Imperial Army of Austria

Austrian Cavaly During the Napoleonic Wars.

Austrian (Hungarian) hussars.
Picture by Knotel.

The Austrian Cavalry.

On picture: Austrian cuirassiers in parade uniforms.

The Austrian cavalry consisted of cuirassiers, dragoons, chevaulegeres (light dragoons), hussars and uhlans. They were excellent swordsman and horsemen, well-trained and well-mounted and enjoyed great reputation in Europe. For French cavalry officer, de Brack, the were some of "the best European cavalry." Sir Wilson wrote about the Austrian cavalry: "... both cuirassiers and hussars are superb". Anoher British observer described their cuirassiers in 1814 in Paris as "outstanding".
The Austrian cavalry however had also weak points:
- tactical doctrine (seldom operated effectively in multi-regimental formations)
- strength (they were often outnumbered by the French, Russians or Turks)

The most known leaders of were Johannes Furst zu Liechtenstein, Friedrich-Josef Erbprinz von Hessen-Homburg, Karl-Philipp Furst zu Schwartzenberg, and Johann-Nepomuk Graf von Nostitz.

Austrian cavalry in combat:

  • In 1796 (?) at Borghetto, Bonaparte was lunching with generals Massena and Murat when the Austrian light cavalry (hussars ?) surprised them. Bonaparte fled by climbing over a wall and lost his boot in the process. Murat and Massena followed him. This episode resulted in Bonaparte forming his escort, the Guides, who were the ancestors of the legendary horse chasseurs of Imperial Guard.
  • In 1809 at Wagram regiments of French light cavalry under Sahuc discharged their carbines and pistols at 10 paces at Austrian hussars ('Hessen-Homburg' Hussar Regiment) and regiment of chevaulegers. Despite the volley the hussars closed and fought hand to hand. It didn't take long before two French colonels and numerous troopers went down with wounds.
  • The 'Blankenstein' Hussar Regiment took advantage of some screening trees before they launched all out charge into the flank of French cavalry under Jacquinot. At the instant the French were sent packing and it was not before Grouchy's dragoons intervened the pursuit was halted. Hungarian hussars from another regiment reached the position where Massena and his carriage stood. They swarmed around before were shot by Massena's devoted officers.
  • On 14-15th September 1813 at Lipa (Lippa) the Austrian infantry began a gradual withdrawal to a second position. During the withdrawal, the Italian cavalry (French allies) took advantage of this situation and launched an attack. However, half squadron of the Austrian "Radetzky" hussars pushed through the intervals in the withdrawing Austrian infantry and furiously drove back six (?) squadrons of the Italian cavalry (chasseurs-s-cheval) under General Perreimond. (Nafziger and Gioannini - "The Defense of the Napoleonic Kingdom of Northern Italy 1813-1814" pp 52 and 265)
  • On 8th February 1814 at Pozzolo FML Merville urged his cavalry to remain ready for a charge from behind the earthen embarkment when squadron of uhlans (of "Erzherzog Karl" Uhlan Regiment) returned and announced being pursued by the French cavalry. As soon as the French came within sight, GM Wrede's dragoon brigade and "Erzherzog Karl" Uhlan Regiment (4 sq.) were sent forward. In the head of the French force advanced 2 sq. of the 1st Hussar Regiment. The French instead of counter-charging received the Austrians at the standstill. The French hussars were driven back in disorder. Then the Austrian "Savoy" Dragoon Regiment attacked the remaining French cavalry frontally, while the "Hohenlohe" Dragoon Regiment attacked their flank. The French cavalry and supporting them Italian "Queen's" Dragoon Regiment were overthrown. The Austrians captured French horse battery. The disorder of the cavalry spread to the adjacent troops if Eugène de Beauharnais had not deployed 2 battalions into square. The fleeing French and Italian cavalry could rally behind the infantry cover. Finally the Italian "Queen's" dragoons counterattacked and forced the Austrian uhlans back. The French-Italian cavalry brigade was hors de combat and for the rest of the battle, was in no condition to deploy in the front again.
    (Nafziger and Gioannini - "The Defense of the Napoleonic Kingdom of Northern Italy 1813-1814" pp 165-166)
  • In 1805 at Austerlitz "The Hussars, excellent ones of Hessen-Homburg, had many men and horses killed by the French skirmishers, but the enemy did not succeed in making them yield."
    (Source: Amon von Treuenfest - "Geschichte des k.k. 11 Huszaren-Regimentes" p 233)
  • At Austerlitz when two regiments of French dragoons got to within a 100 paces of eight squadrons of 'O'Reilly' chevauxlegers the Austrians unmasked a horse battery and opened fire. The attackers fell back in disorder.
  • The 'Kronprinz Erzherzog' Cuirassier Regiment dashed in a howling charge against the front of 8.000 strong column of French infantry led by MdE Macdonald and protected by artillery ! It was truly incredible sight, a handful of heavy cavalry charging against the immense masses of infantry and tens of cannons.
  • In 1809 at Alt Eglofshein a single Austrian cuirassier regiment charged to within 100 paces, not failing to notice that the French carabiniers and cuirassiers overlapped his line on both flanks. The carabiniers delivered a salvo at 40 paces and attacked from the front while in the same time the French cuirassiers attacked on both flanks.
    Despite being outflanked and heavily outnumbered the Austrian heavies held their ground for some time before falling back. Then the 'Kaiser' Cuirassier Regiment and the 'Stipsich' Hussar Regiment arrived, charged and stabilized the situation.
  • Tactics of Austrian Cavalry

