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"At a mile distant their thousand hooves were stuttering thunder, coming at a rate that frightened a man - they were an awe inspiring sight, galloping through the red haze - knee to knee and horse to horse - the dying sun glinting on bayonet points..." Trooper Ion Idriess

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Friday, 27 November 2009
The Australian Light Horse, Militia and AIF, Mounted Rifle Tactics, Part 2, Contents
Topic: AIF - Lighthorse

The Australian Light Horse,

Militia and AIF

Mounted Rifle Tactics, Part 2, Contents

 

Cape Mounted Rifleman

[Drawing from 1904 by Richard Caton Woodville, 1856 - 1927.]

 

The following series is from an article called Mounted Rifle Tactics written in 1914 by a former regimental commander of the Cape Mounted Riflemen, Lieutenant-Colonel J. J. Collyer. His practical experience of active service within a mounted rifles formation gives strength to the theoretical work on this subject. It was the operation of the Cape Mounted Riflemen within South Africa that formed the inspiration for the theoretical foundations of the Australian Light Horse, and was especially influential in Victoria where it formed the cornerstone of mounted doctrine. 

Collyer, JJ, Mounted Rifle Tactics, Military Journal, April, 1915, pp. 265 - 305:

 

Mounted Rifle Tactics.

Contents.

I. General Considerations:

Definition

Principles underlying tactics

Definitions

Cavalry

Mounted infantry

Mounted riflemen

Mobility and fire effect

Subdivision of subject

The offensive spirit

The bayonet

Missions of mounted riflemen

General Langlois on the Boer War

Von der Goltz

Summary.

 

II. The Attack:

Definition

Mounted riflemen as advanced troops

In the attack generally

Special attacks

Fire from the saddle

Rooiwal

The "mounted rifle charge:

Vlakfontein

Blood River

Bakenlaagte

Yzer Spruit

Rooiwal again.

 

III - Defence:

Definition

Uses of mobility

Frontages occupied

Dead ground

Position of reserve

With other arms

Counter-attack

Advanced positions

Lateral communications

The moment to strike.

 

IV. Protection:

Definition

On the march

Advanced guards

Rear guards

In action

Halted

Reconnoitring patrols

Groenkop, 1901

Standing patrols

Moving protective patrols

Safety of patrols.

 

V. Night Operations:

Authorities as to importance

Reconnaissance

Training

Night movements (tactical)

Rests

Pace

Supervision

Information

Secrecy

Order of march

Night combats

Difficulties

Small raids

Important points

Encounter combats

Summary.

 

VI. Reconnaissance:

Importance

Information

Scouting

Specialization

Intelligence units

Instructions necessary

Reconnoitring patrols

Reports

Patrol leaders

Reconnaissance for attack

For defence

Roads

 

VII- Conclusion.

 

Previous: Part 1, Preface 

Next: Part 3, General Considerations 

 

Further Reading:

The Light Horse

Australian Light Horse Militia

Militia 1899 - 1920

Battles where Australians fought, 1899-1920

 


Citation: The Australian Light Horse, Militia and AIF, Mounted Rifle Tactics, Part 2, Contents

Posted by Project Leader at 12:01 AM EAST
Updated: Thursday, 10 December 2009 9:18 AM EAST
Thursday, 26 November 2009
4th Australian Light Horse Regiment, AIF, Outline
Topic: AIF - 4B - 4 LHR

4th LHR, AIF

4th Australian Light Horse Regiment

Outline

 

4th Light Horse taking the salute in Melbourne, September 1914

[From: The Australasian,  3 October 1914, p. 5.]

 

Formation

The 4th Light Horse Regiment was formed as Divisional Cavalry for the Australian Division. It was part of the 1st Contingent and raised at Broadmeadows Training Camp to the north of Melbourne, Victoria, on 11 August 1914. The recruits were drawn in large part from the Melbourne metropolitan area although the balance of men came from all seven Militia Regiments within the 3rd Military District which incorporated all of Victoria and part of Southern New South Wales. The men from New South Wales found themselves mainly in "C" Squadron. Many of the men went from the Light Horse Militia formation into the AIF Light Horse.

 

"A" Squadron recruited mainly from:

13th Light Horse Regiment (6 men).
20th Light Horse Regiment (13 men).
29th Light Horse Regiment (7 men).

 

"B" Squadron recruited mainly from:

15th Light Horse Regiment (5 men).
16th Light Horse Regiment (7 men).

 

"C" Squadron recruited mainly from:

17th Light Horse Regiment (10 men).
19th Light Horse Regiment (5 men).

 

Training 


4th Light Horse Regiment Routine Order No 45, 1 October 1914

[Note: This is the earliest surviving 4th LHR RO. Click on page for larger version.]

 

Training of the 4th Light Horse Regiment occurred at Broadmeadows Training Camp from August until October 1914. 

 

Embarkation

Embarkation of the 4th Light Horse Regiment occurred by both the HMAT A18 Wiltshire and the HMAT A25 Anglo Egyptian, departing from Melbourne, Victoria, 19 October 1914.

 

HMAT A18 Wiltshire

 [See: His Majesty's Australian Transports [HMAT] Ships, A18.]

 

The bulk of the 4th Light Horse Regiment embarked on the HMAT A18 Wiltshire.


HMAT A25 Anglo-Egyptian at Port Melbourne, 1916

 [See: His Majesty's Australian Transports [HMAT] Ships, A25.]

 

Twelve men selected from the Regiment were allotted to embark on the HMAT A25 Anglo Egyptian. On board the Anglo Egyptian was the Divisional Ammunition Column and the 2nd Light Horse Regiment which had embarked from Brisbane about a month before.

The 4th Light Horse Regiment sailed by convoy from Albany and passed by the action against the Emden at the Cocos Islands. The Wiltshire and Anglo Egyptian disembarked the 4th Light Horse Regiment in Egypt on 10 December 1914.

 

Colour Patch

Initially, the only colour separation of the various Australian mounted troops was by use of the pennant. The marker pennants were carried on poles to mark lines troop lines in camps in Egypt. They were not lance pennants as the Australian lancers had red over white pennants on their lances.

 

Pennant of the 4th Light Horse Regiment

 

While this pennant was useful in distinguishing horse and troop lines, it failed to identify the individual with a unit. The AIF 1st Australian Division Standing Orders issued in December 1914 ordered the Australian Light Horse Regiments to wear a 4 inch wide [10.2cm] blue armband with the regiment name marked on the band in black lettering.

The earlier systems proved to be ineffective so to assist with identification of the men in the various units within the AIF, Divisional Order No 81 (A) Administration was issued at Mena on 8 March 1915 detailing the Colour Patch for the 4th Light Horse Regiment as others received their colours. The colour patch was made of cloth 1¼ inches wide and 2¾ inches long and worn on the sleeve one inch below the shoulder seam. The 4th Light Horse Regiment wore two different colour patches during the Great War.

The first colour patch for the 4th Light Horse Regiment reflected their role as Divisional Cavalry which was white over red with the triangles obverse to the brigaded regiments.

