Napoleonic Cavalry

I have always combined my wargaming with straight historical research.  One aspect of this is that I own copies of most contemporary tactical regulations of the Napoleonic era.  My British ones are mostly original, including my leather-bound British “Instructions and Regulations for the Formations and Movements of the Cavalry 1796”, which cost me £125.  I have modern reprints, photocopies or electronic copies of most French, Prussian, Austrian and Russian regulations, plus a few of other nations.

As a result of this, I have some strong views about Napoleonic cavalry.  It is clear that they operated tactically by Squadrons, not by Regiments.  It is also clear that gaps were left between squadrons (British Regulations specified one third of a squadron gap).  It is obvious when you think about it.  A typical cavalry regiment might number 400 or more men, arranged in two ranks, and it is simple impossible to manoevre 200 horses in a single formation.  In fact most battlefield manoevre was done by quarter squadrons (perhaps a 15 horse frontage), and if you want to see what that looks like, then the Household Cavalry at the annual Trooping the Colour in London operate as four quarter squadrons.

Most nations maintained their squadrons at a field strength of 120-140 cavalrymen, and if numbers fell below this they would reduce the number of squadrons, to maintain such a strength.  The British sent their cavalry to the Peninsula as four squadrons per regiment, but reduced them all to three in October 1811.  Similarly it is possible to track the reductions in the number of squadrons per French regiment in the Peninsula through Oman, and in the Leipzig Campaign from George Nafziger’s trilogogy.  There is a paper about this in the Military Historical Research section.

Squadrons could operate with ones of other regiments.  Tomkinson (16 LD) describes several occasions when one Squadron of his Regiment, and one of KGL Hussars, operated together ahead of the remainder of their Cavalry Brigade.

My conclusion is that wargame cavalry should be organised at an average Squadron strength and that wargame rules should require them to operate as semi-autonomous squadrons.  Some wargamers would say this makes cavalry too fragile, but they were.  Infantry could stand in firefights for long periods, as they did at Albuera, but cavalry needed to retire and reform after every charge.

Almost all of my Napoleonic cavalry is therefore organised as four figure squadrons (representing 120 real men), but with varying number of squadrons per regiment.

The frontage which I used for my cavalry is based on each cavalryman occupying 40 inches (one metre), which is what French regulations specified.  British regulations defined it as a 6 inch gap from boot to boot, but I think that amounts to the same thing.  A single figure therefore represents 30 cavalrymen in two ranks of 15, so occupying 600 inches or 50 feet.  Since my ground scale is 1mm = 2 feet then all of my wargame cavalry are based at 25mm per figure.

I started with depths of 40mm per figure, but realised that I could reduce this to 30mm, so that the figures took up less space in column.

Cavalry Tactical Formations

As explained above, cavalry operated by squadrons and although successive squadrons from the same regiment, or other regiments in their brigade, might attack in columns, as the French Cavalry did in their massed attacks at Waterloo, this was really as a series of separate waves, each of a squadron in line.

This shows typical formations used by Cavalry Regiments, or groups of squadrons from different Regiments.   All of the Squadrons are in Line.  The diagram showing two squadrons in front and one in reserve could be reversed when advancing to contact (when you are not sure where the enemy is).  In the Peninsula one British Cavalry Brigade frequently advanced with one Squadron from each of its Regiments in front, whilst the other four squadrons, two from each Regiment, were in reserve.


In the diagram below the cavalry symbol represents a squadron.



The basic organisation of most Napoleonic cavalry squadrons was similar.  The British and French both formed their squadrons by pairing up Troops (which the French called companies),  The complete squadron was then sub-divided into four equal quarters, which the British (confusingly) called divisions, and the French called peletons.  Much battlefield movement was in Columns of Half-squadrons (Troops/Companies) or Columns of Quarter-squadrons (Divisions/Peletons).  Squadrons had drills to form columns by “fours” or sometimes “threes”, but these were normally used for non-tactical Columns of Route.

Cavalry column formations within the squadron were normally only used for movement, although very large squadrons often operated as two half-squadrons.


In the diagram below the cavalry symbol represents a quarter-squadron.



