Cavalry Doctrine WWI Part I

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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

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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

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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.

Logistics

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

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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.

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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.

Italian Renaissance Cavalry

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In the early years of the fifteenth century, Italian warfare was certainly affected by the absence of any large bodies of highly trained infantry. There was no lasting equivalent to the English archers or later the Swiss pike squares in Italian warfare. Thus there was no pressure on Italian cavalry commanders to dismount their men-at-arms or otherwise adapt their methods. The basic unit of Italian cavalry forces remained until about 1450 the three-man lance. This was not an all-round fighting unit of the type that the French and Burgundian lances became, in which archers and crossbow-men supported the man-at-arms. The Italian lance remained fundamentally a cavalry unit and, in a certain sense, had a social as well as a military justification. In the early fifteenth century the type of three-man lance attributed to Hawkwood, in which two similarly armed men-at-arms were accompanied by a page, was still common. But this had developed in the context of men-at-arms fighting on foot and as this became less common so the lance tended to change to a structure of one man-at-arms with a less well armoured sergeant and a page. Increasingly the main task of both the followers was to ‘service’ the leader of the lance, to groom, hold and lead his horses, maintain his arms and armour, provide his food and carry his messages. As long as the needs of the man-at-arms varied little, the size of his entourage remained static.

But after 1450 the three-man lance was no longer the rule, particularly when armies were put on a war footing. At first the changes were informal, and the only indication of them comes from contracts which laid down the minimum number of men-at-arms in a given body of cavalry. Increasingly this number represented less than one-third, and the references to such men as ‘true men-at-arms’ (armigeri veri) or ‘helmets’ (elmetti) would suggest that fighting men other than the traditional heavily armed man-at-arms were appearing amongst the lances. That it also meant an increase in the size of the lance is clear from specific references to four-man lances in Florentine and Milanese contracts in the 1470’s, and to the five-man corazza in papal contracts in the 1460’s.

The corazza was clearly a development from the lance, and the fact that it was first used in the papal army about 1464 suggests that perhaps the recent presence of Angevin troops in Naples, organised into six-man lances, may have influenced this Italian innovation. However, whether the new formation in fact imitated the French lance in including crossbowmen and transforming itself into an all-round fighting unit seems unlikely. No evidence has yet come to light of the exact composition of the corazza or the enlarged lance, but it seems most probable that it differed little in function from the old three-man lance. The needs of the man-at-arms were changing by this time; the growing weight of armour of both man and horse meant that war-horses tired more quickly and a man-at-arms had to change mounts frequently during a battle. This meant more horses and more attendants to look after them and lead them. At the same time there was a tendency, as men-at-arms became more heavily armoured, for their opponents to strike at their mounts. This had been considered ‘bad war’ in the early fifteenth century, but by the later years was accepted practice. The result of this also was to increase the number of horses and attendants needed by each man-at-arms. There were therefore clear reasons for the expansion of the Italian lance without it necessarily changing its nature, and, given the fact that supporting light cavalry and infantry units were developing outside the traditional framework of the lance, it seems likely that the lance or corazza continued to serve the same function.

As well as the changes which were taking place in the lance around the middle of the century, there was also a move to standardise the larger units in Italian cavalry forces. The squadron of 25 lances had always been a rough guide-line for cavalry organisation, and the larger condottiere companies had tended to be organised roughly on this basis. But in the days of the greater independence of the companies around the beginning of the fifteenth century, it was the company itself which had been the normal battle unit. Given the immense differences in size of the companies, this was too untidy a system for the more highly organised and integrated armies of the later years. So not only were the condotte themselves becoming increasingly standardised, particularly at 50 or 100 lances, but also the squadron of 20-25 was becoming more accepted as a standard unit. By the later years of the century, armies were being assessed in numbers of squadrons rather than numbers of lances. With the increased size of the lance, this meant that the total strength of a squadron was increasing, and squadrons of the 1460’s and 1470’s would number up to 150 men. But the actual fighting strength remained much the same, around 25 men-at-arms commanded by a caposquadra or squadriere.