 

4th Light Horse Regiment Shoulder Patch for Divisional Cavalry and 3rd Camel Regiment.

 

After Gallipoli, the 4th Light Horse Regiment was split with "B" and "D" Squadrons going to France. These two squadrons retained the colour patch and became known as the II Anzac Corps Mounted Regiment. The  4th Light Horse Regiment remained as Divisional Cavalry until it was renamed as the 3rd Camel Regiment on 24 December 1916. It retained the colour patch as it was first awarded until allotted to the 4th Light Horse Brigade in February 1917.

 

4th Light Horse Regiment Colour Patch after February 1917

 

The 4th Light Horse Regiment carried the dark blue Brigade colour as the lower triangle part of the colour patch, while the light blue unit colour was on the top. This is illustrated with the above presentation.

 

Gallipoli

As mounted troops, the Light Horse was considered to be unsuitable for work in Gallipoli. The mounted troops volunteered to operate as infantry and thus were sent to Gallipoli with the 4th Light Horse Regiment landing on 22 and 24 May. Initially the 4th Light Horse Regiment was broken up into its component squadrons which were distributed as reinforcements to the depleted infantry battalions. After 11 June 1915 the 4th Light Horse Regiment was reformed and was mainly deployed on defensive activities around Ryrie's Post. The 4th Light Horse Regiment  left the peninsula on 11 December 1915.

 

Defence of Egypt

After the return to Egypt, the 4th Light Horse Regiment was reformed to include a forth squadron known as "D" Squadron.

Two squadrons from the 4th Light Horse Regiment, "B" and "D" Squadrons, were detailed to act as Divisional Cavalry 1st and 3rd Australian Divisions respectively and to embark with the Divisions to serve in France on the Western Front. Added to these two squadrons was a squadron from the New Zealand Regiment, the Otago Mounted Rifles. These three squadrons formed the composite regiment known as the II Anzac Corps Mounted Regiment. [See: Aus Units - 22nd Corps]

The two remaining squadrons, "A" and "C" Squadrons formed the nucleus of the 4th Light Horse Regiment which rebuilt itself with a new "B" Squadron. The 4th Light Horse Regiment moved to take part in the defence of the Suez Canal. The work was hot and monotonous. The Regiment remained in the area until after the Battle of Romani where it was involved in work related to securing the lines of communication.

On 24 December 1916, the 4th Light Horse Regiment was brigaded with the Imperial Camel Corps and received the new name of the 3rd Camel Regiment. It served in this role until the break up of the Anzac Mounted Division in February 1917. A new division was created called the Imperial Mounted Division. Included in this Division were two Australian mounted brigades, the 3rd and 4th Light Horse Brigades. The latter Brigade, the 4th Light Horse Brigade was formed with the 3rd Camel Regiment, renamed the 4th Light Horse Regiment and the 11th and 12th Light Horse Regiments. The Imperial Mounted Division was renamed the Australian Mounted Division soon after.

 

Palestine

The 4th Light Horse Brigade was assigned to protect the rail line and lines of communications for the first months of 1917. They missed the First Battle of Gaza but were back at the front by 6 April 1917 and took part in the Second Battle of Gaza on 19 April 1917. The 4th Light Horse Regiment took no part in this battle as they were the Brigade reserve.

In its first major battle as the 4th Light Horse Regiment, the Regiment took part in the Battle of Beersheba. Fame for the Regiment was achieved when, in conjunction with the 12th Light Horse Regiment, charged and took Beersheba, thereby sealing victory on that day for the Allied forces. 

 

See: Men who possibly charged at Beersheba - 4th LHR

 

 

From this time onwards, for the next two months, the 4th Light Horse Regiment remained in continuous combat action until relieved for three months refit and training at Deir el Belah from early January 1918.

In early April 1918, the 4th Light Horse Regiment moved into the Jordan Valley and took part in the Es Salt Raid of 30 April – 4 May 1918 guarding the routes into Moab. This was a near disastrous situation where the Turkish forces almost cut off the Australian Mounted Division in the hills.


Megiddo

In a move that converted the Light Horse into full cavalry, the Australian Mounted Division was issued with swords during August and early September 1917. The Australian Mounted Division went to work training with swords and undertaking cavalry work.

On 19 September 1918 the Battle of Megiddo began. The infantry over ran the Turkish defensive trenches allowing the cavalry to debouch into the Turkish hinterland. The 4th Light Horse Regiment participated in the breakthrough which moved rapidly through the north of Palestine. At the end of the first week, it was obvious that the way to Damascus was open and so a second push occurred on the heels of the first assault. On 1 October 1918, Damascus was taken. There is contention as to whom was the first to reach inside the city. A 4th Light Horse Regiment patrol led by Sergeant Frank Organ claimed to be amongst the first allied troops to enter Damascus. However, while this patrol was entering, the 3rd Light Horse Brigade was receiving the surrender of the city at the Sarai.

After a rest in Damascus, the 4th Light Horse Regiment moved towards Homs when the Turks surrendered on 30 October 1918.

 

Return to Australia

After the conclusion of hostilities, the 4th Light Horse Regiment was awaited their return to Australia. During their wait, one of the saddest actions occurred for the Australian Lighthorsemen; they had to farewell their best friends, the horses. All the Light Horse unit horses' health was ascertained with the fit horses being transferred to the Indian Cavalry while those in poor condition were destroyed by the Veterinary units. On 8 March 1919 the 4th Light Horse Regiment embarked to Egypt. Here they remained to assist in suppressing the Egyptian Uprising. When the revolt collapsed, the 4th Light Horse Regiment embarked on the 15 June 1919 for the long voyage to Australia where the unit was disbanded. 


Commanding Officers

Lieutenant Colonel John Kealty Forsyth
Lieutenant Colonel Leonard Long
Lieutenant Colonel Murray William James Bourchier
Lieutenant Colonel George James Rankin

 

 Decorations earned by the 4th Light Horse Regiment

  • 4 DSO and 1 Bar - Distinguished Service Orders
  • 1 OBE - Order of the British Empire
  • 6 MC and 1 Bar - Military Crosses
  • 14 DCM - Distinguished Conduct Medals
  • 46 MM and 1 Bar - Military Medals
  • 1 MSM - Meritorious Service Medal
  • 31 MID - Mentioned in Despatches
  • 4 foreign awards 

 

Campaigns

Gallipoli

  • Anzac
  • Defence at Anzac
  • Suvla
  • Sari Bair
  • Gallipoli 1915-1916

Egypt

  • Defence of Egypt 1915-1917
Palestine
  • Third Battle of Gaza
  • Beersheba
  • El Mughar
  • Nebi Samwill
  • Jerusalem
  • Es Salt
  • Abu Tellul
  • Megiddo
  • Nablus
  • Palestine 1917-1918

France

  • Messines 1917
  • Ypres 1917
  • Broodseinde
  • Passchendaele
  • Lys
  • Kemmel
  • Marne 1918
  • Tardenois
  • France and Flanders 1916-1918

 

Casualties suffered by the 4th Light Horse Regiment

[Note: Gallipoli, Egypt, Sinai and Palestine only.]

