Arming Hussars with Lances.

A.M. Val’kovich
Senior Academic Collaborator

(“O vooruzhenii gusar pikami,” Voenno-istoricheskii zhurnal,  1988, No. 4, pgs. 77-79.)

Up to now researchers of the given subject have not had an unanimous verdict as to whether or not Russian hussars were armed with lances in the 1812 war. Some, citing the work of Russian army experts A.V. Viskovatov and G.S. Gabaev (1), replied in the negative, while others, based on D. V. Davydov’s Journal of Partisan Operations in 1812 (2), adhered to the opposite point of view. Who is right? Let us turn to the Central State Military Historical Archive of the USSR (TsGVIA SSSR) and its contemporary documents from the War Ministry and the chancellery of the commander-in-chief of the 1st and 2nd Western Armies.

The initiative for arming hussars with lances, aimed at increasing their combat effectiveness, came from war minister M. B. Barclay de Tolly. In January 1812 he directed the commander of the Tula Arms Factory, F.N. Voronov, to prepare 5920 lances as early as March (3). Of this number, 5120 were intended for eight hussar regiments and the remaining 800 for replacement hussar squadrons at recruit depots.

On 20 February (4)Barclay de Tolly submitted a report to the emperor entitled “On lances for hussar regiments” (5). On the following day he informed the inspector-general of cavalry, Tsesarevich Constantine Pavlovich:

His Imperial Majesty is pleased to issue the Highest Order to the hussar regiments: Grodno, Yelisavetgrad, Izyum, Sumy, Mariupol, Pavlograd, Akhtryka, and Aleksandriya, that the entire front rank of hussar privates have lances, the same as those prescribed for lancer regiments but without pennants (6).

The lance shafts are to be painted black (7), and these as well as their straps and stirrup buckets (8) are to be made in the regiments using the same amount of commissariat (9) funds as defined in the organizational tables for lancer regiments.

In informing Your Imperial Highness of this Highest Order in order that the referenced regiments may be issued appropriate directives, I have the honor to add that 640 lances for each regiment (10) are being made at Tula and beginning on 10 March will be sent to Telsha for the Grodno Regiment, Vilno for the Yelisavetgrad and Izyum, Slonim for the Sumy and Mariupol, and Zhitomir for the Pavlograd, Akhtyrka, and Aleksandriya, and from these places will be distributed to the units by the corps commanders. Therefore the regiments are required to hasten their preparation of shafts, straps, and stirrup buckets…

The squadrons of these regiments located in first line recruit depots will also receive 50 lances each with straps and stirrup buckets; only shafts must be prepared on site by the squadrons upon disbursal from the commissariat of funds at the appropriate price. (11)

It follows that this document confirms that almost all hussar regiments were armed with lances except for three: the Belorussia and Olviopol regiments in the Army of the Danube operating against the Turks, and the Lubny Regiment that was part of General A. E. Richelieu’s corps in the Crimea. It may be supposed that at the end of 1812 these regiments also received lances. We know, for example, that the Lubny Hussars successfully used this weapon in a number of battles during 1813 (12).
In the middle of March 1812 Tula armorers had carried out the minister of war’s orders, and in April and the beginning of May all eight hussar regiments received lances. The hussars were trained in the use of this weapon by Guards lancers specially sent to the regiments (13).
On 21 April the commander of the 2nd Western Army, P. I. Bagration, reported to M. B. Barclay de Tolly:

The front ranks of some hussar regiments… are already equipped with lances. This weapon is satisfactorily advantageous and all the more useful since, being native to our people, the men are pleased at its introduction and their training with it. In a short time the men are sufficiently trained, but the inconvenience of the carbine, hanging from its hook, must be mentioned. In trials of various lance movements with carbines and without, it is always found that handling the lance is better without the carbine. Considering all aspects and wishing that this advantageous weapon fully achieve its purpose, I most humbly ask Your Excellency to petition for Highest Authority to withdraw carbines from the front ranks and send them to Zhitomir for safe keeping. And I am almost certain that if the men have trouble with the lance in action they will purposefully throw away their carbines in order to better defend themselves with the lance.(14)

Similar reports reached the minister of war from the corps commanders in the 1st Western Army. The arguments were convincing, and regimental commanders received permission to take carbines away from front rank hussars and send these firearms to the replacement squadrons. To ensure the effectiveness of lances in battle, the inspector-general of cavalry ordered:

As by H.I.M.’s Highest Order it is now regulation that in hussar regiments… the front ranks have lances, I must announce that for the best use of the lance when in military operations against the enemy, at those times when the pelisse is not worn with arms in sleeves (15), the men will not have them, but rather leave them with the train. Pelisses are, however, to be worn when it is prescribed that arms are in sleeves, since then they do not interfere with using the lance (16).

