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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

The Australian Light Horse Studies Centre aims to present an accurate history as chroniclers of early Australian military developments from 1899 to 1920.

The Australian Light Horse Studies Centre site holds over 12,000 entries and is growing daily.

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WARNING: This site contains: names, information and images of deceased people; and, language which may be considered inappropriate today.

Friday, 20 March 2009
The Australian Light Horse - Structure
Topic: AIF - Lighthorse

The Australian Light Horse, AIF



Parts of the Light Horse Units

We are all concentrated in sections. A section is four men. A section lives together, eats together, sleeps together, fights together, and when a shell lands on it, dies together. A full troop of men has eight sections. There are four troops to a squadron, three squadrons to a regiment. I'm not going further than the regiment. Our big world is the regiment and even then most of us don't know intimately the men out of our own squadron. Our life is just concentrated in the "section". We growl together, we swear together, we take one another's blasted horses to water, we conspire against the damned troop-sergeant together, we growl against the war and we damn the officers up hill and down dale together; we do every-thing together — in fact, this whole blasted war is being fought in sections. The fate of all the East at least, depends entirely upon the section.

[From: Idriess, IL, The Desert Column, (Sydney 1933), p. 63.]


When reading about the various parts of a Light Horse unit, the following terms relating to specific formations are employed:

  • Trooper
  • Regimental Service Number
  • Section
  • Troop
  • Squadron
  • Regiment
  • Brigade
  • Division
  • Corps
  • Army.

Each of these specific units will be examined in terms of ideal composition and role.



The term "trooper" comes from the Middle French word "troupe" which basically means "company or herd." The basic idea is that a trouper hung around a herd of horses or was with a company of men, take your pick. The term has stuck in common usage. Indeed, both "trooper" and "trouper" are correct and are pronounced exactly the same.

The employment of the term “trooper” in Australia was rather capricious until the formalisation of the designation occurred in 1923 when the volume called: 'Annual Training Establishments Citizens Forces 1923-24', was published under command of Australian Military Order (AMO) 503 of 1923. It reads:

"In Light Horse Regiments the designation trooper is to be substituted for private whenever that latter occurs (vide AMR [Australian Military Regulation] 195 sub-table v)."

Prior to the formation of the AIF, the term “private” was generally employed. The West Australian raised 10th Light Horse Regiment was the exception as the term “trooper” was utilised at the inception of that unit.

By December 1914, those AIF Light Horse units in Egypt began the practice of employing the term “trooper” to differentiate their men from the Infantry who remained with the title “private”. As troops arrived from Australia, the new regiments changed the designation. By mid 1915, the use of “trooper” throughout the AIF was common practice and remained until 1919 when the last of the Light Horse Regiments was disbanded.

At the conclusion of the war, the Militia formations were beginning to fill with returned servicemen from the Light Horse who preferred title “trooper” to distinguish them from other service arms. Eventually pressure from common usage forced the hand of the military authorities in 1923 to make the designation universal for certain arms within the Australian Defence Forces.


Regimental Service Number

At the beginning of the Great War, Australian recruiting was done on the same basis as that in the United Kingdom. Units were locally raised and service numbers were peculiar to that regiment or battalion rather than to the military service. So upon joining a Light Horse Regiment or an Infantry Battalion, the recruit was allocated a number specific to that unit. While theoretically it was possible for about 200 men to have the same Service Number, the highest number recorded of a specific Service Number was 109 men. Below are the first ten Service Numbers allotted and the numbers of AIF members who were allotted this number:

AIF Service Number: 1 = 102 men.

AIF Service Number: 2 = 109 men.

AIF Service Number: 3 = 106 men.

AIF Service Number: 4 = 105 men.

AIF Service Number: 5 = 102 men.

AIF Service Number: 6 = 106 men.

AIF Service Number: 7 = 102 men.

AIF Service Number: 8 = 105 men.

AIF Service Number: 9 = 99 men.

