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Attack of the Royal Scots Grays at the Battle of Waterloo 1815 (painting by Elizabeth Thompson from 1881)

As a cavalry or cavalry is called too usually horse with Blank- and handguns fighting branch of the ground forces . In the 20th century, in the course of general motorization, cavalry units were mostly disbanded or converted into mechanized infantry or armored troops , but often retained their traditional unit names for reasons of tradition. Mounted troops are now mostly used for representation purposes only.

Etymology and terminology

Fully armed horseman (Greece, around 550 BC)
Roman auxiliary troop cavalryman from the Cologne Flavian period.
Sassanid armored rider ( cataphract )
Carolingian armored rider (8th – 10th centuries)

The word "cavalry" was borrowed towards the end of the 16th century from the synonymous French word cavalerie , which in turn goes back to the synonymous Italian cavalleria . The word is in turn a derivation of the Italian cavaliere (dt. Rider), which is derived from cavallo or caballus (Italian / Latin for 'horse'). The first written evidence in German is dated to 1569.

Due to the etymological derivation, only troops mounted on horses are usually referred to as "cavalry", even if camels were sometimes used as military mounts in desert regions . War elephants are not considered part of the cavalry, nor are individual mounted officers of other branches of arms or carrying animals used for riding purposes.


The cavalry was in addition to the infantry the most important, and sometimes even the strongest military branch of service during the Antiquity , the Middle Ages and the Renaissance . She played an important role during the Crusades . Mounted units were an important factor in military tactics until the late 19th century.

With its advantages - mobility, speed and penetration - the cavalry represented an expansion of tactical possibilities. The first horse armor probably originated in ancient Central Asia . The the Eurasian , of nomadic horsemen adjacent populated steppes civilizations had to adjust by building up their own armies of cavalry on weaponry and war tactics of the nomadic peoples. This expansion will probably take place first in China .

In Persia , Eastern Europe and Byzantium , riders and warhorses were protected with a cover made of scales or, later, chain weave as early as late antiquity . The equipment of the riders included the metal helmet, the thrusting lance , the long riding sword, bow and arrow and (since the 6th century among the Avars ) the stirrup . In the Franconian Empire , the emergence of the natural economy based feudal system was closely related to the need for decentralized procurement of weapons and fodder by the cavalry warriors themselves, with an agricultural reform, the increased cultivation of fodder crops and the decline in the importance of the monetary economy.

The most effective opponents of the cavalry in the Middle Ages were the pikemen , who tried to kill the horses or impale the rider with long thrusting lances. That is why warhorses - like the rider - have been protected in Western and Central Europe with what is known as horse armor made of metal plates since the 14th century . However, the use of pikemen and the corresponding result dealt a severe blow to the reputation of the cavalry.

The change to new tactics helped the cavalry regain a dominant role on the battlefield until the Napoleonic era . The steady improvement of firearms during the 19th century was then the most important factor in the decline of the cavalry, and was indicated in the Crimean War , American Civil War and the War of 1870/71 , the introduction of smokeless powder and the machine gun at the end of the Century completely led to the end of the traditional battle cavalry in the First World War.

The last conservative troop leaders became aware of this at the latest in World War I , when cavalry attacks against infantry fire on the western front no longer penetrated, or partial successes were no longer in proportion to the losses suffered in the process (see: Battle of Lagarde 1914 ). Only on the eastern front could cavalry units still be used to a limited extent, primarily for reconnaissance purposes. The last successful attack by a large mounted formation was carried out on October 31, 1917 under General Edmund Allenby by the Australian 4th Light Horse Brigade and the British 5th Mounted Brigade, both as dragoons mounted infantry, during the conquest of Be'er Sheva .

At the beginning of the Second World War, there were only a small number of mounted troops in most countries, even if in some places armored or motorized units still bore the names of cavalry regiments for reasons of tradition. Only in Poland did a considerable part of the army actually consist of cavalry, which was also used as such against the German invaders. Attacks on their infantry were sometimes quite successful, but did not change the course of the war. The claim that Polish cavalry attacked German tanks because they thought the vehicles were dummies is untrue and comes from German propaganda, which was intended to clearly illustrate the superiority of the German Wehrmacht.

In the western campaigns neither party used cavalry. At the beginning of the German-Soviet War in 1941, Germany had a single cavalry division that advanced centrally through the Pripyat Marshes. In the vast expanses of Russia, however, the Axis Powers again set up cavalry units to secure the rear space and open flanks, which were deployed in areas with poor mobility, especially in the Balkans.

Even today, some regiments in some states still use their old cavalry designations for reasons of tradition, although they have long been equipped with modern armored vehicles.

In the US Army, airborne units with helicopters were set up from former (now motorized) cavalry regiments for the war in Vietnam from 1964 ; Here, too, the term cavalry was used.

