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Sunday, 22 November 2009
The Australian Light Horse, Militia and AIF, Mounted Rifle Tactics, Part 7, Night Operations
Topic: AIF - Lighthorse

The Australian Light Horse,

Militia and AIF

Mounted Rifle Tactics, Part 7, Night Operations


Cape Mounted Rifleman

[Drawing from 1904 by Richard Caton Woodville, 1856 - 1927.]


The following series is from an article called Mounted Rifle Tactics written in 1914 by a former regimental commander of the Cape Mounted Riflemen, Lieutenant-Colonel J. J. Collyer. His practical experience of active service within a mounted rifles formation gives strength to the theoretical work on this subject. It was the operation of the Cape Mounted Riflemen within South Africa that formed the inspiration for the theoretical foundations of the Australian Light Horse, and was especially influential in Victoria where it formed the cornerstone of mounted doctrine. 

Collyer, JJ, Mounted Rifle Tactics, Military Journal, April, 1915, pp. 265 - 305:


Mounted Rifle Tactics.


Authorities as to importance - Reconnaissance - Training - Night movements (tactical) - Rests - Pace - Supervision - Information - - Secrecy - Order of march - Night combats - Difficulties - Small raids -Important points -Encounter combats - Summary.

Night operations have been a feature of every protracted military enterprise since the time of Gideon, who succeeded with a small force in beating his enemies by the device of the lamps and pitchers. Wellington said that 49 night attacks upon good troops are seldom successful "; but he was compelled to attack strong fortresses at night in the Peninsula to obtain important results. Lord Wolseley has written that "night attacks can only be attempted when the attacking army is highly disciplined and well led by tactically well-instructed officers," and has recorded his belief that the army " which is first able to manoeuvre at night will gain brilliant victories." Comparatively recent events in the Far East go far to corroborate his statement. Field-Marshal Sir John French, summing up after a lecture on the subject at Aldershot, said:-

"Proficiency in the practice of night operations is an absolute essential to the successful conduct of war as it is to-day. If, of two forces, one is trained in the performance of night operations, and the other is not, the former will have an enormous advantage over the latter."

We must, therefore, accept capacity to work during night as a condition indispensable to any force properly trained for war. Effective night work will, as a rule, be based on efficiently performed reconnaissance, which, as I have already said, is one of the chief duties of mounted troops. This makes it necessary that leaders of mounted troops should be aware, not only of the correct mode of employing their own arm at night, but that they should have a good knowledge of night operations as they affect every arm of the military service.

We find, in reference to night operations, by those best qualified to express an opinion, a distinct note of warning as to difficulties which may be anticipated in their performance. Each of the remarks which I have quoted above clearly indicates the opinion of its author that certain favorable conditions must be obtained to make night operations effective.

It may be suggested that the South African Forces, especially the mounted troops, will, by the circumstances of their every-day life, be well fitted to work at night. Those accustomed to the veldt may perhaps be especially well able to find their way about by night as well as by day, but, as I have said, a more general civilization is depriving the citizen soldier of many of the advantages in a military sense possessed by his forbears, and I wish to quote again the words of a famous general of the Republican Forces, when he said with regard to his preparations for a night march of six miles with 600 mounted men, "it cost me considerable thought to arrange everything satisfactorily." Therefore the need for special training exists, and must be met.

The citizen troops of South Africa must be trained to meet possibilities, and he would be a bold man who would say that South Africa will not need to employ troops in comparatively large bodies in certain eventualities. In discussing any military operations as possibly to be performed by the troops of South Africa, we must take into consideration columns of more than 500 or 600 mounted men, and be prepared to handle forces containing; some infantry and in bodies of some considerable size.

The larger and more varied in composition a force is, the more difficult it becomes to control and move it, and what may perhaps be a perfectly simple movement to arrange with a small column composed of troops of one arm, becomes a far more complicated business when numbers increase and several different arms have to be dealt with.

The term “night operation” is correctly applied to any military operation which can be carried out at night, and covers a wide field, and I propose to confine myself to night movements and night combats.


Night Movements -

I do not wish to deal with ordinary night marches, which have no tactical consideration to govern our discussion. I propose to consider only those movements which contemplate a definite action against an enemy, or during which an encounter with an enemy may take place. A night march of the first kind is probably undertaken to reach a given spot at a given time, and then to take up a previously chosen position with the object of fighting the enemy, either by attacking him, or frustrating his advance. If we study instances of night marches, u e shall find that previous reconnaissance of the route is by far the most satisfactory method of providing for them, but, of course, this may not be possible, and then reliance must be placed on guides, or the route must be determined, and then followed on the map with the aid of the compass or stars.

It must be accepted that if the ground to be traversed is difficult and intricate, unless a complete reconnaissance has been carried out or some one with sound military knowledge is available to guide the force, the venture will most probably fall short of a successful issue, as a result of not knowing the whole ground thoroughly.