Another feature of the emerging organisation was the appearance of larger units known as columns. Even in the fourteenth- and early fifteenth-century armies, a number of senior condottieri had been named as ‘marshals’, and this had implied a certain subdivision of the army. But it was only in the second half of the fifteenth century that a clearly defined larger unit began to emerge and a senior condottiere was sometimes described as a colonello. The size of the column varied greatly depending on the overall size of the army, but it is clear that in the armies of this period, groups of eight to ten cavalry squadrons were being organised together, regardless of the condottiere companies of which they formed a part. Sometimes a company would be split between two columns, although this was still probably exceptional.

Apart from these developments in organisation and formation, the role and methods of heavy cavalry changed little in the fifteenth century. Greater emphasis on squadron units allowed for greater flexibility and discipline in battle, and it is certainly a misconception to think of the mass frontal cavalry charge as being the main tactical manoeuvre of Italian heavy cavalry. But they remained basically heavily armoured lancers. This does not mean that they were the cumbersome, robot-like figures, beloved of epic film makers, who had to be lowered on to their horses by primitive cranes. The most sophisticated armour in Europe was produced in Italy, providing a maximum of protection compatible with freedom of movement. A suit of battle armour was fitted and articulated, and weighed little more than 20-25 kilos, while the accompanying helmet would have weighed about two kilos. The inconvenience of such armour stemmed more from lack of ventilation than weight and led to the very considerable problems of campaigning and fighting in the heat of an Italian summer.

The fact remained, however, that heavy cavalry was an inflexible component of all fifteenth-century armies, and it was inevitable that there should be attempts to develop types of light cavalry for the variety of tasks created by more sophisticated methods of warfare. In a certain sense the lightly armed, mounted followers of the men-at-arms could be described as light cavalry, and the number of these was increasing. But this would be misleading, as these were not fighting men, and the definition of cavalry must be men who fight on horseback. However, such a definition does create the problem of how to classify those who moved to battle and campaigned on horseback but dismounted to fight. Clearly such troops were as mobile as cavalry, and this was the point of mounting them, but in battle they became infantry and were controlled and organised as such. Here one is thinking particularly of the mounted crossbowmen, and later mounted hand-gun men and arquebusiers, who appeared in ever increasing numbers in Italian armies. Such men did not form part of the lances but were organised in units of their own. From 1430 onwards, however, a number of condottiere companies included groups of mounted cross-bowmen, and entirely separate companies of them were also being formed. While it is probably true that such troops normally dismounted to fight, their mounted potential was clearly important, quite apart from just getting them to the scene of a battle. Scouting, foraging, and pursuit were the essential tasks of light cavalry, and these could all be performed by mounted crossbowmen, who were equipped with sword and dagger as well as their bows.

However, an even more distinctive and effective type of light cavalry emerged in Italy with the introduction by Venice of Albanian stradiots recruited in her overseas empire. Venice had always made considerable use of such troops in the empire and in her wars with the Turks, and it was during and following the long war of 1463–79 with the Turks that stradiots began to appear in Italian armies. They were mounted on light, unarmoured horses and equipped sometimes with crossbows but more commonly with light lances and javelins. Their armour was limited to breastplate and shield. Clearly the possession of organised units of such troops gave an army much greater manoeuvrability and flexibility in battle, and a number of the leading condottieri of the later years of the century perceived these possibilities. It is true, on the other hand, that the Albanians had a reputation for ill discipline and, as one of their prime functions was to carry out wide encircling movements aimed at an enemy’s rear and his baggage train, this was a defect of no little consequence. However, both in the mounted crossbowmen and the stradiot units, the Italians had seen the way forward in cavalry development, and the light horse were to become increasingly significant during the Italian Wars.

Charge at Huj

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The Charge of the Warwickshire and Worcestershire Yeomanry at Huj One of the last cavalry charges in British Military history, 8th November 1917.

