CAVALRY IN FUTURE WARS
By HIS EXCELLENCY LIEUT.-GENERAL FREDERICK VON BERNHARDI
Commander of the Seventh Division of the German Army
Translated by CHARLES SYDNEY GOLDMAN
Author of 'With General French and the Cavalry in South Africa' Editor of 'The Empire and the Century'
With an Introduction by
LIEUT.-GENERAL SIR JOHN FRENCH K.C.M.G., K.C.B., G.C.V.O.
LONDON JOHN MURRAY, ALBEMARLE STREET, W. 1909
First Edition, October, 1906 Second Edition, April, 1909
I ventured to express the opinion in my book, 'With General French and the Cavalry in South Africa,' that if a high ideal of the duties and possibilities of Cavalry is set before our officers, and the means of instruction and training are placed within their reach, we shall possess in our next great War a force which, if led by men of the stamp of General Sir John French, will prove to the world that the day of Cavalry is far indeed from being past.
In other words, I am convinced that, with good leadership and the right material in men, which the South African War has shown we possess, all that we need to perfect our system is a proper recognition of the changed conditions of modern Warfare, and a resolve to break with the old and adapt ourselves to the new situation.
Reforms such as this would necessitate must affect all arms of the Service, but no branch more than the Cavalry, whose task in future will be more difficult, yet whose compensation lies in the possibilities of successes possessing greater significance than any hitherto attained.
The South African War has roused the Cavalry into a renewal of activity, and has caused their leaders to encourage the study of Cavalry literature likely to develop the capacity of the officer for writing on these special subjects.
As a step in that direction, I gave whatever little co-operation I could to the formation of the Cavalry Journal, in the hope that it may be conducive to the creation of a class of literature in which our Service is peculiarly deficient.
It is of the first importance to realize the conditions that are revolutionizing the conduct of Modern Warfare.
Such knowledge can alone enable us to appreciate the task which is given to the Cavalry, and to estimate the increased difficulties of their function. As their range of activity has become restricted in certain directions, their sphere of usefulness in others has largely increased.
The want of an up-to-date work dealing with these facts has, I believe, been supplied by the recent publication of General von Bernhardi's book, 'Our Cavalry in Future Wars,' translated in the following pages with the object of making it more generally known in this country.
Not only is the contribution valuable as having been written by a soldier of experience in the field, who has imbued his work with the dash and fire of the spirit of Cavalry, but it also reveals a profound insight into the modern conditions of War and the heightened demands exacted from Cavalry training. The author lays continual emphasis on the fact that Cavalry trained and organized on his lines should produce in the early stages of a War effects so decisive as to influence and even determine the succeeding phases of the campaign.
General von Bernhardi has the gift of close and searching reasoning, and the ability to present his views in a vivid and trenchant form, as convincing as the writings of the late Colonel Henderson.
His opening chapter deals with the conception of the conduct of War in the sense of to-day, and he proceeds to analyze the functions of the Cavalry as modified by the changes which have occurred.
In lively detail he explains the difficulties which in future will confront all Cavalry operations, and the sacrifices that will be exacted from this Arm.
Serious study and untiring perseverance must be claimed from the individual in order to equip himself mentally and physically for the task of overcoming these obstacles, while Bernhardi shows in convincing argument the brilliant opportunities of success.
Although the opportunity of tactical action on the battle-field may have somewhat suffered, Bernhardi sees in the strategical handling of the Arm its chief possibilities, and here he includes reconnaissance and operations against the enemy's rearward communications and pursuit of a defeated Army.
He considers cohesion and mobility to be essential to insure superior striking power by shock and fire action at the decisive point, and emphasizes this principle again and again as the means of attaining a high fighting efficiency.
In the chapters on Tactical Leading in Mounted Combats and Tactical Conduct of Dismounted Action, General von Bernhardi deals with the merits of shock and fire action, and the enhanced importance of the latter as an accessory to, though never as a substitute for, shock, and he defines the respective dispositions for dismounted action when serving an offensive or defensive purpose.
At the same time, he avers that success must depend upon the ability of the leader to realize the situation, on his qualities of decision, and on his capacity to maintain a correct balance between the application respectively of shock and fire action.
The qualifications which General von Bernhardi expects in the Cavalry leader and those under him go to prove the scientific character of the profession, which demands a standard of extreme efficiency.
Successful Cavalry leading will only be possible when the machinery of the instrument employed is technically perfected down to the minutest detail, and this can only be attained by a very elaborate and thorough training.
The book should commend itself particularly to those critics who, drawing conclusions from the South African War, contend that the united offensive action of man and horse, culminating in the charge, can no longer avail, and that the future lies with the mounted riflemen, trained only to dismounted action. General von Bernhardi makes it clear that the theatre of War in South Africa does not assist us with any complete object-lessons from which to evolve a change of tactical principles, inasmuch as the conditions were entirely abnormal, and in European Warfare are unlikely to recur.
It must be remembered that after the first few weeks of 1900 the Cavalry in South Africa as an effective force had practically ceased to exist, and that its offensive action was greatly hampered by the strategical plan of campaign which we adopted subsequently to the occupation of Bloemfontein.
All that might be deduced from the defensive tactics of a mounted force, such as the Boers put into the field, during this period, is that, possessing greater mobility, they were able to hold up, during short intervals, Cavalry whose capacity for mounted action was practically destroyed by the 'want of condition' of their horses.
Acting strategically as they did at Colesberg, in the relief of Kimberley, and in the operations leading up to Paardeberg, results were obtained which affected the whole subsequent conduct of the War. From then onwards, with the Cavalry acting tactically on the enemy's flank, the Boer Army withdrew practically on Pretoria, and no decisive tactical result was obtained.
If that was the object which the Superior Command had in view, the Cavalry carried out that purpose with remarkable distinction.
It is, however, conceivable that their strategical employment in rear of the Boer Army might have produced a situation compelling the Boers to fight a pitched battle or to surrender.
If the Cavalry failed to achieve more, it was not from any want of opportunity which the theatre of War presented, but because their true role was rarely assigned to them.
That the Boers were able at a later period to develop a vigorous scheme of action was largely owing to our conception of a plan of campaign which made the occupation of small capitals rather than the destruction of the enemy's Army the strategic objective.
Had the Boers understood the Art of War and taken advantage of the openings which their superior mobility gave them, or had they been possessed of a body of Cavalry capable of mounted action, say at Magersfontein, they might repeatedly have wrought confusion in our ranks.
Although the Boer War was of an exceptional nature, and of a character unlikely to be met with again, it furnishes some useful object-lessons which exemplify the importance of preparedness in peace for the sudden outbreak of War, so that the Army may take the field in such force and so disposed as to compel decisive action on the part of the enemy in the first stages of the War, and be in a position to inflict a crushing defeat rather than a series of light blows, which latter tend to disperse rather than destroy the enemy's forces.
The War further shows how highly mobile forces, such as those of the Boers, can withdraw from a combat to avoid defeat, and by scattering to elude pursuit, and then, by reassembling where least expected, can strike a sudden blow at the enemy's weakest point. That they failed to accomplish more was due to their ignorance of the higher Art of War.
To this neglect of the strategic advantage which mobility gives we must add the many lost tactical opportunities of converting a British reverse into a decisive defeat. The Boers did all that could be expected of Mounted Infantry, but were powerless to crown victory as only the dash of Cavalry can do.
If we take into account the many opportunities which the Boers gave for successful strategic and tactical employment to men trained to fight on horseback, we arrive at the conclusion that the Boer War may nevertheless, if studied carefully and intelligently, teach us the indispensability of Cavalry in the role so clearly described in General von Bernhardi's instructive work.
In conclusion, I must express my thanks to His Excellency General von Bernhardi for his courtesy towards me in concurring in the idea of an English translation, and to General Sir John French for his valuable introductory comments.
I also wish to express to Colonel F. N. Maude my best thanks for his friendly co-operation, which gave me the advantage of his expert interpretation of German technicalities.
C. S. GOLDMAN.
34, QUEEN ANNE'S GATE, WESTMINSTER, September, 1906.
AUTHOR'S PREFACE TO THE SECOND EDITION
When, in the Spring of 1899, I published the first edition of this work, I ventured to express the hope that it might incite others both to thought and exertion, and might further prove of practical assistance to many.
I think I may claim without undue immodesty that this wish of mine has in many directions been fulfilled. Of the demands, however, which I put forward concerning the organization and equipment of the Cavalry, none have as yet been put into execution, but much wholesome spade work has been accomplished, and the necessity of reforms, together with due recognition of their importance, has everywhere made further progress. It is to be hoped that the next few years will bring the fulfilment of some of these our most earnest desires.
