Norman Invasion of Illyria


Norman cavalry.


Over a quarter century three popes, reluctantly, had come to the same conclusion: that it would be better to recognize, and try to guide, the growing Norman power in the south of Italy than to see it directed against their interests. Leo in 1053, Nicholas in 1059, and now Gregory in 1080, had each been obliged by the force of circumstances to confirm the Normans as vassals in the territories they had conquered. Each time, the extent of those territories had increased, as had the need of the papacy for Norman military help.

Pope Gregory, at Ceprano, had agreed to an alliance with the Normans, whom he had so long distrusted, only because he needed them, desperately, to counterbalance the military force that King Henry, finally victorious over the Saxons, was threatening to bring against the papacy. The pope’s only other major supporter in Italy, Duchess Matilda of Tuscany, could not spare enough troops to do more than guarantee the pontiff’s safety in still friendly Rome. But Henry was threatening to invade with a considerable force, aiming finally to obtain his coronation and an end to the papacy’s interference, as he saw it, in the affairs of the German church. Only the Normans- Jordan of Capua but particularly Robert Guiscard – could defend the pope and the reform movement (however tenuous Norman support for the reforms may in fact have been). It is scarcely surprising, therefore, that rumors began to circulate that summer that Gregory was planning to reward Guiscard by crowning him, rather than Henry, as emperor if he drove off the German threat.

Whatever the truth of those rumors may have been, Guiscard was not interested in such a farfetched scheme. He saw little advantage in getting involved in the complications of north European politics, much less as the pope’s creature. Ever ambitious and alert to opportunity, he wanted to keep his freedom of action. He was helped toward that objective by Henry himself, who suddenly handed him an excellent card to play. The king had renewed his courtship of Robert, urging him to desert the pope’s cause in return for investiture as imperial vassal in the March of Fermo, in the Abruzzi, plus offering a marriage alliance with the royal house – one of the available Hauteville daughters to King Henry’s son Conrad. However Guiscard, once again preferring to be a vassal of the militarily weak pope rather than giving the powerful emperor-designate cause to meddle in his activities, declined the new offer. He was, at the same time, careful to inform Pope Gregory of Henry’s offer (as well, of course, as his refusal), thereby gaining not only credit for loyalty, but also additional leverage over the increasingly anxious pontiff.

Even more importantly, Guiscard had more immediate plans, closer to hand. Although the pope had refused to confirm him as lord of Amalfi, Salerno, or in the March of Fermo, the ambiguous formula reached at Ceprano meant in reality that his possession of those lands had been recognized, as no one’s vassal. Robert intended to push forward, to reinforce and expand his domain by controlling more of the Abruzzi, and he considered that he needed neither the pope’s acquiescence nor the emperor’s license to continue his piecemeal advance. But even that would wait. For the present, he had still grander aspirations, well beyond Italy, and had even gotten Pope Gregory to bless them at Ceprano. Guiscard was planning to attack Byzantium itself.

Strategy as well as his always restless ambition had propelled Guiscard toward this new venture. His ambition was fueled by a mixture of admiration, envy and greed. Over the years, he and his fellow Normans had been powerfully affected by the rich culture, the administrative capabilities, the luxury, and the wealth of the empire from which they had stolen their lands. Almost twenty years of rule in heavily Hellenized Calabria had subtly affected Robert, to the degree that his initial interest in and appetite for Byzantium’s riches had grown into emulation of Byzantine ways. Such emulation, indeed, was politically useful, since adopting elements of eastern panoply and ritual was helping the Normans appear as the inheritors of Byzantium; it increased their legitimacy among their new subjects. Robert had even gone so far as to copy imperial motives into his own seals and otherwise present himself as the successor to the emperor; he used the title “dux imperator” and on major occasions wore copies of the imperial robes of state.

Almost as if to justify this presumption of his, Robert had, since1071, received a series of tentative approaches from successive emperors in Constantinople. Seeking because of their military weakness to bring their powerful neighbor into their diplomatic circle of influence, the emperors had suggested marriage alliances between the upstart Hautevilles and the imperial family. This was indeed heady stuff for a son of Tancred, the simple knight from Hauteville. By the terms of the marriage agreement that had finally been concluded with Basileus Michael in 1074, Robert had been promised the title of “nobelissimus,” only a step below that of Caesar, and would be entitled to wear the imperial purple. Even more enticingly, he could envisage that a descendant of his might some day sit on the throne in Constantinople.

However seductive the ideas of marriage ties with the rulers of Byzantium might be, they promised future benefit at best. For the present, the two states were still enemies. Byzantine agents and diplomacy were constantly at work to challenge Norman occupation of the lost Italian provinces. From Illyria, across the narrow Adriatic Sea, Byzantine governors were only too happy to offer asylum to Robert’s opponents, such as his troublesome nephews Abelard and Herman, or to finance and encourage any potentially seditious barons in Apulia.

Duke Robert’s proposed strategy was typically bold. The current weakness of Byzantium made it opportune to secure his hold in Italy by carrying the war into the empire and destabilizing his old enemies. Robert had been fighting the Byzantines since his arrival in Italy, and had defeated their armies often enough to be scornful of their military qualities. He had attacked the empire once before and been unsuccessful, but that had been merely a tactic to put them on the defensive. This time, he saw a chance to defeat his enemies, gain plunder, perhaps new lands, maybe even a throne. His newly developed naval power enabled him to take a major force across the sea, and to fight his old enemies in their own lands. The prospects were good, because the empire was in crisis; it had lost almost all of Anatolia to the Seljuks, and a new Basileus was faced with a chain of insurrections in his own military. Robert, sensing a moment of opportunity, began preparations for an invasion.

Guiscard also had a politically correct pretext to attack. Basileus Michael had recently been deposed, and the wedding alliance he had negotiated with the Hautevilles had been dishonored. The new emperor had packed off Robert’s daughter Helen to a convent, where she was being held as a pawn for a future move on the diplomatic chessboard. Robert must have been disappointed at the failure of the proposed marriage alliance; it had promised much. But he knew, all the same, that Constantinople’s politics were an uncertain thing: that Helen might never have sat on the throne, or given birth to a claimant to the throne even in the best of circumstances. Her status as virtual hostage, in fact, could even replace her intended marriage as a means to his ends. So he demanded that her rights, and his, under the old agreement be honored – even though the intended groom, Constantine, was as out of favor as his deposed father. When these demands were ignored or rejected, as the wily Guiscard had no doubt expected they would be, he demanded the release of his daughter, and began his preparations to invade if his demands were not met.

Guiscard embellished his pretext for intervention, in addition, by a somewhat transparent but useful fiction: he claimed that the deposed Michael had somehow escaped to Italy from his exile to a monastery. The purported Michael, by most accounts a wandering monk who had been drafted for the occasion, became a permanent attachment to Guiscard’s court, where he was treated with the deference due to a former emperor and advanced as the living justification for the coming expedition. Guiscard had even gotten poor Pope Gregory, at Ceprano, to support the claims of the counterfeit Basileus.

Preparations for the invasion of Illyria had, by the early spring of 1081, reached a climax. Robert had been able to raise a very substantial force because, for the first time in years, he had neither internal nor external threats to arm against. Roger, at the same time, was slowly but successfully subduing the remaining Muslim opposition in Sicily, and neither needed nor wanted Robert’s help on the island. Jordan of Capua, for the moment joined with Robert as an ally of the pope, was potentially trouble, but nowhere near the man his father had been; Robert doubtless felt he could readily take care of the young man if the need arose. The possibility that King Henry would invade, and his own duty to defend the pope in that event, was an unfortunate cloud on the duke’s horizon, but it could be treated as a distant threat. For the moment, Guiscard had the pope’s concurrence for the expedition, indeed his assistance, in the form of a letter of support addressed to the bishops of southern Italy.

He raised an exceptionally large force, consonant with his new power and wealth. It included contingents from his vassals but also many mercenaries: Muslims from Sicily, Greeks, Lombards, and adventurers from all over. In truth, the hired hands would be needed, because Robert’s vassals had shown themselves to be grudging supporters of an expedition that would, most likely, benefit Guiscard more than themselves. Nor did the taxes that the duke raised to pay for the expedition, or the hostages he took to assure the good behavior of his troublesome barons, increase the popularity of his effort. The mustering of the invasion force had consequently been almost a two-year affair. Ships had been mustered from his coastal cities, and still more hired from the Adriatic state of Ragusa; the naval contingent numbered a full 150 boats. Figures for the army, as usual, vary, but it was a force of over 1,000 knights, Normans and others who formed the nucleus, supported by as many as 20,000 soldiers and auxiliaries, siege engines, horses and supplies.

Duke Robert, still strong and magnificent at 64, was optimistic and an inspiration as usual to the gathering troops. His first son, the even more physically imposing Bohemund, was to be the second in command, and to lead the advance guard of the army into Illyria. Sichelgaita, often clad in armor like her husband, was with the army and a constant presence by Robert’s side, presumably as liaison to their son Roger, who was to be left in charge in Italy.’ All was ready, or almost so. And then, before the expedition could set sail, the political ground began to shift.

Suddenly, the situation in Constantinople had changed. The latest emperor had been overthrown in his turn, by the talented and energetic general Alexius Comnenus. Alexius had been friendly with the deposed Emperor Michael, and was, it was rumored, inclined to negotiate with Robert over his demands. In fact, an envoy whom Guiscard had sent to Constantinople over the winter had returned to Italy with a recommendation that Robert postpone his invasion in light of the changing situation, and the fact that Helen’s intended, Constantine, was likely to be restored to the purple as Alexius’ co-ruler. This was not news, however, that Robert wanted to listen to. His rage at hearing the advice of the envoy, an unfortunate Count Radulf, was reportedly monumental. He would not be deterred. He had invested too much in the expedition at that point to pull back, and to delay might allow Alexius to remove his pretext for invasion by returning Helen to her family, or exposing the false Michael. As Princess Anna Comnena wrote succinctly and dismissively a half century later,

That man Robert, who from a most inconspicuous beginning had grown most conspicuous and amassed great power, now desired to become Roman Emperor, and with this object sought plausible pretexts for ill-will and war against the Romans.’

