I believe that the value of the horse and the opportunity for the horse in the future are likely to be as great as ever…aeroplanes and tanks are only accessories to the man and the horse, and I feel sure that as time goes on you will find just as much use for the horse – the well-bred horse – as you have ever done in the past. — Field Marshall Douglas “Butcher of the Somme” Haig, 1926
Really, 1926? You never did understand, did you?
coming from the man who ordered a route in the middle of a battle he was winning, this doesn’t surprise me. having said that, he does have something resembling a point, the horse is still a very powerful tool, it may not have a place left on a battlefield, but as oil prices skyrocket, logistically they’re making more and more sense for a number of non-combat roles, even in combat roles, look what the Cossacks achieved with them in WWII
No, he didn’t — not at all. And he wasn’t the only one. The horrendous results of this philosophy were all too apparent in World War One, and tragically carried over to some extent into World War Two. Remember the terrible carnage that ensued during Germany’s invasion of Poland in September, 1939? Incredibly courageous cavalrymen futilely charging Wehrmacht armored units head-on because that was all they were given to work with. Not to take anything away from them, but even the Light Brigade at Balaclava didn’t have to live and die by these odds.
Germany, which pioneered modern mechanized warfare, frequently still used horse-drawn units in battle during the Second World War, mainly due to insufficient production capacity to equip all units with mechanized transportation as well as a shortage of fuel, especially late in the war.
Having said that, there actually were, and still are, many specialized battlefield scenarios where horses ( as well as mules, camels and other domestic animals ) do much better than even the latest generation of modern vehicles, eg., mountain warfare, certain types of jungle warfare and stealthy desert reconaissance. In these cases, they also have a much lower noise signature and profile than vehicles and helicopters, and are therefore much less detectable.
Earl, would you please shove off Polish cavalry in 1939? They have NEVER charged armored units, that’s German propaganda cliche, taken up by Commies after the war to show how backward the Imperialist Swines were. As a matter of fact, all Polish cavalry units, never mind lancers, chevaux leger or mounted rifles, were all trained and utilized ONLY as a highly mobile light infantry, their sabres were more for a show, than for use. Lancers were tought lance and sabre work more to keep up with the tradition – they left for war leaving their lances in their barracks. On two separate occasions during the 1939 cavalry did a mounted charge with sabres – but these both were attacks against infantry in marching order: wasting time to dismount would make them too powerful a target to attack, and the only objective was to fight the way out of encirclement, anyway.
Light brigade has nothing in common with Polish cavalry ACTUAL use in 1939.
Simply hardly every army in the 1930s world could afford fully blown mechanization. And Haig was a pathetic idiot, even for a Briton 🙂 You have to take into consideration that he was a product (and possibly a victim) of times witnessing inceredibly fast pacing technical progress in warfare, from muzzle loading smoothbores to aircraft, submarines and tank warfare during the average military career of the era. He might have just denied that – but who the heck let a psycho like him to the position he held?
Horse is a transport option – but only an option and only in transport. Snakeaters (including Polish SF in A-stan) do use them reguralry, but again – as a transport option, not a fighting force, as Haig propheted. But on the other hand, guys: Haig was right. Horse is still a power – horse-power, that is. Each of your gas-guzzlers has hundreds of them…
Hi, Leszek :
I think you’re right about the cavalry versus armor part during the German invasion. I posted a comment at 11:48 a.m. on March 13th, 2013 based on MG’s 11:11 a.m. post to that effect. Please read that comment. Looking at the rest of your article, I see that we are still largely in agreement on the whys and wherefores of the transitional period in history that left many armies in the position of becoming mechanized while still retaining horse-drawn units, and that horses are still applicable to certain areas of military operations. My comment about the Light Brigade was simply to illustrate the point that the odds that the Polish cavalry faced in desperate battles against the Germans were often overwhelming, perhaps more so than those faced by the Light Brigade at Balaclava. The intent was to highlight their tremendous courage in the face of adversity and nowhere did I imply that they were charging German armor with swords and lances like the Light Brigade, which of course would have been illogical and foolish under the circumstances. I hope this clears up any misunderstanding.
Regardless of what myth may or may not be, my own father (not as member of beligerent sides) was able, couple of weeks after Polish capitulation, see the outcome. He spoke of fields dotted with bodies and carcasses… So, who would you believe?
In any case, the Polish resistance was act of utmost heroism, by any standard. And they proved that again at Monte Casino and elsewhere.
There has never been a shortage of men who have led in war, growing fond, then strong feeling, and finally firmly attached to aspects of war which have served well, but are allowed to become icons, rather than aspects of their means of success.