  • 105 killed
  • 332 wounded


War Diary

The Australian War Memorial has put these on line and may be accessed here:

4th Light Horse Regiment War Diaries.

 

Embarkations:

The following list details all the embarkations in support of the 4th Light Horse Regiment, AIF, during the Great War. Each entry details the individual soldier's: rank on embarkation; full name; Declared age; last occupation held; last address as a civilian; enlistment Date; and, ultimate fate. Each man is linked to a brief military biography where ever possible. One interesting point is that many of the men listed in the embarkation roll for the 4th Light Horse Regiment ended up in a different unit altogether. This list details the men's starting point in the AIF.

 

Headquarters Section Wiltshire Group

Headquarters Section Anglo Egyptian Group 

Melbourne, Victoria on board HMAT A18 Wiltshire 19 October 1914

Melbourne, Victoria on board HMAT A25 Anglo Egyptian 19 October 1914

"A" Squadron Wiltshire Group

"A" Squadron Anglo Egyptian Group 

Melbourne, Victoria on board HMAT A18 Wiltshire 19 October 1914

Melbourne, Victoria on board HMAT A25 Anglo Egyptian 19 October 1914

"B" Squadron Wiltshire Group

"B" Squadron Anglo Egyptian Group 

Melbourne, Victoria on board HMAT A18 Wiltshire 19 October 1914

Melbourne, Victoria on board HMAT A25 Anglo Egyptian 19 October 1914

"C" Squadron Wiltshire Group

"C" Squadron Anglo Egyptian Group

Melbourne, Victoria on board HMAT A18 Wiltshire 19 October 1914

Melbourne, Victoria on board HMAT A25 Anglo Egyptian 19 October 1914

Machine Gun Section

Melbourne, Victoria on board HMAT A18 Wiltshire 19 October 1914

1st Reinforcement

Melbourne, Victoria on board HMAT A43 Barunga 22 December 1914

2nd Reinforcement

Melbourne, Victoria on board HMAT A13 Katuna 3 February 1915

3rd Reinforcement

Melbourne, Victoria on board HMAT A13 Katuna 3 February 1915

4th Reinforcement

Melbourne, Victoria on board HMAT A18 Wiltshire 13 April 1915

5th Reinforcement

Melbourne, Victoria on board HMAT A56 Palermo 7 May 1915

6th Reinforcement

Sydney, New South Wales on board HMAT A40 Ceramic 25 June 1915

7th Reinforcement

Melbourne, Victoria on board RMS Persia 10 August 1915

8th Reinforcement

Melbourne, Victoria on board HMAT A55 Kyarra 20 August 1915

9th Reinforcement

Melbourne, Victoria on board HMAT A20 Hororata 27 September 1915

10th Reinforcement

Melbourne, Victoria on board HMAT A70 Ballarat 9 September 1915

11th Reinforcement

Melbourne, Victoria on board HMAT A56 Palermo 29 October 1915

12th Reinforcement

Melbourne, Victoria on board HMAT A40 Ceramic 23 November 1915

13th Reinforcement

Sydney, New South Wales on board HMAT A54 Runic 20 January 1916

14th Reinforcement

Melbourne, Victoria on board HMAT A32 Themistocles 28 January 1916

15th Reinforcement - Katuna Group

15th Reinforcement - Anchises Group

Melbourne, Victoria on board HMAT A13 Katuna 9 March 1916

Melbourne, Victoria on board HMAT A68 Anchises 14 March 1916

16th Reinforcement

Melbourne, Victoria on board HMAT A53 Itria 18 April 1916

17th Reinforcement

Melbourne, Victoria on board HMAT A6 Clan Maccorquodale 6 May 1916

18th Reinforcement

Melbourne, Victoria on board RMS Mongolia 11 July 1916

19th Reinforcement - Mongolia Group

19th Reinforcement - Themistocles Group

Melbourne, Victoria on board RMS Mongolia 11 June 1916

Melbourne, Victoria on board HMAT A32 Themistocles 28 July 1916

20th Reinforcement - Malwa Group

20th Reinforcement - Port Sydney Group

Melbourne, Victoria on board RMS Malwa 25 July 1916

Melbourne, Victoria on board HMAT A15 Port Sydney 7 September 1916

21st Reinforcement - Clan Maccorquodale Group

21st Reinforcement - Nestor Group

21st Reinforcement - Hymettus Group

Melbourne, Victoria on board HMAT A6 Clan Maccorquodale 19 September 1916

Melbourne, Victoria on board HMAT A71 Nestor 29 September 1916

Melbourne, Victoria on board HMAT A1 Hymettus 12 September 1916

22nd Reinforcement - Clan Maccorquodale Group

22nd Reinforcement - Ulysses Group

Melbourne, Victoria on board HMAT A6 Clan Maccorquodale 19 September 1916

Melbourne, Victoria on board HMAT A38 Ulysses 25 October 1916

23rd Reinforcement

Melbourne, Victoria on board HMAT A34 Persic 22 December 1916

24th Reinforcement

Melbourne, Victoria on board HMAT A67 Orsova 6 December 1916

25th Reinforcement

Melbourne, Victoria on board RMS Omrah 17 January 1917

26th Reinforcement

Melbourne, Victoria on board HMAT A11 Ascanius 11 May 1917

27th Reinforcement - Suevic Group

27th Reinforcement - Boorara Group

Melbourne, Victoria on board HMAT A29 Suevic 21 June 1917

Melbourne, Victoria on board HMAT A42 Boorara 10 May 1917

28th Reinforcement - Port Lincoln Group

28th Reinforcement - Themistocles Group 

28th Reinforcement - Kyarra Group 

Melbourne, Victoria on board HMAT A17 Port Lincoln 22 June 1917

Melbourne, Victoria on board HMAT A32 Themistocles 4 August 1917

Melbourne, Victoria on board HMAT A55 Kyarra 7 September 1917

29th Reinforcement - Anchises Group

29th Reinforcement - Kyarra Group 

Sydney, New South Wales on board HMAT A68 Anchises 8 August 1917

Melbourne, Victoria on board HMAT A55 Kyarra 7 September 1917

30th Reinforcement - Commonwealth Group

30th Reinforcement - Nestor Group 

Melbourne, Victoria on board HMAT A73 Commonwealth 2 November 1917

Melbourne, Victoria on board HMAT A71 Nestor 21 November 1917

31st Reinforcement - Ormonde Group

31st Reinforcement - Ulysses Group 

Melbourne, Victoria on board RMS Ormonde 7 March 1918

Melbourne, Victoria on board HMAT A38 Ulysses 22 December 1917

32nd Reinforcement

Sydney, New South Wales on board HMAT A18 Wiltshire 2 February 1918

See: Troop transport ships for information and photographs about the various ships employed in transporting the troops to Egypt.

 

Acknowledgment: Many thanks to Steve Becker who has provided the raw material for the page Men who possibly charged at Beersheba - 4th LHR.

