The accounts of Hohenfriedeberg I’ve read suggest that the Austrian infantry had already been roughly handled by the Prussian artillery before the Bayreuth dragoons charged into legend. 🙂 One passage spoke of “men crowding a hundred deep behind the colors.” An exaggeration, perhaps, but I think it’s clear that the Austrian foot had lost some–possibly much–of its cohesion.
5th Dragoon Regiment charge at Hohenfriedberg 4th June, 1745
The first Prussian cavalry “column attack” was the Bayreuth Dragoons. They were supposed to be in a column of three squadrons’ frontage with hussars covering their flanks. They formed by squadron, but the entire regiment went in with the following qualifications.
1) The Bayreuth Dragoons’ charge at Hohenfriedberg was accidental; ran smack into an unsuspecting enemy while trying to scale a steep incline in “field column” (two squadrons abreast) formation.
2) I don’t believe there was any hussar support at that time, though this was Frederick the Great’s new doctrinal concept for exploiting such a breakthrough.
3) The Bayreuth Dragoons was one of two, 10-squadron regiments. It formed a *brigade* all by itself.
4) I should also point out that the Austrian infantry had already been fairly roughly handled (“100 deep behind the colors,” according to some accounts), which made it easier for the 5 Dragoons to charge into legend.
There is compelling evidence that the Prussians occasionally used columns of attack, both for their infantry and cavalry. However, Frederick regarded this as one of his most important military secrets so it was not discussed much openly and his commanders were enjoined only to employ these in potentially battle-winning situations.
“If your infantry has not decided the affair, and provided the slope leading to the enemy is not too rugged, have you cavalry charge the enemy in column, as we have done at Zorndorf and Torgau, and you will obtain victory.” [Frederick “Elments de castramtrie et de tactique,” Oeuvres de Frdric le Grand (Berlin, 1846-56) XIX, pp. 38- 39 quoted in Luvaas, Frederick the Great on the Art of War, p. 156.]
The following description of the secret Prussian cavalry column of attack is from my The Anatomy of Victory. – Brent Nosworthy 1990
“Though in Frederick’s writings no detail is given as to how the column was formed, fortunately the details are in provided in Warnery’s wonderful work, Remarks on Cavalry.
The example Warnery gives describes an attack of fifteen squadrons, presumably taken from the corps de reserve behind the second line. Five of these squadrons were to be dragoons, the remainder were hussars. The squadrons of dragoons were placed in a closed column, the hussars were in line half to the right, and half to the left of the column, and even with the rear squadron of dragoons. The column was to be made as compact as possible without having the individual ranks or the squadrons become mixed up. The dragoons and the hussars in this formation passed through the infantry, the latter forming spaces periodically along the line by doubling the line in order to allow the cavalry to pass. Initially, both the dragoons and the hussars would move forward together, allowing this hybrid formation to be maintained. However, as the it neared the enemy, the dragoons would conduct a regular charge, advancing with great vivacity, throwing themselves upon the enemy sword in hand yelling and screaming. In order to maximize the “weight of charge” and simultaneously minimize the size of the target exposed to artillery fire, it was important to have the dragoons in the column retain their column order throughout their charge. The officers within the five dragoon squadrons were placed on the column’s flanks and rear. Their primary task during the advance was to prevent panicking troopers from leaving the column, and they were authorized to shoot or saber a soldier to prevent his desertion.
The ten hussar squadrons in line did not break into a gallop but continued to advance at the trot, in order to retain perfect order and distance themselves from the dragoons as the latter contacted the enemy infantry, to support these dragoons with a charge if it became necessary. The hussar’s function at this point was to provide an additional target for any enemy artillery in the area (the dragoons being in closed column were extremely vulnerable to artillery using solid shot) and to prevent the enemy infantry from easily forming flanks to the dragoons.
If the dragoons’ charge was successful, the first three squadrons of dragoons, after passing through the enemy’s first line, would continue to advance and then deploy some distance in front of the enemy’s second line or its reserve, depending upon the situation. The fourth and fifth squadrons wheeled to the right and the left, respectively. This was to attack the enemy’s newly exposed flanks, thus rolling up the infantry.
The hussars’ action at this point depended upon the overall situation; their duty now was to prevent the enemy from making any movement to interrupt the attack by the column of dragoons. If the enemy’s second line showed no indication of counterattacking and there were no enemy cavalry in the area, all of the hussar and dragoon squadrons would be free to continue the attack on the infantry, by now mostly in flight. If there was a threat posed by a second infantry line or the reserve or a body of cavalry, seven squadrons of hussars moved into line beside the forward dragoon squadrons, the remaining three hanging back to protect the flanks of the friendly cavalry line [Nosworthy, The Anatomy of Victory, pp. 172- 174; based on information from Warnery, Remarks on Cavalry, pp. 75- 78.]
Column attacks had been rehearsed initially with cavalry only, later also with cavalry and infantry combined. Inspiration is said to have been the famous charge of the Bayreuth dragoons at Hohenfriedberg.
Basic idea was to have cavalry behind your infantry and await signs of enemy infantry becoming shaken. Now cavalry would pass own infantry through gaps and fall upon enemy like windsbride. For an understanding of how this worked have the below account from the chapter dealing with cavalry tactics/combat:
May 27, 1754 king had below rehearsal during the Berlin inspection general revues. Quoting from source relation cited here: The Gensdarmes had 10 field flags with them, that H.M. had ordered being planted to represent the enemy infantry. The Garde du Corps remained behind and returned home. The Gensdarmes and Prince of Prussia cuirassiers formed en colonne with escadrons. Flags were traced out to 600 paces cavalry charged on infantry [in column of esc.] in the following manner: 1st and 2nd esc Gensdarmes a t behind another broke into enemy line at first and pursued enemy for some 100 paces, 3rd esc behind wheeled right into [opened] enemy flank and charged down enemy inf. line all the way to the last flag pole, 4th wheeled left and did likewise in opposite direction, 5th esc again right, 1st esc Prince v. Preussen left, 2nd right and 3rd left again. 4th and 5th escadrons halted near initially opened gap as reserve.
P.S.: the charges were executed most furiously with the horses going as fast as they could, though, as a result, good order could not be maintained at all times. End of relation quote. Author of this study continues: With this charge, enemy infantry was assumed shaken by our infantry fire. It would now quickly open a gap and cavalry would pass and surprise enemy infantry.
This style of charging infantry might well have been employed in battle. Prussian cavalry was at times extremely skillful in performing maneuvers with significant speed. Assume all wheeling executed at a swift gallop as usual. The Gendarmes might have intended to break through Austrian infantry at Kolin in this manner. This charge, however, failed to my recalling, for Austrians proved to be more steady than expected.