The principles of training and of tactics which I have advanced and endeavoured to establish have found very general acceptance throughout the Arm, and have helped to clear up difficulties, although, as indeed was to be expected, they have encountered opposition from several quarters.
This result of my labours has encouraged me in the preparation of this new edition to make use of all the latest experience, to bring out with additional clearness essential points, and to add much new material.
I trust that in this manner I have materially increased the practical value of the work, and hope that in its new form it will continue to exert its silent influence, winning new supporters for my views, and helping to gain for the splendid Arm to which I belong the place which, in the interest of the whole Army, it deserves.
STRAZBURG, IN THE WINTER OF 1902.
AUTHOR'S PREFACE TO THE FIRST EDITION
It would be difficult for a layman to form even an approximate conception of the amount of work annually accomplished in the German Army.
The very vivid consciousness stirring everywhere as to the magnitude of the demands the not far distant future may make upon us, and the knowledge that the means with which we are compelled to work are certainly not always in agreement with our ideals, incite us to strain every nerve to make the most of what we have; and I believe I am not far wrong in asserting that it is the Cavalry Arm which, under pressure of circumstances, responds to these demands with the greatest avidity. This is, in fact, but the necessary consequence of the many-sidedness of our duties.
Whether, however, the end and aim of all our exertions is everywhere attained must remain an open question.
In every long period of peace there lurks the danger that methods of training may deviate after false ideals, lose themselves in the cult of imposing appearances, and in the clash of individual opinions fail to distinguish the essential—i.e., what is really practicable under the conditions of active service.
This danger is all the more imminent when the characters and forms of Warfare itself are constantly changing; hence, ever new demands have to be made upon the troops themselves, and the exact bearing of each of these is not easily to be appreciated in the humdrum surroundings of our peace-time duties.
It seems, therefore, a most pressing necessity at the present moment, when changes in social conditions and constant technical progress are exerting on the external phenomena and conditions of Warfare a steady pressure in the direction of modification, that we should compare our peace training with the requirements likely to be made upon us in time of War. Thus we can note where further adjustments between the two are necessary and can be usefully made.
In this process of analysis it will not suffice to take each changing factor independently, following it out to its utmost ramifications, but rather we must endeavour to take a general view of the whole, and balance the variables one against the other.
The man who concentrates his attention only on one detail easily loses his grasp of relative values, and runs the risk of failing 'to see the wood for the trees,' and only the mind trained to contemplate each factor in its relation to the whole, and with a clear idea of the ultimate purpose for which this whole is intended, will be able to avoid this pitfall; for only an intellect thus prepared can successfully harmonize the whole with its part, and, while keeping the essentials clearly before its eyes, treat the unessential as it deserves.
It is in order to bring out this point of view that the following pages have been undertaken.
As I endeavoured to arrive at a thoroughly clear comprehension of the many conflicting interests involved in the training of men and horses, as I tried to decide how to apportion both time and means to each individual branch of their education, and to see how far the traditions of the past could be harmonized with the requirements of the future, or where and how they need further development and simplification, I found myself compelled at every turn to go back and seek my ideal standard in the demands which War itself must make upon all Arms.
Thus my work must be considered as an attempt to represent in broad outlines the conditions of the coming War, and from these to deduce logically the requirements a rational system of organization and training must satisfy.
Those who hold different opinions as to the tasks which will be entrusted to our particular Arm will naturally come to other conclusions as to the values to be assigned to peace education, and I do not wish to present my opinions as absolutely final, although I have done my utmost to treat my subject-matter objectively and without prejudice.
Meanwhile, the problems I have submitted for investigation are not only of military interest, but of the utmost military importance, and it has, therefore, seemed to me well worth while to discuss them from every point of view.
Further, because these investigations owe their origin to the practical need I experienced during the course of my service to clear up the many points I have dwelt on, I have considered it a duty to make them accessible to all those who have at heart the development in our Cavalry of a thoroughly sound spirit in full harmony with the necessities of our present times.
BERLIN, March, 1899.
EMPLOYMENT OF CAVALRY AND ESSENTIALS OF LEADERSHIP
I. THE MODERN CONDITIONS OF WAR, AND THEIR INFLUENCE ON THE EMPLOYMENT AND USEFULNESS OF CAVALRY 3
II. DUTIES AT THE BEGINNING AND DURING THE COURSE OF THE WAR 19
III. STRATEGICAL DISTRIBUTION OF THE CAVALRY 38
IV. INCREASED IMPORTANCE OF DISMOUNTED ACTION 49
V. THE TACTICAL LEADING IN MOUNTED COMBATS 62
VI. TACTICAL CONDUCT OF DISMOUNTED ACTIONS 90
VII. STRATEGICAL EMPLOYMENT OF CAVALRY 104
VIII. PATROLS—TRANSMISSION OF REPORTS—CYCLISTS 132
ORGANIZATION AND TRAINING
I. NUMBERS 151
II. RIDING, FEEDING, AND TRAINING 184
III. THE TRAINING FOR MOUNTED COMBAT 213
IV. TRAINING FOR DISMOUNTED FIGHTING 247
V. FIELD-SERVICE TRAINING AND MANOEUVRES 265
VI. THE HIGHER EDUCATION OF OUR OFFICERS 286
General von Bernhardi's work, 'Cavalry in Future Wars' (translated from the German by Mr. C. S. Goldman), is a most valuable addition to modern Cavalry literature, and appears at an opportune moment to counteract and dispel some misleading conclusions which have been drawn by certain writers (both English and foreign) from reported operations in the late Manchurian War.
One or two distinguished foreign soldiers who have publicly commented upon that campaign have said that what is termed the 'Cavalry spirit' is opposed to the idea of dismounted action. They hold that the Cavalry disdain to dismount, and they see in riding the end instead of the means. They consider that events in the Far East teach us that we must render our Cavalry less devoted to 'manoeuvres' and to 'tournaments,' in order to enable them to fit themselves to take part in modern fighting; that the times have come when the methods of Warfare should be changed; and that the Cavalry must determine to defeat the enemy by dismounted action entirely.
I cannot speak with any certainty as to what has happened in European Armies, but as regards the British Cavalry, I am absolutely convinced that the Cavalry spirit is and may be encouraged to the utmost without in the least degree prejudicing either training in dismounted duties or the acquirement of such tactical knowledge on the part of leaders as will enable them to discern when and where to resort to dismounted methods.
How, I ask, can the Cavalry perform its role in war until the enemy's Cavalry is defeated and paralyzed? I challenge any Cavalry officer, British or foreign, to deny the principle that Cavalry, acting as such against its own Arm, can never attain complete success unless it is proficient in shock tactics.
Cavalry soldiers must of course learn to be expert rifle shots, but the attainment of this desirable object will be brought no nearer by ignoring the horse, the sword, or the lance. On the contrary, the 'elan' and dash which perfection in Cavalry manoeuvre imparts to large bodies of horsemen will be of inestimable value in their employment as mounted riflemen when the field is laid open to their enterprise in this role by the defeat of the hostile Cavalry.
That the Cavalry on both sides in the recent War did not distinguish themselves or their Arm is an undoubted fact, but the reason is quite apparent. On the Japanese side they were indifferently mounted, the riding was not good, and they were very inferior in numbers, and hence were only enabled to fulfil generally the role of Divisional Cavalry, which they appear to have done very well. The cause of failure on the Russian side is to be found in the fact that for years they have been trained on exactly the same principles which these writers now advocate. They were devoid of real Cavalry training, they thought of nothing but getting off their horses and shooting; hence they lamentably failed in enterprises which demanded, before all, a display of the highest form of Cavalry spirit.
The author of this book is an eminent soldier, possessing an intimate knowledge of practical fighting, gained chiefly in one of the greatest Wars of modern times—the Franco-German Campaign of 1870-1871.
His opinions are entitled to profound respect, and demand close attention and consideration. The General has treated his subject and marshalled his arguments and statements in so logical and intelligent a manner, and the principles he deduces seem so sound and appropriate, that the conclusions he arrives at appear to me unanswerable.
In the exhaustive and capable summary of the work of Cavalry in War, General von Bernhardi seems to follow very closely the line of thought which has in recent years occupied the brains of many practical Cavalry soldiers in this country. He appeals strongly to our intellectual sympathy when he first of all discusses the strategical employment of Cavalry in all its bearings, and afterwards proceeds to unfold his views as to the role of the Cavalry Arm, first when the enemy's Cavalry has been driven from the field, and secondly in conjunction with the other Arms. Personally, I have never known the 'Case for the Cavalry' stated more clearly and intelligently.