 

Further Reading:

4th Australian Light Horse Regiment, AIF

4th Australian Light Horse Regiment, Roll of Honour  

Battles where Australians fought, 1899-1920

 


Citation: 4th Australian Light Horse Regiment, AIF, Outline

Posted by Project Leader at 12:01 AM EAST
Updated: Monday, 18 January 2010 11:55 AM EAST
The Australian Light Horse, Militia and AIF, Mounted Rifle Tactics, Part 3, General Considerations
Topic: AIF - Lighthorse

The Australian Light Horse,

Militia and AIF

Mounted Rifle Tactics, Part 3, General Considerations

 

Cape Mounted Rifleman

[Drawing from 1904 by Richard Caton Woodville, 1856 - 1927.]

 

The following series is from an article called Mounted Rifle Tactics written in 1914 by a former regimental commander of the Cape Mounted Riflemen, Lieutenant-Colonel J. J. Collyer. His practical experience of active service within a mounted rifles formation gives strength to the theoretical work on this subject. It was the operation of the Cape Mounted Riflemen within South Africa that formed the inspiration for the theoretical foundations of the Australian Light Horse, and was especially influential in Victoria where it formed the cornerstone of mounted doctrine. 

Collyer, JJ, Mounted Rifle Tactics, Military Journal, April, 1915, pp. 265 - 305:

 

Mounted Rifle Tactics.

General Considerations

Definition - Principles underlying tactics - Definitions - Cavalry - Mounted infantry - Mounted riflemen - Mobility and fire effect - Subdivision of subject - The offensive spirit - The bayonet - Missions of mounted riflemen - General Langlois the Boer War - Von der Goltz - Summary.

Tactics, to use the definition contained in a former textbook and followed by the late Colonel Henderson, are "the methods by which a commander seeks to overwhelm an opponent when battle is joined," having previously endeavoured by his strategy to place his own forces, with the eventual combat in his mind, so that they may deal with the enemy with the best probability of defeating him.

Tactics, then, are battle methods, and may be grand tactics, or the art of generalship on a large scale as practised by independent commanders; minor tactics, or the detailed manoeuvring of all arras on the battlefield, which concern all officers of each arm; and, I would add, the special tactics of each arm, for, though the tactics of each arras must be based and developed on the understanding that close combination with other arms is the general mode of their application, they are decided and formed in view of advantages and limitations peculiar, either in degree or nature, to each branch of the combatant forces. Many principles are, of course, common to all tactics, and guide the tactical employment of all arms, but it is only with a constant attention to the advantages and limitations to which I have referred that each can be used with the greatest effect and on sound lines.

These chapters are not put forward with any idea of teaching those who are thoroughly competent judges of the tactics which we shall consider, but with the object of stating the principles which underlie those tactics and their application.

With the material at hand I think we may say that, properly handled, the mounted rifleman of South Africa should be the equal of any soldier of that arm in the world. We must, however, remember that many of the natural conditions which have been factors in the production of the practical frontier soldier of the past are vanishing, or at least diminishing, with a more general civilization, and that the South African citizen soldier of the immediate future will be far less versed in war conditions than his predecessors.

To teach him properly, it is not enough merely to say that such and such a line should be adopted, but he will ask the reason for each feature of the tactics he is called upon to employ, and why these have proved successful. It is therefore essential that those on whom the responsibility of training the citizen troops of South Africa is to rest in varying degree should be ready with arguments to force our points home, and convince the younger soldier that the methods which are recommended are universally admitted to be sound as the result of investigation and experience.

The tendency is to accept the result of successful tactics without taking the trouble to investigate the causes and circumstances which were contributory to the success. Climatic conditions - such as rain, mist, and wind - must be taken into consideration, and it must be decided to what extent such circumstances influenced the course of an action and its consequence. The temper of the troops on either side may have had great influence on the combat. Can we be sure that the troops will always display the same resolution or weakness? Stupidity on the part of an opponent may have had its effect on the good result of a venture. Would it have succeeded had the opposing commander met our attack with different and more effective counter-measures? In short, tactics must be critically analyzed, and then systematically taught on uniform principles, and this means care and thought and study. What follows represents an effort to analyze mounted rifle tactics, and to state the various principles which should govern them.

What is a mounted rifleman? He is not a cavalryman, and he is not a mounted infantryman.

Cavalry are mounted soldiers trained primarily for shock tactics-that is to say, for the charge with an arme blanche. They are also taught fire tactics, but the main tactical action of cavalry, for which the most careful preparation of men and horses alike is necessary, and to which by far the larger portion of their period of training is devoted, is the charge with the lance or sword.

Mounted infantry are foot soldiers mounted on horses to give them increased mobility, which is, and always will be, strictly limited by the fact that they are not thoroughly trained horsemen. The terms of mounted riflemen and mounted infantry are far too loosely applied by military writers, but a mounted rifleman should never allow any one to confuse his arm with mounted infantry. Civilly, but firmly, he should point out that he is the former, and not the latter, for to regard himself as a mounted infantryman is to lose sight of the sole reason of his arm being regarded as distinct from any other.

A mounted rifleman is a horse soldier, enlisted and trained as a mounted man, to whom expert horsemanship is as vital as it is to a cavalryman. His horse is not trained to the perfection of regulated and controlled pace, which is essential to the cavalry (being indispensable to the effective delivery of the charge), and creed only be a well-broken, active, strong animal, which can be led without any difficulty. His horsemanship and horsemastership, however, must be every whit as finished and sound as that of the cavalryman; his weapon is the rifle, and he fights on foot.

Broadly stated, his special advantage is the mobility conferred by expert horsemanship and an active, well-controlled mount. At the same time this may fairly be regarded as his main tactical limitation, for the safety of the horses, which supply his great advantage, and the necessity for always thinking of them in action with the object of maintaining mobility, are frequently serious problems, which govern the whole question of the tactical employment of the arm.

To gauge accurately the potentialities of mounted rifle tactics, the performance of good horsemen, such as the American mounted troops in the Civil. War, and the Republican forces in 1899-1902, should be studied and criticised. I say American mounted troops advisedly, and not cavalry, for, with the exception of a relatively small number, they were not cavalry as I am using the term, nor do they ever meet cavalry in action.

General De Wet says "a Boer without his horse is half a man"; the tactical value of mounted riflemen whenever they are in the same plight (that is to say, when their horses have been taken from them) bears exactly the same relation to their proper fighting value - it is at least halved.

Mobility and fire effect sum up the essence of mounted rifle tactics. I would always place the former before the latter, as the two are inseparable, and the fact that this is so is sometimes overlooked in the excitement and interest aroused by the fire fight. It will be found that if mobility is always insisted upon, many doubts as to the right course to pursue will vanish. The action of mounted riflemen, in whatever circumstances they may find themselves in war, must always take full advantage of their great mobility, either in actually using it or retaining the power of doing so, or fall short of what might be achieved.

