EAA Research Consultant
Join Date: Dec 2004
Location: Route 66
Polish Hussar wings, worn in battle or not?
The article "Winged Hussars of Poland" by Zdzislaw Zygulski Jr. (Arms and Armour Annual I, 1973) gave rise to profound interest in this magnificent heavy cavalry, with key interest of course in the distinct mounted vertical wings worn by these horsemen.
The questions that remain unsolved are what was the purpose or significance of these wings, and were they actually worn into battle.
It seems generally held that the Polish got the idea from Serbian 'deli' horsemen who apparantly wore these type mounted wings toward enemy troops to create disruption, and by about 1570's some Polish cavalry were decorating shields and horses manes with feathers. Apparantly the Serbs began using the concept in the 14th century, while other accounts claim that the wings evolved from a winged device in Italian or South German heraldry.
One idea for the purpose of these distinct wings suggests that the paired wings were to foul the lassos of Tatar horsemen, and that the wings were connected by a cord which formed a triangular exceeding the scope of the lasso. This idea has ultimately been discounted, with the fact that in early use there was a single vertical wing mounted, and modern tests found little likelihood of such purpose.
The other idea suggests psychological warfare, much as noted in the earlier use by Serbian riders. This seems quite possible, but the suggestion that the 'whistling and rustling' of the feathers would terrify the enemy horses. It has been noted that this idea was absurd, as in the din of a heavy cavalry charge it would be impossible to even hear such sound. The standing idea that remains is the visual aspect of psychological warfare, with tall and undulating winged structures moving in mass, as well as long fluttering pennons on lances added to the thunderous noise (termed the 'evil hiss' as noted in Brzezinski).
("Polish Winged Hussars 1576-1775") R. Brzezinski, Osprey 1994.
It seems that certain modern thought suggests that these wings were likely worn on parade, but not actually in battle. There are also suggestions that the huge 5 foot pennons often seen on lances in art were not used in battle either.
I would like to hear what others think, and if there are contemporary narratives supporting the presence of these wings on the hussars in battle. Thier reputation as fierce and virtually undefeated superb cavalry is undeniable, but I'd like to know more on the wings.