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.