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Anti-Cavalry

In some games, there are horseback units. Given their speed, it can be a hassle or worse to deal with them. Thankfully, there are weapons to deal with them, both rider and steed. Not one for the horse lovers. Very much a part of Tactical Rock-Paper-Scissors.

One of the things that makes these units so effective is the fact that compared to expensive cavalry units, they are usually dirt cheap. Taking down an expensive unit with one that cost pennies can be very valuable in a fight where every coin counts.

Historically accurate: Most such weapons are based either on polearms (spears, pikes, etc.) or camels. Horses are scared silly of anything resembling a pointy stick, and the longer the pointy stick the scarier it becomes. The fact that spears and pikes are really cheap and relatively easy to train with has historically made them excellent anti-cavalry weapons; indeed, the rediscovery of pike tactics by the Swiss and Dutch in the late Middle Ages is generally considered to be the real death knell for the age of knights (rather than gunpowder as generally assumed). Horses are also reputed to be scared or disoriented by the scent of camels; while this may not be true, reports of horse cavalry collapsing before camel cavalry are fairly consistent across time and place (from the time of Cyrus through to the Arab empires, and in Central Asia as well).

Sub-Trope of Weapon of X Slaying. See also Anti-Air, Anti-Infantry, Anti-Vehicle, and Anti-Armor.

Contrast Invulnerable Horses (although scenes involving such units may still pretty up their tactics by having them exclusively target the riders instead of the horses).


Examples:

Film
  • In Braveheart, when the Scottish army encounters the English infantry, the Scots taunt them into attacking with heavy cavalry. As soon as the English are too close to pull back, the Scots drop their facade and pick up long pikes, which slaughter the horses. The depiction was graphic enough that the ASPCA investigated the footage to see if the horses had actually been hurt (good news, horse lovers; the horses were fine).
  • In Glory, a southern cavalry unit charges through light woods against a Union rifle unit. They may have been counting on the wood to give sufficient cover - if so, it doesn't work. The cavalry is mowed down by the Civil War era single shot riles.
  • Averted in the The Two Towers at the battle of Helm's Deep: The orcs await The Cavalry's charge with raised pikes, but the rising sun (and/or Gandalf) starts shining so brightly that they can't see, and the charge breaks their lines.
    • While Cue the Sun doesn't cause them to break their lines like it does at Helm's Deep, the "pikes" used by the Orcs at Minis Tirith are shown to be pretty much useless against the Rohirrim when they charge. Whether this is just how fast the horses were going or due to the poor quality of the Mordor weaponry (pretty much every orc wore what looked like leather armor and their pikes were a ragged, messily-cobbled-together hedge rather than the long iron professional-looking pikes of the Isengard Uruk-hai) is a matter of debate.

Literature
  • Jerry Pournelle's King David's Spaceship: on the planet Makassar infantry square techniques introduced from offworld are used to protect against barbarian cavalry attacks.
  • In A Song of Ice and Fire, the Clegane brothers are both fond of wielding swords big enough to be used in an anti-cavalry fashion.
  • In the Codex Alera series, the pike formation is a standard Legion fighting technique and proves to be very handy in slowing down charges.
  • In the novel 1632, the tight terico pike formations get quickly slaughtered with a M-60 machine gun from the year 2000.
  • Referred to in The Sleeping Beauty — Siegfried doesn't normally ride, because as soon as he gets attached to a horse (easy to do when you can speak with animals) someone decides that the best way to slow down the big barbarian is to kill his steed.