I propose to consider in subsequent chapters:-  Attack, defence, protection, night work, and reconnaissance, when we will go into details more fully. Here it will suffice to say that having, by our training, assured mobility by producing confident horsemen; active, bold, and well-trained horses; and a good system of caring for them; we should never forget the fact that mobility is all that distinguishes a mounted rifleman from an infantryman, and that it should therefore be the constant endeavour of a mounted rifleman to make the best use of it.

There is one most important matter to which I should like to refer. Offensive action is essential to effective tactics, and a desire for the offensive must animate any force which is to be successful in war. We may all have our views as to the value of shock action by cavalry in these days, but we must all admit that the cavalry spirit is the expression of the spirit of war; "the first-born son of war," Clausewitz calls it. It does not matter whether two hostile armies face each other equipped with every modern warlike appliance that human ingenuity has devised, or whether two men propose to settle a quarrel with nature's weapons; let one general or adversary realize that his opponent is mainly concerned to save his troops from slaughter or his skin from damage, and the former will at once take liberties, and, ignoring chances of retaliation by the latter, will defeat him. The spirit of the offensive is necessary to every combatant arm.

The "march, fight, and pursue" of Napoleon, then "move quickly, strike vigorously, and secure the fruits of victory" of Stonewall Jackson, mean, if they mean anything, that it is the force which is inspired by the desire to strike its opponents, and not that which is chiefly concerned to avoid being struck, which wins battles. As Field Service Regulations say, "The action of a force which is content with warding off the enemy's blows is not considered as 'an aspect of the battle." The artillery of all armies has over and again manifested its offensive and self-sacrificing spirit; the cavalry lives for the charge; the infantry, after establishing a dominant fire, looks to the assault with the bayonet.

"What," ask critics, "is the equivalent of this offensive spirit in other arms, this desire to close with the enemy and do him harm, in the final object of tactical action by mounted riflemen? Is there not a danger that, in the absence of an understanding that close grips are aimed at, the offensive spirit, which we all admit to be indispensable to any efficient combatant arm, may be absent in the case of mounted riflemen?"

This question is put, and has been put to me, and I think that those of us who have experience of mounted rifle tactics will admit that the danger exists, and that the horse may become liable to be regarded more as a means of moving rapidly to another position, if that occupied becomes uncomfortable, than of quickly pushing forward and endeavouring to get to close range.

It has been suggested that stress laid on the use of the bayonet may supply an incentive to offensive action. I do not agree with this. We find an addition to the new South African Mounted Riflemen Training to the following effect -

"Though the use of the bayonet to the extent to which it is employed by infantry will probably be extremely rare in the case of mounted riflemen, the latter should be expert in its use on foot. For example, in such work as small expeditions by night, for which the mobility of the mounted rifleman specially suits him, the bayonet will be of the greatest value, and, as it is a weapon carried by mounted riflemen, they should be expert in handling it."

That the mounted rifleman should be expert in the use of his bayonet must be insisted upon, but that the weapon will be used, except very rarely, to the extent of delivering bayonet charges on foot on a large scale, is most unlikely. Its use in defence I will touch upon in its place. If the hostile force is composed of mounted riflemen, it will hardly wait to be charged, and if it is infantry, it can probably be better dealt with by fire at close range. Again, a force of mounted riflemen, which becomes committed to a bayonet charge dismounted, is engaged on work which will seriously impair its power of pursuit, which must be retained if the fruits of victory are to be assured. It will probably involve making the horses immobile (i.e., with less than one man to four horses), which should only be done very grudgingly, and in exceptional circumstances, as it means loss of mobility. Our own regulations say that the deliberate form of attack will seldom be undertaken by mounted riflemen, and even the British Yeomanry and Mounted Rifle Training, 1912 (which, it is well to remember, has to consider European conditions of warfare), says nothing of the bayonet in the deliberate attack. The bayonet, therefore, is not enough to produce the offensive spirit in mounted riflemen, though it may contribute to it.

What are the main tactical duties of mounted riflemen? South African Mounted Riflemen Training says that the chief duties of the arm are as follows:

To seize promptly for dismounted action successive important positions from which to deliver an effective fire.

To reinforce rapidly at a critical time other arms which may be overmatched, or assist them in making sure of success.

To carry out enveloping movements.

Reconnaissance and scouting.

To form rallying points for cavalry in the case of a reverse.

Pursuits.

To cover retreats of other arms during a retirement.

All these demand offensive action, so that the tactical employment of mounted riflemen will almost invariably be offensive.

Why, then, does this danger exist? I think it is because the vital importance of keeping the horses in a more or less constant position of handiness to their dismounted riders in action is insufficiently recognised. I have often seen horses of mounted riflemen engaged in dismounted fire action in war remain for hours in the same spot, without communication with the firing line, which had moved out of sight and out of the ken of those who were in charge of the horses. I have also constantly noticed on peace training with citizen forces that the horses are similarly left, and brought up hurriedly and in confusion, because the situation suddenly demanded their presence.

The following extract from the Memorandum on Training, 1911-12, of the Australian Military Forces is of interest here:

"The disposal of led horses was often faulty, and attempts were not made to keep the horses as close up to the dismounted men as possible, taking advantage of cover not necessarily immediately in rear of the dismounted troops; long advances were made on foot, resulting in a loss of mobility."

If the close and constant association of mobility and fire is rigidly insisted upon, the position of led horses will become variable as the fight develops, almost automatically, and the knowledge that the horses are, as a matter of course, as near as possible to their riders in action will go far to counteract the desire to get back to them, in the fear that they may have been left too far behind, which tends to destroy aggressive action.

Fire from the saddle, and the development of what is called, wrongly, as I believe, the “mounted rifleman charge," to both of which I shall refer later, will tend in the same beneficial direction, and, finally, as it is well put in the British Yeomanry and Mounted Rifle Training, 1912:

“Commanders must endeavour to foster in their men an aggressive spirit, and they must teach them that a determined enemy will not be beaten or driven off his ground merely by long range fire."

In Lessons from Two Recent Wars, a book translated into English by the General Staff in 1909, General H. Langlois says in his introduction:

“The false doctrines which sprang up after the Anglo-Boer War have deeply affected our (the French) officers. Our officers are beginning to lose the spirit of the offensive."

Here is the expression of the fear that the tactics of mounted riflemen may tend to the defensive and to the detriment of bold and vigorous action. General Langlois adds, however, in criticising the action of Nicholson's Nek, which was settled by the rifle fire of dismounted mounted riflemen, that success was achieved "because a continuous fire covered the advance of a rush, and, finally, and above all, because that fire was extremely accurate." He goes on to say, with reference to this attack, which was practically frontal, " an attack can be made, and successfully, given a superiority of fire. This superiority of fire can be gained not only by a superior number of rifles, but also by good shooting and by determination." This is the secret of offensive action - determination. Though the tactical action of the mounted rifleman and his weapon are not, when compared with the equivalents in the case of other arms, eloquent in themselves of offence, I see no reason why consistent teaching of the need of the offensive spirit should not produce it in the arm, and why the teaching should not be reflected in vigorous action on the battlefield.

