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Call in the Cavalry

Most of you know that many of the British generals in the First World War were cavalrymen. And most will know that the cavalry was one of most redundant arms in the British Army on the Western Front. So, the number of “cavalry” generals is often cited as an example of how out of touch the British High Command was. But actually, there might be reason, beyond the Cavalry Club Old Boys’ network, for why so many former horsemen were in command positions. The place of the full-blooded cavalry charge against an enemy armed with magazine rifles and quick-firing artillery, never mind machine-guns, was in doubt long before 1914. Even before the Boer War of 1899-1902, it had been realised that the cavalry would probably see more use as mounted riflemen. And mounted riflemen; often working hand-in-hand with horse-artillery. That meant that cavalry commanders had to master not only cavalry tactics but also infantry tactics. Whereas an infantry commander only had to know infantry tactics and drill. Add in the British obsession with offensive warfare, supposedly the speciality of cavalrymen, and you have a disproportionate number of cavalry generals in the British Army between 1914 and 1918.


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