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How would centaurs fight British musket infantry squares of the 18th - 19th century (aside from using artillery)?

The centaurs would have the same technology as the British, more or less. Would they simply find squares unbeatable, unless they can bring up artillery to shoot them?

In cases where centaurs find enemy infantry in square, and don't have artillery they can bring up, what could they do to fight a British infantry square?

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    $\begingroup$ The defensive strength of a square is based on the fact that a horse will not charge into a row of bayonets (or pikes or spears for that matter). The muskets were a secondary matter. An armored centaur might not really have qualms against either of those things. $\endgroup$
    – DrMcCleod
    Jan 15 at 9:14
  • $\begingroup$ @DrMcCleod Sort of. There are cases of heavy cavalry repeatedly charging pike blocks, in the past, with the expectation of them breaking. We mostly have records of the cases where this didn't happen, like the Battle of Golden Spurs, possibly because it was surprising. The armour penetration and range of a musket changed things, since you could more readily be taken out during the approach and during cycling back. It could break up your charge if several horsemen fall down in front of you. Most cavalry gave up armour due to artillery, which made it far easier to stop them. $\endgroup$
    – Johnny
    Jan 15 at 14:55
  • $\begingroup$ Given the problem of cavalry tripping over fallen horses (longbows were used to drop horses rather then their riders for that very reason), I wonder if there were any cavalry tactics developed to try and prevent that - offset formations, that sort of thing. $\endgroup$
    – DrMcCleod
    Jan 15 at 15:14
  • $\begingroup$ @DrMcCleod The Winged Hussars had some pretty developed cavalry tactics, with exact distances and so forth. $\endgroup$
    – Johnny
    Jan 15 at 16:10
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The centuar legend is believed to be inspired by the people of the steppe (with the mongolians and huns as prominent examples). The people of the steppe were notorious for the "feigned retreat" where they would engage their enemy and feign flight. This would often lead to the enemy breaking formation in pursuit and promptly being surrounded and shot down by the steppe army.

Another tip from the steppe might be that the centaurs should fight in very loose swarms and attempt to surround the enemy with their superior mobility. If there is no obvious "center mass" the british will find their musket volleys much less effective. Meanwhile, individual centaurs have a very easy target. If most of the centaur shot hit their target, and the vast majority of british shot don't, the centaurs have an advantage. Moreover, the centaurs can charge up, take their shot, and retreat to load up again. The british do not have this option.

So, in summary: never fully engage, keep loose formation, and use managed retreats to their advantage.

The centaurs are very likely, in general, to use similar tactics to steppe peoples due to the incredibly horse-centric culture of the latter. You might be interested in studying their military history.

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  • $\begingroup$ That seems like it could work. Reloading a long rifle or musket should be easier for a centaur than for a cavalry-man. So long as enemy artillery isn't a concern, they could skirmish while threatening the enemy with a cavalry charge if they come out of square. It's true also that Steppe peoples are good inspiration for the centaurs, I have used them as inspiration for that reason, especially the Scythians and Sarmations. $\endgroup$
    – Johnny
    Apr 8 at 6:15
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The centaurs have the advantage of speed and carrying capacity over the human musket square. Tactical options include:

  • Carrying multiple muskets per centaur (close the range, fire all muskets, disengage to reload), enabling them to outgun the musket square on one side
  • Carrying larger, longer-ranged muskets than the infantry square and hammering them from a distance
  • Carrying armor to reduce casualties from the opposing musket square
  • Towing horse artillery (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Horse_artillery), which is specifically lightweight and fast firing enough to break up infantry squares.
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  • $\begingroup$ These are good possibilities. Thanks. $\endgroup$
    – Johnny
    Jan 15 at 4:56
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    $\begingroup$ Whilst I'm not gonna downvote you, your first three suggestions just aren't very useful. The first requires multiple arms, or to be attacking an equal number of humans. The second never works in practise, because humans could do that but didn't because it just wasn't very effective in the real world for various reasons I don't have space to go into here (but I can elaborate if you like). The third became impractical when muskets were first introduced as bigger, more powerful arquebuses... there's just no practical armour that will do the job. $\endgroup$ Feb 9 at 21:18
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Guerilla Warfare.

