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Several threads in CA have discussed about Spielberg's latest movie, "War Horse". World War One has been the turning point when cavalry became once and for all an obsolete service, relieved by modern weapons issued by the industrial warfare - aviation first of all. Symbolizing this turning point, many of the most illustrious pilots or air commanders were former cavalry officers, like Göring and von Richthofen ("the Rittmeister") at the Germans, or Nungesser and de Rose at the French. The planes themselves seemed to have been designed for experienced horsemen, light enough to be flown "by the ass", with rudder pedals in place of stirrups. Yet, a British cavalry charge on a German camp can be seen on the movie's trailer; historically accurate or not, I don't know. But I'd like to evoke here a perhaps obscure but actual feat, the last time when ageing cavalry could get back at the insolent newcome aviation.

 

On September 9, 1914, at the height of the First Battle of the Marne, a French cavalry squadron from 16e Dragons, 40 lancers led by Lieutenant Gaston de Gironde, was stuck behind the enemy lines near Soissons. At dusk, they learnt from a countryman that a German airfield had been settled in the vicinity of Vivières, hosting eight Aviatiks and their support services. At that time of the war, air forces were quite scarce, and eight German planes less could have weighed much in the current battle, letting some Allied maneuvers unspotted. So Lt Gironde took place on the edge of the field, and waited for the darkest night to launch a surprise attack. Once the sentries neutralized, the French horsemen charged across the field with spears, pistols and carbines. Vehicles set aflame soon lit up the battlefield. Out of the 40 dragoons, 13 were killed (including Gironde who died of wounds) and 8 were wounded; several horsemen were captured afterwards, or had to use civilian clothes to break through to their lines. Most of the French casualties, including Gironde, were owed to one single German MG settled on a car, which swept across the open airfield. But all of the eight Aviatiks and several vehicles were set aflame, and the German squadron leader is even said to have been killed in the encounter (nonetheless, I couldn't find the unit's name, or if it actually used Aviatiks).

 

"To hell with you! I want to die on a saddle, at a gallop!" (Lt Gironde just before his last charge)

 

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Geeze, what an encounter! The original cavalry against their successor.

That must have been a hell of a fight, and a big surprise for the German airmen.

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Horrendous casualties by our Equine comrades in WW1.... very sad...not even their War.

 

I'm going to see the movie this W/E.....have read the book...really good

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Actually, Göring was a professional infantry officer and served on the Western front as one before rheumatism incapacitated him. After he had recovered, he joined the flying troops.

 

WW1 was undoubtedly the swan song of the cavalry arm. However, horses continued to play an important role even during WW2. Only the American and British armies were completely motorized by then, all the others relied heavily on horse transport for supplies and artillery, even Germany.

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WidowMaker- Bring plenty of tissues..you'll need them. At lesat I did. ;>)

 

Spielberg does a great job with this film.

 

Royce

Edited by cptroyce

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Its beyond belief they were still charging down machine guns with horses in 1918! - utter suicide!

 

 

 

Its beyond belief they were still charging down machine guns with Infantry in 1918! - utter suicide! :drinks:

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The Canadians gave another nice charge on October 10, 1918 (Canadian Light Horse at Iwuy), but the honour for the last cavalry charge of WW1, Western Front, goes to the Belgian 1er Régiment de Guides (Burkel, October 19). In both cases, with heavy losses facing machine-gun fire. But in non-motorized armies, the cavalry could still prove strategically useful, when taking advantage of her mobility to optimze major breakthroughs against a withdrawing enemy, without MG heavy opposition. That's the way the French Cavalerie d'Afrique captured Uskub (Skopje) in September 1918, bypassing far behind the disorganised Bulgarian lines through unthinkable mountain trails. The Italian cavalry could also achieve deep advances in November 1918, taking advantage of the complete collapse of the Austrian Imperial army in the aftermath of Vittorio Veneto.

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Never heard of that cavalry action. Thanks for sharing.

 

I'm not surprised they were still trying to use cavalry as a shock weapon in 1918. The surprising thing to me is that shock cavalry still existed in 1914. The Napoleanic wars had shown over and over that infantry armed with just short-range muskets and bayonets could utterly defeat and often annihilate shock cavalry, at least if the infantry wasn't taken by surprise. All the cavalry usually accomplished was to slow the infantry's advance for a little while; not much return on the huge expense of equipping and supplying the cavalry. As the 19th Century went on, the infantry got rifles, breechloaders, and ultimately machineguns, while artillery got shrapnel, breechloaders, and high explosive. Thus, attempts to use cavalry for battlefield shock action in the wars of the 1800s usually produced even more dismal results than they had in the Napoleanic wars.