As von der Goltz says, "The elements of the offensive are rapidity and vigour." The rapidity is in the power of the mounted rifleman, and surely his training can be such that he shall be vigorous.

In conclusion, we may state generally that the tactics of mounted riflemen depend for their successful application on mobility conferred by horsemanship, which enables them to make- up for their numerical inferiority of rifles in the firing line by surprising the enemy and by the rapid seizure of the positions; on accurate shooting; and, as in the case of every combatant arm, determination to adopt vigorous and offensive action.

 

Previous: Part 2, Contents

Next: Part 4, The Attack 

 

Further Reading:

The Light Horse

Australian Light Horse Militia

Militia 1899 - 1920

Battles where Australians fought, 1899-1920

 


Citation: The Australian Light Horse, Militia and AIF, Mounted Rifle Tactics, Part 3, General Considerations

Posted by Project Leader at 12:01 AM EAST
Updated: Thursday, 10 December 2009 9:02 AM EAST
Wednesday, 25 November 2009
Graspan, South Africa, 25 November 1899, Contents
Topic: BatzB - Graspan

Graspan

South Africa, 25 November 1899

Contents

 

Graspan, an action also referred to as the Battle of Enslin, was fought on 25 November 1899 (during the Second South African War) by a British force of 8,500 men under Lieut.-General Lord Methuen while attempting to break the Boer siege of Kimberley.

 

Items about the Battle of Graspan.

Graspan, South Africa, November 25, 1899 

Graspan, South Africa, November 25, 1899, Times Account, 29 Nov 1899 

Graspan, South Africa, The Times Casualty List, 29 November 1899 

Montague (Macgregor) Grover - I Killed a Man at Graspan 

Midshipman Cymberline Alonso Edric Huddart 

 

Further Reading:

Battles where Australians fought, 1899-1920

  


Citation: Graspan, South Africa, 25 November 1899, Contents


Posted by Project Leader at 12:01 AM EAST
Updated: Wednesday, 13 January 2010 7:05 PM EAST
The Australian Light Horse, Militia and AIF, Mounted Rifle Tactics, Part 4, The Attack
Topic: AIF - Lighthorse

The Australian Light Horse,

Militia and AIF

Mounted Rifle Tactics, Part 4, The Attack

 

Cape Mounted Rifleman

[Drawing from 1904 by Richard Caton Woodville, 1856 - 1927.]

 

The following series is from an article called Mounted Rifle Tactics written in 1914 by a former regimental commander of the Cape Mounted Riflemen, Lieutenant-Colonel J. J. Collyer. His practical experience of active service within a mounted rifles formation gives strength to the theoretical work on this subject. It was the operation of the Cape Mounted Riflemen within South Africa that formed the inspiration for the theoretical foundations of the Australian Light Horse, and was especially influential in Victoria where it formed the cornerstone of mounted doctrine. 

Collyer, JJ, Mounted Rifle Tactics, Military Journal, April, 1915, pp. 265 - 305:

 

Mounted Rifle Tactics.

II-THE ATTACK.

Definition - Mounted riflemen as advanced troops - In the attack generally - Special attacks - Fire from the saddle - Rooiwal - The "mounted rifle -charge." - Vlakfontein - Blood River - Bakenlaagte - Yzer Spruit - Rooiwal again.

Attack is defined in Field Service Regulations as "the action of that force which has gained the initiative and assumes the offensive first." Dispositions for attack should be based on as accurate information of the enemy's strength and position as can be obtained. Such knowledge can, as a general rule, only be arrived at as the result of reconnaissance in some form or other. Reconnaissance is the duty of the mounted troops - mounted riflemen, in the case we are studying – whether acting alone or with other arms.

I propose to consider reconnaissance for attack in detail when dealing of reconnaissance. I think that for the purpose of our the attack, as it concerns the arm with which we are dealing, it will be well to investigate the subject under the following headings:-

1. Action as advanced troops.

2. Action in the attack generally.

3 Special methods of attack.

1. Advanced troops -

In view of their employment as advanced troops, mounted riflemen will always be concerned with the opening phases of a combat. Their action in a deliberately planned attack will be decided mainly by the dispositions of the commander of the force, and, as the enemy will be awaiting attack in a position of his own selection, such fire positions as are at first available can probably be occupied without special necessity for speed or effort, as they will have been deliberately left vacant. In the case of an encounter combat, however, that is to say, when hostile bodies meet during a mutual advance, the initial action taken by the commander of advanced mounted riflemen becomes of immense importance and may have a far-reaching effect on the issue of the fight after it becomes general. To gain the initiative and the advantage of better ground is the first object, and it is on the rapid seizure of fire positions, and by surprising the enemy and impeding his deployment, that this will be done.

The fire positions should be occupied with their prospective use for the development of the general attack in view. They must also be so selected that they deny as much advantage of ground as possible to the opponents; they must be capable of defence against possibly superior numbers for some time; and they must be so selected that after the main body has entered the fight, aggressive action by the mounted troops is possible, especially against the hostile flanks. The opening features of such an encounter will be rapid deployment and a contest in speed between two mounted forces to secure fire positions, and very often, given the offensive spirit in each force, the race will be for the same position. Many of us have seen gallops for the same position and the discomfiture of that force which is beaten in the race, it may be by a few minutes, and it is in such circumstances that I think that body which is able to fire from the saddle may gain a position which will give them the initial advantage, and often, with it, a command of the opening situation, which will influence the result of the struggle as a whole. Moments are of vast importance in such circumstances, and even a slight check in speed As the result of several horses coming down may just make the difference to the advantage of the side which has effected the small disorganization in its opponents' ranks.

Effective and bold reconnaissance on the part of the troops, ready acceptance of responsibility, general tactical knowledge in view of the eventual co-operation of all arms, good judgment of ground, and quick decision on the part of leaders, alone can insure that free and well-judged use of mobility which is the great advantage of mounted riflemen in the first stage of an encounter combat. Given the occupation of well-chosen fire positions, the denial to the enemy of the advantages which both sides are seeking will follow as a matter of course.

The necessity for rapid decision, and conveying clear orders, at a time when hesitation is fatal and confusion may well occur, is paramount, and all officers of mounted rifle units should be frequently exercised in tactical problems on the ground, which should be solved in a given time and by writing a short statement of the action taken and the verbal orders issued.

The maintenance of full freedom of manoeuvre, that is to say, of the power of regaining mobility by rapidly remounting, must never be overlooked at this stage of the fight, and the normal full strength of rifles in the firing line is, in the case of mounted riflemen, three in every section, or, in other words, one man in every four will be with the led horses, to insure their mobility. It is not conceivable that at the beginning of an undeveloped combat mobility can be sacrificed safely. At a time of excitement, unless action is based on habit, the desire to develop the fullest possible fire may lead to making the led horses immobile, and this seems to indicate the need for a strong word of caution. Sacrifice of mobility is the abandonment by a mounted rifleman of a large proportion of his tactical value, and if it is ever permissible, it certainly never is in the initial stages of attack by advanced mounted troops.

