German Cavalry in Flanders 1914


The following pages present a fascinating view of the actions that took place between 8th and 15th October 1914 between the German cavalry and BEF. They have been pieced together from a series of different accounts, and so you can see the action develop from both the German and British perspectives. They cover one aspect of the Race to the Sea, in which the cavalry played a prominent part throughout. 

A brief bibliography can be found at the end of the article.

As the Entente and German forces competed to outflank each other, they met up in the region of Neuve Chapelle and Aubers. At this point, the British were playing a prominent role on behalf of the Entente. 

BEF cavalry, using the HaT Royal Horse Artillery riders on HaT ACW Union Cavalry horses

Let's start with Poseck's information first:

'October 9th to 18th [1914]

The cavalry was again being moved northward, the 4th Cavalry Corps under Hollen, the 2nd under Marwitz and the 1st under Richthofen, in the lead of a new movement of troops to the west between Ypres and La Bassée, to secure the approach march and seize battle manoeuvre space for the forces coming up to extend the flank of the army.

On October 9th, General von der Marwitz was enabled to begin the movement upon being relieved at Lens. At first the four cavalry divisions were assembled in the sector Oignies - Carvin - Courrières. The occasion was utilised by hostile aviators, who, under a cloudless sky, dropped about twenty bombs upon the massed troopers, in which especially the 4th and Guard Divisions experienced heavy losses.

On October 10th, the arrival of news that Antwerp had fallen tended to bolster the good spirits of the troops.

On October 11th, an advance became extremely difficult due to the arrival of fresh reinforcements of English troops, and to the unfavourable nature of the ground to be traversed. The region was covered with farms and towns and villages, the latter containing strongly-built stone houses and occasional factories. The intervening ground consisted mainly of water-filled ditches, fences, hedges and embankments, which it was difficult to pass, and which furnished the enemy with an ideal opportunity of holding up our advance. Despite these obstacles, the cavalry began an assault along the entire front.

The 9th Cavalry Division advanced on an extended front in an attack on La Fosse, Vieille Chapelle and Lacouture. The 14th Cavalry Brigade, with cyclists, became engaged in a lengthy and violent struggle, and endured for hours the most formidable hostile artillery bombardment, finally winning possession of the crossings over the Lawe canal at La Fosse. Powerful enemy attacks were repulsed south of Vieille Chapelle by the 13th Cavalry Brigade. The 5th Uhlan Regiment suffered severe losses from air bombs.

Lt Hotop, commander of the 15th Dragoon Regiment, assumed command of the dismounted elements of 30th Brigade. They proceeded of the open plateau as far as the village of Richebourg St Vaast, where the severe artillery and machine gun fire bombardment of the enemy prevented a further advance. A gun of the 15th Horse Artillery Battalion was driven up to the front line and assisted in holding the advance positions against the violent enemy fire until darkness set in. Richebourg l'Avoue was seized by the 26th Brigade.

German infantry and Divisional cavalry stand in defence of a tree line

In the 1st Cavalry Corps sector, the 4th Division advanced the 7th Jäger Battalion and troopers of the 39th Cavalry Brigade in an attack upon Festubert. The attack was successfully carried forward to the vicinity of la Quinque Rue, where it was halted by the formidable fire of enemy artillery [French 75s].

During this time, the Guard Cavalry Division had advanced in a fog at 7 o'clock in the morning upon Lorgies, in order to attack La Bassée from the north... and from the south.

Following a bombardment of the city by the heavy artillery of the 14th Army Corps between 5 and 5.30 pm, the troopers rushed to the assault. At 6 o'clock La Bassée fell before the onslaught of the Guard Division. The enemy was driven from the street barricades, which had been erected by details of the 158th French Infantry Regiment, a jäger battalion, turcos and cavalry troopers, under orders to hold them to the last man. Suffering a loss of several hundred killed and 200 prisoners, the defenders fled towards Béthune under the fire of our cyclist detachment.'

On the French cavalry, the British Official History notes that: 

'As the British advanced guards moved forward, Conneau's cavalry corps, which had been covering the II Corps north of the canal, retired and moved away to its left flank to concentrate at Lestrem. It came almost as a shock to the II Corps to find the French still in their blue and red uniforms and to see cuirassier regiments, with their toy carbines, still in breast-plates - those of the officers shining with the burnish of nickel or silver plate, the men's dirty and rusty.'

Enter the British, stage south.

British cavalry advancing from cover

Here is the British Official History description of the terrain:

'The country ahead of the II Corps was extremely difficult - flat, except for an occasional swell of a few feet, on which the farms and buildings were placed, and for a low ridge. This ridge had an outstanding feature at its southern end, later known as Aubers ridge, which in October was so screened by trees and hedgerows as to be almost invisible. Much of the ground was little better than a morass, intersected by hedgerows and by deep muddy dykes and streams, impassable except by bridging. The movement of artillery was impracticable except on the roads, though in compensation the pollard willows among the banks of the ditches were often convenient for hiding the guns.