AIF Service Number: 10 = 96 men.

Needless to say this became confusing if a person transferred to another unit. The person carried the original service number and if another in that unit already had that number the conflict was usually resolved by placing an "A" as part of the Service Number. If that number was taken, then "B" was used and if taken, "C" as part of the number.

Officers were not issued with a service number and thus throughout the diaries, whilst the enlisted men have their service numbers provided where ever possible, when a person became an officer, they no longer carried their original Service Number. If the person was enrolled as an officer that person would not have received a number in the first instance.


A soldier who had a younger brother or son in another unit was able to claim that younger immediate relative and if there were no technical problems, allow for the transfer of the relative to the older person's unit.



The foundation formation of the entire Light Horse was based upon the Section. The Section was the most cohesive formation that the trooper could rely upon for support and sustenance within any Light Horse unit. It consisted of four men, one of whom was designated the leader who usually held a Non Commissioned Officer (NCO) rank of either Lance Corporal or Corporal.

Within the Section, each man has a designated combat role. Three are riflemen who are actually to be engaged into combat. The one man in the Section who is not allotted to the front line has possibly the most dangerous task while in combat, that of horse holder. Once the requisite positions were reached by the riflemen, usually just in range of the enemy where their fire is accurate, the three men dismount and seek cover. The horse holder then is required to gather the reigns of the other three horses and ride off from the battlefield to safety. During the course of the actual combat, the horse holder remained out of range until summoned to bring the horses forward which then occurred. It may appear counter intuitive that this was a dangerous job. However, a man lying prone on the ground presents a very low profile and so a small target. In contrast, a man on top of a horse presented a large target. Riding off with three other horses in tow was a difficult and slow task leaving the horse holder exposed to enemy fire for quite some time.

At camp, in undertaking the various important duties, such as guard duty, the whole section was given the responsibility for allocating the men at the appropriate time. Sections were often detailed to undertake patrol or scouting duties. During deployment of the unit in the front line, each section was expected to hold 8 metres, or over two metres per man.



Eight Sections, or 32 men formed the effective combat strength of a Troop. In addition, there were some 7-8 men who performed specialist functions within the troops. These duties were as diverse as being the troop commander, the troop sergeant, signallers, saddlers, shoeing smiths, drivers, grooms and batmen and buglers. In addition, the Major in charge of the Squadron was also a member of a troop as was the Captain who was second in command.

Within the troop was a man usually designated as the cook. In undertaking the task of preparing food for the large volume of men, the cook was relieved of many of the ordinary tasks undertaken by the men during the day. A man was specifically allotted to undertake all the horse maintenance tasks that would normally attach to the Light Horseman.

The troop was the single coherent body of men that each trooper could identify with in the Light Horse. Anything outside the troops was usually another place altogether. Because the troop worked and rested together, everyone was on intimate terms with each other. Men allocated their loyalty to their Section first and to the Troop in general. After that, for the average trooper, the world did not exist. It was more the preserve of the officers.

The Officer Commander of a Troop was usually either a Lieutenant or a Second Lieutenant.

Troops were allotted a letter to designate their place within the Squadron. They would be called: "A", "B", "C", and "D" Troop.

Exception: 12th Light Horse Regiment reverted to the pre-1912 strucure by naming the Troops 1st, 2nd, 3rd and 4th respectively in place of "A", "B", "C", and "D" Troop.

As a combat force, it was the most complete force with all the requisite skills and specialists to maintain the force in the field. In combat, a Troop was expected to maintain a 65m of front line. Such a frontage indicated that out of the 39-40 members, there were only 25 rifles available in a Troop for actual combat work.


Four troops made a Squadron. Inclusive of all the combat troops and ancillary soldiers, the numbers making a Squadron was usually about 158 men. Below is a dissection of the Squadron composition made up of "A", "B", "C", and "D" Troops.








