The defensive and offensive capabilities of French light cavalry armed with carbines, from the Battle of Yser 1914

 


Quoted from Chasseur of 1914  by Marcel Dupont 

'Then, dominating the tumult, we heard their trumpets sounding the short, monotonous notes of the Prussian charge.

I leaped back into the trench.

"Independent fire!"

The whole French line burst into a violent and deafening fusillade. Each man seemed full of blind rage, of an exasperated lust for destruction. I saw them take aim rapidly, press the trigger, and reload in feverish haste. I was deafened and bewildered by the
terrible noise of the firing in the narrow confines of the trench. To our left, the machine-gun section of my friend F. kept up an infernal racket.

But the German line had suddenly dropped to the ground. Would they dare to come on again? We hoped so with all our hearts, for we felt that if we could keep our men in hand, and prevent them from firing at random, the [Pg 211] enemy could never get at us. But, above all, it was essential to economise our ammunition, for if we were short of cartridges, what resistance could we offer to a bayonet charge with our little carbines reduced to silence?

The Germans must have been severely shaken, for they seemed afraid to resume the attack. Nothing was moving in the bare plain that stretched before us. During this respite an order came from the officer in command, passing from mouth to mouth:

"Hand it on: No firing without the word of command."

Then silence fell on our trenches, heavy and complete as on the landscape before us. Suddenly, on the place where the enemy's riflemen had thrown themselves on the ground, we saw a slim shadow rise and stand. The man had got up quietly, as if no danger threatened him. And, in spite of everything, it was impossible not to admire the gallantry of his act. He stood motionless for a second, leaning on his sword or a stick; then he [Pg 212] raised his arm slowly, and a hoarse voice yelled:

"Auf!" [Up!]

Other voices repeated the word of command, and were answered by renewed "hurrahs!" Then the heavy line of riflemen sprang up and again rushed towards us:

"Fire! Fire!"

Once more our trenches belched forth their infernal fire. We could now plainly see numbers of them fall; then they suddenly threw themselves on the ground just as before. But instead of crouching motionless among the beetroot they began to answer our fire. Innumerable bullets whistled about us. I noted with joy that my men remained perfectly steady; they were aiming and firing deliberately, whereas at other points the fusillade was so violent that it cannot have been efficacious. I was very glad not to have to reprove my brave Chasseurs, for the uproar was so terrific that my voice would not have carried beyond the two men nearest to me. I calculated the number of cartridges each of them must have in reserve; twenty-five, perhaps thirty. How would it all end? I was just thinking of ordering my troop to cease firing, in order to reserve my ammunition for a supreme effort, if this should be necessary.

But something happened which checked this decision. F.'s machine- guns must have worked fearful havoc among our assailants, for suddenly, without a cry and without an order, we saw them rise and make off quickly right and left in the fog.

[Some time later] between two explosions, in spite of the noise of the German bullets, we distinctly heard the crack of our carbines.

"Our men are fighting!"

We all understood, and with one bound we were up and running frantically through the wood. How was it that none of us were killed? How did we manage to escape the shells and bullets which were cropping the branches and felling the trees around us? I shall never understand or forget this experience.

When at last we sprang breathless into our trench after what had seemed an interminable race, the tumult had died down again and only occasional shots broke the nocturnal calm. The reason of the sudden renewal of the fighting was given at once by F.

"Bravo!" he cried; "we have retaken the infantry Chasseurs' trench!"

This was a great consolation to us, for we were all full of regret at the loss of this little piece of ground. It had prevented us from feeling quite satisfied with our day.

Now all was well. Our task was accomplished.'

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