The Germans, although they did not appear to be in great strength, and consisted of our old antagonists on the Marne, the I and II Cavalry Corps, with their usual Jäger, infantry and cyclist battalions, disputed every building, every waterway and every hedge. The Guard Cavalry Division, opponents of II Corps at the passage of the Aisne, had secured La Bassée the previous day and were attempting to advance from it; whilst north of it were the 4th, 7th and 9th Cavalry Divisions. The [German] IV Cavalry Corps was northward of the front of II Corps.

Thus north of the canal, five infantry brigades of the II Corps were opposed by four cavalry divisions, supported by more battalions than made up two British infantry brigades.'

The stage was set for the conflict between the BEF infantry and the German cavalry.

Back to Poseck's account:

'October 12th. The task of the [German] cavalry remained the same. 
The renewed offensive along the entire front met increased resistance.

Fight at La Fosse. - In the sector of the 9th Cavalry Division, the 19th Cavalry Brigade fought successfully in a thick fog for possession of Pont Riquel and Lestrem. The 14th Cavalry Brigade seized La Fosse and held it against a heavy cannonading by the enemy, and despite a vehement assault at 5 o'clock in the afternoon by English troops, which was brought to a standstill.'

Lestrem is here:

If you zoom in, Pont Riquel is close by. La Fosse is just to the south. The British Official History does not make any specific mention of this action, only that the left flank of II Corps extended to Fosse.

If you scroll south, you will find La Couture, west of Richebourg St Vaast. This is 'Lacouture' referred to in the next account:

'Fighting near Lacouture [sic]. The 7th Cavalry was reinforced at 11 o'clock in the morning by two battalions of the 112th [Infantry Regiment] arriving at Neuve Chapelle. The division attacked with the 26th Cavalry Brigade (25th and 26th Dragoons) against Lacouture, and with the 30th Brigade (9th Hussars and 15th Dragoons) and the two battalions of the 112th against Richebourg St Vaast. The account of the 26th Dragoon Regiment in the action at Lacouture is here given:

"The regimental commander assigned two squadrons to the front line, the 3rd Squadron with machine gun in echelon to the right. From the skirmish line, men sprang forward in rushes, to cut the numerous wire fences and hedges with their wire-cutters and hatchets.

The advancing squadron was subjected to heavy rifle, machine gun and artillery fire on the right flank. [The commander], at the head of his regiment, fell wounded by a shell splinter. The brave commander of 3rd Squadron also fell.

Within 400 metres of Lacouture the regiment was halted until the adjoining troops on the left should come up in line. Also, brigade orders required the two infantry battalions [to come into the line]. Captain von Neubronner, who had assumed command of the regiment ordered the occupation of a marshy ditch, which was screened by a willow thicket. The position drew such furious fire from the enemy guns that its occupants were withdrawn to safe cover, while the captain remained with his group and platoon leaders for further observation.

The enemy firing gradually weakened. The action of our own artillery compelled the English to seek cover. The troopers now left their cover by sections, advancing by degrees toward Lacouture, and took by assault the enemy trenches on the east of the village.

Many courageous troopers lay fallen in the field of honour, yet we had shown the Englishmen that a Swabian dragoon not only knew the art of the lance, but could handle the carbine as well in a storming attack."'

Fight at Richebourg St Vaast. - The attack at this point, as well as the counter-thrust at 5.30 pm by the English, is best described in the report from the 15th Dragoon Regiment:

"Again the line of skirmishers had acres of beet fields to cross in the face of persistent enemy firing, the adversary being recognised as French cavalrymen and alpine jägers. In a steady persistent advance, the Dragoons reached the village of Richebourg. Furious street fighting ensued. The French had thrown up trenches, employed guns from behind walls and through holes broken out of house walls, and had set up successive barricades in the streets. Here the dragoons learned how to reverse the carbine in close fighting, and to attack the enemy with the butt; they also employed pocket-knives as a substitute for the bayonet which they lacked [a theme that crops up on other occasions throughout Poseck's account]. From barricade to barricade, the attack slowly progressed. The reinforcements, which were drawn from horseholders in rear must of necessity run through the zone of enemy artillery fire. Our own artillery was in the meantime hurling its iron missiles into the hostile ranks on the west edge of the village.

Finally, in the early afternoon, the regiment had driven the adversary entirely out of the village, and fully established in the temporary fortifications on the west edge of the village.

Only for a short time were the troopers to breathe in their new positions, for soon (5.30 pm) a strong counter-attack was launched. English reinforcements had been brought up to assist their French allies. In close brown ranks the enemy advanced from the poplars and assaulted our lines.

