A Contemporary View on the Use of Horse Artillery: 1798
Translated by: Geert van Uythoven
Source: “Ueber die reitende Artillerie” Neues Militairisches magazin – Historischen und Scientifischen Inhalts, herausgegeben von Iohann Friedrich Hoyer, 1. Band, 2. Stück (Leipzig 1798) pp. 3-14 ("About Horse Artillery" by anonymous, with remarks by the publisher)
Since about half a century nearly all European armies have introduced the so called horse artillery, which makes the art of war in this period to a great age. Because not much attention is given to its origin, nor the difference in appearances. Again, in this case also prejudice, self-love, bias and bad imitation are the cause; why exactly this kind of service, and so much difference in appearance, as different as there are units themselves?
In general, Friedrich II, King of Prussia, is considered as the inventor of the horse artillery, although some claim that the Swedes had introduced horse artillery first, and that the Russians -which have 400 horse artillery guns right now 1)- copied the invention first 2). If this would be the case, then has their use disappeared again, or the idea was not practicable, and it is still so that Friedrich, during the 7YW, this kind of artillery introduced in his army. And he called it ‘horse artillery’ [‘Reitende Artillerie’]. He was accustomed to reconnoitre the positions his army would occupy by himself, for which purpose he moved forward with his advance guard, to reconnoitre the terrain close to the enemy and to decide were he would position his army. It often happened that the heights in front of the enemy positions were occupied by enemy cavalry, which prevented him to reconnoitre. To dislodge the enemy from these heights much easier, he mounted the crews of an artillery battery, and ordered it to follow the advance guard, or another strong cavalry command. Because of the fact that this was a new invention, which the enemy did not have, these guns were used against the enemy cavalry with great advantage.
The inventor chose light 6-pdr cannon, weighing 910 pounds. Why he chose these, instead of long 3-pdr cannon, is not clear. These guns have, as commonly known, the same range, and a 3-pdr cannonball has the same results against humans and horses as a 6-pdr cannonball. Not taking in account the advantage there is when transporting the ammunition for the 3-pdr, while at least a third more can be transported at the same weight. Friedrich II mounted the whole crew of these cannon, which dismounts to load, and hand over their horses to a gunner who holds them. The horses are held in security behind the cannon, because the bullets falling between them would cause much confusion. The withdrawal of the horses always causes much trouble, when the cannon would have to redeploy to another position, because getting the horses would take time. The crew consists of an NCO and nine gunners, all mounted. The gun horse team consists of six horses.
The Austrians, who experienced the effectiveness of the horse artillery the most, were the first to imitate them, to restore the balance [sic!]. This first happened at Prague, and if they were not familiar with the characteristics of the Prussian horse artillery, they changed the concept. They realised, and this was confirmed by their experiments, that when the whole crew would be mounted, the guns:
1. After reaching their position not could fire very quick, as was the case when the crewmen necessary for the first service would have been seated on the limbers. This was for the Austrians even more an argument, because their ammunition chests were not so heavy loaded then those of the Prussians, and in addition their cannon were of a lesser weight.
2. That the huge amount of horses of the dismounted crew would give the enemy artillery a better direction to fire at, with a higher probability to score hits.
Therefore, the Austrian horse artillery was devised in such a way, that it would be able to reach easy and quickly every position were they would be necessary. The guns had the same calibre and a comparable carriage to the Prussian ones, pulled by a horse team consisting of four horses. The crew was seated on gun trail, longer then usual, the men positioned behind each other, with their feet on both sides of the trail on the ammunition chests. It was believed that the artillery would be able to advance this way at the same speed the cavalry was marching. Prove, that the Austrian reached their goal to create a cavalry-artillery completely is, that this concept is unchanged up to this date. The amount of shots carried on the limber is enlarged by adding two horses with pack-saddles to each gun. When in position, these horses are used to retrieve ammunition from the caissons, and form a reserve in case of an emergency. The crew consists of five men. The NCO is mounted and leading the gun.
The difference between both concepts is really striking. The Austrians are probably slower in their movement compared to the Prussians, but are serving the guns much more quicker when deploying. Beside this, the only target for the enemy is the cannon itself with its crew, while with the Prussians the horses are added, not to speak about the enormous amount of horses that also had to be taken care off.
Soon, more warring powers copied these changes, while they realised the gains that could be made. The Württemberger have the following concept: they utilise 3-pdr and 6-pdr cannon, each with two horses, and a driver [‘Fuhrmann’] with four horses and two drivers [‘Fuhrleuten’]. The latter are in fact artillerymen, armed with a sabre the same as the others. The gun crew is mounted, and consists for the 3-pdr of an NCO and five gunners, for the 6-pdr of an NCO and eight gunners. The horse-holder is seated on the limber. When the gun would have to deploy, the horse-holder jumps off the limber to hold the horses of the crew. Limbering is executed as usual, the horse-holder climbing on the limber again. The Duke of Württemberg has a company of this horse artillery with his guards [Garde-Legion’].
