Category: ww1 centenary

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.

Indian Cavalry Secures Haifa by Charge with La…

The Lancers enter Haifa.

September 23 1918, Haifa–British cavalry had advanced dozens of miles since the 19th, destroying the better part of two Turkish armies.  So far, they had been able to find water and fodder for their horses from the large amount of territory captured, but supply was still becoming a concern.  Bringing supplies over such a long distance by land would be quite difficult, so it became a top priority to secure the seaports at Acre and Haifa to land supplies by sea.  Acre would fall quickly, but Haifa was a more difficult matter.  An attempt to secure it with armored cars on the evening of the 22nd failed, driven back by an Austrian battery on Mount Carmel and German machine gun fire.  The next day, British cavalry and armored cars made another attempt.  Maneuver was difficult due to marshy ground, and many horses were killed while attempting to get around it.

Despite their weakened state, the Mysore and Jodhpur Lancers was able to charge the German machine guns and quickly overwhelmed them; while many of the horses were mortally wounded during the charge, they were still able to carry their riders to their objective.  Another uphill attack by the Mysore Lancers took the Austrian battery on Mt. Carmel, and Haifa was taken soon thereafter.  Only three Allied soldiers were killed in the fighting.  The victory, involving one of the final successful cavalry charges in history, is still celebrated by the Indian Army as Haifa Day.

Sources include: Cyril Falls, Armageddon, 1918; Roger Ford, Eden to Armageddon; The Indian Express (includes image credit).

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 Secure Jordan River Crossings

The aftermath of RAF attacks on the retreating Turkish Seventh Army.

September 22 1918, Jisr ed Damiye–The success of Allenby’s cavalry in the three days since the breakthrough along the coast had been stunning.  By the 22nd, they had taken Nazareth and reached as far the Jordan near Beisan, about fifteen miles south of the Sea of Galilee.  This left the remnants of two Turkish armies scrambling to reach safety across the Jordan to the east.  On September 22, a force under General Chaytor–including several Jewish and West Indies battalions–attacked and secured the Jordan crossing at Jisr ed Damiye.  This essentially cut off the remaining Turks west of the Jordan, as there were few other good crossings–and units that attempted the steep descent into the Jordan River suffered severe casualties from aerial attacks, as the Bulgarians were experiencing during their own retreat in Macedonia.  Nevertheless, there was still a large gap between Beisan and Jisr ed Damiye, and a few thousand Germans and Turks (including Mustafa Kemal, the commander of Seventh Army) escaped before the remaining gaps were closed on the 24th.

After securing Jisr ed Damiye, Chetwode’s force then looked further east, towards Es Salt and Amman.  Here, they posed a major threat to the Turkish Fourth Army, which had so far been spared much direct attack, but was now in danger of having much of its forces (which stretched as far south as Ma’an) cut off by the British and Arabs far to the north.

Today in 1917: General Bliss New US Army Chief of Staff

Today in 1916: Arab Revolt Captures Taif
Today in 1915: Britain Sends Trawlers to Catch U-Boats in Straits of Otranto
Today in 1914: U-9 sinks Three British Cruisers In One Hour

Sources include: Cyril Falls, Armageddon 1918; Roger Ford, Eden to Armageddon.

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.