Definitions

vice-roy

Dragoon

[druh-goon]

A dragoon is a soldier intended primarily to fight on foot but trained also in horse riding and cavalry combat, especially during the late 17th and early 18th centuries when dragoon regiments were established in most European armies. During the later 18th century and the Napoleonic Wars the majority of such units evolved into conventional medium and sometimes light cavalry.

The word "dragoon" is derived from the French Army designation dragon which itself was originally the name of a type of firearm (whose name means dragon) carried by French dragoons. In French and Spanish there is no distinction between the words dragoon and dragon.

The title has been retained in modern times by a number of armoured or ceremonial mounted regiments.

Origins and name

The establishment of dragoons in France was an evolution of the occasional practice of infantry being transported by cavalry when rapidity of manoeuvre was required, ordered by Louis of Nassau during operations on Mons at Hennegau when 500 infantry were transported in this way. In 1552 Prince Alexander of Parma, in order to secure surprise, mounted several companies of infantry on pack horses.. Another suggestion is that the first dragoons were raised by the Marshal de Brisac in 1600, although the comparison was also made to the infantryman with his loose coat and the burning match at a gallop resembling somewhat the mythical dragon .

A further alternative explanation is that the name derives from the dragoon's primary weapon, a short Wheellock called the dragon. As explained by Sir Samuel Rush Mayrick, so named because the weapon of the first unit of dragoons raised in France had the muzzle of their weapons decorated with the head of a dragon. The practice of so naming a weapon stems from the earlier period when all gunpowder weapons had distinctive names irrespective of size such as the culverin, serpentine, falcon, falconet, etc.

History and role

The early dragoons were organized not in squadrons or troops like the cavalry, but in companies like the foot soldier, and their officers and non-commissioned officers bore infantry ranks. Dragoon regiments employed drummers in the infantry style, rather than cavalry trumpeters, to communicate orders on the battlefield. The flexibility of mounted infantry made dragoons a useful arm, especially when employed for what would now be termed "internal security" against smugglers or civil unrest, and on line of communication security duties. The dragoon regiments were also cheaper to recruit and maintain than the notoriously expensive regiments of cavalry. When in the 17th century Gustav II Adolf introduced dragoons into the Swedish Army, he provided them with a sabre, an axe and a matchlock musket: many of the European armies henceforth imitated this all-purpose set of weaponry.

However, dragoons were at a disadvantage when engaged against true cavalry, and constantly sought to raise their horsemanship, armament and social status to the levels of the latter. In most European armies "dragoon" did not come to refer to cavalry until after the Napoleonic Wars, in the 1820s. Dragoons also acquired responsibilities for scouting and piquet duty which in the French, Austrian, Prussian, and other armies was passing to hussars and other light cavalry corps. In the Imperial Russian Army due to the availability of the cossack troops the dragoons were retained in their original role for much longer.

An exception to the rule was the British Army. In order to cut the state's military budget, all Horse (cavalry) regiments were gradually demoted to the status of Dragoons from 1746 onwards--a change that placed them on a lower pay scale. When this change was complete the heavy cavalry regiments became known as either Dragoon Guards or Heavy Dragoons (depending on their precedence) while light cavalry other than the new Hussar and Lancer regiments became Light Dragoons. These Light Dragoons were trained in reconnaissance, skirmishing and other work requiring endurance in accordance with contemporary standards of light cavalry performance.

During the Napoleonic Wars, dragoons often assumed a cavalry role, though lighter than armored cuirassiers. Dragoons rode larger horses than the light cavalry and wielded straight, rather than curved swords. Emperor Napoleon often formed complete divisions out of his 20 to 30 dragoon regiments and used them as battle cavalry owing to shortage of cavalry mounts, to break the enemy's main resistance. In 1809, French dragoons scored notable successes against Spanish armies at the Battle of Ocana and the Battle of Alba de Tormes. British heavy dragoons made devastating charges against French infantry at the Battle of Salamanca in 1812 and at the Battle of Waterloo in 1815.

In the early 19th century, the British Light Dragoon regiments converted to lancers and hussars. Between 1881 and 1910 all Russian cavalry (other than Cossacks and Imperial Guard regiments) were designated as dragoons; reflecting an emphasis on dismounted action in their training and a growing acceptance of the impracticality of employing historical cavalry tactics against modern firepower.

