Lancer

Lancer

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A lancer was a type of cavalry
Cavalry
Cavalry or horsemen were soldiers or warriors who fought mounted on horseback. Cavalry were historically the third oldest and the most mobile of the combat arms...

man who fought with a lance
Lance
A Lance is a pole weapon or spear designed to be used by a mounted warrior. The lance is longer, stout and heavier than an infantry spear, and unsuited for throwing, or for rapid thrusting. Lances did not have tips designed to intentionally break off or bend, unlike many throwing weapons of the...

. Lances were used in mounted warfare by the Assyrians as early as and subsequently by Greek, Persian, Gallic, Han-Chinese, nomadic and Roman horsemen. The weapon was widely used in Asia and Europe during the Middle Ages
Middle Ages
The Middle Ages is a periodization of European history from the 5th century to the 15th century. The Middle Ages follows the fall of the Western Roman Empire in 476 and precedes the Early Modern Era. It is the middle period of a three-period division of Western history: Classic, Medieval and Modern...

 and the Renaissance
Renaissance
The Renaissance was a cultural movement that spanned roughly the 14th to the 17th century, beginning in Italy in the Late Middle Ages and later spreading to the rest of Europe. The term is also used more loosely to refer to the historical era, but since the changes of the Renaissance were not...

 by armoured cavalry before being adopted by light cavalry
Light cavalry
Light cavalry refers to lightly armed and lightly armored troops mounted on horses, as opposed to heavy cavalry, where the riders are heavily armored...

, particularly in Eastern Europe.

17th–19th century


The lancer (called ułan in Polish and Ulan in German) had become a common sight in almost every European, Ottoman and Indian army during this time, but with the exception of the Ottoman troops, they increasingly discarded the heavy armour to give greater freedom of movement in combat. The Polish "winged" lancers were amongst the last to abandon the armour in Europe. There was a widespread debate over the value of the lance in mounted combat during the 18th and 19th centuries and most armies had few lancer units by the beginning of the 19th century, however during the Napoleonic Wars
Napoleonic Wars
The Napoleonic Wars were a series of wars declared against Napoleon's French Empire by opposing coalitions that ran from 1803 to 1815. As a continuation of the wars sparked by the French Revolution of 1789, they revolutionised European armies and played out on an unprecedented scale, mainly due to...

 lancers would be seen in many of the combatant nations as their qualities became clear. During the wars the Poles became a ready territory for recruitment by several armies, willingly or unwillingly, and served with distinction in most of these armies, most famously in Napoleon's French Imperial Guard as the 1er Regiment de Chevau-Legers-Lanciers de la Garde Impériale.

At Waterloo, French lances were "nearly three meters (about nine feet, ten inches) long, weighed three kilograms (about six pounds, ten ounces), and had a steel point on a wooden staff," according to historian Alessandro Barbero
Alessandro Barbero
Alessandro Barbero is an Italian historian, novelist and essayist. He attended the University of Turin where he studied literature and Medieval history. He won the 1996 Strega Prize, Italy's most distinguished literary award, for Bella vita e guerre altrui di Mr. Pyle gentiluomo. His second novel,...

. He adds that they were "terrifyingly efficient." Commander of the French 1st Corps, 4th Division General Durutte, who saw the battle from the high ground in front of Papelotte, would write later, "I had never before realized the great superiority of the lance over the sword."

In the Siege of Los Angeles
Siege of Los Angeles
The Siege of Los Angeles was a military occupation by the United States Marines of the Pueblo de Los Angeles during the Mexican-American war.-Occupation:...

, during war between Mexico and the United States, a company of Californio
Californio
Californio is a term used to identify a Spanish-speaking Catholic people, regardless of race, born in California before 1848...

 lancers temporarily recaptured the town, expelling a company of U.S. Marines.

Although the lance had its greatest impact in the charge, lancers were vulnerable against other cavalry, as the lance proved a clumsy and ineffective weapon (compared to the sabre) at close quarters. By the late 19th century, many cavalry regiments were composed of troopers with lances (as well as sabres or other secondary weapons) in the front rank and men with sabres in the second, the lances for the initial shock and sabres for the mêlée
Mêlée
Melee , generally refers to disorganized close combat involving a group of fighters. A melee ensues when groups become locked together in combat with no regard to group tactics or fighting as an organized unit; each participant fights as an individual....

.

Lancer's equipage


Lancers typically wore a double-breasted jacket (kurta) with a coloured panel (plastron) at the front, a coloured sash, and a square-topped Polish cap (czapka
Czapka
Czapka is a Polish and Belorussian generic word for a cap. However, it is perhaps best known to English speakers as a word for the 19th century Polish cavalry headgear, consisting of a high, four-pointed cap with regimental insignia on the front to which feathers or rosettes were sometimes...

