1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Lance

LANCE, a form of spear used by cavalry (see Spear). The use of the lance, dying away on the decay of chivalry and the introduction of pistol-armed cavalry, was revived by the Polish and Cossack cavalry who fought against Charles XII. and Frederick the Great. It was not until Napoleon’s time, however, that lancer regiments appeared in any great numbers on European battlefields. The effective use of the weapon—long before called by Montecucculi the “queen of weapons”—by Napoleon’s lancers at Waterloo led to its introduction into the British service, and except for a short period after the South African War, in which it was condemned as an anachronism, it has shared, or rather contested, with the sword the premier place amongst cavalry arms. In Great Britain and other countries lances are carried by the front rank of cavalry, except light cavalry, regiments, as well as by lancer regiments. In Germany, since 1889, the whole of the cavalry has been armed with the lance. In Russia, on the other hand, line cavalry being, until recently, considered as a sort of mounted infantry or dragoons, the lance was restricted to the Cossacks, and in Austria it enjoys less favour than in Germany. Altogether there are few questions of armament or military detail more freely disputed, in the present day as in the past, than this of sword versus lance.

The lances used in the British service are of two kinds, those with ash and those with bamboo staves. The latter are much preferred and are generally used, the “male” bamboo being peculiarly tough and elastic. The lance is provided with a sling, through which the trooper passes his right arm when the lance is carried slung, the point of the steel shoe fitting into a bucket attached to the right stirrup. A small “dee” loop is also provided, by which the lance can be attached to the saddle when the trooper dismounts. The small flag is removed on service. The head is of the best steel. The Germans, doubtless owing to difficulty in obtaining bamboos, or ash in large quantity straight enough in the grain over a considerable length, for lance staves, have adopted a stave of steel tubing as well as one of pine (figs. 2, 3 and 4).

EB1911 - Types of British and German Lances.jpg
Types of British and German Lances.

Fig. 1 is the British bamboo lance;
figs. 2 and 3 the German steel tubular
lance, and fig. 4 the German pine-wood
lance. The full length of the German
lance is 11 ft. 9 in., that of the Cossacks
9 ft. 10 in., that of the Austrian lancers
8 ft. 8 in., and the French lance 11 ft.
The British lance is 9 ft. long. The weight
of a lance varies but slightly. The steel-
staved lance weighs 4 ℔, the bamboo 41/2.

As to the question of the relative efficiency of the lance and the sword as the principal arm for cavalry, it is alleged that the former is heavy and fatiguing to carry, conspicuous, and much in the way when reconnoitring in close country, working through woods and the like; that, when unslung ready for the charge, it is awkward to handle, and may be positively dangerous if a horse becomes restive and the rider has to use both hands on the reins; that unless the thrust be delivered at full speed, it is easily parried; and, lastly, that in the mêlée, when the trooper has not room to use his lance, he will be helpless until he either throws it away or slings it, and can draw his sword. While admitting the last-mentioned objection, those who favour the lance contend that success in the first shock of contact is all-important, and that this success the lancer will certainly obtain, owing to his long reach enabling him to deliver a blow before the swordsman can retaliate, while, when the mêlée commences, the rear rank will come to the assistance of the front rank. Further, it is claimed that the power of delivering the first blow gives confidence to the young soldier; that the appearance of a lancer regiment, preceded as it were by a hedge of steel, has an immense moral effect; that in single combat a lancer, with room to turn, can always defeat an opponent armed with a sword; and, lastly, that in pursuit a lancer is terrible to an enemy, whether the latter be mounted or on foot. As in the case of the perennial argument whether a sword should be designed mainly for cutting or thrusting, it is unlikely that the dispute as to the merits of the lance over the sword will ever be definitely settled, since so many other factors—horsemanship, the training of the horse, the skill and courage of the adversary—determine the trooper’s success quite as much as the weapon he happens to wield. The following passage from Cavalry: its History and Tactics (London, 1853), by Captain Nolan, explains how the lance gained popularity in Austria:—“In the last Hungarian war (1848–49) the Hungarian Hussars were ... generally successful against the Austrian heavy cavalry—cuirassiers and dragoons; but when they met the Polish Lancers, the finest regiments of light horse in the Austrian service, distinguished for their discipline, good riding, and, above all, for their esprit de corps and gallantry in action, against those the Hungarians were not successful, and at once attributed this to the lances of their opponents. The Austrians then extolled the lance above the sword, and armed all their light cavalry regiments with it.”

The lancer regiments in the British service are the 5th, the 9th, the 12th, the 16th, the 17th and the 21st. All these were converted at different dates from hussars and light dragoons, the last-named in 1896. The typical lancer uniform is a light-fitting short-skirted tunic with a double-breasted front, called the plastron, of a different colour, a girdle, and a flat-topped lancer “cap,” adapted from the Polish czapka (see Uniforms: Naval and Military). The British lancers, with the exception of the 16th, who wear scarlet with blue facings, are clad in blue, the 5th, 9th and 12th having scarlet facings and green, black and red plumes respectively, the 17th (famous as the “death or glory boys” and wearing a skull and crossbones badge) white facings and white plume, and the 21st light-blue facings and plume.