In 1914 there were still dragoon regiments in the British, French, German, Russian, Austro-Hungarian, Peruvian, Norwegian, Swedish, Danish and Spanish armies. Their uniforms varied greatly, lacking the characteristic features of hussar or lancer regiments. There were occasional reminders of the mounted infantry origins of this class of soldier. Thus the dragoon regiments of the Imperial German Army wore the pickelhaube (spiked helmet) of the same design as those of the infantry and the British dragoons wore scarlet tunics . In other respects however dragoons had adopted the same tactics, roles and equipment as other branches of the cavalry and the distinction had become simply one of traditional titles.

Modern dragoons

Brazil

The Brazilian president's honor guard is provided by a regiment of dragoons, the 1st Guards Cavalry Regiment, the Presidential Guard Battalion and Cayenne Battery

This regiment is known as the "Independence Dragoons". The name was given in 1927 and refers to the fact that a detachment of dragoons escorted Portugal's Crown Prince Pedro I at the time when he declarated Brazilian independence from Portugal, on September 7, 1822.

The Independence Dragoons wear 19th century uniforms similar to those of the earlier Imperial Honor Guard. The uniform was designed by Debret, in white and red, with plumed bronze helmets. The colors and pattern were influenced by the Austrian dragoons of the period, as the Brazilian Empress Consort was also an Austrian Archduchess. The color of the plumes varies according to rank. The Independence Dragoons are armed with lances.

The regiment was established in 1808 by the Prince Regent and future king of Portugal, João VI, with the duty of protecting the Portuguese royal family, which had sought refuge in Brazil during the Napoleonic wars. However dragoons had existed in Portugal since at least the early eighteeth-century and in 1719 units of this type of cavalry were sent to Brazil, initially to escort shipments of gold and diamonds and to guard the Viceroy who resided in Rio de Janeiro (1st Cavalry Regiment - Vice-Roy Guard Squadron). Later, they were also sent to the south to serve against the Spanish during frontier clashes. After the proclamation of Brazilian independence, the title of the regiment was changed into that of the Imperial Honor Guard, with the role of protecting the Imperial Family.

At the time of the Republic proclamation in 1889, horse #6 of the Imperial Honor Guard was ridden by the officer making the declaration. This is commemorated by the custom under which the horse having this number is used only by the commander of the modern regiment.

Canada

There are three dragoon regiments in the Canadian Forces: The Royal Canadian Dragoons and two reserve regiments, the British Columbia Dragoons and the Saskatchewan Dragoons. The Royal Canadian Dragoons is the senior armoured regiment in the Canadian Forces. The current role of The Royal Canadian Dragoons is to provide Armour Reconnaissance support to 2 CMBG operations.

The Royal Canadian Mounted Police were accorded the status of a regiment of Dragoons in 1921.. However this distinction was cancelled during the 1960s and the modern RCMP have no formal connection with the Canadian Armed Forces.

Chile

Founded as the Dragones de la Reina (Queen's Dragoons) in 1758 and later renamed the Dragoons of Chile in 1812, and then becoming the Carabineros de Chile in 1903. The Carabineros are the national police of Chile.

Denmark

The Royal Danish Army includes amongst its historic regiments The Jutish Dragoons, which was raised in 1670.

Finland

The Finnish Dragoon squadron exists in conjunction with the Land Warfare School in Lappeenranta and continues the tradition of the former 1. Squadron of the Uusimaa Dragoon battalion.

France

The modern French Army retains two Dragoons regiments : the 2nd, which is a nuclear, bacteriologic and chemical protection regiment, and the 13th, which is a special-ops parachute regiment.

Norway

In the Norwegian Army during the early part of the 20th century, dragoons served in part as mounted troops, and in part on skis or bicycles (hjulryttere, "wheel-riders"). Dragoons fought on horses, bicycles and skis against the German invasion in 1940. After WW2 the dragoon regiments were reorganized as armoured reconnaissance units. "Dragon" is the rank of an enlisted private cavalryman.

Perú

The Dragoon Guards of the “Field Marshal Nieto” Regiment of Cavalry, Life-Guard of the President of the Republic of Perú were the traditional Guard of the Government Palace of Perú until 1987. This regiment of dragoons was created in 1904 following the suggestion of a French military mission when undertaking the reorganization of the Peruvian Army in 1896.

