15th (The King's) Hussars

The early 18th Century saw struggles for power in Europe, particularly during the War of the Spanish Succession (1701–14) and the War of the Austrian Succession (1740–48). The manner in which these wars were fought changed as gunpowder became available - in particular, cavalry units became increasingly mobile and carried less body armour. Within the British army, a number of conventional dragoon regiments introduced 'light dragoon' troops within their establishment, and in 1759 the first regiment to be designated 'light dragoons' in its entirety was raised. In 1759, King George II commissioned an officer who had previously served with the 2nd Horse Grenadier Guards, Col. George Eliott, to raise the new regiment, an undertaking which aroused considerable interest. Col. Eliott was assisted by Lt. Col. the Earl of Pembroke (from the Foot Guards) and Major William Erskine (from the 7th Dragoons). Recruiting was undertaken in and around London and public enthusiasm was such that six Troops of 60 men were promptly raised.

Eliott's Regiment of Light Dragoons was colloquially referred to as Eliott's Light Horse. (Col. Eliott himself was later to be created Lord Heathfield in recognition of his defence of Gibraltar in 1783.) The Regiment's first official duties included the suppression of rioting in Kent, and shortly thereafter they were reviewed by King George on Hounslow Heath. They then marched to Dorchester.

Just a year after its formation, Eliott's Light Dragoons (at this time under the practical command of Maj. Erskine) crossed The Channel to Bremen to join the army commanded by Prince Ferdinand of Brunswick fighting the Seven Years War (1754-63). Their baptism of fire occurred at Emsdorf in July 1760, where the Prince himself led the Regiment in a number of successful charges against the French.
177 French officers and 2,482 soldiers were taken as prisoners of war, and 6 guns were taken and the Regiment received accolades in the British press. The Prince himself wrote, within a General Order to his army: "His Serene Highness, therefore, gives his best thanks to these brave troops, and particularly to Eliott's regiment, which was allowed, by everybody present, to have done wonders." Maj. Erskine, as Commanding Officer of the Regiment, attracted particular recognition. The losses to the Regiment at Emsdorf were 2 officers and 73 other ranks dead, with 116 horses killed, and 2 officers and 48 other ranks, with 52 horses, wounded.

The year 1761 saw the Regiment marching through snow to Gudersberg, Zeigenhahn, Kirchain, Marpurg and Paderborn (200 years later, in 1961, the home of the 20th Armoured Brigade, BAOR). Frequent skirmishes occurred throughout 1761 and 1762, until peace was finally declared in 1763, at which time Eliott's Dragoons returned to England (Hounslow), with a strength of 611 men and 577 horses. After a Royal Review in Hyde Park (at which the King was presented with sixteen French colours captured in Germany), the establishment was reduced to 231 officers and men.

King George III was noted for the interest he took in his army, and in 1766 he again reviewed the Regiment in Hyde Park, together with Burgoyne's Light Dragoons (later the 16th), at which time he ordered the two regiments be referred to as The King's and The Queen's respectively. At the same time, the regiments were designated 15th and 16th respectively and the facings of the 15th (The King's) Light Dragoons were changed from green to blue.

A Royal Warrant of 1768 describes scarlet coats with blue facings, white waistcoats and breeches, black helmets ornamented with white metal and scarlet horse-hair and knee-length boots. Great attention was paid, in those years, to the 'guidons' (pennants) carried by British cavalry regiments, but use of these flags was later discontinued.

Throughout the decade of the 1770's, the Regiment remained in the home counties and frequently provided a Royal Escort. In 1782, they marched north to Yorkshire. In 1784, the uniforms of all light dragoon regiments were changed from scarlet to blue, and the 15th Light Dragoons adopted scarlet facings on the new uniform.

The late 1780's saw the Regiment on coast watch duties in the north. They returned to Hounslow in 1787 and remained in the home counties for the next four years. When civil disturbance arose in England as a consequence of the revolution in France, the Regiment was called to undertake civil policing duties in Birmingham and Sheffield. In 1792, as war with France threatened, the Regiment was augmented to 9 troops of 54 mounted men each, a total of almost 500 mounted dragoons.

In 1793, half the Regiment crossed the Channel to Ostend with the army commanded by the Duke of York. The light cavalry were immediately in action at Famars, then the siege of Valenciennes followed by an engagement at Manieres where 46 French men (including 2 officers) and 60 horses were captured by the Regiment. There followed constant skirmishing throughout northern France and Belgium - Richard Cannon describes a particular engagement at Villiers-en-Couche (near Cambray) where the 15th Light Dragoons, together with a squadron of German hussars, charged a huge body of French. In May, the Regiment fought at Tournay, a battle followed by constant skirmishing as the French retreated.

Reinforced, in 1794 the French counter-attacked on a broad front and the Duke of York was forced to retreat, a withdrawal covered by the light dragoons. "Our British light cavalry which were with us (Seventh, Fifteenth and Sixteenth), performed wonders of valour, charging the enemy with unexampled courage whenever they approached; it was no uncommon thing to see one of them attack three of the French dragoons, in order to rescue prisoners they were carrying off." (Brown's Journal). Fighting a constant rearguard action, the British army was finally withdrawn to England in late 1795.