I am reminded of MASH, one of the few places where three wars over almost half a century, are pulled together from time to time, showing the vast changes which did occur, as well as the many aspects which have never changed and never will. Colonel Potter’s fondness for his “found” horse, shows the same feeling, but the intelligent understanding of passing of an era.
At the same time, the viewer gets to see timeless aspects of war, the parts which don’t change, that men must be used as weapons of State, and it is often fools who wield them to their demise.
I am reminded of the “Maginot Line”, and what it did to the mind-set of the whole of the French Army. Few people are aware of the fact, as late as 53, American troops “occupied” France, still fighting a war with the Vichy French, something my uncle told me, explaining why his campaign ribbons from the fifties, were for Europe and France specifically.
Bin Laden is supposedly dead, yet his work will haunt us until we choose to understand what he did, and why he did it. One man, could have been in Hollywood, has spent our whole GNP for more than ten years, and when we leave Afghanistan, it will be little different than when we arrived.
He is the antithesis to the Field Marshall, knowing how to take a notion, and turn it into a tactic which will cost more than every previous war ever fought.
GySgt, USMC, ret.
Gunny, I believe you hit the nail on the head regarding the historical and human consequences of specific actions that have led to war and prolonged conflict, which have only led to unnecessary suffering and anguish on all sides in exchange for few tangible results. Who was it who said that history is doomed to repeat itself? Thanks for sharing your insights with us.
In Haig’s defense, in 1926 horse cavalry (or more appropriately horse-mounted mobile infantry) was still more effective in a mobile (ie non-trench warfare) environment than canvas biplanes and early tanks. Just five years before this quote, the Soviet Red Cavalry had proved key in the Russian Revolution and Polish Cavalry had served to good effect in the Russo-Polish War of 1920-21.
Most combatants still had horse cavalry at the beginning of WWII in 1939. The Polish Cavalry, which history says mythically was wiped out in charges against the Nazi panzers, actually was effective in several instances (note- http://www.militaryhistoryonline.com/wwii/articles/polishcavalry.aspx http://www.polamjournal.com/Library/APHistory/Cavalry_Myth/cavalry_myth.html ) and cavalry was still in use on the Eastern Front as late as the Battle of Berlin.
Postwar there was the Rhodesian conflict’s FAL-equipped Greys Scouts (www.greyscoutregiment.org) , the Portuguese Dragões de Angola in the 1970s (who carried HKG3’s on horseback! http://www.militaryhorse.org/forum/viewtopic.php?f=3&t=928&sid=d71e0a40aa3fd052d0025b7ea9447e20 for neat pics of that) and most recently US Special Forces in Afghanistan.
Incidentally, the fine movie War Horse notwithstanding, more recent scholars today have futher clarified the use of horse cavalry by the British on the Western Front in WWI. David Kenyon’s excellent 2012 book entitled: “Horsemen in No Man’s Land; British Cavalry and Trench Warfare 1914-1918”, looks at this in great detail. Kenyon dispells the long accustomed to tale of horses charging vainly into certain death ala-Charge of the Light Brigade style, with the truth of the matter. That being that the cavalry was largely held in reserve as a arme blanche ‘shock weapon’. In action after action, detailed by delving into legitimate first person accounts and source materials, the exaggerated fear that a few mounted men could inspire when they were actually allowed to attack, is explained. Now of course the British horsemen never did run free and roll up the Germans en mass, but they did in fact provide a credible striking and mobile force for most of the war that, save for the whole pesky trench warfare thing, could have been put to effective use.
Now of course I am not saying that *today* horse mounted cavalry is on the same level as *current* aircraft, armored vehicles, et al, but in 1926 (when Haig made his quote)…it was conceivable that they still would have lots of service. And I think history showed Haig’s quote to have some validity.
I agree with your analysis. Very good arguments supported by facts that just go to show that two opposing sides of the same argument usually contain elements of truth. The trick is to figure out how to integrate those facts into a whole un-embellished truth.
I’ve been reading the comments and wanting to stick my oar in, but basically let me say “hear, hear!” to you, Earl.
There is an excellent book on Cavalry in WWI, by a retired Polish officer, Janusz Piekalkiewicz (apologies if I misspelled his name). The famous legend of a Polish charge into the teeth of a tank attack didn’t quite happen that way. The Poles charged (and routed) German dismounted infantry, but then were caught in an armored (armored cars, not tanks, IIRC) counterattack with heavy casualties. There are two movies that show this battle, a wartime German propaganda flick which shows it as a charge against tanks by brave fools, and a postwar Polish film that plays it straight (and is ten or so minutes of very exciting cinema).