The disadvantages of this concept are obvious. The mounted crew-members will have found themselves a safe spot to dismount before they arrive at their position, but they cannot leave their horses before the cannon has halted at the right position, the horse-holder has jumped down from the limber, and has walked to the horses to take over the reins. When limbering again, the cannon has to stop, until the crew has mounted again, and the horse-holder is then seated on the limber.
Shortly before the French war, the Hanoverians copied the concepts in such a way that they possess the advantages of the Prussians and Austrians, but could avoid the disadvantages. They call it the ‘Geschwinde Artillery’ [‘fast artillery’]. In the beginning they utilised 3-pdr cannon weighing 600 pounds, equipped the same as their regimental guns, with a large ammunition chest. The crew consists of an NCO and eight gunners. The NCO and four gunners are mounted, of the other four, two are seated on the gun-carriage, the remaining two on the ammunition chest, which contains 60 rounds. The cannon is pulled by six good horses. The four horses of the mounted crew have beside saddles a harness in such a way, that they can be used in case of an emergency to replace killed animals of the gun horse team, or to be added immediately to the horse team when the gun is getting stuck on bad roads.
When a gun should deploy, the crew dismount behind the gun, one man staying with the horses. In the meantime, the cannon is already unlimbered by the two man that were seated on top of the gun-carriage, and loaded by both other crew members. It is without doubt, that this concept is one of the best, because the cannon is able to follow the cavalry very good, despite the four gunners riding along, and is ready to fire very fast after having halted, as has been proved in battle. Later they also used 6-pdr’s instead of 3-pdr’s, differently equipped and served. If they have done this to follow the example of other warring parties only, who had the chance to make experiences; this would be to much honour, because a good equipped 3-pdr is completely equal to a 6-pdr.
After the Hanoverians, the Hessians took over the concept, being an exact copy of the Prussians. They also made the mistake to utilise 18 calibre long, 900 pound heavy 6-pdr’s instead of the better 3-pdr’s.
It is necessary here to ask again the question: why is it that all warring powers, especially those which had the most experience, discarded the 3-pdr cannon for the greater part? Then with these powers we must direct our attention to the situation, that it was often the case that they would use the ammunition of their Allies during the fighting
3). The French have two kinds of light artillery in the present war: the first is called ‘artillerie légère’ by them, and consists of 1200 pounds heavy, 8-pdr cannon. Its crew of 8 men was seated on the ammunition caisson belonging to the cannon, which was always following the gun. The name of this wagon, ‘Wurst’, is of German origin.
The other kind is called ‘artillerie volante, also consisting of 1200 punds heavy, 8-pdr cannon. The crew is mounted, and the ammunition is brought forward by horse. The artillery légère is used to occupy positions with speed, while the artillery volante has to follow the cavalry at all times
4). As is being said, the French lately have created a third kind of this sort of artillery, were half the crew is seated on the gun-carriage, the other half mounted. When dismounting the do not couple their horses, nor do the have a horse-holder; they hook a belt fixed to the saddle to the bit if the horse, in such a way that the horse can only move in a small circle ‘à la hussar’, and cannot change place [‘damit das Pferd ganz kurz diesem Zuge im Kreise à la hussar folge, und nie seinen Platz verändere’]. The artillerymen are equipped light, and armed with a sabre which is hanging from the saddle always, and as such not hampers during mounting or dismounting, or while serving the guns. The men are further trained in such a way that they can mount their horses from the right as well as from the left, and not riding scholarly, but in such a way that the make it easy for themselves as well as for the horse.
5). Over the last years, nearly all European powers have created horse artillery, although all somewhat differing from each other. Such as the English, which during the late wars had a kind of light artillery, much like the French artillerie légère. As was the case with these, the crew followed the gun seated on the ammunition caisson, the trail of the gun-carriage however was fixed to the limber with a special hook, and these parts were never separated from each other, because the tube was positioned on the carriage in such a way that it was able to fire limbered –if this concept would receive some improvements, it could be preferred above other concepts.
The possibility to create some batteries –consisting of either 3-pdrs or 6-pdrs, called either horse or position artillery- which would be able to follow the cavalry during all their marches, is shown in many different concepts, and it is only necessary to decide which concept is the most effective and most reliable? Because of the fact that the kind of cannon used is the main factor of the effectiveness, it is necessary to decide which cannon are most suitable, and I believe I have to repeat it again: that a 3-pdr of good quality will be most suitable to reach its goal. A horse team consisting of six horses would enable it to follow the cavalry everywhere. In order to unlimber the gun immediately after having reached its position, two gunners should be seated on the gun-carriage next to each other, the remaining crew must be mounted. Their horses should be held by a horse-holder, or coupled by the rider himself. On top of the limber, its ammunition chest containing 40 ball and 20 canister, is another seat constructed, which is not used until a mounted gunner himself or his horse is wounded, so that he can be removed. The horse of the mounted artillerymen have beside their saddles a harness, so that they can pull the gun immediately when a team horse would be killed.