Troop Members
























Squadron Sergeant Major






Squadron Quartermaster Sergeant












Farrier Sergeant






Signal Corporal






Shoeing Smith Corporal










































Shoeing Smiths






Batman and Groom












The composition of the Light Horse Squadron and placement of members within the individual Troop.

[Extracted from Military Order 176, 1916, Australian Military Force Tables of Peace Organisation and Establishments, 1916-17, Part II, Annual Establishments of Personnel, Horses, Guns, and Vehicles (Provisional), Light Horse, p. 53 and issued to all Light Horse Regiments on 4 April 1917.]


The Squadron names were designated by a letter. Most Squadrons were called: "A", "B", and "C" Squadron. On occasion when a Regiment was broken up for reinforcement purposes such as happened to the 11th and 12th Light Horse Regiments in 1915, the incoming Squadron would be called "D" Squadron.  Later on, from 1916, the Training Squadron for the Regiment was usually denoted as "D" Squadron. 

Due to the establishment numbers of Majors within a Light Horse Regiment, two Squadrons were usually commanded by a Major while the third was commanded by a Captain, commonly called OC [Officer Commanding] Squadron. This depended upon the circumstances but the majority of Regiments allotted “C” Squadron as that commanded by the Captain.

The Squadron was the next coherent formation which allowed deployment in some considerable strength. It was expected to be mobile enough to deploy as an independent unit with minimal support. A Squadron was an unwieldy force to deploy as a single formation and was rarely deployed as such. When a Squadron deployed, three Troops were moved into actual combat while the fourth was maintained as Squadron reserve. To deploy the entire Squadron without a reserve was to ask for disaster as any weakness in the line needed to be filled with speed. A fully committed Squadron usually came to grief.

Each Squadron was allotted 200m of front line. This translated to about 2.6m per man, the increased area required because of fewer rifles in the firing line. An average Squadron could fully deploy about 100 rifles but with one Troop out of the firing line, only 75 rifles are available for active combat.



The next unit up the line is the Regiment. This was the first identifiable formation in the Light Horse. Each Regiment had its own distinct command structure and independent identity. During the Great War, each Regiment recruited their own members as distinct from the body of the AIF. Consequently, as a man was attached to the Regiment, he gained a Regimental number specific to that Regiment. Thus over the range of 15 Regiments, 60 Infantry Battalions, and 15 Field Artillery Brigades let alone other ancillary service formations, about 110 distinct formations in all, each having their own numbers. Potentially a Regimental Number was replicated over the whole AIF another 110 times. A common error when first examining a service record is to see such a low number in comparison to 420,000 men in the AIF and conclude that the man enlisted early in the war when no such situation existed.

Each Regiment comprised three Squadrons and a Headquarters Section of 42 men. Earlier in the war, each Regiment also contained a Machine Gun Section but at the end of July 1916, the Machine Gun Sections were hived off and formed into a single Squadron attached to the Brigade rather than the Regiment. Prior to July 1916, the established strength of a Regiment was 558 men but after the creation of the Light Horse Machine Gun Squadrons, the established strength fell to 516 men. Also a dedicated transport train of about 16 wagons existed which was for the exclusive use of the Regiment.

In combat, only two Squadrons as once were ever committed usually leaving one Squadron and Regimental Headquarters as reserve. The same reason for not committing an entire Squadron followed here too. So too does this same principle extend right to the top of the Army chain. Each Regiment was responsible for covering about 400m of front line.

By 1917, one additional weapon increased the firepower of a Regiment to well above its manpower levels. This was the introduction of the Hotchkiss Automatic Rifle, a rapid firing gun that used standard issue ammunition. Every Troop had a dedicated Hotchkiss Gun team making about 12 available for a Regiment. The mobility of the Hotchkiss Gun and the weight of fire it could bring to bear on a target without the loss of time combined with a robustness that could withstand the desert sands and the heat of battle made it an ideal cavalry weapon.

