infantry mounted body foot effect modern conclusion battle training
MILITARY, CAVALRY. Of all tactical facts, the one which needs most study for practical purposes is the relation of the size of men, on foot, mounted, in mass, and in different formations, to the undulations and features of ground. There is nothing which the untrained eye so little realizes as the extent to which concealment and cover for men, even for mounted men, exists on the apparently most level plain. This fact, which is important for both the other arms, is for cavalry vital to its present use. Nothing is more certain than that under the present condition of arms cavalry cannot successfully assail in front either artillery or infantry in any formation in which the artillery or infantry are able to use their arms and can observe the approach of cavalry over long distances.
On the other hand, cavalry striking by sudden surprise MI the flank of unprepared infantry or artillery, engaged with other enemies, may produce an effect, great to an extent of which as yet we have no adequate example in modern war. That is the conclusion drawn from their own experiences of the 1870 campaign by the most experienced leaders who were employed in it. Count Von Moltke in 18'82, and Prince Kraft of Hohenlohe-Ingelfingen in his letters on cavalry published in 1887, have alike pronounced decisively on the subject, and it would be easy to show that the whole weight of the best military opinion in all countries except Russia is on the same side.
The practical possibility on most fields of battle of cavalry being thus employed depends on two facts, - on the one hand the extent to which almost all ground presents opportunities to a skilful leader for moving his linen unobserved from point to point of a great battle-field, and on the other that absorption in the intense excitement of a modern fight which prevents men from observing what is taking place anywhere beyond the immediate range of their own employment.
It follows from this that the utmost possible skill in the handling of cavalry as a mounted arm will be required if cavalry is to take advantage of such chances as modern fight will present to it. Now, in all periods since the invention of firearms, there has been a tendency, as improvement in weapons has taken place, to attempt to put cavalry on a level in point of firearms with the infantry with which it has had to contend. Invariably, when that rare development of armies, a great cavalry leader, has arisen, he has swept away all attempts of the kind, and has employed his cavalry with their proper weapon, the " arme blanche," sword or lance.
The reason of this is easy to explain, and the explanation is one that shows that the principle is as applicable to the present condition of warfare as to any preceding one. The effective action of cavalry as cavalry depends on ruse, on surprise, on skilful manoeuvring, and on the impetuous power and moral effect of the roan and horse, glued to one another as though they together formed the old ideal of the arm, the centaur. Now, the dash and vigour with which an actual cavalry charge takes place depends on the moral condition of that part of the centaur in whose hands it is the great purpose and effect of high training to place the guiding of the composite animal. Never has it been possible to train a great body of fighting men in two opposite directions at once. Balanced judgment, and an appreciation of the powers and uses of each part of the force he has to employ, are the duties of a general. But if a body of infantry, dispersed in scattered groups, or isolated men, are to repel successfully a body of charging cavalry, they must have acquired sufficient sang-froid to calmly fire at the great and overwhelming avalanche which they see moving down on them. To that end they must have acquired confidence in their weapon, the firearm, and must have learnt to believe that its power is so great that it gives them plenty of time to bring down the mighty-looking horseman before he closes with them. Similarly, if cavalry is successfully to be led by skilful manoeuvring into a fight where firearms are creating the most horrible appearance of danger, they must have acquired a confidence in the skill of their leaders, in their own power of combined action, and in the effects of their sudden appearance, which will carry them on though leaders fall, and though death and destruction seem to await them. In other words, they must have learnt to despise the firearm when pitted against their own skill in evading its danger and in delivering home their blows. All attempts, therefore, to train cavalry not to employ their skill in manoeuvring as the weapon to which they trust, but, on the contrary, to be always ready to jump off their horses and begin firing, tends directly to weaken and destroy the very spirit and quality on which the efficiency of true cavalry depends.