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German General Falkenhayn did not reach his new headquarters in Jerusalem until 1 November 1917. While still believing that Gaza was British General Allenby’s real objective, his Turco-German staff had reacted strongly to the loss of Beersheba and moved two divisions, plus elements of two more, to the eastern flank with the object of recapturing the town. This never came to anything as Chauvel had already pushed troops some miles to the north and, while it meant that some of the horses went without water for 48 hours, no difficulty was experienced in holding the counter-attack. One reason for this was that he had also despatched Lieutenant-Colonel Stewart Newton, Royal Engineers, and 70 camel-mounted troopers on a wide detour deep into the Turkish rear areas with instructions to raise the local Arabs and create the impression that the Desert Mounted Corps was about to launch a cavalry raid along the axis Hebron-Jerusalem. Having brought down no less than six infantry battalions upon itself, and in the process taken the edge off the Turkish counter-attack, Newton’s detachment was surrounded and forced to surrender on 2 November.

At 23:00 the previous night Allenby had further concentrated Falkenhayn’s thoughts on Gaza by initiating the first phase of his diversionary attack there, on a 6,000 yard front close to the coast. Early next morning the second phase, which included the support of six tanks used in the correct manner, broke through the defences to a depth of 3,000 yards, effectively turning the flank of numerous laboriously prepared positions in the town and on the nearby ridges. XXI Corps sustained the loss of 350 killed, the same number missing and 2,000 wounded; Turkish losses amounted to 1,000 killed, an unknown number wounded, 550 prisoners, three guns and 30 machine guns. While Allenby decided to reinforce this success, Falkenhayn contributed to his own eventual defeat by rushing his reserves to the Gaza sector.

The great north-westerly wheel by XX Corps and the Desert Mounted Corps was delayed by the heavy fighting north of Beersheba, the difficulties involved in collecting sufficient water, and a strong ‘khamseen’ blowing off the desert. On 6 November, however, it began, steadily rolling up the Turkish line from east to west. Falkenhayn, suddenly aware of the terrible danger in which his armies stood, ordered Gaza to be abandoned during the night while elsewhere along the line the darkness was illuminated by burning Turkish supply dumps. On 7 November XX Corps captured Sheria and Hareira. There were now clear indications that Kressenstein’s Eighth Army was retreating in a northerly direction along the coast, while Fawzi Pasha’s Seventh Army was diverging along a north-easterly axis, thereby opening a gap in the Turkish centre. Through this Allenby decided to launch his mounted troops against Huj, where an adequate water supply was known to exist.

Throughout the morning of 8 November Major-General Stuart Shea’s 60th Division, now operating under Chauvel’s command, steadily pushed the Turkish rearguard back towards Huj over open, rolling country. Shea himself, scouting ahead in a Rolls-Royce armoured car, could see enemy infantry and guns moving north-eastwards across his front. Anxious to prevent their escape, he hurried his division forward but at about 12:45 the Turkish rearguard, consisting of two infantry battalions, several artillery batteries and a machine gun unit, decided to make a stand about two miles south of Huj, which contained a large supply depot. The British infantry, advancing across ground that provided no cover at all, began to incur heavy casualties. Shea, knowing that two cavalry brigades were operating on his right, drove across with the intention of getting them to mount an attack into the flank of the enemy position.

The two brigades were Fitzgerald’s 5th Mounted Brigade, of which, ironically, Fitzgerald had handed over command to Brigadier-General Philip Kelly that very morning, and the 3rd Australian Light Horse Brigade, which was still some distance away to the south-east.

Nominally, the 5th Mounted Brigade consisted of the Royal Gloucestershire Hussars, the Warwickshire Yeomanry, the Worcestershire Hussars, B Battery the Honourable Artillery Company and the brigade machine gun squadron. Unfortunately, at that precise moment the Gloucesters and all but two guns of the machine gun squadron were watering their horses some miles away, and the artillery battery had fallen far behind the advance. Thus, only the Warwicks and Worcesters were in a position to take decisive action.

