Saturday, January 21, 2017

15th "King's" Light Dragoons (Hussars)

    These British Hussars are the second unit off the painting table for 2017. The 15th was the first complete unit of Light Dragoons raised for the British Army, dating back to 1759. In 1760, as part of the British involvement in the Seven Years War in Europe, this inexperienced regiment was sent to Germany, where it was the only British unit in a command lead by the Erbprinz von Hessen Kassel. The remainder of the force was composed of Hanoverians, Hessians, and others.

Charge of the 15th Light Dragoons at Emsdorf

    On July 14, a day which was exceedingly hot, the Allies launched a surprise attack upon the French forces under Marshal Glaubitz, who were encamped on the plains outside of the Town of Emsdorf, located in Hesse. The !5th LD charged the French a total of three times, allegedly capturing 5 standards, 9 canons, and 1600 prisoners.

Presentation of the trophies at Emsdorf; note the kettle drummer!

As a result, the Regiment was later granted the title, "Kings" by King George II in 1766, and became a Royal regiment, with its facings changing from green to dark blue. It was also the first British unit to be granted a battle honor, "Emsdorf". It received a badge of a trophy of arms to commemorate the events. It also acquired the nickname of "The Fighting Fifteenth". The regiment suffered the lion's share of the Allied losses that day, 125 men, including six who died of heat stroke! The regiment continued to serve in Germany until the end of the Seven Year';s War in 1763.

    In 1784, all Light Dragoon regiments changed to wearing blue coats instead of red, and the facings of the 15th were thus changed from blue to red as well. the Regiment next saw service abroad in 1793, when part of it was sent to the low countries under the command of the "Grand Old" Duke of York. The regiment was almost constantly engaged in scouting and skirmishing duties, including a notable action at Villiers-en-Couche (near Cambray). On 24th April 1794, they, with a regiment of Austrian hussars, charged a large body of French Cavalry. It turned out to be a trick and when the cavalry moved to one side a battery of artillery was revealed. But the French guns misfired and there were few casualties - at first. They charged into French Infantry who were dispersed. One outcome of the battle was a lasting connection with Austria. The Emperor Francis II gave a gold medal to each of the officers of the regiment and later presented them with the Order of Maria Theresa. Also the gold lace worn on officer's uniforms and horse furniture was, in future, woven in the Austrian Wave pattern. Two weeks later, on 10th May 1794, at Willems, the regiment broke several French infantry squares. It was the first time the French had used that formation. For some reason the battle honour WILLEMS was only granted to the regiment in 1909. They also fought very bravely at the battle of Tourcoing, saving the army from a complete disaster. It was a defeat, however, so no battle honour was granted. (Account from 15th - The King's Light Dragoons  Overall, of course, this campaign was a failure, and the 15th was among the last troops to depart the Continent, in December 1795.

    The 15th returned to Holland in 1799, as part of another expeditionary force under the Duke of York.  On the 2nd October 1799 a general attack was made on enemy positions at Bergen and Egmont-op-Zee , and battle was joined with a strong French force whose Infantry were in the sand dunes, and Cavalry and Artillery on the beach. The enemy were forced back for several miles, eventually halting before Egmont, at which the British Artillery moved forward to check the French guns. Paget moved up two troops of the Fifteenth to support, keeping them concealed in the dunes. 500 French Cavalry moved up against what they thought were unprotected guns, pressing forward despite casualties from the fire of the Artillery, but were surprised and driven back on their reserves by the two troops of Fifteenth, who then returned to the liberated guns. The French Cavalry rallied, and, seeing the small size of the force set against them, returned to attack again. As they reached a point within forty yards of the Fifteenth the third troop came up, and a determined charge by all three troops drove them back again, and pursued for more than half a mile.  (Account from XVLB - the Website of the 15th Light Dargoon (Hussars) Re-enactment group)  Despite these individual successes, overall the operation was a failure yet again, garnering scant support from the Dutch populace, and the expedition returned to England after only 6 months.

