Category: first world war

Colonial French cavalry in Greece, September 1…

Colonial French cavalry in Greece, September 1918.

Indian lancers escort Ottoman prisoners throug…

Indian lancers escort Ottoman prisoners through the streets of Jerusalem.

September 23, 1918 – The Cavalry Are Unleashed

September 23, 1918 – The Cavalry Are Unleashed

Pictured – Indian horsemen in No Man’s Land.

The Great War was not a cavalryman’s war. Historians have been too harsh on the branch – cavalrymen played a large role on fronts beyond France, and even there they were more useful than is portrayed in daft films like Steven Spielberg’s War Horse, but most horsemen still spent most of the war sitting behind the lines with not much to do.

That changed in 1918 when the Central Powers rapidly disintegrated on all fronts. Allied generals had expected the war would last through 1919, only to find themselves suddenly confronted with the wide open spaces they had dreamed of since Mons and the Marne. The cavalry finally had its chance to “ride into the Gee in Gap” and chase down a fleeing enemy like it had been trained to do.

Nowhere was the continued usefulness of the cavalry more evident than in Palsetine. There, General Allenby’s 14,000-strong Desert Mounted Corps was in the midst of annihilated three Turkish armies, with the help of the RAF. On September 23, lancers from Mysore captured the town of Haifa on the coast, losing only three dead in a charge that took 700 prisoners and is still commemorated each year by the Indian Army as “Haifa Day.” In Macedonia, French cavalrymen rounded up Bulgarian stragglers and kept the survivros running back to Sofia.

On the Western Front, the cavalry had ironically become a driving force of the attack, as its men were well-rested and incredibly eager for action after years grooming their horses. Haig never unleashed the full Cavalry Corps in the west in the grand style of charge its commanders wanted; in all reality there numbers had been so reduced from units being converted to infantry that they could not take full advantage of the situation. The Germans were in retreat, but retained enough of a defense in depth to hold any prolonged British attack. Although the cavalry in the West never reached its full potential by September 1918 it was being used constantly as a part of the combined-arms warfare which would soon crack the Hindenburg Line and show that the stalemate of trench warfare had been resolved.

Lieutenant Colonel W.J. Peacocke DSO, commandi…

Lieutenant Colonel W.J. Peacocke DSO, commanding officer of the 9th Royal Innniskilling Fusiliers. Peacocke survived the war but was killed by the IRA in 1921 for aiding British troops during the Irish War of Independence. The Anglo-Irish conflict was one of many small wars that would continue in Europe even after the Armistice of November 1918.

A very well-earned nap.

A very well-earned nap.

British airpower on display in this contempora…

British airpower on display in this contemporary painting of a flight of Airco DH.4 bombers.

With “Bull” Allenby’s army in Palestine.

With “Bull” Allenby’s army in Palestine.

An S.E.5 scout piloted by A. Lloyd Flemming of…

An S.E.5 scout piloted by A. Lloyd Flemming of 111 Squadron RAF in Palestine.

Armageddon: wrecked carriages, dead horses and…

Armageddon: wrecked carriages, dead horses and men litter the ground as the Royal Air Force slaughters Ottoman forces fleeing north during the Battle of Megiddo, September 18-25 1918.

September 22, 1918 – Allenby: Capture Me 30,00…

September 22, 1918 – Allenby: Capture Me 30,000 More Turkish Prisoners

Pictured – Kiwi cavalry corral surrendered German and Turkish soldiers. By the end of the day the 7th and 8th Ottoman Armies had ceased to exist.

In Palestine, Edmund Allenby’s Egyptian Expeditionary Force had won a victory of annihlation. Of the three Ottoman armies guarding the road to Damascus, two had been completely destroyed and the remains of the third put to flight, along with its German commander Liman von Sanders, who had to flee Nazareth in his pajamas before Indian cavalrymen arrived. The leader of the Desert Mounted Corps reported to Allenby on September 22 that 15,000 Ottoman troops had surrendered. Allenby laughed: “No bloody good to me! I want 30,000 more from you before you’re done!”

The soldiers who surrendered were the lucky ones. Thousands of soldiers, Turkish but also Germans and Austrians sent to help, streamed north through the Samaritan highlands. One column stretched for two miles. These lines of men were targets too good to pass up for the flyers of the Royal Air Force. Australian pilots dived again and again, machine-gunning the terrified soldiers and pack mules fleeing for their lives. An Australian squadron history recorded the massacre:

“Pilot after pilot, flying in perfect order, dropped his bombs, and then, assisted by the observers, raked the unfortunate Turks with machine guns. Their ammunition exhausted, the airmen sped back to their aerodrome for more, and returned again to the slaughter. Some pilots made four trips that day.”

The war’s most punishing aerial attack took place that day as fifty machines butchered a column of Turks fleeing through a steep canyon towards the river Jordan. British and Australian airmen shot more than 56,000 machine-gun rounds and dropped nine tons of bombs. The dropped these on the vehicles at the head of the column, so that they blocked the path and forced those behind them to stop. Then they took turns swooping down and raking the stationary men and vehicles piled up behind. Turkish troops tried to climb the steep valley walls with their hands to escape the slaughter.