2016 9:52 am

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Bluesqueak wrote:Horses will 'refuse' if they think they can't jump an obstacle. Even highly-trained event horses will do that; they're not the very smartest of animals, but they're generally smart enough to think 'no way can I jump over that'.

I'd say a group of shoulder-to-shoulder soldiers carrying nasty sharp objects certainly counts as an 'obstacle'. The horses would willingly head for any gaps - but if there are no gaps visible, they'll either refuse or try and go around the square.


And that is why they tried to break the squares with flanking cannon or massed musket fire, so that the cavalry could have gaps to break through. The flanking fire was usually provided by horse artillery. There is a very interesting article on squares in the Napoleonic wars here: http://www.napolun.com/mirror/napoleonistyka.atspace.com/infantry_tactics_4.htm#infantrycombatsquares1
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Re: Cavalry versus Dense Infantry
Post by phillies   » Sat Dec 24, 2016 2:08 pm

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Readers are referred to Marmont's autobiography for a realistic appreciation of how horses actually behave under these conditions.

The following quotes agree with someone who actually fought this way.

Keith_w wrote:
Bluesqueak wrote:Horses will 'refuse' if they think they can't jump an obstacle. Even highly-trained event horses will do that; they're not the very smartest of animals, but they're generally smart enough to think 'no way can I jump over that'.

I'd say a group of shoulder-to-shoulder soldiers carrying nasty sharp objects certainly counts as an 'obstacle'. The horses would willingly head for any gaps - but if there are no gaps visible, they'll either refuse or try and go around the square.


And that is why they tried to break the squares with flanking cannon or massed musket fire, so that the cavalry could have gaps to break through. The flanking fire was usually provided by horse artillery. There is a very interesting article on squares in the Napoleonic wars here: http://www.napolun.com/mirror/napoleonistyka.atspace.com/infantry_tactics_4.htm#infantrycombatsquares1
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Re: Cavalry versus Dense Infantry
Post by phillies   » Sat Dec 24, 2016 2:16 pm

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There was also the Russian infantry approach to deal with a cavalry charge. Go to extreme open order. Lie flat. The horses will usually not step on you. The cavalrymen as usually armed cannot reach you. Strike upward with sword or bayonet at the horse's legs.

The approach requires a certain amount of sangfroid or the clear and certain knowledge that your officers are much more dangerous than the enemy.
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Re: Cavalry versus Dense Infantry
Post by jtg452   » Sat Dec 24, 2016 4:10 pm

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Annachie wrote:Well, no. Cavalry will go around the square.
Given it's druthers the horse will go anywhere but the square. :)

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Infantry squares were the standard defense for cavalry. Even before the bayonet came into use, that's what pikemen were there for.

Massed bayonets (front rank kneeling with the musket butt on the ground and held leaned forward at an angle with the second rank presenting bayonets over their shoulders when faced with an attack) was effective against mounted assaults. Horses aren't stupid and don't what to charge into a hedge of sharp steel any more than a human does. Throw in some volley fire by rank from the facing side and you have an effective defense against mounted attack.

If there were multiple regiments or battalions present, separate squares formed in close proximity so they could lend mutual support, you could have impromptu cross fires and kill zones where some serious damage could be wrought on the attacking cavalry forces.

The only time I can remember a British square being broken was because a dead horse slid into the formation and broke it's cohesion. The some of the other, still living, cavalry charged though the gap before the infantry could reform.

The standard counter to the square was to bring up artillery and shoot into the compact formation. Makes sense, that's a big stationary formation will all those people packed in close and in those nice orderly lines so one shot could take out several people. Even the cannon of the day couldn't miss it from a range exceeding that a massed musket volley.

The accepted counter to artillery was to go to a linear formation and, depending on the time frame, to open order. That makes sense, too. Cannon balls travel in a straight line and if you don't have a bunch of people standing in a straight line, there's less of a chance of a single shot taking out multiple troopers.

That would be fine if the cavalry wasn't around. When infantry were in open order and the line were there most vulnerable to cavalry attack because there were flanks to turn and there was a lack of mutual support between subunits and individuals. If cavalry was present, most commanders stayed in their squares and just took the punishment from the cannons. Since their choices were a slow death by cannon or a quick death being routed and broken by the prowling cavalry, I guess staying in formation and hoping for support would be considered the lesser of the evils.
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