« VorigeDoorgaan »
composed of raw recruits or reservists. The French never attempted to reconnoitre any ground they may have had to operate over; the Prussians sometimes did.
Compare the action of the French cavalry at Woerth with that of the 1st Guards Dragoons of thọ Prussian cavalry at Mars La Toar. By being well handled the Prussians succeeded at Mars La Tour; while at Woerth the French cavalry, had it been capable of doing so, might have been better employed in dismounted fire action, having failed by lack of reconnaissance to observe that a more favourable mounted attack could have been delivered from a different direction. Fire action at Mars La Tour by the Prussian Dragoons would have exposed it to the close fire of infantry and a mitrailleuse battery, would have been too slow, and probably would only have stopped a portion of the French attack. Again, it might be argued that Von Bredow's famous charge on the same day might have been just as well carried out by a dismounted attack through the woods north of the Roman road, but the French Fourth Corps was approaching, and rapid action was needed to relieve the pressure. A reinforcement of these 600 cavalry dismounted would not have achieved anything like the same result. A charge skilfully manoeuvred for, boldly led, and carried out with determination accomplished all that was desired; and, but for the ill-luck of finding masses of the French cavalry in rear of the infantry, the losses would have been small.
Again, also at Mars La Tour, we have an example of shock between large masses of highly trained cavalry. The desire of both sides was shock, and, combined with the undulating open terrain north of Mars La Tour, the natural result followed. Both sides were practically numerically equal, both sides brought up their regiments and brigades in successive lines, and were drawn towards one another by their own magnetism. There was no real co-operation and no fixed plan, and both combatants withdrew equally confident that they had each been successful. The Prussians were superior in that they were under one commander and therefore under better control; and the initiative of their officers brought about flank attacks against the French line, which
the turning point of the whole affair. There seem to have been excellent opportunities for the French to manæuvre by combining at the commencement dismounted action with shock against the advancing Prussians, until the remaining divisions came up; but the French cavalry divisions were under three separate commanders, each with a very dim idea as to what was going on. The chief factor that underlay the whole operation was: 'There's hostile cavalry. Charge!' Boldness, dash, and the cavalry spirit were displayed
by both sides, but badly handled and misspent; hence the unfair argument that cavalry shock tactics are useless.
The lessons of this war thus show that cavalry, intelligently led and boldly handled, can, by their mobility, charge infantry when the occasions demand, but that their usefulness is curtailed by the lack of a firearm; in fact, although from the reverse point of view, the lessons are the same as those of the American Civil War.
THE BOER WAR (1899-1902). After a long period of time, the next campaign to throw light on our subject is the Boer War of 1899. In this war we have one side wholly composed of mounted men, untrained and undisciplined, individually experts in the use of the rifle, but with shock tactics and the arme blanche a sealed book to them. On the other side cavalry, disciplined and highly trained in shock tactics, but with only a' rudimentary knowledge of the firearm and its tactical uses, and moreover, most important of all, vastly inferior in numbers. To draw conclusions, therefore, without taking these factors into consideration, from these two perfectly different and unequally matched combatants would be wrong.
Later in the war we see one side, in order to compete on more level terms with its opponent, increasing its mounted troops, mainly by men trained only in the use of the firearm and ignorant of the arme blanche. The regular cavalry, overshadowed by this new type of cavalry or mounted rifles, imitated their tactics, and frequently, later in the war, failed from sheer forgetfulness and, in many cases, through having abandoned the weapon, to take advantage of the opportunities for the arme blanche which did occur.
During the last phase of the war these opportunities were numerous, but generally only offered to men armed with rifles alone, who, like their predecessors thirty-eight years before in the American Civil War, felt themselves severely handicapped by the lack of an arme blanche, and in sheer despair had at close quarters to resort to the clubbed rifle, with, however, but poor results. The Boers, however, themselves often attacked mounted, firing from the saddle; but enthusiasts of this form of offensive tactics forget the fact that these attacks were hardly ever delivered against columns which contained any regular mounted troops, and that they were not resorted to till late in the war, when many of the British mounted troops were raw and undisciplined and when only the best and most determined of the Boers were left, and these in great straits for both supplies and ammunition. At neither Bakenlaagte nor Roodeval, to take two examples, were these tactics, strictly -speaking, successful. At Bakenlaagte the Boers surprised and
rushed Gun Hill, dismounting, however, at the foot; and it was only after thirty minutes' hard fighting at close range, and after suffering 100 casualties, that they succeeded in gaining the hill held by very inferior numbers.