Due to the break in German military history caused by two wars of aggression that were contrary to international law, there are no longer any association traditions in the armed forces for riding troops .

The army reconnaissance troops of the Bundeswehr - previously the armored reconnaissance troops - however, with the reconnaissance as the main task of the light cavalry, took over the golden yellow weapon color of the cavalry for the collar tabs and braids of the uniforms as well as the association badges. The beret badges of the army reconnaissance and remote surveillance troops have two stylized crossed lances as a symbol.

Cavalry of antiquity and the Middle Ages

The distinction between heavy and light cavalry was based on the armor, equipment and armament of the riders and the stature of the horses.

Light cavalry with bow

The Hyksos are considered to be the first to systematically use the horse for war purposes and to bring the riding and chariot culture to ancient Egypt . Carriages and possibly also mounts were manned by archers. Mounted archers were an effective branch of arms that peoples of different eras and continents perfected independently of one another.

The Scythians are among the oldest known bow riders . Well known equestrian peoples of history who fought in a similar way are the Huns , Mongols, and Avars .

The cavalry troops of the Ottoman Empire had with the Sipahis a specialized unit of mounted archers.

However, not all equestrian peoples use this combat tactic; So when the South American Indians took over the horse in the 16th century, they took off the bow and arrow they had previously used and then fought with a lance and a bola .


The light cavalry used small, fast, and agile horses. The riders wore no or only light armor. The classical equestrian peoples used short, strong bows of great power and range. The so-called composite bows of many horsemen consist of up to 16 glued pieces of wood and horn. The advantage of tendons and horns is their greater ability to store energy and also to release it again (to the arrow). The efficiency of such a well-built composite bow with a corresponding possible shape is higher than that of a conventional bow made of wood, which would break immediately if the same shape. Mongolian and Turkish equestrian bows had an average draw weight of 75 pounds and shot specially tuned light arrows 500 to 800 meters. These composite bows were on a par with the longbow in terms of reach and penetration power . With special "armor-piercing" arrows, for example, it was possible for the Mongol riders to penetrate even heavy armor.


Mounted armies could shower enemy troops with arrows from a distance and never had to engage in hand-to-hand combat. Slower opponents without effective long-range weapons often had no chance. Thus the cavalry troops of the Parthian Empire destroyed the legions of Crassus in the battle of Carrhae ( 53 BC ) . When they invaded Central and Western Europe in the 9th and 10th centuries, the Hungarians, as mounted archers, spread fear and terror throughout the West and East Franconian Empire .

The great weaknesses of mounted archers were their space requirements and their light equipment. If they were forced to close combat with better armored opponents in a confined space, they were mostly defeated. In addition, they were not suitable for taking part in sieges . Good riding troops required a lot of training and very good horses. The classic equestrian peoples such as the Huns or Mongols practically lived on horseback. A war ruse of the Turkish and Hunnic “steppe riders” consisted in galloping towards the enemy in a seemingly chaotic frontal attack. Without contact with the enemy - or after a brief skirmish - they turned around and left the enemy in the belief that they would flee or regroup. If the enemy was deceived by this ruse, he would go into pursuit in order to crush the cavalry troops. The cavalry's mock retreat was now planned to run faster in the middle than on the wings, so that the enemy could advance further in the middle and was then gripped in a crescent-like formation. The skilful archers could shoot their deadly arrows at full gallop, turned 180 ° backwards. This stratagem, coupled with the accuracy of the light cavalry, pulled the enemy formation apart and created the basis for a new, mostly decisive attack on the thinning ranks of the enemy.

Another class of cavalry with accurate archers were the Ottoman-Turkish Sipahis . The Sipahis learned over years of practice to shoot their deadly arrows exactly when all four legs of their horse are in the air, so that no shock can affect the accuracy.

The Battle of Dorylaum in the First Crusade illustrates the advantages and disadvantages of mounted archers: The rider pulks of the Seljuk Sultan Kılıç Arslan I succeeded in encircling an army of the Crusaders and shooting them at a distance. The knights could do little to counter the hail of arrows. Suddenly reinforcements appeared under Gottfried von Bouillon , and the Seljuks found themselves encircled. They could no longer escape and were defeated in close combat. The Seljuks' defeat at Dorylaum was so complete that the crusaders were able to cross Anatolia practically unmolested .

Heavy cavalry with lances


The first heavily armored lancers were the Cataphracti and Clibanarii of the Sarmatians , Parthians , Sassanids , the late Romans and Byzantines .

middle Ages

In the Middle Ages , Western and Central Europe first relied on heavy riders in the Franconian Empire , and the so-called Franconian Panzerreiter emerged . At the beginning of the 8th century the stirrup appeared in Europe as well , which proved to be advantageous for heavy riding. Especially in connection with a high saddle , it made it possible for heavy riding to perform a lance thrust at full gallop without falling off the horse. In addition, the stirrups and saddles made it difficult for the infantry to pull a rider from a horse.

