What’s the difference between British heavy and light cavalry

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    Dr Dave

    What’s the real difference between British heavy and light cavalry in the Napoleonic wars?
    Horse size / weight


    Charge The Guns

    I’ll take a shot, Dr.Dave.



    I’d. Say that was about it. Any other variations would be regiment by regiment. E.g. Didn’t the KGL Hussars have, on average, larger horses than the British heavy dragoons?

    invisible officer

    The main difference was really the sword. The Heavy Cavalry 1795 Pattern sword was a design copied from the Austrian Kürassier Pallasch. A weapon well suited for thrusting and slashing.

    The Light Cavalry 1796 Pattern sword was a slashing weapon. Similar to the French Hussar Sabres.

    Officers had weapons that are similar in blade design but in heavy case with other hilt.

    There had been also lighter dress swords for officers that was often worn in battle too. Especially that of the Heavies was superb.

    Pics from my items

    invisible officer

    It was common to use light dragoons and hussars on picket duty outside the camp / army Perimeter. Learning by doing made them better in recce work.

    In battle both attacked in same way. “Gallopping at everything”. Squadron by squadron British horse could beat any French horse unit. But Brigade for Brigade not. Lacking the training in bigger style.

    Ooops, typo in last post, 1796 heavy, not 1795

    Dr Dave

    Yes yes IO, quite (nice collection). But in the BP rules does the 1″ shorter curvey sword make all that much difference over the heavy cavalry straight sword?

    I actually thinks it’s all a nonsense! Take the KGL Heavy dragoons – top chaps all of them, hard as nails and nasty as heavy cavalry. When they convert to light dragoons they exchanged their uniforms and swords yes – but not their horses or attitudes. British cavalry have just one drill book – they all used it. I think Scott Bowden in his “Armies at Waterloo” has it. There are two types of cavalry:
    – Battle cavalry: those who can stand up to it in a proper fight. This might include regts of we what we currently call “light” in BP.
    – The rest: probably most French chasseurs – and other “dross” – just bad regts.

    I think by the Napoleonic period this fits pretty well. “heavy” and “light” are silly titles by this time. It’s just a hangover from the 17th Century.

    My 2p. Thoughts?

    invisible officer

    Sure, such a rule is fuss. Even the French cuirassier armor made little or no difference in mounted sword fighting in real world.

    There is no “super sword for all” in history.

    The heavy straight sword was the ideal weapon for a strong man. Hack and slash. John Shaw, kia at Waterloo, was a boxing Champion. It is said that he fought 10 French horse and disabled 5. His heavy sword broke then and he used his helmet as club until cut down.

    The sabre style light sword is possibly a better choice for a smaller man, But my “she” prefers the heavy over the light. She would make a small Hussar.

    And I, with 183 cm? I would use the officer 1796 heavy Dress sword. With a superb Runkel blade. Straight, ideal for a fast thrust (in a cuirassiers armpit or face) but also to disable an arm in a slash. I have some of these, even a small one for an ensign.

    Second choice would be the original Austrian Pallasch. Better material quality than the British 1796 copy and better ballanced. Not one of my 3 OR heavies reach my Austrian one.

    That’s also the problem with modern copies. Even those that look very much like the real thing have not the same handling.

    In that time heavy and light was still valid. The hight of a horse says not all about agility. Light choose swift ones, heavies still used big and strong ones.

    To call French Chasseurs a cheval especially bad is just wrong. All French cavalry post 1813 lacked good horses. To replace the losses many got young ones, not strong enough for campaign. The Chasseurs are as good or bad as the hussars.
    Just remember. There was no guard hussar regiment but the old elite Chasseurs a cheval.

    Paul Goldstone

    Ian Fletcher’s Galloping at Everything is a very good source.
    British ‘light cavalry’ rode horses as big as their so-called ‘heavy cavalry’ counterparts. 10th Hussars in 1813, for example, rode horses averaging 15 hands high.