). Their lances usually had small swallow-tailed flag
Flag
A flag is a piece of fabric with a distinctive design that is usually rectangular and used as a symbol, as a signaling device, or decoration. The term flag is also used to refer to the graphic design employed by a flag, or to its depiction in another medium.The first flags were used to assist...

s (known as the lance pennon) just below the spearhead. The use of these pennons was originally intended to disconcert the horses of opposing cavalry in close combat but they eventually became a decorative parade item, normally removed or wrapped in a canvas cover on active service. With the improved range and accuracy of infantry rifles the high profile presented by lancers with their conspicuous weapons became a problem. The uhlan
Uhlan
Uhlans were Polish light cavalry armed with lances, sabres and pistols. The title was later used by lancer regiments in the Russian, Prussian, and Austrian armies....

s, as lancers are known in the Polish
Polish language
Polish is a language of the Lechitic subgroup of West Slavic languages, used throughout Poland and by Polish minorities in other countries...

 and German
German language
German is a West Germanic language, related to and classified alongside English and Dutch. With an estimated 90 – 98 million native speakers, German is one of the world's major languages and is the most widely-spoken first language in the European Union....

 languages, of the Imperial German Army were trained to lower their lances when scouting on hill tops.

20th century lancers


In 1914 lances were still being carried by regiments in the British
British Army
The British Army is the land warfare branch of Her Majesty's Armed Forces in the United Kingdom. It came into being with the unification of the Kingdom of England and Scotland into the Kingdom of Great Britain in 1707. The new British Army incorporated Regiments that had already existed in England...

, Indian
Indian Army
The Indian Army is the land based branch and the largest component of the Indian Armed Forces. With about 1,100,000 soldiers in active service and about 1,150,000 reserve troops, the Indian Army is the world's largest standing volunteer army...

, French
French Army
The French Army, officially the Armée de Terre , is the land-based and largest component of the French Armed Forces.As of 2010, the army employs 123,100 regulars, 18,350 part-time reservists and 7,700 Legionnaires. All soldiers are professionals, following the suspension of conscription, voted in...

, German
German Army
The German Army is the land component of the armed forces of the Federal Republic of Germany. Following the disbanding of the Wehrmacht after World War II, it was re-established in 1955 as the Bundesheer, part of the newly formed West German Bundeswehr along with the Navy and the Air Force...

, Italian
Italian Army
The Italian Army is the ground defence force of the Italian Armed Forces. It is all-volunteer force of active-duty personnel, numbering 108,355 in 2010. Its best-known combat vehicles are the Dardo infantry fighting vehicle, the Centauro tank destroyer and the Ariete tank, and among its aircraft...

, Portuguese
Portuguese Army
The Portuguese Army is the ground branch of the Portuguese Armed Forces which, in co-operation with other branches of the Portuguese military, is charged with the defence of Portugal...

, Spanish
Spanish Army
The Spanish Army is the terrestrial army of the Spanish Armed Forces responsible for land-based military operations. It is one of the oldest active armies - dating back to the 15th century.-Introduction:...

, Japanese
Imperial Japanese Army
-Foundation:During the Meiji Restoration, the military forces loyal to the Emperor were samurai drawn primarily from the loyalist feudal domains of Satsuma and Chōshū...

, Turkish
Turkish Army
The Turkish Army or Turkish Land Forces is the main branch of the Turkish Armed Forces responsible for land-based military operations. The modern history of the army began with its formation after the collapse of the Ottoman Empire...

, Belgian
Belgian Army
The Land Component is organised using the concept of capacities, whereby units are gathered together according to their function and material. Within this framework, there are five capacities: the command capacity, the combat capacity, the support capacity, the services capacity and the training...

 and Russian
Imperial Russian Army
The Imperial Russian Army was the land armed force of the Russian Empire, active from around 1721 to the Russian Revolution of 1917. In the early 1850s, the Russian army consisted of around 938,731 regular soldiers and 245,850 irregulars . Until the time of military reform of Dmitry Milyutin in...

 armies, amongst others. Almost all German cavalry (hussar
Hussar
Hussar refers to a number of types of light cavalry which originated in Hungary in the 14th century, tracing its roots from Serbian medieval cavalry tradition, brought to Hungary in the course of the Serb migrations, which began in the late 14th century....

s, dragoon
Dragoon
The word dragoon originally meant mounted infantry, who were trained in horse riding as well as infantry fighting skills. However, usage altered over time and during the 18th century, dragoons evolved into conventional light cavalry units and personnel...

s and cuirassier
Cuirassier
Cuirassiers were mounted cavalry soldiers equipped with armour and firearms, first appearing in late 15th-century Europe. They were the successors of the medieval armoured knights...

s as well as uhlans) retained a steel lance as their primary weapon. As late as 1914 half the troopers in each Russian regular cavalry regiment (hussars, uhlans and dragoons) carried lances on active service, as did all cossacks .

The British lancer regiments lost this weapon for all but ceremonial use following the Boer War
Boer War
The Boer Wars were two wars fought between the British Empire and the two independent Boer republics, the Oranje Vrijstaat and the Republiek van Transvaal ....

 but a conservative backlash led to its reintroduction for active service from 1908 to 1928. The French army did not have lancer regiments as such but steel lances 2.97 metres in length were carried by the twenty-six dragoon regiments and some light cavalry units in 1914. The French had earlier tested the Indian bamboo lances used by the British cavalry but had rated them as being too fragile for the shock of encounter.