In the High Middle Ages , the knight class of troops developed in Western and Central Europe . They fought with a long lance , carried heavy chain and plate armor and rode on warhorses that have been specially trained for the fight and carrying high weight.


The knights attacked quickly and sometimes in several waves of attack with the lance as their primary weapon and pierced the enemy. The heavy lances were dropped after the lance attack and the fight was continued with the secondary weapons ( sword , ax , mace or similar). Opposing foot soldiers were ridden down with their heavy battle horses. If a foot soldier was hit at full gallop by a knight's lance placed under the armpit, he was usually thrown away with such force that he knocked over several of his backers. In addition, the psychological effect of hundreds of armored riders attacking in a line at full gallop was very effective, especially against undisciplined troops. This method of attack was effective but depended on many factors. The following tactics were mostly effective against heavy cavalry:

  • Long-range weapons: Both the longbow and the crossbow could be dangerous to the knights. Although the heavy, aristocratic cavalry of the Middle Ages often fought on foot or at least avoided hopeless frontal attacks, it happened several times that armies of knights led an attack corresponding to their warrior ideals. The consequences were always disastrous: At Crécy (1346) and Poitiers (1356) the French knights suffered heavy losses against English longbow archers; at Azincourt (1415) over 5,000 knights died in a hail of arrows.
  • Polearms: The long skewers used by the Flemish citizens, Scots and Swiss ( pikemen ) were good choices. The fighters stood in close formation like the ancient phalanx . In the fight against the Scots, the English knights proved to be just as narrow-minded and haughty as their French colleagues. They lost to the Scots in the battles of Stirling Bridge (1297) and Bannockburn (1314). The defeated English were the first to successfully imitate this tactic against the French, and the Swiss perfected it. Now the formation was almost impenetrable for knights, despite the lances that had now become longer. The pikemen, armed with pikes, were important troops until the end of the Thirty Years' War . As a counter-tactic in the fight against spade bearers, the heavy cavalry developed maneuvers such as the Caracolla in the early modern era .
  • Field fortifications : To slow down the opposing cavalry, auxiliary fortifications were occasionally built in the field. Examples of this are pointed stakes rammed into the ground ( Battle of Azincourt ) or wagon castles ( Battle of Tachau ).
  • Taking advantage of the advantages of the terrain: Lancers needed solid, level ground and enough space for their attack. A clever opponent would avoid battle in the open field and would rather fight in swampy, mountainous, or wooded terrain. This was done by the Scots at Bannockburn and Stirling , as well as the Flemings at Kortrijk . The Swiss Confederates defeated the Austrian knights in the Battle of Morgarten (1315) by attacking the army of knights in a narrow place between a slope and a swamp . The farmers of Dithmarschen opposed the army of the Danish king near Hemmingstedt in 1500 . They opened levees and flooded the land. If the terrain was unsuitable for a cavalry attack, English knights often fought on foot, using their lances like pikes. Knights fighting on foot were called men-at-arms in England .
  • Guerrilla Warfare : An enemy that could strike and disappear in a flash was a serious problem for heavy riders. It was therefore important to always have enough light cavalry.

Today it is believed that the majority of knights fought on foot in many medieval battles. The attack on a warhorse was only carried out with ideal terrain and support from ranged fighters. If the opposing infantry was armed with polearms and fought in close formation, the knights faked an attack and immediately turned around. Many foot soldiers thought this was an escape and went in pursuit, disbanding their formation. In this situation the knights turned back and rode down the infantry. Such a tactic was used, for example, in the Battle of Hastings in 1066.

Modern cavalry until 1918

In the course of time, the cavalry lost its role as the primary offensive weapon type to the infantry due to the advent of firearms, even if the cavalry continued to flourish temporarily during the Napoleonic Wars.

While matchlock musketeers initially had to be protected against cavalry by pikemen , this became superfluous with the introduction of bayonets , as infantrymen equipped with them could hold their own against cavalry with the appropriate level of training. From around the 17th century onwards, infantry formed a cavalry attack that could fire in all directions and in which usually two or three rows of soldiers with bayonets were able to successfully repel saber blows. The effectiveness of such a formation was shown e.g. B. in the battle of Waterloo , when almost the entire heavy cavalry of Napoleon rode several attacks on the infantry of Wellington formed in the square, in order to be shot down by them largely without major losses of their own. With the introduction of Minié projectiles from the middle of the 19th century, the range and, above all, the accuracy of muzzle-loaders were increased so that frontal attacks on prepared infantry became extremely costly. Cavalry attacks remained a threat to infantry units, especially if the cavalry managed to hit their opponents unprepared or to panic them. However, it became more and more difficult for pure cavalry attacks. At the latest with the beginning of the trenches, minefields and machine guns in the First World War, cavalry attacks were largely obsolete. The role of the cavalry was therefore mostly limited to use as reconnaissance aircraft and as mounted infantry.

