1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Cavalry

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CAVALRY (Fr. cavalerie, Ger. Kavallerie or Reiterei, derived ultimately from late Lat. caballus, horse), a word which came into use in military literature about the middle of the 16th century as applied to mounted men of all kinds employed for combatant purposes, whether intended primarily for charging in masses, in small bodies, or for dismounted fighting. By degrees, as greater refinement of terminology has become desirable, the idea has been narrowed down until it includes only “horsemen trained to achieve the purpose of their commander by the combined action of man and horse,” and this definition will be found to cover the whole field of cavalry activity, from the tasks entrusted to the cavalry “corps” of 10,000 sabres down to the missions devolving on isolated squadrons and even troops.

History—The evolution of the cavalry arm has never been uniform at any one time over the surface of the globe, but has always been locally modified by the conditions of each community and the stage ofEarly
use of
mounted
warriors.
intellectual development to which at any given moment each had attained. The first condition for the existence of the arm being the existence of the horse itself, its relative scarcity or the reverse and its adaptability to its environment in each particular district have always exercised a preponderating influence on the development of cavalry organization and tactics. The indigenous horses of Europe and Asia being very small, the first application of their capabilities for war purposes seems everywhere to have been as draught animals for chariots, the construction of which implies not only the existence of level surfaces, perhaps of actual roads, but a very considerable degree of mechanical skill in those who designed and employed them. The whole of the classical and Oriental mythologies, together with the earliest monuments of Egypt, Assyria and India, are convincing on this point. Nowhere can we find a trace either of description or delineation of animals physically capable of carrying on their backs the armed men of the period. All the earliest allusions to the use of the horse in war either point directly to the employment as a draught animal, or where not specific, as in the description of the war-horse in Job, they would apply equally well to one harnessed to a chariot as to one ridden under the saddle.

The first trace of change is to be found, according to Prof. Wm. Ridgeway (Origin and Influence of the Thoroughbred Horse, p. 243), in an Egyptian relief showing Nubians mounted on horses of an entirely different breed, taller and more powerful than any which had gone before them. These horses appear to have come from the vicinity of Dongola, and the strain still survives in the Sudan. The breed is traced into Arabia, where only second-rate horses had been reared hitherto, and thence to different parts of Europe, where eventually centres of cavalry activity developed. The first detailed evidence of the existence of organized bodies of mounted men is to be found in Xenophon, whose instructions for the breaking, training and command of a squadron remain almost as a model for modern practice. Their tactical employment, however, seems still to have been relatively insignificant, for the horses were still far too small and too few to deliver a charge with sufficient momentum to break the heavy armed and disciplined hoplites. The strain of ancient battle was of an entirely different order to that of modern fighting. In the absence of projectiles of sufficient range and power to sweep a whole area, the fighting was entirely between the front ranks of the opposing forces. When a front rank fighter fell, his place was immediately taken by his comrade in the rear, who took up the individual combat, excited by his comrade’s fate but relatively fresh in mind and muscle. This process of feeding the fight from the rear could be protracted almost indefinitely. If then, as a consequence of a charge, a few mounted men did penetrate the ranks, they encountered such a crowd of well-protected and fresh swordsmen that they were soon pulled off their ponies and despatched. Now and again great leaders, Alexander, Hannibal and Scipio Africanus, for instance, succeeded in riding down their opponents, but in the main, and as against the Roman infantry in particular, mounted troops proved of very little service on the battlefield.

It was, however, otherwise in the sphere of strategy. There, information was of even greater importance, because harder to obtain, than it is nowadays, and the army which could push out its feelers to the greater distance, surround its enemy and intercept his communications, derived nearly the same advantages as it does at present. Hence both sides provided themselves with horsemen, and when these met, each in the performance of their several duties, charges of masses naturally ensued. This explains the value attaching in the old days to the possession of horse-flesh and the rapid spread of the relatively new Dongola or African strain over the then known world.

The primitive instinct of aboriginal man is to throw stones or other missiles for purposes of defence (apes will throw anything they can find, but they never use sticks); hence, as the Romans penetrated ever farther amongst the barbarian tribes, their horsemen in first line found ever-increasing need for protection against projectiles. But the greater the weight of armour carried, the greater the demands upon the endurance of the horse. Then, as the weight-carrying breed was expensive and, with the decay of the Roman Empire, corruption and peculation spread, a limit was soon placed on the multiplication of charging cavalry, and it became necessary to fall back on the indigenous pony, which could only carry a rider from place to place, not charge. Thus there was a gradual levelling down of the mounted arms, the heavy cavalry becoming too heavy to gallop and the light not good enough for united action. Against such opponents, the lighter and better mounted tribesmen of Asia found their task easy. They cut off the supplies of the marching infantry, filled up or destroyed the wells, &c., and thus demonstrated the strategic necessity of superior mobility.

With the decay of civilization discipline also disappeared, and, as discipline consists essentially in the spirit of self-sacrifice for the good of the community, its opposite, self-preservation, became the guiding principle. This in turn led to the increase of armour carried, and thence to the demand for heavier horses, and this demand working through several centuries led ultimately to the breeding of the great weight-carrying animals on whose existence that of medieval chivalry depended. These horses, however, being very costly and practically useless for general purposes, could only become the property of the wealthy, who were too independent to feel the need of combination, and preferred to live on the spoliation and taxation of the weak. This spoliation eventually impelled the weaker men to combine, and at first their combination took the form of the construction of fortified places, against which mounted men were powerless. On the other hand, expense put a limit to the area which fortifications could enclose, and this again limited the supplies for the garrison. Horsemen sweeping the country for miles around had no difficulty in feeding themselves, and the surrender of all beleaguered places through starvation was ultimately inevitable, unless food could be introduced from allied towns in the vicinity. It was of no use to introduce fighting men only into a place which primarily required food (cf. Lucknow, 1857) to protract its resistance. Hence some means had to be found to surround the supply-convoys with a physically impenetrable shield, and eighteen-foot pikes in the hands of powerful disciplined soldiers met the requirements. Against eight to ten ranks of such men the best cavalry in the world, relying only on their swords, were helpless, and for the time (towards the close of the 15th century) infantry remained masters of the field on the continent of Europe.