In recommending the study of the book to all British soldiers, I would draw particular attention to the author's constant and repeated references to the necessity of first seeking out and fighting the hostile Cavalry and driving them from the field—in other words, to the immediate and complete attainment of the moral superiority.
In support of his opinions, he reminds us forcibly that the important results gained by the German Cavalry in the 1870-1871 campaign were due to the absence of opposition on the part of the French Cavalry more than to anything else, and he contends that in future Wars, where the Cavalry on either side have been properly trained as such, this supremacy will have to be fought for, and will involve an enormous increase in the difficulty with which the Cavalry Arm will carry out its role. He scoffs at the idea held by so many 'amateurs' that 'Cavalry duels' are superfluous.
Only those who have led Cavalry on active service in the field, and have been charged with their training in peace-time, can realize to the full the absolute soundness of the conclusions at which General von Bernhardi has arrived, and it is much to be feared that the mischievous teaching which scoffs at 'manoeuvres,' 'tournaments,' and the 'Cavalry spirit,' proceeds almost entirely from the pens and from the brains of men who have no practical knowledge of the handling of the Cavalry Arm.
The great value of this book to the British Cavalry officer of to-day seems to me to lie in the fact that this particular vein of thought and argument pervades it throughout.
The General tells us, with the soundest arguments and the most positive proofs, that 'the brilliant field of enterprise which is open to the Cavalry soldier in his role as a mounted rifleman can only be attained by him when he has overthrown the enemy's Cavalry.'
The author, having unmistakably insisted upon the preliminary overthrow of the enemy's Cavalry, proceeds to vindicate the idea that the Cavalry spirit is in any degree opposed to the idea of dismounted action when necessary. On the contrary, he declares emphatically that the Cavalry fight is only a means to an end, and that the hostile Cavalry once disposed of by means of horse and cold steel alone, a brilliant role lies open to that Arm by reason of their possession of an efficient firearm, in the use of which the cavalryman has received a thorough training.
The great difficulty, he tells us, lies in the necessity of discovering a Leader who possesses the 'power of holding the balance correctly between fire power and shock, and in the training for the former never to allow troops to lose confidence in the latter.' 'Whether,' says the General, 'it be in the working out of some strategical design, or in joining hands with the other Arms to obtain by united fire action some common purpose, a balance of judgment and absence of prejudice is implied which is of the rarest occurrence in normal natures.'
In dwelling so persistently upon the necessity for Cavalry being trained to the highest possible pitch to meet the enemy's Cavalry, I do not wish to be misunderstood. I agree absolutely with the author in the principle he lays down that the Cavalry fight is only a means to an end, but it is the most important means, and I have thought it right to comment upon this because it is a principle which in this country, since the South African War, we have been very much inclined to overlook. To place a force of Cavalry in the field in support of a great Army which is deficient in the power to overcome the opposing Cavalry is to act like one who would despatch a squadron of war-vessels badly armed, badly trained, and ill found, to blockade a distant coast-line defended by a powerful fleet. What is the naval fight in the open sea but a means to an end? It would be as sensible to dwell on the inutility and waste of a duel between hostile fleets as to lay down the principle that the 'Cavalry battle' in no way affects the mutual situation of hostile armies.
But the 'end' in view which General von Bernhardi has so clearly laid down must never be lost sight of.
Whilst the conditions of modern War have rendered the service of reconnaissance far more difficult, the same causes lend themselves to a much easier deception of the enemy by means of feints, etc. Cavalry, when working with the other Arms, can render valuable service in this way, and also in bringing rapid support to a main or counter attack.
Another most important point must be noticed. I allude to the increasing tendency of umpires and superior officers to insist on Cavalry at manoeuvres and elsewhere being ultra-cautious. They try to inculcate such a respect for Infantry fire that Cavalry is taught to shirk exposure, and the moment Infantry come within sight, squadrons are made either to retire altogether, or dismount and shoot, regardless of what the 'Cavalry value' of the ground happens to be.
I have no hesitation in saying that immense harm is done to the war efficiency of Cavalry by decisions of this kind, which disregard altogether the human factor in the problem. We ought the more to be on our guard against false teaching of this nature, seeing that there are many grave warnings to be found in history of the inevitable consequences of thus placing the weapon above the men.
After the war of 1866 the great von Moltke made the following report to the King of Prussia:—
'Our Cavalry failed, perhaps not so much in actual capacity as in self-confidence. All its initiative had been destroyed at manoeuvres, where criticism and blame had become almost synonymous, and it therefore shirked independent bold action, and kept far in rear, and as much as possible out of sight' (Moltke's 'Taktisch-Strategische Aufsaetze,' Berlin, 1900).
By like methods in peace training prior to the War with Turkey such timidity had been developed in the Russian Cavalry that, in the words of General Baykow, Cavalry commanders showed a marked disinclination to undertake operations which were well within their powers, but which might bring them in contact with the Turkish Infantry, and so run risk of suffering loss.
History is full of similar instances of how not to train Cavalry, and I hold most strongly that the Arm must be educated up to a readiness to act, to come to close quarters in co-operation with the other Arms, and to risk casualties, as Infantry has often done before without losing its 'battle' value.
To sum up, training with a view to self-sacrifice during peace exercises is essential for the success of all Arms in War, but especially so for Cavalry.
With remarkable perspicuity and telling conviction, General von Bernhardi has dealt in an exhaustive manner with every subject demanding a Cavalry soldier's study and thought. I am convinced that he who thoroughly masters the contents of his book will feel no doubt and will entertain no misapprehension as to the vast role his Arm is called upon to fulfil in War, and he will realize how, in mastering the great essentials of which it treats, he will himself be assisting in the best possible manner to maintain the prestige and glory of the great Service to which he belongs.
EMPLOYMENT OF CAVALRY AND ESSENTIALS OF LEADERSHIP
THE MODERN CONDITIONS OF WAR, AND THEIR INFLUENCE ON THE EMPLOYMENT AND USEFULNESS OF CAVALRY
The Art of War has undergone a momentous change; indeed, it has been revolutionized since the Franco-German War. Every condition that affects the conduct of warlike operations seems changed in almost every particular. Arms of precision have reached a degree of perfection which compels us to take into account possibilities which did not exist a few years ago, and for which the experience of the past can offer no scale of comparison. The all but universal introduction of Compulsory Service, and the consequent reduction in length of time spent by the soldier with the colours, have changed the character of almost all European Armies.
All the most typical factors in the standing Armies of former days disappear more or less on the issue of the order to mobilize. New groupings of units are formed from the first outbreak of hostilities, and the fact that these bodies are put together only on mobilization, together with the reduction in the period of service which has been very generally accepted, tend to depreciate the average value of the troops, whilst at the same time the 'masses' have risen to unimaginable dimensions. This 'folie des nombres,' against which certain French Authorities have warned us, is a very stern reality.
Experience has shown that the mere preparation for War, penetrating year by year more deeply into the very heart of nations, must in future unchain, from the first moment that the Armies of the Continent come into collision, all the horrors of a racial conflict, in which, from the first, the interests of every individual are involved.
The enormous development of railway communication has changed all conditions of strategical operations. Whilst the power of the railway to move masses since 1871 has increased, owing to the development both in the number and condition of the great trunk lines, the Armies themselves have become dependent on the railways in an ever-increasing degree. Further developments in Steam and Electricity will probably make these rearward communications both more necessary and at the same time more susceptible to injury. Thus all strategical conditions appear modified. Masses necessitate, even in the richest theatre of War, the return to the magazine system; hence the lines of communication are acquiring increased importance, and simultaneously great vulnerability.
On the other hand, the increased power of the weapons in use offers greater advantages to the local defence. The prospects of success in the direct frontal attack of strong positions have diminished enormously. The assailant, therefore, no longer able to succeed by frontal attack, is compelled to endeavour to work round the enemy's flanks, and thus exercise pressure upon his communications. His endeavour must be, as Frederick the Great would have said, 'to compel his opponent to fight outside of his chosen position.'
This increased importance of the communications, which in already exhausted districts will make itself particularly felt, will compel the defenders to take greater measures for their protection.
All these conditions taken together must of necessity increase the importance of strategy in the Wars of the future to an extent which, in my opinion, no sufficient conception has as yet been made. This final conclusion at least we must recognise, however much we may struggle against it (partly as a consequence of our somewhat one-sided experiences in 1870, and partly through the increased difficulty of all operations due to the increased masses and the more concentrated susceptibility of the railway communication): that the decisive factors in the next War must be 'superiority in the strategic direction of the troops, together with the increased efficiency they have attained and their endurance.'