    John Elting wrote: "Austrian cavalry was well mounted and generally good but seldom operated effectively in mass. It seems that with the exception of Liechtenstein and Nostitz the French generals better operated the multiregimental formations. Only in few cases the Austrians used such multiregimental formations. For example in 1809 at Aspern-Essling General Liechtenstein sent nine cavalry regiments against French light cavalry under Lasalle. Four regiments attacked from the front and five attacked Lasalle's flank. The Austrians drove off the French.

    There was lack of precise instructions for multi-regiment formations and large scale exercises. The consequences of this practice of scattering their cavalry in small bodies were very serious. It greatly reduced the combat effectiveness, often single regiments and brigades were defeated by French brigades and divisions.
    One of the reasons for such careful use of cavalry was their relative low numbers. Austria was mountainous country and had low ratio of cavalry to infantry. For example in 1809 the ratio between cavalry and infantry (line infantry, jagers, Grenzers) was only 1 to 7.5 (or sometimes even lower, 1 to 10).
    In comparison France had ratio 1 to 6, while in the flat and open Russia was 1 to 5 (+ masses of Cossacks !) and in Poland (Duchy of Warsaw) was probably the highest, 1 to 4.
    At Wagram the Austrians had 113.830 infantrymen and 15.130 cavalrymen, ratio of 1 to 7.5. In comparison in several battles (especially when Napoleon was present) the French reached a very high ratio of 1 to 3.

    Organization and Strength of Austrian Cavalry

    The Austrian cavalry regiment consisted of 2-4 divisions, each of 2 squadrons. The division and not the squadron was considered as "the main tactical element."

    In March 1809 were:
    8 cuirassier regiments - each of 975 men and 1031 horses in 6 squadrons.
    6 dragoon regiments - each of 975 men and 1031 horses in 6 sq.
    3 uhlan regiments - each of 1.479 men and 1.414 horses in 8 sq.
    6 chevaulegers regiments - each of 1.479 men and 1.414 horses in 8 sq.
    11 hussar regiments - each of 1.481 men and 1.414 horses in 8 sq.
    1 Szekler hussar regiment - of 1.478 men and 1.408 horses in 8 sq.

    In 1812-1813 the cuirassier and dragoon regiment had 4 sq. of 144 men each, while the chevaulegere, uhlan and hussar regiment consisted of 6 sq. of 180 men each
    In 1814 were formed 7th Chevaulegers Regiment and 4th Uhlan Regiment.
    Austria also had one dragoon regiment (of 10 independent "wings") for the guard duties and escort of staffs. They were called Staff Dragoons (Stabs Dragoons) and were formed before campaign by detaching the most reliable men from every dragoon regiment. For this reason they can be considered as being elite troop.