In Italy, the situation was also changing. King Henry had finally begun his invasion, causing the pope to send messages of alarm, requesting that Robert come immediately to his aid. Robert could not ignore the pope’s pleas for help, but he had no intention of calling off his expedition so readily. He made a short trip to Tivoli, where he offered the pope a contingent of troops under his son and regent Roger Borsa, and reassured the pontiff that he would not fail him in the event of real need. But he refused to call off his expedition. As it happened, Robert’s judgment proved correct; Henry had come south with too few troops to do more than occupy the suburbs of Rome, as he did several months later. When the city proved loyal to the pope, Henry withdrew and no relief army was needed.

The Illyrian expedition indeed had already begun. The advance guard under Bohemund had left in April, rapidly capturing the port of Valona across the sea from Otranto, a situation that would provide an excellent bridgehead for the main army. The main force set sail in late May, joining with Bohemund’s contingent, and the combined force soon captured the island of Corfu, to the south of Valona. With the sea thus secured against a relief fleet coming from Constantinople, the invasion force was able to consolidate – the entire army did not cross until mid June because of storms- and then proceed northward up the coast to Guiscard’s initial goal, the capital city of Durazzo. It would take a serious siege to capture the town, which enjoyed a strong position on a high peninsula guarded by marshes on the land side. But Robert’s intelligence services were, as usual, aware of the enemy’s weaknesses, which in this case turned out to be the will of the city’s military commander, one George Monomachus. An appointee of the deposed emperor, Monomachus did not know how he stood with the new order in Constantinople, and had begun to negotiate with Robert’s envoys in an effort to save his own neck. It looked for a moment as if the city might fall to the Norman army without a fight.

Any optimism on this score was soon shown to be misplaced. The new Basileus, the Normans rapidly found out, was an adversary of a quality they had not seen for over a generation. Small, dark and unpreposessing, Alexius was the nephew of a previous emperor, one of the country’s best generals from a family of distinguished military leaders, and a man of shrewd and tenacious purpose. He, too, could act fast. In the present danger, he had taken two immediate steps to defend Durazzo. The first was to send a talented soldier, George Paleologus, to replace the wavering commander, Monomachus, and to harden the city’s defenses. The second was to appeal to the Venetians, the preeminent Adriatic naval power, for help in countering the Norman naval advantage. The Venetians knew they held a strong hand in those negotiations and drove a hard bargain, gaining unprecedented trade concessions in Constantinople in return for sending their battle-trained fleet to sea.

The Venetian navy appeared off Durazzo just in time, only days after the Norman army had arrived to invest the town. A fiercely fought naval engagement several days later demonstrated how great was the Venetian tactical superiority at sea. The Norman fleet was badly mauled, and from then on was obliged to limit its operations. The encirclement of Durazzo was incomplete. With the Venetian navy reinforcing the city’s defenses as well as hindering the Normans’ resupply efforts, and Paleologus energiz ing the Greek army, whatever advantage the Normans had had by their well-timed arrival had been lost. The city’s morale was maintained by the promise of a relief army, and the siege settled into a sort of stalemate, punctuated by fierce but indecisive engagements. The Normans could neither cut off the city nor breach the walls, since their siege engines, transported at such great effort from Italy, repeatedly proved ineffective against Paleologus’ determination and ingenuity in devising counter mechanisms.

The stalemate was broken in mid October, when Emperor Alexius arrived at the head of the long-promised relief army. Paleologus was able to join him at his camp outside the city, where a hasty war council was held. In the council, Paleologus argued for reinforcing the city and driving the Normans off through attrition. Disease in their camp, their supply problems, and the coming winter, he argued, would break the Norman siege in time, and more surely than a battle. He may have been right. Morale in the Norman camp was not high, and Robert had had little success to show his army, camped as it was on a hostile and unhealthy shore and trying to maintain a costly siege against a tenacious and now heavily reinforced enemy. But Alexius, too, had his problems; he could not count on the loyalty of his hastily recruited army over a long siege, and there was clamor in the capital for an immediate and decisive victory from the new emperor. Like Robert Guiscard, he was a man used to victory in battle, confident in his abilities, and capable of inspiring his troops to great effort. He chose to fight.

Robert drew up his army north of the city, its right wing with its motley assortment of mercenary detachments anchored against the sea where it could not be outflanked, and Bohemund on his left, inland of his own central detachment. In an effort to inspire a determined stand, moreover, he had burned the army’s boats and deployed it with a river to its back. The Byzantine army that formed ranks on the plain to attack the Normans encompassed a disparate collection of allied and mercenary troops cobbled together from a military still reeling from the disaster at Manzikert and repeated military insurrections. But it also contained elements of the empire’s elite units, the Bucellarion Guard and the imperial bodyguard of Varangians. The Varangians, in particular, were highly motivated. Now heavily manned by Anglo-Saxons driven from their native England by the Norman invaders there, they sought revenge in the coming fight for their fifteen years of exile.

As it was, in their eagerness to engage, the Varangians determined the course of the battle. Their initial attack, on the Norman right, was devastating. Against the onslaught of the Anglo-Saxons wielding their huge two handed axes, the Norman right wing, foot, and for once even the cavalry, collapsed.

A rout was narrowly avoided, partly because the river blocked the retreat of the Norman auxiliaries, but due also to the valiant efforts of heroic Sichelgaita. Fully armed and brandishing a spear, if Anna Comnena is to be believed, the warrior Duchess left her position by her husband’s side and rode toward the action, urging the fleeing soldiers to stand firm and shaming them, by word and example, to rally. Her efforts were rewarded, as the line stiffened once again and the Varangians, their charge finally exhausted, now found themselves in an exposed position well in advance of the Byzantine center. Meanwhile Bohemund, on the left, had seen relatively light action because an effort by the Bucellarion Guard to outflank him had been blocked by the river. He was able to send cavalry to the Norman right wing, where they fell on the now exposed Varangians and cut them down wholesale.

The battle was turned. A sortie from the city by Paleologus was beaten off, and now some of Alexius’ allies, notably the Serbians and Turks, began to desert the field. As the imperial army slowly, and then rapidly, dissolved, only the Varangians continued to hold their ground. The brave remnant of the proud but reckless detachment finally retreated to a small chapel, where they were burned to death by the now victorious Norman army. Alexius and George Paleologus, who had been cut off from his command when his sortie failed, were forced to flee among the remnants of the army, the emperor, according to his daughter Anna, barely escaping capture.

For the Byzantines, the defeat was humiliating, but not fatal. The Norman army, admittedly, was able to follow up its victory with relative ease. Marching along the great Roman Via Egnatia, the invaders had occupied most of Illyria by spring, even securing the surrender of the important fortress town of Kastoria in Macedonia. But Durazzo had succeeded in holding out until late February, falling in the end through the treachery of its foreign inhabitants rather than by assault. The Venetians continued to control the sea, harassing Norman communications and resupply efforts. After the fall of Kastoria, moreover, the Norman army had begun to lose its momentum and suffer from supply problems, disease, and attrition from the long field campaign.

The tenacious Alexius was determined to hold on and to confound his Norman opponent. Guiscard, for the first time, had met his match.

The Afternoon at the Kahlenberg

Kahlenberg Mountain near Vienna on 12 September 1683




All reports agree that, on this day of blistering sunshine, there was a pause in the fighting at noon. It was a pause to recover breath, but the allied commanders were also determined not to weaken their position by pressing too far forward on their left before the right wing had begun to put pressure on the Ottoman defence. Concealed by the folding of the ground, and the thickness of woods, the pace of the Polish advance was difficult to estimate; it certainly appeared somewhat slow. But no one underestimated the importance of these troops, who were expected to come down the Alsbach, a tributary stream descending to the houses at Dornbach and ultimately to Hernals: a line of march which would bring the attack much closer to the main Turkish camp and to the Grand Vezir’s headquarters.

Some historians have blamed the Poles for their sluggishness, but it would be more helpful if evidence were found which explained why they were sluggish. Many Polish detachments were well behind the regiments of the left and centre already on the previous day, and can only have reached the upper ridges late in the evening, hungry and tired; there are no records which show how complete their preparations were during the night of 11th September. Even in the case of the German regiments put at John Sobieski’s disposal, it is known that they were in position on the Galitzinberg—well forward, and on the extreme right—by the time serious fighting began in this area, after midday; but it is not known whether they were already in position in the early hours of morning. Another possibility is that, when the council of war ended on the 11th Sobieski was by no means clear that the attack would begin at dawn, and therefore did not give positive instructions to his officers to make ready for action. The Turkish raids above Nussdorf, in conjunction with Lorraine’s purposeful itch to try and relieve Vienna without delay, altered the whole situation. But it took the King of Poland most of the morning, while fierce fighting continued on his left, to advance his right wing. He was already past his prime as an instinctive war-leader, a slow and very corpulent man who now lacked the energy to dominate a crisis on the battlefield; nor were the discipline and promptness of his aristocratic cavalry generals very marked, in spite of their many other military virtues.

Moreover, although it was a relatively simple matter to occupy the higher ground on both sides of the Alsbach, the descent of large numbers of men into the valley proved more arduous. Even then the greatest difficulty of all remained, to get them out of this narrow avenue of approach and reorganise them as a battle-formation, strong enough to meet a massive Turkish attack; the Turks were bound to try and interrupt and to crush the whole unwieldly manoeuvre. By one o’clock the Polish vanguard had reached Dornbach, where the woods and the slopes die away. They became visible to the forces anxiously waiting far away on their left. Shouts of joy and relief from the Germans saluted them, and dismayed the enemy. The heights on both sides of the Alsbach were in firm and friendly hands. From those on the left, the King himself directed operations, and he was in touch with the Franconian units and their leaders to his left. On the right Hetman Jablonowski commanded the Poles, some German infantry held the Galitzinberg, and a certain amount of support from artillery was assured. Fortunately the scattered Tartar forces still farther south were never a serious nuisance in this quarter. The future depended on the heroism and energy of the Polish centre under General Katski as it emerged from the narrower part of the Alsbach valley.