England meanwhile had developed on lines of her own. Thanks to her longbowmen and the military genius of her leaders, she might have retained indefinitely the command of the continent had it not been for the invention of gunpowder, which, though readily accepted by the English for sieges in France, proved the ultimate cause of their undoing. It was the French who developed the use of siege artillery most rapidly, and their cavalry were not slow to take the hint; unlike the longbow and the crossbow, the pistol could be used effectively from horseback, and presently the knights and their retainers, having the deepest purses, provided themselves with long pistols in addition to their lances and swords. These weapons sent a bullet through any armour which a foot-soldier could conveniently carry, or his commander afford, and if anything went wrong with their mechanism (which was complicated and uncertain) the speed of his horse soon carried the rider out of danger. A new form of attack against infantry, introduced by the French at Cerisoles, 1544, thus developed itself. A troop or squadron, formed in from twelve to sixteen ranks, trotted up to within pistol shot of the angle of the square to be attacked and halted; then each rank in succession cantered off man by man to the left, discharging his pistol at the square as he passed, and riding back to his place behind the column to reload. This could be prolonged indefinitely, and against such tactics the infantry were powerless. The stakes carried by English archers to check the direct charge of horsemen became useless, as did also chevaux de frise, though the latter (which originated in the 14th century) continued to be employed by the Austrians against the swiftly-charging Turks till the close of the 17th century. Thus it became necessary to devise some new impediment which, whilst remaining mobile, would also give cover and an advantage in the final hand-to-hand shock. The problem was solved in Bohemia, Poland and Moravia (Hussite wars, about 1420), where, distances being great and the country open, greater mobility and capacity in the convoys became essential. Great trains of wagons were placed in charge of an infantry escort, of which a part had become possessed of firearms, and these moved across country in as many as twelve parallel lines drilled to form laagers, as nowadays in South Africa. Again the cavalry proved helpless, and for nearly a century in central Europe the word “Wagenburg” (wagon-fortress) became synonymous with “army.” Then an unfortunate inspiration came to the wagon-men. A large gun was relatively cheaper to manufacture, and more effective than a small one. To keep their assailants at a distance, they mounted wall-pieces of about one-inch bore on their wagons. For a moment the balance inclined in their favour, but the cavalry were quick to see their advantage in this new idea, and they immediately followed suit. They, too, mounted guns on wheels, and, as their mobility gave them choice of position, they were able to concentrate their fire against any side of the laager, and again ultimate surrender was the only way out of the defenders’ dilemma.

The interesting problem thus raised was never finally solved, for the scene of action now shifted to western Europe, to the valley of the Po, and more particularly to the Netherlands, where fortresses were closer together and the clayey nature of the Rhine delta had already made paved roads necessary. Then, the Wagenburg being no longer needed for the short transits between one fortified town and another, the infantry reasserted themselves. Firearms having been much improved in the interval the spearmen (pikemen) had already (about 1515) learnt to protect themselves by musketeers trained to take advantage of cover and ground somewhat in the same fashion as the modern skirmisher. These musketeers kept light guns at a distance from their pikemen, but dared not venture far out, as their fire was altogether inadequate to stop a rush of horsemen; when the latter threatened to intervene, they had to run for safety to the squares of pikemen, whom they assisted in turn by keeping the cavalry beyond pistol range. Hence the horsemen had to fall back upon more powerful guns, and these, being slow and requiring more train, could be most economically protected by infantry (see also Artillery).

Thus about the close of the 16th century western armies differentiated themselves out into the still existing three types—cavalry, artillery and infantry. Moreover, each type was subdivided, the cavalry17th-
century
progress.
becoming heavy, medium and dragoons. At this period there was nothing to disturb the equilibrium of two contending forces except the characters of their respective leaders. The mercenary element had triumphed everywhere over the feudal levies. The moral qualities of all were on the same indifferent level, and battles in the open followed one recognized course. Neither army being able to outmarch the other, both drew up masses of pikes in parallel lines. The musketeers covered the deployment of the heavy guns on either side, the cavalry drew up on the wings and a strictly parallel fight ensued, for in the absence of a common cause for which men were willing to die, plunder was the ruling motive, and all control and discipline melted in the excitement of the contest.

It is to the growth of Protestantism that cavalry owes its next great forward leap. To sweep the battlefield, it was absolutely essential that men should be ready to subordinate selfish considerations to the triumph of their cause. The Roman Catholicism of the day gave many loopholes for the evasion of clear duty, but from these the reformed faith was free, and it is to the reawakened sense of duty that Gustavus Adolphus appealed. This alone rendered combination amongst his subordinate leaders possible, and on this power of combination all his victories depended. Other cavalry soldiers, once let loose in the charge, could never be trusted to return to the field, the prospective plunder of the enemy’s baggage being too strong a temptation; but the king’s men could be depended on, and once brought back in formed bodies, they rode over the enemy’s skirmishers and captured his batteries. Then the equilibrium of force was destroyed, and all arms combined made short work of the opposing infantry alone (Breitenfeld, 1631). But the Swedish king perished with his work half done, and matters reverted to their former condition until the appearance of Cromwell, another great leader capable of animating his men with the spirit of devotion, again rendered the cavalry arm supreme. The essence of his success lay in this, that his men were ready everywhere and always to lay down their lives for their common cause. Whether scouting 70 m. to the front of their army, or fighting dismounted to delay the enemy at defiles or to storm fortified strongholds, or charging home on the battlefield, their will power, focused on, and in turn dependent on, the personality of their great leader, dominated all human instincts of fear, rapacity or selfishness. It is true that they had not to ride against the modern rifle, but it is equally true that there was no quick-firing artillery to carry terror through the enemy’s army, and it was against masses of spearmen and musketeers, not then subjected to bursting shells or the lash of shrapnel and rifle bullets, that the final charges had always to be ridden home.

Each succeeding decade thereafter has seen a steady diminution in the ultimate power of resistance of the infantry, and a corresponding increase in the power of fire preparation at the disposal of the supreme leader; and the chances of cavalry have fluctuated with the genius of that leader in the employment of the means at his disposal, and the topographical conditions existing within each theatre of war. During the campaigns in Flanders, with its multiplicity of fortresses and clayey soil, cavalry rapidly degenerated into mounted infantry, throwing aside sword and lance-proof armour, and adopting long muskets and heavier ammunition. Presently they abandoned the charge at a gallop and reverted to an approach at the trot, and if (as at Blenheim) their influence proved decisive on the field of battle, this was because the conditions were common to both combatants, and the personal influence of “Corporal John,” as his soldiers called Marlborough, ensured greater steadiness and better co-operation.

When Frederick II. became king of Prussia (1740), he found his cavalry almost at the nadir of efficiency; even his cuirassiers drilled principally on foot. “They can manœuvre,” on foot, “with the Frederick
II.; reform
of the
Prussian
cavalry.
same precision as my grenadiers, but unfortunately they are equally slow.” His enemies the Austrians, thanks to their wars against the Turks who always charged at a gallop, had maintained greater dash and mobility, and at Mollwitz the Prussians only escaped disaster by the astounding rapidity of their infantry fire. In disgust the king then wrote, “Die Cavallerie is nicht einmal werth dasz sie der Teufel weck holet,” and he immediately set about their reform with his usual energy and thoroughness. Three years after Mollwitz, the result of his exertions was apparent in the greatly increased importance the arm acquired on the battlefield, and the charge of the Bayreuth dragoons at Hohenfriedberg (June 4, 1745), who with 1500 horses rode over and dispersed 20 Austrian battalions, bringing in 2500 prisoners and 67 colours, will always rank as one of the most brilliant feats in military history.[1] The following years of peace (1745–1756) were devoted to the methodical preparation of the cavalry to meet the requirements that Frederick’s methods of war would make upon them, and it is to this period that the student should devote special attention. From the very outbreak of the Seven Years’ War (1756) this training asserted its influence, and Rossbach (1757) and Zorndorf (1758) are the principal examples of what cavalry handled in masses can effect. At Rossbach General v. Seydlitz, at the head of 38 squadrons, practically began and ended the destruction of the French army, and at Zorndorf he saved the day for the Prussians by a series of the most brilliant charges, which successively destroyed the Russian right wing and centre. These battles so conclusively demonstrated the superiority of the Prussian cavalry that their enemies completely altered their tactical procedure. They now utilized their enormous numerical superiority by working in two separate armies, each almost as strong as the whole Prussian force. When the latter moved against either, the one threatened immediately threw up heavy entrenchments, against which cavalry were, of course, ineffective, whilst the other pursued its march. When Frederick, having more or less beaten his immediate opponent, began to threaten the other army it entrenched likewise. Against these methods the Prussian army soon wore itself out, and though from time to time the cavalry locally distinguished itself, no further opportunities for great decisive blows presented themselves.

