Uhlans (in Polish: "Ułan"; "Ulan" in German, from Turkish oğlan ) were Polish light cavalry armed with lances, sabres and pistols. The title was later used by lancer regiments in the Prussian and Austrian armies.
Uhlans typically wore a double-breasted jacket (kurta) with a coloured panel (plastron) at the front, a coloured sash, and a square-topped Polish lancer cap (czapka) also spelt chapka, chapska and schapska. This cap or cavalry helmet was derived from a traditional design of Polish cap, made more formal and stylised for military use.
Their lances usually had small swallow-tailed flags (known as the lance pennon) just below the spearhead.
Other plausible etymologies for 'Uhlan' include "Hulan" from Halani warrior, who overan the Pontic and the great steppe, or 'hulati' or 'galtai', connotated as free or disobedient, or "young man admired by women," but also as 'without money, pure or drinking'. In Historiae Liber XXXI by Ammianus Marcellinus 4th century Roman historian we can find 12 occurrences of string 'Halan*' eg 'Halanos' , 'parte alia prope Amazonum sedes Halani', 'Halanorum regionibus', 'Hunorum et Halanorum'. Underhalani are know to live in northern Sarmatia at least from 6th century. Cavalli-Sforza first found correlation between genetic haplotypes and language, this correlation suggest searching for etymology in languages of genetic markers domination, the other languages helpfully may reflect alive or fossilized form of the words.
Once the Tatar (sometimes also spelled "Tartar") military men had settled in Poland and Lithuania in the late 14th century, the Poles started incorporating much of their military vocabulary and many of their traditions along with their strategy and tactics. This included the formation of light cavalry units. Initially composed mostly of Tartars and Lithuanians, the uhlan units first served as skirmishers during various battles of late Middle Ages. Their tasks were to conduct reconnaissance in advance of the heavier cavalry (knights, later Hussars and Pancerni), and to probe enemy defences.
During and after the Napoleonic Wars cavalry regiments armed with lances were formed in many states throughout Europe, including the armies of the United Kingdom, Italy, Spain, Portugal, Sweden and Russia. While cavalry carrying this weapon were usually specifically designated as lancers or uhlans; in some instances the front rank troopers of hussar or dragoon regiments were also armed with lances.
German Uhlans In 1914 the Imperial German Army included twenty-six Uhlan regiments, three of which were Guard regiments, twenty-one line (sixteen Prussian, two Württemberg and three Saxon) and two from the autonomous Royal Bavarian Army. The senior of these was Ulanen-Regiment Kaiser Alexander III. von Rußland which was first raised in 1745. All German Uhlan regiments wore Polish style czapkas and tunics with plastron fronts, both in coloured parade uniforms and the field grey service dress introduced in 1910. Because German hussar, dragoon and cuirassier regiments also carried lances in 1914 there was a tendency among their French and British opponents to describe all German cavalry as "uhlans".
The lance carried by the uhlans (and after 1889 the entire German cavalry branch) consisted of a 318 cm (ten foot and five inch) long tube made of rolled steel-plate, weighing 1.6 kg (three pound and nine ounces). The lance carried below its head a small pennant in differing colours according to the province or state from which the regiment was recruited. The four edged spear-like point of the shaft was 30 cm (12 inches) in length and made of tempered steel. The butt end of the shaft was also pointed so that (in theory) the lance could be wielded as a double ended weapon.
After seeing mounted action during the early weeks of World War I the Uhlan regiments were either dismounted to serve as "cavalry rifles" in the trenches of the Western Front, or transferred to the Eastern Front where more primitive conditions made it possible for horse cavalry to still play a useful role. All twenty-six German Uhlan regiments were disbanded in 1918 – 1919.
Austrian Uhlans There were eleven regiments of uhlans in the Austro-Hungarian cavalry, largely recruited in the Polish speaking parts of the Empire. They wore czapkas in regimental colours but otherwise were dressed in the light blue tunics and red breeches of the Austro-Hungarian dragoons, without Polish features. Their lances were similar in design to those of the German cavalry but had wooden shafts (of ash).
As with other armies, the Austro-Hungarian Uhlans were forced into a largely dismounted role by the realities of trench warfare by the end of 1914. The blue and red peacetime uniforms were replaced by field grey during 1915. There was however one last opportunity for traditional glory when on 21 August 1914 the uhlans and dragoons of the 4.Kavalleriedivision clashed with their counterparts of the Imperial Russian 10th Cavalry Division in classic cavalry style at the Battle of Jaroslavice.
Russian Uhlans The Russian Imperial Army had converted its seventeen line Uhlan regiments to dragoons in 1881, but in 1910 they had their traditional lances, titles and uniforms returned to them. During this period only the two Uhlan regiments of the Russian Imperial Guard retained their original distinctions.
Polish Uhlans Józef Piłsudski's Polish Legions (an independent formation serving with the Austro-Hungarian Army) had a small Uhlan detachment. Commanded by Władysław Belina-Prażmowski, they were modelled after the Uhlans of the Napoleonic period. This unit was the first element of the Central Powers to enter Polish lands during World War I. After the Poland's independence in 1918, Uhlan formations were raised in all parts of the country. They fought with distinction in the Greater Poland Uprising, the Polish-Ukrainian War and the Polish-Bolshevik War. Although equipped with modern horse-drawn artillery and trained in infantry tactics, the Uhlan formations kept their sabres, their lances and their ability to charge the enemy. Among other battles, the Uhlan units took part in the Battle of Komarów of 1920 against the invading Soviet Konarmia, the last pure cavalry battle in history.
As noted above, the uhlans of the Imperial German Army were disbanded at the end of World War I. However lances continued to be carried by certain cavalry regiments of the new German Army (Reichsheer) permitted by the Treaty of Versailles. As late as 1925 Major General von Seecckt, Commander of the Reichsheer, rejected a General Staff proposal that lances be abandoned as unsuited for a modern army