“Every commander who orders a night operation, which is not preceded by a complete reconnaissance, increases the risk of failure and incurs a heavy responsibility." (Field Service Regulations.)

A night march is always in many respects more exhausting than one in the daytime, very largely because the strain and uncertainty act through the nerves on the physical energy. On the other hand, in summer animals will move with less distress to themselves by night, and, of course, the cover afforded by darkness gives great value to night movements.

Constant rests, during which all mounted men should invariably dismount, and supervision of the column are necessary, and the time allotted for the march should allow of rests at definite intervals for fixed periods. This has all to come off the total time allowed for reaching the spot or force which is the objective, and must therefore be carefully calculated. These rests should be made the opportunity for staff officers to go along the column and check its condition, rectifying errors of position, distance, and so on. The defeat at Stormberg is largely attributable to neglect of the physical condition of the troops. They should be rested and prepared for such an undertaking as a night march, for the possession of all their mental alertness and physical energy has a large influence in the direction of success. Jaded troops are useless at the end of a trying night.

The pace of the column is that of the slowest moving unit in it. Mounted riflemen should be well aware of what can be expected from artillery and infantry at night in respect of the rate of marching. The complete ignorance of the guides at Stormberg as to what infantry could do was again a factor which contributed substantially to the failure of the enterprise. They were mounted policemen who knew nothing of infantry troops, and had no expert to question them as to facts, and draw his own inferences as to what in a military sense was possible. Grave consequences may ensue if thorough military knowledge is not at hand to supplement the efforts of local guides, who should merely be relied on as to facts, such as the position of roads and actual distances. The question whether the performance of any military task is possible should be decided by those who possess expert military knowledge.

The march must be supervised by an unceasing watch and check by staff officers. The necessity for this is at no time more marked than after a pause in the march. The need for this was brought home to me, on one occasion at least in the South African War, when after moving off after a halt I failed to hear the noise of wheels behind me after marching for some distance. As staff officer to the column, I rode back and found the drivers of the leading pom-pom mule team asleep, and the whole portion of the column behind them still waiting the order to move. The forward movement had been resumed by the leading portion of the force so quietly that the troops behind the pom-poms had not heard it. The more varied the component parts of the force, and the larger it is, the greater the chance of such mishaps.

It is essential that each individual, who is to be charged with any share in the execution of the enterprise, should know as much as is necessary to enable him to perform that share properly. This is, of course, necessary in all military undertakings, but becomes especially important in night operations. Darkness means loss of power of supervision and accidents, and events assume exaggerated proportions in the doubtful atmosphere of night.

The habit of moving at night and of identifying features in the darkness and, in fact, of being at home in circumstances when objects and conditions, easily recognisable and familiar in daylight, become strange, and the imagination has full scope, must be cultivated deliberately, if it is not possessed. Most forces will need this practice, and all must be able to work at night if they are to be of full value to the country. Timed marches, allowing for halts and beginning with a start from a bivouac in which the troops collect their belongings and become accustomed to moving out of halting places in an orderly and quiet manner; employing cross tracks and instructing troops to recognise them by landmarks and features at night; small marches by different parties to meet at a certain hour at a given place; the withdrawal of outposts in the dark for it night movement; these, and many other situations which thought will readily suggest are valuable methods accustoming troops to work at night. This can well be applied to Citizen Forces, and will give good results.

Secrecy must be maintained, as if any news of a projected night movement reaches the enemy, he is at once in possession of a means of dealing an unexpected and disastrous blow, for the force which awaits another, prepared to surprise and attack it at night, has its objective at a tremendous disadvantage.

How to maintain secrecy, and yet insure the general knowledge to which I have referred as necessary for individuals to possess, is always a matter of difficulty. Confidential verbal orders to commanders of units before starting, and arrangements which will enable them to instruct their subordinates at the first halt after the night march has begun will be the safest plan when the size of the force allows it to be adopted. Camps and bivouacs should be prepared for the night in the usual way, and any action which will tend to indicate a movement from them, or the fact that something unusual is contemplated, should be avoided as far as is possible. Secrecy is absolutely necessary if success is to be assured, and when, as will be the case in war, knowledge of the intentions of the commander of the force is eagerly sought after by an enterprising enemy, it is extremely difficult to keep from that enemy the intention of a night movement. A force in which the vast importance of secrecy is generally taught and known, and which by practice has become easy to handle by night, will be best able to conduct night movements. Every effort should be made to give the impression that no movement is contemplated, and, when the troops are sufficiently trained, a movement in a direction opposite to that which leads to the objective and a rapid change towards the latter after the march has begun, will often prove effective. Well-trained troops, and a careful calculation of time, will always be necessary if such a ruse is attempted. Secrecy during the movement must be secured by forbidding all talking, and striking of lights and by strict injunctions that fire will not be opened without orders from superior authority-who should be defined in each case. The officers who have the right to order fire should, if possible, be made known, in order that unauthorized fire may not be delivered, and that only those who have the right to give the order shall do so.