The cool, well-directed fire of the dragoons, assisted by the steady machine-gun action of the infantry on our left, thinned the English ranks and halted the advance. The enemy line from 150 to 200 metres away, sought shelter in the natural low ditches along the streets. Lacking trench tools, they dug up with their hands the urgent protection for their exposed line.

The firing lasted until 11 o'clock at night."

The 15th Horse Artillery Battalion rendered loyal assistance in this attack.

"After the edge of the village had been taken, the English advanced to counter-attack in close formation, just as our batteries had changed position to the front and could not therefore fire on them. 
The rows of trees and hedges dotting the landscape permitted observation of only the first ranks. The battery commander, Captain Scheffel, upon receiving the message from the liaison officer of the critical situation wherein our troopers could hold out but little longer against the fierce enemy onslaught, unlimbered his battery in the covered position where it was and directed it to lay pieces on the enemy. Personally galloping to the front of our troopers, he satisfied himself as to the true conditions. As the telephone squad could not follow so rapidly, he hurried back toward it, and, without observation, ordered fire opened. The very first shots had the correct range as they struck the enemy, who fell back followed by the fire of the battery."

The 7th Cavalry Division placed outposts in the captured position, while the main body returned to billets near Aubers and Fromelles.'

'Fight at Richebourg l'Avoué. In the 1st Cavalry Corps sector, the 4th Division advanced on both sides of the road from Neuve Chapelle to Richebourg l'Avoué. Due to the thick fog, the 7th Jäger Battalion and Brigades Printz and Goltz could not begin their attack before 10 o'clock in the morning. Persistent fire of enemy artillery delayed the advance, yet the troopers finally won their way by noon into the very centre of Richebourg l'Avoué. The attained positions were fortified and wired with the aid of the engineers.

Engagements at Festubert and Givenchy. The 1st and 2nd Brigades came in contact with a strong enemy force (English) in the line through Rue du Marais and a point one kilometre east of Givenchy. The advance being checked, the troopers entrenched themselves. From the neighbourhood of Rue du Marais the 1st Guard Uhlan Regiment came in contact, under cover of thick fog, with English troops advancing from Festubert. The Regiment reported the action in this wise:

"The commander of the 3rd Squadron, Captain von Wiedebach, gave the order to dismount and engage the enemy on foot, and the squadron advanced under hot fire toward the enemy well concealed in ditches and underbrush. In order to orient himself, Captain von Wiedebach stood up to look through the glasses, only to receive a mortal wound from a speeding bullet, crumpling him up. Lt von Tresckow now assumed command of the slowly advancing troopers. He too fell mortally wounded shortly thereafter. After a bitter struggle, during which the advance was made only little by little, the enemy were finally driven back, and the attained position strengthened and held.

The losses of the Regiment this day were as follows: 2 officers killed, 1 officer severely wounded, 4 corporals and uhlans dead, 20 wounded and 9 horses killed.

The 1st Guard Brigade with the Guard Jäger Battalion were likewise unable to come closer than 300 metres to Givenchy, where the troopers dug themselves in."'

Next, the British Official History of this day's actions...

The British cavalry 

'In spite of [the German] resistance and one determined counter-attack - made against the junction of the two British divisions and repelled by the 1/East Surrey (14th Brigade) - progress was made on an eight mile front, particularly in an attack at 3 pm timed to synchronise with one by the French XXI Corps, which did not however take place. The Germans again counter-attacked near Givenchy, but were repelled, Major Roper, second in command of the Dorsets being killed in the fighting about 4.30 pm.

Advancing mainly in long continuous extended lines in order to cover the front, by evening the II Corps reached Givenchy - a straggling village on a slight rise with a conspicuous church tower - and elsewhere, north of the canal, was very little short of its objectives. The general line, which was at once entrenched, was Noyelles (just west of Vermelles) - Givenchy - Rue des Chavattes - Lacoutre - Fosse, the 13th Brigade, which repulsed a counter-attack, still being south of the river. The casualties on the 12th were about two hundred.'

And Brigadier-General Count Gleichen's account of the same day, from his book on 'The Doings of the Fifteenth Infantry Brigade':

'Oct 12th

Off eastwards [that] morning at 8.30 am through a freezing thick fog - so thick that one could not see twenty yards in front of one. The big open space in the town through which we passed was occupied with masses of Spahis, Moorish troops, and Algerians of all sorts. The idea was that we were to push forward to Festubert and act as a pivot to the 3rd Division and the remainder of the Corps, which was swinging slowly round to their right so as eventually to face south-east and take La Bassée.