First of all select troops of volunteer hussars advanced. After a momentary success the Turks pushed them back, and then the conflict swayed uncertainly to and fro. It cannot be stated with any certainty whether the final result was determined by the steady refusal of these Poles on the lower ground to give up the costly struggle, or by the efforts of German foot soldiers coming down from the Galitzinberg, or by the extra forces which Sobieski threw in (aided by reinforcements of Austrian and Bavarian cavalry) from the heights on the left. After a fearful tussle the Turks gave way; their horsemen fled, and took shelter with the Turkish infantry and guns on a defensive position farther back. Sobieski now began to deploy his whole force on more level ground, having swung them slightly round so that they faced south-east. They were arranged in two lines, the intervals in the first being covered by contingents in the second. As before, Habsburg and Bavarian cavalry stood behind them on their immediate left. There were more Polish horsemen and dragoons on the right.

This achievement altered the whole face of the battle. The Polish wing of the army had caught up with the left and centre. It was a strong position, won after a hard-fought day. The great question, now, was whether to stop or to launch a further attack. Undoubtedly Lorraine himself wanted to press forward; and there is probably something in the famous story that when one experienced general, the Saxon commander Goltz, was asked for his opinion, he replied: ‘I am an old man, and I want comfortable quarters in Vienna tonight.’ Waldeck agreed. Sobieski agreed. They must have all based their hopes on signs of disorder and exhaustion in the enemy troops facing them. On one wing, the relieving army was two miles away from the walls of Vienna at their nearest point. On the other, it was a little more than two miles to Kara Mustafa’s headquarters in St Ulrich.

Preparations to mount an overwhelming attack were made along the whole front. At 3.20, in the fiercest heat of the afternoon the action began again on the left. The Turkish position here ran along the Vienna side of the Krottenbach (a stream reaching the Canal near Heiligenstadt) but soon turned to the south-west, where it faced first the centre of the Christian army, and then the Poles. The Turk’s resistance was ineffectual, and they soon began to withdraw rapidly to the left wing of Kara Mustafa’s defence. Some of the Habsburg troops at once made straight towards the nearest siegeworks of the city, others swung to the right. The same thing happened on the central part of the front: the Saxons, and then the troops of the Empire, pushed forward again—and swung to the right. The Poles had meanwhile thrown everything they had into their attack on the main armament of the Turks. For a short while the battle was doubtful; but the thrust of the Bavarian troops (under Degenfeld and Max Emmanuel himself), and then of other troops coming up from the more northerly sectors, weakened the flank of the Turkish position; the Poles finally plunged forward with their cavalry to sweep southwards. Here, other Turkish units made an obstinate stand; they had their backs to the River Wien, and when they finally gave way Kara Mustafa ran a real risk of being cut off by swift cavalry movements in his rear from any possible line of retreat. Meanwhile the bodyguards of the Grand Vezir resisted desperately when the Poles began to enter his great encampment from the west. On its northern side, Janissaries and other household troops were still fighting hard; the Franconians under Waldeck, and on his initiative, seem to have given Sobieski useful support in this final phase of the struggle. The total collapse of the Turks began, and when their soldiers still in the galleries and trenches in front of the Hofburg were instructed to come to the rescue of those in the camp, they fled. Kara Mustafa himself then retreated in perilous and disorderly haste, though he succeeded in taking with him the great Moslem standard, the Flag of the Prophet so vainly displayed on this bitter occasion, and the major part of his stock of money. Many other Turkish leaders and contingents had already left the battlefield several hours before; and so ended one of the most resounding of all Christian victories, and Ottoman defeats. By five-thirty the battle was over. Vienna was saved. The plundering began.

An Irish officer summarised the events of the day in his own terse way: ‘If the victory be not so complete as we promised ourselves it should, it proceeded only from the cowardice of our enemies, whom from morning till night we drove before us, beating them from post to post, without their having the courage to look us in the face, and that through several defiles, which had they any reasonable courage we could never have forced. The combat held longest where the King of Poland was, but that only added to his glory, he having beaten them with the loss of their cannon and their men; they have left us their whole camp in general, with their tents, bag and baggage, and time will tell us more particulars.’




The Mamluks under Baibars (yellow) fought off the Franks and the Mongols during the Ninth Crusade.

In the autumn of 1260, Baybars was patently aware of the fragility of his hold on the sultanate. He moved swiftly to assume authority in Cairo, occupying the great citadel–the seat of power built by Saladin–and rewarding a wide circle of emirs with offices and wealth. In addition, the surviving Bahriyya mamluks were established as his personal bodyguards. Their old regimental barracks on the Nile were later rebuilt and placed under the command of the sultan’s most trusted emirs, including Qalawun.

Baybars’ most urgent concerns were the legitimisation of his own rule and the wider entrenchment of Mamluk power in Egypt. But the new sultan also possessed the political and strategic vision to recognise, and adapt to, the new Levantine world order. In decades past, Muslim leaders had sought to unite Islam and, in some cases, tried actively to combat the Franks in the Holy Land. Now, the imperative had changed and a different paradigm had been created. After 1260, the critical frontiers lay to the north and east of Syria, whence the primary enemy–the Mongol Empire–might once again seek to destroy Islam. To combat this threat, these borders must be protected and the Near East transformed into a united and impervious fortress state.

The Latin Christians were a secondary danger. Geographically their remaining settlements lay within the Syrian, Lebanese and Palestinian territory that Baybars now wished to unify and secure against the Mongols. He rightly judged that, in the wake of setbacks like the Battle of La Forbie, the Franks of Outremer were effectively emasculated. On their own, they posed little concern. But as allies to an external force–be it in the form of a Mongol horde or a western crusade–they might open a troublesome and distracting second front within the confines of the Near East. As such, the crusader states were embedded irritants that had to be neutralised.

Aware of these challenges, Baybars dedicated much of the early 1260s to radically reshaping the Muslim Near East, founding a potent, authoritarian regime. At the same time, he set out to ready the Mamluk state for the onset of war–be it against Mongol or Christian enemies. By these means, the new sultan spent his first years in power assiduously preparing for what he hoped would be ultimate victory in the struggle for control of the Holy Land.


The protector of Islam

At first, Baybars’ hold on power was relatively precarious: he inherited a Mamluk state that was only partially formed; and he had been involved in the assassination of two former sultans, Turanshah and Qutuz. Against this somewhat tainted background, civil insurrection or counter-coup threatened, and the loyalty of his fellow mamluk emirs was by no means assured. But in late 1260, the new sultan also stood to benefit from some significant advantages. In the aftermath of the Mongol invasion and the Battle of Ayn Jalut, the remaining vestiges of Ayyubid power in Syria and Palestine were all but shattered, and the Holy Land was ripe for Mamluk domination. Thus, in contrast to the likes of Nur al-Din and Saladin, who laboured for decades to unite the Near East, Baybars was able to assert control of Damascus and Aleppo within the first years of his reign, installing regional governors who answered to Cairo.

In addition, Baybars was able to draw upon the triumph achieved at Ayn Jalut to legitimate his claim to power. Presenting himself as the saviour of Islam, he had a monument erected on the battlefield, and demolished Qutuz’s grave to downplay any suggestion that the late sultan also might have played a ‘heroic’ role in the confrontation. In later years, Baybars’ chancellor and official biographer, Abd al-Zahir, reconfigured the history of the battle in his account of the sultan’s life, presenting it as a victory won almost single-handedly by Baybars. The sultan also sought to promote his own cult of personality, embodied in his lion emblem (depicting a lion walking to the left, with a raised forepaw). This distinctive heraldic device was placed on Baybars’ coinage and used to mark public buildings and bridges constructed in his name. And while it is true that the Mamluk state was threatened by potent enemy forces in the 1260s, these evident dangers enabled Baybars to enact an unprecedented programme of militarisation and to enjoy unparalleled autocratic authority.

Baybars took a number of masterful steps to consolidate his hold on the sultanate. To ground the new Mamluk regime within the framework of Islam’s traditional legal and spiritual hierarchy, he reestablished the Sunni Abbasid caliphate. In June 1261, Baybars claimed to have found one of the few surviving members of the Abbasid dynasty. The man’s pedigree was carefully assessed by a hand-picked committee of Cairene jurists, theologians and emirs and then confirmed as the new Caliph al-Mustansir. Baybars then made a ritual oath of allegiance to the caliph, swearing to uphold and defend the faith; to rule justly, according to the law; to serve as a protector of Sunni orthodoxy; and to wage jihad against the enemies of Islam. In return, al-Mustansir invested Baybars as the sole, all-powerful sultan of the entire Muslim world, an act that not only confirmed his rights to Egypt, Palestine and Syria, but also provided tacit authorisation for a massive campaign of expansion. In a final public affirmation of his regime’s legitimacy, Baybars was invested with sultanly apparel: a black rounded turban of the sort customarily worn by the Abbasids; a violet robe; shoes adorned with golden buckles; and a ceremonial sword. Dressed in this finery, he and the caliph rode, in state procession, through the heart of Cairo. From this point onwards, Baybars took great care to endorse caliphal authority, so long as it did not impinge upon his own power. Both the caliph and sultan were named in the Friday prayer; likewise, Mamluk coinage bore both their names.

