Welcome back to another edition of War Talk. For this week, let’s charge into a discussion about- well, charges! While this is a very general term, I’d like to look specifically at the use of massed heavy cavalry that defined the warfare of The High Medieval period.
The key to shock charges were the heavily armed knights of medieval Europe. Rider and mount alike were typically covered head to toe in chain mail, (or later, plate mail). Their primary weapon for first contact was the lance, followed with a sword or mace after the initial charge. The cavalry would move as a single group, gathering close together and advancing at high speed towards an enemy line.
The shock of the charge was counted on to shatter formations and scare a peasant infantry. Once the formation was broken, the superior combat skill and equipment of the knights carried the day. Upon breaking the formation of their often ill disciplined peasant infantry, the troops would usually scatter or flee the field- their morale having effectively been broken.
The largest, and perhaps the most famous charge is this style was conducted during the Siege of Vienna. In this conflict, three thousand Polish Hussars (heavy cavalry) charged and broke the Ottoman siege lines. This style of cavalry combat continued into the 19th century, with the Charge of the Light Brigade during the Crimean War heralding the decline of cavalry charges in the face of ever increasing firepower. Modern versions of this tactic have been adapted by tanks and armored elements well in the 21st Century.
Related: War Talk Wednesday: Crossbows
Do you have a tactic or weapon you’d like to see featured on this blog? Let me know in the comments below!