Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
Hussar (original Hungarian spelling: huszár, plural huszárok) refers to a number of types of cavalry used throughout Europe since the 15th century. Today for traditional reasons some military units tracing their history to medieval times have 'hussar' as part of their names.
The word hussar (pronounced huh-ZAR, huh-SAR, or hoo-ZAR; IPA: probably derives from Serbian gusar ("highwayman", or brigand), a type of flamboyant 15th century cavalryman. It is probable that the first light cavalry units of that name were formed by Serbian gentry who sought refuge in Hungary after their defeat in the Battle of Kosovo in 1389. Initially fighting in various smaller units, they were reorganised into a strong, highly-trained and motivated unit during the reign of King Matthias I Corvinus of Hungary. Under his command the units took part in the war against Turkey in 1485 and proved successful against the Turkish Spahis. After king's death in 1490 many hussars fled to other Central and Western European countries and became the core of similar light cavalry formations created there. For instance, Austria hired Hungarian hussars as mercenaries for wars against Turkey. Also Frederick the Great used hussar units extensively during the War of the Austrian Succession. Great Britain also hired German hussars among their Hessian mercenaries and sent them to America to fight in the American War of Independence. However, probably the most famous hussars, and certainly the most spectacular, were those of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth.
Initially the first hussar units in the Polish-Lithuanian Union were formed by the Polish parliament in 1503, which hired three banners of Hungarian mercenaries. Quickly recruitment also began from among Polish and Lithuanian citizens. Being far more manoeuvrable than the heavily armoured lancers previously employed, the hussars proved vital to the splendid Polish victories at Orsza (1514) and Obertyn (1531). By the reign of King Stefan Batory the hussars had replaced medieval-style lancers in the Polish army, and they now formed the bulk of the Polish cavalry.
Over the course of the 1500s hussars in Hungary had become heavier in character: they had abandoned wooden shields and adopted plate metal body armour. When Stefan Batory, a Transylvanian-Hungarian prince, became king of Poland in 1576 he began to reorganize the Polish hussars of his Royal guard along Hungarian lines, making them a heavy formation, equipped with a long lance as their main weapon. By the 1590s most Polish hussar units had been reformed along the same 'heavy' Hungarian model. These Polish 'heavy' hussars were known in their homeland as husaria.
With the battle of Battle of Lubieszów in 1577 the 'Golden Age' of the husaria began. Until the Battle of Vienna in 1683, the Polish hussars fought countless actions against a variety of enemies, and rarely lost a battle. In the battles of Byczyna (1588), Kokenhusen (1601), Kircholm (1605), Kłuszyn (1610), Gniew (1626), Chocim (1673) and Lwów (1675), the Polish hussars proved to be the decisive factor often against overwhelming odds.
As one of the very few units in the Polish standing army (most of other units were formed as levée en masse), the hussars were well-trained and well-equipped. Until 18th century they were considered the elite of Polish armed forces. Because of the fame and prestige that surrounded the hussars, many of them were accepted into nobility. Although by 18th century their importance was diminished by the introduction of modern infantry firearms and quick-firing artillery, the Polish hussars' tactics and armament remained almost unchanged.
Hussars outside of Poland followed a different line of development. During the early decades of the 17th century Hussars in Hungary ceased to wear metal body armour; and by 1700 most were now light cavalry. It was hussars of this 'light' pattern rather than the Polish heavy hussar that were copied across Europe. These light hussars were ideal for reconnaissance and raiding sources of fodder and provisions in advance of the army. In battle, they were used in such light cavalry roles as harassing enemy skirmishers, overrunning cannon positions, and pursuing fleeing troops.
The colourful uniforms of hussars of 1700 onwards were inspired by Hungarian fashions. This uniform usually comprised a short jacket known as a dolman, or later a medium-length "Attila" jacket, both with heavy horizontal gold braid on the breast, and gold Austrian knots on the sleeves; a matching pelisse (a short-waisted overjacket often worn slung over one shoulder); colored trousers, sometimes with gold Austrian knots at the front; a busby (a high fur hat with a cloth bag hanging from one side); and high riding boots.
Hussars also had a reputation for being the dashing, if unruly, adventurers of the army. The traditional image of the hussar is of a reckless, hard-drinking, hard-swearing, womanising, moustachioed swashbuckler. Less romantically, hussars were also known (and feared) for their poor treatment of local civilians. In addition to commandeering local food-stocks for the army, hussars were known to also use the opportunity for personal looting and pillaging.