 

So you'd think that no later than the Franco-Prussian War, battlefield shock cavalry would have gone the way of shock infantry and there wouldn't have been any left by 1914. I can attribute its continued existence only to the fact that ever since the Indo-Europeans moved into Europe from the steppes, the European nobility had distinguished itself from the common masses primarily by riding horses to war while the peasants walked. So at a time when nobles continued to run many European states, doing away with shock cavalry was opposed by thousands of years of both military and family tradition. They played up the rare cavalry successes and memorialized the more spectacular examples of the much more common cavalry disasters as "gallant shows", and held onto their sabres. Seriously, I don't think there was much difference between charging a regiment in line firing rifled minieballs across 1000m of open ground than charging a couple machineguns.

 

That said, however, cavalry still has a battlefield role even to this day. It's as dragoons, though, not as shock. And of course the non-battlefield roles of scouting and raiding are still practiced. But the battlefield itself became too lethal for shock cavalry long before WW1.

 

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During the Franco-Prussian War, the famous "von Bredow's Death Ride" was one of the very few succesful charges, as the Prussian horsemen could approach unseen very close to the French lines due to smoke and terrain. They saved the day for Germany at Mars-la-Tour: the charge costed half of the Prussian brigade, but neutralized the deadly French artillery and thus saved many more German lives. Most of the French charges on the contrary, the Cuirassiers at Froeschwiller or the Cavalerie d'Afrique at Sedan, only ended up in glorious and vain mass common graves of men and horses. The three repeated suicide charges of the Division Margueritte at Sedan could snatch a respectful "Ach! Die tapfere Leute!" ("Ah! The brave people!") from the King of Prussia, but they couldn't save the French army from complete destruction.

 

During WW1 on the Western Front, the Allied were not the only ones to give in to the charm of insane charges. At Haelen on August 12, 1914, three Belgian regiments of Guides and Lanciers (with some supports of cyclist light infantry, well-placed light artillery, and a reinforcing infantry regiment) chose to fight dismounted to receive the charges of six regiments of German heavy cavalry, supported by powerful artillery and up to ten infantry regiments advancing behind local human shields. At dusk, it is claimed that some 3000 Germans and hundreds of horses, dead or wounded, were laying on the ground (almost the number of fighting Belgians, but most possibly exaggerated), to Belgian casualties three times lesser. The Dragoner-Regiment Nr. 17, including the finest nobility of Mecklemburg, was fatally bled. Nonetheless, the weak Belgian forces were forced to withdraw again the following day.

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During the Franco-Prussian War, the famous "von Bredow's Death Ride" was one of the very few succesful charges, as the Prussian horsemen could approach unseen very close to the French lines due to smoke and terrain. They saved the day for Germany at Mars-la-Tour: the charge costed half of the Prussian brigade, but neutralized the deadly French artillery and thus saved many more German lives.

 

IIMHO, von Bredow's "Death Ride" was of no more tactical value to the Germans than the Charge of the Light Brigade was to the British. He knew it was a desperate enterprise so consumed well over an hour (some accounts say 2 hours) reconnoitering the ground prior to initiating the charge. That was a significant delay during which the German infantry had to continue coping with whatever problems had prommpted the order to charge the guns in the first place, especially because by then it was late in the day and sunset was about to solve the problems anyway. And after von Bredow finally charged, his efforts only silenced a couple batteries for a short time. Most of the gunners did what had been standard practice for about a century, seeking cover amongst formed infantry nearby while the cavalry got slaughtered in a crossfire amongst unmanned guns.

 

But because he actually managed to reach the objective, regardless of cost, the "Death Ride" was touted as a great success (the unmentioned elephant in the room being that for many years, cavalry had generally failed to reach such an objective). In fact, the same name was given to a phase of the Battle of Jutland in 1916, when Scheer ordered Hipper's battlecruisers to charge the British line to cover the withdrawal of the German battleline after Scheer had stupidly returned to have his T crossed a second time. The "Death Ride of the Battlecruisers" was thus held up as yet another "gallant show" in a forelorn hope.

 

There's a lot to be said about cavalry failures in the Franco-Prussian War. The battle of Vionville - Mars-la-Tour, however, concentrates many of them in 1 time and place. But the main reasons the Germans won (not only that battle but most others) was due to the supreme incompetence of Marshal Bazaine, combined with the initiative of German division and corps commanders compared to the lack thereof in their French opposite numbers.

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The charge of the Light Brigade was a result of leadership / communication failures rather than cavalry being obsolete, but a more telling encounter comes from the same war, when the 93rd Highland Regiment routed a full on charge of over 2,500 Russian cavalry while deployed in line formation two men deep. The line held, and prevented the Russians from sacking the poorly defended port of Balaklava, which was in no position to defend itself.This was the origin of the expression the The Thin Red Line, which became an unofficial title for the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders.

