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Cavalry A Popular Edition of "Cavalry in War and Peace"

A Popular Edition of "Cavalry in War and Peace"
Title: Cavalry A Popular Edition of "Cavalry in War and Peace"
Release Date: 2019-01-06
Type book: Text
Copyright Status: Public domain in the USA.
Date added: 27 March 2019
Count views: 43
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Author of "How Germany Makes War"



G.C.B., G.C.V.O., K.C.M.G.




Copyright, 1914, by


[Pg 5]


General von Bernhardi is best known in England as a writer of the"Jingo" School which has done so much to produce the war, but thisis only one side of his literary activity. He is also a writer ofrecognised ability on the theory and practice of modern war. Sir JohnFrench's introduction to the present work is sufficient testimony tothe value which is set upon his purely professional writings.

General von Bernhardi is a distinguished cavalry officer, and he writeswith remarkable independence on the special work of his own arm, neverhesitating to criticise the regulations of the German Army, when heconsiders that they do not correspond to the actual conditions of war.The book, though written in the first instance for cavalry officers,will be found of interest to all who wish to understand what cavalryis called upon to do and how it does it in the war of to-day. Itwill be found to be full of useful instruction for not only officersof the regular cavalry and the yeomanry, but also for officers andnon-commissioned officers of our cyclist battalions, whose work bringsthem into such close relation with our cavalry in war and manœuvres,and who have to perform much the same work as that of the cavalry inreconnaissance, screening, and outpost duties.

General von Bernhardi's work deals with cavalry in war and peace,but much of the second part, dealing with peace duties and training,is made up of a mass[Pg 6] of detail on parade and riding-school work, ascarried out in the German Army. This has been omitted, but his remarkson cavalry training at manœuvres are included in an appendix. SirJohn French's introduction gives us the views of the greatest of ourown cavalry leaders, who is now commanding our Army in France.

[Pg 7]


All British soldiers will welcome this excellent translation byMajor Bridges of a new work by General von Bernhardi, whose intimateknowledge of cavalry and brilliant writings have won for him such agreat European reputation.

Some prominence has lately been given in England to erroneous viewsconcerning the armament and tactics of cavalry. General von Bernhardi'sbook contains sound doctrine on this subject, and will show to everyone who has an open mind and is capable of conviction by reasonedargument how great is the future rle of cavalry, and how determinedare the efforts of the great cavalry leaders of Europe to keep abreastwith the times, and to absorb, for the profit of the arm, every lessontaught by experience, both in peace and war.

In all theories, whether expounded by so eminent an authority asGeneral von Bernhardi or by others who have not his claims to ourattention, there is, of course, a good deal that must remain a matterof opinion, and a question open for free and frank discussion. ButI am convinced that some of the reactionary views recently aired inEngland concerning cavalry will, if accepted and adopted, lead firstto the deterioration and then to the collapse of cavalry when next itis called upon to fulfil its mission in war. I therefore recommendnot only cavalry officers, but officers of all arms and services, toread and ponder[Pg 8] this book, which provides a strengthening tonic forweak minds which may have allowed themselves to be impressed by thedangerous heresies to which I have alluded.

Is there such a thing as the cavalry spirit, and should it be ourobject to develop this spirit, if it exists, to the utmost, or tosuppress it? General von Bernhardt thinks that this spirit exists andshould be encouraged, and I agree with him. It is not only possiblebut necessary to preach the Army spirit, or, in other words, the closecomradeship of all arms in battle, and at the same time to developthe highest qualities and the special attributes of each branch. Theparticular spirit which we seek to encourage is different for eacharm. Were we to seek to endow cavalry with the tenacity and stiffnessof infantry, or to take from the mounted arm the mobility and the cultof the offensive which are the breath of its life, we should ruin notonly the cavalry, but the Army besides. Those who scoff at the spirit,whether of cavalry, of artillery, or of infantry, are people who havehad no practical experience of the actual training of troops in peace,or of the personal leadership in war. Such men are blind guides indeed.

Another reason why I welcome this book is because it supplies a timelyanswer to schoolmen who see in our South African experiences, someof which they distort and many of which they forget, the acme of allmilitary wisdom. It is always a danger when any single campaign ispicked out, at the fancy of some pedagogue, and its lessons recommendedas a panacea. It is by study and meditation of the whole of the longhistory of war, and not by concentration upon single and special phasesof it, that we obtain safe guidance[Pg 9] to the principles and practices ofan art which is as old as the world.

It is not only the campaigns which we and others have fought whichdeserve reflection, but also the wars which may lie in front of us.General von Bernhardi does not neglect the lessons of past wars, but hegives the best of reasons for thinking that the wars in South Africaand Manchuria have little in common with the conditions of warfare inEurope. We notice, as we read his book, that he has constantly in hismind the enemies whom the German Army must be prepared to meet, theirarms, their tactics, and their country, and that he urges his comradesto keep the conditions of probable wars constantly before their eyes.