In 1796, the Regiment was stationed at Croydon, and thereafter at Weymouth, then Windsor. In 1799, another campaign was launched against the French in Holland, and three troops from the Regiment crossed the Channel with the army of the Duke of York, in which the Cavalry Brigade was commanded by Lord Paget. After a successful engagement at Egmont-op-Zee, where the Regiment (under command of Lt. Col. James Erskine) earned great praise, three more troops of 15th Light Dragoons arrived from England. There was, however, a lack of enthusiasm for the cause on the part of the Dutch people, so the 'Grand Old Duke of York's' army was withdrawn to England after just six months. In 1800, the 15th Light Dragoons were stationed at the Cavalry Barracks at Canterbury with an establishment of 10 troops of 80 mounted men each. In 1801, King George III appointed his fifth son, the Duke of Cumberland, Colonel of the Regiment.

With Napoleon threatening invasion of England in 1804, the Regiment was stationed along the Kent coast. The establishment was increased to 1,123 officers and men with 1,062 horses.

In 1806, the Regiment was designated 'hussars' with changes to the uniform and equipment (in accordance with the fashion throughout Europe). Pelisses and fur busbies were issued, together with leather breeches, Hessian boots and the new Paget (light cavalry) carbine. Interestingly, the fur busbies were to be superceded by scarlet shakos for the 15th Hussars. A (hussar) Cavalry Brigade was formed in the southern counties, under Lord Paget, composed of the 7th, 10th and 15th Hussars and 2 troops (12 guns) of the Royal Horse Artillery.

As war broke out on the Spanish Peninsular, the year 1808 saw the Regiment quartered in Essex. They embarked to join Sir John More's army in Spain and reached Corunna in November, where they formed a brigade with the 7th and the 10th Hussars under Brigadier Slade (Lord Paget had by this time been promoted). General More advanced his army, but receiving little support from the Spanish, and facing a French army of 300,000 men, he soon withdrew, with the cavalry covering the withdrawal. In deep snow, the Brigade charged a large force of French dragoons at Sahagun. In December and January, as the British fell back, the cavalry were constantly in action in snow and ice. Even when the British reached the comparative safety of Corunna, the cavalry were posted forward as a defensive screen. The British were evacuated from the beaches, and sadly 400 of the Regiment's horses were shot to prevent them falling into the hands of the French.

In 1809, the Regiment was back at Hounslow engaged on Royal Escort duties. Shortly thereafter, they were called upon to suppress civil unrest in London (1810 riots in support of the liberal reformist MP Francis Burdett). Shortly thereafter, a Royal Review of twenty thousand troops took place on Wimbledon Common (1811).

The Industrial Revolution in Britain (1760-1840) caused a tremendous amount of civil unrest as machines replaced workers in the factories and working men lost their jobs. The changes influenced almost every aspect of life, especially in the (industrial) north of England. Civil insurrection often led to rioting, and in 1812 the 15th Hussars, together with other regiments, were called to Yorkshire and Lancashire to suppress riots.

Meanwhile, a British army on the Spanish Peninsular had met with success, and in 1813 6 troops from the Regiment embarked for Lisbon. They were brigaded, together with 10th and 18th Hussars, under Lt. Gen. Sir Thomas Graham, operating in a mountainous region around Almendra. The French army withdrew, harassed by Wellington's advancing troops. Fighting the major battle of Vittoria in June, the 15th Hussars - charging and counter-charging - were intimately involved in the overthrow of Napoleon's Spanish army. At Vittoria, the Regiment lost 10 men and 4 horses killed, and 2 officers, 47 other ranks and 16 horses wounded. After the decisive battle, the British troops entered France in November.

After intense fighting throughout the first months of 1814, including the battle of Toulouse in April, Napoleon finally conceded defeat. The 15th Hussars returned to England (Hounslow) in July. However, in May 1815 the Regiment, under command of Lt. Col. Leighton Dalrymple, returned to France to meet the threat raised by the resurrected Napoleon. In France, the Regiment was brigaded with the 7th Hussars and the 2nd German Hussars. Napoleon's rapid advance in June took Wellington by surprise, and the British cavalry were ordered to march at short notice, reaching Quartre Bras on the evening of 16th June. On 17th, the British, with the cavalry covering, fell back towards the village of Waterloo and spent a night bivouacked in the open in torrential rain. On the fateful morning of the 18th, the 15th Hussars formed a section of the British front line near Hugomont Farm, astride the Nivelle Road.

" . . a large body of Cuirassiers and other cavalry were seen carrying all before them on the open ground between Hugomont and La Haye Saint, and their Lancers were shouting in triumph. The brigade instantly moved towards its former post, and the 13th and the 15th charged and drove back the Cuirassiers, with the most distinguished gallantry, for some distance."

Based, primarily, on Wellington's own comments, some historians have expressed criticism of British cavalry actions at the Battle of Waterloo. Criticism in hindsight is easy - in the mud, blood and heat of battle, the contribution to victory made by both the heavy cavalry, such as the Scots Greys and the Inniskillens, and the light cavalry, such as the hussar regiments, is remarkable.

