Saturday, January 26, 2013

A History of the British Cavalry; Volume 8, The Western Front

A History of the British Cavalry 1816-1919 Volume 8: The Western Front, 1915-1919 by The Marquess of Anglesey, FSA.
Lord Anglesey, a very prominent historian, has had many interests besides the cavalry. When he set out to write Volume 8 of his History, he was of the common opinion that cavalry had seen its best days and long outlived its usefulness by the onset of trench warfare.
In the course of his research he came to change his opinion. In this regard his conclusions are similar to those of David Kenyon (Horsemen in No Man’s Land; see my blog post of 12 January 2013).
In the preface Anglesey writes as follows: “More important than any of this (referring to relatively light cavalry casualty figures early in the Great War) was the truly vital part played by the mounted troops of the BEF at the worst moments of crisis. Acting as a ‘fire brigade’ they time and again stopped up gaps as only the sole speedily movable element of the force could do. It is not too much to claim that on a number of occasions catastrophes of major dimensions were averted by such action.”
It is also sadly true, as posited by David Kenyon, that by the end of the war the numbers of cavalry killed and wounded were right up there with the infantry.

Saturday, January 12, 2013

"Horsemen in No Man's Land": A Review

David Kenyon at work
photo from

My post of 3 January 2013 features a cover shot of "Horsemen in No Man's Land", subtitled "British Cavalry and Trench Warfare 1914-1918". It appropriately features photos of Indian Army and British troopers.
The author, Dr. David Kenyon, is a British military historian and archaeologist who was featured in "Man & Horse", one of Yap Productions' videos featured numerous times on history television. As I recall Kenyon's part of the program, he was explaining that a man on horseback is in fact difficult to hit with a machine gun; no doubt even more difficult if the man and horse are galloping at the gunner with hard steel extended. Personally, I would not like to be in the boots of either of the participants.
"Horsemen in No Man's Land", ISBN 978-1-84884-364-6, was published in 2011 in the UK by Pen & Sword Military. In it, the author posits that contrary to popular belief the cavalry was no less effective than any other arm of the military, on those occasions when it was properly led and battlefield communication problems did not arise.
A second conclusion is that casualty rates in the cavalry were pretty much the same as in other branches, although higher among the officer corps. He also reminds us that much of the time the cavalry were in the trenches along with their infantry brothers, and not going for leisurely gallops across the rolling hills of Picardy.
Interesting quotes are used. One example, from a cavalryman, argues that if infantry officers used the horses available to them, they would have lived longer! Presumably because they'd be moving faster, even though presenting a bigger target. I am not sure many infantry subalterns would have accepted the advice.
Dr. Kenyon has presented a factual, well documented reassessment of the use of cavalry in the Great War. Highly recommended.

Thursday, January 3, 2013

"Horsemen in No Man's Land"

Here is the cover image of "Horsemen in No Man's Land", by David Kenyon.

Subtitled "British Cavalry & Trench Warfare 1914-1918", Kenyon's book is a must-read for people even casually interested in the British cavalry--which, in the Great War, included the Canadian Cavalry Brigade.
Indeed, the Canadians in the Canadian Cavalry Brigade were a small but crucial element in the Allies' eventual triumph in 1918.