Horse artillery

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Horse Artillery were light, fast moving and fast firing artillery units which provided fire support to the cavalry elements of armies in the 18th and 19th centuries.

The precursors of modern mobile or self-propelled artillery, they consisted of light cannons or howitzers, pulled by light but sturdy carriages, with their crews either riding on the horses or on the carriages into battle. Once in position they were trained to quickly dismount, unlimber (deploy) and sight their guns, then fire rapid barrages at the enemy. They could then quickly limber (undeploy) the guns, remount, and move on to a new position just behind the cavalry (much like the modern shoot-and-scoot tactics of mobile artillery). Horse artillery were not only faster than the more conventional foot artillery, but their crews were better armed and trained for close quarters combat. This enabled them to operate much closer to the front lines, where foot artillery would be in danger of being overrun or captured.

Essentially a hybrid of cavalry and artillery, Horse artillery was first employed by Frederick The Great in the mid 18th Century to solve a tactical problem which had existed since the time of Gustavus Adolphus over a century earlier, namely; how to provide cavalry with the fire support it needed to deal with massed infantry formations without sacrificing their speed, mobility or shock. Some commanders, including King Gustavus, had tried inter-spacing infantry units between their cavalry, but this slowed the horsemen down to the footmen's pace. Others tried novel cavalry tactics such as the caracole, but these also slowed the cavalry down and proved largely ineffective. The best solutions involved creating hybrid units of mounted infantry, most notably Dragoons. Although they proved highly useful and versatile troops, whether they fired mounted or dismounted they still had to slow down or stop (at least temporarily) again, losing their main advantages as cavalry. King Frederick knew that the greatest danger to massed infantry was artillery. And he realized even small, light guns if they could be brought in close enough and fire often enough could have a devastating effect on the ranks and files. But even light foot artillery still travelled at foot speed. So the solution was to make every artilleryman a part-time horseman. Frederick preferred howitzers, for his mounted gunners, due to their greater lightness (hence greater mobility) and their higher trajectories which enabled them to hit enemy reserves even if concealed behind hills. Through relentless drills and discipline he emphisized mobility and speed in all phases of their operations. As a result his Horse artillery soon became an elite force which was imitated and adapted by armies throughout Europe, most notably in France.

French artilleryman, engineer and General Jean Baptiste de Gribeauval had served with the military mission to Prussia as well as fought against Frederick in the Seven Years' War. After the war he made numerous technical improvements to French cannons which made them lighter, faster and much easier to sight. These improvements proved a great advantage to Horse artillery as well. Later, in Britain, Henry Shrapnel invented a deadly new type of ammunition. Horse artillery was now more lethal as well as faster and more accurate. During the Napoleonic Wars, Horse artillery would be used extensively and effectively in every major battle and campaign. In the Mexican-American War, the Horse artillery (or so-called "Flying Artillery") of the US army played a decisive role in several key battles.

Image:German artillery.jpg
German horse artillery during the Polish Defensive War of 1939

But as technology advanced and the firepower of infantry and foot artillery increased, the role of cavalry, and thus Horse artillery, began to decline. It continued to be used and improved into the early 20th Century, seeing action in and in between both World Wars. As cavalry began to disappear from armies so did Horse artillery, to be replaced by tanks and Self-propelled guns. As with the cavalry, though, certain artillery units, for instance the Royal Horse Artillery, retain their old designations.

[edit] See also

  • Tachanka, a machine gun version of horse artillery, used in Central and Eastern Europe.

[edit] External links

Horse artillery

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