In the course of time, the cavalry was increasingly equipped with firearms, but the mostly shorter rifles were inferior to those of the infantry due to size and handiness restrictions on horseback, which is why edged weapons always remained the main armament for mounted combat. For an attack, the riders usually formed themselves several limbs deep, who rode on the enemy at some distance from one another and slowly increased their speed in a coordinated manner by trumpet signals.

Four main types of cavalry had emerged in the standing armies of modern times, and there were often overlaps:

Uhlans and other lancers

Cossacks pursue French cavalry, Russian campaign in 1812

The lancers were the oldest class of cavalry in modern times. They were usually protected by full plate armor or at least by a harness that reached down to the knees. Their main weapon was the lance , but in the second half of the 16th century they switched to carrying wheel lock pistols as well . Lancers rode on heavy warhorses, often protected by a horse harness. By the beginning of the 17th century, the lancers merged with the cuirassiers.

After the lancers disappeared, the lance seemed to have had its day as a military weapon. Nevertheless, small and mostly short-lived associations of light lancers were set up in various European countries in the 18th century, e.g. B. in France the Volontaires de Saxe . The origin of the Uhlan units can be traced back to the traditions of the Mongols and Tatars who settled in the Grand Duchy of Lithuania , i.e. in the later east of the Polish-Lithuanian Union, from the 14th century. The word "Uhlans" probably comes from the Turkish word "oglan" (meaning: young man) or the word "oglan" comes from the Mongolian language and roughly means "brave warrior".

The first Uhlan regiments really named that way can be found in Poland in the early 18th century . Lancers had always made up the majority of the cavalry ( Hussaria ) there, and when after the partition of Poland numerous Polish volunteers fought for the freedom of their homeland under the flags of the French Republic, France used their traditional skill in handling the lance to get out of their ranks to set up the first French lancers regiments ( chevau-légers lanciers = light lancers). Russia and Austria , for their part, had recruited Uhlan regiments from the Polish children “captured” in the Polish partitions. Prussia also set up a regular Uhlan unit, the Towarczys Regiment . Other countries such as Great Britain followed the example only after the end of the Napoleonic wars and also set up Uhlan units. The categorization of these units was different: Austrians and Russians put them v. a. as light cavalry, the French and Prussians, however, more as battle cavalry.

In Germany, Kaiser Wilhelm II ordered the lance of all cavalry in 1888, so that when the First World War broke out, the German cavalry actually consisted of lancers, even if the other cavalry classes retained their traditional names and uniforms. In the trench warfare , however, the uselessness of lances made for modern warfare out. Only the resurrected Poland did not give up the lances and still equipped most of its cavalry with them in addition to sabers, pistols, rifles, etc. When trying to repel the attack on Poland in 1939, Polish Uhlans attacked with a lance for the last time.

Internationally, the uniform of the Uhlans was often based on the Polish Krakow national costume , in particular on the characteristic hat with the square top ( rogatywka ) , which was called Tschapka in its military form . A wide fabric trim on the chest ( plastron ) of the uniform jacket ( kurtka or ulanka ) was typical for the Uhlans of all countries. In addition to the lance, the saber and the pistols, they were often armed with a carbine since around 1800.

The Cossacks , originally fortified farmers in the Russian steppe , were the largest European cavalry force in the late 16th century and were considered the most effective light cavalry in the 19th century. During the Wars of Liberation , Poland and Prussia set up their own Cossack associations, which, however, lacked the social and cultural background of the "real" Cossacks. In the tsarist empire, the Cossacks were often used to fight civil unrest and acquired a dubious reputation for organized attacks on the Jewish population ( pogroms ). In the Russian Civil War , the Cossacks fought mostly on the side of the opponents of the revolution , as they viewed socialism as a threat to their privileges and way of life. The Cossack units of the Red Army followed the tradition of the Tsarist Cossacks militarily and visually, without adopting their social structures. During the Second World War, members of former Tsarist Cossack families in particular were recruited by Germany to collaborate . With regard to clothing, uniforms did not prevail among the Cossacks until the end of the 18th century, which nevertheless remained associated with the Russian national costume ( caftan and harem pants ). In the late 19th century, clothing approached standard uniforms. Wide breeches and fur hats, however, remained characteristic until the end.

Cuirassiers and heavy cavalry

French cuirassier, Napoleonic era

The cuirassiers emerged in the 1540s and initially used almost only the Caracolla tactic . As a heavy cavalry, they formed the point of attack. Until the 17th century, most cuirassiers wore a harness, later the cuirass . They were armed with pistols (later often also a carbine ) and a pallasch , which over time became the main weapon. In some European armies there were cuirassier regiments until the First World War.

