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DateOriginal Topic
9th May 2005Lances And The Necessity For Speed
By Coll
On a recent documentary about the Charge Of The Light Brigade, it was stated that in order to use the lances properly, due mainly to their length, the horses must be travelling at a certain speed.

To accomplish this, surely a reasonably even terrain would be needed, to prevent the horses stumbling or perhaps slowing down at any hollows or obstacles.

I know the Lancers were used to good effect at Ulundi, but in general the terrain in Zululand is quite rough, especially with dongas, etc.

Could the location of the square at Ulundi, be to do with not only a good field of fire for the infantry on all sides, but also the kind of terrain where this mounted force could be used to the greatest extent ?

9th May 2005Peter Quantrill
High grass partially shielded the Zuilu approach to the Ulund 'Square,' particularly the southern approach from kwaNodwengu.
The subsequent charge by the 17th Lancers and Kings Dragoon Guards was conducted at full gallop, thus indicating the terrain was not a liability. Indeed the horses were blown by the time thay returned to the square.
Buller's Colonials carried out their pursuit in an easterly direction, crossining the Mbilane stream towards oNdini. Again, no problems for the Basuto ponies.
It is only when the 'charge ' is sounded, that the lance is dropped parallelto the ground, and it is the impetus of the speed of the horse that is instrumental in piercing shields and bodies.
9th May 2005Coll

Thanks for your reply.

I wonder what sort of pace (mph ?) a charge is made at, with lances lowered into position, as the momentum itself when impacting enemy lines must be quite something, almost like a steam train.

Horses themselves obviously were a major part of some of the engagements in the AZW, not only attacking, but also their use in saving the lives of many, Hlobane, Isandlwana, etc., of course with the expert handling of the riders.

Although they served the function expected of military horses, it does make you wonder if many of them maybe deserved bravery awards of their own, with regards to their performance on the battlefield and also the assistance in the saving of many men who may have otherwise perished if on foot.

10th May 2005Graham Alexander
To achieve full impact, it was essential for the Lancers to hit their target in a body and not become a number of spread out horsemen. The sight of an approaching Lancer regiment, riding tightly packed together and with lowered lances, would weaken the resolve of the greatest infantry regiment. Indeed it is the fear of being trampled by a wall of horses which causes infantry to break, leaving them vunerable to the lance bearing rider. In an ideal world, the impact speed of attack would be at about 25 miles per hour. However, the poor condition of the cavalry horses at Ulundi would have meant that many would have quickly become blown and useless, leaving the Colonial cavalry to continue with the pursuit.
The cavalry horse through the years has been an unsung hero. Often kept short of rations and water, overworked and even trained to be a living barrier to protect its rider against rifle fire, it never complained. Some of the greatest armies in the world have owed a huge debt of gratitude to this noble beast
10th May 2005Coll

Thanks for your detailed reply.

11th May 2005Keith Smith

I think your 25 mph for the cavalry charge is a tad fast. Wolseley, "Soldier's Pocket Book", p. 72, says "The gallop of manoeuvre in our Cavly is at the rate of 12 miles an hour." One might assume, therefore, that at best a charge would be about 15 mph.
11th May 2005Graham Alexander
I did say "In an ideal world". The terrain would dictate at what speed a cavalry charge could be delivered. The French cavalry normally executed charges at a trot, yet charged at flat out gallop at Waterloo. The light brigade in the Crimea also charged flat out in order to get under the Russian guns quickly.
As an example of a horses speed, two Knights jousting have an impact speed of 50 miles per hour .ie. 25 miles per hour each horse.
The conditions would dictate at what speed a charge could be carried out. I am sure that many were delivered at the regulation 12 mph.
Holding half a ton of horse back with one hand while grasping a lance in the other is not the easiest task in the world !
12th May 2005Coll
I think the speed of a horse, depends on what the rider is capable of controlling, with regards to riding ability initially, the terrain on which the horse is charging along, but also the weapons the rider is using, whether it be a lance, sword, or in older times, sword and shield.

I guess that is why I don't buy it when I see in films, westerns usually, a rider travelling at speed on his horse, actually being able to not only fire a rifle, but hit another rider who is also travelling at speed ahead, away from his pursuer.

Although I'm probably now getting into the territory of films showing a man firing a revolver 20 times without reloading, etc.

12th May 2005Michael Boyle
Did any of the cavalry in the AZW ever charge an unbroken formation? It has been my impression that the horsemen were only released after the Zulu's were vacating the field. In which case their speed relative to a fleeing Zulu (who were themselves 'foot cavalry') would have to be taken into account as well as the diffuculty of maintaining formation against a dispersing enemy. It would seem the saber would be the most efficient weapon in that case as the shock value of massed lances would have already been mooted by the enemy's prior withdrawal. (I also seem to recall at least one instance where horsemen employed discarded iklwas as well.)

Well trained infantry were taught that horses prefer to avoid running into stationary objects and in fact prefer not to even step on them.(A fact that saved many a dismounted cavalryman's life over the years.) The 'open ranks' command to formed infantry took great advantage of this.


Don't you remember one of the opening scenes of Zulu Dawn where Vereker takes out a hanging beef at the gallop?

Movies aside history is replete with the remakable feats of arms performed by highly trained cavalrymen.Mongol horsemen armed with bows nearly conquered the world and Native American warriors were able to hit their targets at a gallop not only with bows but with carbines in a variety of seemingly uncomfortable positions without even using stirrups.

I am however unsure if 'modern' western cavalries trained much for shooting on the run.


12th May 2005Coll

You're right about Lancers not really charging a solid formation during the AZW, I was really meaning when against a European enemy, such as the Charge of the Light Brigade.

However, I'm sure the lances were used in the pursuit of the fleeing Zulus, maybe being discarded after taking down one or two warriors, then using the sabre as a secondary weapon.

I haven't watched Zulu Dawn for a while, but I think Vereker was using a shotgun in the scene your talking about, more chance of hitting the target maybe. Funnily enough, in a previous topic from a while back, I was asking if there was a chance that shotguns were used at Isandlwana, maybe by a couple of the wagon drivers, etc.

Many countries I'm aware of can use a horse with great expertise while carrying and using a variety of weapons, although, unlike our mounted forces using larger horses, these countries used smaller mounts which they could easily control without using their hands.

American warriors I know hunted buffalo using bow and arrows from the back of horses, also useful when fighting in the indian wars against settlers, cavalry, etc.

This is not really a subject I know very much about, but it does prove again how valuable horses have been throughout the years, as well as the capabilities of expert horsemen.

14th May 2005Trevor
Don't believe some of the native American Indians had much respect for the horse. Read somewhere that the Apache when being chased, would run them to death. Eat them. Then jump on another one!
14th May 2005Coll

Even used to that extent, I'm sure the Apaches did appreciate their horses, in the fact they could get out of a situation at speed, but also, for survival reasons, I guess eating a horse is better than having nothing to eat at all.

I'm sure there were many cases in other countries, where solely for survival reasons, they ended up having to eat their horses.

I remember a film once, although not concerning horses, it was a western where the owner was asked what his dog's name was - " Dog " he replied. " Not much of a name " the other man said. " I'm not going to give something a name that I might have to eat someday " was the owner's reason.

Maybe the same was thought by some horse owners, when times were really hard and survival was essential, no matter what means were used.

15th May 2005Trevor
I'd eat Dog Coll!
In fact I think I did last Sunday?
But my Mrs called it Chicken.
15th May 2005Coll

I've heard the phrase "Your dinner is in the dog", but this is the first time I've heard "Your dinner IS the dog ! ".