Topic: Gen - Legends
A Legend from Misunderstanding
Squadron? Regiment? Brigade?
This is a brief examination of an entry in the book by Harvey Broadbent, Gallipoli: the fatal shore, Penguin, Camberwell, Vic., 2005. At p. 208 there is reproduced this picture:
Survivors. Just these forty-two men of the 1st Australian Light Horse Brigade, lined up for roll-call, escaped death in their charge at Pope's Hill.
This comment bears some scrutiny. Since a Brigade contains about 2,200 men, although at Gallipoli just prior to the August offensive, most Light Horse Brigades were below strength to containing about 1,200 men on establishment. If the formation mentioned and the figures quoted in the caption were taken literally, that is, 42 men survived, then by implication, there was a massacre of some 1,100 men at Pope's. This, of course, never happened. These men are the remnants of one under-strength regiment of the 1st LHB or even more accurate, the balance of a squadron from the 1st LHR on their regular roll call. Unlike the attack on the Nek where failure was compounded, Chauvel, the GOC of the 1st LHB, saw that the attack failed and called off the other waves from charging. So while this may be a picture of haunting pathos for that formation, the caption needs a little bit of modification.
Here is the same picture on the AWM site:
This is the picture caption: "All that was left of the 1st Australian Light Horse. Only 42 members of the regiment returned after the charge at Anzac."
In essence Broadbent seems to be confused between the terms "Brigade" and "Regiment", an understanding of which is fundamental to accurate military historical writing. This is an error that a novice with little understanding would make, not someone producing a coffee table sized book.
Just to recapitulate on the concepts of Light Horse formations, we have these approximate figures:
A Trooper = 1 Man
A Section = 4 Troopers
A Troop = 10 Sections + 2 troopers or 42 troopers
A Squadron = 4 Troops or 168 troopers
A Regiment = 3 Squadrons + 1 Headquarters Section of 40 troopers or 544 troopers
A Brigade = 3 Regiments + 1 Machine Gun Squadron + 1 Signal Troop + 1 Field Ambulance Squadron + 1 Mobile Vet Troop + 1 Headquarters Section +1 Artillery Battery + 1 AASC Company with Baggage Train, or about 2,176 troopers.
A Division = 3 Brigades + 1 Headquarters Section or 6,600 troopers.
Obviously in reality these figures varied by between 10 to 20 per cent, depending upon the circumstances. Learning this information is fundamental if one is to begin writing about the Light Horse during the Great War. The difference between a Brigade and Regiment is also a fundamental concept and illustrated above by the figures, is a vast difference between the two formations.
Our next task is to put the "42 men" into some type of context. If we examine the 1st LHR War Diary, we see this entry:
So if we tally up this data, we get these figures:
34 missing - most will be KIA
42 at roll call
189 men in toto for the Regiment on 7 August 1915.
This figure is far too low for even the 1st LHR and possibly understates it by about another 150 - 200 men. In other words, there is every possibility that the men on the roll call are from a particular squadron and not the regiment.
While the loss of men at any time is tragic, the picture caption gives a false sense of tragedy by overstating the result of an event through either careless or deliberate scholarship.
Careless entries occur when the author does not put in the effort to examine the material to be published. Errors like this put the commentary about the other pictures and text into doubt as no one is able to readily discern the level of accuracy of a particular section. Unfortunately, careless scholarship does not have a sign placed upon it by the author warning the ready that something is dodgy so it ends up tainting the body of the text. This is sad because it spoils what is essentially a very well written book.
On the other hand, for conspiracy theorists, deliberate would indicate that the text is highly political with the intent to blame others for the casualties incurred by Australian forces. At first it was blame the British, now it is blame the Americans. The political idea is that it is everyone else's fault except our own. The alternative corollary of this message is that Australians are incapable of bungling themselves. We are perfection personified. A former Australian PM, Keating tried to peddle this line as did the movie Gallipoli. The truism is of course that if there was a choice between screw up or conspiracy, always go for the screw up. Thus it is doubtful that this mistake was a deliberate error designed to push a particular political line.
So with that in mind, careless or deliberate, it would be best to harbour grave doubts about the veracity of the text in this book and actually examine the authenticity of the captions let alone commentary.
The Australian Light Horse – Structural outline
Citation: Fleas on fleas - The results from careless work - another case study