   In 1807, the Regiment was converted to Hussars. The change was championed by the Prince of Wales, supported by the King's 5th son, the Duke of Cumberland, who had been Colonel of the Regiment since 1801. This is the uniform that I have painted this famous regiment in. 

At this time, the 15th had brown busbys with red bags, red facings, and white lace. The fur on their Pelisses was black, except brown for officers. the lace and buttons were white - silver for officers.

The King's Guidon of the regiment has a dark blue field, being both a Royal regiment and having red facings, with the King's cipher surrounded by the blue garter in the center of the field, as the badge of the Regiment. I've painted this unit with the grey trousers and red seam stripe typically worn on campaign. 

 In 1808 the 15th departed for the Iberian Peninsula, and landed at Corunna in November 1808. The regiment was part of an expeditionary force of 17,000 men under Sir David Baird, who were to link up with Sir John Moore's army. The commander of the cavalry was Lord Paget, later known by his title as Lord Uxbridge. The regiment had 8 Troops of 85 men each. The 15th led Baird's force to the rendezvous with Moore, at Mayorga on the 19th of  December, 1808.

The regiment's finest hour - Sahagun 1808

    On the 21st December, the regiment's most famous battle took place at Sahagun, 18 miles north-east of Mayorga. In this action, the 10th Hussars moved to confront the French cavalry on the north side of the town while the 15th approached from the south to cut them off if they retreated. The 10th were under the command of the unpopular Brigadier Slade who hesitated as the French dragoons started to withdraw, so Lord Paget ordered the 15th to charge. They were glad to have some action, as they were frozen.

    They had to charge uphill, over a ditch and across broken, snow-covered ground. The French Chasseurs a Cheval and Dragoons remained stationary for some reason, and only fired a few shots at the 15th. The impact of the charge was terrifying. Men and horses were bowled over and slashed with sabres, shrieks and swearing clearly heard above the din. After ten minutes, the French broke and fled, leaving many dead or dying. Out of 420 Frenchmen only 200 escaped death or capture. The 15th Hussars casualties amounted to only two killed and 23 wounded. The head wounds received by the hussars were much worse than those of the French Dragoons who wore brass helmets, and the Chasseurs whose fur caps were reinforced with iron hoops instead of the pasteboard used in British hussar fur caps.

    SAHAGUN became the principle battle honour of the 15th after it was granted in 1832. It was celebrated every 21st December with a ritual that required the officers to take rum and coffee to the men at dawn. The band played The Sahagun Song which was composed by a private of the regiment and sung at the first anniversary of the battle in the presence of the Colonel, the Duke of Cumberland. (Text from The British Empire)

Charge of the 15th at Sahagun

    Ultimately, Moore's force had to make a famously difficult retreat back to Coruna in January, 1809, where the regiment was re-embarked, but had to destroy all but a handful of its horses to avoid them falling into French hands. Sir John Moore himself was killed at the battle of Coruna, fought to cover the re-embarkation of the British forces in Spain. The regiment was then stationed in the United Kingdom until late 1812.

The Sahagun Song

The song is ten verses long (from a different source, the XCVLD re-enactor's site):

'Twas in quarters we lay, as you quickly shall hear,
Lord Paget came to us and bade us prepare,
Saying, 'Saddle your horses-by the light of the moon,
For the French they are lying in the town of Sahagun.'

We saddled our horses, and away we did go
O'er rivers of ice and o'er mountains of snow,
To the town of Sahagun then our course we did steer,
'Twas the Fifteenth Hussars, who had never known fear.

We rode on all night till the daylight did break,
When eight of those French on a bridge we did take:
But two got away, and rode off to Sahagun,
To tell the French there that the English had come.

The French they turned out of the town of Sahagun,
Well mounted, well armed, full eight hundred strong:
So loud they did cry for Napoleon, their King;
With three cheers from the fifteenth the vineyards did ring.

They formed themselves up, and the fight it began,
They thought they could frighten the brave Englishman:
With our glittering broadswords right at them we sped,
They turned threes about, and away they all fled.

