Prussian uhlans in pre-1914
"Ułan"; "Ulan" in German
Polish light cavalry
armed with lances
. The title was later used by lancer regiments
in the Prussian
Uhlans typically wore a double-breasted jacket (kurta
with a coloured panel (plastron
) at the front, a coloured
sash, and a square-topped Polish lancer cap (czapka
) also spelt chapka, chapska and schapska.
This cap or cavalry helmet was derived from a traditional design of
Polish cap, made more formal and stylised for military use.
Their lances usually had small swallow-tailed flags (known as the
) just below the spearhead.
The name itself comes from Tartar
Other plausible etymologies for 'Uhlan' include "Hulan" from Halani
warrior, who overan the Pontic and the great steppe
, or 'hulati' or 'galtai', connotated as free
or disobedient, or "young man admired by women," but also as
'without money, pure or drinking'. In Historiae Liber XXXI by
century Roman historian we can find 12
occurrences of string 'Halan*' eg 'Halanos' ,
'parte alia prope Amazonum sedes Halani', 'Halanorum regionibus',
'Hunorum et Halanorum'. Underhalani
are know to live in
at least from 6th
Once the Tatar
(sometimes also spelled
") military men had settled
in Poland and Lithuania
the late 14th century, the Poles started incorporating much of
their military vocabulary and many of their traditions along with
their strategy and tactics. This included the formation of light cavalry
units. Initially composed mostly
of Tartars and Lithuanians
, the uhlan
units first served as skirmishers
various battles of late Middle Ages
Their tasks were to conduct reconnaissance
in advance of the heavier
cavalry (knights, later Hussars
), and to probe enemy defences.
The first Uhlan regiments were created in the early 18th century.
As the development of firearms made heavy armor obsolete, lighter
units became the core of the army.During the period preceding the
Partitions of Poland
formations consisting of Poles or Polish
were created in most surrounding states simply because
the Polish Crown had not the resources or political possibilities
to afford a numerous army. Their speed and mobility was the major
factor behind their popularity. However the Uhlan regiment formed by the
Prussia in 1740, the so called Natzmer-uhlans was used ineptly, employing
heavy-cavalry tactics against fortified positions.
to distinguish itself in the first of the Silesian Wars
, and was disbanded shortly
afterwards.In 1745 Saxony , engaged in
a personal union with the Polish-Lithuanian
Commonwealth, created a Polish Uhlan regiment called "Saxon Volunteers". The same year the
Prussia created yet another Uhlan regiment of Poles : The
Shortly after Mauritz of Saxony
created a Polish Ulan
regiment on account of the French king Louis
August of Poland
formed a royal guards regiment equipped with
and pistols and dressed in
s and czapka
unit became the prototype for many other units of the Polish cavalry
, who started to arm themselves
with equipment modelled after Uhlan regiment - and the mediaeval
Tartars.In the Polish-Lithuanian
the Ulans officially had the status and traditions
of the winged Polish hussars
on to them in 1776, thus becoming National cavalry. The Austrian empire
also formed a "Uhlan
Regiment" in 1784, composed primarily of Poles. Ordinary Uhlan
regiments of Austrian cavalrymen were raised in 1791.
start of the Napoleonic Wars, uhlan
formations were raised by the Duchy of Warsaw.
Polish lancers serving with the French Army
included the Vistula Legion
Chevaux-légers de la Garde
. The lancers of the Polish expeditionary corps
fighting alongside the French in Spain and Germany, spread the
popularity of the Polish model of light cavalry. After the Battle of Somosierra
, Napoleon Bonaparte
said that one Polish
cavalryman was worth ten French soldiers. The chevaux-légers
, French light cavalry
units from the 16th century till 1815, were remodelled after the
Uhlans. Following the Treaty of
in 1807 lancer regiments designated as Uhlans were
reintroduced in the Prussian service.
after the Napoleonic Wars cavalry regiments armed with lances were
formed in many states throughout Europe, including the armies of
Kingdom, Italy, Spain, Portugal, Sweden and Russia.
While cavalry carrying this weapon were usually specifically
designated as lancers or uhlans; in some instances the front rank
troopers of hussar
regiments were also armed with lances.
traditions of the Polish uhlans were preserved during the Kingdom of
They fought both in the November Uprising
of 1830 and in the
World War I
the Imperial German Army
included twenty-six Uhlan regiments, three of which were Guard
regiments, twenty-one line (sixteen Prussian, two Württemberg and three Saxon) and two from the autonomous
Royal Bavarian Army.
Prussian Guard Uhlans about 1912
senior of these was Ulanen-Regiment Kaiser Alexander III. von
Rußland which was first raised in 1745. All German Uhlan regiments
wore Polish style czapkas
both in coloured parade uniform
the field grey service dress
introduced in 1910. Because German hussar
regiments also carried lances in 1914
there was a tendency among their French and British opponents to
describe all German cavalry as "uhlans".