The Karabiniers originated in France in the 17th century as elite - companies of heavy cavalry and were with a carabiner equipped, the name of which also derives. Combined into a regiment in France in 1693, they served on foot like the Dragoons until 1815, while in England and Austria they always remained heavy cavalry. In Italy, the Carabinieri, entrusted with civil police duties, developed from them .

Until the middle of the 18th century, cavalry in the narrower sense was generally only understood to be heavy cavalry, sometimes also referred to as line or battle cavalry. Their associations mostly still bore the name "Regiment on Horseback". In Great Britain, the "Regiments of Horse" (with the exception of the Horse Guards ) were renamed Dragoon Guards for cost reasons, without any changes in equipment or order. The heavy cavalry was usually equipped like the cuirassiers, but in the course of the century in many places the cuirass disappeared completely or was only worn as a half-cuirass. Only when the entire heavy cavalry received the full cuirass in France in 1803 did it become popular again in large parts of Europe and in some cases lasted until the beginning of the First World War.


British 17th Regiment of (Light) Dragoons in the American War of Independence with Kaskett (1775)

The Dragoons were formed in the 16th century as a mounted infantry a new genus of the mounted troops dismounted to fight. Although they also fought on horseback as early as the 17th century, it was not until the 18th century that they officially received the prestigious status of real cavalry in most armies. The name dragoon was probably named after the French dragon , a handgun between a small carbine and a pistol. The arquebus riders existed as a special form until the early 17th century and derived their name from arquebus . This wheel lock rifle was shorter and lighter than the musket . As with the infantry, the passive armament (helmet and armor) largely disappeared in the course of the 17th century. Edged weapons complemented the armament. Up until the beginning of the 18th century, the dragoons turned into real cavalry almost everywhere. France used the dragoons as infantry again in 1809, but these dismounted dragoons had to surrender their horses to other cavalry units and were therefore no longer real cavalry. The more the dragoons became real cavalry, the more the carbine supplanted the musket. There were also pistols and broadsword or rapier. The light dragoons that emerged in the later 18th century (e.g. in Great Britain , Hessen-Kassel and Hanover) had similar tasks to the hussars and were equipped with a saber as an edged weapon. The uniform of the Dragoons often followed the example of the infantry, but with typical cavalry deviations such as: B. Riding boots and pants . Helmets were very common in the 19th century. The cavalry formations set up for colonial service were often used as mounted infantry in the style of the original dragoons.

Hussars and light cavalry

Polish winged hussar, 17th century
Hussars on both sides in the Hungarian War of Independence (1849)
German cavalryman in September 1914, German South West Africa

At the end of the 15th century, lightly armored lancers were called Chevaulegers (French: "light horses"). From the middle of the 18th century to the end of the First World War, this designation was used in parts of the German-speaking area (especially in Bavaria and Austria) for riders who outwardly resembled the dragoons, but were used like hussars. In Napoleonic France, the term chevauleger was used for Uhlans. Initially, the Chevaulegers had a light Pallasch , later a saber and carbine. In the Bavarian Army around 1890, like the entire cavalry, they also received lances.

The hussars were initially Hungarian irregulars , but were also set up as regular troops since the 18th century, without losing their character as light cavalry for reconnaissance and security tasks. The hussar genus was quickly adopted by all major European powers. The uniform of the hussars in the 18th and 19th centuries was based on the Hungarian national costume. Characteristic for this were a decorative lacing on the chest of the uniform jacket and another laced jacket with fur trimmings hung over the shoulder . A flat fur or winged cap or a shako was often used as headgear . The armament consisted of a saber and pistols, the latter were supplemented by carbines from around 1800 and ultimately replaced. In Germany around 1890, like the entire cavalry, the hussars received additional lances.

The Croatian horsemen were similar to the hussars and took part in the Thirty Years War as mercenaries of the Catholic League . Another special form was the Hussaria , which emerged from the light cavalry in Poland in the 16th century (also called winged hussars due to the elaborate feather decoration), but which were heavily armored lancers.

The hunters on horseback appeared at the end of the 18th century when some European countries (especially France) recognized the need for regular light cavalry, but shied away from the costs of setting up elaborately uniformed hussar units. Like these, they were primarily used for reconnaissance and security purposes, but were also increasingly used as battle cavalry. The uniform was often based on that of the hussars, but was usually less complex. It was not until 1901 that hunters on horseback were set up in Prussia, but here the uniforms were similar to that of the cuirassiers. The armament consisted of a saber and carbine . In Prussia the hunters on horseback also carried lances.

Cavalry after 1918

After the action of modern artillery as well as multi-loader and machine guns made the use of cavalry in their classic role impossible, cavalrymen were increasingly used again in the role of the original dragoons as mounted and therefore very mobile infantry. With the advent of reliable all-terrain motor vehicles, however, the horse became increasingly superfluous as a means of transport, even if horses were used until the Second World War due to a lack of material or an awareness of tradition. The soldiers' individual armament increasingly also included automatic weapons, even if edged weapons were also used as with the Cossacks.