At Roodeval they failed altogether. Here they also effected a surprise, and, thanks to this, had every advantage, as they were not heavily fired on till within 600 yards of the British line; yet they halted 300 yards from it and retired. These two examples, I think, prove that the Boers understood the moral effect of surprise followed by a charge; but when the moral effect desired was not produced they were totally unable to complete the charge without, in addition to want of discipline, the extra confidence of a weapon for work at close quarters. If the moral effect was produced, however, as unfortunately it was often in South Africa, a broomstick would have been sufficient to complete the rout. With the lessons of the two previous great wars to support us, it is not too much to say that a squadron of cavalry or any mounted troops with an arme blanche thrown against the Boer flank at either of these fights would have routed them, and that the fire from the British line at Roodeval would not have checked a determined charge of 600 to 800 cavalry armed with the arme blanche. This firing from the saddle is considered by many a wonderful performance, but in reality it is not-our men tried it often. The effect, though unpleasant, is mainly moral, and against good troops it is perfectly useless. Against poor, undisciplined troops, especially if surprised, the moral effect has it all its own way. Such tactics entail wide intervals, and if intended to demoralise troops or gallop through them, a charge without firing is just as successful; such as our charge at Klip Drift, which was very similar to the later Boer tactics, being only greater in depth. Its moral effect was just as effective; and it is this moral effect of cavalry that many writers miss altogether. We secured it at Elandslaagte, but its lesson was unfortunately forgotten by us, though learnt and remembered by the Boers. If our regular cavalry had been able, in that battle, to act against the Boer right flank as the Imperial Light Horse did against the left, and if the Imperial Light Horse had been capable of executing a charge, how much more useful both would have been to us on that day, provided that their officers knew how to hold the balance correctly between the rifle and the arme blanche!
The main lessons of this war, then, are
(1) The great moral effect of the charge and surprise, even in these days of magazine rifles; and
(2) The extraordinary extra power for offensive and defensive action that a rifle gives to cavalry, when without it they would have to carry out impossibilities or remain inactive.
This extra power given by the rifle is well exemplified in the operation on the Tugela, which was nothing more nor less than a large cavalry screen covering the siege of Ladysmith. Eight thousand undisciplined Boers kept a British army nearly three times its strength at bay for months. Imagine what 8000 disciplined cavalry, trained both in fire and shock tactics, boldly handled, well led, and with plenty of the offensive spirit, would bave accomplished.
RUSSO-JAPANESE WAR (1904-1905). Lastly, we come to the Russo-Japanese War.
Its literature is already prolific, but it is striking how comparatively little the performances of the mounted troops are mentioned, the reason given being that no useful lessons for cavalry can be learnt from its study. I think, however, that the somewhat poor show made by the cavalry on either side affords information, if we can deduce correct conclusions from negative results.
The Russian cavalry numbered roughly about 30,000, and numerically were thus vastly superior to the Japanese, who had only some 5000 to 6000. The bulk of the Russian cavalry were used in masses which dominated, by their numbers, the weaker Japanese cavalry. These latter had no chance against their opponent, and consequently dared not put into general practice the shock tactics taught in peace.
At such a disadvantage, they were forced to fight generally backed up by infantry, and saved themselves from annihilation by their own individual superiority in intelligence and training, and by the inability of the Russian cavalry to come to close quarters.
The reason of this failure of the Russian cavalry can be traced to the fact that they were not trained in the orthodox cavalry fashion or handled in a manner consistent with cavalry tradition. They were trained to fight as mounted rifles, were badly led, generally in the wrong direction, and allowed themselves to be shepherded by Japanese infantry and brought to a standstill and compelled to retire by numerically inferior but better handled cavalry.
Had both sides been equal in cavalry, trained to rifle tactics only, I do not consider that anyone is justified in saying that their operation would be a proof that the days of cavalry proper were over. That side would have been successful who were the better trained and better led. Had the Japanese had a force of cavalry approximately equal to the Russians and trained to a high standard, this doubt and uncertainty concerning cavalry tactics and training might have been finally settled. But at the same time, in the case of Japanese failure, we would have had to have taken into account the fact that the Japanese were far from expert horsemen, and wretchedly mounted ; so that a final decision might still have had to be postponed to another war.
As a contrast to Manchuria we see excellent work done by the Russian cavalry in the Russo-Turkish War of 1877, especially during Gourko's advance-guard operations. Here, however, the Russian cavalry employed were Don Cossacks and regular cavalry, and therefore superior to the type in Manchuria. They were, moreover, opposed to an enemy inferior in everything except courage. The Russian method of fighting in this war was mainly dismounted, and the bayonet was frequently employed. The Russo-Turkish war, however, as a whole does not help us very much in our solution, except to teach us what cavalry can do when armed with a rifle and bayonet, as is shown in the attack on Tirnova and the defence of the Balkan passes.
CONCLUSION. It is difficult to understand why those who hold extreme views on this subject never seem to entertain the idea that cavalry trained equally in the use of the firearm and of an arme blanche might be made far more effective than if only taught to rely mainly on one weapon.
The weak point in the arme blanche theory lies in the repeated assertion that the 'cavalry spirit' will be destroyed by too much reliance being placed on the rifle. This so-called 'cavalry spirit' is, in other words, the 'offensive spirit' coupled with morale. We try to imbue our infantry with the same spirit, and do not expect to lessen it by giving them rifles instead of only pikes. We give our infantry a bayonet, not because we expect it to be used more often than the rifle, but simply as a weapon to increase confidence and to stimulate the desire to get to close quarters and use it.
There are limits to pure cavalry action, just as there are to infantry. In the attack on siege works infantry resort to the tactics of the sapper, and cavalry, if ‘beld up' by impossible ground, superior numbers, or a strong entrenched position, should not have, from sheer inability to cope with it, to give up the task a's hopeless, but should be able to resort to infantry tactics of every description. The American War shows us that cavalry do not lose the 'cavalry spirit’ by resorting to these tactics if their morale is good. If their morale is poor the most deadly repeating rifle will be useless to them.
On the other hand, the firearm theory' loses its strength in the total ignoring of morale and of human nature; men are treated as automata, and rifle fire is looked on as the be-all and end-all of all fighting. Just as the infantry bayonet or