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Thursday, 29 October 2009
The Australian Light Horse, Some Features of Squadron Training, Arthur William Hutchin
Topic: AIF - Lighthorse

The Australian Light Horse,

Some Features of Squadron Training

Arthur William Hutchin


Arthur William Hutchin (seated, left) with the the Staff Officers of the 3rd Infantry Brigade


In 1912, Lieutenant Arthur William Hutchin of the Army and Instructional Staff penned an essay called "Some Features of Squadron Training" which was published in the Military Journal in September 1912.

Hutchins was at the beginning of a long and distinguished career in the Defence forces. When he wrote the article he had been appointed Lieutenant on 16 September 1911 in the 3rd Military District where he served as Assistant Brigade Major, 17th Brigade Area. During the Great War he served as Brigade Major for the 3rd Infantry Brigade being Mentioned in Despatches and awarded the DSO.

Hutchin, AW, Some Features of Squadron Training, Military Journal, September 1912, pp 272 - 276.


Some Features of Squadron Training.

The idea of these notes is to draw attention to some of the more common faults which are repeated and commented on year by year during the Continuous Training Camps of the Light Horse Brigades, and which it would seem must be brought home as frequently as possible to those responsible for training and leading the various squadrons, if ever they are to be eradicated.

It is apparent at the outset that squadron leaders and troop officers have many difficulties to contend with, those in chief being the lack of opportunities for training and self-education in the fundamental principles of mounted work in the field, and the drifting personnel which they command. The word “drifting" is used advisedly, for, although there are many long-service men, the average length of service of the man in the ranks would probably work out at something under three years, and from a personnel recruited and serving in that manner, a maximum of efficiency is beyond the bounds of reasonable possibility. These evils I do not propose to deal with, but rather with those to which they give rise.

The squadron in its home training is taught to drill, and immediately it takes the field all drill is promptly disregarded. The fundamental idea of Light Horse organization, viz., that the unit is the section, which has a responsible leader in its No. 1, and that the troop is composed of a certain number of sections under a superior leader, is not applied; and if one were to examine the average squadron on a field day galloping to a position, or changing ground at a fast pace, in 90 per cent of cases would he find sections intermixed and out of hand of Nos. 1, and troops in a similar state. In fact, the squadron becomes an excited mass of individuals, without any cohesion whatever. When the signal “Action" is given, horses are not properly handed over to the No. 3, who, with a swinging rifle across his shoulders, and trying to collect three nervous horses sufficiently well to lead them, has a very unenviable task. The consequence is that the led horses do not get promptly to cover. A few bullets would teach a very severe lesson and show all ranks the importance of rapidly transferring the horses from the danger zone, and what an encumbrance a Light Horseman minus his horse may be. The maintenance of the correct formation is vital, and never so vital as when acting at top pace; for the idea of the Light Horse attack is a series of swift, sudden blows accurately delivered from different points, a long-sustained attack being possible only when in concert with other arms.

Moreover, it is usually inadvisable to dismount at a very great distance from .r position, the axiom being to remain as close as possible to the horses, so as to prevent them being cut off and to allow of rapid change of ground. The handing over of horses must often be done under fire, consequently it must be carried out quickly, yet methodically.

When the squadron has gone into action and formed its firing line, one frequently finds men of different sections intermixed, and troops not intact, thus causing men to be away from the control of their natural leaders, resulting in confusion and unnecessary movement to regain their proper places.

Again troop leaders are often found to fail in their duties as fire unit commanders. The description of the target is vague, the range, if range be given, is more vague, and it is no uncommon sight to see adjacent troops in the same alignment ranged upon a common target, using elevations varying as much as 200 or 300 yards, and that, too, when the objective is under 1,000 yards distant. Not only is the ranging faulty, but the fire control is equally so, little care being taken to see that the correct elevation is put on each rifle. No. 1 of each section should be trained to look to this.