By this measure the drawback is removed, of which the Prussian horse artillery is accused, that it is to expensive, not being served quick enough, and giving the enemy a much to big target because of the amount of horses standing behind the gun; as well as the drawback of the Austrian concept, that it is not able to follow the cavalry because of the extra weight on the gun-carriage of the crew seated on top.
The use of this kind of artillery makes the art of war to a great age, and one should not be surprised when the history of such artillery, as well as its suitable concept and service, still are not analysed according to the experiences made; that still not is concluded which tactical manoeuvres should be discarded, and which would have to be introduced to keep the balance. So was the use of squares introduced to fend off cavalry; but what could even the best troops do when the cavalry is supplied with horse artillery? While only this formation is able to make front against the enemy on all sides, it still has to be used, but its strength is seriously weakened by the use of horse artillery.
The main law, which should be taken into account when forming horse artillery, is: the kind of guns to be utilised, the horse team, the equipment, and the serving crew must be arranged in such a way, that the horse artillery will be able to move in all kinds of terrain, just as fast as the cavalry.
1) Remark of the publisher: This must be a mistake of the author for sure: just think about how huge the train will be which would be necessary, and the improbability is clear. Because for 400 horse artillery guns at least 4,000 horses are necessary. As far as I know was the horse artillery introduced when the now Emperor was only a ‘Grossfürst’, during the reign of Catharina II, and was the introduction carried out by two Saxon artillery officers called Hesse [?].
2) Remark of the publisher: The moment they were beginning to use artillery guns in the field, it became clear that it was necessary to move the pieces to another place much quicker then it was possible with the horse teams used by then. Therefore the amount of horses was doubled, enabling the guns to move and advance together with the cavalry. This was less difficult, because in the 16th century the mounted harquebusiers fought with their fire arm only, using the sword only in close combat. Traces of this cavalry-artillery can be recognised in the engagement near Vinzenza and in the battle of Corifolles; ‘Geschichte der Kriegskunst’ I. Band, Seite 138. It also seems that Gustav Adolf had the same object in view when he reduced the weight of his field guns enormously, although there is no proof that the gunners were mounted. Probably the speed of this light artillery was still not enough for the rash and impatient Carl XII; maybe the marshy terrain in Poland and the Ukrain were the cause. He never attached artillery to his cavalry, but instead his dragoons were issued with hand grenades, to dislodge the Poles and Russians from the houses that were occupied by these, to set fire to villages, to defend positions, etc. The ‘Kurfürst of Brandenburg’ however, Friedrich Wilhelm [the Great], had in the engagement at Fehrbellin twelve guns with him, although his force consisted of only 5,600 cavalry, without any infantry at all. The latter was left behind, to be able to march quicker and to attack the Swedes before they could unite with another corps positioned near Haselberg. Because of this it is more then probable that he had enlarged the horse teams, and had the gunners mounted or transported on wagons, so that they would be able to follow the cavalry. Still, credits go to Friedrich der Grosse that he formed horse artillery, and made a regular unit of it.
3) It is clear that, when looking at the range, as well as their effect on targets, a somewhat longer 3-pdr of good quality, will be able to perform as good as a light 6-pdr. Except that the latter has the advantage, that the bigger canister round can be used at a greater distance. In addition, especially the horse artillery is intended to attack houses and small posts occupied by the enemy, were, as commonly known, the effect is related to the weight of the cannonball. For this reason, the French have introduced the 8-pdr for their light and horse artillery in general.
4) Remark of the publisher: In Sweden, lately two batteries or a brigade of horse artillery was created.
5) Remark of the publisher: Beside cannon, nearly all horse artilleries are now also equipped with light howitzers. None of these seems to be better suited for its goal, as the Saxon so called ‘Granatstück’, because of its light weight, as well of it length – 9 calibres, of which the ‘Flug’ [?] is only 6 calibres- which gives it a longer range. Because it fires only 4-pdr grenades, it is able to carry 50 or 60 rounds in its ammunition chest. Its canister, containing 28 balls of eight ‘lot’ each, is already effective at a range of 756 paces. When horse artillery is assigned for outpost duty, I would use none or only a few guns, but instead utilise the already mentioned ‘Granatstücke’, because of the length of its tube comparable to the light howitzer, as it is more advantageous, and because of its tight calibre [?, ‘geringern Spielraum als gewöhnlich fähig gemacht würde’] is just as precise as cannon. The chance of grenades failing to explode will be very small, when is taken care that the fuse etc. [der Satz, womit die Bränder geschlagen werden, nicht zu faul ist] is in a good state, as has sufficiently been proven during several experiments with cannon grenades and those fired by ‘Granatstücke’. The argument that the ammunition is more expensive then those of cannon is not relevant, as expenses are no argument in time of war in general, when the effect will be much better. [Translator's Comment: When looking at the above description, it strikes me that the grenades fired are possibly similar to the ‘spherical case shot’ from the British, which they treat as a British invention, not copied by other European countries for over 25 years !?].
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