The opportunity sensed by Shea had also been spotted by the Worcesters’ commanding officer, Lieutenant-Colonel Henry Williams, who, recognising how thin on the ground his own brigade was, galloped off to find the headquarters of the 3rd Australian Light Horse Brigade with a view to suggesting a joint attack, adequately supported by rifle and machine gun fire.

Shortly after Williams had left, Shea arrived in his armoured car. He spoke to Lieutenant-Colonel Hugh Gray-Cheape, commanding the Warwicks, and ordered him to mount a flank attack on the enemy guns, stressing the urgency of the situation. Having few men at his disposal, Gray-Cheape rode over to the Worcesters and asked Major Edgar Wiggin, in temporary command during Williams’ absence, whether he would participate in the attack, receiving an immediate assent.

By the time everyone had been assembled the Warwicks had about 86 men available and the Worcesters about the same, giving the approximate equivalent of ten troops. However, when the Hotchkiss light machine gun sections, the shoeing smiths and the led-horse holders had been fallen out, this left about 120 men for the attack itself, far too few for what was required of them. Nevertheless, Gray-Cheape, fully aware of the punishment the 60th Division was taking, could only comply with Shea’s orders and, sending back a message to inform his own brigade commander what was happening, and a request that the Gloucesters, the machine gun squadron and the artillery be hurried forward, he and Wiggin prepared their plan of attack.

At that moment, approximately 13:20, the two regiments were positioned below the south-western end of a shallow, banana-shaped ridge. It was decided that they would use this feature as cover for an approach around its south-eastern end, which would then place them about 900 yards from the left flank of the enemy batteries and in position to mount a charge.

The Worcesters, being on the right, moved off first with Major M. C. Albright’s A Squadron leading, followed by two troops of C Squadron; the Warwicks were led by Captain R. Valintine’s B Squadron with two troops of the regiment’s C Squadron bringing up the rear. The advance was made at a trot, raising an unavoidable dust cloud that alerted the enemy. Suddenly, rounding the end of the ridge, Albright’s squadron came under fire from a hitherto unsuspected four-gun mounted battery and about 200 infantrymen situated on a low rise about 600 yards to the north-west. Realising at once that these troops would be able to enfilade the attack against the main enemy position, Albright did not wait for orders and, pausing only to form into a half-squadron column, immediately launched a charge. Taking place over good, open going, this quickly reached a full gallop. Unnerved, the Turkish infantry and gunners began firing wildly and then broke, running down the reverse slope of the rise. Albright’s troopers were soon among them, putting many to the sword. They then closed in on a 5.9-inch howitzer battery that was withdrawing to the north but at this point Wiggin arrived and ordered a halt to the pursuit, informing Albright that the principal attack against the original objective was proving to be a bloody business and that he should rally and reinforce this immediately.

As soon as Albright had launched his charge Gray-Cheape had instructed Valintine’s B Squadron and the two remaining Worcester troops, the latter commanded by Second Lieutenant J. W. Edwards, to swing left, form half-squadron column and attack over the north-eastern crest of the covering ridge. This would take them down a gradual forward slope into a shallow valley and then up the other side into the gun position, with the last 150 yards becoming steadily steeper. As soon as the first ranks appeared over the crest the enemy gunners, who were Austrians, swung round the trails of their 75mm field guns and commenced a rapid fire, progressively dropping the range until their barrels were at maximum depression and their shell fuzes set at instantaneous. Likewise the four machine guns in the immediate vicinity, which were probably under German command, and the two companies of Turkish infantry that formed the escort for the guns, all engaged the approaching lines of galloping horsemen. Among the Warwicks, only one officer, Lieutenant W. B. Mercer, remained unhit, and his account of the charge is quoted from the Official History of the campaign:

‘Machine guns and rifles opened on us the moment we topped the rise behind which we had formed up. I remember thinking that the sound of the crackling bullets was just like a hailstorm on an iron-roofed building … A whole heap of men and horses went down twenty or thirty yards from the guns. The squadron broke into a few scattered horsemen at the guns and then seemed to melt away completely. For a time, I at any rate, had the impression that I was the only man left alive. I was amazed to discover we were the victors.’

