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Remembered Today:

Cavalry in British Army after the Great War


Moonraker
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I'm re-reading The Village that Died for England by Patrick Wright, the story of Tyneham, the Dorset village that, like Imber in Wiltshire, was taken over for military training in 1943. Chapter Four covers the use of the nearby countryside for tank training in the Great War, with passing references to camps such as those at Swanage, Worgret and, of course, Bovington. (There are some nice anecdotes about the arrival of the "secret" machines in Dorset.)

Wright notes that at the end of the war "the boneheaded attitudes of the top brass [called] the future of the tank into question" and quotes Liddell Hart as saying the postwar military catchphrase, "especially among the cavalry school, was 'Back to 1914'" Wright also quotes J F C Fuller's contrary assertion that the day of the horse had passed for ever.

Can I observe without fear of contradiction that the cavalry's role in the European War was very limited?

More specifically, I ask was there really a strong argument in Britain immediately postwar that cavalry would still have a significant role in future warfare? I can see that those with a vested interest (ie the cavalry itself) would argue this case, but was it seriously entertained by the War Office?

Moonraker

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Cavalry still exist today. They have a significant (as in important) role, just as their forebears did. But they do not have a significant (as in a dominant) role, just as their forebears did not.

Robert

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After the armistice, the cavalry was still the only mobile force availalble to the Army for scouting, piquets, and the mounted infantry role - as laid down in the Cavalry Training Manual 1909 (IIRC). WW1 had proved that charges by cavalry armed with lances and/or swords was no longer an option against automatic weapons. Haig even mentioned these points in the planning for the Battle of the Somme in 1916.There was still a place for them post war.

While tanks and armoured cars had been used in the war there were still lessons to be learned about how to use them effectively under differing conditions and they were not available in the large numbers required to effectively replace the cavalry. Indeed Tanks had been found to be unreliable mechanically, the numbers knocked out and broken down compared to those engaged was a vast percentage and while no doubt useful in support of the infantry, there had yet to be a design that could keep pace with them in open warfare. Armoured cars were virtually road bound.

Mechanisation had yet to provide the mobility that cavalry posessed.

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Greys Scouts- mounted infantry still had a role in counter insurgency operations in Rhodesia in the 1970s so the horse was still seen as useful then, if only as a means of getting to the point where fighting took place.

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In jungle warfare, mules can still go where no motor vehicle can. A man on a horse was much more reliable than a man in a motor vehicle for a very long time after the Great War.

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Liddell Hart and Fuller might not be entirely dispassionate onlookers. ;)

Whether or not cavalry were seen to have a 'significant' role, in 1922 the amalgamations in cavalry regiments were - relatively - heavier than manpower cuts in the infantry, I suspect.

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when you say the Cavalry's role was very limited, you have to remember that all cavalry regiments we as early as November 1914 at First Ypres fighting dimounted like normal infantry. They continued this role for the rest of the war. They were used as scouts too but as you can imangine this was severely curtailed.

After the war, there was much resistance to the mechanization of the Cavalry arm with many regiments being amalgamated or disbanded. Horses still had a role to play in the armed forces but it was to be a very limited one, certainly nowhere near the amounts sued previously.

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Almost from day one, the cavalry were operating in a dismounted role as well as mounted. Just prior to the Battle of Mons, several cavalry regiments created and briefly held entrenchments in the vicinity of Mons, until the infantry arrived. Leaving aside the opportunities for mounted action that occurred on the Western Front, the cavalry were able to use their mobility to get to gaps and then plug these gaps dismounted, for example during Operation Michael.

Robert

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