The increased demands made upon the mobility of the Prussian horsemen naturally resulted in the gradual rejection of everything which was not essential to their striking power. The long muskets and bayonets were laid aside, but the cuirass was retained for the mêlée, and by the close of the great struggle the various branches of the arm had differentiated themselves out into the types still adhered to, heavy cavalry, dragoons, hussars, whose equipment as regards essentials thenceforward hardly varied up to the latter years of the 19th century. The only striking difference lies in the entire rejection of the lance in the armament of the charging squadrons, and the reason is characteristic of the principles of the day. The Prussian cavalry had realized that success was decided, not primarily by actual collision, but by the moral effect of the appearance of an absolutely closed wall of horsemen approaching the adversary at full speed. If the necessary degree of cohesion was attained, the other side was morally beaten before collision took place, and either turned to flight, or met the shock with so little resolution that it was ridden over without difficulty. In the former case any weapon was good enough to kill a flying enemy; in the latter, in the mêlée which then ensued, the crush in the ranks of the victors was still so great that the lance was a hindrance rather than a help.

In the years succeeding the war the efficiency of the Prussian cavalry sank very rapidly, the initial cause being the death of Seydlitz at the early age of fifty-two. His personality had alone dominated the discontent, lethargy and hopelessness created by ruthless financial economies. When he was gone, as always in the absence of a great leader, men adapted their lives to the line of least resistance. In thirty years the wreck was complete, and within the splendid squadrons which had been accustomed to manœuvre with perfect precision at the highest speed, there were (as F. A. von der Marwitz in his Nachlass clearly shows) not more than seven thoroughly trained men and horses to each, the remainder being trained for little longer and receiving less attention than is the case with modern 2nd line or auxiliary cavalry.

For the generation preceding the outbreak of the French Revolution, Frederick the Great’s army, and especially his cavalry, had become the model for all Europe, but the mainspring of the excellence ofCavalry
in the
revolu-
tionary
wars.
his squadrons was everywhere overlooked. Seydlitz had manœuvred great masses of horsemen, therefore every one else must have great masses also; but no nation grasped the secret, viz. the unconditional obedience of the horse to its rider, on which his success had depended. Neither was it possible under the prevailing social conditions to secure the old stamp of horse, or the former attention to detail on the part of men and officers. In France, owing to the agricultural decay of the country, suitable remounts for charging cavalry were almost unobtainable, and as this particular branch of the army was almost exclusively commanded by the aristocracy it suffered most in the early days of the Revolution. The hussars, being chiefly recruited and officered by Alsatians and Germans from the Rhine provinces, retained their individuality and traditions much longer than the dragoons and cuirassiers, and, to the very close of the great wars, we find them always ready to charge at a gallop; but the unsteadiness and poor horsemanship of the other branches was so great that up to 1812, the year of their destruction, they always charged at a trot only, considering that the advantage of superior cohesion thus gained more than balanced the loss of momentum due to the slower pace.

Generally, the growth of the French cavalry service followed the universal law. The best big horses went to the heavy charging cavalry, viz. the cuirassiers, the best light horses to the hussars, and the dragoons received the remainder, for in principle they were only infantry placed on horseback for convenience of locomotion, and were not primarily intended for combined mounted action. Fortunately for them, their principal adversaries, the Austrians, had altogether failed to grasp the lesson of the Seven Years’ War. Writing in 1780 Colonel Mack, a very capable officer, said, “Even in 1769, the cavalry could not ride, could not manage to control their horses. Not a single squadron could keep its dressing at a gallop, and before they had gone fifty yards at least ten out of forty horses in the first rank would break out to the front,” and though the veteran field marshal Lacy issued new regulations, their spirit seems always to have escaped the executive officers. The British cavalry was almost worse off, for economy had reduced its squadrons to mere skeletons, and the traditional British style of horsemanship, radically different from that in vogue in France, made their training for combined action even more difficult than elsewhere. Hence the history of cavalry during the earlier campaigns of the Revolution is marked by no decisive triumphs, the results are always inadequate when judged by the magnitude of the forces employed, and only the brilliant exploit of the 15th Light Dragoons (now Hussars) at Villers en Couché (April 24, 1794) deserves to be cited as an instance of the extraordinary influence which even a few horsemen can exercise over a demoralized or untrained mob of infantry.

Up to the campaign of Poland (see Napoleonic Campaigns) French victories were won chiefly by the brilliant infantry fighting, cavalry only intervening (as at Jena) to charge a beaten enemy and complete his destruction by pursuit. But after the terrible waste of life in the winter of 1806–7, and the appalling losses in battle, Napoleon introduced a new form of attack. The case-shot preparation of his artillery (see Artillery) sowed confusion and terror in the enemy’s ranks, and the opportunity was used by masses of cavalry. Henceforward this method dominated the Napoleonic tactics and strategy. The essential difference between this system and the Frederician lies in this, that with the artillery available in the former period it was not possible to say in advance at what point the intervention of cavalry would be necessary, hence the need for speed and precision of manœuvre to ensure their arrival at the right time and place. Napoleon now selected beforehand the point he meant to overwhelm and could bring his cavalry masses within striking distance at leisure. Once placed, it was only necessary to induce them to run away in the required direction to overwhelm everything by sheer weight of men and horses. This method failed at Waterloo because the ground was too heavy, the slope of it against the charge, and the whole condition of the horses too low for the exertion demanded of them.

The British cavalry from 1793 to 1815 suffered from the same causes which at the beginning of the 20th century brought about its breakdown in the South African War. Over-sea transport brought the horses to land in poor condition, and it was rarely possible to afford them sufficient time to recover and become accustomed to the change in forage, the conditions of the particular theatre of operations, &c., before they had to be led against the enemy—hence a heavy casualty roll and the introduction into the ranks of raw unbroken horses which interfered with the precision of manœuvre of the remainder. Their losses (about 13% per annum) were small as compared with those of South Africa, but this is mainly accounted for by the fact that, operations being generally in the northern hemisphere, the change of climate was never so severe. Tactically, they suffered, like the Austrians and Prussians, from the absence of any conception of the Napoleonic strategy amongst their principal leaders. As it was not known where the great blow was to fall, they were distributed along the whole line, and thus became habituated to the idea of operating in relatively small bodies. This is the worst school for the cavalry soldier, because it is only when working in masses of forty to sixty squadrons that the cumulative consequences of small errors of detail become so apparent as to convince all ranks of the necessity of conforming accurately to established prescriptions. Nevertheless, they still retained the practice of charging at a gallop, and as a whole were by far the most efficient body of horsemen who survived at the close of the great wars.