Cavalry squadrons usually operated at full distance, because it meant that they could simply wheel into line, and their greater speed in doing so did not cause them the problems which infantry faced.   Infantry avoided full distance columns on the battlefield since they could not form square quickly from them, but that was not an issue for cavalry.

So this is what a typical Napoleonic wargame squadron looks like in line, and full distance Column of Half-squadrons.  They are 12th Light Dragoons, converted from Airfix French Napoleonic Cuirassiers.  I crop the tails on all of my British horses.


The Column of Half-squadrons can simply wheel to the left to be line.  It is not posible to portray a Column of Quarter-squadrons at this 1:30 figure ratio, since they would be in a single column of figures and, even with my reduced base depth of 30mm, would not only be touching one another, but would still be rather deeper than the line width.

I believe that Squadrons on the wargames table should normally be portrayed as in line (that is each Squadron, not the entire Regiment) and, very occasionally, can be portrayed as in a Column of Half-squadrons.

British Cavalry

Most of my British Cavalry is organised for the Waterloo Campaign, during which most had three squadrons per regiment.  The exceptions were the Household Cavalry regiments, which had only two (due to leaving some troops behind for palace guards and ceremonial duties), and a few regiments who had four squadrons (King’s Dragoon Guards, who always had one more squadron than other British Cavalry, and King’s German Legion Cavalry).

If my conversions seem a bit illogical, it is because those were the most suitable figures when I made them, mostly many years ago, when there was nothing else available.



I have three Household Cavalry Regiments (two squadrons each), like the Royal Horse Guards (Blues) shown here.  They, and the Life Guards (not shown) are converted from Esci Scots Greys, with the bearskins changed to helmets by plastic welding.



The King’s Dragoons Guards have four squadrons (they always had an extra squadron compared to most of the rest of the British Cavalry).  They are converted from Revell British Life Guards, with the helmet plume changed by plastic welding.



The 2nd Dragoons (Scots Greys) are some of my earliest British cavalry. The only cavalry figures available at that time were Airfix French Cuirassiers and Airfix British Hussars.   I therefore made them from the top half of Airfix AWI British Grenadiers, with legs from Airfix British Hussars, on Airfix French Cuirassier horses.  I used the body of those Hussars as conversions for foot figures of my French Imperial Guard Horse Artillery.


My British 1st (Royal) Dragoons, shown here,  and 6th (Inniskilling) Dragoons were both made from a relatively simple conversion of Airfix French Cuirassiers (just a bit of smoothing out of the cuirass with my miniature welding iron).  I added carbines to all of my British Cavalry (apart from the Household Cavlry who only have one figure with a carbine per squadron).



I have four regiments of British Hussars (each 3 squadrons), plus the 1st Hussars KGL (four squadrons).  They are all Airfix and mostly unconverted, apart from adding carbines.  The 15th Hussars, shown here, have had their busbies welded into shakos.



My four regiments of British Light Dragoons, like the 16th LD shown below, are converted from Airfix French Cuitrassiers.


Cavalry Staff Corps.JPG


I also have two Squadrons (8 figures) of Cavalry Staff Corps, converted from Airfix French Cuirassiers.

British Allies



My Brunswick Cavalry are an exception to my four figure per squadron norm, since they had very large squadrons.  My Brunswick Hussars therefore have 4 sqns of 6 figures (Airfix Hussars) and their attached Uhlan (lancer) Squadron is also 6 figures (Esci/Italeri Polish Lancers).  Because they are so large, I have treated them as a Brigade, with their own commander.


I have one Brigade of Dutch-Belgian Cavalry (Van Merlen’s), shown below.  The 5th (Belgian) Chasseurs have a conventional 3 squadrons of 4 figures (Airfix French Cuirassiers conversion).  The 6th (Dutch) Hussars have 4 squadrons of 5 figures, although could alternatively operate as 5 squadrons of 4 figures (converted British Airfix Hussars).




I have two Brigades (total four Regiments) of Portuguese Dragoons, all with just two squadrons of 4 figures.  Three of these Regiments are converted from Hät Russian Dragoons.  The fourth, in shakos, is converted from Italeri British Light Dragoons.