At first my orders directed me to leave a gap between myself and the canal, the gap being filled by French troops; but shortly afterwards I was told that the Brigade was to hold from Festubert to the canal, relieving the French cavalry here, who were to hold on till we got there; and I paid a visit to the French cavalry General at Gorre to make sure that this would be done. The line was a horribly extended one - about two miles; and the prospect was not entrancing. However, I detached the Dorsets to move along the canal bank from Gorre and get in touch with the French. Very glad I was that I had done so, for they had severe fighting there that day against a strong force of the enemy, who tried to get between us and the French.

The Bedfords I ordered to hold Givenchy. The first rumour was that the French had evacuated Givenchy before we could come up, and that the Germans had occupied it; but this turned out not to be true after all. The Cheshires held Festubert, and the Norfolks were in Divisional reserve somewhere in the rear.

Meanwhile the Germans were attacking along the canal; but the Dorsets checked them most gallantly, loosing poor Roper, killed in leading a charge, and a number of men.

The Headquarters passed most of that day - and an extremely busy Staff day it was - in a little pot-house in Festubert.'

Festubert and Givenchy are here:

This account comes from the 1st Dorsets regimental history for October 12th:

'Battalion marched with 15th Brigade via Gorre towards Festubert. Bn halted at Rue de Bethune due to shellfire and then moved south to canal, then along the canal tow path to Pont Fixe. A & D Companies were ordered to occupy positions south and north of the bridge; A Coy being on the south, D Coy on the north. One machine gun was placed on the first floor of a big unfinished factory just north of the canal bank.

There was no immediate German advance but the machine gun opened fire on Germans debouching from brick fields near Cuinchy [south of the canal]. The German firing line was checked by this fire. Later a movement of Germans was detected just south of Cuinchy but their advance presented a good target to the machine gun and the Germans fell back.

4 pm. Objective La Bassée.

General advance of Dorsets ordered in conjunction with French on right and 1/Bedford Regiment on the left. A Coy moving on the south bank of the canal and D Coy on the north forming the firing line, B & C Coy forming the reserve. The machine gun was ordered to support the attack. A Coy moved up the south bank under cover of a high bank and did not come under fire from Cuinchy (although held by the enemy) and subsequently inflicted severe loss on Germans south of Cuinchy. 
Meanwhile D Coy advancing from a factory towards a small farm 200 yards east of it came under heavy crossfire from snipers on the high canal bank (south side) and suffered casualties. Major Roper was killed at this farm about 4.30 pm.

Attack had made excellent progress and a line had been established from La Bassée Canal to a large farm north of Givenchy. B & C Coys entrenched on rise upon which above mentioned farm stood.

Casualties: 11 killed, 30 wounded, 2 missing.'

Now to October 13th, the German side of the lines:

'The cavalry was now ordered to screen the advance of the 13th and 19th Army Corps from the environment of Lille, with the left wing resting at Béthune and, if possible, to win more territory to the west. In junction with the 4th Cavalry Corps (Bavarian Cavalry Division at La Gorgue southwest of Estaires) - the entire line from Pont Riquel to Richebourg and Cuinchy west of La Bassée was to be maintained.

Fight at Bout Deville [scroll to the north of Festubert]

The 14th Brigade of the 9th Cavalry Division made a successful advance upon Bout Deville, which was defended by English troops, including some Indian detachments, with a stout resistance, the place being taken by storm towards noon. However the village was abandoned upon the arrival of superior reinforcements, although a position 300 metres east of the village was retained, also, Pont du Hem by the 5th Uhlans. The position of the Division appeared so favourable that orders arrived to hold on by all means until the infantry came up.

Fight at Croix Barbée

During the night the 7th Cavalry Division had been compelled to abandon Croix Barbée and Richebourg St Vaast by an unusually strong attack in the fog. Croix Barbée was retaken during this day and was again given up. The 15th Uhlan Regiment reported heavy losses incurred in these fights:

"A thick fog prevailed so that reconnaissance was scarcely possible. Thus it happened that the advance-guard squadron was surprised by English infantry at Croix Barbée. The rapidity of events compelled dismounting to fight on foot in the road from Croix Barbée to Lacouture in the face of heavy hostile fire. Supported by artillery and machine guns the English attacked our troopers in great force. Serious losses soon befell us.

The troopers were driven back by an impetuous attack of the enemy as far as Croix Rouge, where, reformed, they later returned in counter attack, which met with brilliant success. Croix Barbée was retaken and 18 Englishmen made prisoners."

The new defensive line of the Division passed between Rouge Croix and Croix Barbée to a point one kilometre east of Richebourg St Vaast.'

Fight at Bout Deville and Croix Barbée"

The British Official History does not mention these actions. Lord Hamilton does, in his book 'The First Seven Divisions':

'...the 3rd Division advance was renewed, the brigade chiefly concerned being once again the 8th, in the centre. This brigade set out at 6.30, the Middlesex being on the right, the R. Scots in the centre, and the 1st Gordon Highlanders on the left.