[Footnote 1: The contrary view to this was largely held by a certain school in Germany, whose views the author is here endeavouring to combat.]
To meet this drastic revolution in all these conditions, the pressure of which has compelled the artillery into new lines of development and forced the infantry to change their whole constitution (whether to their advantage or not may remain an open question), no changes at all commensurate to their importance have as yet been initiated in the Cavalry.
Artillery and Infantry now have behind them the nation, from which they can draw inexhaustible reserves of trained men for their constant replenishment. The Cavalry alone remains a specialized service, because, owing to the peculiar circumstances of its existence, it can scarcely count on having the wastage of War made good by equally well-trained men and horses; still less is its complete replacement in case of disaster to be hoped for. In spite of this, we have to recognise the fact that the proportion the Cavalry bears in all European Armies to the ever-increasing numerical proportion of the other Arms has steadily receded. The Peace establishments show this clearly. Thus, taking the Germans' figures for 1870, we had:
463 Battalions. 460 Squadrons. 251 Batteries. 15-3/4 Pioneer Battalions.
625 Battalions (including 18 of 'Rifles'). 486 Squadrons (including 16 squadrons of Mounted Rifles). 562 Batteries. 38 Battalions Heavy Artillery. 28 Pioneer Battalions.
This ratio to the disadvantage of the Cavalry is even more apparent on mobilization for War, owing to the many Reserve and Landwehr formations of Infantry and Artillery, in comparison with which the few new units provided by the Cavalry are relatively unimportant. Considering the mobilized Army as a whole, the Cavalry forms numerically an almost insignificant factor.
There remains yet another point of view to be considered. Undoubtedly there has been in the Cavalry a most active spirit of reform. On the basis of the experience derived from the great Wars of the last forty years (in the list I include the American War of Secession), changes in armament and equipment have taken place in every direction, more particularly with regard to armament. The necessity and possibility of strategical reconnaissance by independent bodies of Cavalry have been fully recognised.
The conviction also has been arrived at that only when supplied with a useful firearm and an adequate allowance of Horse Artillery will such 'masses' prove adequate for the accomplishment of this special task. With the same object in view, the means have been granted to them with which to destroy telegraphs and railways, to bridge rivers, and so forth. The conviction also has been gained that the Cavalry require to be so familiarized with tactical formations for their employment in 'mass' that they shall have become a second nature to them if they are to fight with a reasonable prospect of success. But all that has been done in these directions still remains insufficient. On the one hand, the improvements introduced have not taken into account the decisive changes in the general conditions which only the last few years have brought about. On the other, we must not forget that neither the Prussian Cavalry in 1870 in France nor the Russians against the Turks in 1877-1878 had even approximately equal Cavalry to oppose them. Even the great results achieved alternately by the Cavalry on both sides during the American Civil War were obtained in general under conditions which can no longer be anticipated, for at the moment of collision neither encountered, as a rule, either equal quality or numbers sufficient to develop their full power of attack.
The very important data obtained during the campaign of 1899-1900 in South Africa as to the employment of dismounted action by Cavalry were also not then before us. One could only, therefore, reason from one-sided experiences, which can no longer be recognised as generally sufficient for our purpose. In future the mere possibility of results such as in 1870-1871 we so often gained owing to the absence of any serious opposition on the part of the opposing Cavalry, will nowadays have to be obstinately fought for, not without considerable loss; and it needs no special proof to show what an enormous increase in the difficulty of our task this involves, and how, as a consequence, all the conditions of our future action must be modified.
Thus, the Cavalry stands face to face with new conditions, and sees itself everywhere confronted—on the battle-field and in the wider field of strategical operations—with new problems, towards the solution of which the history of the past furnishes only very general indications.
If we mean to maintain our position as an effective Arm, and satisfy the demands that of necessity must be made upon us by these new conditions, we must break with many experiences of the past, and work out for ourselves principles of action which must be deduced essentially from the probable requirements of the future.
Each epoch-making War makes new demands upon us and prescribes new tasks, and he only will reap the palm of success who is able to meet them, because, with wise prevision, he has prepared himself to solve their difficulties in peace.
If we wish to make an approximately correct picture of the future that awaits us, we must first face the question, What will be the influence that the changed conditions in the Art of War considered as a whole must exercise on the possible scope of action of our Arm?
From the answer to this we can deduce the demands on the Cavalry in particular, and these demands give us a means for determining the limits of its employment, its consequent organization, and the training best suited to enable it to meet these requirements.
If we summarize all the conditions which have modified the conduct of War and contrast with them what Cavalry, from the very nature of its being, is capable of performing, it would appear at first sight as if every form of action of the mounted Arm has been impeded and rendered more difficult in the highest degree; more particularly is this the case when opposed to the increased power of modern arms. Certainly, the impact of a modern bullet may at times produce less immediate effect than formerly. Cases have occurred in which serious wounds did not place the individual out of action immediately, and we may therefore anticipate that many horses will not be stopped in the charge, despite severe injuries. But this drawback the Infantry can meet by opening fire sooner. To the Artillery this does not apply; and, in any case, this objection is not of such importance as to neutralize in any way the other advantages conferred by modern weapons.
Owing to the fact that the extent of the danger zone has been very considerably increased, and that within these zones the amount of fire which has to be faced in a given time has been intensified to a degree which formerly could hardly have been dreamt of, it has ceased to be possible to ride straight at the front of an unshaken enemy.
Thus, essentially the Cavalry has been driven out of its former place of honour on the battle-fields of the plains, and has been compelled to seek the assistance of the cover the ground affords in order to carry its own power of destruction into immediate contact with its enemy, and only under most exceptionally favourable conditions will it still be possible to deliver a charge direct across the open.
Further, as far as the Infantry are concerned, it will be quite the exception to encounter them in closed bodies; generally we shall have to ride against extended lines, which offer a most unfavourable target for our purpose.
The difficulties both of observation and reconnaissance have also been materially increased, for, on the one hand, the increased range of the firearm compels one to keep further away from the enemy, thus making it more difficult to judge with accuracy his strength and positions; on the other, the use of smokeless powder, which no longer reveals the position of the firing line, renders a more thorough searching of the ground even more indispensable than formerly.
The possible participation of the civilian inhabitants of the invaded Nation in the War will hamper most severely all forms of Cavalry action other than on the battle-field. In intersected districts it may, indeed, suffice to paralyze completely the execution of all patrolling duties; and thus the offensive finds itself confronted by a new and permanent element of danger and delay, whose gravity we may estimate by the events which occurred in the latter portion of the Franco-German War, and we may be quite certain that in future all such experiences will be very much intensified.
Lastly, the fall in the numerical proportion of the Cavalry to the other Arms is all to our disadvantage. The greater numbers of the latter cover larger areas, and whether to cover these or to reconnoitre them, it will be necessary to embrace far larger spaces, notwithstanding our relatively smaller numbers—i.e., on each square mile we shall only be able to employ, on an average, a largely reduced number of patrols, etc.
Tactically this want of numbers again affects us. If the necessity to intervene arises, not only have we better firearms against us, but relatively a larger number of troops. Each tactical advantage secured will thus exercise far less effect than formerly upon our opponent, since the fraction of the enemy's force ridden down represents a smaller proportion of his whole Army.
If an Infantry Brigade, one of a force of ten Army Corps, is annihilated, the effect is not nearly so far-reaching as if this Brigade formed part of an Army of two or even three Corps.
If in these changed relations there are obviously factors which materially limit the tactical importance of Cavalry, and which must make the solution of their strategical tasks far more difficult, on the other side we find opportunities in the probable phenomena of a future War which, though less obvious, nevertheless on investigation lead us to the conclusion that the importance of the Arm is even greater than formerly, opening for it a wider sphere of activity, and even on the battle-field revealing new chances of success.
Let us consider these opportunities more closely. The greater the pitch of nervous tension to which men are wrought up in battle, the greater the pitch of excitement reached, the more decisive will be the reaction when the flood-tide of defeat overwhelms them.
Now that all European States are straining every nerve to employ enormous masses of men from the first moment of hostilities, in order thus to gain an advantage whilst their enemy is still concentrating, and when we further consider how these exertions must increase the strain throughout the nation to the very utmost, it must be apparent that the first great decision of Arms must be of overwhelming importance. Not only the troops directly concerned, but the 'masses' behind them, find themselves for the moment involved in the consequences of victory or defeat. Hence the reaction in either direction, owing to the lower average quality of the troops, their greater numbers, the increased difficulties of moving them, and the susceptibility to congestion of their rearward communications, must be far greater and far more disastrous than hitherto under similar tactical conditions.