The Austrians had courageously fought to the muzzle, but the subsequent mêlée among the guns was brief. Those who remained upright or ran were ridden down or spitted, only those who fell flat remaining beyond reach of the thrusting swords. In return, some of the yeomen fell victim to the enemy’s cruel saw-edged bayonets. At the end of it, perhaps a score of them remained mounted but, without hesitation, they spurred for the machine guns. How this might have ended there is no telling, but just then Albright’s squadron came bearing down on the enemy left and overran them. Having already witnessed the determined charge against their artillery, this was too much for the Turkish infantry, who broke and fled. Some were cut down by vengeful yeomen, although the latter, being now too few in number, were unable to mount an organised pursuit. At this moment, however, the half-section of the machine gun squadron, which had followed Valintine’s charge, arrived and turned its two guns, as well as the four just captured, on the fugitives, scything through the running figures. The Turkish rout was completed by Gray-Cheape, who had used the Warwicks’ two reserve troops to secure the now-abandoned mountain guns and ride down the retreating battery of 5.9-inch howitzers.

As a direct result of the Warwicks’ and Worcesters’ charge, eleven guns, four machine guns and 70 prisoners had been taken, an unknown but substantial number of the enemy killed or wounded, and Shea’s division was able to advance beyond Huj that evening. The remarkable thing about the action was that, save in its concluding stages, the primary weapon used by the British had been the sword. The price, however, had been terribly high. The Warwicks had lost thirteen men killed and 23 wounded, the Worcesters nineteen killed and 35 wounded; among the officers, Albright, Valintine and Edwards were either killed or died of their wounds, and Wiggin was wounded. Well over 100 horses had been killed or had to be put down and many others were wounded, mainly by machine gun fire. Immediately after the action the area surrounding the Austrian battery presented a horrific scene of concentrated carnage. Dead troopers, Austrians, Turks and horses lay sprawled thickly together around the guns while the wounded crawled their painful way towards help. As luck would have it, an enemy field ambulance unit had been captured in a hollow behind the battery and it was thanks to the medical supplies obtained from this that many men owed their lives. There was little, however, that could be done for most of the terribly wounded horses; for many cavalrymen this was by far the most harrowing part of their ordeal, terminated only when the merciful crack of a rifle ended an animal’s agony.

Astonishing as it was that the enemy’s rearguard on this sector of the front had been successfully broken by so few men, Chauvel may well have doubted that Shea’s problem was so urgent that its solution could not have awaited the arrival of the Gloucesters, the artillery and the rest of the machine gun squadron, which could have provided fire support and so reduced the number of casualties. Whatever subsequently passed between the generals, after Huj no further unsupported charges were made by the Desert Mounted Corps save in pursuit of already beaten troops. Yet the consequences of the charges at Beersheba and Huj, and a further charge with the sword made by the 6th Mounted Brigade (Royal Buckinghamshire Hussars, Berkshire Yeomanry and Dorset Yeomanry) at El Mughar on 13 November, were far-reaching.8 The Turks now regarded the British and Commonwealth cavalry with awe, were convinced that they had scant regard for their own lives, and were unwilling to stand against them except in prepared positions. Analysis of these actions also confirmed that in mounted attacks the sword retained its value and the following year the Australian Mounted Division, at its own request, was trained and equipped with this weapon.

The pace of Allenby’s advance following his victory at Gaza/Beersheba was partly dictated by logistic considerations and partly by the physical limitations of his mounted troops, who were sometimes forced to go without water for a day and more at a time. It was true that the rapid abandonment of Gaza had foiled his attempt to entrap Kressenstein’s army, but after nine months’ stalemate he had broken the enemy line beyond retrieval and was to advance 75 miles before the heaviest winter rains in living memory put an end to movement of every kind.