To reinforce the aura of tradition and continuity developing around the sultanate, Baybars consciously sought to connect himself with two Muslim rulers. The first, al-Salih Ayyub (Baybars’ own former master), was now presented as the last legitimate Ayyubid sultan, with Baybars as his direct and rightful heir–an agile manipulation of the past that conveniently ignored the bloody turmoil of the 1250s. The sultan also modelled himself upon Saladin, the conqueror of the Franks and idealised mujahid. Imitating his famed generosity as a patron of the faith, Baybars set about restoring Cairo’s now dilapidated al-Azhar mosque. In addition, he established a new mosque in Cairo and a madrasa beside al-Salih’s tomb. The sultan also visited Jerusalem and there restored the Dome of the Rock and the Aqsa mosque–both of which had become somewhat run down under later Ayyubid rule.

Similar echoes were present in a number of civil measures adopted in these early years. Styling himself as the archetypal ‘just ruler’, Baybars abolished the war taxes imposed by Qutuz, established palaces of justice in Cairo and Damascus and also ordered fair prices to be paid to merchants for goods sequestered by the state. By these diverse means, the sultan engendered widespread popular support among his subjects in the Near East and this helped to insulate his position against other mamluk challengers.

Centralised power in the Mamluk state

While working to legitimise the Mamluk sultanate and his own claim to power, Baybars also took bold steps towards governmental and administrative centralisation. Mamluk Cairo was turned into the unquestioned capital of the Muslim Near East, and the office of sultan was imbued with a degree of despotic authority never before witnessed in the medieval era. In stark contrast to many of his predecessors, Baybars carefully monitored state finances and controlled the Mamluk treasury–measures that gave him the wealth to pay for critical reforms.

As sultan, Baybars expected his will to be obeyed without hesitation across the Mamluk world, and he made ready use of both direct force and propaganda to ensure submission and compliance on the part of regional governors. Emirs who failed to levy troops for war in short order, for example, were hung by their hands for three days. Anyone foolish enough to attempt insurrection could expect summary punishment, with torments ranging from blinding or dismemberment to crucifixion. Like other rulers before him–including Nur al-Din and Saladin–Baybars drew upon the fear of external threats to justify his autocratic behaviour, but new emphasis was placed upon the Mongols as the prime enemy of the state. Thus, when the sultan wished to remove the petty Ayyubid princeling al-Mughith from power in Transjordan in 1263, accusations of consorting with the Ilkhanate of Persia were levelled, and letters supposedly from Hülegü to al-Mughith were produced as evidence.

But even beyond guile and brutality, the true cornerstone of Baybars’ authority in the Near East was communication. He was the first Muslim in the Middle Ages to master the business of ruling a pan-Levantine empire from Egypt because he made huge investments in message-carrying networks. Many centuries earlier, the Byzantines and early Abbasids had made use of a courier-based postal structure, but this had long since fallen out of use. Baybars created his own barid, or postal system, using relays of horse-borne messengers, hand-picked and well rewarded for their reliability. Changing mounts at carefully maintained post stations positioned along key routes through the Mamluk realm, these men could routinely bring a message from Damascus to Cairo in four days, or three in an emergency. Use of the barid was strictly limited to the sultan, and letters were always brought directly to Baybars, no matter what he was doing–on one occasion he even had a messenger report to him in the bath. To ensure the smooth and swift transfer of information, major roads and bridges were carefully repaired, and the barid was also supplemented by pigeon post and a system of signal fires. This remarkable (and admittedly costly) feat of organisation allowed Baybars to maintain contact with the far reaches of the Mamluk state–in particular the northern and eastern borders with the Mongols–and meant that he could react to both military threats and civil disorder with unprecedented speed.

Allied to Baybars’ own particularly forceful and energetic brand of rulership, this raft of practical and administrative reforms served to consolidate the Mamluk state and cement ‘royal’ power by the mid-1260s. However, Baybars’ regime was not without its faults. The success of this intensely centralised approach to government depended heavily upon the sultan’s personal qualities and skills, and this raised obvious questions about how readily the mantle might be passed on to a successor. Seeking to overturn the notion that a Mamluk sultan should be elected, Baybars tried to lay the foundations for his own familial dynasty in August 1264 by appointing his four-year-old son Baraka as joint ruler. Given the emphasis placed on merit rather than heritage among the mamluk elite, it remained to be seen whether this plan would be realised.

Baybars also developed a potentially disruptive association with the sufi (holy man) mystic Khadir al-Mihrani in these early years. Supposedly a prophet, but regarded by many in the Mamluk court as a philandering fraud, Khadir befriended Baybars in 1263 during one of the sultan’s visits to Palestine. Impressed by the sufi’s predictions of numerous future Mamluk conquests (many of which later came true), Baybars soon rewarded him with property in Cairo, Jerusalem and Damascus. Khadir was given unfettered access to the sultan’s inner circle and was said to have been privy to matters of state, all to the chagrin of Baybars’ leading mamluk lieutenants. This strange relationship suggests that even a cold-blooded despot like Baybars could be seduced by flattery–it also was a chink in his defences that, in time, would have to be sealed.

Mamluk diplomacy

Given the time and resources Baybars expended within the Muslim Levant while building his Mamluk state in the early 1260s–and the strident militarism evident in his later career–it would be easy to imagine that the sultan adopted an insular approach to the outside world, turning inwards to spurn diplomacy. In fact, he was an active and adept player on the international stage. Baybars used negotiation to pursue three interlocking goals: to forestall any possibility of an alliance between the Latin West and the Mongols; to sow dissension within the Mongol ranks by encouraging rivalry between the Golden Horde and the Persian Ilkhanate; and to maintain access to a ready supply of slave recruits from the Russian steppes.

Within his first year in office, Baybars established contact with the late Emperor Frederick II’s bastard son, King Manfred of Sicily (1258–66). Seeking to perpetuate the tradition of close relations between Egypt and the Hohenstaufen, and to support Manfred’s anti-papal policies, the sultan dispatched envoys to the Sicilian court with exotic gifts, including a group of Mongol prisoners, complete with their horses and weaponry–testament to their shattered reputation for invincibility. After Manfred’s death, Baybars renewed contact with his rival and successor, King Louis IX of France’s acquisitive brother, Charles of Anjou.

The sultan likewise opened channels of negotiation with the Golden Horde in 1261. The Mongol ruler of this region, Berke Khan (1257–66), had converted to Islam and was engaged in a heated power struggle with the Ilkhanate of Persia. Baybars flattered Berke’s religious affiliation by including his name in the Friday prayers at Mecca, Medina and Jerusalem, and by establishing equitable relations he retained access to the steppe-land slave markets within the Golden Horde and secured the Mamluk sultanate’s northern borders with Asia Minor. To ensure the safe and efficient passage of Kipchak slaves from the Black Sea to Egypt, the sultan also forged pacts with the Genoese–the main transporters of slave cargo in the Mediterranean basin. These Italian merchants had recently lost the so-called ‘War of St Sabas’–a two-year struggle with Venice over economic and political pre-eminence in Acre and Palestine. When this fractious civil war ended with Genoese defeat in 1258, they relocated to Tyre and, through the 1260s and beyond, proved only too happy to trade with the Mamluks. To ensure that Genoese ships continued to enjoy unhindered access to the Bosphorus Strait, Baybars forged additional contacts with the newly reinstated Byzantine Emperor Michael VIII Palaeologus, who had returned to Constantinople in 1261 with the final collapse of Latin Romania.

For a mamluk inculcated in the arts of war rather than the intrigues of court politics, Sultan Baybars managed this tangled web of diplomatic interests with a surprisingly deft and assured hand–all the while manoeuvring to isolate the Mongol Ilkhanate and Latin Outremer.


Perfecting the Mamluk military machine

Between 1260 and 1265 Baybars was phenomenally active in the fields of diplomacy and statecraft. But ever mindful of the need to undertake urgent and extensive preparations for war, he simultaneously set the Mamluk state on the path to militarisation. The sultan’s underlying goal was to prosecute jihad against the Mongols and the Levantine Franks–scoring victories that would cement further his position and reputation, achieving conquests that would secure Muslim dominion over the Levant.

From the start, work proceeded apace to strengthen the Mamluk world’s physical defences. In Egypt, Alexandria’s fortifications were bolstered and the mouth of the Nile at Damietta was partially sealed to prevent another naval incursion up the delta akin to that mounted by Louis IX. Across Syria, battlements destroyed by the Mongols at the likes of Damascus, Baalbek and Shaizar were repaired. To the north-east, along the course of the Euphrates River–now the effective frontier with the Persian Ilkhanate–the castle of al-Bira became a strategic linchpin. The fortress was strengthened and heavily garrisoned, and its security closely monitored by Baybars via the barid. Al-Bira proved its worth in late 1264, when it successfully withstood the first serious offensive by Ilkhanid forces. This attack, brought on by a lull in the war between the Golden Horde and Mongol Persia, caused the sultan to rally his forces for war, but even as he prepared to march from Egypt reports arrived indicating that the Ilkhanids had already broken off their fruitless siege of al-Bira and retreated.

Above and beyond any reliance on castles, however, Sultan Baybars regarded the army as the bedrock of the Mamluk state. Adopting and extending the existing system of mamluk recruitment, he purchased thousands of young male slaves, drawn from Kipchak Turkish and, later, Caucasian stock. These boys were trained and indoctrinated as mamluk troops, and then at the age of eighteen freed to serve their masters within the Mamluk sultanate. This approach created a constantly self-rejuvenating military force–what one modern historian has called a ‘one-generation nobility’–because children born of mamluks were not regarded as being part of the martial elite, although they were permitted to enrol in the army’s second-tier halqa reserves.

Baybars ploughed massive financial reserves into building, training and refining the Mamluk army. In total, the number of mamluks was increased fourfold, to around 40,000 mounted troops. The core of this force was the 4,000-strong royal mamluk regiment–Baybars’ new elite, schooled and honed in a special practice facility within the citadel of Cairo. Here recruits were taught the arts of swordsmanship–learning to deliver precise strikes by repeating the same cut up to 1,000 times a day–and horse archery with powerful composite recurve bows. The sultan emphasised rigid discipline and rigorous military drilling across every section of the Mamluk host. In the course of his reign, two massive hippodromes were constructed in Cairo–training arenas where the essential skills of horsemanship and combat could be perfected. Whenever in the capital, Baybars himself came daily to practise the warrior craft, setting a standard of professionalism and dedication. His mamluks were encouraged to experiment with new weapons and techniques, some archers even attempting to use arrows doused in Greek fire from horseback.