We soon overtook them as frightened they fled,
Cut through the brass helmets they wore on their head;
'Have mercy, have mercy! ' So loud they did cry;
'Have mercy, you English, or else we must die! ,

'Mid the snow in the vineyards the French they lay dead:
Three hundred were taken, the rest of them fled.
Their Colonel, likewise, he was taken in the field;
'Twas the Fifteenth Hussars made those Frenchmen to yield.

The Spaniards turned out of the town of Sahagun
To welcome the Fifteenth, the 'King's Light Dragoons,'
With jugs full of wine, our thirst for to quench,
Crying, 'long live the English, and down with the French!

Lord Paget came to us, and thus he did say:
'I thank you, Fifteenth, for your valour this day;
Dismount now your horses and feed everyone,
For the battle is over and the fight it is won.'

The twenty-first of December, my boys, was the day
When three hundred 'Fifteenth' made those French run away,
Although they then numbered eight hundred or more.
We'll drink and well sing now the battle is o’er.

Here's health to Lord Paget, so endeth our stave,
Likewise Colonel Grant, and our Officers brave;
With a full flowing bowl now "we’ll drink and we’ll sing,
'Success to the Fifteenth; and 'God Save the King.'

In 1813, the regiment adopted scarlet shakos. The Busbys may have been restored prior to Waterloo. Once again, these are 28mm Old Glory figures with GMB flags.

    The Regiment returned to the Peninsula in February 1813, landing at Lisbon. It participated in many of the actions of the later Peninsular War, including Burgos, Vittoria, Pamplona, and Tolouse.

The British Light Cavalry at Waterloo.

 The regiment saw service again during the 100 Days campaign of 1815, covering the retreat from Quatre Bras, and fighting at Waterloo near Hougomont. Vittoria, Peninsula, and Waterloo were ultimately added to the Regiment's Battle Honors. The motto of the Regiment is MEREBIMUR,
"We shall be worthy".

A finally detailed collector's model of the 15th, wearing the uniform that it wore at Sahagun (white pants were worn for full dress by all of the Hussar regiments). 

Modern day re-enactors of the 15th King's Light Dragoons (Hussars), here seen wearing the later scarlet shakos.


  1. Peter, you have delivered another fine pocket history of the 15th LD! The scarlet shakos are handsome but a hussar in busby for me! Nice brushwork on these chaps. How large is your British contingent planned to grow?

    1. Thanks, Jon. Glad that you enjoyed it! I agree re the Busby for British Hussars.. obviously. :-)

      My British army now stands at: 18 Infantry units with 302 figures, 14 Cavalry Units with 112, 6 Batteries with 38 figures and 12 guns, and 23 Staff. I have another 8 cavalry (KGL) and 8-9 staff nearing completion, and I plan to add 1-2 units of Highlanders, another 3 batteries, and possibly another 1-3 Foot units. If all that happens, they would top out at about 550 figures. Then I need to start the Spanish! :-)

  2. Great article once again Peter, thanks!

  3. Nice work and great background. I quite like the scarlet shakoes myself - according to CE Franklin they were issued in 1813, so I suppose the Busby would pretty much be the order of the day for most of the Peninsular War.

    1. Thanks, Lawrence! It seems that the re-enactors share your preference for the scarlet shakos as well!

  4. Lovely hussars, busby all the way for me, very nice horses and men of this dashing unit.
    Best Iain

    1. Thanks, Iain. That's three for Busby, 1 for shako, and one abstention! :-)

  5. Great post, and lovely minis, as usual. Cheers!

  6. Sorry I missed this one, Peter. I ride with the XVLD and we're off to Spain tomorrow - fur caps and pelisses, just the ticket for Spain in the summer :-) The fur on our caps is beaver, so whilst nearly black it can look brown in bright sunlight. Also, we prefer the fur caps to the shakos, but have to use the later for 1813-4. At least we're back in fur caps for waterloo.

  7. Thanks for the visit, Stephen. As you can see, I found the website of your group most helpful. Fur caps and pelisse in Spain in the Summer - hopefully no new cases of Emsdorf like heat stroke!