The Light Horse Manual particularly mentions the great effect which can be obtained by sudden bursts of accurately-delivered fire, leading the enemy to overrate one's strength and to effect surprise. Troop leaders should practise this idea, and put a stop to the bad habit men have of finding their own target and firing indiscriminately at it without reference to what any one else may be doing. How often are men seen to actually fire a shot in the middle of an advance; and what can be the value of that shot? And what can a trooper do beyond exposing his position, who fires in a wild fashion when mounted? Yet these things do occur.

The whole matter is one of control. Troop officers should strive to work rapidly, silently, without undue “hustle." Perfect equanimity on their part, total absence of excitement, quiet and steady control by signal as far as possible, are preferable to endeavouring to give orders audible above the roar of galloping hoofs or rattling musketry. For calmness begets confidence, and confidence obedience, whilst the whole are the outcome of method. Habits follow, as a matter of course; and immediately good habits are inculcated the number of things correctly done without thought must leave the mind free to face circumstances which are not constant and which cannot be done automatically. This is the fundamental idea underlying all training, whether of the individual or of a force.

During manoeuvre, one is frequently struck by the very limited use made of ground scouts and the restricted knowledge of their duties displayed by those selected. Few squadrons appear to have men who have been permanently told off as ground scouts and trained accordingly. The Light Horse Manual on the subject says,

"Although every man in the squadron is to be instructed in the duties of ground scouts, a sufficient number of men of superior intelligence and horsemanship, must be selected and especially trained as the scouts of the squadron.”

The duties of scouts are to ascertain whether the ground in the immediate vicinity of the squadron is suitable for mounted troops, to point out obstacles, and to indicate the best points of passage.

Single troops always throw out scouts in difficult ground; a squadron should never manoeuvre over unknown or broken ground without being preceded by a ground scout.

The number of scouts employed, and the distance to which they are to go out, must depend upon the nature of the ground and the rapidity with which the body is moving; they must not, however, be more numerous than is absolutely necessary, and must be sufficiently far in advance to give ample warning of obstacles, and never out of sight of their squadrons.

Squadron commanders are responsible (without any order) that one scout from each squadron gallops out to a point at a suitable distance, as explained above, in front of the centre of his squadron if in line, or line of squadron columns, or opposite the exposed flank of the squadron; in the latter case the leading squadron also sends out an additional scout ahead of the column. After reaching this point, each scout conforms as far as possible to the pace and to any change of direction of his squadron.

The fact that a squadron is practising over very open country should not deter the ground scouts from being utilized, even if only to find passages through fences. A scout should always take post on the exposed flank of the led horses when in the attack.

Another phase of mounted work which I should like briefly to touch upon is the relation of drill to the ground. Just as cover is most vital to the individual in the firing line so is concealment to bodies of troops on the move. So keen and penetrating are the intelligent scouts of a modern army, and so great the possibilities of aerial reconnaissance, that the question of secret movement from place to place is daily becoming more important. The fullest advantage will in future have to be taken of the contour of the country, its hills and hollows, and its forests. Squadron leaders might well practise the handling of their squadrons with this idea in view.

Adjacent to almost any training ground may be found a stretch of country to suit the purpose. Let a troop officer be posted at any distance from 600 to 1,000 yards, in likely place for an enemy's look-out to occupy, to observe the squadron. The squadron leader will then put the squadron through some movements suitable to the ground and with some definite tactical object in view. Let each officer in turn take host as observer and much will be learned of the possibilities of even open country for providing cover for quite considerable bodies of troops.

The continual practice of such exercises will, moreover, cultivate that eye for country which is a most valuable asset.

Finally, the subject of reconnaissance and the training of the individual in scouting seems to be a feature of squadron work the value of which is not fully understood, and which, consequently, does not receive the attention it deserves.

The average well-educated Light Horseman is the ideal person for this work, because of the fact that he lives continually in the bush and every day is called upon to exercise those senses which are inseparable from a good scout. He is usually keen of eye, a good judge of distance, a horseman who knows how to look after his horse and capable of withstanding exposure and fatigue.

But the things he is used to observing in his daily life are not always what he would be required to do from a military point of view. Negative information, for instance, is often quite as valuable as positive ; and his natural bent must therefore be supplemented by a training in what to look for, what to avoid, and how to render reports suitable for military work.