The country was dead flat, and the advance was very slow owing to the innumerable water-dykes with which the country is intersected and which could only be crossed by means of planks or ladders borrowed from the farms.

About midday the Middlesex captured the village of Croix Barbée and R. Scots performed the same office by Pont de Hem; but shortly afterwards further advance was checked, the enemy being found in considerable force and strongly entrenched, and the country offering no sort of cover. The brigade, however, though unable to advance, refused to retire, and very fierce fighting ensued, in course of which the enemy made two most determined counter-attacks, one on Lt Henderson's company on the left of the R Scots, and one on Captain Passy's company on the left of the Middlesex line. Both these attacks were repulsed with heavy loss to the enemy, but the casualties on our side were also severe. By nightfall the R Scots had lost, during the day, 9 officers and close on 400 men. The losses in the Middlesex were almost as severe. Both battalions, however, maintained their ground with the utmost determination.'

The Middlesex were on the right, but the 4th Middlesex regimental diary is unhelpful:

'Oct 13th. Action continued pushing Germans through Croix Barbée and Battalion entrenched for the night in the rear of the village. Casualties 3 officers and 10 NCOs and other men killed; 3 officers and 35 NCOs and other men wounded.'

No mention of any men missing or taken prisoner. Clearly the numbers don't tally at all with Hamilton's description, though he may have been using casualty figures for the several days of fighting that took place.

Back to Poseck:

'Fighting at Festubert and Givenchy

In the Guard Cavalry Division, the 2nd Guard Cavalry Brigade was to maintain touch with the 4th Division at La Quinque Rue; the Guard Jäger Battalion and the 1st Guard Cavalry Brigade was to proceed against a strong detachment of English infantry in Givenchy, and also, to capture the isolated farm northeast of Givenchy. Strong enemy advances from the direction of Festubert and Givenchy were repelled, whereby the 3rd Cavalry Brigade was enabled to fire upon the enemy in flank from the canal south of La Bassée [the 'snipers' referred to earlier].

Towards noon reinforcements arrived in support of the position of the Guard Cavalry Division near La Bassée, detailed from 14th Army Corps, namely, - ten companies of the 114th Infantry Regiment, and a light field howitzer battery. The attack upon Givenchy was launched, and after severe fighting which lasted until 6 o'clock in the evening, the enemy was forced out of the place. Besides heavy losses in killed, 200 English of the Regiments Dorset and Bedford fell prisoner. The 114th Regiment captured two guns, while the platoon, commanded by the heir-apparent of the principality of Fürstenberg, of the von Kröcher of the Garde du Corps, seized two machine guns.

The large farm northeast of Givenchy was taken after nightfall by the 3rd Squadron of the Guard Cuirassier Regiment and by the engineers of the pioneer detachment with hand grenades [at this time, the pioneers had the role of grenadiers]. After the most obstinate resistance of the surviving part of the defenders: 1 colonel and regimental commander, 1 major, 1 captain, 1 lieutenant and 57 men of the Cheshire regiment were taken prisoner.'

Fighting at Festubert and Givenchy.

The British Official History account:

'The 13th October was a day of heavy fighting for the II Corps, but with very little concrete result. South of the La Bassée canal, the French closed up to the right of 13th Brigade, but no advance was made.

North of the canal, in the early morning rain of a dull day which turned in the afternoon to heavy rain, the Germans began a severe bombardment of Givenchy. The 15th Brigade held the village with two companies of the Bedfordshire, with the Dorsets on the right between them and the canal. Givenchy was soon in flames, but the struggle continued well on into the afternoon, the Bedfordshire holding one end of the village and the enemy the other, when the former had at last to draw back, with the loss of 149 all ranks. The Dorsets had managed to advance but their left and rear were exposed when Givenchy was lost. The enemy, taking advantage of this, attacked, and assisted by enfilade fire from machine guns on the railway embankment south of the canal - where the Dorsets thought the 13th Brigade to be - brought fire to bear from all sides. The battalion was forced to retire, loosing Lt-Colonel Bols wounded and four hundred casualties, of whom 130 were killed. A section of 11th Battery RFA with them, had every man wounded and was unable to bring away its guns; another section of the same battery, actually in Givenchy village, fired to the last moment but got clear. The Dorsets went back four or five hundred yards to a position abreast of the canal bridge known as Pont Fixe, rallying on two companies of the Devons.

From this new line, the enemy failed to dislodge the British. Northwards a successful advance of the 14th Brigade came quickly to an end, as, soon after 3 pm, it was ordered to send the two companies of the Devons, in brigade reserve, towards the 15th Brigade. The attack of 3rd Division [as described in previous posts] in co-operation with the French 7th Cavalry Division had made little progress, as the slow advance of the latter exposed the 8th Brigade to counter-attack. The casualties of the II Corps for the 13th were very nearly a thousand.'