The first cavalry attack of the Second World War was already considered symptomatic of the general position of the cavalry in this war: on September 1, 1939, Polish Uhlans defeated a German infantry battalion near Krojanty with saber and lance when they were surprised by German armored vehicles were. One of the last cavalry battles in the history of the war fought on September 23, 1939 Polish Uhlans and German cavalry at Krasnobród with sabers, the German horsemen had to retreat. However, in their pursuit, the Polish Uhlans came into the field of fire of German machine-gun positions.

Cavalry units of the Red Army under Generals Below, Sokolow and Dowator played a certain role from the counteroffensive off Moscow in 1941/42. So fell z. B. on December 19, 1941 the II. Guards Cavalry Corps under General Dowator in an advance over the frozen Moskva together with ski combat groups of the 267th Infantry Division into the flank and forced the entire IX. Army corps to retreat behind the Rusa . Under the influence of such successes, a certain reorganization of the German army cavalry began again from 1943 under the leadership of Georg von Boeselager .

After 1945, cavalry units were only used in a few countries for field service, especially for use in areas inaccessible by motor vehicles. When the Swiss Army disbanded its last 18 Dragoons squadrons in 1972 , the last real cavalry in Europe came to an end. Only the Soviet Army maintained large mounted units for some time afterwards - however, their cavalry skills were no longer intended for combat use, but for the extra series of the Soviet film industry, which they used not only for their own productions such as War and Peace , but also for international projects against foreign exchange like, for example, Waterloo used.

Only a few states (e.g. Great Britain, Argentina, Poland, France, Denmark and Sweden) still maintain numerically small mounted units for representational purposes. In some states, the original cavalry units retained their designations but were equipped with modern vehicles. Today, for example, there are still two Uhlan regiments (lancers) in Great Britain . Both units are now equipped with light tanks and act as reconnaissance units . In the USA, during the Vietnam War , the 1st US Cavalry Division was temporarily transformed into an airborne infantry .

Basically, the cavalry today has no practical meaning either in its classic role as a troop fighting on horseback or as mounted infantry. When in use, mounts are only used to a very limited extent for reconnaissance purposes or for patrol service in difficult, severely divided terrain , e.g. B. sporadically in the Bundeswehr carrier animal troops . The Armored Cavalry Regiment No. 3 ( Húsares del General don José Miguel Carrera y Verdugo ) , which belongs to the mountain troops, is mounted in the Chilean army and serves as a reconnaissance unit.


The tactical unit of the cavalry was the squadron ( squadron ) or the troop , usually four to six squadrons formed a regiment . In some states the squadron was also divided into two companies. The further structure of the higher formations was different in the various armies and in the peace and war formation.

Cavalry in individual countries

The 7th US Cavalry during an amphibious landing on Leyte , Oct. 20, 1944
Italian corazzieri in a parade (2006)


In peacetime in the German Empire , the brigade, consisting of two or more regiments, was the largest purely cavalry unit, each with two infantry brigades subordinate to a unitary divisional command. In peacetime , apart from the annual maneuvers, only the Guard Corps had a cavalry division . There was also a general inspection of the cavalry with four cavalry inspections and a cavalry commission . The training of the cavalrymen took place in the military riding school (cavalry sergeant school) and in the cavalry telegraph school. During the First World War, a large part of the cavalry was grouped into independent cavalry divisions, partly also into higher cavalry commands , while the rest was assigned to the infantry divisions as divisional cavalry .

In the Reichswehr , there were again three pure cavalry divisions, each with six cavalry regiments , due to the conditions of the Peace Treaty of Versailles . In addition, the seven infantry divisions each had a mounted squadron as a reconnaissance body. Instead of the lance, the cavalry was increasingly equipped with the carbine 98 b and light machine guns from 1927 onwards .

The Wehrmacht continued the resolution of the three existing cavalry divisions, which was decided in 1934. The 1st Cavalry Brigade emerged from Reiter Regiments 1 and 2 in East Prussia. The 13 infantry corps also had one cavalry regiment each, from which reconnaissance units of the infantry divisions and cavalry platoons of the infantry regiments were formed during the attack on Poland in September 1939 . In October 1939, a regrouping led the 1st Cavalry Brigade with the mounted parts of the reconnaissance departments from eleven infantry divisions to the 1st Cavalry Division with approx. 17,000 horses. This division was established in 1941 in the war against the Soviet Union of the Panzer Group 2 under Heinz Guderian subordinated to and in winter 1941/1942 in the 24th Panzer Division reclassified.