In the reaction that then ensued all over Europe, cavalry practically ceased to exist. The financial and agricultural exhaustion of all countries, and of Prussia in particular, was so complete thatLater
19th
century.
money was nowhere to be found for the great concentrations and manœuvre practices which are more essential to the efficiency of the cavalry than to that of the other arms. Hence a whole generation of officers grew up in ignorance of the fundamental principles which govern the employment of their arm. It was not till 1848 that the Prussians began again to unite whole cavalry divisions for drill and manœuvre, and the soldiers of the older generation had not yet passed away when the campaigns of 1866 and 1870 brought up again the realities of the battle-field. Meanwhile the introduction of long-range artillery and small arms had entirely destroyed the tactical relation of the three arms on which the Napoleonic tactics and strategy had been based, and the idea gained ground that the battle-field would no longer afford the same opportunities to cavalry as before. The experiences gained by the Americans in the Civil War helped to confirm this preconception. If in battles waged between infantries armed only with muzzle-loading rifles, cavalry could find no opportunity to repeat past exploits, it was argued that its chances could not fail to be still further reduced by the breech-loader. But this reasoning ignored the principal factors of former successes. The mounted men in America failed not as a consequence of the armament they encountered, but because the war brought out no Napoleon to create by his skill the opportunity for decisive cavalry action, and to mass his men beforehand in confident anticipation. The same reasoning applies to the European campaigns of 1866 and 1870, and the results obtained by the arm were so small, in proportion to the numbers of squadrons available and to their cost of maintenance as compared with the other arms, that a strong reaction set in everywhere against the existing institutions, and the re-creation of the dragoon, under the new name of mounted rifleman, was advocated in the hope of obtaining a cheap and efficient substitute for the cavalryman.

Later events in South Africa and in Manchuria again brought this question prominently to the front, but the essential difference between the old and new schools of thought has not been generally realized. The “mounted rifle” adherents base their arguments on the greatly increased efficiency of the rifle itself. The “cavalry” school, on the other hand, maintains that, the weapons themselves being everywhere substantially equal in efficiency, the advantage rests with the side which can create the most favourable conditions for their employment, and that, fundamentally, superior mobility will always confer upon its possessor the choice of the circumstances under which he will elect to engage. Where the two sides are nearly equally matched in mobility, neither side can afford the time to dismount, for the other will utilize that time to manœuvre into a position which gives him a relative superiority for whichever form of attack he may elect to adopt, and this relative superiority will always more than suffice to eliminate any advantage in accuracy of fire that his opponent may have obtained by devoting his principal attention to training his men on the range instead of on the mounted manœuvre ground.

Finally, the “cavalry” school reasons that in no single campaign since Napoleon’s time have the conditions governing encounters been normal. Either the roadless and barren nature of the country has precluded of itself the rapid marching which forms the basis of all modern strategy, as in America, Turkey, South Africa and Manchuria, or the relative power of the infantry and artillery weapons, as in Bohemia (1866) and in France (1870), has rendered wholly impossible the creation of the great tactical opportunity characteristic of Napoleon’s later method, for there then existed no means of overwhelming the enemy with a sufficient hail of projectiles to render the penetration of the cavalry feasible. The latest improvement in artillery, viz. the perfected shrapnel and the quick-firing guns, have, however, enormously facilitated the attainment of this primary fire superiority, and, moreover, it has simplified the procedure to such a degree that Napoleon is no longer needed to direct. The battles of the future will thus, in civilized countries, revert to the Napoleonic type, and the side which possesses the most highly trained and mobile force of cavalry will enjoy a greater relative superiority over its adversary than at any period since the days of Frederick.

The whole experience of the past thus goes to show that no nation in peace has ever yet succeeded in maintaining a highly trained cavalry sufficiently numerous to meet all the demands of a great war. Hence at the outbreak of hostilities there has always been a demand for some kind of supplementary force which can relieve the regular squadrons of those duties of observation and exploration which wear down the horses most rapidly and thus render the squadrons ineffective for their culminating duty on the battle-field. This demand has been met by the enrolment of men willing to fight and rendered mobile by mounts of an inferior description, and the greater the urgency the greater has been the tendency to give them arms which they can quickly learn to use. To make a man an expert swordsman or lancer has always taken years, but he can be taught to use a musket or rifle sufficiently for his immediate purpose in a very short time. Hence, to begin with, arms of this description have invariably been issued to him. But once these bodies have been formed, and they have come into collision with trained cavalry, the advantages of mobility, combined with the power of shock, have become so apparent to all, that insensibly the “dragoon” has developed into the cavalry soldier, the rate of this evolution being conditioned by the nature of the country in which the fighting took place.

This evolution is best seen in the American Civil War. The men of the mounted forces engaged had been trained to the use of the rifle from childhood, while the vast majority had never seen a sword, hence the formation of “mounted rifles”; and these “mounted rifles” developed precisely in accordance with the nature of their surroundings. In districts of virgin forests and marshland they remained “mounted rifles,” in the open prairie country of the west they became cavalry pure and simple, though for want of time they never rivalled the precision of manœuvre and endurance of modern Prussian or Austrian horse. In South Africa the same sequence was followed, and had the Boer War lasted longer it is certain that such Boer leaders as de Wet and de la Rey would have reverted to cavalry tactics of shock and cold steel at the earliest possible opportunity.

Therefore when we find, extending over a cycle of ages, the same causes producing the same effects, the natural conclusion is that the evolution of the cavalry arm is subject to a universal law which persists in spite of all changes of armament.

Employment of Cavalry.—It is a fundamental axiom of all military action that the officer commanding the cavalry of any force comprising the three arms of the service is in the strictest sense an executive officer under the officer commanding that particular force as a whole. The latter again is himself responsible to the political power he represents. When intricate political problems are at stake, it may be, and generally is, quite impracticable that any subordinate can share the secret knowledge of the power to which he owes his allegiance.

The essence of the value of the cavalry soldier’s services lies in this, that the demand is never made upon him in its supremest form until the instinct of the real commander realizes that the time has come. Whether it be to cover a retreat, and by the loss of hundreds to save the lives of tens of thousands, or to complete a victory with commensurate results in the opposite direction, the obligation remains the same—to stake the last man and horse in the attainment of the immediate object in view, the defeat of the enemy. This at once places the leader of cavalry in face of his principal problem. It is a matter of experience that the broader the front on which he can deliver a charge, the greater the chances of success. However strong the bonds of discipline may be, the line is ultimately, and at a certain nervous tension, only a number of men on horses, acting and reacting on one another in various ways. When therefore, of two lines, moving to meet one another at speed, one sees itself overlapped to either hand, the men in the line thus overlapped invariably and inevitably tend to open outwards, so as at least to meet their enemy on an equal frontage. Hence every cavalry commander tries to strike at the flank of his enemy, and the latter manœuvres to meet him, and if both have equal mobility, local collision must ensue on an equal and parallel front. Therefore both strive to put every available man and horse in their first line, and if men and horses were invulnerable such a line would sweep over the ground like a scythe and nothing could withstand it. Since, however, bullets kill at a distance, and inequalities and unforeseen difficulties of the ground may throw hundreds of horses and riders, a working compromise has to be found to meet eventualities, and, other things being equal, victory inclines to the leader who best measures the risks and uncertainties of his undertaking, and keeps in hand a sufficient reserve to meet all chances.