No effort should be wanting to ascertain the strength and dispositions of the enemy as far as he has committed himself to any deployment and distribution of his force, and endeavours should be made to locate the situation of his flanks, and prevent any outflanking movement on his part.

The initial action of mounted riflemen acting as advanced troops in case of encounter with the enemy will be the rapid seizure of fire positions to deny any advantage of ground and the initiative to the enemy, maintaining full mobility and endeavouring to obtain a clear idea of the situation which confronts the commander of the whole force.

2. The attack generally -

The action of mounted riflemen in the attack generally may now be considered.

Surprise being a strong element in the tactical value of the arm, fire positions should be occupied as quickly as possible and should be reached by routes which are concealed from the view of the enemy. It will probably be necessary, if the position is at any distance from the point at which its occupation is decided upon, to screen the exposed flank of the movement by flanking parties which should not be stronger by one man more than is necessary to achieve the object aimed at, viz., denial to the enemy of view of the manoeuvre.

Should it prove necessary to cross exposes ground, it should be covered at the fastest possible pace, and, if under fire, extended. Troops, however, should not be extended during such movements unless extension is imperative, and should be closed as soon as the necessity for the open formation ceases.

The object is to arrive at the fire position as soon as possible, and in a formation which will allow of the immediate issue of orders to the whole force for the rapid delivery of fire and the disposal of the horses. The force should therefore arrive at the position concentrated, and in good order, for confusion means delay, and minutes have assumed enormous importance.

The horses should be as close; to their dismounted riders in the firing line as circumstances will allow, but the following conditions must be secured:

1. They must be under cover from view and fire. To obtain the second of these conditions it may be necessary to move the led horses after dismounting, if unaimed fire is likely to reach them over the position. The ideal place for the led horses is close under the position, with easy access from the firing line.

2. They should be so placed that the return of their riders to mount is effected rapidly and so that the next movement, again in an orderly manner and compact form under the hand of the commander, is initiated without unnecessary delay.

I have often noticed, especially on peace manoeuvres, that confusion, and loss of mobility in consequence of it, occur when the usual rapid return to the horses is made. This is possibly due in some measure to the lack of training, for the horses require to be accustomed to what is always in the nature of a rush and a scramble, but largely owing to a want of foresight and not placing the horses so that mounting is made convenient, and the forward movement is started with the force collected and in good order. In attack, the place for remounting should be covered from view by the enemy-cover from fire when remounting for advance may not always be required-in order that the fresh movement may be concealed.

In such an ideal position as I have described above, the led horses will be close behind the firing line and within easy reach, and communication with those in charge of them and their protection will in such circumstances be achieved by the tactical situation. Ideal positions are, however, scarce, and as communication with the led horses and their safety are indispensable conditions, they must be maintained; and I think this can be best assured by bearing in mind the following rules:

1. The maintenance of mobility by keeping the horses quickly available for dismounted men in action is as much the concern of the commander of mounted riflemen as the direction of the fire fight, which can only be conducted to the best advantage in attack by constantly seeking to deliver effective fire at close range. The position of the led horses with reference to their dismounted riders should be adjusted as the fight develops, and should be advanced or retired as the situation demands, being constantly checked l y the commander, and not changed as the result of suddenly giving attention to this most important point.

2. Visual communication whenever possible should exist between the commander and those in charge of the led horses.

3. When visual communication is impossible, an escort may become necessary, and in any case, as many orderlies as may be required should be detailed specially for communication work with the led horses.

4. When the led horses cease to be protected by the action of the firing line, or by the tactical situation, special measures, in the way of a separate escort, additional to the normal allowance of men, must be taken for their safety.

Successive advances must be undertaken in all offensive action by mounted riflemen, and as soon as a fire position has been occupied in attack, steps should be taken for the next advance. It will often be possible to send reconnaissance parties, which can use concealed lines of approach round the hostile flanks, to ascertain the most desirable and quickest route to the next suitable position, but in any case the commander must always bear in mind the need for continuous aggression, and, if he cannot reconnoitre by means of patrols, must send single individuals, or examine the ground carefully as far as he can for himself with the next forward movement in prospect.

The value and need of covering fire must also be borne in mind on all occasions.

In action with other arms, mounted riflemen should be employed on enterprises for which rapid and extensive movement are necessary, against the hostile flanks, on reconnaissance, and in reserve till the chance of dealing a rapid and unexpected blow is revealed. They should not be committed to any task which can be performed efficiently by infantry.

Finally, in this matter of action generally in the attack, the pursuit must be fixed in the intention of mounted riflemen as the finishing blow which by their mobility they are specially able to deal to a beaten foe. Victories on different scales are recorded in history by the score; thoroughly successful pursuits have been few and far between, and yet surely no chance of inflicting loss on a beaten enemy can be so great as that afforded by a vigorous pursuit. The larger the forces engaged, the more difficult it becomes to take up an organized pursuit immediately after a battle. Pursuit, however, in considering warfare in South Africa will be essential, particularly in native warfare, where only sustained offensive action is of avail) and, difficult as it may be, it must be effected, if possible, by mounted riflemen after success in a combat. A victory must have been unmistakable, and a mobile force must be in hand when the moment comes for launching the pursuit. Unless the force engaged is very small, the preparation of the pursuing force must be undertaken before the time comes for its employment. Pursuit after a victory by citizen forces has rarely been found possible, so history tells us, and its necessity must be impressed on all officers, and its execution practised in peace, to achieve the great success which is possible by the vigorous action of mounted riflemen in outflanking and anticipating a retiring beaten force. Confusion, exhaustion, and difficulty of communication all contribute to the impossibility of organizing a pursuit by employing troops who have been recently engaged, and these impediments are magnified in the case of citizen troops. A clear recognition of the necessity for pursuit, and the habit of providing for its achievement are therefore of much importance.

3. Special attacks -

I wish to consider two special forms of attack before leaving the subject. Each was employed by the Republican forces in the last South African War, and their use was practically confined to those forces.

The first is by the delivery of fire from the saddle. I am of the firm opinion that fire from the saddle is a means of offence and inflicting damage which will become far more effective if it is developed by training and practice. I have often heard the suggestion of its value dismissed as hardly worth consideration, and when I have expressed the opinion to which I have referred, the most courteous reception accorded to it, as a rule, has been that usually given to the opinions of a well-intentioned person with a pet idea. I have, however, no hesitation in saying that most of those with whom I have spoken have admitted that they have not really thought much about it, and far less have they examined any facts which bear on the point.

There is a mention of fire from the saddle in the new South African Manual. It is as follows:

"Few movements have proved to have such a demoralizing effect on unentrenched troops which have been at all unnerved, as an extended line of mounted riflemen at a gallop attacking them in front and simultaneously enveloping their flank, halting only for an instant at short intervals to fire from the saddle. Undoubtedly expert riders and well-trained horses are required to carry out such an attack, but it has been successful upon several occasions."