The action of the force in case of surprise should be arranged for, and communicated as far as is necessary for its adoption. Disciplined troops who have been instructed to take a definite line in a given emergency will take it, and in the absence of knowledge in the above respect any troops will be specially liable to panic. Instances of want of foresight in this respect and its result will no doubt occur to many readers.

The order of march is an important point in a mixed force (that is, containing units of more than one arm). Where a column contains infantry, the usual protective guards will be furnished by that arm; mounted troops and artillery will march in rear of the bulk of the infantry. Where the route has been well reconnoitred or is well known, a few carefully chosen mounted patrols under an officer who has reconnoitred or knows the road thoroughly may be sent ahead to occupy good positions which will command it, and which, if held, will deny the advance. The knowledge that the road is clear for several miles ahead is valuable and reassuring to the commander, and may materially aid him. Unless, however, the points which should be aimed at by such patrols are well known by those concerned with their supervision, extended patrols of this nature may easily become a source of danger, especially if the enemy allows them to go through.

All places passed en route, from which inhabitants may reach the enemy with information, should be secured by mounted detachments of such strength as may be necessary, who will guarantee that all inmates remain on the spot until the need for concealment has ceased. These detachments should be pushed on sufficiently far ahead of the force to prevent the escape of any person before the column arrives and, if the inhabitants cannot be conveniently taken with the force, must remain until the possibility of information reaching the enemy no longer exists.

At daybreak the order of march will, if the movement continues, be changed to that usually adopted in the daytime, and the mounted troops will assume their duties of protection. The abortive night march to Stormberg again is an instance of the failure to readjust the formation of a column on the march at daybreak.


Night Combats -

Combats at night entail certain disadvantages to the attacking force when the enemy is in position. Of these the most important are:

1. Liability to panic in the event of an unexpected development. The sense of being at the mercy of the foe who is waiting for you, the feeling of insecurity and helplessness, which is the result of not seeing the situation plainly, and the different appearance of objects familiar by day, all contribute to an exaggerated sense of danger.

2. Extreme difficulty of supervision. Darkness prevents the supervision possible by day, and lack of supervision and control mean opportunities for shirking - men are easily lost in the dark - and an inability to keep your whole strength available.

3. I have refrained from touching on native warfare, but I must mention the fact, when reflecting upon the possible employment of South African troops, that to fight in the dark against. natives is to neutralize the effect of superiority in arms of precision, and to give the advantage to the superior numbers of the enemy, who are far better able to fight hand to hand in the dark than white men.

In defence, fighting at night is due to the force of circumstances, and is more or less involuntary. Every position taken up by any body of troop on active service at night should be carefully reconnoitred and occupied, with the object of offering the most determined and effective resistance possible. No matter how improbable an attack may seem, there is no justification for any commander who neglects to make the fullest preparation against surprise at night, or early dawn. Almost every night attack which succeeds does so as much from the lack of precaution on the part of those attacked, as from the skill and determination of the attackers. Outpost work is trying, and a weak commander may be prevailed upon to take the opportunity of what seems to be a very small probability of attack to relax precautions, which should never be done while an enemy is in the field.

As far as night combats are concerned, I will confine myself to the discussion of two kinds of combat. I do not propose to consider night attacks on a large scale, but merely to refer shortly to combats of a nature which makes it very likely that mounted riflemen will be engaged in them. They may be classified as (1) enterprises deliberately planned and on a small scale, and (2) encounter combats.

Their mobility, and their experience of such combats while moving au night, increase the probability of their employment upon such enterprises. Small offensive undertakings, such as the sorties at Ladysmith against Gun Hill and Surprise Hill, are useful to harass an investing force, and inspirit a force which is invested. Mounted riflemen who are able to reach and retire from any spot rapidly are useful for such work. The seizure of advanced and commanding positions in darkness, to aid the development of a general attack at dawn, is a task which may also be well allotted to the arm.

Comparatively small forces will be required for such missions, and the following points demand careful attention:

1. Previous reconnaissance or thorough knowledge of the ground is essential. Groenkop, cited in the last chapter, is an admirable case in point.

2. The attack must be a surprise. If it can be launched from the direction which seems the least likely for the purpose, so much the better.

3. Troops on whom implicit reliance is to be placed are alone suitable for such work. The personnel for any enterprise of this nature should be carefully chosen. The process of elimination by which Gideon obtained his men is interesting to follow. Good leading is of vast importance; good troops are indispensable.

