Polish Winged Hussars
I talked about the Hussars in the Army of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth in the 17th Century. Hussars were the Polish heavy cavalry (Brzezinski, 1987, 2006). They were bristling with weapons: lance, pistol and two swords. The lance was long, light weight, and deliberately brittle so it shattered on impact. However, the baggage train included spare lances and one of the swords was a long pointy thing used as a back up, but admittedly short, lance (the other sword was for close combat). Some Hussars had a carbine as well. Front ranks were all armoured (3/4 armour like cuirassiers) and rear ranks were mostly armoured.
The Poles had other classes of cavalry: medium and light (Brzezinski, 1987). Light cavalry were intended to skirmish whether Cossack, Tatar or Wallachian. Medium cavalry could either charge or skirmish. Most medium cavalry were the Cossack pancerni and Lithuanian petyhorcy. However, the Poles lumped western cavalry – whether Cuirassiers, Arquesbusiers or Swedish style riders (Rajtar) – into this medium category. Aside from the Rajtar the medium cavalry were armoured, the pancerni and petyhorcy in mail and the cuirassiers and arquebusiers in plate (3/4 plate and back n breast respectively).
But the Polish Hussars were different. They had one and only one purpose in battle – to charge and break the enemy (Brzezinski, 1987, 2006). They were shock troops.
The proportion of hussars declined over time. This was largely because they were expensive (Brzezinski, 2006). The men were not particularly expensive, but the horses were. Each hussar had to have up to five horses, all of a superb, but expensive quality. The Cossack pancerni, for example, got by with fewer and cheaper horses.
Note: there are other types of Hussars, e.g. Hungarian Hussars, but the Light Cavalry troop type models them adequately.
Hussar Troop Type
My starting point was Horse. But I’m now tempted by a new troop type called “Lancer”. There are, so far, no other Lancers in Tilly’s Very Bad Day. Just Horse and Light Horse. Having a lance as a weapon does not make a lancer. A Cossack armed with a lance, whether pancerni or light cavalry, is still expected to skirmish so is either Horse or Light Horse. Lancers, the troop type, should specialise in charging. Lancers would have all the characteristics of Horse, except they cannot shoot (see below) and melee better when charging (see below).
Hussar Troop Quality
From the Tilly’s Very Bad Day rules:
Superior units were viewed by both themselves and their contemporaries as significantly better quality than others of their troop type e.g. veteran Spanish tercios, veteran German Cuirassiers, and the Swedish Yellow brigade. Being superior is about attitude not equipment. However some superior units would also have had better quality arms and armour than their counterparts.
Well, if Polish Hussars are Horse, that definition definitely applies to them. So by default Polish Hussars would be Horse Superior.
But if I go for a Lancer troop type it is not so obvious. There are currently no other lancers. That would make them Lancer Ordinary. Doesn’t seem right. I’m tempted by Lancer Superior, relative to the other heavy cavalry of the period if not to other lancers.
Probably like Horse with all the advantages and disadvantages.
Polish Hussars cannot shoot, ever. Which is why I’m veering away from Horse as a troop type.
Technically Hussars were equipped to shoot as they all had pistols and some had a carbine as well. But the thing is, they didn’t. The Poles had another troop type that focussed on skirmishing: light cavalry. The Poles also had a class of medium cavalry that could either charge or skirmish e.g.the Cossack pancerni. But the Hussars were different. They had one and only one purpose in battle, to charge and break the enemy.
Hussars in melee
Melee is where Polish Hussars did their thing.
Option: Horse Superior
What about Lancers
Some armies featured lancers. In the Spanish and Imperial service the guard companies retained lance throughout the war. I see no need to simulate these in a game focussed on brigades.
More eastern armies, e.g. Polish, continued to rely on the lance. But I think the generic rules for horse cater for these without modification. It might be that Polish Winged Hussars have a preference for charging. That is up to the player.
That would give Hussars 4d6 (Superior) charging at full strength and hitting on 4-6. This is fairly potent.
Generally I allow players to choose whether their Horse skirmish (Shoot and so not Charge) or charge (Charge to Melee). Western horse was equipped for both, having both pistols/carbines and sword. The more heavily armoured cuirassiers where expected to charge, but some didn’t and shot instead. The more lightly armoured arquebusiers were expected to shoot in support, but some charged. So Tilly’s Very Bad Day treats all Horse the same and lets them either shoot or charge.
That is the problem with using Horse to simulate Hussars. They didn’t skirmish. They didn’t shoot. So the Horse troop type isn’t a great starting point.