The more important it is to secure a favourable decision, the more difficult with growing masses to divert an operation once commenced, to give it a new direction or assign it a new objective, the less possible it becomes to alter dispositions which may have been issued on false premises; hence again the greater grows the value of thorough and active reconnoitring.
If this holds good, more especially for the first great collision, it remains also a guiding principle for all future operations; for, on the one side, it is probable that even in its later stages the War will be conducted with comparatively great masses; on the other, as we have seen, the importance of the strategical element has unquestionably grown; hence the value of efficient reconnaissance has been proportionably intensified.
In similar measure the importance of screening has also developed. In proportion as the assailant is compelled to resort to turning movements and surprises, the defender is obliged to have recourse to timely changes of front and unexpected counter-attacks; hence for both timely reconnaissance of the enemy's, as well as for trustworthy screening of one's own operations, the extended employment of the mounted Arms has become imperative. In other words, although reconnaissance and screening for strategical purposes by the Cavalry have been rendered more difficult by the conditions we must expect to meet in the future, on the other hand, they have gained enormously in importance. And it is not in this direction alone that the value of the Arm has increased, but it has also had a new and important field of activity thrown open to it owing to the increased susceptibility the rearward communications of the enemy and his railways have developed.
As a consequence of the increased liability to interruption of these communications, and also of the far more serious confusion to which any such interruption can give rise, it has become far more difficult than in the past to execute offensive flanking operations, changes of front, or counter-attacks, all of which are movements which the practical strategist must bear in mind. On paper and on the map such undertakings appear to present no more elements of friction than formerly, but on the ground itself those who have once seen masses of several corps all huddled together know that things are very different. All such movements nowadays are tied to the railway-lines, and these, again, are congested by the flow of food and ammunition, which must at all costs be maintained. Fresh units also of troops may be coming up to the front, whose arrival is of the last importance in the plans of the generalissimo, and a single broken viaduct may throw confusion into the whole design.
In a densely-populated and fruitful district the resulting failure of supply may be endured, but it is very different when in a poverty-stricken district the supply of a whole Army depends on perhaps a single line of railway.
Thus the Cavalry sees itself confronted by a task in the solution of which it can achieve results of decisive importance in a new direction, for the following reasons: The relative importance of the Arm during actual operations having been materially increased, the period of concentration preceding actual collision (notwithstanding the fact that the actual effectiveness of Cavalry in the face of modern firearms has been decreased) offers opportunities which under certain conditions promise higher results than formerly.
If every delay in the march which may be caused by the action of Cavalry against the flanking lines of advance of an Army concentrating for battle is detrimental, how much greater would be the disorganization resulting from similar operations after defeat! Very rarely in such a case would it be possible to retire eccentrically by the same roads which were used for advance. The beaten troops generally drift back quite involuntarily in the direction into which they have been compelled by the results of the tactical decision. The wider the original front, the greater the masses of the troops concerned (which are now not only in a demoralized condition, but are compelled, under pressure of pursuit, to change their communications into new directions, and for this purpose to disentangle the columns drawn in for the concentration) and the greater the certainty that conditions must arise which will give to an active Cavalry an even richer opportunity of harvest than was formerly open to them.
This will in future be all the more the case when troops of lower quality, and therefore more liable to become shaken and dispirited, have to be employed. Reserve formations—Landwehr and the like—which under favourable conditions might render excellent service, when once beaten, without officers, weary and hungry, lose all cohesion, when, with baggage, wounded, and stragglers, they are driven back over crowded roads; and then, no matter how well they are armed, they are an easy prey to a pursuing Cavalry.
The man who throws his rifle away or shoots in the air will not find salvation either in clip-loading or smokeless powder against the lance in the hands of a relentless pursuing Cavalry.
The same holds good for the fight itself. We cannot attack even inferior Infantry as long as it only keeps the muzzles of its rifles down and shoots straight; but once it is morally broken and surprised, then the greatest results are still to be achieved even on an open battle-field. That, at least, the campaign of 1870-1871 sufficiently proved, although the Cavalry were so seldom allowed the opportunity to reap the ripe harvest our strategy and the action of the other Arms had so abundantly prepared for them.
A further point in our favour is to be found in the fact that the increased power of modern Artillery fire has rendered the defence of villages and woods practically an impossibility. The Infantry are thus compelled to seek open but rolling ground, and it is precisely such ground which favours the concealed approach and sudden attack of the Cavalry; but surprise is the very essence of successful Cavalry action.
If we bring together all these points of view which have been hitherto only indicated, we find, on the one hand, the absolute fighting value of the Cavalry has considerably diminished, and that in modern War the conditions of Cavalry employment will in every direction be rendered more difficult; on the other hand, the strategical importance of the Arm, as well as the scope of the duties which it may be called upon to fulfil, have increased very decidedly, and very important new opportunities for successes have been thrown open to it.
We cannot sufficiently insist upon the cumulative effects which all these general changes in the nature of War have exercised upon the Cavalry Arm; for not only has public opinion taken up the opposite view, but even in the Army itself these positive views have not received the attention they deserve.
The exploits of our Cavalry in 1870-1871 have been universally admired, without, however, being appreciated at their true relative value. On the other hand, reasoning from the mechanical perfection of the firearm, the conclusion has been reached that, as against Infantry and Artillery, the Cavalry can no longer hope to achieve any results of importance. It has been shown that in 1870-1871 the German Cavalry possessed a great numerical superiority over its adversary—that, in fact, numerous regiments during the whole War either never came into action at all or at least never had the opportunity to exhibit their full value in other fields of employment, and hence it has been concluded that an increase or organic reform of what they are pleased to consider a somewhat antiquated Cavalry is quite superfluous.
An attempt on the part of the Imperial Government to introduce an increase of establishments had to give way to more important considerations. In fact, practically the German Cavalry in number and organization remains to-day the same as in 1870.
But the duties which in future will fall to the Cavalry are so wide-reaching, and for the conduct of the War are often of such decisive importance, that on the manner of their execution the ultimate results of a campaign must very materially depend.
If the Cavalry is not in a condition to prove equal to these duties, we shall find ourselves confronted with a situation of the gravest danger. Hence it becomes unconditionally necessary to apply the reforming hand where important deficiencies and practical insufficiencies can be recognised. In order to apply the lever of reform at once to the best advantage, we must be quite clear in our own minds in which part of the conduct of War the importance of the Cavalry will principally be felt. Only from the recognition of the demands which will there be made upon it can we conclude in what direction its further evolution can be initiated.
We must, therefore, get a clear conception of the probable demands to be made upon the Arm in each individual phase of a future War, test them with a view to their relative importance towards the result as a whole, and then endeavour to recognise on which factors the success in each individual phase principally depends.
In the first place stands naturally the demands which will be made on the Cavalry during the early periods after the declaration of hostilities—that is, during mobilization and concentration. These require all the more attention because, as we have seen, it is particularly these introductory stages of future War which will be of particular importance, and because it is precisely in these very points that opinion is as yet not united.
Then we must follow the employment of the Arm in the further course of operations, and endeavour to determine in what direction the most important results are to be obtained.
DUTIES AT THE BEGINNING AND DURING THE COURSE OF THE WAR
The importance which attaches to the first tactical decisions, the fact that their success is mainly determined by the uninterrupted execution of the railway deployment, the safe arrival of the troops and war material in the appointed zones of concentration, the consideration that the continuance of the operation after the first battle—retreat or pursuit—is mainly conditioned by the uninterrupted action of the rearward communications, make it indubitable that it is of the utmost importance to disturb the corresponding operations of the enemy, and thus place one's own Army from the very beginning in a position of material and strategic advantage.
Since the Cavalry is not only able to cover great distances with overwhelming rapidity, but also, owing to its special character as a standing branch of the Army, is always ready to march and operate, whilst the other portions of the Army are still occupied with their mobilization, the opinion has been freely expressed that it would be advantageous to utilize this period required for the mobilization and railway transport of the other Arms for Cavalry raids, either into the zone of concentration, or against the communications of the enemy. Russia has for this very purpose concentrated upon the German and Austrian frontiers enormous Cavalry forces, supported by light infantry. France also keeps a numerous Cavalry practically on a war footing on the frontiers of Lorraine.
On the outbreak of War these masses are ready at the shortest notice to ride over our frontiers, to break up our railways, to seize our horses and depots, to destroy our magazines, and to carry terror and consternation into our zone of assembly.
