A German cavalry patrol in May 1940, during the Battle of France

A German cavalry patrol in May 1940, during the Battle of France

The term cavalry indicate military units mounted on horseback.

Mounted units were tactically very important until the end of the nineteenth century to the characteristics of mobility and speed. Following the arrival of the train and motor vehicles allowed to transport soldiers in the most efficient way, while new weapons like the machine gun became the cavalry charge in a suicidal action.

The golden age of chivalry was the Middle Ages: the medieval knight, armed with a spear and sheathed in heavy armor, was the backbone of the armies of the period. The riders also formed the ruling class of society and the Cavalry was a medieval ideal of life in which men of that time were inspired. Even today, some countries (including Italy) using a knighthood as honor.


Antiquities, Ancient Greece, the Roman Empire

The combination of man, bow, arrow and horse is one of the most effective weapons used since ancient times. Among the people who made use are the Hyksos, the Assyrians and Scoloti, the best known are the Huns, the Mongols, Native Americans and the Ottoman troops on horseback.

The cavalry, composed of armed men able to fight on horseback, needed a lot of men trained in this type of fighting and animal mounts selected and used only in combat.
First, the most capable warrior on horseback in fact was always a nomad, he carried his belongings, practiced animal husbandry and preyed sedentary. In ‘ancientGreece and in’Persian Empire instead they preferred the use of the war chariot,

In ancient Greece, the knights were called hippikon: mainly hoplites were able to ride and then have more speed. Over the years it was decided to remove portions of the classic hoplite armor (panoply), too heavy, giving the hippikon greater freedom of movement. A special case were the knights hetairoi of the Kingdom of Macedonia, with a body of cavalry elite fighting tactics based on the experience of Scythian nomadic horsemen and their weapons precipue as the long spear called xiston. Despite the recommendations of the historian and strategist Xenophon, collected in the book “on horse”, the greek world itself was never able to produce an efficient cavalry force.

The Romans until the Punic Wars used it almost exclusively infantry.

The first commander to exploit the full potential of the cavalry was Hannibal, who could count on Numidian horsemen, the most skilled of the time: in the Battle of Cannae (216 a.BC), considered one of the masterpieces of the military tactics of all time, if the Carthage Roman infantry caught in the middle of the field and encircled with a pincer movement of his knights, completely destroying her.Hannibalwas then defeated in the Battle of Zama (202 a.C.) by Scipio Africanus, who had learned his lesson tactics and above all he had formed an alliance with the Numidians bringing them to their side.

The strength of the ‘Roman army were still the legions of infantry until the third century, in the late empire instead, with the pressure of the barbarians at the borders and the need to effectively supervise a border along thousands of miles, the cavalry became more and more importance due to rapidity of movement that allowed. To this must be added that, with the mutation in the composition of the Roman army, made increasingly treated as barbarians, the centuries-old tradition of efficiency and organization of the legions was gradually losing.

Middle Ages

At the beginning of the eighth century it was introduced intoEuropein the use of the bracket, along with the remains that stopped the spear armor, made it possible to charge the enemy knight galloping and hit him with all his strength, without being thrown from the saddle.

The use of heavy cavalry, which used this new technique to be an unstoppable force of impact, was promoted by Charlemagne and his successors, that even structured with all the Frankish society in order to allow the recruitment and retention of effective cavalry force.

In fact, the cost of beasts and attendants (squires), equipment and the need to have free time to train, the rider could only be a member of the ruling classes. The feudal structure of society corresponded directly to the military hierarchy, so that the riders could respond very quickly to the call to arms to form an army already being framed, the lands and properties enfeoffed provided the income necessary for the maintenance of the rider and the his equipment.

By contrast in the medieval period the infantry were often neglected and composed mostly of infantry extraction rustic or servile, poorly armed and poorly trained.

Only from the thirteenth century onwards asserted themselves more infantry trained and well-armed as the Swiss, the Spanish mercenaries or tercios capable of tactics which may impede the riders. The most effective weapon to fight the cavalry were pikes, long spears with which the knights were unhorsed or killed the horses. This gave birth to the first armor for horses. In England, on the other hand, is aimed mainly archers, hitting the riders before they came in contact, as in the battles of Crecy and Agincourt, while remaining protected behind fences pointed specially crafted on the ground.