See: Weapons – The Hotchkiss Gun

The Commander of a Light Horse Regiment was usually a Lieutenant Colonel and called the CO [Commanding Officer] of the Regiment.

The Australian Light Horse Regiment was the fundamental formation raised to sustain combat. As time passed and new techniques and weapons became available, the Light Horse Regiments were able to tackle forces where the ratio of manpower was at least 2:1 against them and still prevail. In terms of combat effectiveness, there were few units that could match the Light Horse Regiments on a man for man basis. It was this edge that gave the Light Horsemen a ferocious reputation.



The Brigade was important to the Regiment as it supplied additional services required by the men in the Regiments. Each Brigade usually contained three Regiments as its core combat formation.

To assist protection of the formation, each Brigade had the services of an artillery battery. The calibre of the guns varied from either 25 pounders to 13 pounder mountain batteries. Each battery contained about 160 men. Alluded to at the Regimental level was the Brigaded Machine Gun Sections called the Light Horse Machine Gun Squadron. The mobility of this Squadron added much to the mobility of the Brigade while giving it a high fire power ratio per man.

The services provided by the Brigade to the Regiments was of particular importance. The Brigade had a logistics train which had to ensure sufficient water, food and ammunition was available to the Regiments when it was required. The transport columns were nothing short of incredible with the ability to navigate some of the most hostile, formless and changing environments in the Sinai with the result that no man or horse was ever short of the necessities of life or ability to perform active combat. One other job the Brigade Train conducted to the joy of all the men was undertaking mail movements. They made sure the mail arrived at the correct unit for the men to read when it arrived. This service maintained morale at a high level within the various units.

Two other services attached to the Brigade were the medical units, one for the horses and the other for the men. Each Brigade had a Mobile Veterinary Unit and a Light Horse Field Ambulance unit. Both units provided a valuable service and saved many lives during the years in operation.

The composition of the average Brigade included the following:


Brigade Units


3 Light Horse Regiments + Brigade Headquarters


1 Artillery Battery


1 Machine Gun Squadron


Brigade Train


1 Field Ambulance


1 Mobile Veterinary Unit









The Commander of a Brigade is usually a Full Colonel or a Brigadier General. Usually the person was referred to as GOC [General Officer Commanding] Brigade.

In combat, the Brigade was expected to maintain a front line of about 800m employing the same principles as the smaller units by keeping only two Regiments on the front line at any one time while keeping one Regiment always as Brigade Reserve.

One other function conducted by the Brigade was scouting. While each Regiment had an ad hoc body of 10 scouts, the Brigade often brought these men together as a specific unit and assigned the scouts difficult tasks which required individual initiative and bravery. The most notable Brigade Scouts were with the 3rd Light Horse Brigade.



A Division contains sufficient material and men to allow the formation to undertake combat actions without reference to any other unit. It is usually called an independent command. All the military services were available within the Division. The core of the Division’s combat ability was provided by three Brigades. The key function of the division was logistical support of the Brigades as well as planning support when combat is offered.

One noticable support function absent from the two Australian Light Horse Divisions was the Casualty Clearing Station. Rather than carry their own, the Australian Light Horse Divisions were reliant upon the Casualty Clearing Stations which accompanied the British Infantry Divisions. The one concession to high level medical treatment near the battlefield was the formation of the Operations Unit which was a mobile formation containing skilled surgeons. The Operations Unit followed the Division as it moved along the various battle fronts rendering care which saved many lives that ordinarily would have been lost through lack of immediate attention had they passed through the Casualty Clearing Station system. 

The following table details the breakdown of the authorised Mounted Division Establishment.