There is a footnote mentioning that 'at 6.30 am a heavy howitzer battery of the German 28th Division began to enfilade the British line from south of the canal.' It also indicates that the attack on Givenchy was made in two phases. This first involved the Guard Jäger and Guard Cuirassiers but made 'no progress'. The reinforcements from Cavalry Corps reserve and the 114th Infantry Regiment then arrived at 2 pm.

The following paragraph is also very significant from the artillery perspective:

'Owing to the wide front occupied, the misty weather and the intricate nature of the country, centralized control of the divisional artilleries had become impossible, and the bulk of the field artillery was allotted to the infantry brigades, usually an artillery brigade, with a field howitzer added, to each of them. During the first period, whilst the infantry was advancing, sections of the guns were attached to battalions and went forward with them but when the infantry began to dig in, the batteries were re-formed and put into position about 1,000 to 1,500 yards behind the front line. The allotment was varied to suit the fluctuations of the action, and arrangements for combining or crossing the fire of the guns attached to different brigades remained in the hands of the divisional artillery commanders.'

The British Official History account:

The following are extracts from Sir John French's Army Operations Order (No 35) for October 13th, as they pertain to II Corps:

'1. The French were today driven out of Vermelles.

2. It is the Commander-in-Chief's intention to continue the advance passing the Army to the north of Lille and driving the enemy before 

3. Objective of II Corps will be the line Capinghem - le Bizet (inclusive).

Objective of III Corps will be the line Le Bizet - Wytschaete (inclusive).

The moves of II and III Corps will be contingent on the II Corps enabling the French left to join in the advance.

Should the II Corps require assistance the III Corps will at once render it, but the lines of advance laid down above will be resumed as soon as possible.'

Capinghem is here:

and is circa 35 kilometres from Neuve Chapelle.

'1. The French were today driven out of Vermelles.'

Note the key omission of any information about the enemy forces. 
This would normally be point 1. For example, in the Army Operation 
Order preceding, issued on October 11th, there is the following:

'1. The enemy's advanced cavalry appear to have fallen back.' 

Although this account does not include II Corps' or 5th Division's Operation Orders for 13th October, (they both exist in the Public Archives at Kew), just for interest, here are the equivalent orders for III Corps [north of II Corps] and 4th Division [in III Corps] for the same day:

4th and 6th Divisions
Cavalry Corps and II Corps

G. 67 13th October

1. The enemy is reported to be holding a line extending from Neuf Berquin through Bleu - Outtersteene - Ballieul - Meteren - Houck - Berthen.

2. The III Corps will attack this line as soon as it can be assembled and deployed.

The 4th Division will attack Meteren and the ridge running due north from the village.

The 6th Division, less 19th Brigade, will attack Ballieul and Outtersteene.

3. The 19th Infantry Brigade will remain as a corps reserve between Strazeele and Pradelles.

4. The Cavalry Corps has been asked to co-operate by attacking Berthen.

5. The attack will be timed by the movements of 4th Division which will probably be in a position to advance from Fletre at 1 pm.'

[In GWSH terms: A few simple command arrows with timed orders thrown in for good measure.]

Brigadier-General Wilson (GOC 4th Division) issued the following order to his division:

'1. a) The enemy strength unknown are entrenched on the line Vieux Berquin - Ballieul - Meteren - Fontaine Houck - Berthen.

b) The 2nd Cavalry Division is on our left. The 6th Division is on our right.

2. The III Corps is to attack at 1.30 pm. The GOC intends to attack the position from Meteren (inclusive) to Fontaine Houck (inclusive).

3. a) The 12th Brigade will attack the position from Meteren (inclusive) to Point 62 (inclusive). The 10th Infantry Brigade from Point 62 (exclusive) to Fontaine Houck (inclusive). The 11th Infantry Brigade will be in Divisional Reserve at Fletres.

b) Line of demarcation between brigades, a line from Point 62 to Le Buerre. Advanced troops will cross the line first E of Fletres, X of Courte Croix at 1.30 pm.

c) The Divisional Artillery will come under the orders of the Divisional Artillery Commander. 29th FAB [Field Artillery Brigade] will support and supply SAA [small arms ammunition - bet they were thrilled with this task] to 12th Infantry Brigade from north slopes of Klite Hill. 32nd FAB will support 10th Infantry Brigade from NW of Fletre advancing if necessary to Hill 1,500 yards E of that village. 14 FAB will also support and supply SAA to 10th Infantry Brigade on the left of 32nd FAB. 37th FAB will be distributed. 31 (H) [Heavy] Battery RGA will assemble at Rouge Croix.

d) 7th and 9th Field Companies RE will join Divisional Reserve at Fletre.

e) The Cavalry Squadron and Cyclist Company (less one platoon to report to Divisional Headquarters) will cover the left flank of the 10th Brigade and will report the progress and movements of the 2nd Cavalry Division.

