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Remembered Today:

Mounted Infantry


Hedley Malloch
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Mounted Infantry was a post-Boer War development designed to make infantry more mobile. Occasionally one comes across infantry soldiers who trained for this - there was a Mounted Infantry Certificate on offer in the Edwardian army - but the idea of mounted infantrynever seems to have taken root.

Why was this?

Many thanks in advance for all help.

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One of the reasons is, I believe, that the cavalry were issued with the rifle and also started learning dismounted tactics. And the fact that French and Haig came in to the ascendent.

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Additionally, the idea of raising some units mounted on bicycles came in with the TF, and was extended in 1914 to forming divisional cyclist companies, later consolidated into Corps Cyclist Battalions. Bicycles don't need food, which was a major supply item for horses.

Ron

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Basically because MI didn't work. They were (generally) poor at horsemastership - in South Africa they lost horses in droves - and were made redundant, as Colonel D says, when cavalry started taking marksmanship seriously and received proper guns.

On the face of it, MI were an attractive proposition, being cheaper than proper cavalry, but in the event they couldn't fulfill the arme blanche role, and time spent learning how to ride and look after the gee-gees was better spent training them to be better infanteers.


Bicycles don't need food, which was a major supply item for horses.

Ron

Puncture kits pop in the pocket!

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There was also a great deal of snobbery involved. The 'real' cavalry thought that mounted infantry would develop pretentious above its (infantry) station. That said the British cavalry were trained in the infantry role and by by October 1914 were fighting pretty well as such

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The Mounted Infantry in the regular British Army pre-dates the Boer War by a few months. The decision to disband the MI happened in 1913 only 11 months before the Great War started. Col Repington, Military Correspondent of the Times (1904-1918) and editor of the quarterly Army Review (from 1911) was an influential voice during the inter-war years. He described the MI as "the Cavalry of poverty". The debate on the MI was inextricably linked to the debate on l'Arme Blanche which raged during the inter-war years. In simple terms the decision was based on economics; the Govt could not afford to support the MI and the Cavalry, and the Cavalry lobby was particularly strong and influential. The threat from the MI arguably may have accelerated the Cavalry's shift to better proficiency with the rifle.

It is worth remembering that there were over 50 regiments of Yeomanry who were not armed with the sword or lance during most of the inter-war years* and were effectively mounted infantry - albeit TF and not regular. The full title of the Yeomanry's training manual was "Yeomanry and Mounted Rifle Training 1912". One Yeomanry regiment was the East Kent Mounted Rifles.

Marquess of Angelsey's A History of the British Cavalry 1816-1919 Vol 4 has a fascinating chapter covering this period. MG

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Divisions of Yeomanry. Similarly the Mounted Brigades were Yeomanry formations. It is true that the home-based mounted divisions occasionally contained TF cyclist battalions, but not horse-mounted infantry.

The mounted divisions which fought in Egypt also contained units of Australian Light Horse and New Zealand Mounted Rifles.

Ron

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Taking 3 County of London Y as an example, mounted in Egypt in early 1915, to Suvla (dismounted) in August, back to mounted patrolling in 1916, the dismounted again to Salonika in November 191, and back to mounted operations in Egypt and Palestine in May 1917, as part of the Desert Mounted Corps. In November 1917 they deployed 479 horses along with 61 mules, for a human strength of 447.

Sounds very much like MI to me.

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More germane to the question in the OP than my previous post, perhaps, is this quote by Alex Godley from his autobiography. (He had been appointed to command the MI School at Longmoor in 1903) -

" Sir John French was one of the many cavalry soldiers who were very good friends to the MI. There were some who were rather the reverse, having read in the newspapers, and heard from unwise and overenthusiastic protagonists of the MI that the days of cavalry were over, and that MI was to take its place. Among the foremost of these was Douglas Haig, who never rested till, shortly before the Great War, he succeeded in getting the (MI) schools broken up and the whole idea of MI abandoned. Up to that time there is no doubt that the MI training had been a most valuable asset to the army."

(Life of an Irish Soldier. Gen Sir Alexander Godley, John Murray, London 1939. I find I have a first edition on my shelves ! Was there ever a Second ?)

I think that the roots of the personal antipathy of Haig towards Smith-Dorrien were embedded in this period. I have long held the view, based admittedly on much circumstantial evidence, that Haig was an eminence grise who played a larger role than is generally acknowledged in the dismissal of S-D in 1915.

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There was also a great deal of snobbery involved. The 'real' cavalry thought that mounted infantry would develop pretentious above its (infantry) station. That said the British cavalry were trained in the infantry role and by by October 1914 were fighting pretty well as such

A timely reminder, if one were needed, that innovation is socially made.

Thanks to all for these very informative posts.

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The Roman emperors certainly found their 'MI' an effective branch of service! In addition to the regular infantry cohorts and the regular cavalry, there were a number of 'mounted cohorts', cavalry sections attached to infantry cohorts, used for patrolling and the like, and as an adjunct to the cavalry in battle.

Trajan

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This is what Mounted Infantry looked like in 1914 .... and as stated above, this role was basically performed by the Yeomanry regiments.

This followed on with their deployment to the ME where the Mounted Divisions took on a greater role (combined with the Colonial light horse units)

Cheers, S>S

post-52604-0-12781100-1427708982_thumb.j

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To take the point one stage further - effectively - with a few notable exceptions - the cavalry were, when actively employed in the war - never more than mounted infantry.

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