Once of adult age, mamluks were paid, but also were expected to maintain their own horses, armour and weaponry. To ensure his forces were outfitted properly, Baybars instituted troop reviews, in which the entire army, in full martial regalia, would parade past the sultan in a single day (in part to ensure that equipment was not being shared). Failure to attend these displays was punishable by death. Fear was also used to maintain order while on campaign. The drinking of wine was banned on many expeditions, and any soldier caught contravening this injunction was summarily hanged.

To reinforce the human component of the Mamluk armed forces, Baybars invested in some forms of heavier armament. Close attention was paid to the development of siege weaponry, including sophisticated counter-weight catapults, or trebuchets. These engines became the mainstay of Mamluk siegecraft. Capable of being dismantled, borne to a target and then readily reconstructed, the largest could propel stones weighing in excess of 500 pounds. In addition to raw military power, Baybars also placed great value upon accurate and up-to-date intelligence. He therefore maintained an extensive network of spies and scouts across the Near East and received reports from agents embedded in Mongol and Frankish societies. The sultan also showed generous patronage to the nomadic Bedouin Arabs of the Levant, and thereby won their valuable support, both in military conflicts and in the gathering of information.

Through these diverse methods, Baybars constructed the most formidable Muslim army of the crusading era; a force more numerous, disciplined and ferocious than any yet encountered in the war for the Holy Land–the perfect military machine of its day. Having carefully legitimised and consolidated his hold on power, the sultan turned in 1265, with a united Islamic Near East behind him, to wield this deadly weapon in the name of jihad.

Cavalry Doctrine WWI Part I



By the end of the nineteenth century cavalry operations in European armies had become a matter of some doctrinal uncertainty. More powerful weapons, firing more accurately and at longer ranges, raised the question of the suitability, indeed the survivability, of the cavalry. This was no less the case in Germany than elsewhere. While the Franco-Prussian War had seemed to show that cavalry could still win a battle by means of the massed charge with cold steel, the true value of the German cavalry during that conflict had demonstrated itself in armed reconnaissance with a view to finding and fixing the enemy; screening and securing German forces; interdicting the enemy’s communications; and, at war’s end, foraging and anti-partisan operations. None of these missions, particularly neither of the first two, had changed by 1900, though some soon would as a result of the widespread application of internal-combustion technology.

At the dawn of the twentieth century, cavalry still possessed the unique ability to move almost at will, though not always rapidly, over the most varied terrain and in nearly all types of weather. Cavalrymen could leave the largely road- and rail-bound infantry literally in the dust. In Western Europe, however, mounted forces faced an interesting potential problem, one that had been noted as early as the late 1860s, namely the congested physical nature of the landscape over which armies might move in future. That portion of the North European Plain stretching from Normandy through France, Belgium, and the Netherlands and into northwestern Germany had a very high population-density by the last quarter of the nineteenth century. With it came a significant degree of industrial urbanization and attendant infrastructure. This infrastructure constituted a set of major obstacles to the free movement of mounted troops: intensively cultivated, and therefore very soft and wet, footing; numerous canals and railway lines; mine-pits and slag heaps; and innumerable fences and garden walls, the latter a delight to fox hunters but a real hindrance for heavily laden cavalrymen and their horses. Making these obstacles even more troublesome were the increasingly vast and complex fortifications strewn right across northwestern Europe from Liège and Namur past Luxemburg to Verdun. It was the latter’s job specifically to complicate the movement of armies and thereby hinder invasions or block them altogether.

As the Franco-Prussian War had so amply demonstrated, modern war had become terribly consumptive not only of cavalrymen but also of horseflesh. Despite advances in breeding and veterinary services, loss rates rose still further as the twentieth century dawned. Nevertheless, German and other cavalrymen assumed that horsed regiments would continue to have their place in the order of battle, even in the congested regions of northwestern Europe. The Germans’ experience in 1870–1871 had done little to convince them otherwise. On the contrary, German observers felt that the cavalry should be strengthened and modernized, not reduced or—worse—eliminated. For example, one of Germany’s most noted military authors of the era, General Friedrich von Bernhardi, called the early-twentieth-century strength of the German cavalry lamentably weak when compared to the mounted forces of France or Great Britain. The Boer War, he wrote, had shown what highly mobile and hard-hitting cavalry columns could still do, even in an age of high-powered infantry weapons. The key, he insisted, lay in ensuring that the German cavalry possessed its own accompanying bicycle-mounted infantry and more effective artillery, as well as training cavalrymen better as marksmen. Such additions would ensure that the horsemen could, if necessary, operate independently and with sufficient firepower to cause the enemy real damage. All the while they would retain their vaunted mobility, even though he never really explained what bicyclists would do once they ran out of road. He also cautioned, however, that every new war would create new conditions and totally unforeseen circumstances to which the cavalry, as all arms, would have to be ready to adapt.

Across the English Channel, Sir John French, who had “established his military reputation by his performance as a cavalryman in the Boer War” and who would later become the first commander of the British Expeditionary Force in France, shared this view. Though speaking for the British, his comments were ones that would have been widely shared in Germany. French wrote that cavalry circa 1900 were being taught to shirk exposure on the battlefield as a result of what he considered undue respect for infantry fire. “We ought,” he wrote to the contrary, “to be on our guard against false teachings of this nature…[and the] consequences of placing the weapon above the man” and, implicitly, above the horse. Of course, his own experiences in the Boer War might have taught him otherwise. Between 1899 and 1902, the British cavalry in South Africa “lost 347,000 of the 518,000 [horses] that took part, though the country abounded in good grazing” and possessed a “benign climate.” Of those lost, “no more than two per cent were lost in battle. The rest died of overwork, disease, or malnutrition, at a rate of 336 for each day of the campaign.”

In the absence of motorized vehicles, however, horses remained critical for mobility in that conflict. This fact represented the only real hope for the cavalry’s survival in European armies. Reinforcing the mobile importance of horse-mounted and horse-drawn forces, another feature of the Boer War stood out: among the Trek Boers, “every man was a mounted shot.” Like their earlier American counterparts in the Civil War and in the wars with the Plains Indians from 1850 to 1890, Boer horsemen were the quintessential mounted infantry. Though some of them might yet be armed with sabers, their primary weapon remained the rifle, and the horse served principally as a means of effective crosscountry transport. If there were to be a place for mounted formations at the dawn of the twentieth century, would it not have to be that of mounted infantry who would nevertheless fight dismounted? British cavalrymen increasingly thought so after 1902. Accordingly they were equipped and trained with rifles rather than carbines and achieved a level of firepower and accuracy approaching that of the British infantry. They were becoming essentially what in British and British imperial terminology were designated mounted rifles: skilled “horsemen trained to fight on foot, men who are mounted and intend to perform all the duties of cavalry, except that which may best be described as ‘the shock.’ It is expected of them that they should perform all the outpost [sic], reconnoitering, and patrolling of an army in a manner similar to cavalry; the only difference being that they must rely solely upon their fire power for defensive and offensive action.”

Commenting on the lessons to be drawn from another war of the period, the Russo-Japanese War of 1904–1905, German and Austrian officers came to a rather different set of conclusions. Under the pseudonym “Asiaticus,” a German officer wrote that Russian cavalrymen were too ready to go to ground with their firearms. In doing so, he said, they repeatedly sacrificed the cavalry’s greatest asset, namely its mobility. Similarly, Austrian count Gustav Wrangel observed that the Russian horsemen’s experience demonstrated that troopers could not serve both firearms and the saber equally well and be skilled riders at the same time. In any case, Wrangel noted, too great a reliance on firearms robbed the cavalryman of his desire to charge the enemy and implicitly deprived him of his real weapons, the sword and the lance.

Such arguments continued unabated, even as rapid technological change continued to force the cavalry to adapt. Combining horse-soldiers with the technology that did exist culminated in the following calculation: railways would be used for initial operational deployment, as they had been for German armies ever since 1866. Increasingly heavy artillery would be the primary offensive preparation against field positions. The latter would then be taken by infantry assault. For its part, the cavalry would still be used for reconnaissance, screening, security, encirclement, and pursuit, if no longer for the battle-winning charge with swords drawn. One may argue, however, there’s not much terribly novel in this approach. Cavalry had often been used for precisely these tasks in the Western military tradition ever since Hannibal’s charging horsemen cut off the legions’ retreat at Cannae and rode down the survivors (a favor the Romans returned at Zama). The mounted warrior’s ethos and the tradition of the cavalry’s shock value nevertheless lingered up to the outbreak of war in 1914. Even then, however, missions such as long-range screening and reconnaissance or interdiction of the enemy’s lines of supply had not fully displaced the assumption that at least some future battles might still be decided by the massed cavalry attack. In a view no doubt shared among more than a few German cavalrymen, the British Army’s Cavalry Training Manual of 1907 still pronounced as a matter of principle that rifle fire, however effective it might be, “cannot replace the effect produced by the speed of the horse, the magnetism of the charge, and the terror of cold steel.”