After horse cavalry became obsolete, hussar units generally converted to either ceremonial units or armoured units. Hussar units still exist today, especially in the British Army, among others (such as the Belgian Army and Canadian Forces), usually as tank forces or light mechanized infantry. The ceremonial units are just that: they ceremonially march in parades in traditional uniforms.
Armament and tactics
Hussar armament varied over time. Until the 1570s in both Poland and Hungary it included a cavalry sabre, lance, long wooden shield and, optionally, light metal armour. From the 1570s Polish hussars abandoned the use of shields and became more heavily-armoured. Apart from the sabre and the lance, they were usually also equipped with one or two pistols and a koncerz - a long (up to 2 metres) sword used in the charge when the lance was broken.
Unlike their lighter counterparts, the Polish hussars were used as a heavy cavalry for line-breaking charges against enemy infantry or cavalry. Their usual form of attack was to make a rapid charge in compact formation. If the first attack failed, they would retire to their supporting troops who re-equipped them with fresh lances, and then would charge again. The concentration of lances would eventually break the enemy line, creating gaps that follow-on units could exploit. As panic spread and the enemy fled, they could be cut down with sabres.
Hussars of the Polish Commonwealth were also famous for the huge 'wings' worn on their backs or attached to the saddles of their horses. There are several theories to explain the meaning of the wings. According to some they were designed to foil attacks by Tatar lassos; another theory has it that the sound of vibrating feathers attached to the wings frightened enemy horses during the charge. However, experiments carried out since the 1970s do not support any of the theories and the phenomenon remains unexplained. Most probably the wings were worn only during parades and not during combat, but this is also disputed.
Current hussar units
Note: All Canadian hussar units are in the reserve force and are roled as armoured reconnaissance.
- 8th Canadian Hussars (Princess Louise's)
- Sherbrooke Hussars
- The Royal Canadian Hussars (Montreal)
- 1st Hussars
- Note: Because the Polish word pancerny initially was used to denote both as a standard adjective meaning armoured and a Polish heavy hussar, currently most Polish armoured units are named Armoured Cavalry and refer to the hussar tradition of Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. Similarly, Polish aero mobile forces refer to traditions of 19th century light cavalry.
- 11 Dywizja Kawalerii Pancernej of Jan III Sobieski
- 6 Brygada Kawalerii Pancernej
- 9 Brygada Kawalerii Pancernej
- 10 Brygada Kawalerii Pancernej
- 15 Brygada Kawalerii Pancernej
- 34 Brygada Kawalerii Pancernej
Presently, both regiments operate in the armoured role, primarily operating the Challenger 2 main battle tank. The hussar regiments are grouped together with the dragoon and lancer regiments in the order of precedence, all of which are below the dragoon guards.
In the British Army currently, the lone dragoon regiment, The Light Dragoons was formed by the amalgamation of two hussar regiments, the 13th/18th Royal Hussars (Queen Mary's Own) and the 15th/19th The King's Royal Hussars , in 1992.
- Bronisław Gembarzewski, Husarze. Ubiór, oporządzenie i uzbrojenie 1500 – 1775
- Zbigniew Bocheński, Ze studiów nad polską zbroją husarską in: Rozprawy i sprawozdania Muzeum Narodowego w Krakowie. Kraków, 1960
- Marek Plewczyński, Obertyn 1531
- Romuald Romański, Beresteczko 1651
- Leszek Podhorodecki, Sławne bitwy Polaków
- Szymon Kobyliński, Szymona Kobylińskiego gawędy o broni i mundurze
- Janusz Sikorski, Zarys dziejów wojskowości polskiej do roku 1864
- Jan Chryzostom Pasek, Pamiętniki
- Mirosław Nagielski, Relacje wojenne z pierwszych lat walk polsko-kozackich powstania Bohdana Chmielnickiego
- Bitwa pod Gniewem 22.IX – 29.IX. 1626, pierwsza porażka husarii in: Studia i materiały do historii wojskowości, Warsaw, 1966
- J. Cichowski, A. Szulczyński, Husaria
- Jakub Łoś, Pamiętnik towarzysza chorągwi pancernej
- Hussars Photographs
- About Polish Hussars on Polish Renaissance Warfare site
- How the Polish Hussars Fought
- Polish Winged Hussars
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