Detail Officers Other Ranks Total Horses    Guns
Divisional Headquarters 15 82 97 63  
Light Horse      
3 Brigades      
3 Headquarters, 9 Regiments 255 4,899 5,154 5,619    18 Machine Guns
Machine Gun Squadron 8 222 230 304    12 Machine Guns
Horse Artillery      
Headquarters, Divisional Artillery 3 17 20 18  
2 Horse Artillery Brigades 32 1,190 1,222 1,248    24 Field Guns, 13 pounder Quick Firing
[4 Batteries, 2 Brigade Ammunition Columns]      
1 Field Squadron 7 184 191 196  
1 Signal Squadron 8 198 206 164  
3 Signal Troops 3 69 72 48  
Army Service Corps      
Headquarters Light Horse Divisional ASC 4 21 25 11  
3 Light Horse Brigade Trains 21 459 480 474  
Army Medical Corps      
3 Light Horse Field Ambulances 18 336 354 318  
Army Veterinary Corps      
3 Mobile Verinary Sections 3 81 84 72  
Total Mounted Division 377 7,758 8,135 8,535  
2 Depot Units of Supply 372 26 398    
New Zealand Mounted Rifles Brigade 90 1,802 1,892 1,904    12 Machine Guns
Total Anzac Mounted Division till February 1917 839 9,586 10,425 10,439    42 Machine Guns and
   24 Field Guns, 13 pounder Quick Firing


The Attachments listed at the bottom of the table was current to February 1917 when the Anzac Mounted Division was split with the 3rd Light Horse Brigade being transferred to the newly created Imperial Mounted Division. From there the authorised establishment followed those elements on the table minus the Attached. 

The Division contained about 8,135 men including some 8,535 horses and was commanded by a Major General, known as GOC [General Officer Commanding] Division. Australian Divisional Commanders usually had the ability to contact the Prime Minister directly should the GOC wish to do so. Not many undertook this option but it was always there for the men to exercise should they deem it necessary.

As a combat formation, it presented awesome power. The anticipated front line occupied by a division was 1,600m held by two Brigades with one in reserve.



A Corps was a major military organisation which consisted of a minimum of two divisions. There was only one Australian styled Light Horse Corps, the Desert Mounted Corps, or Descorps, which contained a majority of Australian troops supplemented by a Brigade of New Zealand Mounted Rifles, a Brigade of British Cavalry, the 5th Mounted Brigade and a Regiment of French Cavalry, the 1er Regiment Mixte de Cavalerie du Lavant.

The commander of a Corps, usually a Lieutenant General, known as GOC [General Officer Commanding] Corps. Only one Australian was appointed, Lieutenant General Sir Henry “Harry” George Chauvel who became GOC in September 1917 and remained in command for the remainder of the war. The GOC was in charge of the overall deployment of the forces but in terms of conducting operations, these decisions were left to the Divisional Commanders. As such, the GOC seemed a rather remote character.

The only other Corps Commander in the AIF was on the Western Front, Lieutenant General Sir John Monash.

The structure of the Desert Mounted Corps which consisted of two primarily Australian Divisions, the Anzac Mounted Division and the Australian Mounted Division is detailed in the Australian Light Horse Order of Battle. 



An Army, in the formation sense, is composed of two Corps. The Commander, GOC [General Officer Commanding] Army was usually a full General. The Army under the command of General Sir Edmund Allenby was composed of three Corps, they being: Descorps, 20th and 21st Infantry Corps, a total of six divisions pus a composite force containing a Battalion of Italian troops and a Regiment of French Cavalry. Adding to the weight of firepower was the command of the Royal Flying Corps which included originally the No 67 Squadron, and Australian unit which changed its name to No 1 Squadron, Australian Flying Corps as part of the No 5 Wing. In addition, there were many tens of thousands of Egyptians recruited into the Egyptian Labour Corps. It was a sizable army and there is little doubt that Allenby handled it well.


Further Reading:

Anzac Mounted Division

Australian Mounted Division

The Light Horse

Australian Light Horse Order of Battle


Citation: The Australian Light Horse - Structure

Posted by Project Leader at 12:01 AM EADT
Updated: Sunday, 20 September 2009 7:10 PM EADT

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