One prominent British officer, Colonel G. F. R. Henderson, deduced from the campaigns of the Boer War that the sentiment as expressed in the Cavalry Manual meant that the cavalry at the turn of the century was “as obsolete as the crusaders.” If, however, the matter of the infantry’s use of the bayonet is considered, then the cavalry’s retention of the sword, and even the lance, may not seem so far-fetched, whether in Germany or Great Britain. The same officer had earlier been pleased that the British Infantry Regulations of 1880 had reiterated the psychological and tactical importance of the bayonet at close quarters, despite the by-then-widespread use of smokeless powder, magazine-fed rifles, and rapid-firing field artillery. Admittedly, Henderson modified his opinion about the bayonet’s efficacy as a result of the Boer War, just as he did for the sword-armed cavalry. As the events of 1914–1918 repeatedly showed, however, German, British, and other infantry routinely went over the top with bayonets fixed long after the cavalry on the Western Front was deemed utterly useless. Indeed, the success of the Japanese infantry in their costly assaults against prepared Russian positions at Mukden and Port Arthur during the Russo-Japanese War seemed to show that the foot soldier’s cold steel could still be employed with decisive effect provided that the attacking infantry had sufficient preparatory artillery support and a sufficient reserve of raw courage while covering the fire-swept zone between the opposing trench lines. Bernhardi, as well as another influential German military writer of the period, Colonel Wilhelm Balck, shared this assessment. Both stressed the “moral factor” (i.e., morale) as much as they stressed the material factor as a determinant of victory. They also applied it equally to the individual soldier and the nation in whose army he served. If, therefore, prominent military thinkers still posited a useful role for the bayonet, and if cold steel really could still frighten an enemy soldier—he need only imagine a foot or more of it being plunged into his gut—then the cavalry’s retention of edged weapons and even lances does not seem so odd.

Cavalry Doctrine WWI Part II



Ironically, however, the massed cavalry attack was in part made more unlikely by the very masses of infantry that some cavalrymen still confidently intended to drive from the field. Railways proved to be just as efficient as prewar planners had hoped in delivering unprecedented numbers of men and equipment for battle. For example, in approximately one month’s time after the outbreak of hostilities in 1914, some 312 divisions of French, German, Austrian, and Russian troops had been brought by rail to the battlefronts, a number excluding hundreds of thousands of cavalry mounts and draft horses. Having reached the enemy’s territory, however, those same masses of troops in a certain sense became a liability. From the railhead onward, those surging tides of men continued to have to move largely on foot even while officers, cavalry troopers, and artillerymen rode. Furthermore, such huge numbers of troops, regardless of branch of service, had to be supplied by logistics trains still relying primarily on the power of horseflesh. Therefore, horses (and mules) remained a critical element of all the European armies at war’s outbreak and not merely in the putatively outmoded cavalry regiments. An indication of horses’ continued necessity reveals itself in the following statistic: the single largest category of cargo unloaded in the French ports for the British army throughout the entire period of 1914–1918 was horse fodder. Similarly, the Director of Military Operations in the War Office from 1910 to 1914, Major-General Henry Wilson, ensured that the BEF’s mobilization plan included such apparently minor, but nonetheless crucial, details as “the provision of horse-stall fittings and gangways at the French ports” for the hundreds of thousands of horses (and mules) that the British armies in France would need from the start. From the war’s earliest days, similar numbers of horses were being mobilized all across Europe for the cavalry, artillery, and transport services: 165,000 in Britain; 600,000 in Austria; more than a million in Russia. The European-wide ratio of horses to men generally was estimated to be 1:3.

In Germany, as in all other combatant nations in 1914, horses were called up in unprecedented numbers from their civil tasks on farms, in businesses, and field sports. On 31 July the upper house of Germany’s parliament, the Imperial Federal Council (Bundesrat), issued decrees prohibiting the exportation of fodder, provisions, and livestock. Making Germany’s equine mobilization even more efficient was the fact that German horses, like their human counterparts, had to be registered in peacetime; thus the military authorities knew where the horses were “at all times.” Inaugurated in 1900, this system “involved a regular census and inspection of all horses in the country. Beasts were graded and a picture was built up of the nation’s horse stock. A horse muster commission was established in each corps [area] to draw up detailed orders for the impressment of animals. These orders would be carried out prior to the full implementation of Germany’s mobilization plan.” Augmenting civilian registration and subsequent mobilization were the various State studs. The Hanoverian State Stud based at Celle, for example, alone provided annual deliveries of some 2,500 remounts to the German army by 1914, while the East Prussian State Stud at Trakehnen shipped out fully 7,000 per annum. In addition to these private and State-sponsored resources at home, the German government also continued to look abroad for horseflesh. The U.S. Consul General in Berlin, Robert P. Skinner, was cited in the New York Times Magazine of 3 May 1914 as reporting that the German government was advertising “in certain American newspapers for 500 American thoroughbreds, 1,000 more or less pedigreed horses, and 1,000 draught horses for artillery use.” German purchasing agents were also reportedly active in Ireland, having evidently “contracted for every horse on the Irish landscape…up to 1916.” Other agents had even “invaded France and bought up 18,000 first-class cavalry and artillery mounts.”

Though the war would necessarily nullify such prewar contracts, the Germans’ need for such numbers of horses remained clear. A combat-ready corps of the regular German army in 1914 required no fewer than 280 trains comprising more than 12,000 railway cars in order to move from its depot to its deployment area. Those cars included 2,960 specially outfitted to transport only horses. Similarly, the need for provender was enormous, as already indicated. Given 1914’s standard daily horse ration of approximately twenty-two pounds (10 kg) of feed and fodder, the German First Army alone required approximately 840 tons of feed and fodder each day for its establishment strength of 84,000 horses of all types. That requirement compares with approximately 555 tons of daily rations for the same army’s 260,000 men. “To put it another way, the First Army needed 50% more food for horses than for men, though it had over three times as many men as horses.” In all, the German army of 1914 intended to move not only three million men but also fully 600,000 horses merely for the initial campaign in northwestern Europe. These staggering totals required an equally breathtaking commitment of rolling stock to get the troops, their horses, and their equipment to the frontiers. No fewer than 11,000 trains were scheduled in the mobilization plan.

Of course, from the war’s opening days on the Western Front, the German army also attempted to requisition horses in occupied territory, precisely because anticipated losses of horseflesh demanded it. In southern Alsace around Belfort, not far from the battlefields of 1870, enforced requisitioning began as early as 2 August, according to reports in the British press. Naturally, such attempts did not go uncontested. One German officer, apparently acting alone, reportedly entered one locale only to be “forced hurriedly to retreat” by enraged civilians. Similarly, in other villages German troops on the same mission were said to have been driven off by pitchfork-wielding Frenchmen. Such searches could quickly escalate to skirmishing. German dragoons attempting to enter Villers-la-Montagne, for example, found themselves forced to retreat by French chasseurs, while a full German mounted regiment’s attack at Montfortane failed in the face of French infantry fire.

Nevertheless, at least on the Western Front, the cavalry’s tactical and operational importance diminished rapidly as the lines stabilized after the First Battle of the Marne. Well aimed rifle-fire, particularly of the British “Old Contemptibles” of 1914, machine guns, and artillery quickly showed themselves capable of bringing effective gridlock to battlefields eventually made completely inert by the construction of the trenches. Furthermore, one of the cavalry’s by-now-classic functions—turning the enemy’s flank—proved itself increasingly difficult given the soon-to-be static nature of the lines in France. The force-to-space ratio was so high that infantrymen were finding maneuver ever more problematic absent effective and widespread motorization. It therefore became impossible for cavalry, whether German, French, or British, to envelop flanks that were never sufficiently “in the air” after September 1914. Such a conundrum was particularly troublesome for the German army. As already noted, the army’s doctrine since the late 1860s had envisioned the cavalry’s playing precisely that flanking role, as it had done in 1870. Once the enemy’s flanks had been overlapped and his frontal defenses smashed by fire, but only then, would his positions be taken by assault. If, however, flanks could not be turned, then the cavalry on the Western Front would either have to wait for the increasingly improbable great breakthrough or—the worst of fates for the cavalryman’s ethos—fight permanently dismounted.

As the German cavalry rode to war in 1914, their expectations were matched by their counterparts on the Allied side. Since at least the summer of 1911, the French army’s General Staff expected that in a war against Germany, the British would dispatch a force of some 150,000 men and 67,000 horses, the latter including mounts for a full cavalry division and two separate mounted brigades. The French and British staffs also fully expected to meet German cavalry in force. Indeed, as early as 1908 the French Superior Council of War had received an analysis of likely German wartime action. That analysis predicted a German drive through at least eastern Belgium around the northern flank of France’s frontier defenses. This prediction recognized the Germans’ “tradition of enveloping their opponent’s flanks,” a mission almost impossible in 1914 without the employment of strong mounted forces capable of rapid, wide-ranging movement. As a consequence, no fewer than nine of the German army’s eleven cavalry divisions found themselves on the Western Front in 1914. That fact alone indicated the expected importance devolving upon mounted forces in a campaign designed to defeat France before Russia could mobilize effectively.

Each of these German cavalry divisions had an establishment-strength between 4,500 and 5,200 men and some 5,600 horses, including remounts. A typical mounted division included between 3,500 and 3,600 troopers armed with carbines, sabers, and, in many cases lances, to fight specifically as cavalry. In addition, each division had an organic infantry battalion (Jäger zu Pferde, literally “hunters on horseback”) of as many as 1,000 men. Presaging future motorization, the Jäger were typically bicycle- or truck-mounted, though as their name actually indicates, they often rode as well. Frequently, however, they slogged along on the boot-leather express, just as the infantry has done since time immemorial. Interestingly enough, though no one could know it in 1914, this relationship between mounted and dismounted German troops would be exactly reversed in 1939. In World War II it would be the infantry divisions that would have a cavalry squadron in their organic reconnaissance battalions.

