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Thread: Is the Only Way to Fight Cavalry With a More Powerful Cavalry?

  1. #1

    Default Is the Only Way to Fight Cavalry With a More Powerful Cavalry?

    A selection from a post over on the Medieval II Strategy and Tactics Forum:

    Quote Originally Posted by lolIsuck View Post
    Are we talking single player or multiplayer here? Because it's generally easier to catch and take out the AI's cav than it is to take out that of another human player.
    As Holy Cow says spearmen are a decent counter and the heavier spear units can even withstand cavalry charges without too many casualties. They're not the best damage-dealers though, I'd mostly use them to tie down the enemy and use another unit to provide the extra damage by flanking them, so using the hammer and anvil against the cavalry. This could be your own cav charging in or an armour piercing melee unit. Units with high damage and the armour piercing trait can absolutely obliterate even the thoughest cavalry. The problem with this tactic is that it's probably very hard to accomplish against a human player unless he forgets his own cavalry and it requires you to use several of your own units to take out 1 of the opponent, leaving you outnumbered elsewhere. It's also hard to catch cavalry with infantry so an initial cavalry attack from you followed by your spearmen charging in and your own cavalry pulling out before sustaining too much damage would be the trick.
    Pikes are of course an amazing counter to cavalry but they're slow and hard to manouevre so they don't lend themselves too much to attacking play and chasing enemy cavalry. You can throw them in when the enemy is tied down or hope they're dumb enough to attack you head on though.

    Another method would be missiles, knights provide for a big target and if you fire enough arrows at them they'll die eventually. Crossbows and javelins are very effective, due to their high damage and armour piercing but they have their limitations. Crossbows are slow and can't fire in an arc so you need a clear shot and can't just pop them behind your main line and javelins are close range and have low ammo. Both are incredibly deadly if you manage to flank the enemy though.
    Regular archers can pull off the arced shot and the elite ones have a good range, some like the longbows might even have armour piercing in vanilla, I can't recall.

    Horse archers are another counter but they're a pain to manage, certainly against a decent human player I'd think, and they generally don't pack enough of a punch to take out the heaviest of cavalry. You could sacrifice some to distract the enemy cavalry though, taking them far away from the main battle and forcing your opponent to spend a lot of time on them, distracting him from the main fight.

    The main point fighting enemy cavalry is to limit the impact of their charge as much as possible. Cavalry isn't great in prolonged melee, it's the charge that wins battles for them and they'll lose a lot of men when kept there (unless they're Byzantine bodyguards, those are sometimes almost impossible to kill). So to stop the charge either use your own cavalry or infantry that can take a punch like pikes, heavier spears or units with the shieldwall ability. Head to head cav charges are fairly ineffective and the infantry units should be able to survive a cavalry charge without taking too many casualties.
    Great post and exactly right, until the 'Rise of the Infantry' saw the more widespread use of pikes and polearms, cavalry was the offensive arm while the infantry was relatively static. I think warfare from the mid 15th century onwards is especially interesting because it becomes much more about a combined arms approach. If you have pikes backed by polearms any cav that gets bogged down in melee with you will be cut to pieces. On the other hand, a judicious charge by super-heavy cavalry was seen to carry completely *through* opposing pike squares on occasion.

    Have a look at this thread, it is excellent: especially the posts by Gordon Frye.

  2. #2

    Default Re: Is the Only Way to Fight Cavalry With a More Powerful Cavalry?

    From the thread I posted above at, which is a fantastic site for those interested in the subject:

    'You are correct of course in that such charges were generally ineffective without the support of missile weapons, no question. That's the whole point of course, is combined arms . At Hastings it was William's combined arms army that won the day, but at Courtrai in 1302, the French were defeated because of a combination of poor terrain and lack of coordination. Same with Bannockburn, the English were poorly coordinated and the Scots rolled over them. But it was a Scottish Cavalry charge against the unprotected English archers which changed the outcome of that battle. The English learned.