It cannot be denied that in such manner by no means inconsiderable damage could be caused, and hence one must earnestly consider, first, what chances of success such enterprises offer, and next, whether the relative magnitude of the probable results are proportionate to the probable losses they must necessarily entail.
Cool and objective consideration of such ideas must, in my opinion, lead us to negative such undertakings—on our side, at any rate. In the first place, the enemy will always be in a position, by suitable organization of his frontier guards and the situation selected for the front of his strategic deployment, to withdraw himself either altogether from the radius of action of the Cavalry, or at least render its advance both difficult and dangerous. The danger will be the greater the more it has been possible to provide for the armament and organization of the population in the frontier provinces. Where the conditions on the side of the defender are not unusually unfavourable—as, for instance, in wide open districts—or where there is a want of troops in strategically unimportant provinces, then even if the invading masses break in on the very first day of mobilization, they will find railways, defiles, river-crossings already defended by infantry or popular levies. If they come upon an insurgent population they will find great difficulties both in reconnaissance and subsistence.
At every step they advance, the numbers of the opponent will be constantly increasing, while their own strength diminishes. The defiles will be occupied between their several columns, and they must guard themselves in every direction. Their trains and baggage get into confusion, and supply becomes all the more difficult the more rapidly they advance, because the waggons cannot keep up with their movement, and there is no time for requisitioning. Field batteries and lines of infantry occupy the more important positions, the enemy's Cavalry appears on the flanks, and man and horse break down at length under the severity of the strain. Retreat becomes inevitable, and if they ever get back at all, they can only reach their own Army after heavy losses and with broken force. The damage which they can do to the enemy remains small in proportion to his total power, even though it is locally not inconsiderable. At the best one may hope to destroy some railway not too far from the frontier, interrupt some telegraph lines of communication, and disperse or capture some ammunition depots, magazines, or snap up some convoys of reserve men and horses. But the enemy has already taken these possibilities into account; they will soon be overcome, and his arrangements in general will be hardly disturbed.
If, on the other hand, the Cavalry is accompanied by infantry, it will be even more hampered in its movements than by its own trains, and will soon have to decide whether it should make its movements dependent on those of its escort, thereby renouncing all hopes of further results, or whether it should abandon the infantry to its fate. Certain defiles in the vicinity of the frontier, which the combined forces were able in advancing to occupy, the infantry may well succeed in keeping open; but if it attempts to follow the tracks of its own Cavalry, there can be no doubt it would be exposed to inevitable destruction.
This applies equally to the cyclist—at least, as far as the machine has as yet been developed; for though one cannot deny the great advantage which its mobility under certain circumstances offers, yet it remains too dependent on roads and weather to insure that freedom and certainty of movement which in such undertakings in conjunction with Cavalry are unconditionally necessary.
The attempt to break up communications by well-mounted officers patrols boldly pushed forward in advance would seem to offer even less chances of securing permanent results. They, too, will find the country obstructed by the armed population, or by troops in the act of concentration. Even weak detachments or patrols along the railway would suffice to effectively resist them; they can depend for success only on their rapidity and cunning. But most rivers are unfordable, and in the woods patrols can hardly venture, because every tree may shelter a man with a rifle. Once they leave the roads, their pace diminishes; they easily lose their direction; nowhere can they obtain security for rest and food, even if they are fortunate enough in procuring any. If, in spite of all this, they do happen to succeed in blowing up a railway or cutting a telegraph, the effect is infinitesimal.
The patrol itself will find its chances of escape decreasing in exact proportion to the distance it has penetrated into the enemy's country.
The greater the number of the patrols employed, the more irreplaceable will the inevitable loss become; for it will always be the best officers, the men who put most energy and determination into the execution of their instructions, who are the most likely to fall victims to their courage and audacity.
Premature advance of the Cavalry during mobilization and concentration can only procure information of little or no importance, for the existing railways, the direction of the frontiers, and the peace-time distribution of the troops reveal all this to the General Staff beforehand. These, together with the secret service, political conditions obtaining at the moment, and press intelligence, will enable one to forecast with some degree of precision the general situation.
Now, the Cavalry can hardly expect to attain more—indeed, it is doubtful whether they would succeed even in confirming what is already known, for the difficulties to be overcome, as we have seen, are numerous, and nowhere can one find completed situations from which to make reliable deductions. At most they can determine that certain places are already occupied, and that the traffic on certain lines is considerable, things that one knew a priori, which, therefore, are not worth any serious sacrifice. Moreover, it is exceedingly doubtful whether, at such an early period, when conditions are changing from day to day, such information has any practical value.
Of course, it is not intended to maintain that one should not from the very first moment after the declaration of War keep a sharp look-out upon the enemy, work up to him, and seek to determine as much as rapidity and daring can succeed, with any probability of success, in attaining—that goes without saying. Particular value will always attach to the taking of prisoners, whose regimental numbers enable us to check the accuracy of our existing information. But against this we must emphasize all the more forcibly that in this first period of hostilities an inundation of the enemy's zone of concentration with masses or by far-flung lines of patrols is not only not expedient, but absolutely detrimental, since the certain cost of such undertakings stands in no reasonable proportion to the probably negative, or at most insignificant, result to be expected. Further, our own concentration has already been so prepared in peace that it must be carried out with clock-like regularity, even should the results of the reconnaissance disclose that the conditions on the side of the enemy were not quite those that we had originally expected.
Even the mere transference backwards of the line of strategic deployment, which in 1870 could still be carried out without serious difficulties or drawbacks, could nowadays, in view of the high tension induced by modern conditions, only be executed with extraordinary difficulty, whilst lateral displacement of such numbers is quite inconceivable. For even if the railway organization would suffice for the execution of such a design, the many other preparations in the zone of concentration can neither be moved nor improvised.
Summarizing the whole question, the conclusion, I think, must be, that only that Army which has at its disposal a great preponderance of Cavalry could allow itself the luxury of such premature commitment of its mounted forces.
In general, the difficulties of replacing the losses of the Cavalry with material of equal quality are so great that only the most important reasons could justify any such attempts. Hence the side which is weaker in Cavalry will meet the circumstances best by keeping back its horsemen, and not sacrificing its officers for infinitesimal, and probably unattainable, advantages. It will be better merely to work up to the enemy as close as may be possible without serious losses, allow the enemy's mounted forces to wreck themselves against the opposing infantry and armed population, and only then to put in its Cavalry for decisive action when the opponent has already wasted his best elements in the pursuit of insignificant advantages. After all, it is only then, when the strategical concentration commences, after railway movement is completed, that reconnaissance becomes both possible and important.
Circumstances can, of course, arise in which, already during the first period of operations, exhaustive independent activity may be demanded from the Cavalry, as, for instance, when one has reason to believe that the enemy has changed his previously-selected zone of concentration, or, as when in 1870 on the German side, it becomes necessary to take steps to protect the frontier districts against the enemy's raids. In the first case the attempts to discover, by the employment of Cavalry, the changed dispositions of the enemy are certainly permissible. The patrols must then go forward until they can settle the decisive questions, and strong detachments must be pushed out so close behind them that the patrols and their following squadrons can find a safe retreat, and insure the transmission of the intelligence they have collected.
In such enterprises tactical collision with the enemy's Cavalry and his frontier troops might ensue. It may therefore be necessary to support our squadrons by Infantry and Artillery.
But in every case we must be careful to keep within the limits which are conditioned by the purpose of the undertaking, and not allow ourselves to be involved in desperate and doubtful enterprises.
In the next case the duties of the Cavalry are merely defensive. All that then matters is to rob small bodies of the enemy of their opportunities, to block the traffic across the frontier, and to work round their patrols with our own forces; but in no case are they to attempt to obtain positive advantages by force, or to hazard important decisions against a superior enemy. Wherever possible every effort should be made to supplement the troops assigned to this defensive attitude by the armed population, or even to replace them by such levies altogether. The fortification and defence of villages and isolated farms, occupation of railways and watercourses, and, above all, the defence of woods which might favour the concealed advance of the enemy's patrols, can well be left to the care of these improvised formations.
Hostile attempts can be generally met by dismounted fire action in well-chosen strong defensive country, possibly supported by detachments of Infantry, Artillery, and 'Landsturm.' If the enemy's superiority is great, then one must retire until the equilibrium of the forces is re-established, the strategical necessity compels us to fight, or, finally, the tactical situation gives good promise of success.