At Waterloo, the 15th Hussars lost 3 officers and 25 other ranks killed, together with 42 horses, and 7 officers (including Col. Dalrymple) and 43 other ranks wounded, together with 52 horses. After the battle, the Regiment pursued the French to Cambray and then to Paris, returning to England (Hounslow) in May 1816.

Marching north to deal with civil unrest in the Midlands, the Regiment moved to Nottingham, Birmingham and Wolverhampton. In August 1819, the Regiment was involved in the notorious Peterloo Massacre (Manchester), where they were ordered to charge a crowd of some 80,000 protesters supporting the radical reformist MP Henry Hunt. 15 civilians were killed and some 500 injured.

Conflicting eye-witness accounts exist as to whether the civilian deaths were caused by volunteer soldiers, the Manchester and Salford Yeomanry, or by the regular troops (the 15th Hussars). The yeomanry were first on the scene, arriving at 1.40pm, and as they advanced into the crowd panic ensued, the horses rearing and the inexperienced amateur soldiers drawing their sabres and striking out. When the 15th Hussars arrived on the scene at about 1.50pm, the yeomanry soldiers were in danger of being overcome by the angry crowd. Inquiries into the massacre concur that the regular troops attempted to minimise the violence - an unnamed officer of the 15th Hussars attempting to strike up the swords of the Yeomanry, crying - "For shame, gentlemen: what are you about?" Many hundreds of civilians were sabred and trampled by the horses in the melee.

The Regiment remained in the Midlands until 1822, when they returned south to Hounslow and the comparative peace of Royal Escort duties. In 1825, they crossed the Bristol Channel to Ireland, where they remained for two years, returning to Hounslow in 1828. There followed numerous Royal Reviews, and new systems of 'formations and movements' were introduced in 1829. In 1831, the blue pelisse was replaced by a scarlet pelisse and after brief periods stationed in the Midlands, Ireland, Northern England and Scotland, the Regiment was stationed at Chatham in 1839 pending embarkation for India.

Sailing to Bombay (now Mumbai) and then Madras, in 1840 the Regiment reached Bangalore, a major British garrison at that time, where they were to remain for thirteen years. During this time, trials were conducted regarding the merits of various horses, including a comparison of stallions to geldings, and the local horses - Arab, Persian and Turcoman breeds - attracted special praise as cavalry mounts.

The Regiment returned to England (Exeter) in 1854. Whilst the Regiment itself was not committed to the Crimean War (1853-56), in a controversial aspect of what was to become famous as 'The Charge of the Light Brigade', it was Captain Louis Nolan of the 15th Hussars who, in his capacity as a Staff Officer to Lord Raglan, conveyed the misunderstood order to 'charge the guns' to Lord Lucan.

Between 1854 and 1859, the Regiment was stationed in Southern England, and then transferred to Ireland in 1859, where they moved frequently throughout the country for five years before being moved briefly to Scotland in 1864, and then to the North of England. They marched South in 1867, and then shipped once more to India in November 1969.

The year 1870 saw the Regiment, with an establishment of 14 officers and 408 other ranks, stationed at Mhow. Between 1870 and 1878 then marched to Meerut and Delhi. In 1878 the new Martini-Henry carbine was issued. On the outbreak of the Second Afghan War (1878-80) they moved to the North West Frontier and the Bolan Pass. They took six days to traverse the Pass, in freezing cold conditions. Approaching the border with Afghanistan, the Regiment was in action in the region of the Takhta Valley, a rugged and inhospital area 50 miles north east of Quetta. Shortly thereafter they reach Kandahar. (As with Paderborn in 1761, one has a sense of deja-vu in terms of Kandahar in 1878). Early in 1879, in heavy snow, the Regiment returned to India - a distance of some 1,260 miles over wild, mountainous country devoid of roads.

In 1880, whilst preparing to travel home to England, the Regiment was suddenly ordered to embark for South Africa, where the Boer farmers of the Transvaal had risen in rebellion. The 15th Hussars reach Durban in January, 1881. Their first serious engagement followed the British defeat at Majuba Hill, where the Regiment rescued survivors and covered the British retreat. Hostilities were brief, however, and when peace was declared the Regiment moved to Ladysmith. Thereafter the Regiment embarked for England.

In 1882, after an absence abroad of twelve years, the Regiment were stationed in Aldershot. They subsequently marched to the Midlands (1185), and then to Scotland. (Amongst other duties, the Regiment provided a Royal Escort for Queen Victoria in Glasgow in 1888). And in 1889 the Regiment moved to Ireland, where they were to enjoy 7 years of peace. The Regiment returned to Southern England in 1896 and took part in Queen Victoria's Diamond Jubilee celebrations (1897).

In 1899 the Regiment embarked for India once more. They were stationed at Lucknow, and then Meerut, and remained in India for the next ten years.

(For many years the Regiment celebrated the Battle of Saragun (1808) every 21st December, with the officers serving a tot of rum and coffee to the other ranks at dawn.)