I’m also conscious that as Horse Superior both French Gendarmes or German Cuirassiers would be the same as Hussars in melee. It seems to me Polish Hussars were different, better. Certainly the Poles, and others, viewed Polish Hussars as superior to Cuirassiers in the Foreign section of the army. So I think I need something else.
Option: Lancers Troop Type + Lance bonus dice
I mentioned above about introducing Lancer as a new troop type for Tilly’s Very Bad Day. They have all the characteristics of Horse, except they cannot shoot (see above) and, in this option, they roll more dice when charging.
I was thinking +1d6 when charging. That would give Hussars 5d6 (Superior + Lance) charging at full strength and hitting on 4-6. Very potent.
Larry (private conversation) suggested 2d6 but only for the first round of melee. After the first round of melee they lose the 2d6 lance bonus, “because if they did it right, the lances are all broken!”
So there are some sub-options / choices in here: 1d6 or 2d6 for lances? First melee or first charge? First melee/charge or every melee/charge?
Larry is right to point out that Polish Hussar lances were deliberately constructed to shatter on impact. However, they did have spares on the battle field and could re-equip (I’m not sure I’d simulate that specifically). The Hussars also carried a long sword which was only used as a back up lance. So there is an argument for “every” charge.
If I went for first charge/melee, I’d go first charge rather than first melee, after all they might be caught at the halt. It also raises the question of how to track first charge/melee? Memory can fail, which is why I use markers a lot. So there could be a “Lance” marker next to every Hussar unit which is removed after the first charge/melee. But the even better solution is to duplicate the Hussars, with lances, with melee weapons. Old Glory 15s have packs exactly for that use case. 😉
For myself I think I’d start with 1d6 charge bonus for Lancers and see how it goes. I guess if I did go for 2d6 lance bonus there would be more incentive to also go for first charge/melee.
Option: Lancers Troop Type + Lance To Hit
This option, once again, introduces Lancers as a new troop type for Tilly’s Very Bad Day. But instead of the lance bonus dice they hit on 3-6 every time Horse would hit on 4-6 i.e. when charging except front of Pike+Shot. Wow, that would brutal.
Nominal unit size for Hussars
In Tilly’s Very Bad Day the nominal unit size depends on the unit type:
A unit is nominally a brigade of about 1-2,000 Pike+Shot, Shot or Rabble. Horse, Dragoons and Light Horse have half that number. Cannon have a few hundred men to man about 8-16 guns. Commanders represent a handful of men.
At the smallest game scale the nominal unit size is: 1000 for Pike+Shot, Shot, and Rabble; 500 for Horse, Dragoons and Light Horse; 8 guns for Cannon.
Hussars could follow Horse for nominal unit size. That would be 500-1,000 men.
But there is an argument to reduce the nominal unit size for the Hussars from 500-1,000 to 300-600. I have several reasons for this. The Hussars are always Superior and had more impact than their numbers warranted. Hussars deployed in a remarkably thin formation relative to other categories of cavalry. And there was a pattern of tiny Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth armies beating much larger Swedish armies, so pragmatically they need more units on table to have a chance.
Note on Dummy Lancers
At the Battle of Kircholm (27 Sep 1605) the Polish-Lithuanians deployed dummy hussars, camp followers on horses with lances. I assume, because these were horseboys and grooms, they are competent horsemen, but certainly not the quality of Hussars. What ever rule I land on, these guys are probably Inferior, so Horse Inferior or Lancer Inferior. If you are feeling particularly mean, and I’m tempted myself, you could make them Rabble.
Well, I know Hussars should behave differently to horse, but I’m not yet quite sure how.
I guess I favour: (1) new Lancer troop type; (2) Lancer Superior; (3) Move like Horse; (4) no shooting; (5) +1d6 when charging (every charge); (6) smaller nominal unit size (3-600).
What do you think?
Where to get Tilly’s Very Bad Day
Brzezinski, R. (1987). Polish Armies 1569-1696 (1) [Men-at-Arms 184]. Osprey.
Brzezinski, R. (1988). Polish Armies 1569-1696 (2) [Men-at-Arms 188]. Osprey.
Brzezinski, R. (2006). Polish Winged Hussar 1576-1775 [Warrior 94]. Osprey.
Gush, G. (1975). The Polish. Renaissance Armies 1480-1650, p. 61-67. Patrick Stephens.
- Jasinski Comp 05: The Polish Cossack Cavalry
- Jasinski Dev 03: Army Development – End of 16th Century
- Jasinski Dev 04: Army Development – Beginning of the 17th century
- Jasinski Dev 05: Army Development – Wladyslaw’s Reorganisation (1632-33)
- Jasinski Dev 06: Army Development – The Second Half of the 17th Century