Topic: AIF - DMC - Scouts
The Australian Light Horse,
Light Horse Duties in the Field, Part 3
Scouts, Pointers, and Connecting Files of the Flank Guard
The following essay called Light Horse Duties in the Field was written in 1912 by Major P. H. Priestley, who at that time was on the C.M.F. Unattached List. The article appeared in the Military Journal, March 1912.
Prior to that Priestley served in South Africa 1901-2 with the 5th South Australian Imperial Bushmen in Cape Colony and Orange River Colony and was awarded the Queen's South African Medal with four clasps. During the inter war years he served with the South Australian Mounted Rifles 1900 - 1910 when he was placed on the unattached list. At the outbreak of the Great War, he enlisted with the 3rd Light Horse Regiment and embarked with "A" Squadron. He was Killed in Action on 3 May 1918.The following is a 3 part series of this article. A fourth part was attached as his article was critiqued by Major F. A. Dove, D.S.O., A. and I. Staff, in the Military Journal, May 1912. Both articles give valuable insights in the basic thinking around the use of Light Horse scouts, detailing both theoretical ideas peppered with experience wrung from the recent war in South Africa.
Priestley, PH, Light Horse Duties in the Field, Military Journal, March 1912, pp. 171 - 185.
Light Horse Duties in the Field
(3) Scouts, Pointers, and Connecting Files of the Flank Guard.
Connecting files are always to be detailed for use between the advance troop of the flank guard and the flank troop of the advance guard, and between the rear troop of the flank guard and the flank troop of the rear guard. These may often appear to be useless on account of the closeness of touch between the troops in question, but if the occasion for their need arises it may be a very urgent one, and they should be either already in place or at least detailed to move out to it at the instant.
The connecting tiles between the advance troop and the flank of the advance guard will take their direction from their own troop, but will work so as to be relatively in the direction of the advance guard troop, and will divide the distance between the two troops, so that they ride midway between them. This provides that their troop leader knows from the distance he is behind them how far he is from the troop in front of them.
These connecting files though detailed to work between two troops must always be prepared to scout the ground in front of them. For this reason they should habitually move in open order extended to 25 yards between files. If they work at a greater interval they would be difficult of recognition! in their character of connecting files, if less it would be too small for their duty as scouts if the occasion arises. At any time a change of direction may cause the flank troop of the advance guard to gallop away from touch in front of the flank guard, and if scouts were not provided the front of that troop would be open until the change had been completed by that guard also.
Whenever the section detailed for this duty become scouts as in the above case, or when their troop is working outside the advance guard flank, they should open out, but will resume the lesser interval on regaining their place in rear of the advance guard troop. If men are trained to work in this method, the troop leader can see by a glance at the interval between his scouts or connecting files whether they are following the flank of the advance guard or not, and that is why a specific interval much less than that used by scouts is given for use here.
The connecting files detailed for duty from the rear troop of a flank guard should, as a rule, be used. When circumstances show them to be unnecessary they can ride in the troop though already detailed for instant use if the circumstances change.
There is no need for them to use a specific interval, as they will not be constantly under their troop leader's eye. He will expect them to send one man up to inform him if the rear guard is being delayed, and if it is apparent to them that such delay has not been noticed by him. Previous to making any increase in pace to lessen the distance between his troop and the centre one, the troop leader will always look back for the flank troop of the rear guard, and see how the purposed movement will affect them, and in doing so will see that his connecting files are sufficient for the purpose, or, if otherwise, will regulate hip: work so as to make them so.
The connecting files of the rear troop of the flank guard will work normally as if they were pointers to it, but will work in close touch with their flank troop of the rear guard, informing their troop leader by messenger if difficulty is occurring through the delay of the rear guard.
The scouts on the flanks of the flank troops of the advance guard rear guards and on the flanks of the flank guards, have slightly different work to perform than those in front of the advance guard troops, or those of the advance troops of the flank guards. Their duty is to ride on the flank at such an interval as to prevent a surprise attack being made from that direction, and to allow the; troops they cover time to prepare for any attack that may be impending.
A great point of difference between the two duties is that whip advance scouts have to look for a concealed enemy who has had time to prepare his position, the flanking scouts have only to watch for an attack developing. For this purpose they may ride at any distance from their troop, so that they have the ground constantly under observation up to 3,000 yards from it.
The distance from the troop usually is about 1,000 or 1,500 yards according to ground, but it is permissible for good scouts to considerably exceed this. The permissibility is afforded when, the line of resistance is a well-marked feature, and the troop moving along it has under its observation the ground up to long, if not distant range. The value of allowing this wide scouting consists in presenting the unexpected to an enemy near by.
By the time the flank guard of a column is passing a point a very good general idea of its line of march and frontage have been given to an enemy who has watched its movements in regard to that point. From this he can expect the line of safety to him to be a well indicated line at a regular distance outside the scouts of that flank guard. Having ascertained this line of safety he may make use of it by concealing hiss transport, guns, or troops in the ground beyond it with the intention of evading action with the column, so that he may press forward on a reconnaissance, or escape from a superior force, or confuse the brigadier's information as to his whereabouts. The knowledge of the position of this line of safety outside the flank guards of a column is valuable information to an enemy, and a flank scout pushed out beyond it is the unexpected that sometimes upsets calculations.