Thus there has arisen a saying, which is sometimes regarded as axiomatic, that in cavalry encounters the last closed reserve always wins. The truth is really that he who has best judged the situation and the men on both sides finds himself in possession of the last reserve at the critical moment. The next point is, how to ensure the presence of this reserve, and what is the critical moment. The battle-field is the critical moment in each phase of every campaign—not the mere chance locality on which a combat takes place, but the decisive arena on which the strategic consequences of all pre-existing conditions of national cohesion, national organization and of civilization are focussed. It is indeed the judgment-seat of nature, on which the right of the race to survive in the struggle for existence is weighed and measured in the most impartial scales.

Before, however, the final decision of the battle-field can be attained, a whole series of subordinate decisions have to be fought out, success in each of which conditions the result of the next series of encounters. Every commanding officer of cavalry thus finds himself successively called on to win a victory locally at any cost, and the question of economy of force does not concern him at all. Hence the same fundamental rules apply to all cavalry combats, of whatever magnitude, and condition the whole of cavalry tactics. Broadly speaking, if two cavalries of approximately equal mobility manœuvre against each other in open country, neither side can afford the loss of time that dismounting to fight on foot entails. Hence, assuming that at the outset of a campaign each side aims at securing a decisive success, both seek out an open plain and a mounted charge, sword in hand, for the decision. When the speed and skill of the combatants are approximately equal, collision ensues simultaneously along parallel fronts, and the threat of the overlapping line is the principal factor in the decision. The better the individual training of man and horse the less will be the chances of unsteadiness or local failures in execution, and the less the need of reserves; hence the force which feels itself the most perfect in the individual efficiency of both man and horse (on which therefore the whole ultimately depends) can afford to keep fewer men in reserve and can thus increase the width of its first line for the direct collision. Careful preparation in peace is therefore the first guarantee of success in action. This means that cavalry, unlike infantry, cannot be expanded by the absorption of reserve men and horses on the outbreak of hostilities, but must be maintained at war strength in peace, ready to take the field at a moment’s notice, and this is actually the standard of readiness attained on the continent of Europe at the present day.

Further, uniformity of speed is the essential condition for the execution of closed charges, and this obviously cannot be assured if big men on little horses and small men on big horses are indiscriminately mixed up in the same units. Horses and men have therefore been sorted out everywhere into three categories, light, medium and heavy, and in periods when war was practically chronic, suitable duties have been allotted to each. It is clear, on purely mechanical grounds, that the greater the velocity of motion at the moment of collision the greater will be the chances of success, and this greater speed will be on the side of the bigger horses as a consequence of their longer stride. On the other hand, these horses, by reason of their greater weight, are used up much more rapidly than small ones. Hence, to ensure the greater speed at the moment of contact, it is necessary to save them as much as possible to keep them fresh for the shock only, and this has been the practice of all great cavalry leaders all over the world, and has only been departed from under special circumstances, as by the Germans in France in 1870, when their cavalry practically rode everywhere unopposed.

Collisions, however, must be expected by every body of troops large or small; hence each regiment—ultimately each squadron—endeavours to save its horses as far as this is compatible with the attainment of the special object in view, and this has led everywhere and always to a demand for some intermediate arm, less expensive to raise and maintain than cavalry proper, and able to cover the ground with sufficient rapidity and collect the information necessary to ensure the proper direction of the cavalry commands. Originally this intermediate force received the designation of dragoons; but since under pressure of circumstances during long periods of war these invariably improved themselves into cavalry and became permanent units in the army organization, fresh names have had to be invented for them, of which Mounted Infantry and Mounted Rifles are the latest, and every improvement in firearms has led to an increased demand for their services.

It is now relatively easy to trace out the considerations which should govern the employment of his cavalry by the officer commanding a force of the three arms. Assuming for purposes of illustration an army numerically weak in cavalry, what course will best ensure the presence of the greatest number of sabres at the decisive point, i.e. on the battle-field? To push out cavalry screens far to the front will be to court destruction, nor is the information they obtain of much real service unless the means to act upon it at once is at hand. This can only be supplied economically by the use of strong advanced guards of infantry, and such supplementary security and information as these may require will be best supplied by mounted infantry, the sacrifice of whom will disturb least the fighting integrity of the whole army.

Imagine an army of 300,000 men advancing by five parallel roads on a front of 50 m., each column (60,000 men, 2 army corps) being covered by a strong advance guard, coming in contact with a similarly constituted army moving in an opposite direction. A series of engagements will ensue, in each of which the object of the local commander will be to paralyse his opponent’s will-power by a most vigorous attack, so that his superior officer following him on the same road will be free to act as he chooses. The front of the two armies will now be defined by a line of combats localized each about a comparatively small area, and between them will be wide gaps which it will be the chief business of the directing minds on either side to close by other troops as soon as possible. Generally the call will be made upon the artillery for this purpose, since they can cover the required distances far more rapidly than infantry. Now, as artillery is powerless when limbered up and always very vulnerable on the flanks of the long lines, a strong cavalry escort will have to be assigned to them which, trotting forward to screen the march, will either come in contact with the enemy’s cavalry advancing with a similar object, or themselves find an opportunity to catch the enemy’s guns at a disadvantage. These are opportunities for the cavalry, and if necessary it must sacrifice itself to turn them to the best account. The whole course of the battle depends on success or failure in the early formation of great lines of guns, for ultimately the victor in the artillery duel finds himself in command of the necessary balance of guns which are needed to prepare the way for his final decisive infantry attack. If this latter succeeds, then any mounted men who can gallop and shoot will suffice for pursuit. If it fails, no cavalry, however gallant, has any hope of definitely restoring the combat, for against victorious infantry, cavalry, now as in the past, can but gain a little time. This time may indeed be worth the price at which it can be bought, but it will always be more economical to concentrate all efforts to prevent the emergency arising.

After the Franco-German War much was written about the possibility of vast cavalry encounters to be fought far in advance of the main armies, for the purpose of obtaining information, and ideas were freely mooted of wide-flung raids traversing the enemy’s communications, breaking up his depots, reserve formations, &c. But riper consideration has relegated these suggestions to the background, for it is now evident that such expeditions involve the dissemination of force, not its concentration. Austria and France for example would scarcely throw their numerically inferior cavalry against the Germans, and nothing would suit them better than that the latter should hurl their squadrons against the frontier guards, advanced posts, and, generally, against unbeaten infantry; nor indeed would the Germans stultify their whole strategic teaching by weakening themselves for the decisive struggle. It follows therefore that cavalry reconnaissance duties will be strictly local and tactical, and that arrangements will be made for procuring strategical information by wireless telegraphy, balloons, motor cars, bicycles, &c., and that on the whole that nation will be best served in war which has provided in peace a nucleus of mounted infantry capable of rapid expansion to fill the gap which history shows always to have existed between the infantry and the cavalry. Such troops need not be organized in large bodies, for their mission is to act by “slimness,” not by violence. They must be the old “verlorene Haufe” (anglice, “forlorn hope”) of former days, men whose individual bravery and decision is of the highest order. But they can never become a “decision-compelling arm,” though by their devotion they may well hope to obtain the grand opportunity for their cavalry, and share with them in harvesting the fruits of victory.