The lance allowed hussars to attack the enemy in close formation and deliver a blow that for the most part would decide the result of the fight. It was in this way that hussars of the Grodno Regiment acted at Druya on 3 July, the Aleksandriya and Pavlograd regiments at the battle of Kobrin on 15 July, and the Mariupol in the rearguard action at Gridnevo on 23 August. At the battle of Borodino The Akhtyrka Hussar Regiment’s headlong flank attack that defeated the Saxon cuirassiers contributed to the successful result of the cavalry fight at the village of Semenovskaya (17).

In 1813 during the Russian army’s liberation campaign in Germany the hussars distinguished themselves more than once. In particular, at Bautzen on 28 May an attack carried out by the Grodno Regiment, reported the hussar commander, General F. V. Rüdiger, “put the enemy in disorder and they were mercilessly cut up by the spears of the Grodno Hussars.” (18)

On 2 October 1813 at Liebertwolkwitz, in one of the most massive cavalry battles of that era, the superiority of the hussars’ lances was confirmed in a particularly clear manner. General A. P. Nikitin, who took part, recalled that the enemy “in this affair lost many dead and wounded, so that the entire field was covered with the bodies of men and horses, both from the successful actions of our batteries as well as from attacks by cavalry that was armed with lances. This weapon is uniquely suited to cavalry… .” (19)

Thus, documentary sources allow us to decisively answer the question of whether or not hussars had lances in 1812. Moreover, the advantage of arming light cavalry with such a weapon was successfully demonstrated during the course of Napoleon’s invasion and the Russian army’s campaigns in Germany and France in 1813-1814.

Later lances were withdrawn from hussars and only in 1856 were they reintroduced as a weapon of front rank hussars along with saber and pistol (20), consequent to being recognized as the superior armament for all cavalry. Since that time hussars were never separated from their lances and used them to effect both in the Russo-Turkish War of 1877-1878 and the First World War of 1914-1918.


(1) A. V. Viskovatov, Istoricheskoe opisanie odezhdy i vooruzheniya rossiiskikh voisk s risunkami, sostavlennoe po vysochaishemu poveleniyu. 2nd edition, Volume 11. St. Petersburg, 1900. Pgs. 47, 57; G.S. Gabaev, Rospis’ russkim polkam 1812 goda. Kiev, 1912. Pgs. 79-80.
(2) Denis Davydov, Voennye zapiski. Moscow, Khudozhestvennaya literature, 1940. Page 230.
(3) TsGVIA, f. 1, op. 1, t. 46, d. 1128, l. 34.
(4) All dates are old style.
(4) TsGVIA, f. 1, op. 1, t. 46, d. 1128, ll. 5-6.
(6) Pennants [flyugery] were small flags on lances.
(7) As distinct from lancers, whose lance shafts were painted red.
(8) A leather strap was attached to the midpoint of the lance, through which the rider could put his arm. A stirrup bucket [bushmat] was a leather end piece fixed to the right side of the stirrup, During the march the lance’s lower end was placed in it.
(9) The reference is to the War Minisry’s Commissariat Department which was in charge of funds and material supplies.
(10) At this time hussar regiments consisted of 10 squadrons, so each squadron was to receive 64 lances. It is apparent that in the determination of the number of lances and the painting of shafts guidance was taken from the organizational table for the Guards lancers, which authorized 640 lances (Polnoe sobranie zakonov Rossiiskoi imperii. 1st Collection, T. 43, Pt. 2, No. 24027. St. Petersburg, 1830.
(11) TsGVIA, f. 25, op., 1/160, sv. 216, d. 1, l. 16; first time published.
(12) I. D. Burskii, Istoriya 8-go gusarskogo Lubenskogo polka. Odessa, 1912. Pgs. 74-75, 99.
(13) TsGVIA, f. 103, op. 209 g., sv. 36, d. 21, l. 161.
(14) TsGVIA, f. 103, op. 209 v, sv. 6, d. 1, l. 2; first time published.
(15) Pelisses [mentii, mentiki] were jackets trimmed with fur and covered with braid and three rows of buttons. From April through September they were worn thrown back over the left shoulder, and in the remaining colder times, they were worn with arms in sleeves.
(16) TsGVIA, f. 103, op. 209 g, sv. 39, d. 127, l. 7; first time published.
(17) M. I. Bogdanovich, Istoriya Otechestvennoi voiny 1812 goda po dostovernym istochnikam. T. 2, Moscow, 1859. Page 191.
(18) Pokhod russkoi armii protiv Napoleona v 1813 godu i osvobozhdenie Germanii: Sbornik dokumentov. Moscow, Nauka, 1964. Page 182.
(19) M. I. Bogdanovich, Istoriya voiny 1813 goda za nezavisimost’ Germanii. T. 2, St. Petersburg, 1863. Page 417.
(20) Orders of the minister of war, 1856, No. 43.

*    *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *

Translation by Mark Conrad, 2011.