    There are numerous examples of the vulnerability of short weapons in the Habsburg-Valios Wars, but sadly most of my library is in boxes at the moment and I can't lay my hands on my volumes to be able to quote specifics. Nevertheless, the Spaniards in the early phases of that conflict had to change over from their sword-and-buckler and halberd based Infantry to pikes after suffering some early defeats at the hands of the French where they were in fact run down. It certainly became standard to NOT send out short weapons where they were vulnerable to Horse. Missile weapons without support were ridden down in short order, just like the French arquebusiers regularly were in the Wars of Religion. The English would invariably send out Halberdiers or Billmen to support their Shotte while skirmishing, but all would run for the cover of the pikes when Horse got too close. Hopefully Matthew has the supporting quotes at hand.

    Although it has never been published as such, my own opinion (for what it is worth) is that the reason Bayonets worked, whereas Halberds did not (at least after 1422: as Daniel pointed out, the combination of 2/3ds Halberds and 1/3rd Pikes seemed to work at Arbedo against the Milanese Condottieri) is that from the mid-15th Century to the late-16th Century, Heavy Horse was VERY heavy, and most of the horses, certainly the front ranks, were armoured in plate along with the Gendarmes. By 1650, what passed for Heavy Horse were Harquebusiers, who had been considered the lightest of Horse a hundred years before, and by 1700 when the Bayonet was adopted, all that remained were Dragoons, a paltry shadow of what had been the mainstay of armies in 1500, or even 1600. Not only no armour, but mere conscripts and vagabonds on far cheaper horses, to try to replace the Flower of Chivalry. No wonder they did poorly against Bayonets! (However there are certainly instances of Squares being broken by Horse in the Age of the Bayonet as well, and Napoleon seems to have had some success with this.)

    I am not suggesting for a minute that unarmoured Horse could or should go up against Pikes or even short weapons as a matter of course (one of the reason for the adoption of firearms by Light Horse early on!) The one time I know of when anyone tried tackling a pike-column with Light Horse (Ceresole, 1544) the French Light Horse got themselves slaughtered, and the commander, des Thermes, captured (it did however set into action consiquences which won the battle for the French). Even with the finest Gendarmerie though, charging a solid pike square was no panacea. The Swiss regularly absorbed such punishment and retained their cohesion, and occasionally the Landsknechts did too. It was indeed a matter of discipline and training.

    Never the less, the Era of the Zweihander (and halberd as a useful weapon, really) was also the Era of the Barded Horse, and I believe that a compaigne d'ordonnance of Gendarmes could defeat a company of short weapons on any sort in open terrain, with or without missile support. But in broken or wooded terrain, forget it. And when the Gendarmerie is foolish enough to allow themselves to be stopped in FRONT of the pikes, letting the short weapons get at them in a melee (such as Charles the Rash did at Granson and Nancy), the Gendarmes often as not are toast.

    At Fornovo in 1494, the French Gendarmerie not only put the Italian Condottieri Heavy Horse to flight, but scattered the Italian Foote as well. At Ravenna in 1512, the French Horse was again able to break up an Infantry square, this one of Landsknechtes. However, there were NOT able to defeat a square of Spaniards made up of pikemen, halberdiers and sword&buckler men (who in fact caused such horrendous casualties among the French Foote that Machiavelli prophesied the return of the Roman method of war. This in fact brings up a good point, which is that when Heavy Cavalry is NOT an issue, short weapons do quite well against pikes. At Beneventum as well as Ravenna, men armed with sword and shield inflicted "Phyrric Victories" on their opponents. It is my opinion that the primary reason for pikes, at least during the Renaissance, was to try to fend off Heavy Cavalry. No Heavy Cavalry, no need for pikes.)

