Anti-Cavalry

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In some games, there are horseback units. Given their speed, it can be a hassle or worse to deal with them, moreso if they are heavily armored. 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 The Great 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. Can lead to Inertial Impalement.

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:

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    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 sharpened stakes, 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.

    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 1632, large tercio formations are quickly slaughtered by a M-60 machine gun.
    • Which are technically not cavalry, being simply large blocks of foot soldiers. However, in the later books, "volley guns" are introduced as groups of barrels which can all fire simultaneously and be reloaded quickly, so they put an amazing amount of projectiles into the air at once, and do it repeatedly over the range of a cavalry charge. They repeatedly break cavalry charges in various battles.
  • 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.

    Tabletop Games 
  • The ability to explicitly set spears and similar weapons against a charge (typically for double damage) in Dungeons & Dragons hails all the way back to its early editions, sometimes treated as a special fighter maneuver, sometimes more as a property of the weapon itself. While many monsters may simply make charge attacks on their own without needing to mount up first, the inspiration is still obvious enough.
  • Bretonnian archers in Warhammer can set up stakes in front of them to prevent cavalry charges. If they panic and run, the stakes go with them.

    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 most 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 and they scale better. 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.
    • In the spinoff Age of Mythology anti-cavalry infantry and cavalry are available to all four civilizations.
  • 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: Total War 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).
    • Interestingly, the Camel Archer and Keshik (the unique Knight replacemets of the Arabs and Mongols, respectively) are not as weak against pikemen as other mounted units, because they're ranged attackers instead of heavy cavalry. Under ideal conditions, they would never have to even get close to the pikemen to effectively attack them.
    • In Civilization IV, Rifleman have a moderate strength bonus vs. cavalry, representing their ability to fix bayonets to counter a charge. (Musketmen lack this bonus.) In Civilization V, they no longer have this bonus; instead, Pikemen can be upgraded to Lancers (cavalry units themselves) which are especially strong against other cavalry units. In much the same way that Cavalry upgrade into Tanks, Lancers upgrade into Anti-Tank Guns.
    • Additionally, in the fourth and fifth games, a unit that gains enough XP in combat can be upgraded with the Formation promotion, making them stronger against mounted units.
  • 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!
  • Mount & Blade makes pikes and other long weapons an infantry-only weapon (meaning that you can't wield them on horseback) that can do rather respectable damage to cavalry when they charge into a mass of pikes. Against light cavalry, this will often unhorse or kill riders. It'll still wound and bog down heavy cavalry, enough for them to get surrounded by weaker infantry and ground down one at a time.

    Web Original 

    Real Life 
  • By the mid-18th century in Europe, 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, which allowed them to use their firearms as spears to fend off charges. This forced cavalry into secondary roles, such as reconnaissance and counter-reconnaissance; horses were increasingly used to also provide extra mobility to infantry, who would ride into battle and dismount to fight on foot. However, that is not to say that cavalry could not perform any combat roles at all: they could try and attack the flanks or the rears of formations when possible, or else pursue retreating enemies who had broken formation.
  • The Zanbato's intended purpose was to kill both horse and its rider, as well as the Zhanmadao, which the former is based on. It's Exactly What It Says on the Tin: Zan (斬) = Slash,note  Banote  (馬) = Horse, To (刀) = Sword.
  • The Japanese Nodachi
  • Infantry Squares, Although this formation dates back to the Roman era, it was successfully employed on 18th and 19th century battlefields as a defensive formation to ward off cavalry. To compensate for the slow reload of flintlock muskets, infantry could form into hollow-centred squares roughly two or more ranks deep, possibly with the front rank kneeling and bracing their weapon on the ground. This formation not only presented attacking enemy cavalry with a bristle of bayonets that would be difficult to overcome, but also prevented cavalry from outflanking them, while additionally allowing the infantry to safely fire and reload their weapons. Infrequently, infantry squares could break, especially if the troops involved were poorly trained or lacking in morale, which would often result in a massive rout.
  • 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.
  • At the battles of Crécy 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 their use of ranged attacks from behind stakes driven into the ground.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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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