It passes comprehension that some critics in England should gravelyassure us that the war in South Africa should be our chief source ofinspiration and guidance, and that it was not abnormal. All wars areabnormal, because there is no such thing as normal war. In applyingthe lessons of South Africa to the training of cavalry, we should bevery foolish if we did not recognise at this late hour that very few ofthe conditions of South Africa are likely to recur. I will name onlya few of them. The composition and tactics of the Boer forces were asdissimilar from those of European armies as possible. Boer commandosmade no difficulty about dispersing to the four winds when pressed, andre-uniting again some days or weeks later hundreds of miles from thescene of their last encounter. Such tactics in Europe would lead to thedisruption and disbandment of any army that attempted them.

Secondly, the war in South Africa was one for the conquest andannexation of immense districts, and no[Pg 10] settlement was open to usexcept the complete submission of our gallant enemy. A campaign withsuch a serious object in view is the most difficult that can beconfided to an army if the enemy is brave, enterprising, well-armed,numerous, and animated with unconquerable resolve to fight to thebitter end. I am not sure that people in England have ever fullygrasped this distinctive feature of our war with the Dutch Republics.Let me quote the opinion of the late Colonel Count Yorck von Wartenburgon this subject. In his remarkable book "Napoleon as a General," CountYorck declares that if, in the campaign of 1870-71, the absoluteconquest and annexation of France had been desired, German procedurewould not have been either logical or successful, and that the Germanswould have failed as completely as Napoleon failed in Spain. ButCount Yorck shows that when plans have a definite and limited objectin view—namely, to obtain peace on given conditions—the situationis altered. Count Yorck shows that the German plans in 1870-71 wereperfectly appropriate to this limited aim, and that they were thereforesuccessful. The very serious task which British policy imposed uponBritish strategy in South Africa must never be forgotten.

Thirdly, we did not possess any means for remounting our cavalry withtrained horses, such as we are endeavouring to secure by our new systemof cavalry depts and reserve regiments. After the capture, in rearof the army, of the great convoy by De Wet, our horses were on shortcommons, and consequently lost condition and never completely recoveredit.

Lastly, owing to the wholesale and repeated release of prisoners whohad been captured and who subsequently appeared again in the fieldagainst us, we were called upon to fight, not, as is stated, 86,000 or87,[Pg 11]000 men, but something like double that number or more, with thisadditional disadvantage, that the enemy possessed on his second orthird appearance against us considerable experience of our methods, anda certain additional seasoned fitness.

Nevertheless we are now invited to throw away our cold steel as uselesslumber owing to some alleged failures of the cavalry in South Africa.Were we to do so, we should invert the rle of cavalry, turn it intoa defensive arm, and make it a prey to the first foreign cavalrythat it meets, for good cavalry can always compel a dismounted forceof mounted riflemen to mount and ride away, and when such riflemenare caught on their horses they have power neither of offence nor ofdefence and are lost. If, in European warfare, such mounted riflemenwere to separate and scatter, the enemy would be well pleased, for hecould then reconnoitre and report every movement and make his plans inall security. In South Africa the mounted riflemen were the hostilearmy itself, and when they had dispersed there was nothing left toreconnoitre; but when and where will these conditions recur?

Even in South Africa, grave though were the disadvantages under whichour cavalry laboured from short commons and overwork, the Boer mountedriflemen acknowledged on many occasions the moral force of the coldsteel, and gave way before it. The action at Zand River in May, 1900,was a case in point, and I only quote a personal experience because thevenerable maxim that an ounce of practice is worth a ton of theory hasstill a good deal to be said for it. The rle of the Cavalry Divisionon the day to which I refer was to bring pressure to bear on the rightflank of the Boer army in order to enable Lord Roberts to[Pg 12] advanceacross the river and attack the main Boer forces. Having crossed theriver to the west of the Boers, we determined, with the inner oreasterly brigade, to seize an important kopje lying on the right flankof the Boer position, and, pivoting upon this, to throw two brigadesagainst the right flank and rear of the enemy.

The Boers told off a strong force of picked mounted riflemen to opposethis movement, which they expected. The kopje was seized by the innerbrigade, and the brigade next to it made some progress; but the Boermounted riflemen attacked the flank brigade to the extreme west, andbegan to drive it back. I galloped from the kopje to the outer brigadewith the thought that either every idea which I had ever formed inmy life as to the efficacy of shock action against mounted riflemenwas utterly erroneous, or that this was the moment to show that itwas not. On reaching the outer brigade I ordered it to mount and formfor attack. All ranks were at once electrified into extraordinaryenthusiasm and energy. The Boers realised what was coming. Their firebecame wild, and the bullets began to fly over our heads. Directly theadvance began, the Boers hesitated, and many rushed to their horses.We pressed forward with all the very moderate speed of tired horses,whereupon the whole Boer force retired in the utmost confusion anddisorder, losing in a quarter of an hour more ground than they had wonduring three or

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