The great cavalry encounters of forty to sixty squadrons on either side, which it has been shown must arise from the necessity of screening or preventing the formation of the all-important artillery lines, will take their form mainly from the topographical conditions of the district, and since on a front of 60 to 100 m. these may vary indefinitely, cavalry must be trained, as indeed it always has been, to fight either on foot or on horseback as occasion requires. In either case, thoroughness of preparation in horsemanship (which, be it observed, includes horsemastership) is the first essential, for in the end victory will rest with the side which can put in the right place with the greatest rapidity the greatest number of sabres or rifles. In the case of rifles there is a greater margin of time available and an initial failure is not irremediable, but the underlying principle is the same in either case; and since it is impossible to foretell exactly the conditions of the collision, all alike, according to the class to which they belong, must be brought up to the highest standard, for this alone guarantees the smooth and rhythmical motion required for covering long distances with the least expenditure of physical and nervous strength on the part both of horse and rider. As a consequence of successes gained in these preliminary encounters, opportunities will subsequently arise for the balance of fresh or rallied squadrons in hand to ride home upon masses of infantry disorganized and demoralized by the combined fire of infantry and artillery, and such opportunities are likely to be much more numerous at the outbreak of future wars than they have been in the past, because the enormous gain in range and rapidity of fire enables a far greater weight of metal to be concentrated on any chosen area within a given time. It cannot be too often reiterated that cavalry never has ridden over unshaken infantry of average quality by reason of its momentum alone, but that every successful cavalry charge has always owed its issue to a previously acquired moral superiority which has prevented the infantry from making adequate use of their means of defence. Nor will such charges entail greater losses than in the past, for, great though the increase of range of modern infantry weapons has been, the speed and endurance of cavalry has increased in a yet higher ratio; whereas in Napoleon’s days, with an extreme range for musketry of 1000 yds., cavalry were expected only to trot 800 yds. and gallop for 200, nowadays with an extreme infantry range of under 4000 yds., the cavalry are trained to trot for 8000 yds. and gallop for 2000.

Neither the experiences in South Africa nor those in Manchuria seriously influenced the views of the leading cavalry experts as above outlined, for the conditions of both cases were entirely abnormal. No nation in western Europe can afford to mount the whole of its able-bodied manhood, nor, with the restricted area of its possessions, could repeat the Boer tactics with useful effect; in Manchuria, the theatre of operation was so far roadless, and the motives of both combatants so distinct from any conceivable as a basis for European strategy, that time was always available to construct entrenchments and obstacles physically insuperable to mounted arms. In western Europe, with its extreme development of communications, such tactics are impracticable, and under the system of compulsory service which is in force in all nations, an early decision must be sought at any cost. This motive imposes a rapid-marching campaign in the Napoleonic style, and in such warfare there is neither time nor energy available for the erection of extemporised fortresses. Victory must therefore fall to the side that can develop the greatest fire power in the shortest time. The greatest factor of fire power is the long artillery lines, and as cavalry is the one arm which by its mobility can hamper or prevent the formation of such lines, on its success in this task all else must depend. Hence both sides will concentrate every available horse and man for this special purpose, and on the issue of the collisions this mutual concentration must entail will hang the fate of the battle, and ultimately of the nation. But the cavalry which will succeed in this task will be the one in which the spirit of duty burns brightest, and the oath of allegiance, renewed daily on the cross of the sword, is held in the highest esteem.

Organization.—The existing organization of cavalry throughout the civilized world is an instance of the “survival of the fittest” in an extreme form. The execution of the many manœuvres with the speed and precision which condition success is only possible by a force in which, as Frederick the Great said, “every horse and trooper has been finished with the same care that a watchmaker bestows upon each wheel of the watch mechanism.” Uniformity of excellence is in fact the keystone of success, and this is only attainable where the mass is subdivided into groups, each of which requires superintendence enough to absorb the whole energy of an average commander. Thus it has been found by ages of experiment that an average officer, with the assistance of certain subordinates to whom he delegates as much or as little responsibility as he pleases, finds his time fully occupied by the care of about one hundred and fifty men and horses, each individual of which he must understand intimately, in character, physical strength and temper, for horse and man must be matched with the utmost care and judgment if the best that each is capable of is to be attained. The fundamental secret of the exceptional efficiency attained by the Prussian cavalry lies in the fact that they were the first to realize what the above implies. After the close of the Napoleonic Wars they made their squadron commanders responsible, not only for the training of the combatants of their unit, but also for the breaking in of remounts and the elementary teaching of recruits as well, and in this manner they obtained an intimate knowledge of their material which is almost unattainable by British officers owing to the conditions entailed by foreign service and frequent changes of garrisons.

Further, to obtain the maximum celerity of manœuvre with the minimum exertion of the horses, the squadron requires to be subdivided into smaller units, generally known as troops, and experience has shown that with 128 sabres in the ranks (the average strength on parade, after deducting sick and young horses, and the n.c. officers required as troop guides, &c.) four troops best satisfy all conditions; as, with this number, the squadron will, under all circumstances of ground and surroundings, make any change of formation in less time and with greater accuracy than with any other number of subdivisions. The size of the unit next above the squadron, the regiment, is again fixed by the number of subordinates that an average commander can control, and the universal experience of all arms has settled this as not less than four and not more than eight. Experiments with eight and even ten squadrons have been tried both in Austria and Prussia, but only exceptional men have succeeded in controlling such large bodies effectively, and in the end the normal has been fixed at four or five squadrons in quarters, and three or four in the field. Of these, the larger number is undoubtedly preferable, for, with the work of the quartermaster and the adjutant to supervise, in addition, the regimental commander is economically applied to the best advantage. The essential point, however, is that the officer commanding the regiment does not interfere in details, but commands his four squadron commanders, his quartermaster, and his adjutant, and holds them absolutely responsible for results.

There is no unity of practice in the constitution of larger units. Brigades vary according to circumstances from two regiments to four, and the composition of divisions fluctuates similarly. The custom in the German cavalry has been to form brigades of two regiments and divisions of three brigades, but this practice arose primarily from the system of recruiting and has no tactical advantage. The territory assigned to each army corps provides men and horses for two regiments of cuirassiers or lancers (classed as heavy in Germany), two of dragoons, and two of hussars, and since it is clearly essential to ensure uniformity of speed and endurance within those units most likely to have to work together, it was impossible to mix the different classes. But the views now current as to the tactical employment of cavalry contemplate the employment not only of divisions but of whole cavalry corps, forty to sixty squadrons strong, and these may be called on to fulfil the most various missions. The farthest and swiftest reconnaissances are the province of light cavalry, i.e. hussars, the most obstinate attack and defence of localities the task of dragoons, and the decisive charges on the battle-field essentially the duty of the heavy cavalry. It seems probable then that the brigade will become the highest unit the composition of which is fixed in peace, and that divisions and corps will be put together by brigades of uniform composition, and assigned to the several sections of the theatre of war in which each is likely to find the most suitable field for its special character. This was the case in the Frederician and Napoleonic epochs, when efficiency and experience in the field far outweighed considerations of administration and convenience in quarters.