4. A whole-hearted offensive is essential. Grave risk must be taken, and there must be no hesitation.

5. The operation must be carried out as noiselessly as possible. Here I wish to make my final reference to the bayonet, as calculated to be of immense value in tasks which demand the taking of life at close quarters when it should be done without noise.

6. If a position has been taken at night and is to be retained, it should be entrenched with the least possible delay after it has been thoroughly reconnoitred. Majuba and Spion Kop are striking instances of the evil of an inadequate reconnaissance and too ready acceptance of a position taken up in the darkness. Nothing done at night should in such circumstances be regarded as final, the troops should be kept ready and alert all night, and early dawn should see another reconnaissance of the position to decide if anything is necessary in the way of alteration in the dispositions.

In encounter combats at night, success will, in the majority of cases, attend that force which, taking advantage of the mutual surprise, adopts at once and maintains the initiative by a vigorous offensive. The promptitude of the leaders, and the excellence of the troops, will enable any force which acts at once and sustains an offensive attitude, accepting the whole risk, to defeat a far larger body of an enemy which hesitates in the first moments of surprise.

To sum up, night movements will be resorted to constantly, especially to bring forces unexpectedly to a scene of battle at dawn. Night attacks in South African conditions of warfare as a rule will be undertaken sparingly on a large scale, but in the way of small enterprises will be an effective form of action. Night training is therefore essential.


Previous: Part 6, Protection

Next: Part 8, Reconnaissance 


Further Reading:

The Light Horse

Australian Light Horse Militia

Militia 1899 - 1920

Battles where Australians fought, 1899-1920


Citation: The Australian Light Horse, Militia and AIF, Mounted Rifle Tactics, Part 7, Night Operations

Posted by Project Leader at 12:01 AM EAST
Updated: Thursday, 10 December 2009 8:36 AM EAST
XXII Corps Mounted Troops, AIF, Roll of Honour
Topic: AIF - Fr - 22 Corps

XXII Corps Mounted Troops

Australian Imperial Force

Roll of Honour


Poppies on the Roll of Honour, Australian War Memorial, Canberra


The Roll of Honour contains the names of all the men enrolled within the XXII Corps Mounted Troops, AIF, known to have served and lost their lives during the Great War.


Roll of Honour

Francis David AMIET


Archibald Edward BULLER


James Edward DALY


Frederick Rowland FAULKNER


Alfred James JURY


Daniel KELLY


Frederick Henry LANG


Frederick Angus Rowland RIGBY


Patrick John SEXTON

Lest We Forget



Further Reading:

XXII Corps Mounted Troops

XXII Corps Mounted Troops, Roll of Honour

Battles where Australians fought, 1899-1920


Citation: XXII Corps Mounted Troops, Roll of Honour

Posted by Project Leader at 12:01 AM EAST
Updated: Tuesday, 24 August 2010 9:13 AM EADT
Saturday, 21 November 2009
The Australian Light Horse, Militia and AIF, Mounted Rifle Tactics, Part 8, Reconnaissance
Topic: AIF - Lighthorse

The Australian Light Horse,

Militia and AIF

Mounted Rifle Tactics, Part 8, Reconnaissance


Cape Mounted Rifleman

[Drawing from 1904 by Richard Caton Woodville, 1856 - 1927.]


The following series is from an article called Mounted Rifle Tactics written in 1914 by a former regimental commander of the Cape Mounted Riflemen, Lieutenant-Colonel J. J. Collyer. His practical experience of active service within a mounted rifles formation gives strength to the theoretical work on this subject. It was the operation of the Cape Mounted Riflemen within South Africa that formed the inspiration for the theoretical foundations of the Australian Light Horse, and was especially influential in Victoria where it formed the cornerstone of mounted doctrine. 

Collyer, JJ, Mounted Rifle Tactics, Military Journal, April, 1915, pp. 265 - 305:


Mounted Rifle Tactics.


Importance - Information - Scouting - Specialization - Intelligence units -Instructions necessary - Reconnoitring patrols - Reports - Patrol leaders - Reconnaissance for attack - For defence - Roads - Conclusion.

In previous chapters I have constantly referred to reconnaissance as especially the duty of mounted troops. Frederick the Great says:

"If one could always be acquainted beforehand with the enemy's designs, one would always beat him with an inferior force."

It is hardly necessary to draw the attention of those who have fought in South Africa to the enormous advantage possessed by a military force which is thoroughly at home in the scene of fighting, knows every yard of country, and speaks every language required for conversation with those best able to give information. If this great advantage is rightly appreciated, it is a simple matter to imagine the corresponding disadvantage under which a force labours when it operates in a comparatively unknown country, and is ignorant of its customs, languages, features, and even climatic conditions.