In the area of ​​Army Group Center, the cavalry regiments “Center” and “North” emerged in 1943 from the cavalry squadrons of Reconnaissance Departments 6, 34, 35 and 102, after its successful deployment in 1943 with the Army Groups in the east "And" South "were set up. These regiments were used more as mounted infantry than for reconnaissance. Cavalry Brigades 3 and 4 were formed from the regiments in 1944 . Together with the 1st Hungarian Cavalry Regiment, they formed the I. (Army) Cavalry Corps. In February 1945 the brigades were renamed into divisions. Previously, the first voluntary Cossack (Cavalry) was set up Department in the year 1941, it was created by another installation of Cossack organizations 1943, the 1st Cossack Cavalry Division .

The Waffen SS had already had a cavalry brigade since 1941, which was expanded into a cavalry division ( 8th SS Cavalry Division “Florian Geyer” ) in the spring of 1942 . A second SS Cavalry Division ( 22nd SS Volunteer Cavalry Division “Maria Theresia”) was created from levies at the beginning of 1944 . These two SS cavalry divisions perished in the Budapest pocket. Finally, the 37th SS Volunteer Cavalry Division "Lützow" was set up from the remaining SS cavalry training units and from convalescents, vacationers from the front and returnees from both divisions .
There was also the XV. SS Cossack Cavalry Corps - with 2 Cossack cavalry divisions and 1 Cossack infantry brigade (later division) - which was formed from the Cossack division of the army.

Great Britain

In addition to the Guard (two regiments of Life Guards and one Horse Guards ), the British cavalry consisted of until the First World War

  • 7 regiments of Dragoon Guards (actually heavy line cavalry, but renamed Dragoons in the 18th century to reduce pay and rewarded with the Guard title in return, but without ever counting to the Household Cavalry )
  • 21 continuously numbered line regiments, of which three dragoons (1st, 2nd and 6th regiments), twelve hussars (3rd, 4th, 7th, 8th, 10th, 11th, 13th, 14th, 15th, 18th, 19th and 20th regiments) and 5 Uhlans (5th, 9th, 16th, 17th and 21st regiments).

The light dragoons were all converted into hussars or lancers in the course of the 19th century or (22nd to 33rd regiments) were disbanded, but in 2015 an association made up of two hussar regiments received the traditional name "Light Dragoons" again.

The attack of the Light Brigade in the Crimean War , which failed due to incorrect transmission of orders, and the attack of the 21st Uhlans at the Battle of Omdurman , in which Winston Churchill also took part as a young lieutenant, gained particular fame .

In 1921/22 the number of regiments fell from 31 to 22 through mergers. Due to various changes in the army structure (most recently in 2015), further mergers followed, so that today there are only seven regiments besides the Household Cavalry and the Household Cavalry Mounted Regiment :

Together with the Royal Tank Regiment , these form the Royal Armored Corps .

The nominal strength of all British regiments is still well below that of continental European units.

The originally aristocratic Yeomanry provided the Landwehr riding . Today it forms four regiments as well as various other units, but not all of them belong to the cavalry.


1914 comprised the Joint Army of Austria-Hungary

  • 15 regiments of dragoons
  • 11 regiments of Uhlans
  • 16 regiments of hussars

Each regiment consisted of two battalions, designated as a division , of three squadrons with a total of almost 1,100 men, including the substitute cadre. (The division in the sense of a large association was called the cavalry troop division .)


In Russia the cavalry was almost entirely divided into divisions, and at the end of the 19th century two cavalry corps were set up.

During the founding phase of the Red Army there were at least two cavalry armies at times, of which Marshal Budyonny commanded the first in the Russian Civil War against the White Guard General Denikin .

During the Second World War, the Soviet Union fielded 95 cavalry divisions and 17 guard cavalry divisions. In the post-war period, the troops, if not disbanded, were mostly mechanized and renamed accordingly. Some units were kept mounted as an extra series for period films until the 1970s. After the delegations of the special forces, they always led the October parade in Moscow.

Under Vladimir Putin , a cavalry unit was again set up as part of the presidential guard, the appearance of which is based on the guards dragoon regiment of the tsars.


Portrait of a dragoons from the city ​​and republic of Bern from the 18th century

The Swiss cavalry (dragoon) was the last of the European armies to be abolished in 1972. After the recruiting school, the dragoons bought their horse, the Swiss Confederation , from the army at a reduced price and thus entered the annual refresher courses. This regulation was particularly attractive for arable farmers. In rural areas, the Swiss Confederation was a symbol of the militia system and the bond between home and the army.

United States

In the American War of Independence four weak regiments of Light Dragoons were formed and disbanded at the end of the war. Shortly before the outbreak of the war of 1812 , two regiments of dragoons were set up, to which two regiments of cavalry and in 1846 one of the hunters on horseback were added in the 1830s.