US SF has been training with pack animals (again) since the 1980s. It was only interrupted for about 15-20 years. As Lady Thatcher said in another context, “Horses for courses.”
When looking at the folly of wars past, we need to remind ourselves that, just as the now-archaic weapons they used were the high-tech of the day, the men who bore them were as smart, as committed, and as hopeful of self-preservation as we ourselves are. What seems like folly often looks more like fate or simply hopelessly imbalanced forces. (Or, in the case of World War I, hopelessly balanced ones).
Hi, Kevin :
Thanks! Good to hear from you, as always. I think your last paragraph summary speaks volumes.
One of the reasons a military has problems when the best method of fighting a war has changed, is that in the military those who move up in rank are those that are very good at doing exactly what they are told to do. It doesn’t matter if what they are told to do is wasteful, foolish or the absolutely best thing ever. I don’t think it can really be any other way for obvious reasons.
One also has to remember that the non-military leaders of country always demand a quick victory. When the best method of warfare has changed, this creates problems. They don’t want to wait until new weapons, for example, are made. It was obvious in WW1 that the bolt action rifle was obsolete, yet all the government of the world kept cranking them out for 40+ more years.
Hague should have been awarded the Pour le Merite… by the Germans.
Such gibberish, at the time when the Brits were the leaders in the theory of mechanized warfare.
However, there’s one thing you can give him and his fellows credit for: Were it not for their arrogance, ineptitude and callousness, there would be no Australian film industry as we know it, built on a firm foundation of resentment and grievance against the upper strata of the British Army.
As the saying goes, “lions led by donkeys”…
Europe still loves horses … for dinner.
Indeed, I’m chucling while I type.
There’s a deep irony to that;
but for the Romanian politicians banning horse transport from the roads and producing a sudden glut of horse meat on the market…
but for that, horse is an expensive and high quality meat, more expensive to buy than beef, and used in preference to beef by top end northern Italian, Belgian, and French (got to be careful what order I type those in) restaurants, where a combination of leanness and tenderness are needed.
I’ve knowingly eaten horse, but refuse to knowingly eat a supermarket lasagne ready-meal costing £1
horse is likely to be the highest quality ingredient in there.
In 1926, it was by no means obvious that cavalry were obsolete. Tanks were slow, unreliable, and had very limited range. Armoured cars couldn’t move off road in most places, and what roads existed were often impassible in wet weather. Aircraft were useless if the weather was poor. Both required support and repair facilities which simply weren’t available everywhere.
In 1926 there was no prospect of another major European war. Germany, Austria-Hungary, Turkey, and Russia were all in a shambles, and Britain and France were victorious allies. Britain and France (and to a lesser extent Italy and the USA) however had large colonial empires, recently grown even larger by swallowing up colonies belonging to the losers.
For Britain at least, defence of their colonial empire was one of the central purposes of their army. And it should be remembered that Germany’s threats to Britain’s colonial possessions was one of the primary reasons driving Britain into alliance with France (up to then Britain’s traditional enemy) in the first place. Armies were required for policing those empires, and cavalry definitely had a major role to play in doing so.
In WWII, Germany employed a number of cavalry divisions in eastern Europe right up to the end of the war. These weren’t just Cossack turncoats either; there were several SS Kavalry divisions. The east was vast and open, with plains, forests, and mountains, and it was full of people who were willing to fight to the death in brutal partisan warfare. Calvary could move fast in difficult terrain to root out hidden forces in ways that neither the tanks nor aircraft of the day were capable of.
As others have already pointed out, the stories you may have heard about “Polish cavalry charging tanks” turned out to have no basis in fact. It was one of those stories which once it was shown to be false continued to be repeated anyway as it sounded “too good” to give up on just because it was false.
As for the Battle of the Somme, there is no question that it was a failure. However, take the contemporaneous accounts of Haig with a very large grain of salt. The official British histories of the war were written by people who had their own axes to grind and who did hatchet jobs on a number of major figures, including both Haig and Churchill. Various socialist, nationalist, and anti-war political movements seized on these accounts after the war to further their own ends. Recent histories however tend to take a somewhat view of the war overall.