    Chefs and Colonels Who Led the Cavalry Regiments.

    Chef of Regiment - Regimentsinhaber
    Colonel/Commander of Regiment - Regimentskommandant

    Cuirassier Regiments - Chefs and Colonels
    1. Kaiser Franz Joseph - Oberst Franz Graf Desfours
    2. Erzherzog Franz Josef von Este - Oberst Joseph Chevalier de Hennuy
    3. FM Herzog Albert zu Sachsen-Teschen - Oberst Ferdinand Kuttalek von Ehrengreif
    4. Kronprinz Ferdinand - Oberst Paul Frhr. von Taxis
    5. FML (GdK) Hannibal Marquis Sommariva - Oberst Maxmilian Graf Auersperg
    6. FML Moriz Fürst Liechtenstein - Oberst Carl Frhr. von Flachenfeld
    7. GM (GdK) Karl E. Prinz Lothringen - Oberst Ferdinand Prinz Hessen-Homburg
    8. GM (GdK) Friedrich A. Fürst Hohenzollern - Oberst Klemens Frhr. Grosselsberg von Hohenforst

    Uhlan Regiments - Chefs and Colonels
    1. GM (GdK) Maxmilian Graf Merveldt - Oberst Ludwig Frhr. v. Wilgenheim
    2. FML (FM) Karl P. Fürst zu Schwarzenberg - Oberst Karl Schmuttermayer
    3. FM Erzherzog Karl - Oberst Heinrich Graf Hardegg

    Dragoon Regiments - Chefs and Colonels
    1. FM Erzherzog Johann Baptist - Oberst Johann von Stück
    2. König von Bayern - ..............?
    3. FML (GdK) Vincenz Frhr. Knesevich - Oberst Joseph von Haecht
    4. Windisch-Graetz - Oberst Georg v. Hirsch
    5. GL Eugen F. Prinz Savoyen, Graf v. Soissons - Oberst Franz Frhr. von Gabelkoven
    6. FML (GdK) Johann Graf Riesch - Oberst Heinrich Frhr. von Scheither

    Chevauxleger Regiments - Chefs and Colonels
    1. Kaiser Ferdinand - ..............?
    2. Hohenzollern - ..............?
    3. FML (GdK) Vincenz Frhr. Knesevich - ..............?
    4. GdK Karl Frhr. v. Vincent - Oberst Franz Frhr. v. Gallois
    5. FML (GdK) Johann Graf Klenau - Oberst Raban Frhr. von Spiegel
    6. Fitzgerald - ..............?
    7. Nostiz-Rinek - ..............?

    Husar Regiments- Chefs and Colonels
    1. Kaiser Franz - Oberst A. Frhr. v. Szent-György
    2. FM (GdK) Joseph Anton, Ezhr. Palatin von Ungarn - Oberst Geramb Leopold
    3. Erzherzog Ferdinand Carl von Este - Oberst Ferdinand Prinz zu Sachsen-Coburg
    4. FML (GdK) Friedrich Erbprinz zu. Hessen-Homburg - Oberst Gustav Prinz zu Hessen-Homburg
    5. FML Joseph Graf Radetzky v. Radetz - Oberst Ludwig Boros v. Rákos
    6. FML (GdK) Ernst, Gr. Blankenstein - Oberst Vincenz v. Gillert
    7. FML (FM) Johannes Fürst Liechtenstein - Oberst Franz v. Vlasits
    8. FML (GdK) Michael Frhr. v. Kienmayer - Oberst Franz Gr. Bánffy
    9. GM (GdK) Johann Gr. Frimont v. Palota - Oberst Friedrich v. Bretschneider
    10. FML Joseph Frhr. Stipsicz v. Ternova - Oberst Anton Gundaker Gr. Starhemberg
    11. ......................................... ? - Oberst Martin Frhr. v. Rakovsky
    12. Joseph Anton, Erzherzog, Palatin von Ungarn - Oberst Alexander v. Illésy


    Horses were acquired from 3 sources:

  • from Imperial breeding ranches established in Hungary and Bukovina
  • from Germany (for heavy cavalry)
  • from Ukraine and Poland (for light cavalry).
  • The Hungarian horse was used by the Austrian cavalry. It came from Yugoslav town Lipice. This horse was bigger than Arabian and was well known in the Austrian army. The horse enjoyed a great reputation and even Napoleon obtained one Lipizzaner for himself. The French troops plundered much of the brood-stock from Lipizza and Piber.
    The purchased mounts were aged between 4 and 7 years old and 14-15 hands high. In 1807 a 10-years use of the horse was rewarded with three dukats with one more dukat for each year thereafter.

    The horse was branded with Imperial cipher and a number. The cleaning and feeding of horse was often emphasized, in rain the tail was tied up or bound to half of its length. All horse harness was brown in every cavalry regiment. The lambskin on saddle was either white or black, and the big shabraques were red.

    The minimum height of horses in Austrian cavalry:

  • cuirassiers and dragoons - at least 15 hands 1 inch tall
  • hussars, uhlans and chevaulegers - at least 14 hands 1 inch tall.
  • This is what Dave Hollins had to say about horses for the hussars; "The Hussars preferred Hungarian and Transylvanian horses or Polish ponies between 4 and 7 years old, standing 14-15 hands ... usually colored wholly dark bay, brown or black, although each squadron tried to maintain as little variation in color as possible... Each officer on the buying party would carry a horse measure ('Hippometer'), more than 18 Faust' high and a finger-thickness in width."


    Firearms of cavalry:

  • Carbine for hussars M 1798 - 84.5 cm long, 2.45 kg heavy
  • Carbine for dragoons M 1798 - 123.5 cm long, 3.25 kg heavy
  • Rifle for cavalry M 1798 - 71 cm long, 2.65 kg heavy
  • The big cuirassier carried 2 pistols and straight broadsword. The British heavy cavalry sword was entirely modeled on this weapon. The Austrian cuirassier was protected with amor (front-plate only). Each squadron of cuirassiers had 8 men armed with rifles and 8 with carbines.

    The dragoon was armed with carbine and straight and heavy pallash. Each squadron of dragoons had 16 men armed with rifles.

    The uhlan carried 2 pistols, curved saber and a lance. Each squadron of uhlans had 8 men armed with rifles and 8 with carbines. In uhlan regiment of 4 divisions, the central 2 divisions were armed with lances, the 2 flank divisions with carbines.

    The chevauleger (lighthorseman) carried a carbine and saber (until 1802 heavy pallash). From 1804 all caried the longer carbines. Each squadron of chevaulegers had 16 men armed with rifles.

    The hussar carried 1803-pattern saber (84 cm long blade), with iron scabbard. The hussar carbine was 1798-pattern weapon, 85 cm long and weighing 2.45 kg with disproportionately large butt. The short ramrod was carried on the cartridge box crossbelt and was also used for the pistol. The 1815-pattern hussar carbine had an even shorter barrel (75.7 cm). Six sharpshooters per squadron were designated to be issued with rifles. The rifle was heavy (4.4 kg) and was replaced by the shorter 1789-pattern modelled on a Prussian design.

    Uniforms of Austrian Cavalry.

    Uniforms of hussars:
    The 1798 regulation allowed the hussars wore grey overalls with buttons for use on campaign. They were stiffened with leather on the sabre side. The standard long boots were cut in the national style with strong, durable decoration on top. The 1811 pattern reintroduced the yellow/black edging, which was twisted to form a simple rosette at the top front. The overalls were without red stripes.
    For service in the field the plume was replaced by a pompon and pelisse was usually worn over the dolman. The greatcoat was strapped across the pommel. The lambskin over the saddle was generally black.
    Kaiser . . . . . . . . . . . . - black shako and dark blue dolman/pelisse
    Erzherzog Josef . . . - red shako and light blue dolman/pelisse
    Ferdinand d'Este . - grey shako and dark blue dolman/pelisse
    Hessen-Homburg . - light blue shako and green dolman/pelisse
    Ott . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . - red shako and green (or dark blue) dolman/pelisse
    Blankenstein . . . . . - black shako and light blue dolman/pelisse
    Liechtenstein . . . . . - green shako and light blue dolman/pelisse
    Kienmayer . . . . . . . - black shako and green dolman/pelisse
    Frimont . . . . . . . . . . - black shako and green (or dark blue) dolman/pelisse
    Stipsich . . . . . . . . . . - green shako and light blue dolman/pelisse
    Szekler (Grenzer) . - black shako and dark blue dolman/pelisse
    Palatinat . . . . . . . . . - black shako and grey dolman/pelisse