It will be allowed that the value of information in war is inestimable, and, if the history of campaigns is studied, we find that great commanders have often provided themselves with a select body of men, carefully chose for special qualifications, to collect information in the presence of the enemy, a duty which, shortly stated is reconnaissance. These special bodies may be regarded as intelligence units, and have proved invaluable to those who have employed them. That such care has been taken to select these men, and that such importance is attached to their work, plainly proves that, for the purposes of reconnaissance, military attainments beyond the ordinary and special qualifications are required.

Scouting must not be confused with reconnaissance, for scouting is only a part of the duties demanded by reconnaissance work. My reason for alluding to scouting is that I think there is a danger of regarding the duty of scouting as that allotted to certain picked men of the mounted troops, and not the concern of the ordinary man in the ranks. My opinion is that scouting should be taught in every mounted regiment and that every mounted rifleman should be a scout. The special nature of reconnaissance demands that officers and non-commissioned officers of mounted units should be thoroughly conversant with the duties of the conduct of reconnaissances, and the leading of reconnoitring patrols, and that every man who is liable to find himself employed in the ranks of such patrols, that is to say every mounted rifleman, should be well posted in the methods and practice of scouting. The specially selected personnel of the intelligence units to which I have referred should be employed by the commander of a force on independent missions which call for the use of highly qualified individuals, and should be at the disposal of the commander for intelligence work only, or for tasks which are of an important or, may be, specially confidential nature.

The specialized system of scouts which is the method adopted in the Imperial Army, and is no doubt suited, in the opinion of those best able to judge, to that army, should not be followed in the mounted rifle regiments of South Africa, in which general proficiency in scouting should be demanded just as much as, say, general horsemanship and marksmanship. The very nature of scouting demands constant risk and exposure to injury at the hands of the enemy, and if it is the custom to allot this duty to a few specialists, casualties will thin their number very rapidly, and mounted rifle units will then have to extemporize their scouting arrangements in the field, with the usual disastrous consequences attending such hurried action.

In the case of intelligence units, the personnel will be carefully chosen and probably well paid; for, apart from their scouting ability, they must have better general military knowledge than is possessed by the ordinary man in the ranks; with mounted rifle units the risk to be undertaken should be spread equally throughout the regiment, and efficiency alone demands that every man should be able to undertake duties of exploration in advance of the main body.

I would advocate the formation of intelligence units to be composed of men specially chosen for the work-say, thirty to fifty strong-and available for general intelligence work in war, and for distribution as required. While possessing special knowledge of their own district, these men should receive a training of a; nature calculated to improve their natural capacity for reconnaissance work.

The importance of reconnaissance is denied by no one; its extreme difficulty and the necessity for special qualifications in those who conduct it are even now too little realized. Frederick the Great required a higher standard of general military information from his cavalry officers than from his infantry officers of the same, rank, thus recognising the fact that the better educated in a military sense his reconnoitring officers were, the more probable it would be that he would get good results from their efforts.

Reconnaissances may be undertaken to acquire information of every kind, but I propose to consider specially reconnaissances of an enemy as the form of reconnaissance which will generally fall to the lot of mounted riflemen. In "The Duties of the General Staff," the following appears:

"It may he laid down at once as a principle to be strictly followed, that whereas everything that in any way bears on the military situation at the moment must be most carefully examined; all that does not apply to the questions wider consideration should be as pointedly avoided."

Full instructions therefore must be given by those who are in a position to issue them to all leaders of reconnoitring troops as to the situation, and with reference to the nature of information which it is desired they should procure. If reconnoitring patrols know clearly the nature of information which is wanted, and the state of affairs which exists, and are allotted definite directions in which to work, there will be no duplication of work or loss of time, and the very trying duty will be performed with the least possible friction. This will be the duty of the authority who sends the patrols out, but every patrol leader should be in possession of this information before he leaves on his task.

The strength of reconnoitring patrols must be decided in view of the situation, the duration of their mission, and the distance which they will be compelled to travel. They must be as small as possible, to lessen the chances of detection, and they must be strong enough to obtain information, send it back, and protect themselves whilst keeping in touch with the enemy. At night, especially when sent out to watch the enemy and report his movements, the patrols may be made stronger, as they are less easily discovered, and may have to extricate themselves at daybreak.

How to protect his patrol, and retain enough men to carry on the work, and yet send back all the information which he may collect, is the problem which confronts the patrol leader during the whole time of his absence from his main body. Good tactical knowledge of his own arm to enable him to use his patrol to the best advantage, and sound general military judgment to decide the value of the various items of information which he gathers, are absolutely necessary if the leader of a reconnoitring patrol is to do good work. The system of transmitting reports must be arranged before leaving, and any proposed means other than employing men from the patrol must be known and furnished.