In 1914 the standard primary weapon for both the Jäger and mounted troopers alike was the Mauser M1898, 7.92-mm carbine. Nevertheless, some cavalrymen also still carried straight-edged swords. In the heavy cavalry regiments the sword was a thrusting, rather than a cutting, weapon having a 36-inch (91-cm) blade and known as a Pallasch. The Pallasch weighed just a few ounces less than three pounds (1.36 kg). Uhlans and other light cavalry carried a similar weapon but one slightly lighter in weight and implicitly intended more for slashing. Still others were armed with sabers as such. As for offensive heavy weapons, German cavalry divisions also possessed—in a manner similar to other European cavalry forces—their own horse-artillery detachment of twelve guns in three batteries per division. According to the German timetable at the start of the campaign in the west, the entirety of such a division was supposed to cover between twelve and twenty miles (up to 32 km) per day. The cavalry expected to cover these miles in one of four recognized gaits: the walk, trot, gallop, and “extended gallop.” The canter appears to have been used only for march-pasts. Using these gaits, German horsemen could cover between 125 (walk) and 700 (“extended gallop”) paces per minute, a “pace” being about 31 inches (78 cm). In other words, cavalry at the walk—the most frequent marching gait—would cover just over one hundred yards (91 m) per minute or about three-and-a-half miles per hour. While that is about the speed of fast-moving infantry, it must be remembered that horses could keep going for longer periods of time, particularly if the infantryman was carrying his full load of equipment. At the trot, a good ground-covering gait that spares the horse if the trooper posts, the cavalry could cover 275 paces per minute or approximately 8 miles per hour (not quite 13 km/h). In point of fact, the distance covered daily by the cavalry would almost certainly be greater. Given the constant need for reconnaissance forays and screening operations, the horsemen would of necessity have to ride many more miles than that. Thus equipped and ready to move, the German cavalry in 1914, particularly the eight divisions eventually grouped in two corps during the so-called Race to the Sea after the First Battle of the Marne, constituted “the largest body of horsemen ever to be collected in Western Europe before or since.” In light of their numbers and their theoretical mobility, they had at least the potential to be everywhere.

Carolingian Warfare II



Lower Austria did have a large Romanized population, but it was concentrated along the Danube and in the lower reaches of the fertile Traisen Valley. The only Roman road in Danubian Lower Austria ran through these densely populated riverside areas from Linz to Melk, whence it skirted the steep hills opposite the Wachau and reached the Traisen at Sankt Pölten, then turning once again toward to the Danube at Traismauer, where a cavalry unit was garrisoned in the late imperial period. From this point the road followed the Danube by way of Tulln to Vienna, where it was joined by the routes leading southeast via Baden or Sopron to the important junction at Szombathely. Thus, the connection between Noricum Ripense and Sirmium ran along the Danube to Vienna, then through Pannonia via Szombathely, Lake Balaton, and Pécs. Points along this ancient route to Sirmium appear prominently in the Carolingian sources.

Frankish Bavaria, then, inherited an elaborate system of Roman roads that, following the natural contours of the Alps, led southeast. If Frankish expeditions in the ninth century were directed against a Moravia that lay somewhere near the watergate of the central Danubian basin, Carolingian armies would certainly have utilized these routes and commanders would have taken great pains to establish support facilities along them. Armies are cities in motion, and, as such, they have basic needs that must be satisfied each day. The momentum of an army, like that of a battleship, makes it difficult to change its direction. While armies can maneuver, of course, their freedom of action is always limited by considerations involving the availability of food and fodder; they run great risks when they venture into regions where men and animals cannot be sustained. Evidence of logistical infrastructures along routes leading from Bavaria in the direction of Belgrade provides a powerful argument supporting the southern Moravian hypothesis, for such a military organization would only make sense if Carolingian objectives involved control of the central Danubian watergate.


In a stimulating book on the logistics of the Macedonian army, Donald Engels whose salient findings are also relevant to the age of Charlemagne demonstrated the dimensions of the supply problem that Alexander the Great’s armies faced when invading hostile territory. He concluded that three days was the maximum survival time for an army that had to carry all of its own food, fodder, water, tents, and armor through the most difficult terrain possible. To survive for four days a huge train of pack animals would have been necessary. Even at that, on the fifth day a crisis would occur, for by then men and beasts would have consumed all of the increased burden that the pack animals could have carried, even at half rations. Engels also discovered that the ratio between the army’s consumption rate and its carrying capability remains constant no matter how many personnel or pack animals are used to transport supplies, so a smaller force would find it no easier to carry its own supplies than a larger one. Moreover, it would not help if cavalry mounts packed supplies, for war-horses used in this manner cannot be ready for combat when they arrive at their destination, ”after the fourth day, they would be so much meat on the hoof.” By the fifth day the army would have suffered heavy casualties, leaving it in no condition to conduct a siege or to fight a battle. Thus, Engels limits the effective range of an army operating under such difficult circumstances to three days, or roughly ninety kilometers.

However, this is a worst-case scenario that assumes that there were no provisions along the line of march, that the land was either barren or that it was not harvest time and/or it had been deserted by indigenous peasants who had taken their food supplies with them. This model also posits that there was no potable water along the route. While Alexander the Great, who operated in the arid Near East, dealt with such extremes, Carolingian armies would never have faced similar prospects in the central Danubian basin; thus, they had a greater range. Moreover, it should be obvious that a change in any variable of this model results in a considerable augmentation of the distance that an army could cover before running out of supplies. Engels estimates, for example, that if the army did not have to carry its own water, it could triple its range to nine days or three hundred kilometers. Moreover, large-scale Carolingian military operations against Moravia generally did take place in the summer and were accompanied by the pillaging of territory, so some forage must have been available for troops and animals. The availability of forage would, of course, have considerably increased the distances over which Carolingian armies could strike.

The territory that an army could effectively dominate also varied with the physical features of the landscape. Navigable rivers exponentially increased the range of armies. Greater amounts of food, fodder, and water can be conveyed by boats (which need no nourishment) than by a train of pack or draft animals, each devouring a daily ration of ten pounds of grain and anequal amount of hay, which also had to be transported. 66 Barges moving downstream with the current proceed more quickly than a supply train, and, unlike animals, barges do not tire. The availability of rivercraft would also have facilitated the movement of such heavy equipment as siege engines, tents, arms, armor, picks, shovels, and so on. As we shall see, rivercraft operating on the Danube, the Drava, and the Sava considerably eased the problem of supply in the central Danubian basin. Terrain also determined the rate of march, a significant consideration for an army carrying all or even a portion of its supplies. Because daily rates of consumption are invariable, it is important for an army on campaign to reach its destination or some point of resupply as quickly as possible.

Assuming the validity of a southern Moravian thesis, there were four routes from Bavaria to the Danubian watergate. One, of course, was the Danube itself. This route would have been the best assuming that Rastislav’s realm was centered on the Alföld. There were, however, some strategic problems with it, involving suitable localities for troops to disembark between Budapest and Belgrade. Also, river convoys could have been easily ambushed unless they were supported by terrestrially based forces moving along both banks of the river. Such forces would have had to endure a long and difficult march. And, once troops and supplies had landed, they still faced a march of several days over difficult terrain that would have favored the indigenous defenders before reaching the centers of a Moravian realm east of the Tisza. Assuming that Frankish forces landed near either Osijek or Novi Sad, they would have had two hundred kilometers in front of them (seven days) to reach Cenad, if that is where Rastislav’s capital was located on the Alföld. If they did not have to carry water, such an objective could be achieved. Nonetheless, the army would have been exhausted and isolated from its sources of support before arriving at its destination. A final difficulty involved the necessity of leaving some forces behind to guard the rivercraft. As we shall see, such forces and their boats were extremely vulnerable to surprise attacks. On strictly theoretical grounds, then, Eggers’s conclusion that it would have been difficult for Carolingian forces to have exercised a great deal of control over a Moravian principality east of the Tisza is plausible.

A second route (a land one) was the most direct. It went diagonally through modern Hungary from Sopron to Pécs. This route would have been suitable for campaigns against a realm located either on the Alföld or near Sirmium. From Vienna this route followed the Roman road to Szombathely, then skirted the swamps west of Lake Balaton and veered south-eastward in the direction of Pécs. An army using this route would have had to transport its supplies or otherwise acquire them along the way. Since this route through Hungary was used by many crusading armies in a later and better documented era, we have some knowledge of the rates of march of those forces. During the Third Crusade, for example, Frederick Barbarossa’s army arrived in Vienna on May 26 or 27, but only reached Belgrade on June 29. This army, however, encountered frequent delays, so we need not assume that Carolingian units would have required an entire month to traverse four hundred kilometers from Vienna to Belgrade. The crusaders encountered different circumstances in the more developed twelfth century than those which Carolingian armies had to face in the ninth. For example, crusaders purchased their comestible supplies along the way. This fact did not, however, increase their rate of march; on the contrary, many of the delays experienced by these forces resulted from problems and expenses involved in the procurement of necessities. Yet Barbarossa’s army sometimes advanced at a rate of 18.8 miles per day, which roughly corresponds to Engels’s estimated daily average of thirty kilometers. On the other hand, it is probable that Carolingian armies on a prolonged march through Pannonia could have averaged no more than twenty-five kilometers.

If we assume that Carolingian forces were able to maintain a pace of twenty-five kilometers each day on the march through Pannonia, it still would have taken them fifteen days to reach Sirmium from Vienna (between 350 and 380 kilometers). Thus, Sirmium was well beyond the range of a self-sufficient army that had to carry its supplies from bases near Vienna. Frankish forces using this route could, then, only have invaded the region bounded by the lower reaches of the Drava and the Sava if there were adequate support facilities along the way. A Carolingian army operating from Szombathely, on the other hand, would have been 85 kilometers closer (approximately eleven days from Sirmium); a base near the western end of Lake Balaton would have been 65 kilometers closer still (within the nine days); and a place of resupply at Pécs would have been only 120 kilometers (five days) from the ancient capital on the lower Sava. As we have seen, a force that did not have to carry its own water could sustain itself for nine days. Thus, an army moving through Pannonia and supported by existing facilities as far as Pécs (or even Zalavár) would have been within striking distance of Sirmium, even if it had to carry its own food and fodder from that point on. This task, however, would not have been necessary, for, southeast of Pécs, forces could have been refurbished by boats operating on the Drava and Sava rivers.