During the early hours of Sunday 9 December the last Turkish garrison of Jerusalem left the city. Shortly after dawn the Governor, Izzet Bey, sent out a note formally confirming his surrender and by noon the first British patrols were moving through the narrow streets. Among the Arab customers of the coffee shops there was jubilation that, save in one particular, the curious old prophesy had at last been fulfilled, for was not the British commander named Allah-en-Nebi, which could only be translated as the Prophet of God? The only unanswered question was how the latest of Jerusalem’s conquerors would enter the city. Allenby, of course, was fully aware of the prophesy and may have decided to fulfill the last of its predictions; on the other hand, he may have acted from a sense of personal inclination. On Tuesday 11 December, he entered Jerusalem by the Jaffa Gate, humbly, on foot, and accompanied only by his staff. Watched in something like awe by the large crowd he walked to the base of the Tower of David. There his proclamation was read out, expressing the wish that the inhabitants should return to their daily business and guaranteeing protection for the ancient sites sacred to Christian, Jew and Moslem. Then, he left as quietly as he had come.

There is good reason to believe that Allenby could have finished off the Turkish army in Palestine during the spring of 1918. During that very period, however, he was compelled to send some of his best troops to France to assist in stemming a series of powerful German offensives that almost succeeded in breaking through the Western Front. Once the crisis had passed, two Indian cavalry divisions were sent from France to Palestine, less the statutory British regular regiments one of which formed part of each brigade, these being replaced by yeomanry regiments on arrival. This brought Chauvel’s corps up to its maximum strength and enabled Allenby to plan an autumn offensive with which he intended to utterly destroy his opponents.

The battle, which was to take its name from the historic battlefield of Megiddo, some miles to the north, began on 19 September when, following a concentrated bombardment, the infantry of XXI Corps secured a breakthrough on the coast near Arsuf. Through the gap poured the entire Desert Mounted Corps, swinging right-handed across the rear of two Turkish armies, reducing them to the lot of fugitives within days. It was Allenby’s greatest triumph, and the last strategic victory to be won by mounted cavalry.

Byzantine Cavalry Transport

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Two possible variants of amphibious technique employed by Byzantine for landing in Crete

In the first case (large illustration), the bow of the ship opened to let out a ramp of wood that allowed to disembark cataphracts and their horses.

In the second case (smaller upper left), the bow has a drawbridge, supported by iron chains. These boats had a flat keel and rounded hull were really floating stalls, thus was their ability to stow large quantities of animals and forage.

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Other types included the supply and carrier ships like the pamphylos, which was `like a baggage-train, which will carry all the equipment of the soldiers, so that the dromons are not burdened with it; and especially in time of battle, when there is need of a small supply of weapons or other materiel, [these] undertake the distribution’.

The horse-transport units of the Byzantine fleet had been equipped with a climax since at least the early tenth century, which was a ramp used for the loading and unloading of the horses from the ship’s gunwales, either from the stern or usually from the bow. This term is mentioned in the De Ceremoniis for the Cretan expeditions of 911, 949 and 960/126 and reveals the necessary modifications to the ships when they had to carry horses, such as hatches not just to the sides but also on the decks, leading down into the holds, while further modifications would have been engineered in the hulls of the ships concerning the stabling of the horses. According to Pryor, the khelandia were indeed specialised horse transports, able to carry between twelve and twenty horses. But these must have been built differently from dromons when it comes to the dimensions of the ship’s beam, which would have been much wider to accommodate both the lower bank oarsmen and the horses. A significant structural difference between the tenth-century Byzantine transport ships and their Italian counterparts in the twelfth century was that the latter placed both banks of oarsmen on the upper deck, thus making more room for the horses in the ship’s hull.

 

Byzantium and the Early Crusades I

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The Battle of Manzikert was fought between the Byzantine Empire and the Seljuq Turks on August 26, 1071 near Manzikert (modern Malazgirt in Muş Province, Turkey). The decisive defeat of the Byzantine army and the capture of the Emperor Romanos IV Diogenes played an important role in undermining Byzantine authority in Anatolia and Armenia, and allowed for the gradual Turkification of Anatolia.