    Uniforms of uhlans:
    The jacket was green with red lapels for all regiments. The pennons on lances were black over yellow. All wore green trousers with red stipes and strengthened with black leather on the bottom. On campaign they wore grey overalls. There is some confusionover the color of lambskin on saddle. One version tells that it was white for parade and black for campaign and other version tells that until 1803 the lambskin was white then replaced by black one. The comb on helmet was heightened in 1805 but on campaign the crest was removed.
    1. Merveldt . . . . . . . . . . . . - yellow czapka (tall, top-square headwear)
    2. Schwarzenberg . . . . . . - green czapka
    3. Erzherzog Karl . . . . . . - red czapka
    4. Kaiser . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . - white czapka

    Uniforms of cuirassiers:
    The cuirassiers wore white coats and breeches. During campaign they wore grey overalls over or instead of the tight elegant breeches. The boots were below knee. From about 1805 the comb on the black leather helmet of cuirassiers was heightened, with a brass strip up the front for other ranks; the front-plates now bore the cypher 'F.I.' Men's hair had been cut short, with sideburns extending no lower than the bottom of the ear. Moustaches were obligatory for the privates but officers had to be clean shaven.

    Uniforms of chevaulegers and dragoons:
    Until 1792 the dragoon reegiments had 2 squadrons of chevaulegers and 6 squadrons of dragoons each. In 1799-1801 there were no longer dragoons and chevaulegers but all were light dragoons. Then was another change and were formed 6 regiments of dragoons and 6 of chevaulegers.
    Theoretically the dragoons wore white and chevaulegers wore green jackets, but due to frequent changes, lack of money and shortage of uniforms there was some confusion in uniformology. The lambskin was white until 1803 then was changed to black. In 1805 the comb on helmet was heightenet but on campaign the crest was removed.
    In 1811 :
    - white jackets were worn in 3rd, 5th and 6th Chevaulegers Regiment
    - green jacket in 1st, 2nd and 4th Chevaulegers Regiment
    - the 7th was formed in 1814 and wore green jackets in 1815.


    The Austrian army was multi-national, one could find not only Austrians but also Swedes, Englishmen, Scots, Irishmen, Poles, Russians, Ukrainians, Prussians, Croats, Serbs, and even French royalists.

    The Bussy Horse Jagers were made of French royalists (emigres) in Austrian service. Ironically this unit participated in the defeat of Bonaparte's grenadiers of Consular Guard at Marengo, 1800.

    The hussars were almost all Hungarians (the 11th was made of Transylvanians).
    The uhlans were mainly Poles and Ukrainians from Galicia.
    The dragoons in 3rd, 4th, 5th and 6th Regiment were Moravians (Czechs), in 1st and 2nd Dragoon Regiment were Austrians.
    The chevaulegers in 2nd, 4th, 5th, 6th Regiment were Bohemians (Czechs), while in 3rd were Poles from Galicia, in 7th were Italians, in 1st Regiment served Austrians.
    The cuirassiers in 1st Kaiser, 2nd, 3rd, 6th, 7th and 8th Regiment were Bohemians and Moravians (Czechs), while in 4th and 5th were Austrians.

    The Hungarian Hussars !