Since an army marching overland from Sopron to Sirmium via Pécs could be resupplied by rivercraft on the Drava at Osijek and provisions and siege engines could be transported on the Sava to the very walls of Sirmium itself, we must conclude that the ancient capital was within reach of an army that began its march to the southeast from Vienna, provided that the key points of supply in Pannonia (Sopron, Szombathely, Zalavár, and Pécs) were in the hands of Frankish margraves or indigenous Slavic leaders who supported them and that the upper reaches of the Drava and Sava in Carantania were in friendly hands. From localities in Transdanubia the troops could be refurbished with food, fodder, and potable water. Siege and noncomestible equipment could be ferried down the Drava and Sava in the company of troops entering Pannonia from bases in Carantania. If Carolingian armies were indeed able to conduct effective military operations against a Moravian principality situated between the lower Drava and Sava, or one east of the Danube and the Tisza, there must have existed a logistical infrastructure extending along the overland route from Vienna to Szombathely and extending via Zalavár as far southeast as Pécs. A point of supply near the west end of Lake Balaton (Zalavár), two and a half days from Szombathely, would have eased considerably the movement of an army in the direction of Pécs, approximately one hundred kilometers farther southeast.

The pivotal strongholds in such a system of logistics would have been Sopron and Szombathely, where the hills of Burgenland give way to the rolling country of western Hungary. Szombathely would have been especially important. In addition to controlling the road leading southeast to Balaton and Pécs, it also straddled the ancient via militaris leading southwest to the Drava crossing at Ptuj, a march of four days (slightly more than one hundred kilometers). Ptuj, the locality that would have ensured communications between forces moving southeast from Carantania with those operating in Pannonia, was also a point from which the Pannonian army could have been resupplied by rivercraft on the Drava. A communication and supply system linking forces advancing through Pannonia with those moving along the Drava and Sava from Carantania would have been indispensable to support armies invading the region near Sirmium.

This discussion leads us to a consideration of the two remaining routes. These were the ones leading from Bavaria through the Alps to the region known in ninth-century sources as Carantania (the modern Austrian provinces of Carinthia and Styria and the South Slavic Republic of Slovenia), whence one route followed the Drava and the other the Sava south-east. Although these rivers could only be reached after grueling marches over passes, once their headwaters had been attained, the routes along them had an advantage insofar as fluvial navigation could then be utilized to supply armies proceeding southeast. Utilizing the Drava and the Sava, armies could advance rapidly toward the central Danubian watergate. Control over these two routes was, then, absolutely essential for Frankish military operations against a Moravian principality located in southeastern Pannonia. As we shall see, Carolingian expeditions against the realms of Rastislav and Zwentibald had little chance of success when East Frankish kings lost control of Carantania.

The arrival of the BEF in Mons


A Company, 4th Royal Fusiliers, resting in the square at Mons on 22 August 1914. They were to move up to the canal bank at Nimy.


The British began arriving on 22 August. Part of Brigadier-General Doran’s 8 Brigade (3rd Division) entered Mons itself and then moved on, 4/Middx (Middlesex) on the right, on the west bank of the Canal du Centre, whilst the other three battalions were close behind. 4/RF (Royal Fusiliers), of Brigadier-General Shaw’s 9 Brigade went through the town to the village of Nimy, which lay a mile to the north but was situated on the south bank of the Canal du Centre as it curved around to the south west. The three other battalions of the Brigade took up position to the west and south of the Condé Canal, which put them to the left rear of the Fusiliers.

Behind both brigades was Brigadier-General McCracken’s 7 Brigade; the 3rd Division was ready to move forward.

Major-General Fergusson’s 5th Division was spread out to the left of the 3rd, along the south bank of the remarkably straight Condé Canal. On the right was Brigadier-General Cuthbert’s 13 Brigade; Brigadier-General Count von Gleichen’s 15 Brigade in reserve and Brigadier-General Rolf’s 14th on the left, at its extremity some nine miles from Mons. By the evening the troops had all found billets in factories, schools and houses; and although they only anticipated staying until the following day, they dug in, helped by enthusiastic young Belgians. Similar scenes were taking place on I Corps front, off to the right. Intermingled amongst the infantry corps were elements of Allenby’s Cavalry Division, which had already got reconnaissance patrols on the far side of the canals. They were checking the way for the next move, which was to be an advance by II Corps to the north.

The 72 batteries of artillery had also been busily engaged in finding suitable positions, far from easy in the crowded country with its numerous mining villages. The majority had to be content with sites too far away from the canals to be effective, but a few did manage to get well forward. XL Brigade RFA managed to establish itself on the dominating hill a mile from Mons; 107 Field Battery established itself between the town and Nimy.

It was in the 5th Division area that there were the greatest problems. Major CS Holland, commanding 120 Field Battery of XXVII Brigade, managed to bring his four 18 pounders onto the canal towpath at Saint Ghislain.

Some of the Forward Observation Officers (FOO) thought they had found ideal places from which to view the enemy – when and if they came – from the top of the slag heaps. On the other hand, they were quick to discover the drawbacks: they were hot and smoking, with a thin crust that could break and through which a man could fall. Men from the coal mining areas were all too aware of this danger. Still, they were not going to be there for long.

The Royal Engineers were busy as well, examining the bridges to look at their load bearing capabilities and also how they might be destroyed if necessary. The CRE (Commander, Royal Engineers) of the two corps also discussed the recruiting of gangs of civilians to dig defences – in the light of what was soon to come they would be useful.

Early on the morning of 22 August Brigadier-General de Lisle’s 2 (Cavalry) Brigade had been out covering the approaches from Brussels, well to the front of the main bulk of the army. Major Tom Bridges (eventually to become a major-general), commanding C Squadron of 4/(Royal Irish) Dragoon Guards, had his men in a wood just over the bridges at Nimy, about two miles up the road to Brussels [1]. This was in the village of Casteau, about four miles from Soignies, further up on the road to Brussels. At about 7am he saw four German cavalrymen trotting towards him. He would find out later that they were of the 4/Cuirassiers (Lancers) of the 9th (Cavalry) Division. They must have suspected something and began to turn back towards Soignies. Captain Hornby, followed by his Troop, gave chase along the pavéd road, alongside which a tram track ran. Corporal Thomas after a few moments dismounted and fired his rifle, hitting one of them [2]. The pursuit [3] continued for about a mile until, at a minor crossroads known as the Queen of Hungary [4], the enemy received reinforcements and a hand to hand battle of the thirty or forty cavalrymen took place. Some of the Cuirassiers were killed and a number captured – the Germans broke off the engagement and galloped off down the road.

Thomas was a regular soldier who had joined the army when he was fourteen; it is claimed that he was the first man to fire a shot in anger in the British army in the war. Hornby was awarded the DSO for his part in the skirmish. His men brought back a number of lances, helmets and other trophies; more importantly they had discovered the fact that the German cavalry were not up to their standard and that more significant numbers of Germans must be close by.

Thomas was a regular soldier who had joined the army when he was fourteen; it is claimed that he was the first man to fire a shot in anger in the British army in the war. Hornby was awarded the DSO for his part in the skirmish. His men brought back a number of lances, helmets and other trophies; more importantly they had discovered the fact that the German cavalry were not up to their standard and that more significant numbers of Germans must be close by.

The German cavalry of the IIIrd and IXth Corps were engaged in scouting in front of the main bodies of their infantry, blissfully unaware of where the British actually were – an ignorance shared by their Army commander, von Kluck. This ignorance, and his concern about the vulnerability of his right flank, was to play an important part in the development of the Battle of Mons. At one stage he was convinced that large numbers of British troops were detraining at Tournai, well to the west, and this was to hold up the advance of vital elements of his army for several hours before it was ascertained that these troops were in fact only a brigade of French Territorials.

A Squadron of 19/Hussars, commanded by Major Parsons, accompanied by Captain JC Burnett and his 5th Cyclist Company (5th Division), were patrolling five miles north of the Condé Canal in the wooded area north of the village of Hautrage in front of 14 Brigade, when they met up with German cavalry. The engagement between the two small forces went on for most of the day. The Hussars were reluctant to retire as their Short Magazine Lee Enfield, with its long range, was causing so much damage; but the Cuirassiers received reinforcements. The Hussars’ efforts to prevent the enemy reaching the outposts of 1/DCLI (Duke of Cornwall’s Light Infantry), who only arrived at the canal in the afternoon, were gradually being overcome. They retired to Pommeroeul and then Le Petit Crepin; with the assistance of a troop of Life Guards from 4 (Cavalry) Brigade they came back over the canal.

The German cavalry of the IIIrd and IXth Corps were engaged in scouting in front of the main bodies of their infantry, blissfully unaware of where the British actually were – an ignorance shared by their Army commander, von Kluck. This ignorance, and his concern about the vulnerability of his right flank, was to play an important part in the development of the Battle of Mons. At one stage he was convinced that large numbers of British troops were detraining at Tournai, well to the west, and this was to hold up the advance of vital elements of his army for several hours before it was ascertained that these troops were in fact only a brigade of French Territorials.

A Squadron of 19/Hussars, commanded by Major Parsons, accompanied by Captain JC Burnett and his 5th Cyclist Company (5th Division), were patrolling five miles north of the Condé Canal in the wooded area north of the village of Hautrage in front of 14 Brigade, when they met up with German cavalry. The engagement between the two small forces went on for most of the day. The Hussars were reluctant to retire as their Short Magazine Lee Enfield, with its long range, was causing so much damage; but the Cuirassiers received reinforcements. The Hussars’ efforts to prevent the enemy reaching the outposts of 1/DCLI (Duke of Cornwall’s Light Infantry), who only arrived at the canal in the afternoon, were gradually being overcome. They retired to Pommeroeul and then Le Petit Crepin; with the assistance of a troop of Life Guards from 4 (Cavalry) Brigade they came back over the canal.

Over on the right flank, in front of 4/Middx at the Canal du Centre, German cavalry were active in the late afternoon. They exchanged rifle fire with D Company from over the canal at Obourg. There were no casualties, but the Battalion was the first infantry to fire at the Germans in the Great War.