A summary of the situation should be given to the patrol leaders, and, when what is wanted has been made clear to them, they should be allowed freedom of action in carrying out their work. It cannot be too well realized that, once a patrol has started on a mission of reconnaissance, the value of its work will depend entirely on the ability with which it is handled. The information which comes back from it will form, with other reports, the basis of arrangements which the commander will make, and will involve the success and safety of the whole force. Mere scouting, however well it may be done, and the good tactical handling of the patrol, will achieve nothing unless definite information of the nature required is obtained, and from the varied details of intelligence which a patrol may collect, the useful must be separated from the non-essential, and the more important from that which -in the circumstances is less valuable. In short, a careful estimate of the value of the information, in view of the situation which may at any moment assume an aspect entirely different from that which existed when he received his instructions, must constantly be made by the patrol commander, who will have nothing but his own ability and military knowledge to rely on.

Points which a patrol leader should bear in mind are:

1. That while he will have been instructed to procure definite information, he should endeavour when carrying out his special orders to collect intelligence of every kind. The situation may change, and what may have been passed by as unimportant may become suddenly of considerable value.

2. That all the men of the patrol should know enough of the situation to enable them to continue the work if the patrol suffers any loss, and to assist them in gathering information.

3. That touch with the enemy, once established, should never be relinquished till the authority who sent out the patrol orders its return, after knowing the situation.

4. That all important information should be sent by more than one route, and carried by more than one individual, if it is not perfectly clear that it must reach its destination.

5. That negative information (e.g., that the enemy was not in a certain place at a certain time) is of value.

6. That the “most perfect reconnaissance is valueless if its result is not known at the right time."

7. That in order to obtain good results he must constantly estimate the value of the information which he receives in the light of its probable value to the commander who is expecting it, or, in other words, must in imagination put himself in that commander's position.

8. All men sent back with messages should be made to repeat them before leaving till they can do so correctly, and the habit of framing reports mentally before delivering them should be cultivated by all those, of whatever rank they may be, who are likely to have to make them. A verbal report made quietly and clearly, it may be at a moment when everything tends to excitement, is sufficiently rare and useful to call for practice in what seems, in ordinary circumstances, a simple enough proceeding. Practice will give very good results.

The conduct of reconnoitring patrols, as far as their protection is concerned, resolves itself into a skilful and bold tactical handling of small parties of mounted riflemen, which I have discussed already elsewhere. Good reconnaissance cannot be performed unless the troops engaged on it are used with judgment, but vigorously and confidently.

I will now shortly consider some special forms of reconnaissance.

Emphasis must be laid on the fact that no rule of thumb is possible in reconnaissance. The information which should be obtained is that which is required by the commander for his special purpose, whether the intention is an attack, or defence, or an advance or retreat, or whatever it may be. If, however, troops are to be trained in peace some general outline is necessary, and the following points are put forward as those upon which information would generally be required in the circumstances assumed.


Reconnaissance for Attack -

Two usual types of reconnaissance for attack present themselves. Reconnaissance of

1. Ground which we hold, but may have to abandon;

2. Ground in the possession of the enemy.

In the first case, the force may fall back and attack on being reinforced, or an advanced guard may be compelled to fall back in view of an attack to be delivered when the main body is reached. The possibility of such a situation emphasizes the necessity for good reconnaissance by advanced guards. The main points in either case, on which information will probably be necessary, are:

1. The extent of the position. This may be an extremely difficult point to determine, and will be best decided by an endeavour to locate the flanks, supplemented by a careful study of the position, with the object of making up one's mind as to how one would defend it, and attributing what appears to be the soundest line of action to the enemy.

2. Any weak spots in the position, such as a salient, or any position which can be dominated by fire from a position which may have been left unoccupied by the enemy.

3. Positions which, in the possession of one's own troops, would afford opportunity for obtaining superiority of fire or for delivering reverse or enfilade fire.

4. Where counter-attack may be looked for. The defence will be contemplating the delivery of a counter-attack, and if it can be anticipated his main effort will be seriously affected.

5. Careful attention to the ground to be crossed in advance. Rallying points, such as kraals and features affording good cover from view and fire. Suitable ground for the advance from cover to cover.

6. All obstacles and the best way of avoiding them; wire fences or deep dongas, for example.

7. The extent of ground to be occupied by the different units. This is more or less important as the force is comparatively large or small.

8. Facilities for intercommunication. If an attack is to be delivered with its full weight, and a counter-attack is to be warded off, the rapid communication of intelligence and orders is necessary.

9. A good position for the commander of the force and his headquarters. A good suggestion as to a central position from which a general view is possible may be of the utmost value to a commander coming up hastily it may be, from the rear.

10. Careful observations of all dead ground in front of the position. The observation of ground held by an enemy needs practice, and an opinion formed from a distance often needs much modification on closer inspection.