One must, however, always keep this clearly before one's mind: that the essence of all Cavalry action in the opening stage of the War lies neither in this purely defensive attitude, nor in the offensive enterprises previously alluded to, by which the concentration of the enemy would be disturbed or other material successes might be achieved, but that the decisive purpose only begins when important and possible tasks can be given to the Cavalry—i.e., when the main bodies of the enemy become ready for operations.
Then it becomes our duty to screen not only the advance of our own troops and to secure to our Infantry the advantages of being able to advance undisturbed, but the climax of all these duties will be reached in the far more important duty, in the now indispensable task, of securing the widest possible sphere of intelligence.
Whereas, during the period of railway concentration the front of the enemy was conditioned by the ends of the lines employed in bringing up the troops, who in turn spread themselves out to utilize the resources of the country (hence generally our patrols, if sent out, would come in contact all along the threatened frontier or the enemy's line of detrainment, with defended villages, etc.), the troops will now be drawn into closer cantonments, or bivouacs, and group themselves together into clearly-defined masses.
There will therefore now arise between separate portions of his Army and their lines of advance, spaces unoccupied by troops into which our Cavalry can penetrate. The heads and flanks of his columns can now be determined, and the direction in which they are marching, thus ascertained, becomes of essential importance.
Now is the time when the Cavalry must put in its full strength to discover the strength and direction of the enemy's movements, and the fact of this concentration provides the Cavalry with the opportunities necessary to solve the problem before it.
Of course, immediately after detraining, troops will have to march to the districts to which they are assigned for convenience of supply, and this will lead to the formation of temporary groupings, which it will be advisable, if possible, for us to observe. But it must not be overlooked that observations during this period may easily lead to false conclusions, as such movements serve only secondary purposes or introductory measures, and seldom justify any conclusions bearing upon the design of the ultimate operations. These latter only develop after a certain degree of concentration has been attained, and hence the essence of the whole question resolves itself into this—that the Cavalry should not be put in until shortly before the strategical concentration begins.
From the results now obtained the success of the whole campaign may entirely depend. At this climax no secondary consideration must be allowed to distract attention from the principal object. Even the desirability of screening the movements of one's own Army, in so far as this duty is not fulfilled by the reconnaissance itself, must give way to the attainment of the principal object in view, which is intelligence, not security.
This point requires to be more particularly insisted upon, because fundamentally different arrangements are necessary to fulfil these two purposes. Anyone who attempted to entrust both the provision of intelligence and the protection of the troops to one and the same body of men would in the vast majority of cases fail to secure either purpose as long as the enemy's mounted forces still held the field.
To secure information—i.e., intelligence—requires concentration of force. The reconnoitring Cavalry must beat their opponents out of the field in order to obtain opportunities for discovering what is going on behind the enemy's protective screen. To accomplish this, the Cavalry must endeavour to work round the adversary's flanks, and may in consequence have to leave the front of its own Army entirely uncovered. The protection of this Army, on the other hand, requires a wide extension of front and consequent subdivision of force, the exact opposite of the concentration the provision of intelligence imperatively calls for.
Naturally this view encounters opposition. Some contend that the whole triumph of the Art consists in solving both problems simultaneously. They reason that it is superfluous to seek an encounter with the enemy's Cavalry. Cavalry duels only lead to the mutual destruction of both parties. They maintain that one ought to advance, in the interests both of security and screening, on a certain breadth of front. If, then, circumstances compel one to fight, one must concentrate quickly, and after the combat gain again the necessary degree of extension to cover the front of the Army. They would leave reconnaissance to be carried out by rapidly advancing patrols, which evade those of the enemy, find cover in the ground, gain advantageous points of observation on the flanks and in rear of the opponent, thus obtaining their objects in spite of the enemy.
I hold it to be a grave error of judgment to believe that any systematic application of this line of action will give sufficient results.
Advantages in war must be fought for; they cannot be filched.
Was it not difficult enough in 1870-1871 to obtain reliable information, although we had no true Cavalry opponent against us, and still more difficult to get that news through to Headquarters in time? How much more difficult, therefore, will it not be in the future, when we can no longer count on controlling unconditionally the country between the two Armies, and the enemy's Cavalry hold the field as well as we!
Who will then guarantee that our patrols will really penetrate the enemy's screen; above all, that their reports will get back through the district controlled by the enemy's Cavalry in time enough to be of use to Headquarters in forming its decisions? If the patrols are compelled to elude those of the enemy, to seek for intersected country, and to make detours, one cannot count on the requisite rapidity; and the greater the total numbers brought together in modern War, the greater the distances become which have to be reckoned with.
If from the very necessity of finding the shortest way and securing communications with one's own Headquarters it becomes necessary to beat the enemy's Cavalry out of the field to clear up the situation sufficiently, the need of fighting is brought home to one with all the greater force, because any other line of action leaves the enemy chances at least as good as our own, which can never be the objective of any form of military action, and ultimately fighting becomes compulsory if, in addition to reconnaissance, one attempts to carry out screen duties at the same time. It stands to reason that the enemy's Cavalry can only be prevented from seeing by actually driving them off the ground and depriving them of the power of breaking through our own screen. That a numerically and materially inferior Cavalry does well to avoid action goes without saying, but fundamentally the duty of the Cavalry must be to seek to bring about collision with that of the enemy, so that from the very beginning it secures command of the ground between the two armies, and that the actual and moral superiority in the whole zone of operations between the two armies is obtained from the outset for our own Cavalry.
The victory of the 'masses' intensifies and invigorates the sense of superiority in the individual combatant, and this sense of individual superiority is essential if the patrols are to carry through their duties in the true Cavalry spirit.
On the one hand, they are only able to solve their tasks both of screening and of reconnaissance by actually defeating the enemy's patrols; on the other hand, the moral factor tells heavily in the scale.
How can one expect courage and determination or audacity from men who have always been taught to avoid their opponent and only fight when they are actually compelled?
The man who leaves these psychic factors out of account will always find himself mistaken in War.
That in certain cases it may be useful to push forward officers as stealthy patrols, with instruction to avoid being drawn into an action, as far as time and opportunity will allow, goes without saying; but nevertheless stress must be laid upon the point that already in the period which is in general taken up with the encounter with the enemy's Cavalry, no opportunity should be lost of keeping the principal masses of the enemy's Army under direct observation, and that therefore it is necessary from the very commencement of the advance to send out officers patrols for this special purpose.
These patrols will derive their best support from a tactical victory obtained over the enemy's Cavalry, which is manoeuvring in their rear.
Thus the fact remains that we must fight to reconnoitre and fight to screen, and that only a systematic division of the two spheres of action can give us the freedom necessary to insure the adoption of the proper form at the right time and place.
A victory of the reconnoitring Cavalry by shattering the strength of the enemy's horsemen must always result, both directly and indirectly, in the advantage of our screening force.
The whole consideration, therefore, leads me to the conclusion that the chief task for the Cavalry consists in obtaining a victory over the enemy's Cavalry in that direction which is of decisive importance for the further prosecution of reconnaissance as soon after the beginning of the great operations as possible.
That it cannot be our object to seek the opponent's horsemen in the direction which they themselves have selected—merely to beat them—need scarcely be insisted upon. That would be to take the law from the enemy and allow one's self to be diverted from the principal direction in which reconnaissance is desirable.
Time and direction of the advance must rather be so chosen that they compel the enemy to move to meet us. At the same time our effort must be to appear with numerical superiority, in order to be certain of victory.
In what concerns the Cavalry in the further course of the War, the necessity both of screening and reconnoitring recurs again and again; and in many cases even after the enemy has been beaten out of the field, these objects will still only be obtained by fighting. Such cases will occur in the duties of screening and security when the enemy still possesses enough offensive power to attempt a reconnaissance, with the threat of attack combined, and we ourselves are engaged in a similar manner; also in all such cases in which turning movements entail too much delay, or are rendered impossible by the extension of the enemy's front; or, again, when the enemy on their part renew offensive operations.
The necessity of breaking through the line of Infantry outposts in order to discover the whereabouts of the enemy's principal masses and the direction of their movements will also from time to time arise, and it may become necessary to suppress rapidly and thoroughly attempts at armed resistance by the civilian population.
Further, our Cavalry will be called on for attempts against the enemy's communications, the strategical importance of which has been already discussed, and these will be all the more important in cases where the district we are fighting over is too poor to supply the enemy's forces, or where operations have assumed a stationary character, as before Fredericksburg, Paris, and Plevna, and it becomes desirable to hinder the use of the railways for the transport of troops or evacuation of supplies.