Now, the great leaders to whom we have referred believe absolutely in the possibility of true cavalry properly trained being able to play its part on the field of battle. Prince Kraft's 7th letter on this subject is so admirable in its analysis of past experience that all who would understand the subject should study it in its integrity. His conclusion is - " From all that I have stated in this long letter I draw the conclusion that cavalry will, in the future, also be able to play a decisive part in battle if they can be led in such a manner that they can break out round a flank, and can thus, up to the last moment, take advantage of the fire effect of their own line of battle. But to do so will sometimes require from the cavalry that they shall be able to advance as much as four miles, at a rapid pace, before they deliver their charge."' There is, however, another necessity of modern warfare which is altogether distinct from the question of supplying firearms to cavalry in order to make up to them for the increased power of infantry. Powerful as modern infantry is, it is very slow in its movements. It is very difficult for a general to have it at the very place where he wants it. Hence the idea of mounting infantry and of sending them forward either on horseback or in carts, or where there are numerous roads on bicycles and tricycles, is one that is of the greatest importance. The so-called cavalry of the American civil war were all of this character. Most of them had been accustomed to rifle-shooting from their childhood and could ride. They had had no opportunity whatever of acquiring the manoeuvring facilities of European cavalry. Probably European cavalry would have been altogether unsuited to the country in which they had to work. The essential condition of the efficiency of mounted infantry, which these men in fact were, is that, while they can ride well enough to get over such ground as is required, they waste no time in learning manoeuvres which they could not master, but look altogether to fighting with firearms and on foot whenever collision becomes necessary. The Boers represented an almost ideal body of this kind. British wars have supplied most valuable bodies of mounted infantry, who have been always picked men, picked shots, and excellent infantry. As a general principle, it is safe to say that they ought to be under infantry and not under cavalry officers, as to their immediate command, - though very often indeed they will be a most valuable auxiliary for any cavalry commander, who will in that case of course have the whole body under his orders. In so far as their presence tends to save cavalry from the disastrous necessity which occasionally befalls them of having to employ their men in fighting on foot, their presence with cavalry is always valuable. But, as the time when all their best training is required is when they are actually fighting on foot, it is far better that they should then find themselves under the orders of an officer whose training tends to make him accustomed to handling men on foot, rather than to one all whose experience ought to have accustomed him to handle men on horseback, and to hate making them jump off their horses.
The difficulty in enforcing these principles lies in the fact that it is only the experience of war on a large scale which brings home to cavalry officers the disastrous consequences of injuring their own power by continually trying to take up the role of mounted infantry. They find themselves at peace manoeuvres continually put hors de combat, because they have come under the fire of infantry. They can very often get into positions where, if they were infantry and in large numbers, their effect would be most telling. Their rapidity of movement enables them to do this. A narrow deduction from a very incomplete knowledge of the experiences of cavalry charges during the 1870 campaign led to the conclusion that cavalry could not be employed on a modern battle-field in their proper work. That conclusion is utterly rejected by all those authorities who have had the best means of analysing the experiences on which it was based ; yet it remains a tradition which unfortunately affects the minds of many cavalry officers as well as those of many other officers in the army.
It is safe to say, in conclusion on this matter, that the two forces of cavalry and mounted infantry are each of the greatest value, provided they each adhere to their own proper function. As soon as mounted infantry begins to attempt manoeuvres on horseback it necessarily becomes a very inferior cavalry. As soon as cavalry takes to dismounting, its equipment, its training, and usually its arms are sure to make it into a very inefficient body. Every year adds to the necessity of high shooting training for infantry, and of every hour of their work being connected with the efficient use of their arm. Every hour devoted by cavalry to shooting which subtracts anything from training in their own proper work, or which leads them to compete with the other arm in that way, weakens them. By no process can they compete with infantry if they measure themselves with them under the conditions favourable to infantry fighting. Nothing is more fallacious than the notion that because during the latter part of the 1870 campaign the German cavalry often fought on foot the Germans therefore consider that the proper employment of the arm.
Prince Kraft emphatically says - " The circumstances of the latter campaigns of this war were so abnormal that no rules for the employment of the arms can be deduced from them." "No cavalry could perform the duty" the German cavalry here did, of saving their own infantry by acting on the wings against the French infantry, " except in the case where they were engaged with an enemy whose hastily collected and undrilled masses had not the full value of regular troops."
We may also mention as an illustration of at least the views of the German leaders that during some manoeuvres in 1879 a regiment of lancers by sudden surprise charged from behind some rising ground at four battalions of infantry, who did not see the cavalry till these were on their flank at a distance of 200 yards already in full charge. Scarcely a shot was fired before the cavalry were among the infantry. The emperor and Count Von Moltke were present, and the decision was that three battalions were hors de combat. Now, when it is remembered that a cavalry regiment numbers about 400 men and three battalions about 3000, the difference between the effect produced under such circumstances by a body of cavalry and an equivalent body of mounted infantry, who could not have dismounted at most more than 300 men, who would certainly have been destroyed, is too great not to be realized. In this case an instance occurred of what Prince Kraft mentions as a possibility continually illustrated by the experiences of the 1870 campaign. The colonel commanding the lancers, having moved personally to a well-chosen spot, had been quietly observing the movements of the infantry, himself unseen up to the moment when by a signal he gave the order for his regiment to advance at a gallop, and then charge.