11. In all reconnaissance work no report should ever be made that anything is the case unless it is known that it is so. Unverified information should always be qualified, but when it seems likely to be of value should be sent in as unverified, for the corroboration may have been furnished by other parties.


Reconnaissance for Defence -

Reconnaissance for defence will perhaps often be undertaken more or less deliberately, and will not concern mounted riflemen to the extent that attack and route reconnaissances will be performed by them. In the defence, however, mounted riflemen, as we have seen, will be used freely in conjunction with other troops, and some points as to defence reconnaissance may be useful.

Defence reconnaissance has two main advantages as compared with the usual form of attack reconnaissance, viz.:

1. Availability of the ground;

2. Possibility of greater deliberation.

Defences of positions again group themselves naturally into defence for a given time for delaying action, and defence of the kind which looks to win a fight in the end. The main difference which influences reconnaissance is that in the first case, provided the defence is assured for the given time necessary, the enemy may be allowed to make points and take up positions which could not be allowed to him in the second instance.

Reconnaissance in connexion with delaying action means really a matter of calculation as to how long a given tactical situation will take to reach a given phase. For a defensive fight, which contemplates a counter-attack, the best arrangements possible must be made for a more or less indefinite period.

The following points merit attention:

1. The position should be the best for the purpose. An ideal position is rarely met with in defence. It is as a rule dictated by necessity, as the initiative is with the enemy. A good field of fire and secure flanks are important essentials.

2. Obstacles which may aid the defence and impede the advance. Obstacles are specially useful in dealing with natives.

3. One main position should be accepted, and, at night especially, a clear idea as to what constitutes this main position is essential.

4. The position from the point of view of the attacker; the enemy's point of view should always be considered. Omission to consider the hostile view-point leads often to what is one of the most fatal of errors, a preconceived notion of the enemy's action.

5. The routes for any probable movements laterally, or to the front, or to retire if necessary.

6. Signalling facilities and communication throughout the position.

7. As in attack, the careful selection of a place suitable for the commander of the force. As the consequences of defeat are far more serious as a rule than in attack, good control and supervision become even more important.

8. Positions for reserves and routes to the probable scene of their employment. This will include measures for counter-attack.

9. Positions which can be used by the enemy to the detriment of the defence.


Tactical Road Reconnaissance -

I do not propose to examine non-tactical reconnaissances of routes, that is when action by the enemy is not to be considered, but to enumerate one or two points in connection with which information may at any time be needed from patrols of mounted riflemen.

1. If transport is to be considered, the route must be examined with reference to the method of movement of the vehicles. In some countries it is possible to move with ox-waggons abreast, and so reduce the depth of the column.

2. All obstacles and defiles must be noted, as they mean loss of time in passing them, and the rate of march is influenced by them. Any way of improving them should be observed.

3. The nature of the ground on each side of the route, whether close, hilly, and wooded, or open and flat, whether cut up by dongas or available for free movement on a large front.

4. Roads or tracks crossing the route to be followed.

5. Positions where attack or opposition may be expected, and how these may be made good.

6. Positions for halts which are convenient for protection and comfort.

7. Never state a difficulty or obstruction unless it exists, and always observe how it can be surmounted, or state that it cannot be overcome.

The above are only some of the problems which patrols of mounted riflemen may have to consider. They are enough to show at least that a good standard of general military knowledge must be possessed by those who would solve them.


Previous: Part 7, Night Operations 

Next: Part 9, Conclusion


Further Reading:

The Light Horse

Australian Light Horse Militia

Militia 1899 - 1920

Battles where Australians fought, 1899-1920


Citation: The Australian Light Horse, Militia and AIF, Mounted Rifle Tactics, Part 8, Reconnaissance

Posted by Project Leader at 12:01 AM EAST
Updated: Thursday, 10 December 2009 8:34 AM EAST
The Battle of Magdhaba, Sinai, December 23, 1916, Contents
Topic: BatzS - Magdhaba

The Battle of Magdhaba

Sinai, 23 December 1916




The Battle of Magdhaba, Sinai, December 23, 1916, Outline 


Roll of Honour

The Battle of Magdhaba, Sinai, December 23, 1916, Roll of Honour, Australia and New Zealand


The Battle of Magdhaba, Sinai, December 23, 1916, Roll of Honour, 1st Australian Light Horse Brigade

The Battle of Magdhaba, Sinai, December 23, 1916, Roll of Honour, 3rd Australian Light Horse Brigade  

The Battle of Magdhaba, Sinai, December 23, 1916, Roll of Honour, New Zealand Mounted Rifles Brigade 

The Battle of Magdhaba, Sinai, December 23, 1916, Roll of Honour, Imperial Camel Corps



