| Riding and fighting on horseback|
A 13th-century Mongol saddle coverFirst it was not considered effectively to use weapons on horseback. Early riders dismounted for warfare. For a long time riders and charioteers worked alongside in the cavalry. While early horsemen dismounted for any combat, the troops in a chariot didn`t necessarily. It was not possible to draw horizontally an infantry bow on horseback, so archers dismounted to shoot their bows. This tactic prevailed, although composite bows enabled to shoot from horseback. Infantry longbows still could be made more powerful and were better to aim at long distances. Mongolian troops had a Buryatian longbow, the strongest known longbow, for showering the enemy with arrows from a save distance. First attempts to shoot from horseback were made by drawing the bow vertically, but this way less energy could be stored. The aim on horseback was better than in a jiggling chariot, after it was discovered to shoot while all hoofes of the horse were in the air. Still an archer in a chariot could shoot potentially stronger infantry bows. Around the Meditaranean javelins were employed as powerful ranged weapon for example by Numidia`s light cavalry and the heavy cataphracts.
Early saddles had no abdominal belt, nor were they high enough to charge savely with full force. The sarissae, lances and more often spears of cavalry were therefore used as thrusting and cutting weapon with a limited jolt. Stirrups and spurs improved the ability of riders to act fast and secure in melées and manoeuvres demanding agility. An outstanding example of combined arms and efficiency of cavalry forces were the medieval Mongols. Important for their horse archery was the use of stirrups for the archer to stand while shooting. This new position enabled to use bigger and stronger cavalry bows than the enemy.
[Tactics of light cavalry with bows]
Armies of horse archers could cover enemy troops with arrows from a distance and never had to engage in close combat. Slower enemys without effective long range weapons often had no chance against them. Like this the cavalry of the Parthian Empire destroyed the troops of Crassus (53 BC) in the battle of Carrhae. During their raids in Central and Western Europe during the 9th and 10th century the Hungarian mounted archers spread fear and terror in the West Francia and East Francia. The people in these times added to every Lord's Prayer the sentence "and Lord save us from the arrows of the Hungarians." (de sagittis Hungarorum libera nos, domine)
The great weakness of mounted archers was their need of space and their light equipment. If they were forced to fight in close combat against better armored enemies, they usually lost. Furthermore they were not suited for participating in sieges. Good cavalry troops needed lots of training and very good horses. People with this classical cavalry like Hungarians and Mongolians lived practically on horseback.
The battle of Dorylaeum (1097) during the first crusade shows advantages and disadvanteges of mounted archers: the ridergroups of the Seljuk sultan Kilij Arslan I were able to surround an army of crusaders and shoot them from a distance. Suddenly reinforcements under the command of Godfrey of Bouillon arrived and the Seljuks themselves were encircled. They could escape no longer and were annihilated in close combat. The defeat of the Seljuks at Dorylaeum was so complete, that the could practically cross Anatolia unchallenged.
[Tactics of heavy cavalry with lances]
Kircholm, a 1925 painting by Wojciech Kossak.
The battle of Mobei, from Wang Xuyang (1932-)Knights had several different ways to attack, but always in formations of several knights, not individual. For defense and melée a formation of horsemen was as tight as possible next to each other in a line. This way it was not possible to charge, but enemy could not surround them individualy. With their heavy and armoured chargers they rode down the enemy infantry. The most devestating way was riding in a looser formation fast into attack and often coming in several waves. With the lance as primary weapon they pierced the enemy. If an enemy soldier was hit in full gallop by a knights lance embedded under the armpit, he was thrown backwards with such a momentum, that he knocked over several of his backers. The heavy lances were dropped after the attack and the battle was continued with secundary weapons (sword, axe, mace or likewise). Then troops regrouped into the tighter formation mentioned above. Mongolian heavy cavalry even improved it by attaching hooks to their lances to take enemies down, when bypassing. Chinese cavalry used polearms with better slicing ability. Both handled their primary weapons in the two handed Asian style that was supreme to the single handled European style in the ability to parry such an attack. This method of a charging attack was very effective, but it depended upon several factors. The following tactics were often effective against heavy cavalry:
Good long range weapons: The longbow and the crossbow were able to threaten knights. Although the heavy noble cavalry of Middle Ages often fought on foot or at least avoided futile frontal attacks, it happened several times that knightly armies led charges according to their warrior ideal. The results were often devastating: at Crécy (1346) an Poitiers(1356) the French knights had heavy casualties against the English longbowarchers. At Agincourt (1415) 5000 knights were killed by arrowfire.