Modern and contemporary

With the advent of firearms the effectiveness of the heavy cavalry, already weakened, declined permanently, an episode that marked the collapse was the battle ofPavia(1525) in which the French knights, thrown to the office, they were easily slaughtered by the Spanish arquebusiers. The same King Francis I ofFrancewas on foot and escaped with difficulty, being taken prisoner and uttering the famous phrase: “All is lost except honor.”

Little by little, in fact, the knight began to turn into mounted servant. Armor, useless in the face of bullets, were abandoned, the spears were replaced by more effective weapons (Giovanni dalle Bande Nere was among the first to establish a body of arquebusiers on horseback). The cavalry, although reduced to a subordinate role compared to the infantry, however, survived until the end of the nineteenth century, often with the task to get around and hitting the sides or side with fast movements pincer enemy infantry, Waterloo, for example, there was the Charge Cavalry Napoleonic Marshal Ney, who for a short time seemed to turn the tide of battle in favor of the French.

When firearms became breech, the infantry gained the ability to hit farther and repeat the actions of fire faster, more and more frustrating attempts to cavalry attack “the office.” During the Crimean War, for example, showed two episodes near Balaclava that showed the limits now reached by cavalry charges: the estate of his position by the infantry of the 93rd Highlanders attacked by Cossack cavalry and the decimation of the British cavalry when the Light Cavalry Brigade attacked the Russian positions defended by infantry and artillery (episode known to history as the Charge of the Light Brigade).

The cavalry had lost the connotation of “breaking force” to assume greater importance in the “reconnaissance missions” in the actions of “coverage” and “winding”, “exploitation” and the “lightening attacks” as pointed often in practice during the American Civil War. The cavalry also assumed an important role in the operations of colonial control, as in the case of units of British cavalry inIndiaor in the case of American units during the “Indian War” which lasted until 1890.

In the twentieth century, the final collapse: the role of the cavalry in the First World War was almost nil. The advent of motorized troops and tanks also canceled the remaining employment opportunities that it could still have. During World War II there were the last episodes: in 1939 the Polish cavalry charges 16 effected during the war, none of which, however, against the German tanks, a popular legend in German and Soviet propaganda art from, while in 1941, Savoia Cavalry regiment participated in the Italian expedition to Russia, where he was able, using the element of surprise, to load successfully the enemy in a battle in the area of the river Don (see post of Isbusenzkij). According to some historians, this was absolutely the last action of a regular cavalry in military history, but we must remember that the last Italian cavalry charge took place October 17, 1942 atPoloj,Croatia, by the 14th Cavalry Regiment Alexandria.

The few remaining cavalry were then converted, using new media technology has made available: the modern cavalry, keeping the missions that were typically assigned in the second half of the nineteenth century, it is organized into craft equipped with a large autonomy based primarily on wheeled or tracked armored vehicles or helicopters on reconnaissance or attack. It should also warn that the awareness of the final obsolescence tactics of cavalry was acquired from one day to the other, if it is true, for example, that the United States of America, yet in 1921, they thought it appropriate to establish the First Cavalry Division .

The horse can still be used tactically in environmental circumstances peculiar:U.S.special forces, in cooperation with the ‘Northern Alliance inAfghanistan, played some special reconnaissance missions on horseback again in 2001.

Light Cavalry with bow


The light cavalry horses used small, fast and agile, the knights wore very light armor, or were without it. The arches were short with long range, but they did not have the same power of long bows or crossbows.


The advantage of the arches lay in the possibility of striking distance. Opponents without a horse and then slower often had no escape. In this way, the Parthians defeated the legions of Crassus in the Battle of Carrhae (53 a.). The Knights Party were known for their skill in being able to hit the target even while being chased by enemy cavalry, shooting arrows backwards with a big twist of the torso.

The weak point of the archers was the need for large spaces and equipment spare. Due to space limitations, if forced into close combat succumbed easily. They were also vulnerable to enemy archers on foot.

Heavy cavalry with spears

The first knight with lance were Cataphracti Clibanarii and the Sarmatians, Parthians, Sassanids and later the Romans and the Byzantines.
In the Middle Ages much of the country who pointed the weapon wasFrance.

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