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As well as seeking out and killing as many Jews as they could find in Cologne, Mainz, Speyer and Worms, those who had taken the cross also destroyed synagogues and burned the Torah. Similar violence occurred in Hungary, where pilgrims quarrelled with local Christians. Albert of Aachen, who wrote his history fifty years after the crusade, records that they behaved badly towards the Hungarians: ‘Like a rough people, rude in manners, undisciplined and haughty, they committed very many other crimes.’ Such disorders in the passage of the pilgrims created difficulties for those who followed. They also established a negative pattern in western attitudes to the unfamiliar inhabitants of eastern Europe, including the Byzantines.

Although Anna Komnene may exaggerate when she claims that 100,000 knights and 80,000 foot soldiers participated in the great pilgrimage, modern historians reckon upwards of 30,000 knights and many more pilgrims descended on the Byzantine capital. The movement therefore took on a very different form from that requested by the Byzantine emperor of a compact body of disciplined soldiers. Although it is now known as the First Crusade, at the time its participants identified themselves as pilgrims, travelling to Jerusalem in the company of armed and mounted contingents, who would fight to regain the Holy Places. Those led by Peter the Hermit arrived at Constantinople first, intent on completing the pilgrimage on foot but seriously in need of rest before they undertook the most dangerous part of the route across Asia Minor. Markets were set up so that they could purchase food and they were ferried across the Bosphoros. When the fighting forces eventually arrived, the emperor insisted that the leaders should swear an oath to return to his rule any previously Byzantine territory they conquered from the Seljuks, which some were loath to perform. Despite many difficulties in their cooperation, the combined Christian forces followed the pilgrims into Asia Minor and succeeded in recapturing Nicaea (June 1097). The city was returned to Byzantine control and the crusading forces then set out across the Anatolian plateau in the extreme heat of summer.

Numerous accounts of the progress of the First Crusade, by western, Byzantine and Arab authors reflect dissensions between the crusaders and Alexios I, among the crusaders and within the different Muslim authorities. These came to a head outside the walls of Antioch, which was strongly defended by local Muslims. After a siege of seven months, the crusaders finally broke in and occupied the city (June 1098). But they were immediately confronted by a powerful Turkish army, raised by emirs and smaller tribes, which came to the city’s relief. Some westerners who fled the city dissuaded Alexios I from sending Byzantine forces to assist the crusaders, claiming that Antioch was bound to fall to the Turks. His decision was later denounced as treachery. The final Christian victory, attributed in part to the miraculous discovery of the Holy Lance (a relic of the Passion of Christ), established Bohemond, son of the Norman ruler Robert Guiscard, as ruler of Antioch, in clear opposition to his oath to the Byzantine emperor.

The chequered history of Antioch during the crusades illustrates the contradictory aims of the participants. In Byzantine eyes, although the city had passed under Arab control in 636/7, it remained the target of Byzantine campaigns and had been regained in 969. But just over a century later, the Seljuks occupied it on their march south to Jerusalem. This symbolic loss was to be rectified by a Christian holy war, which would return Antioch to Byzantine rule. But to Bohemond and many of the leading knights on the campaign, who were actively seeking to found their own principalities in the East, the capture of Antioch was the first occasion to combine pilgrimage with territorial occupation. The Normans had already demonstrated their ambitions in this regard with Guiscard’s occupation of the Byzantine provinces of southern Italy and the conquest of England by Duke William in 1066. Bohemond himself only managed to avoid Byzantine reprisals against his claim to Antioch by declaring himself dead and leaving the region in a smelly coffin, as Anna Komnene recounted.