5. Division Headquarters will be at Fletre after 1.30 pm'

3. a) The 12th Brigade will attack the position from Meteren (inclusive) to Point 62 (inclusive). 

Assuming that Gleichen received a similar type of order for his 15th Brigade, here is what happened on the 13th:

'Oct 13th

The night went off fairly peaceably, but early next morning we had a nasty jar, for it was reported at 8 am that Majors Vandeleur (commanding) and Young (2nd in command) of the Cheshires together with a company and a half, had all been made prisoners or killed by the Germans about Rue d'Ouevert. I immediately sent scouts to find out the truth; but a heavy fire was opened on the remainder of the Cheshires, and the scouts could not get through. No further news even came in of Shore's company, but we could not believe that it had really been scuppered, or else there would have been much more firing, and we must have had some news of the disaster, if it had occurred.

And so it was. Towards 3 o'clock we had news that the company was safely tucked away in some ditches, holding its front, and had had practically no losses, although it could not move without attracting a heavy artillery fire. Not till afterwards did I hear what really happened to Vandeleur... He... had gone up with a half company [following some scouts and was] violently attacked by superior forces... They lost heavily, but succeeded in getting into a farmhouse, which they held all day against the enemy, hoping that we should move out and rescue them. But we, of course, had been told circumstantially that they were already prisoners at 8 am so knew nothing of it and took no action. At 9 pm, they surrendered...

That day was a terrible day: Givenchy was bombarded heavily by the Germans for hours, and rendered absolutely untenable. The Bedfords held out there gallantly, and stuck to one end of the village whilst the enemy was in possession of the other; but the heavy artillery was too much for them, and after losing about sixty casualties, many of them killed by falling houses, they gradually fell back to trenches in rear of the village. Griffith (commanding) and Macready (Adjutant) came to see me about 3pm, their clothes and faces a mass of white dust and plaster, and explained the situation; but there was nothing to be done as we had no reserves.

But by far the worst was what happened to the Dorsets. appears that, depending on their left being supported by the Bedfords in Givenchy and their right by the KOSBs (13th Brigade) on the south side of the Canal, they pushed forward for some distance and dug themselves roughly in, after driving the Germans back. Then suddenly their front trench was attacked from the left rear, and a heavy fire poured on their men as they retired on their supports. We lost two guns there, which had been brought up from the 15th RFA Brigade and could not be got away in time.

The Dorsets as well as the Bedfords also lost one of their machine-guns. Altogether it was a damnable day, and we on the staff were also pretty exhausted by the amount of staff work and telegrams and messages going through all day.

The Brigade Headquarters withdrew in the evening from Festubert to a farm about half a mile back.'

Just as an aside, the GOC 13th Brigade was new, one Br-General Hickie. Gardner, in his superb book 'Trial by Fire', noted that 'the task of advancing under enemy pressure exceeded Hickie's undeveloped capabilities as a brigade commander. During the morning, the French force on the right of 5 Division requested that the 13th Brigade support its advance.' According to 5th Division's diary, Hickie 'considered the open ground so unfavourable... that he declined to co-operate without orders from superior authority.' Gardner notes that 'the inexperienced brigadier was replaced the same day...'.

Further, the loss of Vandeleur and a significant proportion of the Cheshires was a significant further loss to the battalion that had been all but obliterated in their famous stand at Elouges. 

Gardner also notes a comment from General Deedes, GHQ that 'We learnt from intercepted wireless messages sent out by the German commander (General von der Marwitz) that our [the BEF's] advance was "slow" and "hesitating" and evidently did not cause him any anxiety'.

Gardner believes that the Bedford's broke and fled Givenchy. This is based on some evidence from other sources. It explains why the Dorsets were not informed and suffered the consequences of a flank attack.

But by far the worst was what happened to the Dorsets.

Just to round off the day from the British perspective, more from the Dorset's war diary:

'In accordance with Brigade orders, Battalion moved off at 5.30 am as follows: Firing line B & C Coys, support D Coy, reserve A Coy. Machine gun was in house on north bank of the canal near Pont Fixe. Advance was slow in order to give units on right and left time to get up in line.

7.20 am - Report to Bde that Bn has reached line 200 yards east of track running south from east of Givenchy and that advance had been checked to enable Bns on right and left to come up into line. Also that there appeared to be little opposition in front.

Situation remained the same until 9 am, the village of Cuinchy on south bank of the canal not being cleared of the enemy.

9.20 am - OC Dorsets reported situation to Bde stating Bn position was the same as reported at 7.20 am.

11.20 am - enemy shelled the Bn heavily from a northeasterly direction.

12.00 noon- hostile machine gun opened heavy enfilade fire at short range on our right flank - near canal bank. B Coy commenced to withdraw as their right was exposed.