Video Games
  • Fire Emblem: Long Swords, Zanbatos, Horse Slayers, and Halberds are effective against horseback units.
  • Many unit types in the Age of Empires series, most notably certain infantry such as the pikemen, can deal with cavalry. Age of Empires III gave ranged cavalry significant Anti-Cavalry damage as well.
    • Camels and Heavy Camels (which is a bit of a misnomer, since the camels weren't any heavier, it was the armor of the riders that was) in Age of Empires II were very good at dealing with horsemen as well, and cost slightly less.
    • In Age of Empires III some civilizations will end up using Musketeers as their anti-cavalry, since they don't suffer from the low speed and single-focus role of Pikemen. Some civilizations also have access to Halberdiers, who are just as good against cavalry as Pikemen but since they have a higher base damage and lower anti-cavalry multiplier they're better against other things.
  • Conquered Kingdoms, a game from the DOS era has Lancers and lance-weilding Trolls who can kill cavalry in one hit, without taking any damage in return.
  • Total War - Spearmen perform this function. The square formation in Empire is also used for this purpose.
    • Some units can also put down sharpened sticks.
  • Rise of Nations has three foot unit types: basic infantry, heavy infantry and ranged infantry (turns into basic (ranged, with rifles), heavy (ranged, with anti-tank rifles or rockets), or flamethrower in the modern age and afterwards). Heavy infantry, initially pikemen or similar, are Anti-Cavalry. Later, the same units upgrade to anti-tank infantry as the cavalry upgrades to armor.
  • Civilization started to get into this. In Civilization II, the Pikeman had double defense against mounted units, so that it was even more effective against them than Musketeers were. After the combat system was revamped in Civilization IV and again in Civilization V, Spearmen and Pikemen have an advantage against mounted units (in Civ V, it's a 100% bonus).
  • Battle for Wesnoth: No matter their other defenses, units on horseback are extra-vulnerable to piercing attacks like spears, pikes, and arrows. Made worse by the fact that some of these units can only make charge attacks on the offensive (for double damage infliced but also received) and some spear-carriers get the "first strike" ability, allowing them to potentially get one good stab in even before getting hit by said charge.
  • Despite the aversions in the films, this is played very straight in The Battle for Middle-Earth and is one of the few things that prevent massed Rohirrim charges from sweeping the field of enemy infantry. You can maneuver around the pikemen to attack, but they can also turn to keep the pikes towards your main force. The best case of (heavily upgraded) Rohirrim vs. pikemen head-on still leads to your charge being brought almost to a standstill, while the worst case is a lot of dead men and horses. But that's what mounted archers are for!

