Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
Polish Cavalry or Ułani can trace its roots to mounted knights. When knights became obsolete, soldiers mounted on horses did not.
In 15th century cavalry was available to Polish King Wladislaw II Jagiello for the Tannenberg battle in 1410 with Teutonic Knights. Jagiello camp was in the village of Grunwald so for Poles it was Grunwald battle. The king was Lithuanian because Poland was Kingdom of Two Nations formed from union between Kingdom of Poland and The Grand Duchy of Lithuania.
There were many nationalities in his troops. There was Polish cavalry (mostly knights - not as well armored as opponents) which could be considered heavy cavalry, there was Lithuanian cavalry (incuding ancestors of modern Belarusians) and Tatars. All these could be considered light cavalry.
Two hundred years later, during Swedish invasion (Potop Szwedzki), the most famous was Polish heavy cavalry called husaria (hussars) or ulani (uhlan). They were used to break through the enemy line and open a path for lighter troops to take advantage of the breakthrough in a similar manner as armored troops have been used in modern battles.
The hussar was quite heavily armoured and the battle-dress was made of up-side down J shaped armor and had two attachments on the back with feathers attached; one story claims that they made it harder for the rider to be dismounted with a lasso but another one is that a few hundred men on heavy horses coming at enemy fast made additional noise; so it was a part of psychological war. They were made an emblem of Polish tankers.
One of the most famous displays of heavy cavalry was the Battle of Kircholm in 1605. Polish/Lithuanian forces commanded by Jan Karol (John Charles) Chodkiewicz numbering less than 4000 troops (2700 cavalry, 1000 infantry) beat Swedish king Charles IX with 11000 troops (2500 cavalry, 8200 infantry).
Before World War Two Poland had 11 cavalry brigades and 2 armoured-mechanized brigades. 20th century cavalry, unlike the old ones, was not meant to fight mounted. The machine gun discouraged such a way of fighting.
In 1920 a war between the USSR and Poland featured the last great cavalry battle in Europe. The battle at the river Wisla (Vistula) was won by the Polish side despite the fact that they were outnumbered by the opponent. The battle is considered as one of the most significant in the world's history as it ended the communist plans of expanding into Central and Western Europe.
The weaknesses of the cavalry unit were:
- Damaged machinery can be fixed relatively fast. However, it is a much longer process with a horse, and one cannot revive a horse.
- Some number of soldiers, instead of fighting, most likely took care of horses during the battle. A probable figure would be up to 5% of the fighting force. Such a position was called a "koniowodny".
- Poland did not have enough infrastructure to support gasoline distribution. One of the foreseen enemies was Soviet Union and the horse cavalry with its independence from gasoline became an asset to the Polish forces.
- Many conscripts had more experience with horses than vehicles, and needed less training to fight.
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