January 23 – Horses vs. Ships?

Posted on January 23, 2018

The word cavalry means soldiers who fight on horseback.

As you can imagine, cavalry tended to have benefits over soldiers fighting on foot (who are called infantry). Cavalry can move faster, coming in range for a thrust or swipe, and then plunging out of range again, attacking from varied directions, and moving to wherever soldiers are most needed. 

 Mounted soldiers have greater height with which to see the battlefield, and an attack from on high has an assist from gravity with each downward stroke of a sword. When foot soldiers are attacked by mounted soldiers, they have to lift shields to protect themselves and lift weapons to fight back; all that heavy lifting is very tiring! 

The horses' large bodies and plunging hooves provide more mass, muscle, and weapons to a battle. Horses can carry more armor and heavier armor; additional weapons, including replacements and varied types; and even supplies such as water and food. There are psychological disadvantages in having a line of huge creatures galloping toward you - and real, physical disadvantages to being trampled! 

But would cavalry have any advantages - any at all? - over a navy?

It seems to me that horses-and-soldiers couldn't really fight against soldiers-on-ship. I mean, I assume that the folks on a ship could lob some cannonballs or other projectiles at cavalry, and cavalry could throw spears at the folks on a ship...but I should think that foot soldiers with cannons - hopefully protected inside a fort - would be better able to fight against an armed ship or a navy.

But on this date in 1795, there was a rare cavalry-vs.-navy battle - and the cavalry won!

You see, France was fighting against several other European powers (in what was called the War of the First Coalition), and French forces had captured Amsterdam. The general in charge of the Netherlands campaign heard that Dutch warships were anchored at Den Helder, about 80 km (50 miles) north of Amsterdam.

That winter was really, really cold. And the French general may have wondered if the Dutch navy was, not merely anchored in that northern harbor, but also frozen in place...

The shallow Zuiderzee Bay was frozen, that was for sure, so the French leader ordered General of Brigade Jan Willem de Winter to lead a squadron of cavalry across the frozen bay and capture the ships and their guns!

The Dutch ships were there, all right, as expected, trapped by ice. 

In the dark of night, the French cavalry covered their horses' hooves with cloth to hush the noise of the crossing. I am thinking maybe the cloth also helped keep sharp hooves (or horseshoes?) from chipping at the ice. 

The French cavalry was lucky - the ice turned out to be thick enough to bear their weight, all the way out to the ships.

The French soldiers climbed aboard with the height-assist from their horses.

The Dutch sailors were surprised!

And that's how mounted soldiers were able to capture 14 ships and 850 guns!

No comments:

Post a Comment