12.30 pm - OC Dorsets reported the situation and asked for artillery support. Enemy's artillery and machine gun fire increased in volume and firing gradually fell back on trenches occupied by supports.

12.45 pm - Major Saunders sent to dispose reserve company and inform artillery commander of situation.

1.45 pm - Germans advanced from east end of Givenchy, some carrying lances. About 250 suddenly appeared from the left rear of C Coy. 

These were mistaken for French cavalry and fire was not opened on them.

About a battalion appeared about 900 yards from left of C Coy. As soon as it was seen these were Germans, fire was opened on them. The Germans advanced holding up either one or both hands. This was taken as a sign of surrender and some men left the trench to go towards the Germans who then closed in rapidly, driving in our men and enfilading the trench. The position of remaining men now became untenable. Lt Col Bols and Lt & Adjutant Pitt remained to the last in the trench in which they had been all day - Col Bols was severely wounded in attempting to get away and Lt Pitt was killed. The retirement was skilfully covered by the reserve company (A Coy) under Captain Fraser, who in turn retired to a position in building about Pont Fixe and a new line was established from Pont Fixe to factory, the line being there continued by two Coys of Devons along Pont Fixe - Festubert road. Enemy made two attempts on A Coy and Devons in the night but was repulsed. 

Casualties: 51 killed, 152 wounded, 210 missing.'

The German infantry were beginning to play a role on the 13th, alongside the cavalry. On the 14th, the German cavalry were pulled out and then slipped north again. One of the very last reconnaissance patrols on the Western Front was performed on October 15th, when the British 4th Division was picked up as it too moved north.

German infantry and dragoons advance

Many thanks to Steven Broomfield, who supplied the following relevant pages of the history of the Royal Scots:

'Since it expected to be opposed by merely a few cavalry divisions, the II Corps anticipated small difficulty in effecting its purpose. Contact with the enemy was established by the Third Division on the 12th October. Leaving Le Cornet Malo at 7 am the Royal Scots reached Les Lobes, where they remained in a field till 3 pm, when in conjunction with a force of French cavalry they were ordered to make for Croix and Pont du Hem. But the enemy was in strength on the front, and the Royal Scots moving with difficulty over the open water-logged country suffered many casualties from hostile rifle fire. A and B Companies led, followed by C and D. A few shells proved that the German infantry were being supported by guns, but the Royal Scots pressed on steadfastly. Still it was plainly beyond mortal power for them to reach Pont du Hem against the enemy's resistance, and a nearer objective, the bridge that spanned the Lawe Canal near Vieille Chapelle, was assigned to them. Near the objective many of our men, about seventy in all, fell victim to the enemy's fire. The enemy, however, was clearly fighting a rear-guard action; he always drew off when the Royal Scots closed in on his positions. Just before dark the canal was crossed and the battalion took up a position on the Fosse Vieille road.

The fighting on the 12th October had been carried out under conditions wholly repugnant to the Royal Scots. They had been operating against an enemy whom they could not see and who, well supplied with motor-cars, moved off to a fresh post whenever the Royal Scots came into striking distance. In close touch with a foe of whose strength they were uncertain our troops spent a cold and watchful night.'

'The advance was to have resumed at dawn on the 13th, but a raw, chilly mist, which muffled the ground, caused the start to be delayed till 7 am. In artillery formation the Royal Scots set off, with C and D Companies leading, and A and B in support. Sinking to the ankle in black loam and soaked by the water in the ditches that bounded every field, the men had covered a toilsome mile, when a German gun opened on them and a small cottage in front suddenly burst into flames. The hostile guns were so skilfully hidden that though they were firing at comparatively close range they could not be located, and their shells inflicted several casualties on the leading companies. Then the enemy's infantry from concealed positions plied our ranks with machine-gun and rifle fire and our advance, owing to the lack of weight, could not be pushed any further. C Company reached the cross roads near Croix Barbée, but being isolated could not maintain it position and fell back to a tiny hamlet about one and a half miles from the Croix Barbée Road. D Company was constantly troubled by the lack of support on [their] left flank, but eventually the Gordons arrived.

During the night the battalion was reformed and the supporting 
companies reinforced C and D near the village. No progress was 
possible on the 14th.'


Von Poseck 'The German Cavalry in Belgium and France 1914'.
Edmonds, Brigadier-General Sir James E. 'Military Operations, France and Belgium; British Official History 1914, Volume 2
Brigadier-General Count Gleichen. 'Doings of the Fifteenth Infantry Brigade August 19 to March 1915'.
1st Dorsets Regimental History. Public Records Office, London, England.
Lord Hamilton. 'The First Seven Divisions'
4th Middlesex Regimental History. Public Records Office, London, England.
Steven Broomfield (Contributor to Great War Forum

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