The Peruvian Dragoon Guard continues to wear French style uniforms of black tunic and red breeches in the winter and white coat and red breeches in the summer, with red and white plumed bronze helmets. They are armed with lances, sabres and fusils.

At 13:00 hours every day the main esplanade in front of the Government Palace of Perú fronting Lima's Main Square serves as the stage for the changing of the guard, undertaken by the Dragoons of the Presidential Guard.

Sweden

In the Swedish Army, dragoons are the Military Police and Military Police Rangers. They form the Dragoons Battalion of the Life Guards (Swedish Army). The Dragoons Battalion have roots that go back as far as 1523, making it one of the world's oldest military units still in service. "Livdragon" is the rank of a private cavalryman. The Swedish Army Dragoons are one of few units that still use horses. Horses are being used for ceremonial purposes only, most often when the dragoons take part at the change of the guards at The Royal Castle.

Switzerland

In the Swiss Army, mounted dragoons existed until the early 1970s, when they were converted into Armoured Grenadiers units. The "Dragoner" had to prove he was able to keep a horse at home before entering the army. At the end of basic training they had to buy a horse at a reduced price from the army and to take it home together with equipment, uniform and weapon. In the "yearly repetition course" the dragoons served with their horses, often riding from home to the meeting point.

The abolition of the dragoon units, believed to be the last non-ceremonial horse cavalry in Europe, was a contentious issue in Switzerland. On 5 December 1972 the Swiss Conseil national approved the measure by 91 votes, against 71 for retention.

United Kingdom

In the present-day British Army, one regiment is designated The Light Dragoons although as many as seventeen regiments were in being at the height of the Napoleonic Wars. The three Dragoon Guards regiments despite their names are not dragoons, but Cavalry, or "battle" cavalry sometimes referred to as "heavy cavalry". The designation "Dragoon Guards" does not indicate the status of Household Troops, or functionality of dragoons, but is a distinction awarded to former "Regiments of Horse" when these were converted to Dragoons in 1746.

In the Territorial Army, one of the five squadrons of the Royal Yeomanry, W (Westminster Dragoons) Squadron, also bears the title of a former dragoon regiment.

United States

The 1st and 2nd Battalion, 48th Infantry were mechanized infantry units assigned to 3d Armored Division from 1963 to 1992. Along with the 1st Battalion, 33d Armor, they comprised the maneuver elements of the Division's 2d Brigade, stationed Coleman Kaserne, in the city of Gelnhausen, Federal Republic of Germany. The Battalions served as part of NATO forces guarding the Inner-German Border against the Warsaw Pact, and later with the 3rd Armored Division in Desert Storm. The unit crest of the 48th Infantry designated the unit as Dragoons. They are descended from National Guard units which trained for the First World War, and Armored Rifle Battalions which served with the U.S. 7th Armored Division during WWII. The 48th Armored Rifle Battalion, along with 1st Battalion, 40th Armor, in particular fought a tough battle in Vielsalm, Belgium, holding off the German V Panzer Corps for three days at the crossing of the Salm river, during the German Ardennes Offensive (aka Battle of the Bulge).

The 1st Dragoons was reformed in the Vietnam era as 1st Squadron, 1st U.S. Cavalry, and continues to this day in the Iraqi War as the oldest cavalry unit, as well as the most decorated unit, in the U.S. Army. Today's modern 1-1 Cavalry is a scout/attack unit, equipped with M1A1 Abrams tanks and M3 Bradley CFVs.

Another modern United States Army unit informally known as the 2nd Dragoons is the 2nd Cavalry Regiment (Stryker). This unit was originally organized as the Second Dragoon Regiment in 1836 until it was renamed the Second Cavalry Regiment in 1860, morphing into the 2d Armored Cavalry Regiment in the 1960s. The regiment is currently equipped with the Stryker family of wheeled fighting vehicles.

See also

Citations and notes

References

  • Rothenburg, Gunther E. The Art of Warfare in the Age of Napoleon. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1980. ISBN 0-253-31076-8
  • von Bismark, Friedrich Wilhelm, Graf, Beamish, North Ludlow, (translator), On the Uses and Application of Cavalry in War from the Text of Bismark: With Practical Examples Selected from Antient and Modern History, T. & W. Boone, London, 1855

Further reading

External links

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