Polearms:the long spears of Scots and Swiss (pikemen) were an excellent choice. The warriors stood in thight formations like an antique phalanx. In battle against the Scots, the English knights proofed to be as narrow-minded as their French counterpart. In the battles of Stirling Bridge (1297) and Bannockburn (1314) they were defeated by the Scots. The inferior English were the first to imitate this tactic successfully against the French, the Swiss made it perfect. Despite longer lances for the knights, this formation was now almost inpenetrable. The pikemen with polearms were till to the end of the 30 Years War an important part of the troops. As countertactic against pikemen the heavy cavalry developed in the early modern times maneuvers like the caracole.
Using advantages of the terrain: lancers needed hard, plain ground and enough space for attack. a clever enemy avoided battle on open ground and preferred marshy, mountainous or arboreous grounds for battle. The Scots did this at Bannockburn and Stirling. The Swiss defeated the Austrian knights at the battle of Morgarten(1315) by attacking the knightly army in a narrow place bettween an acclivity and a swamp. The peasants of Dithmarschen faced in 1500 at Hemmingstedt the army of the Danish king. The opened the dykes and flooded the country. If the terrain was not well suited for a cavalry attack, English knights often fought on foot and used their lances as pikes. Knights fighting on foot were called men-at-arms in England.
Guerilla warfare: an enemy who could suddenly strike and retreat was a serious problem for the heavy cavalry. Therefore it was important to have also always enough light cavalry.
Modern historians agree, that the major part of knights during many Medieval battles fought on foot. Only with ideal conditions of terrain and support via long range combatants, attacks were carried out on horseback. If the enemy infantry was equipped with polearms and fought in tight formations, the knights bluffed to attack, but soon turned around. Many infantrymen thought this to be a flight and went on chase, leaving their formation. The knights turned around again in this new situation and rode down the infantry. Such a tactic was deployed in the battle of Hastings (1066). Another method was the use of well armed infantry reserves during knightly battles on horseback. After some time the battle split in several small groups with space in between and both sides became exhausted. Then an infantry rush could concentrate on selected targets and route the enemy. Infantry also helped knights to remount in battle and saved the wounded.
[Tactics of heavy cavalry with range weapons]
The death of King Gustavus II Adolphus on 16 November 1632 at the Battle of Lützen
An Ottoman Mamluk, from 1810Attempts of integrating range weapons and heavy cavalry were made by the Greeks and Persians, equipping their cataphracts with javelin. In contrast to arrows, these missiles could break armor, but range and ammunition were limited.
Mounted knights armed with lances proved ineffective against formations of pikemen combined with crossbowmen whose weapons could penetrate most knight's armor. This lead to the development of new cavalry tactics. Knights and mercenaries deployed in triangular formations, with the most heavily armored knights at the front. To increase its effect, they would carry small, powerful all-metal crossbows of their own. Later, similar competing tactics would feature harquebusiers or musketeers in formation with pikemen, pitted against cavalry firing pistols or carbines. These evolved Reiters and Hakkapeliitta with similar equipment. Their main weapons were two or more pistols and a sword; most wore helmets and leather armor or cuirasses and often additional armor for the arms and legs; sometimes they also carried a long cavalry firearm known as an arquebus or a carbine (although this type of horsemen soon became regarded as a separate class of cavalry - the arquebusier or in Britain harquebusier).
One of the tactics employed, was the caracole. It developed in the mid-16th century in an attempt to integrate gunpowder weapons into cavalry tactics. Equipped with one or two wheellock pistols, cavalrymen would advance on their target at less than a gallop. As each rank came into range, the soldiers would turn away, discharge their pistols at the target, retire to reload, and then repeat the manoeuvre. The tactic was accompanied by the increasing popularity of the German Reiter in Western armies from about 1540.
Some historians associate the demise of the caracole with the name of Gustavus Adolphus of Sweden (1594-1632). Certainly he regarded the technique as fairly useless, and ordered cavalry under Swedish command not to use the caracole. Instead the fast and lightly-armored Hakkapeliitta cavalry charged. They would attack at galloping speed, discharge the first pistol at 20 paces, the second at five paces, and then draw the sword. The horse itself was used like another weapon, as it was used to trample enemy infantry.. However, there is evidence that caracole was already falling out of use by 1620, before Gustavus Adolphus reached Poland and Germany.
