Horse Artillery in the XVII Century?

(c)2001 Richard J. Orli


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Polish Horse Artillery Overview

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Horse Artillery in the XVII Century?

Although the term 'Horse Artillery' is associated with the 18th Century, the concept was well established some two hundred years earlier. According to Tomczak in Taktyka artylerii konnej wg regulaminu T. Kosciuszki:

"Paul Jovius described the essence of light artillery moving where and when required by horsepower in 1494, in Historia del sue tempo. The French king Henry IV reportedly proposed arming his cavalry with cannons. In 1533, Maurice Sask in the battle of Sivershausen assigned light artillery to assist his cavalry.

"Horse artillery in connection with the Polish army is described in K. Gorski's Historia Artylerii. Horse artillery was a factor in the cavalry battle of Lopusza in 1512. Gorski concluded that the field pieces involved were falconetts (3 pounders). This was not necessarily dedicated and specialized horse artillery, but this was nevertheless a joint effort by cavalry and, by necessity, highly mobile artillery.

"In steps, light, mobile proto-horse artillery became part of the regimental organization, assigned in close support of infantry. In the west artillery gained a role in the army as important as cavalry. Gustav Adolf organized light artillery as part of infantry regiments...."

M. Rostafinski in Zarys rozwoju historii wojskowosci w Polsce, p. 79, argues that Horse Artillery was a fact in 17th C. Poland. The Pole's light artillery was used in a highly mobile fashion, and had the necessary equipment for horse artillery, and were integrated in the battle line and used (in a very modern way) in close support of cavalry and infantry, so they were in effect horse artillery. However, they were not explicitly organized as standing units dedicated to the support of cavalry, the modern technical definition. So purists can still claim that it is not really ‘Horse Artillery,’ although I wish to add the point that the Poland had a cavalry army with supporting infantry, whereas all western European nations had infantry armies supported by cavalry.

Who gets the official credit for the first standing organization of horse artillery? Tomczak observed that some say it was Peter I, others claim Frederic II of Prussia. Peter I’s reform was to provide his dragoon regiments with two light artillery pieces. The artillery took on the character of dragoons, and could accommodate the rapid pace of travel required in support of cavalry. Frederic II of Prussia gets credit for horse artillery as standing companies dedicated to supporting cavalry with highly mobile operations - the fully modern late 18th through early 20th century concept.

Certainly the term ‘Horse Artillery’ was new in the XVIII century. T. Kosciuszku in his 1808 treatise on horse artillery prepared for the American army mentioned that when he first brought up the concept some officers apparently thought that he meant that the artillery pieces were to be strapped on the horses back.   Kosciuszku said that, at lease in the late 18th century, horse (aka 'flying' or 'position') artillery was not too different from field artillery in usage, except that it was more independent. He said that all American field artillery in service in 1800 was of a design suitable for horse artillery use. Kosciuszku's only specific design recommendations was the use of a carriage traveling position, esp for any heavier piece, esp 4 pdr+. The key difference is the presence of the horse as the motive force! Horses, according to Kosciuszku, are reliable and as brave as their handlers, and can obviously move the gun faster.





Polish Horse Artillery Overview