Prior to the outbreak of war there had been controversy as to whether lances or sabres were the most effective "armes blanches" (that is edged weapons) for cavalry but neither proved to be a match for modern firearm
Firearm
A firearm is a weapon that launches one, or many, projectile at high velocity through confined burning of a propellant. This subsonic burning process is technically known as deflagration, as opposed to supersonic combustion known as a detonation. In older firearms, the propellant was typically...

s. Lances continued to be carried throughout World War I but seldom saw use on the Western Front after initial clashes in France and Belgium in 1914. On the Eastern Front mounted cavalry still had a role throughout the war and lances had some limited use by the Russian, German and Austrian armies. In the British Army a light horse legion carrying lances actually succeeded in defeating German infantry in 1915
.

During the 1920s lances ceased to be used as a weapon for active service in most armies, being retained for ceremonial purposes only. An exception was the Polish cavalry who did not discard the lance as a weapon until 1934 and who continued to use it as a training device until the outbreak of World War II.

Current lancer units


Some cavalry units today are still designated as Lancer regiments, even if they now go to war in armoured fighting vehicle
Armoured fighting vehicle
An armoured fighting vehicle is a combat vehicle, protected by strong armour and armed with weapons. AFVs can be wheeled or tracked....

s. There are examples in the Spanish Army
Spanish Army
The Spanish Army is the terrestrial army of the Spanish Armed Forces responsible for land-based military operations. It is one of the oldest active armies - dating back to the 15th century.-Introduction:...

 (the King's Lancers, or in the British
British Army
The British Army is the land warfare branch of Her Majesty's Armed Forces in the United Kingdom. It came into being with the unification of the Kingdom of England and Scotland into the Kingdom of Great Britain in 1707. The new British Army incorporated Regiments that had already existed in England...

 ( the 9th/12th Royal Lancers
9th/12th Royal Lancers
The 9th/12th Royal Lancers is a cavalry regiment of the British Army, formed in 1960 by the amalgamation of the 9th Queen's Royal Lancers and the 12th Royal Lancers. It is currently a formation reconnaissance regiment, equipped with the Combat Vehicle Reconnaissance family of vehicles and...

 and the Queen's Royal Lancers ), the Indian
Indian Army
The Indian Army is the land based branch and the largest component of the Indian Armed Forces. With about 1,100,000 soldiers in active service and about 1,150,000 reserve troops, the Indian Army is the world's largest standing volunteer army...

 (2nd Lancers (Gardner's Horse)
2nd Lancers (Gardner's Horse)
The 2nd Lancers was a cavalry regiment of the British Indian Army raised in 1809. It served in the Nepal and First World Wars. During the reconstruction of the British Indian Army in 1922 it was amalgamated with the 4th Cavalry....

, 20th Lancers
20th Lancers
The 20th Lancers is an armoured regiment of the Pakistan Army. It was formed in 1922 by the amalgamation of the 14th Murray's Jat Lancers and the 15th Lancers .-14th Murray's Jat Lancers:...

), the Belgian
Belgian Army
The Land Component is organised using the concept of capacities, whereby units are gathered together according to their function and material. Within this framework, there are five capacities: the command capacity, the combat capacity, the support capacity, the services capacity and the training...

, Portuguese
Portuguese Army
The Portuguese Army is the ground branch of the Portuguese Armed Forces which, in co-operation with other branches of the Portuguese military, is charged with the defence of Portugal...

 (2nd Lancers Regiment
2nd Lancers Regiment
The 2nd Lancers Regiment is a unit of the Portuguese Army responsible for the instruction, organization and maintenance of the Polícia do Exército operational units.-History:...

), Pakistani
Pakistan Army
The Pakistan Army is the branch of the Pakistani Armed Forces responsible for land-based military operations. The Pakistan Army came into existence after the Partition of India and the resulting independence of Pakistan in 1947. It is currently headed by General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani. The Pakistan...

, Italian
Italian Army
The Italian Army is the ground defence force of the Italian Armed Forces. It is all-volunteer force of active-duty personnel, numbering 108,355 in 2010. Its best-known combat vehicles are the Dardo infantry fighting vehicle, the Centauro tank destroyer and the Ariete tank, and among its aircraft...

 and Australian
Australian Army
The Australian Army is Australia's military land force. It is part of the Australian Defence Force along with the Royal Australian Navy and the Royal Australian Air Force. While the Chief of Defence commands the Australian Defence Force , the Army is commanded by the Chief of Army...

 Armies, and elite troops of the Colombian National Army are called "lanceros". The Italian Lancieri di Montebello (8th Cavalry Regiment) occasionally parade honour guards and other dismounted ceremonial detachments in the regiment's nineteenth century blue uniforms, armed with the lances carried until 1920.

Sources

  • Barbero, Alessandro, The Battle; A New History of Waterloo, Walker & Co., New York 2005,

External links