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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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Tuesday, 1 September 2009
The Australian Light Horse, Militia and AIF, Concept
Topic: AIF - Lighthorse

The Australian Light Horse

Militia and AIF



Mounted service manual for Australian Light Horse and Mounted Infantry


After the formation of the new Commonwealth of Australia, the thorny question of defence required immediate attention. Six different military forces needed to be integrated, each with different ideas on emphasis, methodology and funding. At the same time the Boer War was winding down but the lessons learnt were vital in shaping the views of the military establishment at the time. Drawing upon his own South African experience, General Hutton commissioned a new manual designed for mounted forces which was released in 1902 under the title: Mounted service manual for Australian Light Horse and Mounted Infantry. The essay by Hutton in the preface clearly articulates the ideas held at the time for the training and employment of mounted troops.

From: Mounted service manual for Australian Light Horse and Mounted Infantry, 1902, pp. ix-xv.



Important as the dismounted fire action of mounted troops has always been held to be, the recent improvement in fire-arms, and above all the introduction of smokeless powder, has given the fire action of mounted men a power which, in future, must materially modify, if it does not revolutionise, the tactics of the field of battle and the strategical combinations of a campaign.


The long and effective range of modern rifles, the flat trajectory of the bullets, and their deadly precision have, on the one hand, enormously increased the power of defence against direct attack, while, on the other hand, the invisibility of the enemy, due to the use of smokeless powder, and the consequent difficulty of locating his position or estimating his numbers have increased the difficulties of the offence a hundredfold. It is now easy for a few mounted men, who are handled well and with confidence, to hold in check a relatively large force; while equally in the offence a body of horsemen led with dash and vigour are capable of achieving great results by the sudden capture of an important strategical or tactical point, by outflanking the enemy's position, and even by attacking it in reverse. When the great area over which modern battles will extend, the vast range of artillery fire, the accuracy and deadly effect of modern fire power are taken into consideration, it will be understood that extreme mobility and the power of covering distances at a rapid pace by the advanced bodies of troops become imperative. It should be always borne in mind that in modern battles infantry once committed to an attack cannot be withdrawn except by loss of initial energy, and of morale. No commander, therefore, would willingly develop an attack upon an enemy whose presence is only revealed by a shower of bullets at long range and by fire from unseen artillery.

Having in view, therefore, the distances to be covered, the advanced troops, whether utilised as a screen or as scouts and patrols, must necessarily be mounted. The use of infantry on foot for such purposes becomes, under the changed conditions of war, slow, cumbersome, and ineffective. It is more necessary now than at any previous period to push forward the mounted troops, who, by their rapid manoeuvring and by their far-reaching flank movements, can gain intelligence of the enemy by compelling him to display his strength and make evident his position.

The preliminary part, therefore, of every skirmish and of every engagement must largely depend upon the action of the mounted troops. Mounted troops who are trained to fight on foot are peculiarly adapted to the requirements of this service, and the value of such troops has been enhanced by the experiences recently obtained in South Africa to an extent that bids fair to be little short of revolutionary.

Provided that the character of the country is suitable, there must unquestionably be occasions when a well-timed, daringly conceived, and gallantly executed charge of cavalry will be as conclusive as ever; for example, upon an infantry demoralised by a long and overwhelming fire action with consequent loss of life. It is also assumed that for operations against an enemy possessing cavalry trained upon the European model, it will be as desirable as heretofore to possess a cavalry force trained to shock tactics and to offensive action mounted. It must be remembered, however, that a charge, to be effective, must be delivered by troops thoroughly trained and suitably horsed. The cohesion indispensable for a successful charge, and the well-broken charger without which neither lance nor sword can be effectively handled, can only be obtained after long and careful training, not only of men but also of horses, such training, in fact, as is only possible for troops after long embodiment and continuous instruction. This role of the mounted service is dealt with in Cavalry Drill, 1898.

Although opportunities for the shock tactics of the past few centuries will be of rare occurrence, still good and bold horsemen, ably and intelligently led, who are capable of developing the power of modern fire-arms to the highest point, will undoubtedly exercise a controlling effect in future war. The present Manual deals with the organisation, drill, tactics and strategy of this last-mentioned description of mounted troops.

Simple as it may appear in some respects to raise large numbers of mounted troops valuable in the manner described in Great Britain and her Colonies, it is only by a leadership of a very high order on the part of the officers on the one hand, and by a carefully-devised organisation on the other, that such troops can be used with effect or be maintained in efficiency.