When the Civil War broke out , all regiments were renamed cavalry and their number increased to twelve. In addition, there were numerous other regiments set up by the Union and the remaining states, so that at the end of the war there were over 250 state and federal regiments in the field, while the southern states only had around 170 regiments. In the course of the war, the Northern States cavalry in particular fought mostly dismounted as riflemen and thus anticipated the development of the First World War. The horse only served these cavalry regiments as a means of rapid transport. So at the beginning of the Battle of Gettysburg, John Buford's cavalry occupied and defended an important hill, which contributed significantly to the Union's victory. At the end of the war, the number of federal regiments was reduced to twelve. They played a key role in the land grabbing in the Wild West (e.g. in the Battle of Little Bighorn ) and thus became part of the founding myth of the USA.

In the First World War 1917, a cavalry operation was no longer possible as part of the trench warfare. During the defense of the Philippines against the Japanese invaders in 1942 , the 26th Cavalry Regiment rode the last attack in US military history, but the majority of the US cavalry was already mechanized by this time. During the Second World War, the cavalry fought in all theaters of war, mostly as part of the armored force.

During the Vietnam War , the 1st Cavalry Division was used as an airborne force equipped with helicopters , but was converted back to a tank division in 1975 . Together with three independent regiments, she continues the cavalry tradition in the association name to this day.

See also


  • Günter Dorn, Joachim Engelmann: The cavalry regiments of Frederick the Great 1756–1763. Nebel Verlag, 2000, ISBN 3-89555-301-8 .
  • Friedrich Engels: Cavalry. In: Karl Marx, Friedrich Engels - works. Volume 14, Dietz Verlag, Berlin 1961, pp. 286-314.
  • Karlheinz Gless: The horse in the military. Military publishing house of the GDR, Berlin 1980.
  • Dietmar Kügler: The US cavalry legend and reality of an elite military unit. Motorbuch Verlag, 1979, ISBN 3-87943-626-6 .
  • Georg Nagyrevi v. Neppel: Hussars in World History. Emil Vollmer Publishing House, Wiesbaden 1975.
  • Janusz Piekałkiewicz : Horse and Rider in World War II. Herbig 1998, ISBN 3-7766-1756-X .
  • Klaus C. Richter: On the history of the German cavalry. In: Cord Schwier (Ed.): "... and the scouts are always there ...". 2nd Edition. Verlag Vrage, Munster 2005, ISBN 3-00-013145-0 , pp. 15-54.
  • Klaus Christian Richter: Cavalry of the Wehrmacht. Nebel Verlag, 2000, ISBN 3-89555-310-7 .
  • Klaus Christian Richter: History of the German Cavalry 1919–1945. Motorbuch Verlag, Stuttgart 1982, ISBN 3-87943-892-7 .
  • Herve de Weck: Illustrated history of the cavalry. Verlag Huber Frauenfeld, Stuttgart 1982, ISBN 3-7193-0762-X .
  • Alfred Satter: The German cavalry in the First World War . Textbook on modern history. Norderstedt 2004, ISBN 3-8334-1564-9 .
  • Stefan Papp jr .: With carbine and saber: The Cavalry Corps of the Potomac Army in the US Civil War. 2 volumes. Wyk auf Föhr 1995, ISBN 3-89510-030-7 .

Web links

Commons : Cavalry  - collection of images, videos and audio files
Wiktionary: Cavalry  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations
Wiktionary: Reiterheer  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations


  1. Klaus C. Richter: On the history of the German cavalry . In: Cord Schwier (Ed.): "... and the enlighteners are always there ..." 2nd edition. Vrage, Munster 2005, ISBN 3-00-013145-0 , pp. 15 .
  2. Michael Mitterauer : Why Europe? Medieval foundations of a special route. Munich 2004, p. 113 ff.
  3. ^ Peter Mitchell: Horse Nations. The Worldwide Impact of the Horse on Indigenous Societies Post-1492. Oxford University Press 2015, p. 284.
  4. The 18 cavalry regiments specified there, compared to only 21 infantry and 7 artillery regiments, were intended to keep the combat strength of the Reichswehr low.
  5. cf. Klaus C. Richter: On the history of the German cavalry. In: Cord Schwier (Ed.): "... and the scouts are always there ...". 2nd Edition. Vrage, Munster 2005, ISBN 3-00-013145-0 , p. 49.
  6. On October 1, 1934, the 3rd Cavalry Division was reclassified into a "light division", and on October 15, 1935, parts of this division were formed into the 1st Panzer Division.
  7. cf. also their structure ( memento of the original dated December 29, 2011 in the Internet Archive ) Info: The archive link was inserted automatically and has not yet been checked. Please check the original and archive link according to the instructions and then remove this notice. as of May 10, 1940. @1@ 2Template: Webachiv / IABot /
  8. Soviet October Revolution Parade, 1967 Парад 7 Ноября 47.00 minute
  9. Entry on the Russian Presidential Guard on
  10. Marc Tribelhorn: Swiss Cavalry: The Last Equestrian Battle of Europe In: Neue Zürcher Zeitung of February 27, 2017