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Prussian uhlans in pre-1914 uniform
Uhlans (in Polish: "Ułan"; "Ulan" in German) were Polish light cavalry armed with lances, sabres and pistols. The title was later used by lancer regiments in the Prussian and Austrian armies.

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 lance pennon) just below the spearhead.

History

Origins

The name itself comes from Tartar words oglan or uhuan meaning brave warrior.

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 Ammianus Marcellinus 4th 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 northern Sarmatia at least from 6th century.

Once the Tatar (sometimes also spelled "Tartar") military men had settled in Poland and Lithuania in 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 during various battles of late Middle Ages. Their tasks were to conduct reconnaissance in advance of the heavier cavalry (knights, later Hussars and Pancerni), and to probe enemy defences.

18th Century

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, Uhlan formations consisting of Poles or Polish Tartars 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 Kingdom of Prussiamarker in 1740, the so called Natzmer-uhlans was used ineptly, employing heavy-cavalry tactics against fortified positions. It failed to distinguish itself in the first of the Silesian Wars, and was disbanded shortly afterwards.In 1745 Saxonymarker , engaged in a personal union with the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, created a Polish Uhlan regiment called "Saxon Volunteers". The same year the Kingdom of Prussiamarker created yet another Uhlan regiment of Poles : The Bosniak-regiment. Shortly after Mauritz of Saxony created a Polish Ulan regiment on account of the French king Louis XV.King Stanisław August of Poland formed a royal guards regiment equipped with lances, szablas and pistols and dressed in kurtas and czapkas. This 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 Commonwealth the Ulans officially had the status and traditions of the winged Polish hussars passed 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.

19th Century

After the start of the Napoleonic Wars, uhlan formations were raised by the Duchy of Warsawmarker. Polish lancers serving with the French Army included the Vistula Legion and the Chevaux-légers de la Garde Impériale. 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 Tilsit in 1807 lancer regiments designated as Uhlans were reintroduced in the Prussian service.

During and after the Napoleonic Wars cavalry regiments armed with lances were formed in many states throughout Europe, including the armies of the United Kingdommarker, Italymarker, Spainmarker, Portugalmarker, Swedenmarker and Russiamarker. While cavalry carrying this weapon were usually specifically designated as lancers or uhlans; in some instances the front rank troopers of hussar or dragoon regiments were also armed with lances.

The traditions of the Polish uhlans were preserved during the Kingdom of Polandmarker. They fought both in the November Uprising of 1830 and in the January Uprising of 1863.

World War I

German Uhlans
Prussian Guard Uhlans about 1912


In 1914 the Imperial German Army included twenty-six Uhlan regiments, three of which were Guard regiments, twenty-one line (sixteen Prussian, two Württembergmarker and three Saxon) and two from the autonomous Royal Bavarian Army. The 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 and tunics with plastron fronts, both in coloured parade uniform and the field grey service dress introduced in 1910. Because German hussar, dragoon and cuirassier 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.



Austrian UhlansThere were eleven regiments of uhlans in the Austro-Hungarian cavalry, largely 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 ash).

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.
Russian UhlansThe Russian Imperial Army had converted 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 (an independent formation serving with the Austro-Hungarian Army) had a small Uhlan detachment. Commanded by Władysław Belina-Prażmowski, 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 Uprising, the Polish-Ukrainian War and the Polish-Bolshevik War. Although equipped with modern horse-drawn artillery and trained in infantry tactics, the Uhlan formations kept their sabres, their lances and their ability to charge the enemy. 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.

Interwar

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 (Reichsheer) 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, light tanks, 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 (Czapka 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 Army, too.

Uhlan regiments also appear in Sega's Empire: Total war as a lance cavalry unit available to specific regions.

In Cossacks II: Napoleonic Wars 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."

See also

References and notes

  1. p.27, Rawkins

Sources

  • Rawkins, W.J., The Russian Army 1805 - 14, Anschluss Publishing, 1977


Further reading

  • Marrion, R.J., Lancers and Dragoons, Almark Publishing Company Ltd 1975. ISBN 0 85524 202 7

External links






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