Comparison of Maps, Australia, Britain and Turkey 

Mapping the 3rd LHR attack at Magdhaba 

Mapping the Magdhaba Redoubts 


Official War History Accounts


Falls Account


Gullett Account

Cutlack Account

New Zealand

Powles Account


Sinai Campaign Account


Kress Account


War Diary Accounts


General Staff Headquarters, Anzac Mounted Division, AIF, War Diary Account

Anzac Mounted Division Artillery, AIF, War Diary Account

1st Light Horse Brigade Account

1st Light Horse Field Ambulance Account

1st Light Horse Machine Gun Squadron Account  

1st ALHR, AIF, War Diary, account

2nd ALHR, AIF, War Diary, account

3rd ALHR, AIF, War Diary, account

3rd Light Horse Brigade Account

3rd Light Horse Field Ambulance Account

3rd Light Horse Machine Gun Squadron Account 

8th ALHR, AIF, War Diary, account

9th ALHR, AIF, War Diary, account

10th ALHR, AIF, War Diary, account

ICC, AIF, War Diary, account 


New Zealand War Diaries

New Zealand Mounted Rifles Brigade Account

Auckland Mounted Rifles Account

Canterbury Mounted Rifles Regiment Account

Wellington Mounted Rifles Account
52nd (Lowland) Division
156th Brigade


Unit Histories


1st ALHR AIF account

2nd ALHR AIF account

3rd ALHR AIF account

3rd LHFA, AIF, Unit History Account

8th LHR, AIF account

9th LHR, AIF account

10th LHR, AIF account

ICC, AIF, account 


New Zealand

AMR, NZMRB account

CMR, NZMRB account

WMR, NZMRB account



The Battle of Magdhaba, Sinai, 23 December 1916, El Arish and El Magdhaba, 9th LHR, AIF, Commentary by Bill Woerlee

Magdhaba and Kress by Bill Woerlee

The Battle of Magdhaba, Sinai, December 23, 1916, ICC, AIF, Commentary by Steve Becker    


Personal Diaries

The Battle of Magdhaba, Sinai, December 23, 1916, 8th LHR, AIF, Auchterlonie Diary Account 


Newspaper Accounts

New York Times Account

Times Account


Further Reading:

The Battle of Magdhaba

The Battle of Magdhaba, Sinai, December 23, 1916, Roll of Honour, Australia and New Zealand

Battles where Australians fought, 1899-1920


Citation: The Battle of Magdhaba, Sinai, December 23, 1916, Contents

Posted by Project Leader at 12:01 AM EAST
Updated: Monday, 30 November 2009 8:56 AM EAST
Friday, 20 November 2009
The Australian Light Horse, Militia and AIF, Mounted Rifle Tactics, Part 9, Conclusion
Topic: AIF - Lighthorse

The Australian Light Horse,

Militia and AIF

Mounted Rifle Tactics, Part 9, Conclusion


Cape Mounted Rifleman

[Drawing from 1904 by Richard Caton Woodville, 1856 - 1927.]


The following series is from an article called Mounted Rifle Tactics written in 1914 by a former regimental commander of the Cape Mounted Riflemen, Lieutenant-Colonel J. J. Collyer. His practical experience of active service within a mounted rifles formation gives strength to the theoretical work on this subject. It was the operation of the Cape Mounted Riflemen within South Africa that formed the inspiration for the theoretical foundations of the Australian Light Horse, and was especially influential in Victoria where it formed the cornerstone of mounted doctrine. 

Collyer, JJ, Mounted Rifle Tactics, Military Journal, April, 1915, pp. 265 - 305:


Mounted Rifle Tactics.

VII - Conclusion

This brings us to the close of our discussions on mounted riflemen. I have endeavoured to refrain from elaborating points from the text-books, though adhering to their teaching, and to put forward some general principles which seem to me worthy of consideration and examination if the arm -mounted riflemen-is to be used to the great effect which is undoubtedly possible. I have also tried to make use of what is a great advantage to the mounted troops of the Union, the experiences of war in South Africa in which mounted riflemen formed the bulk of the contestants some ten years ago.

I am convinced that in a calm and temperate analysis of those experiences and the acceptance of sound principles, and rejection of defects, the mounted riflemen of South Africa will find teaching which will make them the equal of any body of the arm in the world. As years go on the actors in the last war-who are now at hand to advise and teach-will pass, and it is essential that the teaching should be laid down now, that the experience may in the future prove a real support of the military forces of the Union.



Previous: Part 8, Reconnaissance 

Next: The Light Horse


Further Reading:

The Light Horse

Australian Light Horse Militia

Militia 1899 - 1920

Battles where Australians fought, 1899-1920


Citation: The Australian Light Horse, Militia and AIF, Mounted Rifle Tactics, Part 9, Conclusion

Posted by Project Leader at 12:01 AM EAST
Updated: Thursday, 10 December 2009 8:33 AM EAST

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