    Again mentioning Ceresole in 1544, while the Imperialist Centre, made up of well armoured, well trained and motivated Landsknechts, was slugging it out with the Gascons and Swiss in their front, a well-timed charge by a fairly small group of Gendarmes in their flank cause the column to loose cohesion and break apart, resulting in I believe 8 survivors out of several thousand. At the same time, the comte d'Eghien was hurling his own Gendarmes at another Imperial pike column which had just defeated the French Infantry in that part of the battle. But they held them long enough for the victorious Swiss and Gascons to join the fray, resulting in yet another slaughter of Landsknechts.

    As late as the French Wars of Religion, Pikemen other than the Swiss were rather vulnerable to Horse. Even they were subject to some heavy pounding though, as at Dreux in 1562, where the Huguenot Horse hit the Swiss of the Royalists time and time again, in fact going right THROUGH the Swiss pike square several times. All there proclaimed that it was in fact the steadiness of the Swiss, who surpassed all prior feats, that won the day for the Royalists.

    Finally, at Tournhout in 1597, an army composed entirely of Pistolier Cavalry defeated a Spanish army of combined arms. After defeating and running off the Spanish Horse, the Anglo-Dutch Pistoliers turned on the Spanish pike-and-shot squares and defeated them in detail. Of course these fellows were rather disheartened to watch their own cavalry go scampering off, but as you note, Morale is indeed a major factor in war! The Swiss had it in the earlier case, the Spaniards did not here.

    One could in fact make a point that regularly throughout the history of the West, whoever's Cavarly was victorious in the Cavarly-on-Cavarly fight, usually won the battle, as the Cavarly then was able to focus all of their attentions on the Infantry. Dreux is in fact one of the main exceptions to that. Still, it becomes a rather sad recital of such defeats.

    So yes, unsupported Cavalry charges WERE successful, but the preferred option was of course combined arms.'

    Note that in the above discussion Halberds are also considered as short weapons.

    At Pavia the French Gendarmes also routed the German heavy cavalry before being caught without room to maneuver by massed Arquebusiers and shot to pieces at close range.

  3. #3

    Default Re: Is the Only Way to Fight Cavalry With a More Powerful Cavalry?

    Great post PB, I would add that along with the change in the quality of cavalry there were two other important factors- the pace of operations and lethality of guns. Napoleonic era armies were fighting several battles and skirmishes in a single campaign even while Napoleon attempted to achieve decisive battles in that era such battles required much heavier use of cavalry for scouting, foraging, and fast marches compared to the medieval era where a decisive battle between warring kingdoms was usually years apart so the toll on horses and the costs of training high quality cavalry was very practical as it was the decisive arm in most battles and fit with the cultural hierarchy of a warrior caste of ruling nobility whose main claim to authority was fighting ability.

    As infantry increased relatively in numbers due to conscription it happened more often that a majority of the fighting power in an army was dominated by lower ranks of society and infantries tactical abilities to control a battlefield were the final blow to expensive very high-quality cavalry along with the development of heavy bore muskets shooting 50 calibre balls that fit relatively tightly to the musket bore. Even with lower quality powder such weapons had more stopping power vs cavalry charge when backed by well-formed pikes.

    Later infantry were more often armed with mass-produced muskets with loose fitting balls where volume of fire was more important as well the cavalry charges that needed to be warded off were much weaker with lesser trained men and lower quality horses resulted from economical realities due to the hardships the heavy pace of operations put on Napoleonic era cavalry horses.

  4. #4

    Default Re: Is the Only Way to Fight Cavalry With a More Powerful Cavalry?

    Yes, I don’t think it is generally known that Renaissance-era muskets generally had closer-fitting ammunition, hence longer range and better accuracy. Some of those things are huge though, no wonder they needed stands.

    If anyone hasn’t seen it, definitely recommend watching the movie Captain Alatriste for its depiction of pike-and-shot warfare, especially the final scene showing the Battle of Rocroi. I think it is available on Youtube?
    Last edited by Point Blank; May 05, 2018 at 06:35 AM.

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