 

I am certain that when the respective commanders observed the results of the engagement, which on paper should never have happened, there must have been questions about the capacity of horsemen to overcome modern firepower in a frontal assault. However, while frontal assault may have been outdated, cavalry troops remained much more mobile than infantry, and weren't yet obsolete. As Bullethead says, Dragoons were not intended to carry out frontal assaults, but exploit breakthroughs, and chase down and destroy a fleeing enemy. If you watch Mel Gibson's film the Patriot, it demonstrates all you need to know about Dragoons.

 

To go all Sci-fi on you for a moment, all it would take is a tactical EMP weapon system on the battlefield to shut down electrical devices like vehicles and aircraft, and who knows, we perhaps haven't seen the last of cavalry units yet.

.

"I know not with what weapons World War III will be fought, but World War IV will be fought with sticks and stones.“ Albert Einstein (1947) .... and probably cavalry too.

Edited by Flyby PC

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Excellent points, Flyby, particularly toward the end. It's amazing, the precision to which a GPS system can pinpoint ones location (I believe it can get to 12 digits, which translates to .1 meter or about three inches), but the batteries never give out on a map and a compass. When my son was preparing to enter the Army last year I told him that and gave him a crash course using downloaded topo maps of our property and a cheapo lensatic I bought at Walmart years ago. He told me that they still teach that, too. A good idea, not to rely too heavily on technology.

 

 

Hmmm. Someone else once warned against that. Who was that?

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The charge of the Light Brigade was a result of leadership / communication failures rather than cavalry being obsolete, but a more telling encounter comes from the same war, when the 93rd Highland Regiment routed a full on charge of over 2,500 Russian cavalry while deployed in line formation two men deep. The line held, and prevented the Russians from sacking the poorly defended port of Balaklava, which was in no position to defend itself.This was the origin of the expression the The Thin Red Line, which became an unofficial title for the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders.

 

I am certain that when the respective commanders observed the results of the engagement, which on paper should never have happened, there must have been questions about the capacity of horsemen to overcome modern firepower in a frontal assault. However, while frontal assault may have been outdated, cavalry troops remained much more mobile than infantry, and weren't yet obsolete. As Bullethead says, Dragoons were not intended to carry out frontal assaults, but exploit breakthroughs, and chase down and destroy a fleeing enemy. If you watch Mel Gibson's film the Patriot, it demonstrates all you need to know about Dragoons.

 

To go all Sci-fi on you for a moment, all it would take is a tactical EMP weapon system on the battlefield to shut down electrical devices like vehicles and aircraft, and who knows, we perhaps haven't seen the last of cavalry units yet.

.

"I know not with what weapons World War III will be fought, but World War IV will be fought with sticks and stones.“ Albert Einstein (1947) .... and probably cavalry too.

About Sc-Fi, it just sounds like Joe haldeman's "The forever War", when the new technology of stasis fields neutralizes all of kinetic or energy weapons, and forces the 30th Century belligerents to resort to hand-to-hand brawling with medieval blades. Haldeman also uses this quote from Einstein.

 

About the charge at Balaklava, I have enjoyed a tour in Crimea just last summer, visiting the port (a beautiful site!) and travelling along the battlefield, a large flat valley now covered in vineyard. I have heard there that since 1945, when Churchil visited the battlefield as a former hussar while negotiating at Yalta, the British government tries to buy the place, as a commemorative site.

Edited by Capitaine Vengeur

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"I know not with what weapons World War III will be fought, but World War IV will be fought with sticks and stones.“ Albert Einstein (1947).

 

Bullethead's Stone Age Weaponry is already open for business in anticipation of that day. Place your orders now, while the Internet still works :grin: .

 

Never doubt the power of a sharp rock tied to a stick. It's off-the-ground technology with a proven track record dating back to the Pleistocene. Here, for example, is what an atlatl-propelled dart can do to a charging buffalo. And not just the smallish beast we have today, but its much bigger ancestor! Especially note the link in the lower left for the 3D animations of the CAT scans.http://www.ou.edu/cas/archsur/Skull/skull.htm

 

Don't find yourself underequipped come the Apochalypse. Get your authentic BSAW products TODAY!

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FlybyPC's Stone Supplies is also ready for business.

 

Available now with a variety of materials for sharp and blunt impliments, also available with tactical missile potential. Bring your own sticks.

 

For long term strategic defence, we also have weapons grade silica dust available, ideal for those deadly 20 year+ stealth attacks. (And no, having a big bushy beard and moustache is not an effective countermeasure to silica dust).

 

 

FlybyPC's stone company accepts no responsibility for anyone injured, killed ar getting a sore back through fighting with any of our products or using them as weapons. These weapons are not effective against any Deathclaws or Cazadors you may encounter in any post WW3 scenario.

Edited by Flyby PC

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