Scouts with the flank guards usually move either in single file with 50 or more ands distance between them, or in half sections equally open.
In a typical case of a flank guard working where it is moving along the crest of a ridge parallel to the line of march, the troop itself will be just under the skyline on the side towards the column while the scouts will be beyond it, but not so that they are not under the observation of the troop leader. It is here that the movement in half sections for the scouts gains the preference, as while the line of scouts is in touch with the troops the outer scouts of the half sections can direct their march so as to prevent dead ground being caused through convex slopes, since they are again beyond those watched by the hoop leader, and still in touch with them.
It may often happen, however, that the hollows between the ridges or hills may not be sufficiently wide to afford scouted ground to the required amount being obtained. A ridge running parallel with that occupied by the flank guard at about a thousand yards from it is too close to allow unscouted ground to exist beyond it, as rifle fire can be directed over the latter by aid of the curve of trajectory, so as to fall on the column itself. In this case it is correct for the flank guard to maintain its position on the line of resistance, that is the nearest skyline, and to push its scouts out on to the second.
As a general rule the work of a flank scout is such that he cannot be fired on at less than 1,000 or 1,500 yards, silica he should allow no unscouted ridge to be within that distance of him. It is not meant by this that the flank scouts have any important frontal scouting to do in obtaining this result, since the only flank scouts that have any frontal work at all to do are those on the flank troop of the advance guard and the advance troop of the flank guard when it is working outside the former, and though all positions these scouts encounter have to be considered also from a frontal point of view, as they are the first to cross them, yet they have bpi enfiladed previously by the advance of other scouts. Any body of the enemy that attempts to move up to fire at a closer range on a flanking scout should have to do so under the observation of the scout, and since the flank guard work is that of defence, such a body must be kept at a distance by establishing a danger zone in front of it.
It sometimes happens that the exposed flank of a guard is towards a wide valley, so that the country is under the observation of the troop leader himself for a distance of perhaps 3 or more miles. In this case the scouts should be drawn in close to the troop as they can do no good ay being out. They would nave been on lower ground than the troop leader, and would have been able to have seen even less than he could. Moreover, the less efficient the scouts happen to be, the more apt will they be in circumstances of this kind to venture out beyond support in the endeavour to see something. This does not of course apply where there may be dead ground from convex contours in the watercourses. It is an exception to this when good scouts are purposely pushed out to supply the enemy with the unexpected.
It is only thoroughly efficient scouts who should be so used, ' as they must depend on themselves only if they encounter the enemy, and must know in such a case that their horses' legs will prove of more use, than their rifles. For a troop leader to push his troop out to assist scouts who have been working badly is verb often only to involve it with them, as there will then be a whole troop instead of only its scouts that has to be withdrawn. The best assistance that can be sent to men in such a trouble is an order to retire at once.
Scouts who notice the sudden appearance and disappearance of hostile scouts between them and the horizon in apparently flat open country, must draw their troop leader's attention to it, and the facts must be outlined to the squadron leader immediately. The correct inference is that there is hollow ground, and that the enemy are in possession of it, but since there is no indication of whether the force in occupation is a small one or a large one, the whole guard should be warned to expect an attack.
This method of bringing up troops is especially suited for an attack against a flank guard, and in the methods of dealing with it be perhaps certain distinctive features of flank scouting.
The point of danger is usually to be found in a depression that curves in towards, or crosses the line of march, since this permits of bringing the force under cover the whole way up to the striking point. Especially dangerous is the entrance to such a lateral gully that has near it farm buildings or trees, as these become a pivot of manoeuvre for the attack.
Understanding the possibilities of open country, therefore, scouts will always watch carefully any hostile scouts who may be seen moving approximately parallel with them. Often members of a small force move in this way who are only taking advantage of open country to inflict a minor attack on a flank guard, if the opportunity is afforded by bad working, so that their presence in itself is no cause for unusual steps to be taken beyond increased watchfulness.
Often they are scouts watching the movements of the column for purposes of information only, but at any time they may work in closer and open fire on the scouts or the troop. This probability need cause the scout no anxiety, as long as he can see them mounted, for while mounted they are harmless. If he should see them halt or dismount, he should hasten to the nearest cover, from which he can watch them, as bullets usually follow on the dismounting. So, too, if they disappear he may expect fire, but this latter is more often cause for informing the troop leader of the circumstance, as the reappearance must be closely watched for. Such will usually be much nearer the scout than; the disappearance from sight.
The correct defence to this method of bringing up troops is to push the whole flank guard further out, so that if an attack is made it will occur at such a distance from the column that its forward momentum will be lessened if it passes the flank guard, and can be checked by the additional support sent out from the column. By creating a greater interval between the column and the first point of resistance more time is gained to detail and handle these supports, which is a matter of great importance, as an attack by troops brought up "along the donga" is often very rapidly developed.
Previous: Part 2, The Scouts of the Screen
Next: Part 4, A Criticism of the Article
Australian Light Horse Militia
Battles where Australians fought, 1899-1920
Citation: The Australian Light Horse, Light Horse Duties in the Field, Part 3, Scouts, Pointers, and Connecting Files of the Flank Guard