Cannot eat a tank or a jet 🙂
MG may be right about the historical myth of Polish cavalry charging German armor. There is a pretty good detailed write-up with comprehensive commentary from contributors about this and the reasons why it probably came to be written into the history books at http://www.historynet.com/polish-cavalry-charges-tanks.htm. Robert M. Citino published this article on August 22nd, 2009. As some commentators to said article pointed out, one has to distinguish “myth” from “lies” because the former still contains some truth, although it has become embellished with time and by the agendas of those who provide that embellishment. As an example of this, the Polish 18th Lancer Regiment, part of the Pomorska Cavalry Brigade, had successfully attacked German infantry positions outside Krojanty in Pomerania, but then suffered heavy casualties when German armored cars came to the rescue of the infantry. This may have been one of the seeds that contributed to the myth, along with exaggerated accounts by war journalists of the time. It has also been pointed out that other incidents may have occurred during the invasion of Poland where encircled cavalry had no choice but to charge through German lines in an attempt to break out, which may have inadvertantly added to the myth. The “Comments” column of this article also contains Comments 5 and 5.1, which give interesting details about the Polish armored units and some of their battlefield exploits.
Thanks to MG for bringing up this subject — I learned a bit more about the truth behind the written histories we have long accepted as fact.
Krojanty! That’s the charge I was thinking of.
“aeroplanes and tanks are only accessories to the man and the horse”
Haig was a cavaryman to his finger tips and by 1926 well into his declining years so of course he would have thought there was continued role for the horse it is also invariably forgotten that Haig was the Commanding Officer of the most sucessful army of the first world war…………
successful because of or inspite of Haig?
I would argue that backed by the productive capacity and savings of the worlds most developed and largest economy, Britain’s politicians and generals had more to squander on the lousy ideals of total war and unconditional surrender of the opponents.
The English won. They (Haig) must have done something right?
I think the last successful cavalry charge was by the American Army in Batan. The charge was executed as a rearguard maneuver by 26th Cavalry Regiment on 24 December 1941. Apparently the Japanese infantry were taken aback by the charge. There still is a place for “Esprit De Corps” in the age of steel. After this charge the 26th was used as a firefighting force of rapid deployment infantry. Sadly most of horses of the 26th were eaten by their riders.:(
The English only won the war by illegally blocking food shipments to central Europe. They did that as soon as the war started. Their navy at least was good at stopping unarmed ships.
Read Churchill’s “The World Crisis”. It’s a first hand account of the war by someone who was there and was in on the major decisions right from the beginning.
In the summer of 1911 (3 years before the war), Churchill wrote a memorandum which in part said (in part):
“… A prudent survey of chances from the British point of view ought to contemplate that, when the German advance decisively begins, it will be backed by sufficient preponderance of force, and developed on a sufficiently wide front to compel the French armies to retreat from the positions behind the Belgian frontier, even though they may hold the gaps between the fortresses on the Verdun-Belfort front. … But, even if the Germans were brought to a standstill, the French would not be strong enough to advance in their turn; and in any case we ought not to count on this. The balance of probability is that by the twentieth day, the French armies will have been driven from the line of the Meuse, and will be falling back on Paris and the south. All plans based on the opposite assumption ask too much of fortune.
Time is also required for the naval blockade to make itself felt on German commerce, industry, and food prices, as described in the Admiralty Memorandum, and for these again to to react on German credit and finances already burdened with the prodigious daily cost of war. All these pressures will develop simultaneously and progressively …
By the fortieth day Germany should be extended at full strain both internally and on her war fronts, and this strain will become daily more severe and ultimately overwhelming, unless it is relieved by decisive victories in France. If the French army has not been squandered by precipitate or desperate action, the balance of forces should be favourable after the fortieth day, and will improve steadily as time passes. For the German armies will be confronted with a situation which combines an ever-growing need for a successful offensive, with a battle-front which tends continually towards numerical equality. Opportunities for the decisive trial of strength may then occur …”
The war began on the 28 July, and the Battle of the Marne (which halted the Germans began on the 5th of September – on the fortieth day, just as Churchill predicted. What followed was years of trench warfare, while Germany’s economy withered under the financial and trade pressures. Ultimately what defeated Germany wasn’t tanks or secret weapons, it was the inability of a modern economy like Germany’s to function whilst isolated from the rest of the world. This was foreseen and counted on by Britain.
There are a lot of myths about WW1, including that no one realised the scale of the struggle or the devastation it would wreak. The British cabinet were under no illusions in this regards and were prepared to bring any and all measures to bear in their defence and contemplated “total war” right from the beginning.
“The English won. They (Haig) must have done something right?”
he was there, that’s about the limit of it.
As an Aussie, there is no particular love lost for Haig, but you can’t blame him for not having a crystal ball. who would have thought Carrier Pigeons would have proved useful again during WWII?
