Monday, February 15, 2010

Unit of the Week - Napoleonic Wars French Cuirassiers

Actually, I'm cheating and covering two (almost identical) units - the meat of the French Heavy Cavalry - Cuirassiers (blue jackets above) and Carabiniers (white jackets).

These are the guys that provided the muscle when it was needed. Big men on big horses, kept in reserve until the enemy had been softened up by the artillery and infantry. Then, when the time was right, the massed squadrons of heavy cavalry would be unleashed for the decisive charge that punched a huge hole in the enemy line, and marked the beginning of the end of the battle.

They were effectively the last troops to still wear armor into battle. The use of gunpowder had largely made armor redundant, as bullets could now penetrate the metal, and the additional shattering would make wounds more serious. These heavy cavalry units howeveer still wore a metal breatplate, or cuirass, from which the cuirassiers took their name.

These were the most expensive men in a Napoleonic army, and given the difficulties the French experienced finding suitable horses in the period soon after the Revolution, very "valuable". These weren't troops you just "threw away on a whim." You had to pick the right moment to inject them into a battle.

Because they were big men on big horses, carrying the additional weight of armor, they were also slower moving than the lighter cavalry units such as chasseurs and hussars. They therefore relied on support of these lighter cavalry types to exploit the success of the charge, by pursuing enemy fleeing from the field, while the heavy brigade came to a halt and reformed their ranks.

In the French army, cuirassier and carabinier regiments comprised four squadrons, each of 120 men (6 figures in my army which is scaled down to one figure represents 20 men).

When preparing to attack, a cavalry regiment would deploy in "column of squadrons". Each squadron would deploy in a line, with the squadrons drawn up one behind the other. The distance between each line was critical, as if the first line became disordered during the course of the charge, there had to be sufficient space between it and the following squadron to prevent those behind from crashing into their own men.

When moving forward initially, a regiment would keep at least 40 yards between each squadron's line, enabling it to wheel to form one long line if faced with an attack from the flank. As the speed of the advance increased, the distance would increase to up to 150 yards, allowing more time to come to a halt if required.

French cuirassiers and carabiniers ignored the element of firepower, charging directly with the sword, relying on their size and weight to inflict the damage. (Supporting artillery and possibly also infantry would provide the fire support for a charge).

If the charge did not go well, those supporting infantry would then be required to provide cover for the retreating horsemen, enabling them to regroup, and perhaps prepare for another attempt, back in "friendly territory".

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Unit of the Week - French Chasseurs-a-cheval

Prior to the Revolution, the cavalry arm of the French army had largely been recruited from the nobility. The revolution, of course, saw "the people" turn on the nobility, and those few who weren't executed on the guillotine were chased abroad. Horses too, were in short supply, as the French military had traditionally imported its horses from Germany. In the early days of the Revolution, France had few friends among the German states, and supply was therefore poor.

So, in the early stages of the Revolutionary Wars, French cavalry was less plentiful and of a lower quality than in previous years.

Initially, squadrons of chasseurs-a-cheval were raised, providing at least some light cavalry support for the revolutionary armies, forced to defend "La Balle France" against the (still royalist) superpowers of Europe, who hoped to crush the flame of revolution before it spread to their lands. These were horsemen essentially light cavalry, designed for scouting and reconnaissance, and support duties rather than heavy duty fighting.

When they did find themselves in the midst of close quarter fighting, French light cavalry discharged both pistols before turning to their swords. (Heavy cavalry didn’t bother with pistols, charging directly with the sword).

A French cavalry regiment comprised four squadrons each of 120 men (which translates to six figures in my army, which is scaled to one figure represents 20 men). In the picture above , we see "Le Petit General" himself, Napoleon Bonaparte, leading a squadron of chasseurs-a-cheval on patrol.

While in Italy, after almost being killed when the patrolling chasseurs-a-cheval that he was accompanying found themselves in the middle of Austrian positions by mistake, Napoleon Bonaparte formed a Guard Cavalry with Chasseurs-a-Cheval-de-la- Guarde comprising comprising five squadrons of Chasseurs. A sixth squadron, one of Marmelukes, was added following the Egyptian campaign of 1798-1802.

What was left of the old “heavy cavalry” of the Royalist era was reorganised in 1799 into regiments of carabinier (which tended to be elite troops) and cuirassiers.