Hitherto, horse artillery in Europe has always formed an integral portion of the divisional organization, but the system has never worked well, and in view of the technical evolution of artillery material is no longer considered desirable. As it is always possible to assign one or more batteries to any particular brigade whose line of march will bring it across villages, defiles, &c. (where the support of its fire will be essential), and on the battle-field itself responsibility for the guns is likely to prove more of a hindrance than a help to the cavalry commander, it is probable that horse artillery will revert to the inspection of its own technical officers, and that the sole tie which will be retained between it and the cavalry will be in the batteries being informed as to the cavalry units they are likely to serve with in war, so that the officers may make themselves acquainted with the idiosyncrasies of their future commanders. The same course will be pursued with the engineers and technical troops required for the cavalry, but it seems probable that, in accordance with a suggestion made by Moltke after the 1866 campaign, the supply columns for one or more cavalry corps will be held ready in peace, and specially organized to attain the highest possible mobility which modern technical progress can ensure.

The general causes which have led to the differentiation of cavalry into the three types—hussars, dragoons and heavy—have already been dealt with. Obviously big men on little horses cannot manoeuvre side by side with light men on big horses. Also, since uniformity of excellence within the unit is the prime condition of efficiency, and the greatest personal dexterity is required for the management of sword or lance on horseback, a further sorting out became necessary, and the best light weights were put on the best light horses and called hussars, the best heavy weights on the best heavy horses and called lancers, the average of either type becoming dragoons and cuirassiers. In England, the lance not being indigenous and the conditions of foreign service making adherence to a logical system impossible, lancers are medium cavalry, but the difference of weights carried and type of horses is too small to render these distinctions of practical moment. In Germany, where every suitable horse finds its place in the ranks and men have no right of individual selection, the distinctions are still maintained, and there is a very marked difference between the weights carried and the types of men and horses in each branch, though the dead weight which it is still considered necessary to carry in cavalries likely to manoeuvre in large masses hardly varies with the weight of the man or size of the horse.

Where small units only are required to march and scout, the kit can be reduced to a minimum, everything superfluous for the moment being carried on hired transport, as in South Africa. But when 10,000 horsemen have to move by a single road all transport must be left miles to the rear, and greater mobility for the whole is attained by carrying upon the horse itself the essentials for a period of some weeks. Still, even allowing for this, it is impossible to account for the extraordinary load that is still considered necessary. In India, the British lancer, averaging 11 st. per man, could turn out in marching order at 17 st. 8 ℔ (less forage nets). In Germany, the hussar, averaging 10 st. 6 ℔, rode at 18 st., also without forage, and the cuirassier at 21 st. to 22 st. Cavalry equipment is, in fact, far too heavy, for in the interests of the budgets of the departments which supply saddlery, harness, &c., everything is made so as to last for many years. Cavalry saddles fifty years old frequently remain in good condition, but the losses in horse-flesh this excessive solidity entails are ignored. The remount accounts are kept separately, and few realize that in war it is cheaper to replace a horse than a saddle. In any case, the armament alone of the cavalry soldier makes great demands on the horses. His sword and scabbard weigh about 4 ℔, carbine or rifle 7 ℔ to 9 ℔, 120 rounds of ammunition with pouches and belts about 12 ℔, lance about 5 ℔, and two days’ forage and hay at the lowest 40 ℔, or a gross total of 70 ℔ or 5 st., which with 11 st. for the man brings the total to 16 st.; add to this the lightest possible saddle, bridle, cloak and blanket, and 17 st. 8 ℔ is approximately the irreducible minimum. It may be imagined what care and management of the horses is required to enable them under such loads to manoeuvre in masses at a trot, and gallop for distances of 5 m. and upwards without a moment for dismounting.

Reconnaissance and Scouting.—After 1870 public opinion, misled by the performances of the “ubiquitous Uhlan” and disappointed by the absence of great cavalry charges on the field of battle, came somewhat hastily to the conclusion that the day of “shock tactics” was past and the future of cavalry lay in acting as the eyes and ears of the following armies. But, as often happens, the fact was overlooked that the German cavalry screen was entirely unopposed in its reconnoitring expeditions, and it was not till long afterwards that it became apparent how very little these far-flung reconnaissances had contributed to the total success.

It has been calculated by German cavalry experts that not 1% of the reports sent in by the scouts during the advance from the Saar to the Meuse, August 1870, were of appreciable importance to the headquarters, and that before the orders based upon this evidence reached the front, events frequently anticipated them. Generally the conviction has asserted itself, that it is impossible to train the short-service soldiers of civilized nations sufficiently to render their reports worth the trouble of collating, and if a few cases of natural aptitude do exist nothing can ensure that these particular men should be sufficiently well mounted to transmit their information with sufficient celerity to be of importance. It is of little value to a commander to know that the enemy was at a given spot forty-eight hours previously, unless the sender of the report has a sufficient force at his disposal to compel the enemy to remain there; in other words, to attack and hold him. Cavalry and horse artillery alone, however, cannot economically exert this holding power, for, whatever their effect against worn-out men at the close of a great battle, against fresh infantry they are relatively powerless. Hence, it is probable that we shall see a revival of the strategic advanced guard of all arms, as in the Napoleonic days, which will not only reconnoitre, but fix the enemy until the army itself can execute the manœuvre designed to effect his destruction. The general situation of the
EB1911 Cavalry - Plate I a - Dragoons.jpg
EB1911 Cavalry - Plate I b - Infantry v. Reiters.jpg
EB1911 Cavalry - Plate I c - Squadron of Lancers.jpg

SIXTEENTH-CENTURY CAVALRY.
(Walthausen’s Art militaire de la cavalerie, circa 1600.)
EB1911 Cavalry - Plate I d - Lancer.jpg
EB1911 Cavalry - Plate II - BATTLE OF STAFFARDA, 1690.jpg
BATTLE OF STAFFARDA, 1690. (From a contemporary engraving.)
 
EB1911 Cavalry - Plate II - ACTION ON THE BULGANAK, 1854.jpg
ACTION ON THE BULGANAK, 1854. (From a lithograph by W. Simpson.)
 
EB1911 Cavalry - Plate II - GERMAN GUARD DRAGOONS.jpg
GERMAN GUARD DRAGOONS. (Photo, Gebruder Haeckel.)
 
general situation of the enemy’s masses will, in western Europe, always be sufficiently fixed by the trend of his railway communications, checked by reports of spies, newspapers, &c., for, with neutral frontiers everywhere within a few hours’ ride for a motor cyclist, anything approaching the secrecy of the Japanese in Manchuria is quite unattainable, and, once the great masses begin to move, the only “shadowing” which holds out any hope of usefulness is that undertaken by very small selected parties of officers, perfectly mounted, daring riders, and accustomed to cover distances of 100 m. and upwards. These will be supported by motor cars and advanced feelers from the field telegraphs, though probably the motor car would carry the eye-witness to his destination in less time than it would take to draft and signal a complete report.