The lance carried by the uhlans (and after 1889 the entire German
cavalry branch) consisted of a 318 cm (ten foot and five inch) long
tube made of rolled steel-plate, weighing 1.6 kg (three pound and
nine ounces). The lance carried below its head a small pennant in
differing colours according to the province or state from which the
regiment was recruited. The four edged spear-like point of the
shaft was 30 cm (12 inches) in length and made of tempered steel.
The butt end of the shaft was also pointed so that (in theory) the
lance could be wielded as a double ended weapon.
After seeing mounted action during the early weeks of World War I
the Uhlan regiments were either dismounted to serve as "cavalry
rifles" in the trenches of the Western Front, or transferred to the
Eastern Front where more primitive conditions made it possible for
horse cavalry to still play a useful role. All twenty-six German
Uhlan regiments were disbanded in 1918 – 1919.
There were eleven regiments of
uhlans in the Austro-Hungarian
recruited in the Polish speaking parts of the Empire. They wore
czapkas in regimental colours but otherwise were dressed in the
light blue tunics and red breeches of the Austro-Hungarian
dragoons, without Polish features. Their lances were similar in
design to those of the German cavalry but had wooden shafts (of
As with other armies, the Austro-Hungarian Uhlans were forced into
a largely dismounted role by the realities of trench warfare by the
end of 1914. The blue and red peacetime uniforms were replaced by
field grey during 1915. There was however one last opportunity for
traditional glory when on 21 August 1914 the uhlans and dragoons of
the 4.Kavalleriedivision clashed with their counterparts of the
Imperial Russian 10th Cavalry Division in classic cavalry style at
the Battle of Jaroslavice.
The Russian Imperial Army
its seventeen line Uhlan regiments to dragoons in 1881, but in 1910
they had their traditional lances, titles and uniforms returned to
them. During this period only the two Uhlan regiments of the
Russian Imperial Guard
retained their original distinctions.
Polish UhlansJózef Piłsudski
's Polish Legions
formation serving with the Austro-Hungarian Army) had a small Uhlan
detachment. Commanded by Władysław
, they were modelled after the Uhlans of the
Napoleonic period. This unit was the first element of the Central Powers
to enter Polish lands during
World War I
. After Poland's independence
in 1918, Uhlan formations were raised in all parts of the country.
They fought with distinction in the Greater Poland
, the Polish-Ukrainian
and the Polish-Bolshevik
. Although equipped with modern horse-drawn artillery
and trained in
, the Uhlan
formations kept their sabres
, their lances and
their ability to charge
Among other battles, the Uhlan units took part in the Battle of Komarów
of 1920 against the
invading Soviet Konarmia
, the last pure
cavalry battle in history.
In the period between the world wars, the Polish cavalry
was reformed, with some units
retaining their Uhlan traditions. However in contrast with its
traditional role, the cavalry was no longer seen as a unit capable
of breaking through enemy lines. Instead it was used as a mobile
reserve and employed infantry tactics: the soldiers dismounted
before the battle and fought as infantry (dragoon
), yet retained the high mobility of cavalry.
Technically speaking, in 1939 Poland had 11 brigades of mounted
infantry and no units of cavalry as such.
As noted above, the uhlans of the Imperial German Army were
disbanded at the end of World War I. However lances continued to be
carried by certain cavalry regiments of the new German Army
) permitted by the Treaty of Versailles. As
late as 1925 Major General von Seeckt, Commander of the Reichsheer,
rejected a General Staff proposal that lances be abandoned as
unsuited for a modern army
World War II
Although the Polish cavalrymen retained their sabres, after 1937
the lance was no longer standard issue, but was issued to
cavalrymen as an optional weapon of choice. Instead the cavalry
units were equipped with 75mm field guns
, 37mm anti-tank guns
, 40mm anti-aircraft guns
, as well as anti-tank rifles
and other modern weapons.
Although there were cavalry charges during World War II
and many were successful, they
were an exception rather than a rule.
Appearances in popular culture
Uhlans) appear in Ensemble Studio's Age of Empires III
as a German light
cavalry unit. In the Napoleonic Era mod, they are in the Prussian
Uhlan regiments also appear in Sega's Empire: Total war as a lance
cavalry unit available to specific regions.
In Cossacks II: Napoleonic
and its expansion pack, they are a unit available to the
French, Austrian, Russian and Polish armies.
References to the Uhlans also occur in Arthur Conan Doyle
's renowned short story
"The Lord of Chateau Noir."
References and notes
- p.27, Rawkins
- Rawkins, W.J., The Russian Army 1805 - 14, Anschluss
- Marrion, R.J., Lancers and Dragoons, Almark Publishing
Company Ltd 1975. ISBN 0 85524 202 7