Lastly, the Cavalry may be called on to occupy wide stretches of country and exploit their resources, to nip in their very inception the formation of fresh bodies of armed defenders, or on the defensive, to secure our own communications or districts against undertakings by flying columns of the enemy.
Such undertakings, particularly when they lead in rear of the enemy's Armies, will frequently assume the character of 'raids' in which the essential purpose is to cover great distances rapidly, often with the sacrifice of all communications with one's own forces, to appear suddenly at previously selected positions, and after completion of one's immediate object to disappear suddenly, before the enemy can bring overwhelming numbers against the assailant.
The success of such undertakings will depend, on the one hand, on the rapidity with which the opportunities secured by such surprise are utilized, and, on the other, on the available fighting power, which must suffice to break down all opposition with certainty and speed.
Their execution, however, will always encounter many difficulties, particularly when a hostile population has to be dealt with; but to consider them on this account as impracticable seems to me all the more impossible, because to my mind they embody an absolutely indispensable element of future operations.
If it is feasible to enter upon them with fresh horses, and to make adequate provision for supply without delaying the rapidity of movement, either by utilizing the resources of the country, by taking suitably organized columns with one, or by living on stores captured from the enemy himself, then such 'raids' will succeed and exercise most far-reaching consequences.
In my opinion all these conditions can be satisfied. We can preserve our horses by exercising greater moderation in the pursuit of non-essentials; difficulties of supply can be solved by suitable preparations even in an enemy's country, and when working in our own, the sympathetic and persistent support of our own population will level all obstacles; but in all cases we must never leave out of sight the cardinal point that only the concentration of sufficient force at the right time and place can guarantee the final result.
Our conduct, however, will be different when our purpose is solely defensive, or when we have to occupy districts which the enemy does not seek to defend. In such cases, as also when our object is only the concealment of our own designs, a dispersion of force may be necessary, if only in order to occupy important defiles and defensive sections of the ground, or for the occupation of the most important centres of population in the enemy's country. From such tasks, however, it should be the business of the Supreme Command to preserve us, in order that the whole Cavalry strength should be retained intact for offensive purposes more in harmony with its whole character and the spirit of the Arm.
For these, if great results are to be attained, it requires in the generality of cases concentration in time and space.
With the execution of these strategical missions, which so far alone have attracted our attention, the duties of the Cavalry Arm are by no means exhausted.
Nowadays, as formerly, it will still find work to its hands on the battle-field itself, and this work will be all the more important in proportion as the quality of the forces therein encountered is on a lower level (e.g., new formations, Militia, etc.). In any case, however, great results on the battle-field can only be expected from the employment of numerically formidable 'Masses.' This is conditioned by the very fact of the numbers which we must in future expect to see engaged.
The portion of the enemy's forces affected by the results of a successful charge must be a sufficient part of the whole which, at a given time and place, is concerned in the task of endeavouring to secure a decision.
Other factors also deserve consideration—above all, the increased range of modern firearms. If the front of the attacking Cavalry is too narrow, it will not only have to face the fire of the troops immediately in its front, but it will be the focus of the fire from all sides.
If the formation for attack does not supply a sufficient sequence of successive efforts, then in many cases it can have no hope of permanent result, for an onslaught by a single line will not have strength enough to pierce the fire zone, and will be shot to pieces before it can reach the enemy.
[Footnote 2: The same point also arises both in pursuit and in the covering of a retreat, two of our most important duties; for though, as already pointed out, the conditions of the present day offer to the Arm the opportunities of the richest harvests, it will only be able to utilize them when employed with concentrated force.]
The masses to be encountered are numerically so considerable that single squadrons, regiments, or brigades, hardly count in the scale of a great decision. Partial results they may, indeed, attain, but to bring about the defeat of a whole Army, or even of an important fraction of it, to reap the fruits of such a victory or cover a great retreat, numbers alone can avail.
How many units to employ under any given circumstances it is, of course, impossible to lay down beforehand; but the essence of the matter is that the limit of force to be thus employed is far in excess of what any existing tactical unit can supply.
If, after this short survey of the many fields of action open to horsemen in the future, we ask the decisive question, Which tasks in the future will need to be most carefully kept in mind in the organization and training of this Arm in peace time? we shall not be able to conceal from ourselves that it is in the strategical handling of the Cavalry that by far the greatest possibilities lie. Charges even of numerically considerable bodies on the battle-field can only lead to success under very special conditions, and even for the protection of a retreat our role can only be a subordinate one. But for reconnaissance and screening, for operations against the enemy's communications, for the pursuit of a beaten enemy, and all similar operations of warfare, the Cavalry is, and remains, the principal Arm. Here no other can take its place, for none possesses the requisite mobility and independence.
At the same time, it is in these fields that its power is all-important to the Supreme Command. Battles, under pressure of necessity, can be fought without Cavalry at all, and the results even partially utilized; but it is impossible to issue suitable orders without knowledge of the enemy's operations, and equally impossible to act against an enemy's flanks and rear with Infantry alone.
It is in these directions that the future of Cavalry lies, and it is to fit ourselves for the tasks that we should bend all our energy in peace.
STRATEGICAL DISTRIBUTION OF THE CAVALRY
We have seen in the previous chapter that the principal duties which can fall to the lot of Cavalry in modern War will require its employment in considerable force; hence it follows that the greatest economy in the use of detachments for secondary purposes must be practised.
This leads us to the consideration of the question in what manner we can group our available means to meet these requirements in the best possible way.
Primarily we must start from this axiom—that no portion of the Army can do without Cavalry altogether; hence it follows that we must maintain both Divisional and independent Cavalry.
The former remains permanently attached to each portion of the Army whose composition, by reason of this addition of Cavalry, permits of independent action. The latter is set aside for the great strategical missions that may be assigned to that Arm, for execution. The question now arises, In what proportion is this distribution to take place?
The greater number of Infantry Divisions can, in my opinion, meet all demands upon them with a very small allotment of mounted men, as long as they are acting in combination with the rest of the Army.
The circulation of intelligence and orders within the columns and their outposts can generally be entrusted to cyclists. Where independent Cavalry is deployed to cover the front of an army, the field of activity for the Divisional Cavalry in actual outpost duties and reconnaissance is of necessity very much limited. All they are really required to accomplish is to maintain the connection with the former, and for this duty the cyclist detachments above referred to will generally suffice.
There remains, therefore, for the Divisional Cavalry only the service with the most advanced sections of the Infantry outposts (orderly duties with the Infantry piquets in cases where the ground precludes the use of the cycle), duties connected with requisitioning; and reconnaissance only during those periods in which the mass of the independent Cavalry has been drawn away towards the wings of the Army to clear its front for battle, carrying messages during the combat, and actual reconnaissance during the progress of the engagement itself. All these requirements can, I think, be met with a very small amount of force, all the more so because reconnaissance under fire in modern War seems to me practically impossible, and can generally only be initiated by those Divisions which form the wings of the Army, but even then their field would be a very limited one.
Modern firearms compel us to remain at such a distance from the enemy that observation is rendered much more difficult, and the distances to be traversed are so great that before any reports from the wings can get round to the position of Headquarters, and suitable orders based on these reports can reach their destination, the whole situation may have changed again and again. We have only to remember the cases which occurred in the last War (1870).
In the majority of these instances it was quite impossible that Cavalry patrols could have sent timely information of what was going on within the limits of the enemy's positions, and in the future the difficulties will be even greater.
In no case, however, can such information during the progress of an action be obtained by the actual employment of the fighting power of the Divisional Cavalry.
If it is to be done at all, then a few well-led officers patrols will suffice, and therefore no considerable numerical strength in the Divisional Cavalry is required. The lines of approach of the enemy and points on which his wings are resting must certainly be kept under observation, but this observation cannot in principle be initiated by the Infantry Divisions, but it is the province of the Army Headquarters to provide, for it will be precisely the wings and the flanks which the enemy will himself seek to protect by the massing of his own Cavalry.
If the prospect of achieving anything by observation during the combat through the action of the Divisional Cavalry may be considered as well-nigh impossible, then any tactical action may also be considered as precluded, unless it takes place in combination with the independent Cavalry.
Occasions may certainly even nowadays occur in which a few squadrons may achieve results by taking part in a combat between the other Arms, but such cases are too few and unimportant to be taken into account in a distribution of the Cavalry as a matter of organization.
In Armies deprived of the screen of independent Cavalry the want of Divisional Cavalry will certainly be more markedly felt even in those Army Corps which form the flanks of Armies, and in the cases of detached expeditions, and in similar exceptional circumstances. In all these instances more Cavalry must be sent up to the outposts, and it will have both to screen and reconnoitre.