Category: Term of the day
Hussar (original Hungarian spelling: huszár, plural huszárok, Polish: Husaria) refers to a number of types of cavalry used throughout Europe since the 15th century. Some modern military units retain the title 'hussar' for reasons of tradition.
Hussar armament varied over time. Until the 1600s it included a cavalry sabre, lance, long wooden shield and, optionally, light metal armour or simple leather vest. Their usual form of attack was to make a rapid charge in compact formation against enemy infantry or cavalry units. If the first attack failed, they would retire to their supporting troops who re-equipped them with fresh lances, and then would charge again.
Polish heavy hussars were much more heavily-armed. Apart from the Polish sabre and the lance, they were usually also equipped with two pistols, a small rounded shield and koncerz, a long (up to 2 metres) yet light sword used in charge when the lance was broken. Also the armour became heavier and with time it was replaced by shield armour.
Unlike their lighter counterparts, the Polish hussars were used as a heavy cavalry for line-breaking charges against enemy infantry. The famous low losses were achieved by a unique tactics of late concentration. Until the first musket salvo of the enemy infantry, the hussars were approaching relatively slowly, in a loose formation. Each rider was at least 5 steps away from his colleagues and the infantry using still undeveloped muskets simply could not aim at any particular cavalryman. Also, if hussar's horse was wounded, the following lines had time to steer clear of him. After the salvo, the cavalry rapidly accelerated and joined up the ranks. At the moment of clash of the charging cavalry with the defenders, the hussars were riding knee-to-knee.
Hussars of the Polish Commonwealth were also famous for the huge 'wings' worn on their backs or attached to the saddles of their horses. There are several theories trying to explain the meaning of the wings. According to some they were designed to foil attacks by Tatar lasso; other theory has it that the sound of vibrating feathers attached to the wings made a strange sound that frightened enemy horses during the charge. However, recent experiments carried over by Polish historians in 2001 did not support any of the theories and the phenomenon remains unexplained. Most probably the wings were worn only during parades and not during combat, but this explanation is also disputed.