By 1098, when the crusaders set out from Antioch to capture Jerusalem, they learned that the city had been retaken by the Fatimids. Since the Seljuk and other Turkish tribes had adopted the Sunni definition of Islam, and thus opposed the Shi’ite dynasty ruling in Egypt, Muslim forces in the Near East were divided. Thanks in part to this disunity, the First Crusade proved amazingly successful. After a six-week siege of Jerusalem (June–July 1099), the Latins overcame the defenders and slaughtered the entire population. The western knights then elected Godfrey of Bouillon, one of their leaders, as king and thus established a Christian enclave in the Holy Land. The triumph provoked a deep sense of loss among Muslims and Jews, to whom Jerusalem was a particularly holy city. Their exclusion from the city that had been under Islamic rule since 638 was particularly resented.

Jerusalem remained the central focus of rival claims throughout the twelfth century. As Muslim forces renewed their efforts to regain the city, the Latin kingdom required additional support from western knights. The Second Crusade failed to capture Damascus, and never reached Jerusalem, but additional forces got through by sea. Despite considerable success in establishing an efficient colony, with an exuberant artistic production patronized by Queen Melisende, who ruled Jerusalem from 1131 to 1153, the Christian enclave was constantly threatened. Crusader castles such as Krak des Chevaliers were constructed to guard the kingdom, while the church of the Holy Sepulchre, dedicated in 1149, symbolized the mixture of early Christian, Arab, Romanesque and Byzantine elements in crusader architecture. Eventually, in 1187 Saladin, a Kurdish general who had made himself Sultan of Egypt, recaptured the holy city for Islam, and his merciful treatment of its non-Muslim population was widely praised. Nonetheless, the shift back to Islamic control triggered a reaction in the West, where Church leaders again called for further crusades. The Third, from 1189 to 1192, and Fourth, from 1202 to 1204, were the result.

In all these meetings of East and West, language was a basic problem: few Greeks knew Latin, and even fewer westerners knew Greek. During the twelfth century, Emperor Manuel I (1143–80) increased the number of westerners employed at the imperial court, where they served as translators and ambassadors. Growing western influence in Byzantium was also clear from the emperor’s delight in the sport of jousting, wearing trousers and selecting western princesses to marry into the imperial family. While this policy was sometimes denounced, there was a grudging appreciation of the Latins’ fighting capacity and bravery. Whether mounted or on foot, these ‘Franks’ – as all westerners were called – were admired for their strength. Anna Komnene concedes that Bohemond, her father’s Norman enemy, was a tall handsome man, and Niketas Choniates, the late twelfth-century historian appreciated Conrad of Montferrat, ally and son-in-law of Manuel I. Choniates even makes an unflattering comparison between the effeminate, cowardly Byzantines and their broad-shouldered, brave and daring Latin counterparts.

In addition to linguistic difficulties, Italian merchants generated a certain amount of tension within the empire. As we have seen, in Constantinople the Venetians controlled an entire quarter with its own church and warehouses along the Golden Horn, while Genoese and Pisan traders also maintained a presence in ports along the Adriatic, Mediterranean and Aegean coastlands. Despite the importance of international trade for Byzantium, political relations were not always good and local merchants resented the Italians’ advantageous trading terms. Tensions became inflamed in 1171 and again in 1182, when Manuel I and his successor Andronikos I (1182–5) ordered attacks on Venetian merchants, their property and ships. The losses sustained were so great that the republic made a claim for compensation: this long list of houses, ships and goods destroyed was still not settled in 1203, which probably exacerbated antagonism.

Linguistic, social and economic grounds for mutual hostility between Christians were augmented by liturgical differences. The filioque clause, ‘and from the Son’, recited in the Latin creed might have passed unnoticed by local Greeks until 1054, but thereafter it became a major divider, while differences over leavened or unleavened bread, the number of genuflections and the days and degrees of fasting were obvious and visible to all. The Byzantines were shocked that western bishops and clergy fought on horseback like knights, and the Latins thought it improper for orthodox priests and lower clergy to marry. For the Patriarch of Constantinople and his staff, the claim of papal primacy was particularly threatening as it gave Rome, the see founded by St Peter, superior power over all the churches.