The recognition of fire from the saddle is brief, but if the words used are studied it will be admitted that such circumstances as those which are assumed are those in which great results may be achieved. Perhaps, until this method of delivering fire has been carefully tested, it would be unwise to lay down rules for teaching and using it, but I venture to express my view that it should be tested exhaustively, and, if found to possess something like the offensive value which a am inclined to ascribe to it, should be adopted and taught.

I do not know how many officers have studied the action of Rooiwal, in the Western Transvaal, on 11th April, 1902. 1 commend it especially, and several others, to the attention of those who are inclined to dismiss fire from the saddle as of little value. The following facts suffice for my purpose here:

A number of the mounted troops of the Republics-about 800-rode in a solid line, varying from two to four deep, against a British force, which, after hastily deploying, brought the fire of 1,500 magazine rifles and six guns to bear upon their adversaries. The latter were subjected to this fire while they covered from 300 to 400 yards in solid formation-an experience calculated to try the coolest temperament. They fired from the saddle, and - here is my point - killed 7 and wounded 56 of the British troops who were lying down and firing at them. One hundred and fifty horses were killed, and many more temporarily stampeded, as a direct result of this fire, unaimed as it was, in the ordinary acceptance of the word.

Is it wise to dismiss the possibility of fire from the saddle as a means of doing serious damage to an enemy, in the light of the above facts? I venture to think, certainly not. In the race for a fire position, to which I have alluded earlier-in sudden onslaughts, such as I shall discuss immediately; to stampede led horses and produce the great moral effect caused by such a disaster; on rear guards; surely this extra means of offence is well worth serious investigation.

Before closing this chapter I wish, in conclusion, to refer to what is called the "mounted riflemen charge." The word "charge" is a misnomer in this case. A charge means contact in a hand-to-hand fight with cold steel, and to use the term in connection with the method of attack that I shall now consider is calculated to give a false impression, and, I would even add, a wrong conception of its mode of application. The manoeuvre has been discussed in print, and while admitting its great value, I think the fact needs emphasis that, with all forms of tactics, it has its limitations.

We have successes, and at least one notable failure, to guide our investigations. The most striking instances of this form of attack axe the following:

1. Vlakfontein on 29th May, 1901 -

Five hundred mounted troops of the Republican forces, under cover of the smoke of a veldt fire which was blown into the faces of a rearguard of a British column, overwhelmed that column, captured its position, and two guns accompanying it, and inflicted heavy loss by fire from the saddle and the ground.

In the rear guard, in addition to a company of regular infantry, were 230 Imperial Yeomanry, largely composed of recruits. A troop of this Yeomanry, composed, as the Official History tells us, "of men totally fresh to campaigning," by Billing back and exposing the left flank of the rear guard without advising the rear guard commander of their action gave the initial advantage to the attack.

Important circumstances in this action were:-

(a) A definite objective; a rear guard occupying a ridge offering opportunity of further attack, if secured.

(b) Surprise; owing to the cover from view afforded by smoke, and materially assisted by the unknown retirement of the left flank of the rear guard.

(c) The presence of many recruits new to campaigning.

(d) The casualties were inflicted by fire-some of it from the saddle.

2. Blood River Poort on 17th September, 1901 -

Three hundred of Gough's Mounted Infantry, extended and engaged to their front with about 500 of the enemy, were caught in flank and rolled up by the fire, chiefly dismounted, of 500 additional hostile mounted troops whose presence had been undetected on the flank, in consequence of a hasty assumption that the force in front represented all to be reckoned with, and omission to reconnoitre.

The main points to notice in this combat are:

(a) A definite objective; a smaller force, ignorant of the presence of superior numbers, and obviously liable to heavy defeat.

(b) Surprise; effected as the result of neglect to reconnoitre.

(c) Striking preponderance of strength in favour of the victorious troops.

3. Bakenlaagte on 30th October, 1901 -

Some 800 mounted troops, having collected and advanced rapidly in more or less close formation, under cover of mist driven into the faces of their opponents by wind, practically annihilated a rear guard of somewhat less than 200 men by fire delivered at close range dismounted.

The following features are conspicuous:

(a) A definite objective; the rear guard of a force going into bivouac, having taken up a position from which further offensive action might well be undertaken by the attacking force.

(b) Surprise; effected under cover of mist.

(c) Preponderance of strength with the attack to a large extent, as compared with the portion of the defending force engaged.

4. Yzer Spruit on 25th February, 1902 -

Twelve hundred mounted men captured a convoy escorted by 490 British troops, after a severe fight, in which “rushes " in bodies were conspicuous on the part of the enemy, who used fire from the saddle to a considerable extent.

The main circumstances to be observed are:

(a) A definite objective; a convoy thrown into confusion by a sudden attack, made on the head of the column in the first instance.

(b) Surprise; less complete than was evidently desired, with a consequent loss on the part of the attackers, which is not so marked on some other occasions of the use of the same method.

(c) Preponderance of strength again to a large extent with the attack.

There are other instances of success, but I think enough have been examined. The failure is perhaps the most instructive episode of all.

5. Rooiwal on 11th April, 1902 -

Eight hundred mounted men were launched in a solid irregular line from two to four deep at a British advanced guard, and, in spite of a most determined and gallant attack, were repulsed with severe loss by a hurried deployment of 1,100 troops in support of the advanced guard.

Here we must note that -

(a) Whereas the original objective seems to have been the advanced guard, the co-operation of troops in its support does not appear to have been expected.

(b) Surprise was incomplete, for time was available to deploy against the attack, although very hurriedly.

(c) Preponderance of strength, though not to such a marked extent as with the attack in the instances previously quoted, rested with the defence.

(d) The whole attack bears the impress of a most gallant enterprise undertaken largely on the impulse of the moment, and with insufficient knowledge of the situation.

We may now draw our conclusions.

This special form of attack, which I prefer to call a mounted assault in close formation, rather than a charge, is valuable and highly effective, but can only be undertaken

1. By thoroughly seasoned troops. The Republican troops who delivered these attacks were tried warriors of proved gallantry.

2. When the situation to be dealt with is clearly known to the officer who orders the attack and a definite objective has been plainly determined.

3. Against a disorganized, hampered, or indifferently disciplined force. 4. When it is possible to surprise the force to be attacked.

5. In the great majority of instances, when the attack has the advantage in strength.

In short, this method of attack, in spite of its undoubted value, needs specially favorable circumstances for its successful accomplishment, and, unless they exist, such attacks will fail. Particularly is it necessary that troops of proved courage should be well aware of the limitations attaching to it, for the rapid onslaught in close formation appeals strongly to the soldierly instinct, apart from any consideration as to what its result may be.

 

Previous: Part 3, General Considerations 

Next: Part 5, Defence 

 

Further Reading:

The Light Horse

Australian Light Horse Militia

Militia 1899 - 1920

Battles where Australians fought, 1899-1920

 


Citation: The Australian Light Horse, Militia and AIF, Mounted Rifle Tactics, Part 4, The Attack

Posted by Project Leader at 12:01 AM EAST
Updated: Thursday, 10 December 2009 9:01 AM EAST

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