Web Original

Real Life
  • The Zanbato's intended purpose was to kill both horse and its rider, as well as the Zhanmadao, which the former is based on.
  • The Japanese Nodachi
  • Infantry Squares. Their ancestors, the pike and various shield wall formations (the most famous being the Greek phalanx) were more anti everything up front. Though pikes are better optimized for stopping cavalry then the shield formation, which has its advantages against missile weapons. note 
    • Could be averted when the cavalry forces had lances and effective projectile weapons (e. g. composite bows) of its own, as e. g. the Romans found out against the Parthians at Carrhae.
    • Squares also could get into trouble because of their lower mobility, especially after the introduction of horse artillery to accompany the cavalry, since the square's close formation made it an ideal target for cannonballs and especially canister/grapeshot. This could give cavalry the option to play a waiting game, forcing the infantry into a square, then have the artillery punch a hole in it and then charging home and cutting them to pieces.
      • In the Battle of Salamanca, in the Peninsular War, this was turned up to eleven: British infantry came over to ridge to engage the French, who deployed in line to receive the expected bayonet charge. Then, suddenly, the British heavy cavalry appeared before them, and the hurried to form square. The cavalry withdrew, the infantry advanced, and the French once more deployed in line, but not before taking quite some damage from the British volleys without being able to respond. Then, when the French were in line again, the cavalry charged and routed the French. Repeat three or four times all over the French left flank, and one realises why it was said that Wellington "defeated an army of 40,000 men in 40 minutes".
    • In the days before percussion locks, heavy rain could make it harder or impossible to fire muskets, making squares vulnerable to lance-armed cavalry, as happened e. g. at the battle of Dresden in 1813. There were also instances where a dying horse crashed into a square, creating a gap that was then exploited by the cavalry to break the square.
  • In the Battle of the Golden Spurs (1302), the Flemish forces managed to thoroughly trounce and demoralize the French cavalry thanks to several tactical advantages:
    • The Flemish were positioned just behind ditches that couldn't be easily cleared by the cavalry forces, causing the cavalry to lose the advantage of open terrain;
    • The Flemish forces used a combination of pikes to block the horses and a relatively new weapon, the goedendag, to kill horses and rider;
    • The Flemish didn't care for feudal code of chivalry and killed the cavalry forces (most of them were noblemen) instead of taking them hostage.
  • By the 18th century, it was considered nigh-suicidal for a Cavalry unit to attempt to attack an infantry formation in any frontal fashion. For one thing, a whole bunch of guys on horses is hard to be sneaky about unless they attack from cover, and well-drilled soldiers could fire their muskets as many as three times a minute, and assuming that the cavalrymen made it through that barrage intact, they would still have to deal with the bayonets. Cavalry formations eventually evolved into dragoons, who would ride to a flanking position before dismounting and engaging the enemy on foot. Eventually they traded their horses for armoured vehicles or in some cases helicopters.
    • A bayonet is a very long knife that you stick onto the end of a musket or a rifle to turn it into an improvised spear, and these could do considerable damage if you tried to force your way through a formation of them. Instead, cavalry units preferred to try and attack the flanks or the rears of formations when possible, or else pursue retreating enemies who had broken formation.
    • The superiority of infantry armed with muskets and bayonet over unsupported infantry was shown beyond all doubts in Napoleon Bonaparte's campaign in Egypt. The local Ottoman forces relied heavily on the Mamluks, specialized in heavy cavalry, and every time the Mamluks (either supported or unsupported by the barely-trained Ottoman levies) faced the French it ended in such loopsided victories for the invaders that, to this day, the word mammalucco (one of the two ways to say "Mamluk" in Italian) is synonimous with "hopeless moron".
  • At the battles of Crecy and Agincourt during the Hundred Years War, the English forces, mostly commoners with longbows, defeated numerically superior French forces, mostly nobles on horses in armor, by the power of More Dakka and the French trying to charge through a swamp.
    • You forgot the Battle of Poitiers, where the the French did it again. A band of commoners ended the day by capturing the King of France.
    • Longbows were not the Anti-Cavalry component in these battles, but the stakes (aka long pointy sticks) the longbowmen drove into the ground prior to battle. When they did not get time to set up stakes, like at Patay (1429), it inevitably ended with a brutal massacre of longbowmen by heavy cavalry.
  • Swiss mercenaries, armed with pikes and halberds routinely defeated cavalry forces, and if they didn't, they tended to inflict such horrendous casualties that the enemy couldn't capitalize on their victory. Like the Flemings, they also didn't adhere to the guidelines of chivalry and took no prisoners.
  • The Pike and Shot formation was invented expressly to deal with armored knight charges. It was so successful that it killed armored cavalry forever.
    • Not quite, as non-noble armoured cavalry (i. e. cuirassiers) continued to exist until World War I and was used to devastating effect e. g. in the Thirty Years, Seven Years and Napoleonic Wars. The latter actually saw a resurgence of cavalry armour and the reintroduction of backplates in some armies.
  • Behold, the Caltrops, a passive anti-cavalry weapon designed so that no matter how it is dropped, it always lands with at least one sharp point pointing upwards. Unwary calvary and infantry risk severe injury if they step on one.
    • Roman use of the caltrops murdered chariot warfare: after encountering scythed chariots in their wars against the Hellenistic Kingdoms, Roman infantry started throwing caltrops and wait for the horses to step on them and stop in pain, at which point the legionaires would walk over them with (they wore thick-soled sandals that protected them from their caltrops) and calmly slaughter horses and charioteers. At least when they didn't get creative and pulled things like coming so close to the chariots they couldn't build up speed and would bounce on the Roman shield wall...
      • The Romans already had the caltrops ready due the Gauls also using a different kind of chariots, a fast one from which a warrior could lob javelins before closing in to jump on the enemy. While the javelins could be easily countered with the testudo (tortoise) formation (basically a shield wall where those behind the front ranks would place their trademark tower shields overhead to block projectiles), Gaulish warriors could still come in close and personal on their chariots... Hence the caltrops, that stopped these chariots just as well. By Caesar's time, Gaulish chariots had been abandoned, and the only Celtic peoples who still used them were the Bretons, who hadn't meet the Romans yet.
    • In later generations, these same weapons also proved to be useful against modern vehicles. Smaller ones could puncture tires. Larger ones could hinder the progress of tanks or other larger vehicles. They've even been dropped from airplanes. And they are banned from the infantry barracks at Fort Benning, Georgia.
  • Horses being startled by camels has some recorded evidence. When United States border patrol agents near El Paso, Texas tried to supplement their horseback patrols with a squad of camels, the camels so profoundly scared the horses that they were nearly unridable if there was a camel within several hundred yards. The project was scrapped shortly thereafter.
  • In regards to modern cavalry (aircraft, armored vehicles, and the like), specialized missiles and guns are often necessary. Attack aircraft are often very fast and agile, and use the terrain for cover, meaning Anti-Air personnel have a narrow window to engage them, especially if the Anti-Air units are the aircraft's target. Armored vehicles are often designed to be mobile bunkers, and require specialized weapons with either enough firepower to penetrate the heavy armor, or enough precision to Attack Its Weak Spot.


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