Centaurs have a significant mobility advantage compared to humans in many situations. The increased mobility can allow them to harass enemies, especially large groups of enemies on the move, by always attacking any weakness. This forces the opponent to keep up their guard at all times, which means the Britons will need to commit more manpower than the centaurs (horsepower?). If the centaurs attack the supply lines, the British will be forced to use armed transport for all of their transports. The transports that are well-guarded need not be attacked - the centaurs mobility means that they get to choose which battles to fight, but the British can't afford to skimp on defense anywhere.

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  • $\begingroup$ While a good answer/point, this seems to address the strategic layer rather than the tactical layer. This also suggests they simply cannot attack squares to the extent where they should not fight in field battles but only take part in guerrilla warfare, which seems a bit of an extreme response. $\endgroup$
    – Johnny
    Jan 15 at 4:28
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The centaurs would have the same technology as the British, more or less. Would they simply find squares unbeatable, unless they can bring up artillery to shoot them?

I wouldn't say unbeatable, but... being a horse with hands just isn't that big of an advantage.

  • Centaurs are big targets. They can be seen from further away, and are easier to hit from further away.
  • Centaurs are vulnerable targets in a way that human cavalry like curassiers and dragoons are not, because those two kinds of soldier can keep on fighting when their horse gets shot out from underneath them.
  • Centaurs are too big and unwieldy to make as good a use of cover as humans, making them potentially more vulnerable to skirmishers and ambush.
  • Centaurs are a logistical nightmare... they're big, and that makes then hard to transport and expensive to feed. They'll often be outnumbered by humans as a result (and indeed, the use of infantry squares against them kinda underlines this).
  • Centaurs may be more readily equipped to bring light artillery to bear than mere humans, but they're also more vulnerable to artillery fire than regular infantry (on account of being big).

In cases where centaurs find enemy infantry in square, and don't have artillery they can bring up, what could they do to fight a British infantry square?

The same thing their cavalry equivalents such as curassiers. They won't outnumber the infantry and they can't charge in to a square ready to receive them; to try and fight in those circumstances would be extremely foolhardy.

Infantry squares are a bit slow and unwieldy and being bogged down they may have been prevented from achieving some other strategic goal, or are now at risk from other incoming forces friendly to the centaurs. If the infantry break up their formation to move more quickly or to bring more guns to bear on other forces, cavalry are well placed to deal a killing blow.

In the absense of support or opportunities to force the square to break formation, the centaurs can simply fall back and live to fight another day.


To respond to a separate comment above,

This also suggests they simply cannot attack squares to the extent where they should not fight in field battles

Cavalry were used, often effectively, against armies that included gun-wielding infantry right up to the first world war.

They were a valuable and useful part of the armies of the time, but they were only a part and needed support of infantry and artillery. Unless your centaurs somehow have the advantage of numbers (which would be surprising; they'd need a fearsome agricultural economy behind them to feed all that horsemeat, and such a thing would be vulnerable...) then they'll need to be part of a combined-arms force, just like their opponents.

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The same way any light cavalry will attack heavy infantry.

By not fighting them, but by circling around, disrupting supply lines, hitting alternate targets, disrupting communications.

When they have to fight, get someone else to do it. Like a nice artillery battery. That will show those silly infantry some pain.

Centaurs are too large to effectively face firearms, cannot afford horse losses the way normal cavalry can(to a limited extent), yet are not large enough to just armor up and charge. Their losses would be ridiculous. Simply put, centaurs make light cavalry, not heavy cavalry. And light cavalry does not go toe-to-toe with heavy infantry, whether spears or muskets.

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