I also have a Squadron of Portuguese Guides (shown here), and a Troop (2 figures) of Loyal Lusitanian Legion Cavalry, all converted from Airfix British RHA figures.  The former on Airfix French Cuirassiers horses and the latter on Airfix British Infantry Officer’s horses.


I have two Brigades of Spanish Cavalry (those that were at Albuera).  All of the squadrons have 4 figures.  One of the Brigades has two regiments of 3 squadrons, one of 2 squadrons and one of a single squadron.  The other Brigade has 7 Regiments all of only a single squadron each.  Most of the Spanish cavalry are converted from Hät Prussian 1806 Dragoons, apart from the Husares de Castilla converted from Hät Prussian 1806 Hussars,  Husares de Extemadura converted from Airfix British Hussars and Cazadores de Sevilla converted from Italeri British Light Dragoons.  Four Squadrons are shown below, all single squadrons from different Regiments.


French Cavalry

These were originally based on a Waterloo  orbat, but I now have some Peninsular units.

One of the earlier formations was Pirie’s Light Cavalry Division at Waterloo, two Regiments of Chasseurs a Cheval and two of Lanciers, all organised as 3 squadrons of 4 figures and all converted from Airfix French Cuirassiers.

I also have Kellermann’s 3rd Cavalry Corps, comprising four Regiments of Cuirassiers, two Regiments of Carabiniers and two Regiments of Dragoons, all converted from Airfix French Cuirassiers.  The Carabinier Brigade is shown below.  Both Regiments (1st Carabiniers in front line and 2nd Carabiniers in second line) are shown as 4 squadrons of 3 figures each, as the French often preferred to have more, but smaller, squadrons than the British.  Since most of my French Regiments are 12 figures they can be organised as 4 squadrons of 3, or 3 squadrons of 4.


I have the complete French Imperial Guard Cavalry.  My Grenadiers a Cheval (shown below) have 4 squadrons of 6 figures (converted from Esci French Cuirassiers, with heads from Airfix French Imperial Guard).


They have an attached company (3 figures) of Gendarmes d’Elite (not shown), converted from Airfix AWI British Grenadiers, with legs from Airfix British Hussars.  My Empress Dragoons are 4 squadrons of 6 figures, converted from Esci French Cuirassiers.



My Chasseurs a Cheval of the Guard are Airfix British Hussars and have 4 squadron of 6 figures each.  They also have an attached squadron of 6 Mamalukes (shown here) converted from the Airfix British Officer from their Infantry set).


My Guard Lancers comprise one 6 figure squadron of Polish Lancers and four 6 figure squadrons of Dutch Lancers.




I have subsequently added a number of other units, mainly for the Peninsula.  This includes one more Regiment of Chasseurs a Cheval of 3 squadrons of 4 figures (this time Hät Chasseurs a Cheval) and four Regiments of Dragoons (shown here), some of the Dragoon Regiments are Hät and others Italeri.




I also made four Regiments of French Hussars, three of these of 3 squadrons of 4 figures, and the fourth of only two squadrons.  All are Italeri French Hussars.



 French Allies

These were all made for the Peninsula.  They comprise Lancers de Vistula, 4 squadrons of 4 figures (Italeri Polish Lancers), Hanoverian Chevaux-Leger, 2 squadrons of 4 figures and  the 4th Regiment Chasseurs d’Espagne, from King Joseph’s Spanish Army, 2 squadrons of 4 figures, both of the latter converted from Airfix French Cuirassiers.  The Lancers de Vistula are shown below.


Prussian Cavalry

I currently have three Regiments of Prussian Cavalry.


The 6th Hussars (4 squadrons of 4 figures) are converted from Italeri British Hussars, the 1st West Prussian Uhlan (4 squadrons of 4 figures) from Esci/Italeri Polish Lancers, but heads swapped with Esci French Infantry. and 3rd Silesian Landwehr (4 squadrons of 3 figures) from Esci/Italeri Polish Lancers. All of these regiments also have two volunteer jaeger as skirmishers.

I have the figures for all of the other Prussian Cavalry which actually took part in the Battle of Waterloo.

Austrian Cavalry

I do have all of the cavalry figures to make six regiments for an 1809 Austrian Army, but have not yet started this project.