    "The name 'Hussar' derives oroginally from Latin cursarius, meaning raider, and originally referred to marauders in the northern Balkans. However, it was adopted by the Magyar people of Hungary as the name for irregular light cavalry... The oldest regular regiment [9th Nadasdy] was formed in 1688 and by 1756, with the formation of the Kaiser Hussars and regularisation of a Jagzyier-Kumanier unit in that year as the Seven Years war (1756-1763) began, there were 12 regiments... The wild irregulars of the early 1700s were steadily regularised into army units... While maintaining their reputation for swift movement and unexpected appearances, they became more effective on the battlefield. Six regiments massed for a decisive charge during the first defeat inflicted ob Frederick the Great at Kolin ... Four months later in October, Andreas Hadik raided and ransomed Berlin... He then sat on Frederick the Great's throne ..." (Hollins - "Hungarian Hussar 1756-1815" pp 4-5, 57)

    The Hungarian hussars serving in the Austrian army had reputation of being excellent horsemen known for quality of their mounts. They had been familiar figures since XVII Century and had been imitated by other armies. Although the Hungarian hussars were not big guys (their height between 165 and 173.5 cm) they were known for dash in combat. They became so known in Europe that their outfit became popular across Europe, including France, Russia, England and Spain.

    All recruitment of hussars was on volunteer basis but "selection was to be strict so that the recruits taken were useable and under no circumstances were they to include dishonorable professions [hangmen and horse butchers], notorious people, gypsies ... The recruits were not to be less than 18 nor more than 30 years old (grey hair was considered an automatic bar) and preferably over 5 Fus 4 Zoll (1.68 m) tall... Western volunteers, especially better-educated southern Germans, were welcomed, including the famous Constantin von Ettingshausen, who had taken a boat trip down the Danube River from his home in near Mainz and presented himself in Vienna to join the 1st Hussars as a Gemeiner." (Hollins - "Hungarian Hussar 1756-1815" pp 8, 10)

    The outposts, patrols and pickets were a key role for the light cavalry during war. Any hussar found asleep or drunk on such duty was subject to execution. The hussars raided the countryside and even towns were no problem for these dare-devils ! "... during Bonaparte's advance across Italy in 1796, 30 men from the 8th Hussars launched a surprised raid on the French-held city of Brescia on 30 June and quickly chased the guards from the walls. The gates were opened and the rest of the squadron swept in, reaching the town drill square, where the garrison troops were scattered and many taken prisoner. The 1st Hussars adopted a typically resorceful approach when facing the barricaded gates of Bamberg in August 1796. Ordered by the senior command to break it, they simply ripped the hinges from the wall and the gates fell in." (Hollins - "Hungarian Hussar 1756-1815" p 26)

    In 1789 the Kaiser of Austria introduced the Gold and Silver bravery medals for army-wide recognition. Below is the number of these medals awarded to the hussar regiments during the following campaigns; 1805, 1809 and 1812-1815
    1st 'Kaiser' Hussar Regiment - 10 Gold and 63 Silver (total 73)
    2nd Hussar Regiment - 4 Gold and 36 Silver (total 40)
    3rd Hussar Regiment - 17 Gold and 36 Silver (total 53)
    4th Hussar Regiment - 9 Gold and 61 Silver (total 70)
    5th Hussar Regiment - 19 Gold and 63 Silver (total 82)
    6th Hussar Regiment - 14 Gold and 47 Silver (total 61)
    7th Hussar Regiment - 7 Gold and 42 Silver (total 49)
    8th Hussar Regiment - 7 Gold and 29 Silver (total 36)
    9th Hussar Regiment - 7 Gold and 34 Silver (total 41)
    10th Hussar Regiment - 1 Gold and 10 Silver (total 11)
    11th Hussar Regiment - 1 Gold and 16 Silver (total 17)
    12th Hussar Regiment - 7 Gold and 41 Silver (total 48)

    After 30 years of distinguished service, individual soldiers were granted nobility as a Freiherr.

    Sources and Links.

    Bowden, Tarbox - "Armies on the Danube 1809" 1981
    Duffy - "The Army of Maria Theresa" 1977
    Hollins - "Hungarian Hussar 1756-1815"
    Maude - "The Ulm Campaign 1805"
    Arnold - "Napoleon Conquers Austria"
    Regele - "Feldmarshall Radetzky. Leben, Leistung, Erbe." 1957
    Rothenberg - "Napoleon's Great Adversaries: The Archduke Charles."