The twilight years

Cavalry in World War One

The first world war was truly the twilight of  cavalry. Warfare for decades before had shown that the days of the Arme Blanche were truly numbered, yet some cavalry commanders in 1914 firmly believed that the noble horse still held the key to control of the battlefield. An old design precept holds that 'form follows function', and this was never truer than with the future of the cavalry, for their function was never more essential on the battlefield. It was just the 'form' that in 1914 had yet to be re-defined. However even in 1914 the signs were there, with aircraft reporting German positions and strengths to Field Marshal French before Mons and Le Cateau, and RNAS armoured cars doing good service in Belgium. By 1918 airpower and armoured vehicles had shown the future with their ability meet the reconnaissance and shock functions that had been provided by cavalry for centuries before..

This feature is designed to inspire (as if inspiration was ever needed), and to inform. There are articles available for download, compiled from publications of the time. Perhaps most interestingly at this early stage in the development of this page, you can follow the development of an early cavalry battle in 1914 as German and British cavalry meet  in Flanders during the race to the sea. This article was pieced together by Robert Dunlop, and is particularly interesting because Robert has assembled descriptions of the same actions from both the German and BEF perspectives. The comparisons make for interesting reading. There are images scattered liberally through the pages, so make sure that you check out each article fully. Finally, the aim of these pages is of course to promote interesting, exciting and challenging games using the Great War Spearhead rules, so you will find reference to war games scenarios that you can play (using the growing range of plastics WW1 20mm figures if you are like me, or of course the already wide variety of figures that have been available in 15mm and 6mm for quite some time).


Reference articles

Interesting articles on Cavalry on the battlefield during the early years of the twentieth century and the first world war:

  • To set the scene here is an interesting article on Cavalry in the Russo-Japanese War: La Cavalerie Russe pendant la Guerre Russo-Japonaise, par M. le capitaine Serge Nidvine, Translated from the French 'Journal des Sciences Militaires' August, 1905, By Captain Herschel Tupes, 1st U.S. Infantry, September 1905, Annotated & Footnoted by Jeffrey Leser, December 2002, The Russian Cavalry during the Russo-Japanese War.
  • Here are two interesting extracts from 'Chasseur of 1914', by Marcel Dupont, giving some insight into the French cavalry of the time. This is a topic on which I have seen a lot of ill-informed comment. Here is some material that might lift the level of debate. The first extract describes a reconnaissance, while the other describes the effect of cavalry carbines in the defense.
  • Cavalry of course had an enormous impact on operations in Palestine. Here is some material from the New Zealand Official History "The New Zealanders in Sinai and Palestine" by Lt Col C Guy Powles. It describes the domestic virtues of man and horse on campaign in that most inhospitable of environments, although of course it is written very much in the style of the time.
  • This description of a typical desert patrol, taken from 'The History of the Canterbury Mounted Rifles', offers an interesting insight into the reconnaissance tasks undertaken in Palestine. It offers little of direct use on the Great War Spearhead 'gaming table, but it does help us to understand the nature of cavalry reconnaissance in general.
  • Here's a nice web page on 'The Light Horse in Palestine' that features descriptions of both Australian and New Zealand forces in action. There are two very nice brief descriptions of actions, one of the New Zealanders at Tel Es Saba, and the other of the Australians at Beersheba.
  • This small extract come from "An Englishman in the Russian Ranks ", by John Morse describing a cavalry action on the eastern front.
  • 'German cavalry in Flanders 1914', is a fascinating compilation of extracts drawn together by Robert Dunlop. It looks at the actions that developed between the German and BEF cavalry in Flanders during the Race to the Sea in October 1914. Robert has pout together a range of views of the developing battle from both British and German sources, giving a unique view of the operational methods used by the cavalry during this phase of open warfare in France.
  • The World War 1 cavalry of Nuno Cabešadas, a special photo feature
  • Russian cavalry combined operations: an extract from "Four Weeks in the Trenches:The War Story of a Violinist" by Fritz Kreisler, at the time an officer in the Austro Hungarian army.


War games scenarios

Some war-games scenarios that will allow you to use your own cavalry figures:

  • Battle of the Silver Helmets, Halen, August 1914
  • Defence of Messines, October 1914, found in the Yahoo Group files section
  • Advanced Guard, a fictional scenario set in September 1914
  • Shaiba: a cracker of a Mesopotamian battle with swirling Arab cavalry supporting the Turkish attack, and a gallant band of Indian cavalry supporting their own infantry in defense of Shaiba, found in the Yahoo Group files section. An After Action Report can be read in the AAR section of 'The Great Adventure.


Cavalry figures close up

The photos that follow come from my own collections: hopefully they may inspire other 'gamers. The range of the collections represents a rather eclectic interest in the mounted arm of the time. Some have been collected to complete formations, others for specific scenarios, and yet more because they were there: a true sign of the advanced state of the 'war gamers' disease'.

Strelets Don Cossacks, in 20mm plastic. The dismounted figures are HaT Russian Infantry.


Strelets Kuban Cossacks. The foot figures come from the Strelets Crimean War Cossacks.


Strelets Late War German Dragoons.


BEF 1914 Cavalry. 

These figures were created using the riders from Airfix/Hat British Artillery 1914 set, mounted on horses from the American Civil War cavalry set. The horse furniture is incorrect for this period of course, but the figures create a reasonably pleasing result for those preferring to use plastic figures for their armies. These riders do feature bandoliers that are a reasonable representation of those actually worn by the British cavalry at this time. The dismounted figure comes from their British Infantry set. Again this is technically incorrect, with the figure wearing the infantry back pack. This simple 'conversion' was the suggestion of Stan Walker.


HaT Bedouin camelry painted up as Arab irregular camelry for Great War Spearhead. The foot figure on the rear base is in fact a figure of 'El Lawrence'!!!


Another view of the Strelets late war German dragoons


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