The scout should understand that he is a chosen individual upon whom greater risk is thrust, from whom greater intelligence is expected, and for whom there is more chance of distinction than for the average individual. He must feel that his officers have confidence in him, and that the discovery of the enemy's plans and the fate of his comrades depend upon him and how he carried out his work.

Perhaps one of the most difficult tasks a scout has to perform is that of mapping a country which he has been sent to report upon.

Cavalry Training says:-

"When a man has learnt to read a map, elementary instruction in sketching should be given. This to include instruction in conventional signs; judging distances by time or eye; making a simple approximate scale; finding an approximate north point; sketching a simple piece of country; drawing a map from memory; estimating heights."

Absolute accuracy is not to be sought after; but the result should be approximately so, having due regard always to speed in working. It is, again, much more vital that the sketch should include valuable concrete information rather than that time be wasted in compiling a work of art of comparatively small military value. Field Service Regulations, Part 1, section 16, says:-

"A plan or panorama sketch is a useful adjunct to a report, and it is often possible and convenient to dispense with the latter and to convey all essential information on the former. Clearness and relevancy are required, not artistic effect. Ranges in yards to conspicuous points should as far as possible be indicated on such sketches."

Other phases of the work include

(a) Ability to find the way:-

Colonel Henderson says,

“In peace time it is often difficult to find the way; but in time of war, when the country is unknown and unmapped, and one must constantly be expecting the enemy to appear, the task is one of much greater difficulty."

“Experience teaches that many messengers may be sent, but comparatively few arrive at their proper destination in time. The same applies to scouts who are required to find some definite piece of information in a given time."

(b) Use of Eye and Ear:-

There are many signs which to the trained eye and ear are full of import, e.g.

1. Dust Clouds:-

Troops in movement invariably raise dust clouds in dry weather, and the clouds are different in the case of cavalry, guns and infantry.

2. Tracks:-

The trained observer can pick up tracks and follow them. He can form a good idea of what troops made the tracks, and how rapidly that body is moving. He can tell whether they are new or old, and perhaps formulate some very valuable theories to work on.

3. Deserted Camps and Bivouacs:-

The scout should be able to deduct much from these as to the size and composition of the force which rested there, when it rested, and in which direction it moved.

(c) Getting Across Country:-

Most Australian Light Horsemen will want but little instruction in this, as they are in the habit of jumping a fence or swimming a creek in the course of their daily work.

(d) Reporting:-

Field Service Regulations, Part I, section 16, deals fully with reports. Reports should, whenever possible, be in writing.

“It is more important that the information contained in a report should be relevant and accurate and should arrive in time to be of use, than that the report should be long and elaborate."

(e) Horsemanship:-

As in paragraph (c) the care and preservation of his horse is a daily habit of the Light Horseman, and he will need to learn but little more than he already puts into practice as a matter of course.

(f) Scouting by Night:-

Men will need practice in observing things by night, for appearance and distance are very deceptive.

The hearing and sense of smell will come more into play and the scout should be able to direct his steps with the aid of the stars.

Seeing that scouting work is of such a specialist nature it requires much thought and constant practice if it is to be efficient.

Skill at arms prizes are offered annually and competed for amongst the various arms of the service, but I have not yet heard of trophies for scouting. Competitions might well be instituted for extended patrol work for, say, sections of Light Horse, covering 25 miles of country; and for individual scouts, given definite missions over a more limited area, and points allotted for headings similar to those above indicated.

Likewise when the troops are concentrated for manoeuvre annually, something might be clone in the direction of actual scouting, instead of the idle sending of disjointed d patrols in diamond formation along main roads 3 to 5 miles in advance of the main body, as usually happens.


Further Reading:

Brigade Scouts

The Light Horse

Australian Light Horse Militia

Militia 1899 - 1920

Battles where Australians fought, 1899-1920


Citation: The Australian Light Horse, Some Features of Squadron Training, Arthur William Hutchin

Posted by Project Leader at 12:01 AM EADT
Updated: Tuesday, 15 December 2009 3:51 PM EAST

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