Tactical scouting, now as always, is invaluable for securing the safety of the marching and sleeping troops, and brigade, divisional and corps commanders will remain dependent upon their own squadrons for the solution of the immediate tactical problem before them; but, since both sides will employ mounted men to screen their operations, intelligence will generally only be won by fighting, and the side which can locally develop a marked fire superiority will be the more likely to obtain the information it requires. In this direction the introduction of the motor car and of cyclists is likely to exercise a most important influence, but, whatever may be the conveyance, it must be looked upon as a means of advance only, never of retreat. The troops thus conveyed must be used to seize villages or defiles about which the cavalry and guns can manœuvre.

Formations and Drill.—Cavalry, when mounted, act exclusively by “shock” or more precisely by “the threat of their shock,” for the immediate result of collision is actually decided some instants before this collision takes place. Experience has shown that the best guarantee for success in this shock is afforded by a two-deep line, the men riding knee to knee within each squadron at least. Perfect cavalry can charge in larger bodies without intervals between the squadrons, but, ordinarily, intervals of about 10 yds. between adjacent squadrons are kept to localize any partial unsteadiness due to difficulties of ground, casualties, &c. The obvious drawbacks of a two-deep line are that it halves the possible extent of front, and that if a front-rank horse falls the rear-rank horse generally tumbles over it also. To minimize the latter evil, the charge in two successive lines, 150 to 200 yds. apart, has often been advocated, but this has never stood the test of serious cavalry fighting; first, because when squadrons are galloping fast and always striving to keep the touch to the centre, if a horse falls the adjacent horses close in with such force that their sidelong collision may throw down more and always creates violent oscillation; and secondly, because owing to the dust raised by the first rank the following one can never maintain its true direction. It is primarily to avoid the danger and difficulty arising from the dust that the ranks in manœuvre are closed to within one horse’s length, as, when moving at speed, the rear rank is past before the dust has time to rise.

Of all formations, the line is the most difficult to handle, and, particularly, to conceal—hence various formations in column are necessary for the preliminary manœuvres requisite to place the squadrons in position for the final deployment previous to the charge. Many forms of these columns have been tried, but, setting aside the columns intended exclusively for marching along roads, of which “sections” (four men abreast) is most usual in England, only these survive:—
 Squadron column.
 Double column of squadrons.
 Half column.

In squadron column, the troops of the squadron formed are in line one behind the other at a distance equal to the front of the troop in line. The ideal squadron consists of 128 men formed in two ranks giving 64 files, and divided into four troops of 16 files—a larger number of troops makes the drill too complicated, a smaller number makes each troop slow and unhandy. When the squadron is weak, therefore, the troop should still be maintained as near 16 files as possible, the number of troops being if necessary reduced. Thus with only 32 files, two troops of 16 files would be better than four of only 8 files.

All other formations of the regiment or brigade are fundamentally derived from the squadron column, only varying with the order in which the squadrons are grouped, and the intervals which separate them. Thus the regiment may move in line of squadron columns at close interval, i.e. 11 paces apart or in double column as in the diagram. To form line for the charge, the squadrons open out, still in column, to full interval, i.e. the width they occupy when in line; and then on the command “Line to the front,” each troop moves up to its place in line as shown in the diagram. When in line a large body of cavalry can no longer vary its direction without sacrificing its appearance of order, and as above pointed out, it is this appearance of order which really decides the result of the charge before the actual collision. Since, however, the enemy’s movements may compel a change, an intermediate formation is provided, known as the “half column.” When this formation is ordered, the troops within each squadron wheel half right or left, and each squadron is then able to form into column or line to the front as circumstances demand, or the whole line can be formed into column of troops by continuing the wheel and in this formation gallop out into a fresh direction, re-forming line by a simple wheel in the shortest possible time.

EB1911 Cavalry formations.jpg

Bibliography.—G. H. Elliot, Cavalry Literature (1893); v. Bismarck, Uses and Application of Cavalry in War (1818, English translation by Lieut.-Col. Beamish, 1855); G. T. Denison, A History of Cavalry (1877); Prince Kraft zu Hohenlohe-Ingelfingen, Letters on Cavalry and Conversations on Cavalry (English translations, 1880 and 1892); Colonel Mitchell, Considerations on Tactics (1854) and Thoughts on Tactics and Organization (1838); E. Nolan, Cavalry, its History and Tactics (1855); Roemer, Cavalry, its History, Management and Uses (New York, 1863); Maitland, Notes on Cavalry (1878); F. N. Maude, Cavalry versus Infantry and Cavalry, its Past and Future; C. von Schmidt, Instructions for the Training, Employment and Leading of Cavalry (English translation, 1881); V. Verdy du Vernois, The Cavalry Division (1873); Maj.-Gen. Walker, The Organization and Tactics of the Cavalry Division (1876); C. W. Bowdler Bell, Notes on the German Cavalry Regulations of 1886; F. de Brack, Light Cavalry Outposts (English translation); Dwyer, Seats and Saddles (1869); J. Jacob, Views and Opinions (1857); F. Hoenig, Die Kavallerie als Schlachtenkörper (1884); Sir Evelyn Wood, Achievements of Cavalry (1893); H. T. Siborne, Waterloo Letters; Desbrière and Sautai, La Cavalerie de 1740 à 1789 (1806); Warnery, Remarques sur la cavalerie (1781); v. Canitz, Histoire des exploits et des vicissitudes de la cavalerie prussienne dans les campagnes de Frédéric II (1849); Cherfils, Cavalerie en campagne (1888), Service de sûreté stratégique de la cavalerie (1874); Bonie, Tactique française, cavalerie en campagne, cavalerie au combat (1887–1888); Foucart, Campagne de Pologne, opérations de la cavalerie, nov. 1806–jan. 1807 (1882), La Cavalerie pendant la campagne de Prusse (1880); De Galliffet, Projet d’instruction sur l’emploi de la cavalerie en liaison avec les autres armes (1880), Rapport sur les grandes manoeuvres de cavalerie de 1879; Kaehler, Die preussische Reiterei 1806–1876 (French translation, La Cavalerie prussienne de 1806 à 1876); Cavalry Studies (translated from the French of Bonie and the German of Kaehler, with a paper on U.S. cavalry in the Civil War); v. Bernhardi, Cavalry in Future Wars (English translation, 1906); P. S., Cavalry in the Wars of the Future (translated from the French by T. Formby, 1905); D. Haig, Cavalry Studies (1907); v. Pelet Narbonne, Die Kavalleriedienst (1901). Cavalry on Service (English translation, 1906); Erziehung und Führung von Kavallerie. The principal cavalry periodicals are the Revue de cavalerie, the Kavalleristische Monatshefte (Austrian), the Cavalry Journal (British), and the Journal of the U.S. Cavalry Association.  (F. N. M.) 

  1. The loss of the regiment was twenty-eight killed and sixty-six wounded.