The light cavalry (hussars, chasseurs-a-cheval and lancers) were primarily intended for reconnaissance, screening, raiding, pursuit and “field security”, although hussars were known to make massed charges on the battlefield. Hussars were a direct copy of the famous Hungarian hussars, just as (later) lancers were a copy of the Polish lancer.

Prior to 1800, the French had regarded dragoons as primarily heavy cavalry, and used them as such. Finding that he had insufficient horses to mount all his cavalry, Napoleon ordered at least some of his dragoons to be trained as the dismounted light cavalry role we know them as today.

The successful 1805-1807 campaigns against Austria and Prussia brought some relief in terms of provision of mounts. But dragoons were now officially a part of the “light cavalry”.

Celtic Village Update

It's going sloweer than I wanted, but it is moving forward.

My Celtic village progressed over the weekend with a "haystack" for the animals to feed on and also the first portions of fencing (far left) that will eventually surround it (except for a small gateway in front).

Eventually I'll get there!

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Unit of the Week - Huns

The "boogie men" of dark age Europe - or so we are often led to believe.

Interestingly enough the term "Hun" was often used to refer to German soldiers during the two world wars of the 1900s.

The original Huns were believed to be one of the nomadic tribes of Asia - western China in fact, pushed west by natural immigration and conflict with rival tribes.

They arrived in Rurope and the Middle East in force however during the early 5th century. The "White Huns" invaded Iran and the Arab world, while the "Black Huns" invaded Europe from the latter part of the fourth century, forcing the Germanic people to migrate south and west, and setting off a chain reaction that led to the final collapse of the Roman Empire.

The Black Huns first defeated the Alans, who lived between the Volga and Don rivers. They then defeated the Ostrogoths and attacked the Visigoths, pushing both south. (It was the Visigoths who then overthrew the final Roman Emperor). By 420CE a large Hunnic Cobnfederacy had been formed,under King Roas (or Rugilus). It was the son of King Roas however, who was to become the most famous, and perhaps feared, of all Huns.

Attila (and his older brother Bleda) became joint kings of the Huns on the death of Roas in 435CE. Attila has been branded as the "personification of barbarism" by the history books, but he was certainly educated in Rome, reportedly spoke as many as seven different languages, and built or rebuilt more cities than he destroyed. Indeed, diplomats of the time geenrally seem "impressed" with him.

Attila did murder his brother in 445CE to become sole king, and during his lifetime, he sacked more than 70 towns. He was cruel in dealing with those who opposed him, but appears to have been as much of a "gentleman" as any of his era with those who dealt fairly with him.

The Huns themselves were primarily light cavalry, armed with bows and javelins, but their armies were supplemented by the forces of conquered or allied nations.

Attila pressed into Gaul (modern day France) in 451CE, urged by King Gaiseric of the Vandals to attack the Visigoths who had fled there from Germany, taking the circuitous route through Rome itself. The Vandals and the Visigoths had formed an alliance which didn't quite work out, and the Vandals wanted to teach the Visigoths a bit of a lesson. The Vandals stayed out of the war, but the Huns crossed the Rhhine, to take on the Visigoths, who had realigned with the Romans.

The initial Hunnic victories saw the alliance against them grow, as they pushed deeper into Gaul. Now, the remnants of the Alans and the Burgundians also joined with their traditional enemies, the Romans, to fight the new invader. The Franks, after whom France was eventually named, fought on both sides.

Finally, on the Catalonian Plains the Huns and their allies, under Attila, met an allied army of Romans, Visigoths, and their allies, at the Battle of Chalons (possibly fought closer to Troyes than Chalons however), on June 20, 451. The Huns were defeated, and forced to flee back into Italy, which they then began to pillage. Attila died in 453CE, choking to death on his wedding night after passing out from drinking too much alcohol, and his empire fell apart in a civil war amongst his sons, each striving to succeed him.

The remnants of the Huns refromed in south-eastern Europe, ruling over, and intermingling with the Slavs of that region, eventually founding a new empire and becoming known as the Bulgars.

My own Hunnic army is still to small to function on its own in anything more than small scale battles. (Once I get stuck into painting the Late Roman army I have waiting to do, I will put a lot more effort into my forces from this period). They are a very "light weight force", great for fast movement, but not for heavy duty, hand-to-hand fighting.

You have to admit that their leader - the guy with the standard with human skulls hanging of it - looks impressive though!