    Feed/forage is also very important – and British were feeding their horses oats etc shipped from North America. Horses quickly lost condition if they relied on locally requisitioned hay/straw. One reason why British cavalry may have charged at the gallop and pursued so far, is because, quite simply, their horses could do so.

    It should be noted that size/condition of horses is very important in combat – a smaller/weaker horse will naturally shy away from the larger, and the rider will be at a major disadvantage.

    invisible officer

    Oats and barley are both similar enough in horse nutrition to make no difference in 19th century tests done by all armies. And both got produced in Spain themselves. Oats have 640 TDN and Barley even 725.
    The oat imported to Portugal played a big role in feeding the static army in the lines but not inside Spain later.

    An often forgotten extra for cavalry is salt. Especially in hot climates the sweating horse needs a lot.

    There is a good 1992 work written by one of the best 20th century Military horse experts under pseudonym Max Hubert. From Hradec Kralove.
    Fütterung und Leistungsfähigkeit des Militärpferdes – Leitfaden für Historiker und Wargamer. (The last being the reason for the scientist to write under the Name of one of his horses. No, its not me but I rode that horse on visits)

    The Irish hunter was a good officer’s horse but no trooper one in Napoleonic time. Wellington often complained about the British horses that needed more care than Continental.
    It was not the special thing that the British Hussars rode “big” horses but the British heavies that often had medium ones around 15 Hands too instead of 16 Hands ones.

    An often stated example is the 2nd Dragoons that in 1813 even had 340 of 14.2 hands and 55 of 14 hands . Ponies.

    Apart from the heigt the breast is important. Like humans one that reach the sky may be slim. A good racing horse but not carrying much weight. Like the Thouroughbred compared to the classic Hannoveraner. (Please remember that modern horses of these types changed a lot compared to 1800 ones)

    It’s nice to read officer’s diaries. Harry Smith for example had in Spain a moving “stable” of nearly everything. From a small Spanish one called Tiny to a heavy one from Portugal. His wife Juana got a captured French one that is said to have belonged to a Mameluck.
    Many officers lost so many horses that they had to borrow a horse from artillery.
    And many cavalry regiment had more men than horses.

    Dr Dave

    I stood in a field a few back with my wife’s friend’s horses: One was 15.5 hands the other was 14. Remember that’s the height to the shoulder, not the head. It occurred to me that I was looking at a British horse and a French chassuer / hussar horse. The difference was huge. Not just in total height, but also then in terms of overall bulk and mass.

    IO is right, all (most) French horses in 1813 are poor and chassuers could be as good as (or as bad as!) hussars or Dragoons. In a proper fight armour can make little difference when a horse guard is using his helmet as a boxing glove!

    I’m more and more convinced that, at least in British service, the titles light and heavy are meaningless. But Napoleonic rule writers (and players?) are wedded to a very 16th – mid 18th century view of the combat role and worth of cavalry. In BP-AT1 French Dragoons default to heavy in some form (8 dice hand to hand and heavy cav D1) while British hussars are light (6 dice hand to hand) – so the British cavalry should lose.

    invisible officer

    And worse. The French 18th century use legers for heavy cavalry is a bit ….. . Just meaning that they lost the armor. Under Louis XIV just one Cuirassier Regiment!
    In Napoleonic time the French Dragoon and the Cuirasier are heavy cavalry, sharing the same sword. Chasseurs and Hussars are light / medium with same sabre style. (Yes me and the iron) .
    Lancers are light / medium too. And normally the Lance was inferior to the sabre in a mounted duel! But superb against infantry.

    The ideal French Dragoon horse was a heavy beast, not like that of the British heavies. They came from Normandie and Flandres. But following the Russian disaster some even rode Percheron horses.

    British and French regiments both branded the OR horses with unit markings and it was a widely spread art to change these on animals “found”.

    Charge The Guns

    I’ve always liked Bowden’s idea of Battle Cavalry and ‘others’. I agree that until titles should not be the only criteria to determine troop effectiveness.

    I suppose an interesting question is therefore, why were the Union and Household brigades selected to throw back D’Erlon’s attack. Were they more ‘expendable’? Or, just in the right place.

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