Anyway, this from Wikipedia:
“…at the Battle of Beersheba during the Sinai and Palestine Campaign in 1917, the Australian Mounted Division’s 4th Light Horse Brigade made what is sometimes called “the last successful cavalry charge in history”, when two regiments successfully overran Turkish trenches. They formed up over a wide area, to avoid offering a target for enemy artillery, and galloped 3 kilometres (1.9 mi) into machine gun fire, equipped only with rifles and bayonets. Some of the front ranks fell, but most of the brigade broke through, their horses jumping the trenches into the enemy camp. Some soldiers dismounted to fight in the trenches, while others raced on to Beersheba, to capture the town and its vital water supplies. The charge was “instrumental in securing Allenby’s victory [in Palestine]”.
The Australians primarily rode Waler horses. The English cavalry officer, Lieutenant Colonel RMP Preston DSO, summed up the animals’ performance in his book, The Desert Mounted Corps:
… (November 16th, 1917) The operations had now continued for 17 days practically without cessation, and a rest was absolutely necessary especially for the horses. Cavalry Division had covered nearly 170 miles … and their horses had been watered on an average of once in every 36 hours … The heat, too, had been intense and the short rations, 9 1⁄2 lb of grain per day without bulk food, had weakened them greatly. Indeed, the hardship endured by some horses was almost incredible. One of the batteries of the Australian Mounted Division had only been able to water its horses three times in the last nine days—the actual intervals being 68, 72 and 76 hours respectively. Yet this battery on its arrival had lost only eight horses from exhaustion, not counting those killed in action or evacuated wounded … The majority of horses in the Corps were Walers and there is no doubt that these hardy Australian horses make the finest cavalry mounts in the world …”
Hello, Robert :
Thanks for sharing that with us. The 4th Light Horse Brigade’s achievements would have been all the more remarkable given that the Turks definitely constituted a most worthy opponent deserving of the highest level of respect — tough as nails, resilient, tenacious, highly-competent, and possessed of great endurance under adverse conditions ; all in all, a truly formidable foe. Their performance in the defence of Gallipoli against superior Allied forces is, of course, a matter of recorded history and proof of their capabilities.
If I remember correctly, the Waler has an excellent bloodline descending from Thoroughbred, Cape Horse, Arab, Timor, Percheron and Clydesdale, a combination that gives the Waler such outstanding abilities.
Even though his idea was certainly outdated, horses (/horse units) haven’t disappeared in all armies. For example the Swiss Army still maintains “Train”-Units (not the the steel-horse), which are used to carry valuable supplies to troops in mountainous terrain. Additionally horses are also use to for patrols along the borders or important areas.
While not a Cavlalry unit, MP’s on some modern installations still use horses to patrol perimeter fence in remote areas with hostile terrain. Much quieter and more mobile than many sypes of ATV.
First some context!
These remarks were made in 1925 and paraphrased – this is NOT a direct quote but a reporter’s comments on what Haig said to an audience of veterinarians.
‘On June 4, 1925 Douglas Haig was given an honorary diploma at the annual meeting of the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons. He addressed the group and spoke about the future use of horses during warfare. The next day “The Times” newspaper of London described Haig’s remarks. Stylistically, the account did not present the comments in the form of direct quotes. ‘
So firstly it is not a quote.
Secondly – this was the general who both absorbed the lessons of the Battle of Hamel and who enthusiastically embraced the tank, the tactical use of aircraft in direct ground support, the development of the fearsome efficiency of the Royal Artillery and above all else who applied Monash’s concept of ‘the battlefield symphony’ at the highest levels.
There is a LOT of modern scholarship coming out now on WWI and what it is revealing is that there’s a hell of a lot of complete rubbish believed about that war. One of these meme’s is ‘the british Generals were all idiots’, another is ‘Haig was a butcher’.
It all turns out to be utterly false.
After all, it was Haig’s Imperial Army (with some French assistance) which crushingly defeated the Imperial German Army in the field in Flanders from August to October 1918. And they were using Monash’s ‘battlefield symphony’ as encouraged and expanded by Haig.
Finally, in the context of 1925, when the mass army had been disbanded and the Imperial Army was getting back into its classic Imperial garrison role – where cavalry was genuinely superior in nearly every respect to tanks and armoured cars. As the tank trials on the North-west Frontier showed repeatedly.
And, seriously, just what else was Haig going to say about horses to a bunch of veterinarians?
And, seriously, just what else was Haig going to say about horses to a bunch of veterinarians?
Rather less seriously….”Tastes like chicken?”
(Of course, horse doesn’t…)
😀 😀 :-D!
Much of the demonisation of Haig was down to post war backside covering by politicians, in particular Lloyd George who had run down defence spending in the years up to 1914.
When you look at the time and space constraints that faced the BEF, Haig and Kitchener’s efforts in transforming a colonial police force into a successful continental army are remarkable…
The real question is given the current Afghan situation, what would Haig have done?
Would have killed them all (regardless of side) by saturation bombing with poison gas.