Modern historians regard the caracole as a military tactic ultimately proving ineffective. It sacrificed the cavalry advantages of speed and mobility, while also leaving mounted soldiers at a disadvantage to massed infantry equipped with heavier and longer-ranged weapons. The caracole gave way to close artillery support for cavalry (see Horse artillery ) - breaking up the infantry formations, forcing the soldiers to scatter and allowing cavalry the advantage in close quarters, melee combat. The last recorded use of the caracole was by the French at the Battle of Minden in 1759.
[New tactics of light cavalry and mounted infantry]
With increasing firepower and no sufficient protection, the role of cavalry on the battlefield was slowly reduced. Light cavalry with fireams could respond the fire, but the aim was not as good as for infantry. So most important for cavalry was the ability to quickly attack enemy cavalry or scattered infantry with lances and sabres. Speed reduced the time vulnerable to gunfire, but still closed formations became impossible to take. This tactic was a striking surprise of Mongolian light cavalry in the battle of the Kalka River. The alternative was to use them as dragoons, reaching their positions quickly, dismounting and firefighting like infantry. Such a way of fighting had started in Europe at least in the 13th century with mounted longbow and crossbow archers
How it Fights.
1. The success of cavalry in battle depends on the impetuosity of its charge, and its use of the sabre. When deployed as skirmishers, mounted or dismounted, its proper weapon is the carbine or pistol; and in individual combats, these weapons may occasionally be very useful. But when acting as cavalry proper, in any compact formation, it must rely on the sabre. The aim with a pistol or carbine in the hands of a mounted man is so unsteady, that the fire of a line of cavalry is generally ineffective; and there are few occasions where it should be resorted to. When cavalry has learned to realize that these are not its true arms, and that it is never really formidable but when it closes with the enemy at full speed and with uplifted sabre, it has acquired the most important element of its efficiency.
2. Cavalry should, therefore, not fight in columns, as most of its sabres would thereby become useless. But if a facing about to retreat is feared, an attack in column would prevent it. It is said, also, that a column is more imposing than a line. If so, it might have a greater moral effect on the enemy.
3. When cavalry are deployed as skirmishers, as a curtain to hide our movements, they should be in considerable number, with small intervals, and should make as much noise, and smoke, and dust as possible. When the charge is sounded, the skirmishers wait and fall in with the rest.
4. The great rule in cavalry combats is to our own flanks, and gain the enemy's; for these are his and our weakest points.
5. When the enemy's cavalry is already in full charge on our infantry, it is too late for our cavalry to charge it with much prospect of success. In such a case, it would be better to defer our own charge till the moment that the enemy's is completed; for our success then would be certain.
6. Cavalry attacks cavalry in line, in order to have the more sabres, and, if possible, to outflank the enemy.
7. If we can maneuver so as to attack the enemy's cavalry in flank, our success will be certain. Military history affords hundreds of instances in proof of this proposition. At one of the battles in Spain, for example, in 1809, fifteen hundred French horse, by charging four thousand Spanish cavalry in flank, completely cut it in pieces.
8. Cavalry never waits in ~position to be charged by cavalry. Its only safety is in meeting the charge with a violent gallop; it would otherwise be sure to be overthrown. When hostile cavalries thus meet each other, there is usually but small loss on either side. A certain number of troopers are usually dismounted; but the colliding masses somehow ride through each other, allowing but little time for the exchange of points and cuts. Thus cavalry can defend itself against cavalry only by attacking; which it must do even when inferior to the enemy in number.
9. To attack artillery, cavalry should be in three detachments; one-fourth to seize the guns; one-half to charge the supports; and the other fourth as a reserve. The first party attacks in dispersed order, as foragers, trying to gain the flanks of the battery. The second party should maneuver to gain the flanks of the supports.
10. Where a cavalry attack can be masked, so as to operate as a surprise, a battery may be taken by charging- it in front. The formidable Spanish battery in the Pass of Somosierra, was finally carried by a dash of Napoleon's Polish Lancers upon it, suddenly profiting of a temporary fog or mist. But, in ordinary cases, when cavalry has to charge a battery in front, its fire should be drawn by our own guns or infantry, immediately before the charge begins.
11. In an attack on an intrenchment, the office of cavalry can rarely be any thing else than to repulse sorties from the work, and to cut off the enemy' s retreat from it.