The very highest degree of knowledge, zeal and experience is required from all officers to enable them to win the confidence of their men by skilled leadership. Knowledge is power, and in order to obtain the best results the principle must be always maintained that he who leads must be he who instructs. It is a well-known fact that men in the mass are much what an organisation or system makes them. It is imperative, therefore, that the greatest possible care and the most constant and earnest thought should be bestowed by all officers upon those principles of drill and organisation which are required to maintain mounted troops effective in the field, as apart from that show and display which is so frequently mistaken for real military efficiency.

Mounted Troops fulfilling the foregoing conditions are divided into two categories:

I. Horsemen trained to fight on foot, i.e., Light Horse.

II. Infantry soldiers temporarily provided with increased powers of locomotion, i.e., Mounted Infantry.

I. Light Horse, etc., are required,

(a) to fight on foot, both in the offensive and defensive;

(b) to perform the duties classed under the head of "Information," viz., reconnoitring and screening ; and

(c) to afford “protection" from surprise for all bodies of troops, both halted and on the march.

Mounted troops of the description given above, who are capable of fulfilling this role with success, must be daring and bold horsemen, careful horse-masters, and must possess at once that cohesion and individuality which are only begotten of a sound organisation and of true discipline. They must be prepared when mounted to rush a position held by the enemy, and under possible but exceptional circumstances they may even be called upon when mounted to make a sudden onslaught upon the enemy.

II, Mounted Infantry are required to perform only the duties pertaining to infantry, who are temporarily provided with the increased means of mobility or rapid locomotion. They may be divided into two categories:-

(a) Mounted Infantry organised in small units, which act as integral parts of the infantry battalion and of the infantry brigade to which they belong.

(b) Mounted Infantry concentrated and organised into large units, so as to form adjuncts to an independent mounted force for the performance of purely infantry service.

For the successful performance of these duties, it is necessary that the personnel should be carefully selected infantry soldiers who have been thoroughly trained in all respects as such. They must be good shots, intelligent, and possess a hardy physique. Provided that the men thus selected are efficient soldiers, well led by experienced officers, and properly organised, it is not difficult to give the training in riding, horse management, drill and tactics which will enable them to carry out the limited amount of reconnoitring and scouting duties required when acting mounted with infantry, or, when co-operating with an independent mounted force, to be at hand for the performance of such infantry duties as they may be called upon to carry out when acting with them.

Experience has also shown that Mounted Infantry may, after prolonged training and practice in the field, be utilised for the same purposes as those mounted troops referred to under the first heading.


Not only, however, has the tactical value of mounted troops increased as already shown, but the very favourable conditions for the defence, which has been commented upon, make the strategical value of mounted troops in the future as great, if not greater, than the tactical. A strategical attack upon an enemy's flank and rear by a rapid and far-reaching march will compel the evacuation of a position which it may be impossible to attack in front. A boldly-conceived and swift descent upon the enemy's line of communications or upon some temporarily isolated portion of the enemy's force may be productive of immense results, and bring panic and demoralisation upon the enemy's troops.

Mounted troops who are to play such a strategical part must be capable of a self-sustained and self-contained effort. They must be organised for independent action, and must include mounted troops (trained to fight on foot) and artillery, with a proportion of those departments without which no body of troops can remain efficient in the field, viz., Engineers (for engineer services and field telegraph), Medical Staff Corps and Army Service Corps.

The force fulfilling these requirements must be a complete fighting unit and be capable of dealing in dismounted action with an enemy's infantry in a manner which no cavalry, organised and trained as modern European cavalry, can ever hope to do.

The value of mounted troops for strategical purposes in war is in direct ratio to their rapidity of movement, and the mobility of such troops must be necessarily dependent upon the quality of their horses, and to the thoroughness and efficiency of their discipline and organisation.

There is no branch of an army which requires such careful and laborious organisation and management as a mounted force. The strength and power of a mounted corps is that of its weakest link or component part ; for example, with bad saddlery the highest training of the men and the most perfect quality of the horses are of small value. It cannot be too strongly impressed upon all concerned that men and horses upon service can only be maintained effective in the field by the most complete discipline, and by the most laboured organisation of every minute detail.

This Manual has been framed to meet the foregoing requirements so far as can be done within the compass of so small a, work.



Commanding Military Forces of the Commonwealth of Australia. Melbourne, July 1st, 1902.


Infantry who are selected for duty as Mounted Infantry will retain the nomenclature pertaining to their branch of the service, and will throughout this Manual substitute the following expressions, viz.:

Company for Squadron.

Bugler for Trumpeter.


Further Reading:

The Light Horse

Australian Light Horse Militia

Militia 1899 - 1920


Citation: The Australian Light Horse, Militia and AIF, Concept

Posted by Project Leader at 12:01 AM EADT
Updated: Monday, 14 September 2009 3:52 PM EADT

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